The Deep End Archive


Of Earthquakes & Ayahuasca!

The exact moment that a giant earthquake ripped apart Northern Japan and crushed it under a Tsunami, I was an hour from Iquitos, one of the remotest cities in the world, sitting in the Amazonian jungle, deep into an Ayahuasca session under the protective gaze of a shaman, watching my body explode........

Synchronicity is a strange thing! We have dropped off the map a few times in our travels, but the mysteries and subtle wile’s of the universes timing, when the most important thing to have happened to many of our friends and family in our lifetime was going down back in Japan, I will never fully comprehend.

The exact moment that a giant earthquake ripped apart Northern Japan and crushed it under a Tsunami, I was an hour from Iquitos, one of the remotest cities in the world, sitting in the Amazonian jungle, deep into an Ayahuasca session under the protective gaze of a shaman, watching my body explode. As the world woke up to news and coverage of Japan’s tragedy and subsequent reactor meltdown, I was being shown a black mass in my stomach by the spirit of the Ayahuasca vine and subsequently becoming violently ill, with chronic diorhea and boiling over with an intense fever to the backdrop of monkey and frog calls. Our shaman, a famed curandero (healer) named Javier Arevalo Shahuano found a rock sized lump in my stomach, a huge ball of negative energy, perhaps undetectable to a medical exam but a cancer of a serious kind he said – to the touch it had an intense frenetic pulse and mass all of its own for all to see. Over the next few days, as nuclear hysteria, death and tragedy seized the world I was being healed. Javier putting his plants to work under the guiding hand of Ayahuasca; quelling the fever, removing the malignant energy, stilling the pulse and in the process fixing a slipped disc in my back, removing shoulder & back pain I had been enduring for years and healing a blood clot in my side.

After 6 days, I was feeling better physically and spiritually than I can ever remember and starting to re-engage with the world. Megumi had been by my side through-out, the medicine though was affecting her differently. While I had been rebuilding my body under the gaze of the plants, she had been building up a peace and inner strength obvious to everyone else in attendance. Experiencing no deep purging or intense visions typical of the Ayahuasca medicine, Javier said she was cultivating a special strength and calm he had not seen in many people, curious at the time it was all to make sense soon enough. Largely recovered, blissfully feeling protected and empowered with the bonds formed with our new family in the jungle, Megumi left me to venture back into the town of Iquitos and returned sick with worry and all the tragic news from home.

Again timing is something of a marvel here. The epi-centre of the quake and the tsunami was Miyagi prefecture, where Megumi’s mother lives in a mountain house with her long term partner Oki-san. Oki-san’s business is based in Sendai which bore the brunt of the Tsunami and he has a house there, a son from a previous marriage and many friends, they spend a lot of their time there. Fukushima where the nuclear reactor tragedy was taking place is also the next prefecture over, between them and Tokyo and really way too close. When Megumi heard the news and the locations of the disasters she was obviously in a panic, but given the time-zones and the distance it was almost impossible to get news. With no email updates of any note, she rang around her extended family and eventually was able to wake up Oki-sans brother (at 3AM) who was able to confirm that they had only just gotten hold of her mother and that they were ok. Had Megumi been following events earlier (even in Tokyo), we later realized, she would have had to endure almost 6 days of horrific anxiety, waiting to find out any news of them being alive and totally unable to make contact.

The next day we both made the 1 hour trip into Iquitos by boat and moto-taxi early, so she could try and make some more calls at a better time, hopefully with more success. Finally getting through to her mother she found out that they had been returning from Sendai by car when they quake had hit, almost flipping their car over as it was thrown from the road. They had safely made it back to their mountain house which was intact, but they were without water, electricity, gas, food and had only limited petrol. Phones had come back haphazardly the day before and they now had internet access, but were unable to leave the house as many of the roads were destroyed and due to the potential of radioactive fall-out, the dreaded black rain. They had been living on some stored rice for the last week, but they were cut-off from other food supplies. Thankfully they had only just put in a wood burning stove and a well, so were able to brave the snow with some warmth and cook what little food they had. Stoic and positive, like all the Japanese seem to be, they were able to reassure her they were ok and were much better off than most in the Miyagi area – surrounded by their neighbourhood of farmers, it is a strong, supportive community.

Relieved, we were able to turn our attention to the events themselves and start to piece together everything that had happened – sifting for real information through the myopic hysterical trash cast around the nuclear frenzy by the ravenous Western media was heartrending. With anger and shame we viewed the trauma and hysteria the Western media was creating for everyone in Japan with their misreporting of events and apocalyptic nuclear scenarios, burying the real tragedy in the North. With the wonder of Facebook updates though, we were able to gleen the tales of many of our friends own travails and their on the ground truths, as they dealt with the crises themselves and in many cases fled Tokyo in all directions for safer environs. Earthquakes are a constant reality in Japan, everyone is expecting something like this, but when a big one happens nothing can steel you for the impact it has at the core of your being. A big quake takes your heart beat along with it, it disconnects you somehow from the earth’s own rhythm, which is a shocking experience. I can’t begin to imagine what everyone has been going through over there and experiencing on this kind of scale – no-one outside Japan really can. Every successive quake no matter the size seizes your heart in this same way and after a while that gap becomes filled with the fear. The Japanese are somehow able to steel themselves to this reality from birth, its a necessity of life there, but for Westerners it’s almost an impossible hurdle to overcome, especially when you have an exit. Every day, the myriad of small aftershock quakes holds that threat and fear of an ever bigger aftershock or perhaps the promise of the ever present  mythical ‘kanto quake’, the even bigger one that everyone is still waiting on to hit Tokyo. Of a radiation and nuclear cloud I can’t even begin to speculate. We couldn’t have felt more distant, remote and helpless in the face of it all.

Somehow amidst all this though, for whatever reason, the universe has chosen us to be here, lost in the lungs of the world at one of its spiritual epicentre’s. Returning to the jungle and the Ayahuasca, I returned to my own healing, diving selfishly back into the peace and solidarity of an evolving new body, plant based purity and awakened consciousness, anxious to finish what I had started; Megumi also had Javier fix a neck hernia she had been grappling with, but the medicine also continued to give us protection and strength. While our Ayahuasca and shamanic explorations have been a profound process of discovery and awakening throughout our travels here in Peru and in Ecuador; it is not a topic I can explore lightly, so is perhaps something best blogged about a lot more extensively another time. For now, we finished up our program, said goodbye to Javier and his family and made the return to civilization & the wilds of Iquitos, anxious again for updates.

We both feel strengthened at a core level from our experience though, well beyond just the physical rebuild I have been given, more open and tuned into the world and ourselves in a much more profoundly higher way. It feels like our 2 years of travel, deconstruction and re-balancing  is drawing to its own natural conclusion or even final evolution here in Peru. With everything that has happened as well, our continued travel doesn’t feel quite right or a priority anymore either. In light of events affecting our family and friends it even borders on irrelevant. Megumi wants to head back to Japan ASAP to help somehow, volunteer with the relief effort and put her newfound self to work / reconnect with her family. Still cut-off and without food, her mother won’t hear of it – it would be an even greater burden on her to have Megumi back in Japan right now I suppose. For Megumi this is hard to take, her compulsion is real and her heartland is calling her again finally, after all this time away. Over the next few days, we will take stock I guess and re-evaluate our travels and plans from here. The world seems somehow to have shifted. This tragedy has opened up some kind of floodgate globally it feels to me, there is fear, tragedy & sadness yes, but empathy, greater community, a palpable opening of the heart consciousness one senses and a strong platform for real change on many fronts (ie alternative energy) and we feel different too. We have been living in the lands and realms of 2012 transformations and shifts towards higher consciousnesses for a while now and it seems to becoming more and more tangible. We are awake and listening to that inner guide more than ever, hard to fathom sometimes, its harder still to turn off and ignore – it will be interesting to see what the universe has in store for us next.


Jungle Medicine 2 – Peru

Iquitos, Peru Shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano / Spiritual Dimensions Sometimes what you think you want and want you actually need turn out to be miles […]

Iquitos, Peru

Shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano / Spiritual Dimensions

Sometimes what you think you want and want you actually need turn out to be miles apart. So it was with my sacred medicine experience in Iquitos, deep in the Peruvian Amazon. An amazing experience for a myriad of reasons, that if you bear with me I will try in my elongated way to narrate as best I can. It’s not a short story but the interesting ones never are.

Feeding the Manatees

We arrived in Iquitos after our original plan of travelling to Pulcalpa to work with some traditional Shipibo shaman there before catching a 4 day boat down the Amazon, was thwarted by floods and lack of transport options. Unfazed we decided to do the trip in reverse, some universal guidance that we couldn’t help but look at later in wonder.

