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Psychedelic Integration

Finding Ayahuasca, or rather, Aya finding myself

Diego Palma 2007

A few years into my self integration work, putting the holistic pieces together with my recent travels into the Peruvian Amazon, I was fortunate enough to see renowned ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna speak at UMASS Amherst. His statement resonated with a profound sense of clarity, “You do not always find ayahuasca, but rather ayahuasca finds you.”

Synergy, Symbiotic relationship, and law of attraction related quite well with this statement and my inclination towards healing with plant medicines. The deep realization in 2006, for the need of deep rooted healing from past traumas and addictions was being called into my intentions and into the spirit. Where does one begin? Where and when will this healing force arise into my path?

Fortunately, my past and upbringing came with a fascination of indigenous cultures, their musical appreciation of ceremony, and the majestic energy of the Shamans. Listening to Jim Morrison of the band “The Doors”, their lyrical content and Jim’s life biography shed a certain light on these topics at an age of my adolescence. I could inherently feel there was a unique power, substance, and strong energy in this realm of Shamanism.

A strong catalyst towards breaking open my limited perspective, nudging me closer to my trip to the Amazon came to me in a very unexpected manner. 2005 was a pivotal step when I was shown the plant spirit Salvia Divinorum. Finding this peculiar extract at a local smoke shop in my home town of Derry New Hampshire, I instantly gravitated towards bringing it home and experimenting with it’s energy. I grew up a few houses down from the historic Robert Frost Farm, one of the great poets of our time. The wooded lands and fields of my neighborhood carried the energy of his poems, as well as my childhood and innocence.

Sitting with the contents and essence of the Salvia, which came from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, I was about to embark on a Shamanistic path that would change my life in a radical fashion. After inhalation, it became an overwhelming out of body experience with a kaleidoscope of colors accompanied by energetic entities communicating with myself in a very spiritual and healing manner. The experience left me in complete awe, while also surprised it curbed my appetite for alcohol and chewing tobacco. At 24 years of age at the time, I knew this was the beginning of something larger than myself.

I immediately went into intensive research on the internet, seeking the world of plant medicines and their traditions of healing peoples ailments. I was very satisfied to see Saliva was not just an exotic blend for escaping or to get one high, but rather had a long tradition with the Mazatec Shamans. They would facilitate the medicine for visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions.

Throughout the year, completing sobriety, eating better, I had a passion for wanting to explore more within the world of plant medicines. I discovered valuable information regarding the sacred healing tea “Ayahuasca” of the Peruvian Amazon, which dates back a thousand years of ritual use. It was through random visits to the local book store, where the works of Graham Hancock and Terrence Mckenna would present themselves into my orbit and world of research. With the authors well written explanations and personal experience of this medicine, I immediately knew this was the calling I had been looking for.

The tea consisted of Banisteriopsis Cappi, which contains harmala alkaloids, acting as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. These alkaloids are are best known as highly efficacious anti-depressants, as well as effective therapeutic agents for panic disorder and social disorder. They are particularly effective in treatment-resistant depression.  They are also used in the treatment of Parkinson disease and several other disorders. The other portion of the ayahuasca brew contained Psychotria viridis, which contains dimethyltryptamine, a strong entheogenic compound that occurs in most living matter. Other wise knows as DMT, this compound creates vivid colorful visions that can often have spiritual and healing properties to the experience.

With this great insight, I left my profession in the tech world and EMT- firefighting, heading down to the Puerto Maldonado region of the Peruvian Amazon to embark on this journey. I was to meet Antonio Fernandez and Diego Palma, two very respected Shamans who were part of the Sacred Valley Tribe community. It was a long highly anticipated plane ride down from New Hampshire to Lima Peru, to Puerto Maldonado. These individuals would greet me after a long boat ride down the river, a tributary of the Amazon. Upon arrival, the two men with a gentle and strong presence stated, “Please disregard everything you have read about ayahuasca, come into this experience with fresh eyes, nothing can truly explain it, but rather to be found out for yourselves.”

After settling in with the community and understanding the full process of the plant dieta and our training, I felt very grounded being in the serene nature of the Amazon. The plant dieta was a foundational part of the preparation upon coming to the village. A “Dieta” is a energetic agreement made between a curandero shaman, or student of curanderismo, and a particular plant spirit. Restrictions to my diet, sexual abstinence, and meditation were all key components in the process of learning and consuming the ayahuasca brew. There was a month ahead of me within the village and my stay, fine tuning my way of life in holistic fashion, with the intentions of completing ten ceremonies. This was inherently feeling right and synchronistically meant to be, as the first ceremony was approaching closer and closer.

