Knowing When It’s Enough, Part II

In ceremony a few years ago I received a most disagreeable vision of everyone in the circle lying back on their mats like giant infants, crying out “Give me more! Give me more!” The message couldn’t have been any clearer than if we’d appeared in diapers: immaturity, greedy appetite combined with shallow capacity—it was a humbling reality check around exactly what our responsibility is in this process.

To me, that image pointed to a kind of passivity. Wailing “Give me more,” without having processed and digested what I’ve already received. Coming back for more without having completed the work I’d been given. I receive so much in ceremony (this is why I journal the details of every experience—the quantity is staggering), and here I was, whining for more. I felt ashamed.

(You can read Part I here)

As I’ve been saying, the pacing of ceremonies needs to be considered in the light of integration. Ayahuasca work is not simply drinking cup after cup; it is—or should be—or at least could be—interwoven with days, weeks, months, and years of ongoing personal work.

One way to tune into where you’re at in the process is to ask yourself some questions: What’s my motivation? Am I looking for an escape or relief, or am I truly ready for more? Have I integrated what I learned from previous ceremonies? What are my intentions, specifically? How committed am I to working with what I might receive? (Lots more questions below.)

Timing Psychedelic Experiences

Entheogens can be a lifelong path, which doesn’t usually mean we dose daily!—but rather, that we turn to entheogenic wisdom at certain times and stages of life, while allowing different aspects to take the forefront at others. Again, it’s a relationship, not a substance, a lesson difficult to drum through our thick, material-reality-infused craniums.

I have a friend who drinks ayahuasca maybe once or twice a year. “It gives me homework,” he says, “and I see no reason to go back for more until I’ve completed that piece.” I know other people who go quarterly, or seasonally. Here in Pisac, a couple of times a month is a more common rhythm.

Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, talked about taking a major dose once a decade, and then it would take him a decade to integrate what had happened. And here’s Dr. James Fadiman on timing psychedelic experiences:

“The rule of thumb is the more profound the experience, the longer you should wait before doing it again. The Guild of Guides suggests a minimum of six months between entheogenic journeys because it takes at least that long for the learning and insights to be absorbed and integrated into your life.”

Then there’s Alan Watts’ famous aphorism: “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” (He goes on to say: “For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope; he goes away and works on what he has seen.”)

A nuanced response might be: Yes, absolutely. But the biologist may return to the microscope at different stages in his work, to examine and explore life. The microscope is a tool, as is the phone. One can work without them, but used properly, they expedite the process.

It’s a Relationship

A great deal comes down to the question of why are you turning to ayahuasca? Are you seeking enlightenment? Psychological spelunking? Insight or healing around an emotional pattern, a physical ailment, trauma? Do you want bliss and beautiful visions; to discover your true essence or your life purpose; to be cool? If you’re entirely truthful with yourself, your motivation may well be some combination of these.

Depending on your aims, ayahuasca use can be a short-term thing. Some people come to it with one-off questions (“Show me my true purpose in life,”) get a workable answer, and feel complete. Ayahuasca use can be situational, helping you through a rough patch or a confused juncture. You get the information or perspective you need, then you return to daily life informed by a deeper knowing.

Other people find plant medicine a longer path, perhaps even a lifelong one—in which case there’s a relationship to negotiate, with all the twists and turns that relationships can take throughout a lifetime. From initial infatuation to passionate lovemaking, through the ups and downs of truly coming to know another being, to the mutual understanding that can arise in long-term relationship, the stages are similar.

At every point along the line, we need to look at the entire trajectory of the work— preparation, ingestion, and integration—and release any illusion of a one-dose miracle cure. Working with ayahuasca is a process, not an event. It’s a practice—a spiritual practice, if you choose to make it one. Ayahuasca is a catalyst, an amplifier of psyche, but it’s not a miracle cure, and the essence of its effectiveness lies at least half within you, not in the substance.

Going Back for More

Sometimes we need to pause, or stop, but other times we need to continue. Some ceremonies open up far more than they resolve, compelling us to explore further. This can mean weeks or months of active inquiry, using ceremony as an investigative practice.

How to discern what you need? There are no hard and fast rules—everything is situational, and thus unique—but here are some more questions to ask yourself, food for thought:

What’s my current relationship with ayahuasca?

How did it begin? What stage am I in now?

How regularly am I drinking, and why?

What does it do for me? What do I get from it?

What’s my motivation? What are my intentions?

What does my soul and spirit most need in this moment?

What have I learned on this path? What more am I seeking?

How will I know when this round of work is complete? What does ‘complete’ look like? Feel like in my body?

If I stop going to ceremony, what will I do with the energy that’s freed up?

How can I respectfully draw this period of work to a close?

The Finger and the Moon

Going back to the original questions: What’s too much? What’s not enough? And what’s “right relationship,” as the Buddhists would say?

I don’t have the ultimate answers. I’m thrashing through this territory myself. One thing I do take to heart is the practice of digesting what I’ve learned, metabolizing the experiences and applying them in life. And taking the next step on the path.

It seems to me that ayahuasca work is not mainly about the massive experiences of blasting through the stratosphere to visions of God and bliss and angels and entities, as compelling as these may be. It’s at least as much about growing big enough and conscious enough to turn and face the internal dark, and instead of pushing it away or running in the opposite direction—or to another ceremony—to muster the courage and capacity to acknowledge your shadow-stuff, sense what it needs, explore it more deeply, and come to love it.

In some mysterious way, work with ayahuasca (and all the plantas maestras) helps us in becoming fully human, no more and no less. The plants can be both catalyst and support in this process, but to focus on them to the exclusion of this larger perspective is to fixate on the finger, and miss the moon it’s pointing towards, the larger reality that’s unfolding.

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