Iquitos is only accessible by boat or plane, one of the world’s most isolated cities. Sitting at the airport there is a bizarre assortment of passengers, but I found myself surrounded by a bunch of 20 something American wanna-be missionary evangelists, off to save jungle natives and merrily swapping Latino jokes. It was enough to evoke in me a red mist, an incredibly rare state for those that know me well. Armed with nothing more than a felt tipped pen though, I was forced to stay my hand and livid imagination. We have encountered missionaries everywhere in our travels, still to this day intent on savaging ancient cultures and destroying thousand year old traditions with their god fearing ignorance. Occasionally I do get taken with the urge to event the score.

Everything is for sales in Belen

Iquitos itself is one of those frontier towns of legend. It is a sprawling metropolis of some 400,000 people, though you would almost never guess at its size. Located at the junction of 3 rivers, it is a hub for trade and jungle supplies, its waterways linking Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil and Peru along the highways of the great Amazon river. Cargo boats, tuk tuks and boats ply their way everywhere here and some of the town itself is a floating ramshackle ghetto set on the river. The central market features almost everything imaginable from the jungle expresses – every kind of exotic, illegal animal is for sale here, plus witchdoctor potions, shamanic supplies and an incredible array of fruits and jungle meats to name but a few. There are a few gringo’s around and a pretty gnarly wild west bar scene. Foreigners only come here for one of 3 reasons really – missionaries and volunteers, Amazonian jungle tours or Ayahuasca ceremonies. It is pretty easy to spot which is which as you wander around town. With the tourist dollars flowing in for shamanic experiences, the place is also home to all sorts of souvenirs, charlatans, scams and high end resorts preying on the naive. Thankfully though we are well informed and have some great introductions. After a day of exploring the town, some animal refuges (think anaconda’s, river dolphins and manatees) we were ready to embark on our next Ayahuasca adventure.

We had decided to spend some time with shaman Javier Aureilo Shuahano at Spiritual Dimensions. We had read about his work in numerous books and also been recommended personally by several friends, so we were pretty comfortable with what we were signing up for. This time if things panned out, we had decided to do a 10 day program and had been doing some preparation in advance restricting our diet of salt, sugar, alcohol, pork and other similar purification requirements. Javier actually met us at our hostel on the appointed morning, along with two other Sardinian (Italian) guests and his wife. Javier was referenced to me as a ‘smiling buddha’ personality with great psychic surgery skills and he immediately looked the part, greeting us with a big grin, hugs and welcome greeting “my brother”.

Spiritual Dimensions Centre

Under Javier’s personal escort we headed out to the centre. Located about an hour from Iquitos, getting to Javier’s centre required we catch a tuk tuk to the edge of town, a 30 minute boat ride up the Nappo river to the village of Padre Cocha and then a wild moto-taxi ride down a muddy, dirt track (that Javier had actually built for the community) into the jungle.

Javier originally came from much further up the river Nannay, a coupe of days towards Ecuador. From a family of shaman, he studied under his grandfather before heading the call to move to the city in his early twenties. For a long time he worked all around the Iquitos at various centre’s run by foreigners, as a shaman for hire or working with locals wherever needed. Well known, but not well funded, he realized that he needed his own centre after some bad experiences with other partners, the two Sardinians who also happened to be there at the time we were there, Alessandro and Roberto had actually helped him to get started setting up his own centre about a year ago.

Shaman Jose preparing herbs

On arrival, we were shown through the centre. In the year since they had acquired the land they had managed to clear a large area, build 7 or so private tambo’s (huts) for guests, a large ceremonial hall, a kitchen, shower and toilet block plus sculpted a stream through the centre of the place and its newly planted, rapidly evolving garden of medicinal plants and vines.

We were introduced to an older shaman Jose, who took us on a brief tour of the surrounding jungle introducing us to and picking up different medicinal plants and flowers which were then added to a pot to steam in a makeshift plastic encased tippee, our introductory herbal sauna and the start of our cleanse. Stripped down it took a while for the sauna to heat up, but the lovely aroma’s soon took over and the travel dirt and toxins quickly worked their way to the surface. Showering off, we felt cleansed and we able to relax in preparation for the evenings’ first Ayahuasca ceremony.

Having taken Ayahuasca a few times now, I felt I at least knew what to expect and really my goals here were to try and go further with it and build on the Ecuadorian openings we had had – gain some more insight, traction with the space and a personal clarity of purpose if you will. The environment of Javier’s centre seemed filled with the right mix of relaxation and focus to enable that.

Gathering for the ceremony that night we met Alessandra and Roberto the two Sardinians properly and immediately connected. Heading to the long rectangular ceremony hut for the ceremony, there seemed to be at least 6 or 7 other participants, but possibly more in the darkness. Lining the hut on each side were foam mattresses, each equipped with a bucket for purging, tissues, a cup of water and a blanket. At the end, sat a big throne surrounded by what appeared to be snakes in the dim light where Javier was seated. We lay or sat on the mattresses and at 8pm Javier started the ceremony, blessing the Ayahuasca brew with the now familiar ritual of tobacco smoke and then each person was called up to drink. It was a slightly more bitter and acrid taste than our previously experiences, not as smooth on the digestion. Settling in, Javier began singing a range of beautiful icaro’s – summoning the spirits of Ayahuasca and creating protections for the group. He kept this up for hours, working through an endless array of captivating tunes rattling his leaves with perfect rhythm throughout. Pure, light and supremely comforting it is a beautiful experience in itself. Javier is famed for the beauty and variety of his icaro’s.

A Shamans tools

After about 2 hours I purged and felt the shift into the half-light, an overwhelming familiar sense of space came to me, but this time never seemed to manifest itself in the visual realm. I felt slightly frustrated, pining for a repeat of the Ecuadorian experience, but I also became conscious of something moving subtely throughout my body and more prominently as a solid black mass moving in the area of my stomach, I felt cramps of pain there, but after a while it dissipated and I thought no more or it. Midway through the evening, Javier began shuffling almost blindly about the ceremony hut, stopping at each person, chanting and moving over them, seeing their energy / space and choosing to sing a specific Icaro over them, based on his own shamanic guidance. Later as the ceremony ended and everyone returned back to their huts I had an onset of diarrea, followed by intense stomach pain and more vomiting. I had read diarrea was common with Ayahuasca, another way of purging the body of impurities and negative energy. The continued vomiting and stomach pain puzzled me though. This was to last all night, getting progressively worse and evolving into an intense fever. By lunchtime the next day, I was in serious trouble.

Barely walking and in feverish agony, Javier lay me down in the ceremony hut and felt my stomach. Immediately the problem was obvious. A huge malignant clot of bad energy he called it was lodged in my stomach. You could physically feel it is as a big tennis ball sized lump below my solar plexis, with its own frenetic, crazy pulse. Javier said that it was akin to a cancer, but not medical or going to show up on a hospital scan. Something had been blocking my energy here for a long time and the Ayahuasca had felt it. Probably the result of extreme stress and pain forged over a long period he suggested. He said it was probably also manifesting as pain in my back, shoulders and hip areas. All were areas I had been experiencing intense pain for a long time and most especially in recent months.

Javier applying herbs

Make of the explanations what you will, but the Ayahuasca as I had sensed it the night before had found the blockage – the lump, pulse and intense pain were all real. Javier and his apprentices had a patient and set about the healing. Later as I reflected on it, I remembered some of my experiences in India. An Ayurvedic doctor in Rishkesh had felt my pulse and immediately diagnosed stomach and back issues, I had the same experience with an astrology there. At the time, I had acknowledged the back pain, but the stomach issue had puzzled me, here it seemed I had an explanation.

Immediately Javier, with the assistance of his apprentices put a heart shaped stone on the pulsing area and applied a poultice of herbs from a variety of specific plants across my stomach. Then they started treating the fever and high temperature with more herbs and plants to my forehead. Soon I was largely covered in plants and plant concoctions, but I started to cool down, the pulse began to dissipate a little and the nauseas died down to a more comfortable level; though this was all to return again just as intensely later in a few hours.

Javier wanted to focus on curing me at the ceremony that night, so they applied a bandage around my stomach filled with creamed aloe vera and some of other plant remedies and left me to my anguish for the remainder of the afternoon. One of Javiers assistants told me not to worry, Bon Jovi’s girlfriend had the same problem he said. She could barely walk or move and was totally racked with body pain. After several weeks with Javier he said she was able to do full body yoga. Never thought I would end up sharing a shamn with Bon Jovi – it’s a strange, strange world.

