Arts, culture, ideas & expression of a few wild art monkeys living in an arts loft in Jersey City.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peyote, Starjumpers & Iceskating the spice boxes.

This weekend marked a day I finally got to consume PEYOTE a hallucinogenic substance I've wanted to try ever since I saw the first Young Guns movie, when I was 12 years old. I had just recently turned 35 and when a friend offered to get me in on a Peyote Tepee Ceremony during this years SUPER MOON and I felt like it was the perfect time to do so.
Let me first acknowledge I have tried Ayahuasca once before with some success but did so on my own in my apt with no instruction or sacred ritual in place. A friend was able to procure some and tell me how to prepare the brew with some Syrian rue as the MAO inhibitor. My experience was intense but short. I had locked myself into a tiny meditation room and found myself believing I was communicating with other worldly spirits that warned me that I was not ready despite my enthusiasm to endure the drug, or as the Native Americans endearingly call it ="the medicine" or "Grandmother".
The spirit guide as I will call the voice that I communed with was both benevolent and generous despite being clearly dissatisfied with my arrival into the "spirit world". That's what Emilio Estevez's character calls it in the Young Guns movie. I walked away from my experience with what I considered to be valuable information and insight that I otherwise would not have figured out for myself had I not taken the brew. I was kindly asked to not come back until I was ready and I decided that even though I wasn't sure this was all in my head or not, that I would not take the medicine again unless it was done properly. The fact that I puked or "purged" as its aptly named like a fire breathing dragon also had something to do with it, I'm sure.
The story really begins on Jan 29th when I received a small note from a a friend named Rachel which mentioned that she had taken the medicine recently and had a message for me. The message was for her to give me a wolf ring that she had recently purchased that we both wanted and that the medicine told her that I needed to work on my compassion for others. This would just have been a cute gift had it not been preceded by another friend Cris telling me he had done some energy work on himself and had a similar message for me. Were my friends just cooking up elaborate ways to tell me to be nicer to them or is there any merit to these messages??
Well about 6 weeks after the first message from Rachel comes the 2nd message this time from Grandfather.. Grandfather= Peyote and Grandmother = Ayahausca. Turns out Grandfather requested or suggested my appearance and provided an image of me running up and down the stairs in a focused attempt to manage the tedium of a particular chore. This wouldn't be all that special had I not been told this message on a day where i was literally running up and down the stairs of 660 Grand with a hammer and tools multiple times from the basement to the 3rd floor. I took the 2nd message as a sign. Why not? Maybe this means I'm ready and am welcome back to the spirit world.
Fast forward to the day; We leave shortly before 11am to head out to Allentown PA to participate in a Tepee Ceremony sponsored by a Brooklyn based group that throws these ceremonies.. Much of the day was leisurely getting the area prepared on the farm which we were allowed to perform the ceremony on. This meant people were clearing areas, cooking food, preparing the medicine, building the tepee and getting the fire stoked for the hot sweat lodge stones. At 35 I finally had begun feeling like I was grounded and had my feet firmly planted on the ground and now here I was on some hippie farm base camp about to take hallucinogenics and perhaps find my power animal. Jeez.
We didn't finally enter the tepee until we had all gone through the sweat lodge atleast once, the women proving their strength by going through three times! My experience in the lodge was harrowing. I hate saunas so a sweat lodge is hell. Literally hell for me as I lay on the cold wet earth clenching my hand in the dirt to have a modicum of coolness on my body. I laid on my side in my under ware with a towel over my head like a new born baby wishing for it all to end soon. I chanted when I could I sang along at times but mainly I just tried to dream up happy places while I lay on my side drenched in sweat and barely able to breathe.
The tepee was fairly large but became quickly crowded with the 48 people that paid to endure the ceremony on the night of the super moon. I say "endured" b/c this experience was certainly an endurance test. Even without the sweat lodge prior we all crowded around a fire in this tepee to endure hours on end of sitting on our haunches or cross legged "Indian style" while partaking in our Peyote experience. It was hot near the fire and cold against the back wall of the tent.