When the first night of ceremony arrived, Antonio our shaman took us for a long walk down the pathways to the outer regions of the village. There before us stood a large beautiful moloca, which is a circular wooden hut that was built to hold sacred medicine ceremonies. The evening began right at sunset with the sounds of the jungle penetrating all eight participants. Beautiful prayers were set for the ceremony, to all then be called up to the alter for our serving of mother Aya.

Letting the medicine settle minute by minute, I could feel subtle changes taking place within my body. By roughly 30 minutes into the ceremony I could hear the sounds of the jungle becoming clearer and sharper. The mind, which tends to race with rapid thoughts seemed to be slowing down into a semi sleepy state of consciousness. Moments of stillness, alertness, and presence arrived were I could feel the aliveness of the jungle. I would look up periodically and see Antonio, who was dressed in white ceremonial clothing slowly working his leaf rattle known as a chakapa. He was a native Peruvian himself who had training under the Shipibo tradition, within this tradition the medicine songs of icaros are sung to the participants to facilitate healing. As the brew was beginning to come on stronger, the songs of the icaros began. Having a strong appreciation for music, these simple songs with one single leaf rattle were noticed and felt as extremely powerful musical rhythms. Rhythms of song that date back over 800 years. Geometric patterns became to enter my space on the mat where I was sitting, along with a strong vibration and slight nausea in my stomach. The medicine was taking full effect, thousands of miles away from home sitting in the middle of the jungle, this was about to change the course of my life as I knew it.

The “Breakthrough” took place an hour into the night. Accompanied by these geometric patterns swirling into my vision state, an undeniable feeling and message came over my mind, body, and spirit. A feeling of universal love and forgiveness was moving through every cell in my body. The first recollection I had during this state was, “This is very familiar, I have been here before, I am returning back to a state of innocence and purity.” I was soon to have a vision of a female goddess wearing a beautiful head dress and vibrant eyes. Tentacles of purple and green were swirling from her essence into my aura, feeling a state of what I would call unconditional love from the creator source. This profound moment immediately began the purging process.

The purge is a sacred release of emotional and biological energy leaving the body, similar to what most westerners relate to as vomiting. Yet this was much more than a process of vomiting that I was familiar with in my past. The purge came with a beautiful sense of letting go of past traumas and addictions I had faced throughout my teenage and early adult hood years. It lasted a few minutes of releasing as I could begin to hear other participants were undergoing the same process. Simultaneously, the Icaro melodies were being sung stronger and delivered to the ceremonial space in a very harmonious fashion. It was as if the songs and leaf rattle were helping, guiding and aiding in my experience. In regards to holding space for someone, Antonio was mastering his tradition and craft. A sense of renewed strength and joy came over myself that I had not had in many years.

Completing the night and heading into the morning, the ceremony lasted for six hours. Our beloved Shaman felt it was the right time to close the ceremony and allow us to go back to our huts for sleep and introspection. Walking back to my sleeping coordinates, there was no mistake this was the best choice I had made for myself at the age of 26. A brave decision was made to come here, a trail blazing choice at the time in our western society. Radical in one sense, but very traditional, ancient, and a sense of being taken care of. I was to fall asleep and wake up the next morning for our breakfast and integration. The first words I said, that came with laughter from our shaman Antonio, “I haven’t felt this good in years.”

I was to complete the remaining nine ceremonies, all with similar feelings of positive energy and healing. A few participants felt this path was not for them, gracefully leaving to go back home with respect and sincerity. It was a gratifying dynamic of the relationships that were built with the remaining participants and with our Shaman. Bouts of laughter would come into our circles, bouts of tears, people on a mission reclaiming a part of themselves they lost. Very Beautiful landscapes and hiking of the amazon added and complimented the shift we were all experiencing.

Heading home to New Hampshire was the new chapter I would soon live. A life dedicated to this healing power, a power that was very real and emanating truth. Family members and friends immediately saw the difference in my being which made the experience grander, not in any form of validation, but rather adding substance to what was taking place, for all of us. It would be 2007 that I would begin again, keeping up the dieta and neo-shamanic trainings in my region of New England. There was a long lasting effect that pushed for the years to come, into now 2022. Many stories and journeys in between as well, where I look forward to sharing more. The thousand mile journey begins with the first step.

Thank you for reading.

Stephen Goterch (Indigo Health Voyages)

Offering sacred retreat settings, kambo treatments, sound therapy, life and health coaching.

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Puerto Maldonado