The new patient

Somehow I held on in my state of feverish delirium and pain until the ceremony started, everyone had drunk and the icaro’s started. At this point, my stomach, back and shoulders were all aflame with pain and I was losing track of time. At some point though, I became aware of Javier shuffling over to me. He sat over me in concentration and a cloud of tobacco smoke, then began muttering some chants or offerings in his own language, channelling the Ayahuasca spirit and sucking at the area of stomach. At this point I was so tired and delirious I lost track of things, but vaguely remember several such visits during the ceremony. At some point I must have fell asleep, because I remember coming to and finding the ceremony finished, the hut largely empty. I became aware that a lot of my back pain and fever was now gone, as well as the nausea. I needed to crap badly, so was still purging there and the stomach pain was definitely still present but it was a dramatic improvement. I bore through the calls of the diarrea as best I could and was able finally to get a good nights sleep. The next morning, Javier inspected the bandages and found them dry. He was excited, it mean’t that much of the toxins had been drawn out and the pulse was right down. It would take 3 more days he said to cure and then I could drink Ayahuasca again. By then you will have a whole new body he said.

Javier & Jessica applying bandages

So here I am in the jungle, at an Ayahuasca retreat as I have planned and researched for months and weirdly I am told I am not actually going to be drinking anything. Funny how the universe works, let alone the Ayahuasca medicine. I am learning first hand that Ayahuasca is very much a plant spirit with its own agenda, in this casse healing. It is a new education and perspective to my naïve notions restricted to higher conscious explorations and visions. I also have a new appreciation for Javier, he is much more a Curandero (focused on healing) than just a shaman. Shaman it seems tend to specialize as a rule and may be vegetalists (focused on knowledge of plants), brujo’s (handling curses etc), showmen focused on selling higher conscious experiences or else complete fakes. As I was learning their Ayahuasca brew was all adjusted and refined to suit and support their own focus and purposes – creating a wide range and variety of potential experiences as a result. Using less chacruna, the emphasis here was not as much on spirit connections and visions, though it was still present, as it was a tool focused to assist Javier in his healing. Whatever my original expectations or desires though, it seemed I was definitely in the right place.

The next night I had psychic surgery! Javier switched from Ayahuasca Cielo (sky) to a negro (black) vine for the ceremony and the change in energy was palpable. More conscious of events this time, and not drinking as the operative, I was able to lie back and appreciate the ceremony in itself. It was a much smaller crew this time – me and Megumi obviously, Alessandro and Roberto, an American apprentice Joey and another Brazilian apprentice. It was an intimate environment and after the last few days of mis-adventures, I felt bonded to all, everyone felt like family now. After everyone drank, Javier started singing much slower and different icaros to the ones he had used before. While I wasn’t drinking I could still almost sense the shift in atmosphere as the Ayahuasca took hold. People started purging quicker and more violently. Lying still as I was becoming used to now, waiting my turn, I tried to meditate, calm myself and clear my mind. A little more perceptive from this perhaps I could sense the energies tonight were different and there was a lurking, darker mood. The other guys were really going through some stuff.

After a while Javier stopped and came over to me, waving his fan and beads, shuffling slowly. Seated beside me he sang an icaro over me as he meditated and gathered his plant spirits / power, visualizing the area of my stomach. After a while he felt my pulse and began muttering over the area then carefully began sucking out the negative energy through my bellybutton blowing it clear. Each sucking process took a long-time as he cleared all the energy, taking some 5 or 6 attempts. I felt a slight reduction in pain almost immediately as the swollen spot subsided and simultaneously felt some gaseous movement in my stomach. After a satisfying examination, Javier moved on to deal with the others.

Roberto & Morenita

The next day Javier explained that the Ayahuasca had told him that he needed to cure my stomach, back and shoulders before I could drink again properly. I would drink a little Ayahuasca tonight though while he worked on my shoulders and then the next day my back. When he looked more closely however, as part of reapplying a bandage to my stomach in the morning he noticed I had a slipped disc in my back, a long term injury really, but one probably made much more serious with two years of backpacking travel, plus he detected additional shoulder and neck problem areas. This is going to take at least 3 more additional days he said smiling, all of it needed fixing to get the energy flowing properly.

The next few day I drank a little Ayahuasca and Javier resumed the surgery this time blowing into my stomach area, injecting and sharing his healing energy. The Ayahuasca itself kicked in late, but revealed a host of beautiful visions. For almost 30 minutes I saw serpents in many forms, the most common guise of the Ayahuasca spirit, as she revealed herself to me for the first time and almost seemed to be playing with me. It was a very beautiful, soothing and confirming experience.

Joey & Alessandra

By now I was also able to fully re-engage with everyone at the centre. The workers and chef, all locals were very happy people and felt like family very quickly, the place bubbled with positivity. Uncovering many of their stories was fascinating. Many of them had family members who were quite sick but subsequently healed by Javier, they work here some completely unnecessarily, ever indebted and happily returning the favour, creating the healing environment for others. It was also reassuring to see the money at work here. Immediately we paid Javier and his wife for some of our time here, wood started arriving and the workers happily began building more infrastructure, wood for a new Ceremony hut, more tambo’s and some outdoor furniture. The place was constantly, happily evolving before our eyes and we felt absolutely delighted to contribute.

My own experiences had really been an awakening in a many ways, but the time, sharing, conversations and energy exchanges going on with Megumi, Roberto, Alessandra and Joey outside the ceremonies were real soul connections in themselves – opening us up, exploring dreams, ideas and new perspectives, it all complemented the Ayahuasca medicine in the most amazing way. It was a healing all of itself and left lasting impressions on all of us I think, all subtlety changed and affected in completely different ways.

Aya-chan the sloth

Roberto, a die-hard Sarndinian seperationist, also had a side mission rescuing animals from the market in Iquitos and proceeded to add to the centre family by bringing home first Morenita – a small monkey with the personality of naughty child, bent on destroying branches, attempting escapes and faking crying as soon as he got in trouble. Everyone’s couldn’t help but like him, bubbling with oh to human personality, he also wore the scars of capture and sale trauma. He was then followed by a beautiful 3 toed sloth, with an almost human, angelic masked face and serene personality – we dubbed her Aya-chan. A real heartbreaker, she felt like a totally pure soul. Aya-chan either slept in complete bliss or moved slowly, surely and relentlessly in pursuing an escape. We could watch her captivated for hours as she slowly felt her way across the ceremony hut or a group of tree’s outside, following her fundamental programming to find her ideal tree or a hunt for food, we could never really tell. She let out a heartbreaking tiny scream whenever we foiled an escape attempt by prizing her off a branch, back into a manageable safe zone. One of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen or experienced – she really stole Megumi’s heart. Roberto also somehow procured a magnificent rooster and a chook as well for future service’s to the kitchen and later one of the apprentices brought home a rescued baby Boa Constrictor, a fascinating interaction of a whole other kind. While the new additions weren’t particularly welcomed by the resident cat and Parrot, Pepe – all seemed somehow perfectly synchronized with the goals of the centre. Animals create genuine heart interactions and easy, unattached emotional connections I think, a perfect complement and catalyst for healing.

Megumi & Aya-chan

On the sixth day, Javier performed surgery again and I felt a big release in my stomach. He grabbed my throat and worked down my front to my stomach throwing away the negative energy that he caught. A process he repeated several times. Later he told me that the plants had been excited to show him my stomach – “look” they said, “see it is gone”. While much of my back pain had already dissipated, he was now ready to focus on my back, shoulders and kidneys and he said he had also seen a small bloodclot in my side?

While my own progress here was amazing, Megumi had been having a very different experience. She had not been having strong visions, but the ceremonies were bringing her lots of peace and she felt a real strengthening and confidence that she did not really understand. Again counter to her expectations of intense visions and a perceived desire to purge issues and pursue psychological healing of her own kind. Javier said that she had a very rare, strong soul and constitution and did not seem worried at all by this lack of purging and releases of the level that many of the rest of us were going through. On the sixth day though, now that I was back on my feet, she went into town and checked the internet, plunging herself into the very peak of hysteria, as the full scale of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan seized the world. Realizing things had centred on her mothers hometown state of Miyagi, she was in a panic and unable to get in touch with her mother, although she eventually reached an uncle who reassured her she was OK, having only just been able to contact with them after 5 days of being cut-off with no phones. It was incredibly sobering news and really shattered the bubble of peace and healing we had been experiencing. In the ceremony that night, Javier sung some particularly beautiful icaros and a special healing one for Megumi which he said she was able to give him the words for. In a strange way, our sudden changed travel plan to Iquitos enabling healing for me and then providing Megumi with enough isolation so that she would only just find out the news now, in a perfectly prepared state, after her mother was finally able to get into contact with the world. Both were amazing co-incidences and far too convenient for us to ignore.