The first many hours were spent with formalities and consumption. I personally was expecting to see dragons rise out of the fire and my demons to materialize before me. I wasn't alone in my feelings that there could have been more rounds of medicine over the 12 or so hours we spent in that tent, but all in all my experience was pretty profound. Once I had gotten over the fact that I wasn't going to be hallucinating dragons and snakes monsters from the other side I found myself experiencing the power of the medicine as it had been described to me earlier. I was told as opposed to the strength of Ayahuasca; Peyote has a gentle honesty, straight forward and right to the point. My internal dialog was accompanied by subtle images arising out of the fire and from the sounds of Indian drum music with messages of love, kindness and compassion going on all around us.
One of the most compelling features was in watching Manuel; the playful and sweet medicine man that works with the Brooklyn group, receive his "white feather" one of the highest honors a medicine man receive from an Indian Chief. I think this honor was just as unexpected for Manuel. This moment felt like such a treat for a lay person to get to witness and honestly was worth the $ with or without the Peyote. Once Manuel was honored with the white feather he went right into action. I mean he literally turned around and started blessing the chief with the feather and then those in the tepee. First his helpers like those that cooked the medicine, sang the songs, managed the fire etc; It was so spontaneous and quick that it dawned on me just how humble a medicine man need be and just how great the responsibility is to be a true healer. Never for yourself and always for others. This seemed to be the underlying message of Chief Turtle who educated us on the loneliness of the medicine man and how important it is to give back to those that heal and lead you. This prompted Manuel's fire man to sing an impromptu song to his master while shaking the rattle and being accompanied by a drummer. Many that evening showed their great gratitude for the man that not only blessed them with protection during their passage into the spirit world but also introduced them to Chief Turtle whom traveled from his home out West to educate this band of mixed race white people in the ways of the Navajo.
The Chief was a tall kind man with a character face you'd see in movies. His one eye always squinted, his hair long and braided and his presence strong. His wife had an equally powerful presence and laughed in such a way that it made everything feel like it was going to be alright. When she spoke about the medicine, she cried. She loved the medicine and its role as a teacher. She loved her heritage and that so many people of diverse cultures wanted to learn so much. She loved Manuel's heart and the Chief and herself made mention of this many times over. I honestly have never been present in a place where so much genuine intimacy and accolades were passed back and forth with eye contact, tears and love. Its almost like the Tepee Ceremony experience was about creating an honest intimate environment to ensure while under the power of the medicine we would witness such authenticity, reverence and history so that the profundity would carry with us when we got back to our regular lives.
Ok, so for all the starjumpers out there, yes you hallucinate, but I'm sure you've had heavier trips on your street drugs in highschool. This experience was different. As they say; the medicine is straight forward and you find yourself open to the truth of your own story and what changes need to be made. Images and words were conjured up in my mind or would rise out of the fire that would instigate thoughts and feelings and send me on a ride inward that would last minutes, but feel like hours. I'd come in and out of it while I sitting there wondering if the medicine was even working one minute but then see the shadows on the walls of the tent and wonder if it were the shadow of the drummer making the drummer drum in the first place. The medicine went around only a couple of times in a few forms. I ingested about 10 buttons, a table spoon of some awful tasting Peyote mush and then a tea which was quite nice. All in all the flavor is not pleasant, but I never purged like I did on my solo trip with Ayahuasca. Rachel on the other hand seemed to purge for the whole tent. I did not envy her to say the least. Her purging looked painful and I was happy that atleast I was able to process my thoughts without the interruption of puking in the dirt. I'm sure her experience was more intense then many of ours though.

The medicine stayed with me all day and having not slept made the whole 2 day experience feel like one long trip into another time space. Even now as I write I'm still wrestling some of the ideas that popped up in my head, some of the things I witnessed in the tent or the things the Chief and Manuel had said that day, either about the medicine or life in general. It was something I'd like to do again, but would not recommend to those who haven't wrestled their inner demons before. This isn't a fun ice skating ride through kaleidoscope land, it's a harrowing ordeal that will leave you speechless, educated and aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses and accept them in totality. Perhaps when I've breached the first level of change I will have more to say on this subject...for now, I will just say; WOW that tepee ceremony was the real deal and Peyote is not as spooky as Ayahausca.
(but be careful nonetheless)


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