Local dance send-off for the crew


As this news and the implications settled in, we took a break from ceremonies for a few days. One evening, Javier put me on a course of plant medicines to help heal my back and kidneys. I had too drink a 4 litre jug of an amazing plant called Cats Claw that is used to heal cancers and does wonders for HIV apparently. It is horrid stuff to stomach though and much harder than Ayahuasca to drink. We also headed into town to connect with news on Japan and try and get our heads around the situation. The news was devastating and affecting so many people that we knew. Many of our friends were leaving Tokyo, it was totally surreal. While I still had several days of healing to go, we could feel everything changing, not least of all our travel plans which seemed almost irrelevant now. It was especially hard for Megumi – the strengthening and peace she had been cultivating was being called on in full. This also coincided with the break up of our family oasis, as Alessandra and Roberto left to return home. It was a sad and difficult parting, but it has been such a fantastic shared experience and connection that I am sure it will live on in its own amazing ways. Joey also decided to join them, feeling he needed to leave the centre and start actioning some of his own new clarity and revelations revealed to him while we were there.

Aya the Spirit Guide

With just us at the centre and the Japan cloud hanging over things, the final healings and ceremonies were more intimate and different now. Javier fixed my slipped disc and the blood clot that he felt was causing further energy dispersion and a key source of much of my pain. I was also given another bandage to draw out more of the toxins and negative energy and another 4 litre bucket of plant medicine – this time it was Setico bark (sloth food!), mixed with flax seeds to help circulation. I needed to drink it in full again, though this time much more digestible thankfully. Megumi also received surgery on the hernia in her neck, which she had been having difficulty with for years. The Ayahuasca visions themselves were very subtle now and difficult to maintain. One ceremony I sensed someone giving me 3 gifts, distinct colours (green, brown and purple) but it was difficult to perceive the exact face of the person or the nature of the gifts. Javier later pressed me for the colours and interpreted them for me, explaining that it was a gift from the Ayahuasca. Green is for the medicine & plants; Purple is for the healing, while the brown is for consciousness and energy. It is great thing he tells me.  Javier also tells me that in 3 days I will have a very vivid dream, which I distinctly do (unusual for me, as I don’t normal recall experiencing dreams at all), unfortunately the details of the dream slip away before I can lock it down.

In our final ceremony, an expanded session with several new arrivals and some other day guests from town – Javier gives us protective arcana’s to seal and protect our energetic bodies, it will help us to meet the right people and have the right experiences / connections as we venture back into the world. Javier also tells us is that he saw a giant sloth during the ceremony protecting me and Megumi. Aya-chan it seems has become our protective animal token, she has certainly found a place in our hearts.

The boat back to reality

As we start to break our diet – no sugar, oil, salt etc and prepare to leave the centre, reluctantly returning to a new and different real world, Javier gives me some final instructions. He tells me that the disc in my back will take 3 months to totally heal properly and remesh and that I need to be very careful with lifting heavy things (ie My backpack – gulp!). He also provides me with very careful guidelines on my diet which will assist the continued healing of my back and stomach. No alcohol for 25 days, no pork, spices or chilli’s for 3 months. Tough, but doable.

As we left and our thoughts turned more intensely to events in Japan. It was hard to reflect on the full scale of our experience here. The healing itself was amazing, physically my body felt better than I can ever really remember, but there were many other subtle changes as well – I felt more opened and awakened in lots of ways. Over the coming weeks as we visited and experienced some of the Peru’s sacred places, fast tracking our revised travel plans, I felt much more heightened sensitivities to the energies of certain places and natural environments – a noticeable shift in awareness, consciousness perhaps and perception. There were also the real soul connections with the other guys at the centre and then there is Javier and his team – completely loving, open and pure in their path.

While not complete by any means, our shamanic adventures had seemed to have reached their natural conclusion here for this trip at least. There was much more to learn and experience and we will definitely be back for more, but we felt we had been given everything we needed for the moment. In all a truly magical experience, completely unexpected and it really couldn’t have been more different to the script. The Ayahuasca medicine does indeed work in strange and mysterious ways.

Read also

More on our Ecuadorian experiences here

Some additional Ayahuasca background here



Jungle Medicine 1 – Ecuador

Tena, Ecuador Javier – Apprentice Shaman (Jungle Tour) Our first attempt at meeting a shaman and partaking in an Ayahuasca ceremony wasn’t a particularly successful […]

Tena, Ecuador

Javier – Apprentice Shaman (Jungle Tour)

Our first attempt at meeting a shaman and partaking in an Ayahuasca ceremony wasn’t a particularly successful one. With some strong intel that Tena, a jungle frontier town some 5 or 6 hours from Quito in Ecuador, was a key hub for shaman we arrived to find the place completely shutdown for the weekend. The guides and shaman contacts we had contact details and introductions for turned out not to be answering phones or responding to emails and we were reduced to tackling things the old fashioned way. Hanging around for a few days and walking the town, we talked to a number of travel and tour companies, scraping together their recommendations on jungle / shaman adventures. Not an ideal way to do things but several seemed to have some options that they could put together – it was definitely low season. This was not the first, well-researched, beautiful introduction to the Ayahuasca medicine we were seeking, but we were here and working through the options decided on one anyway.

Our funky Jungle Hut.

Steering clear of foreign options, a local company said they would take us on a 3 day tour into the jungle near their traditional village, as part of which we would take Ayahuasca with a local shaman from the village or that was what we gleamed through our limited, heavily dialected Spanish conversation. It sounded quite authentic and was locally run so appealed – anyway it was cheap, we were here, why not?

As you would expect though, the reality didn’t quite match the expectations of our fervid imaginings. The village turned out to be located only some 20 minutes outside Tena, where we were dropped off on the side of the road outside town, each given gumboots and introduced to our guide / cook / shaman, Javier. Young, maybe mid-20’s, Javier was a cool looking guy with tattoo’s and a long plait of hair down his back, but little command of English. Not quite what we had in mind when it comes to our image of a shaman, but it looked like we could connect with him pretty well and we were kind of past the point of turning back.

We then set of on an hour walk through the jungle wading over numerous small streams in our gumboots and eventually arriving at a funkily crafted cabin in a well maintained clearing. The plan was to take Ayahuasca that night, so given the need to fast for the day beforehand we had little energy and nothing much to do except relax and rest. Relaxing in hammocks for most of the morning, we then walked went on a brief walk for a few hours while Javier introduced us to various medicinal plants, clays and their traditional uses. We were pretty impressed with ourselves simply in being able to follow most of what he said in Spanish.

Preparing the vine

Upon return we set about preparing the Ayahuasca brew. Under instructions and occasional intervention from Javier we cut down 2 x 2 foot lengths of a 12 year old Ayahuasca vine growing near the hut and chopped these into 4 x 15cm lengths each. We then stripped the vine of its thin covering of outer bark – the white inner wood of the vine reacting with the air, quickly turned a reddish brown. Apparently this is the strongest concentration of Ayahuasca in the vine. These pieces we then crushed into smaller, thinner strips and loaded into a large pot, covering with water. Javier then added several handfuls of Charipunga leaves to the pot and set it to boil for 3 or 4 hours, reducing the liquid to a couple of bowlfuls.

Around 8pm, with the moon lightening up the jungle night sky, Javier did a simple ceremony, blew some smoke over the broth and served us up a bowlful each. The taste was very earthy and bitter, but not nearly as vile as I was expecting. While we waited for it to take effect, he explained that his father was a shaman and that he had been taking Ayahuasca for 7 years studying under the 2 shaman of his village. At one point drinking Ayahuasca 20 days straight. Young as he was, it was re-assuring, we had had our doubts about the whole experience up until this point. Javier then began to softly sing icaro’s (sacred songs), play a flute and shake a fan made of leaves used for purifying energy and we settled back and waited for things to take effect.

Getting initiated by Javier

Megumi started throwing up right on schedule 30 minutes in, but I didn’t have the same compulsion. After 45 minutes I drank a little more – still no visions or nausea. After a little while though, I became dizzy, disorientated and unbalanced as though drunk. My thoughts quickened and started jumping around. I felt euphoric and perceived things in kind of an earie half-light, shadows and shapes appeared to move out of the corner of my eye. This continued for some 4 or 5 hours, it was all quite unusual, but not the visions and experience I was expecting. Javier later explained that it was not uncommon the first time, it took him several times before he experienced the visions.

Next day I tried eating and found myself throwing up as I should have the night before. Some delayed metabolistic reaction I guess, I was also still feeling a little weird and offbalance from the experience. But we headed off on a 6 hour jungle hike to a distant cave where we would spend the night By evening, following a big meal things were back to normal and we trekked back to the village and returned to Tena the next day.

In all it was a pleasant, if not really compelling experience. But the intimacy of cutting the vine and creating the brew ourselves, just us, the moon and the jungle for a first time seemed a beautiful orientation to the Ayahuasca experience. Even if the results had belied our expectations.

Tena, Ecuador

Shaman Don Luis / Kuyaloma

Returning to civilization we heard back from our original contacts, they had been caught up in a 10 day retreat during our previous visit, but had scheduled a ceremony for the following week that we could attend. It meant delaying our planned stay in Ecuador by another week, but it offered a more authentic experience and was too tempting to pass up, so we looped back around to Tena for another go. We have learnt many times on this trip that there is no point having regrets.

Our guide Feather Crown / Jan

At a meeting point by the river in central Tena, we met a group of 6 other ceremony participants (1 German, an older American guy, an older Austrian / American couple plus 2 local Ecuadorians) along with Jan, the guide and organizer of the experience. Jan who goes by the name “Feather Crown” is a Czech national that had been living in Ecuador for the past few years. In that time he had worked and studied with many of the shaman in the Tena area and occasionally put together guided experiences with some of them, such as the one we had signed up for.

Kuyaloma is located about 20 minutes from Tena towards Michualli, the other side of Tena to our previous adventure. It is a small community, presided over by the shaman Don Luis and his apprentice son Juan Andi. Don Luis is VP of the regional shaman council and considered one of the most respected and powerful shaman in the area. Jan had explained that there are more than 200 hundred shaman in the area, most villages and extended families have one, but many are alcoholics. There are few foreign Ayahuasca tourists here unlike in Peru, a large part of the reason we have sought out an experience here, thinking it would be more authentic. Jan has developed a relationship with Don Luis, partly because of the quality of his ceremonies and skills, but also because he is alcohol free and that the proceeds from the foreigners he brings here, are tangibly plowed back into the infrastructure. Located behind a large tin covered basketball court, which acts as the community refuge centre, Don Lui’s property is located on a hill, with the river and township below. Despite the proximity it still feels peaceful and somewhat isolated, surrounded by plants and jungle. He has recently built a 2 story block for simple sleeping accommodations, 2 stand alone tambo’s (huts) and a large circular ceremony hut. Recently covered pipelines and open dirt gutters show where sewerage for bathrooms had only just been completed.

The Ceremony hut - Malocca

Guided and translated into English by Jan, the ceremony starts around 8pm with an introduction by Don Luis who we had not seen in daylight. In the twilight, backlit only by glowing coals of the ceremonial huts fireplace, Don Luis castes an impressive figure – shirtless, wearing a grass skirt and a crown of feathers. He talks of how he came to his profession. A shamanic tradition handed down to him from his grandfather and fathers before him. Initially he was trained through stories from the spiritworld, until a visit to a sacred waterfall nearby led to a sacred experience and revelation of the spirits.

The ceremony space was a big, round, thatch-roofed hut, with a recessed fireplace built into the floor, and several fireplaces arranged outside with bench seating amongst the tree’s. We were all seated around the edge of the hut, cushioned benchseats, with foam mattresses behind on the wall so that you could lean back at a 60 degree angle comfortably. The Ayahuasca had been brewed that day from a Negro (black) vine and combined with Challipunga leaves, similar sounding to the brew we had made ourselves previously. When Don Luis had finished speaking, he began the ceremony itself , blessing the Ayahuasca brew by blowing tobacco smoke through the liquid and chanting some sacred songs (or icaro’s). We then each went forward, sat on a small wooden stool before him and after another blessing, drank a small shotfull of the Ayahuasca. The experience of this itself, castes a large mystical shadow – the feathers, grass, tobacco smoke and bare chest of the shaman in the dim light was transformative in and of itself. The Ayahuasca tasted much stronger than our first experience, though we are drinking considerably smaller quantities. After drinking, we are given Awasca, a plant stimulant to rinse our mouth and help rid some of the after taste, as well as some ginger to chew, also helping with digestion and nausea.

After a few minutes, everyone was leaning back meditating, relaxing and waiting for the brew to take hold. Don Luis started playing a small twangy instrument, a harmonica and singing songs, walking around purifying the space and the energy. The presence and atmosphere this created was captivating and magical all in itself. Within 15 minutes, several people fell heavily under the Ayahuasca spell, groaning and writhing on the ground, throwing up and grappling with all sorts of demons it seemed. It was intense and immensely distracting. Jan and some of the other family acting as assistants helped take these people outside, fanning them with leaves and feathers trying to calm them and remove negative energies. After an hour or so, I felt a sudden shift in the space, the twilight changed to a half-light, taking on an almost mystical aspect with slight visual inconsistencies appearing out of the corners of the eye, tinged with occasional flashes of blue fire – very subtle nothing strong or intense.

Preparing the Ayahuasca

After a while, with violent groans and purging still occurring outside I was called forward by the shaman for an energy cleansing. This is traditionally what shaman do for community members in Ecuador, whether or not you have even drunk Ayahuasca its really the key focus of the ceremony. Shirtless I sat before him on the small wooden stool while he set about balancing my energies. He started the cleansing by spit-spraying “agua de florida”, a perfumed alcohol over my body, front and back of my hands. He then placed his lips to the crown of my head and blew his energy into my being, sharing his knowledge and energetic strength, a process he later repeated at the end of the cleansing and by putting his lips to the palms of my hands. What followed next was a hypnotic, beautiful ceremony of sacred songs, instruments and ritualized fanning using dry leaves that were performed as an intense, energetic dance all over and around my body. The energy and intensity of the performance was both surreal and immense, it must have lasted a full half hour, during which I felt numbness and tingles over different parts of my body. When he finished I tried to stand and almost fell over, dizzy with the energetic transfer effect.

Cooking the brew

After relaxing for a few moments, I could stand and realized I felt totally euphoric, lighter and completely clear. Whatever had taken place during the cleansing had created a state of absolute clarity and bliss within me. I basked in it for a while and explored outside, even sensing the dark energies of the other participants still purging by the fire did not dampen my new found state. Not really feeling the effects of the Ayahuasca though I decided to take some more. Most people were outside now, groans, purging and bodies in different states littered the seats and fire areas. The shaman himself was by the fire, his wife and son hitting him with leaves, chanting songs and feeding him lemonwater. He was in very deep, as he later explained and they were trying to keep him in this world, to bring him back from the edge. Throat cleansing and purging echoed all around me in the night.

I still felt the twilight edge, but again the Ayahuasca seemed to have little effect – my new energy clarity seemed to have super-ceded the brews effects. I settled back around the fire as the evening started to calm down again, the shaman’s cleansing rituals, songs resuming as part of the others cleansing rituals, creating a harmonic and soothing background. About 4m we went to bed.

Breaking the fast the next day

The next day we shared a fantastic, Ayahuasca diet friendly breakfast cooked by Jan’s Slovakian partner. Then we sat down and shared experiences, everyone had a completely different perspective and story to tell it seemed, although myself and Megumi seemed quite aligned. No-one could believe I had taken 3 doses of Ayahuasca. Several people had lost all control and gone as close to the edge as they believed possible on the first. One American had done more than 40 ceremonies in Peru and rated this amongst the strongest he had ever had. Others had encountered spirits or purged deep personal issues. It’s a little disconcerting, I feel fantastic and clear – quite amazing really the energy cleansing must have really removed some significant burdens from me, but it was still not the deep, visionary, spirit world experience I was expecting. There is a sensitivity or attunement required with this particularly brew we are told from Jan – be patient. Deciding to ride the momentum, we agree to return the following day and sit in ceremony again.

Ceremony 2

Wow – what a difference a day makes. One of those total, revelatory, life changing experiences that you want to scream from the highest mountain tops with joy and new awareness!

Tobacco curing in the Malocca

The ceremony was almost identical in format, there were 9 of us, 6 returning from the first night, but all of us had a completely different experience. Don Luis started with a story again, telling us of a time when he was very young and had taken a journey 17 dys down the river into the Amazon somewhere in Peru. He had been given Ayahuasca and encountered a giant Anaconda which he rode and was taken on a journey that featured several outer world encounters. It was beautiful and mesmerising, even if I couldn’t really conceive yet some of the spaces he was sharing.

After blessing the brew, we imbibed. This time after 15 minutes, reality shifted completely. It started with a cold shiver that crawled up my body closing in like a veil, every core of my being vibrating. In front of me the light shifted and slowly everything transformed into a moving mosaic of organic fractals, a pulsing and shifting display of chemical structures before me. I was frozen and unable to move as the world started to kaleidoscope – buzzing with the intensity of this wave of transition. After a while I started to feel a wave of nausea and managed to find my way outside. Everything pulsed and moved visually, but as I made my way to the tree’s, I found them glowing with a bright purple energy field. Each emitted a discernable energy life force that I could see, sense and feel, it was totally Avatar like for want of a better description – a connection of the purest quality. Purging heavily I sensed spirits moving around me, one rose out of the ground right in front of me and beckoned me on. Of the earth, a weirdly shapeless form, dark brown, its arms like mittens waving my purging on, encouraging me to purge whatever negative energy or blocks I was trying to remove from my body. All over, I had a sense of dejavu of familiarity with this realm or space. But the sudden awareness, speed and intensity of the experience I was processing also created a sense of panic. I felt myself freaking out at the waves and intensity of the revelations. I found myself trying to analyse what I was seeing, experiencing, wanting to describe it, to document it, think about what it mean’t and in doing so I felt the experience begin to recede a little. I spent a lot of time trying to divorce the rational side of my brain – to free myself, to let myself flow fully and go with this new realm and experience, but felt firmly held back. In hindsight now there is a lot more work I realize I needed to do here to empty my mind and open myself up further to this experience (similar I guess to some of the meditations I have studied). At the time though, this was a big barrier, I kept finding myself in the face of this realm and these possibilities, being pulled back by my own rationality. There was a driving need to get outside of myself and separate myself from the moment to process it and in so doing compromising the experience.

Mascot - the ceremony only dog

Calmer as a result, but with everything still pulsing visually and trapped in this new spiritual realm, I was able to lie down and for a time flow with the visions and experience a little. After a while though, I felt a repeated compulsion to purge again and found myself in the jungle, leaning on my new tree spirit friend’s for support, as I dry purged, kind of vomiting air. Expunging something deep inside that I needed to be rid of, though I know not what specifically. This went on for some time, periodically Jan or one the family’s assistants would come over and fan me, cleansing me of the bad energy I was releasing and protecting me in the process. This tangibly felt better each time it was performed. I was still in a state of total wonder and amazement at what was happening, but slowly the purging and the fanning eased the intensity of what was happening. I was also consciously aware of the tree’s support and energy helping me as well, plus a mysterious dog that seemed to be always by my side. I found out later he was called mascot and only ever really appeared during ceremonies.

I then found myself back in the ceremonial hut and seated before the shaman for an energy cleanse. I was shaking and still nauseas, Don Luis on entering could barely walk himself, lost deep in his own communion with the spirits, he had to be helped to his place. Bowed before him, he fed me his energy through the crown of my head and my palms, sprayed me with the ‘agua de florida’ and began his cleansing ritual of songs, dances and fanning with full power and energy. I closed my eyes and was lost to this dark, shadowy, tobacco filled realm. Soothing, familiar and somehow peaceful I felt the shakes and convulsions and battles within slowly subside, dissipate and slip away altogether replaced with a calmness, strength and clarity. When I finished I sat back in the ceremony room and relaxed. The visuals and other worldly perception was slowly receding and I felt myself slipping back into a serene and peaceful clarity.

It had all happened so fast and so intensely it actually felt kind of frustrating. I had been shown the door and pushed in, I had perceived this otherworld, interacted with its messengers and affirmed the experience that I had been seeking. But I had also found myself not quite ready or unable to let myself go and release myself to go deeper. There is still much for me to resolve, remove here. It is inspirational and world view changing for me in so many ways, but at the same time incredibly humbling. I am just a baby at the gates of perception, dwarfed by the immensity of the things I do not know or understand it seems. I am committed to going a lot deeper though and here I have received the encouragement I needed, but also a sense of the reality and challenges s well. There is so much I do not know or comprehend, so much that I need to let go of and re-evaluate.

Sharing experiences

The next morning I felt a little dizzy, but clear, light, pure and simply euphoric at the new awareness, excited at the paths ahead. We share experiences again, everyone is different, experiences all commensurate with each persons various stage, experience or needs. Megumi’s has been largely similar to mine it appears – it has been truly groundbreaking for her as well. Jan shares what he perceived with many of us on the energy plane and we are all incredibly bonded by the experience.

Jan also explains that while we have been cleansed and intensely energized by the Shaman and our experiences, we are also totally opened up and therefore vulnerable to other energies and bad spirits, to people taking energy and losing momentum. There are therefore some rules to follow from here. No alcohol for 6 days, no pork for 4 days, no sex for a week. No shaking hands with people for a while (the palms are a key energy transfer point, where energy flows and is refilled). Basically eating lots of fruits, vegetables which we do anyway and avoiding crowds, busy city environments until our new energy bodies can settle. It’s a lot to absorb, but we are floating on a high. We would love to go deeper and stay for more, our new German friend signs on for a month with Don Luis, but we intend to go deeper and explore this more in Peru. While we will remain seared by the experience forever, it was time to move on.

You can read more about our Peruvian experiences here

and the some of the background on the why of it here



Chasing the Vine

Vomiting, diarrhoea, nightmarish visions, serpents & spirits, fasting, restrictive diets, celibacy, mosquito’s and other bizarre insects…. strange things indeed to associate with a totally voluntary […]

Vomiting, diarrhoea, nightmarish visions, serpents & spirits, fasting, restrictive diets, celibacy, mosquito’s and other bizarre insects…. strange things indeed to associate with a totally voluntary travel escapade really. So why I find myself wondering, have I pursued this quest to trek deep into the jungle to visit with a shaman and drink Ayahuasca?

I have been conscious of this summons for the last 15 years or so, ever since I first became fascinated with the wonderful world of hallucinogenic plants and trance states. But it’s only since I started travelling again, that the passion and ‘the call’ have been transformed into a more compelling spiritual quest. Now staring at the jungle, about to dive into another encounter with the ‘vine of the dead’, I suddenly have found time to ponder the obsession and attraction.

For those wanting to know, a shaman is a person who, in tribal cultures, communicates with the spirit world. As intermediaries, shamans ask spirits to intercede in the lives of humans, healing them of illnesses, or granting favors. While Shaman are located all around the world and work in many strange ways, the Shaman of South America are some of the most famed – spending years in the deep, immersive plant kingdoms of the jungle by themselves training to work with the plants. Theirs is a history and world passed from master to apprentice all the way back through time. Using the Ayahuasca vine (or the San Pedro cactus in the Andean mountain traditions), they roam the bridging dimensions of the spirit world in service to their communities. We have found shamans just about everywhere in Ecuador and Peru, every community has one, though finding true masters is much more of a challenge.

In an Ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman guides you in navigating the wonders of this plant and exploring the mysterious otherworld. Their Icaros (songs), music and chants performed during the ceremony caste a protective net around the participants; freeing them from darker or negative spirits preying on those being opened up by the experience to the universe and spirit-world. The songs and music holds and binds you to reality somehow, keeping your head above water and often controlling the tempo of the experience itself. Serpents (manifestations of the Ayahuasca plant) and other plants spirits are strong presences in this realm, but there are other more malevolent energies and spirits as well, able to be conjured by brujos (witchdoctors) for more sinister purposes. As largely ignorant savages, the white man is scores of generations out of practice and familiarity with the nuances of this world, so the shamans’ role is very important here, we are way out of our depth and need careful policing.

An Ayahuasca ceremony usually taking place after the sun sets around 8pm, in the twilight hours. After the shaman blesses and purifies his brew, you drink a small amount. The concoction itself is made according to the Shaman’s own recipe and tastes, but is typically made from boiling the vine itself for many hours or even days, along with a varying combination of other plants (including Charuna, a source of DMT that triggers the more visual experiences). How they have found these combinations from the millions of other plants available in the jungle is testament to the incredible knowledge and guidance they have received from the plants themselves. The taste of the Ayahuasca brew is horrid though – earthy and bitter, the stomach blanches at the very thought and after digestion it is a typical compulsion to then throw it up or occasionally purge it in other less pleasant ways. (It thus requires careful dieting and preliminary fasting as a result). As the Ayahuasca kicks in, you drop into an eerie halflight almost between worlds and often feel the presence of the Ayahuasca vine in various forms. It is an experience that can involve intense visions and insights or communications from the plants themselves, while sometimes this is comes with physical purging or cleansing – a process of removing negative energies, past experiences or personal blocks. All told the experience lasts up to 5 hours, though its resultant effects reverberate through you for days afterward.

Part of the appeal of all this is the ancient mystique of the activity itself. The experience of researching & collecting information on ancient / lost traditions; of tracking down local knowledge, finding personal encounters and recommendations on Shaman and the chance to wander deep into the legendary Amazonian jungle zone, it all just oozes with wow for me. It is the attraction of the adventure, the random, the ancient, the lost, the unknown and the unexpected; a thirst for ancient wisdom from traditions in stark contrast to and often of greater knowledge than our own. Most simply perhaps, it’s a call of the wild, a chance to return to nature in the truest sense.

More than that though, there is the urgent call of the experience itself – of experiencing the spirit world with all its unfathomable mysteries and legends. The hallucinogenic plant, Ayahuasca is felt as a living presence in spirit form by its imbibers. Its ritual consumption claims a myriad of effects from visions of the future and personal insights to deep ancestral connections or clear perceptions of spirits and astral travel. Its guidance can be used by shamans to heal all manner of physical, spiritual and emotional disorders with results that often stun modern science. Drinking the vine is also often described as akin to partaking in a form of natural communion, connecting you with the universes’ many sentient lifeforms – an interspecies union through sentient plants. ‘Food of the gods’ indeed to quote Terrence Mckenna, much like Mushrooms and Cactii – the vine’s sentient cousins. It can be a gateway to higher consciousness and much more.

I have done my research of course. William Burroughs, beat author and general pioneer of the strange, first did this pilgrimage back in the early 1950’s based purely on the merest sniff of legend and rumour. His friend Ginsberg and other psychedelic revolutionaries such as Aldus Huxley began to follow in his footsteps later in the sixties. But over the last 20 years or so it has started to boom in popularity, an almost mainstream form of psychedelic tourism has kicked in, with custom built centres opening up everywhere. Jungle shaman are now ‘turning professional’ as they focus on servicing the ‘gringos’ and gringo’s in turn are donning shaman colours themselves; conversely  fakes and cons are rapidly incrasing, preying on the increased demand. Slowly it is bringing shamanism more mainstream attention – there are lots of recent books, documentaries and a yearly conference all reinforcing this momentum and sharing the wisdom – continued purveyors of the myth. In many ways it is saving the shamanic tradition, but it is also corrupting it as well and in some cases driving prices into the multi-star resort zone, out of reach of the average person. These days many centres in Peru have a webpage in several languages and I can network with shamans via Facebook,

What am I seeking or hoping to gain from it all, I find myself asking again? I think first, I selfishly crave the manifestation of the mystical experience, acquiring some tangible truths from this realm. Science, logic, glimpses of truth and an inherent instinct has led me here and it would be nice to have it confirmed, a curse of the rational mind I suppose. I have had many experiences with other plants and have explored similar realms in ways that I cannot dismiss as imaginative figments or induced irrelevancies. As I get older and filled with life experiences, these have taken on more spiritual meaning for me and remain true in the face of much else that I dismiss. Philosophically I have found that the science of chakras, energy points, planes of consciousness and existence as described in the Buddhist and Yogic traditions actually align themselves completely with those described by the shaman and accessed through sacred plants. A synchronicity that resonates with practical truth, at once incredibly both reassuring and compelling in their implicit agreement, albeit accessed in vastly different ways. The attraction with the plants though is the bypassing of the years of meditation, faith and training sometimes required by other forms to be able to experience and explore with these spaces directly. A shortcut, that doesn’t undermine the other pathways in any form, it just enables the opportunity for a more direct validation if you will.

So to navigate its depths perchance and in the process, feel the awe of connection with the universe and nature, injecting the spirit with the inspiration and motivation for true change. I see it as potentially seeking some kind of healing for myself of apathy, blockages and insecurities to better enable me to move forward and grow in this world, a catalyst for more applied daily channeling of such awareness, perhaps built upon through other means.

On rereading here, I realize  I am likely building this all up to much – too much pressure and expectation perhaps. Good as it all sounds, I know that there is never a single solution or instant personal holy grail to be had. I’m sure plenty of issues will come up in the process – nothing is ever as simple as it appears.

And of course, none of this can be achieved in just one sitting either, so we are shopping a little. Ecuador is really just the first foray – this is also a perspective and experience hunt from a few different tribe’s and traditions. Over the next few months in both Ecuador and Peru, we are planning on spending several weeks with a range of shaman in different areas. The goal is to go deep, scratch the itch and give the universe the chance to do its work, then ask questions on the other side? So we are at the beginning really – exciting most definitely, well prepared perhaps, but totally ignorant of what lies ahead. It’s a fitting culmination to our travels. In many ways it has taken me 18 months to get into the right frame of mind for it. Yoga, meditation, fasting, changed attitudes to food / body and spirit and a renewed love and connection with nature have all manifested themselves along the way – it has been a long and integrated path towards such a union. The vine awaits….

To read some of our experiences in Ecuador, click here

To read some of our experiences in Peru, click here!


Vipassana – Buddha’s detox for the mind

Every now and then, you chance to do something that throws up a challenge to that cosy, known, predictable procession that is everyday life. A […]

Every now and then, you chance to do something that throws up a challenge to that cosy, known, predictable procession that is everyday life. A 10 day silent meditation retreat in an ashram in the middle of India promised all this of course, plus a little bit more. In actuality though it managed to not only deliver the profound personal inspiration I was seeking, but also impart a deep cultural experience and still provide enough material for a serious horror movie script to boot…

The Preamble

I seemed to have been following in the footsteps of Buddha for sometime now. 8 years of living in Japan was a good start and combined nicely with our recent adventures through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Nepal, all major Buddhist societies. We had visited Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini in Nepal and where he reached enlightenment in Bodhgaya, Northern India, but in all my reading, knowledge, experiences and interactions with both the religion and people, I had never really sat down and tried to practically experiment with it.

Now I am not a religious man, a little too rational, egotistic, scarred or sceptical for the great ‘leap of faith’ that seems to be a pre-requisite for the major creeds I think, though I can certainly respect people’s own individual beliefs that way. I do however have a strong belief in the metaphysical and higher plains of consciousness and also the inner confidence that we have the potential for far greater evolutionary steps. And as with the philosophies of the great yogi’s, Buddhism has always appealed to me this way – the power of meditation to awaken mans potential within, to form a union with the universe and transcend it – it all just seems to speak truth and flow logically for me somehow.

So Vipassana is the Buddha’s gift to mankind. And while there are many forms of meditation both before Buddha and since, Vipassana was specifically his technique – provided and taught to the people of India by him during his lifetime as a way to gain control over their own minds and ease life’s suffering & misery. Lost to India for a long time, it was preserved in Myanmar in its original form and brought back to India by Goenka in the 70’s and now is sustained and taught in retreat centres all around the world. The 10 day, silent meditation course we embarked on was really just an introduction to this technique, but a chance to experience an aspect of Buddhism first hand. For me (and to some extent Megumi), it was a first really deep dive into the world of meditation and something we had been eagerly anticipating as a natural rounding out of our Buddha trail, Indian and Yogic experiments and experiences.

The Set-up

We had chosen to do the course in Hyderabad almost completely at random. It was a way to give us a destination really, to both compliment and complete our travels. Placed at the centre of India, Hydrabad is very much a melting pot for India’s tribes and a little more off the tourist trail which enhanced its appeal.

As we arrived at the centre on day 1, down a dusty, dry road about an hours drive out of the city, an old Indian guy at the entry gate was giving an Irish guy Justin, a quite serious once over on whether he was really committed to seeing out the program. It seemed funny at the time, but was a warning shot that resounded slightly more ominously upon later reflection. Once through the gate, the compound was segregated into men’s and women’s areas complete with separate dining areas, dormitories, common areas & separate entrances to our shared meditation halls. At this point, Megumi had to jump the fence into her own quarter for registration. As we said our goodbyes, the first physical separation since the start of the trip, it started to hit home and I turned to the registration task with a little apprehension. Together with Justin, we then embarked on a series of entry procedures filling in numerous forms / waivers, handing over valuable possessions, organizing storage for our books, pens & other distractions and also receiving room allocations. A sombre bureaucratic atmosphere had taken hold and the process began to ominously resemble entering prison. Had they ask us to strip for delousing, I would have fled!

In total there were 120 other inmates, 80 odd men and 40 women and somewhat surprisingly only a handful of foreigners; as well as me & Justin, there were 2 other non-Indian men – a young, blonde quite serious Italian and an older French guy, plus a couple of women (Dutch & English) in Megumi’s pen. Unlike the other foreigners though, I missed out on my own room and got billeted with a rather curious 50 year old Indian guy, who spoke only 3 words of English I think. Our room was simple and our 2 mosquito net covered cots were divided by a single curtain down the centre of the room, with a separate bathroom / washroom area. A chronic snorer and 3 am riser (to do his washing!), I later christened my roomie Gollum, for the strange whispered arguments he started having with himself in Tagalu from days 5 or so on in the program.

The program itself was pretty regimented, total silence from the morning of Day 2 to Day 10. Every morning (and every session) we were greeted by bells gonged in our windows to wake us up and get us moving. We got to the mediation hall at 4.30am for a 2 hour meditation session. At 6.30, we had breakfast in the dining hall, followed by an hour break. Then a 3 hour meditation session, lunch and a 2 hour rest, then a 4 hour afternoon meditation followed by a light meal, rest and in the evening, a 1 hour meditation, followed by 90 minute video discourse on the technique & the philosophy before a 30 minute meditation finishing at 9pm.

There were plenty of rules – no talking obviously, but this also was extended to looking at anyone or engaging in any form of interaction, a concept called noble silence. Unfortunately to my considerable consternation throughout the meditation sessions, in this part of India at least, the term ‘noble silence’ does not seem to extend itself to cover both burping and farting. Meals were taken sitting on the floor of the dining hall Indian style. While the food was a bland, humble rotation of local Indian food, it was not tasty, but proved to be quite edible none the less (Apparently spices affect the body and the mind) When I wasn’t eating during the breaks, I was sleeping or meditating in my room and that was that really, there was not much room for anything else.

Getting Inside My Head

10 hours a day is a long time to be roaming in the depths of the mind and the Vipassana meditation program is designed to go in deep, but build up to it in very gradual stages. For the first 2 days, we focused simply on concentrating on our breath and the action of breathing. A skill designed to try to focus on the present and in the process gain control of the mind. The conscious mind hates this and jumps around like crazy, a concept called the ‘monkey mind’. For the first 2 days, I was constantly experiencing random emotional thoughts and reactions to lots of things both in the past or future. For 2 days it seems, I was confused, emotional and agitated trying to fight with the mind to focus on the task at hand. I constantly caught myself dwelling on something, an issue in the past, sharing a room with my flat, what I was going to do after this meditation was over or coming up with a brilliant distracting idea – anything to keep me from being in the here and now. Other forms of meditation gives you a mantra, which makes this easier to do, giving the mind something to focus on. Here though, you patiently had to keep bringing your focus back to the breath from each new random departure. Agonisingly slowly this seemed to get easier and easier and by day 3 I was able to concentrate for a long time at a stretch, without the random interruptions.

For the next few days, we were then asked to switch focus, in order to help concentrate the mind. This was done by focusing on feeling the breath at the very tip of your nose in the triangle down to your bottom lip. Apparently your mind naturally thinks on things at a macro scale, so in order to go inwards for Vipassana, you first need to re-train it to focus on more subtler, micro sensations. As tedious as water torture, drip by drip, this is just as effective. After the wild mood swings of day 1 and 2, by day 3 and 4 I was feeling quite peaceful and the mind started to become particularly sensitive to the touch of every breath and I started to uncover new sensations. Which is just as well really, because by day 3, the physical torture of sitting for 10 hours a day starts to become unbearable. From 30 minutes in a seating position to start with, by day 3 this has regressed to 5 minutes in a series of positions that I moved through quicker a quicker, like a dog chasing its tail. I lasted til the end of day 3 before I move to a chair. With some semblance of false pride I noted that the other foreigners have all broken slightly ahead of me or were doing just as badly at least. The French guy had quit already (2 days in), Justin has taken a back rest for his cushion, which he later abandons for a chair and the Italian guy has gone for a chair as well. I last a day and half in the chair before stealing Justin’s backrest – the chair was causing me even more pain.

On Day 5, minds focused and now concentrated, we finally start the actual Vipassana meditation. This part is a lot more complicated to explain, so give me some creative license here. Vipassana is introduced as a surgical like process where you expand your new awareness out to your entire body. Moving slowly, you start to become aware of hundreds of small sensations all over and objectively (this is the most important word here), you start to observe them, both the positive and negative sensations. An observation process that over time, through careful non-reaction, works to remove many of the cravings and sufferings (which is what the sensations represent), all embedded deeply within the human mind and the primary cause of our unhappiness. Hard to swallow (or explain simply) I know, but this is the technique Buddha came up with and its been working for thousands of years.

On day 6 pondering these things, I have my AHA moment. We retire to a private meditation cell (a small 1m x 2m windowless room) and suddenly I am able to really tune into my entire body, and have sensations tingling from head to toe. As I focus in on the sensations I feel the tingling grow and become almost a uniform energy or pulse across my entire body, the flow builds to a creshendo and suddenly I become aware of my body as being made up entirely of vibrations and experience a sensation of peace sweep over me, an awareness of myself as becoming like light. I experience the truth that my body consists purely of vibrations and feel a lightening / awareness of myself existing beyond time and space. I expand upwards, relishing this awareness and sensation, vaguely conscious of my actual body as a shadowy meditation pose much further below me. In total this altered euphoric state lasts no more than a couple of minutes, leaving me very slowly, I fade back to the floor unable to resist and keep the moment, the sensations though lingering on.

Which is where things suddenly got a lot more interesting! Here I had, had an experience that was very exciting and obviously opening doors at a higher conscious level, I wanted more of it, to go deeper, but I also felt that I had wandered off radar from the courses objectives, I was operating outside the textbook so to speak and had started craving an experience of my own making, cravings being exactly what we had been told to avoid. I consulted Guruji, an old Indian chap who was presiding over all the inmates and the only one we were able to actually converse with. He told me that this was positive progress and that the experience was simply a release. But I went away somewhat conflicted not sure he had really understood my experience. I still felt discouraged and that I had tried to do something a little off the charts so I consciously shelved this area of exploration reluctantly and went back to the program of simply feeling sensations.

Now, I had been detecting some sensations that manifested themselves as tiny crawling sensations on my body & being objective means not reacting to the various tickles, stabs of pain or euphoric tingles that these sensations give off. So for the next 3 days I focused on exploring these and in the process delving deeper & deeper into my psyche. Dark worms that gave electric shocks, thin insects that wiggled and tingled and the occasional fairy puff of pleasure. How my mind chose these manifestations I don’t know, but I was in deep here. Many of these sensations were lying deep beneath the surface of the face and at times I could feel my head as a complete cup of insects and their resultant sensations struggling to get out. Objectively I watched and appraised them, trying not to feel any emotion or so I thought, waiting for each to emerge one by one in my minds eye and in the process goes the logic, dispense with another deep attachment.

After several days of this torture, the lectures started to reveal that my earlier euphoric experience had actually been right on track that we were supposed to be working towards to feeling sensations at every level of the body and in so doing experience a free flow of energy throughout, I realized that I had just jumped far ahead with my own experiences. I was also starting to feel frustration with the ‘insect mining’ that I was currently doing and these worries started to permeate the process I was going through. Unable to switch off the awareness of the senses and very deep in by now, I continued to feel the creepy, crawling sensations on my face and could not get past it to recapture the free flow of energy. The bugs kept crawling even when we stopped the mediations, during meals (and for several days afterwards).

Everyone’s experience is different I guess and everyone has their own demons and manifestations. If this process was easy, we would all be running around on Cloud 9 and blissfully free of the worlds problems. But hindsight is equally a wonderful thing, and I now realize I went a little too deep and somewhere along the line I started to become too aggressive with the sensations I was feeling, perhaps frustrated by the misdirection of my own progress. I began trying to force the sensations to reveal themselves and exterminate them, rather than simply observe – a reactionary affect that just multiplied the sensations themselves, dug them in and made them worse and in so doing creating a block.

To be honest, as the 10 days of meditation came to an end, I was far from relaxed and getting completely worked up about the bugs in my system. And as the program ended I felt a little disappointed. I guess I was expecting things to be more completed, more defined, perhaps ecstatic – yet I felt I had only just started to grasp the process and had achieved little. Yes, I had had, several moments of higher awareness and had gained an invaluable understanding of my mind, conscious thought and the overall process, but my over-riding sense was more one of confusion and a weird preoccupation with the insect like sensations. This is dangerous territory and I can easily see how people can open themselves up to all sorts of dangerous obsessions & psychosis here. The ego and competitor in me, wanted to feel some resolution that I had cleaned everything out, reached a certain level with this and pushed the point. At the end I really I just wanted the crawlings to stop and if that mean’t the meditation as well, then fine.

And as the insects slowly slipped away over the coming days (I became afraid to close my eyes), I did come to feel a very subtle overall increase in my personal sense of peace and control from the experience. I realised I had gained a lot from the first few days alone and I felt different now, albeit subtly so. While on one hand I had wanted it all to end, I also wanted to start it again, to retrace my steps so to speak with more equanimity and see where I could really have gotten to. The physical side of the meditation while still uncomfortable but had become quite secondary to the overall experience, my attention was focused much deeper in now..

Apart from the insect horrors though, the experience itself was fascinating. While I tried desperately to ignore Justin and the other foreigners attention for my own sanity, I naturally turned my attention to the other Indians, observing everyone’s idiosyncracies in ‘oh too close detail’. From the endless stream of bodily noises that seemed strangely socially acceptable, to my room-mates psychotic late night mutter arguments as he battled his own demons (if I was seeing insects, I can’t imagine what he was fighting off!), the whole experience was a fascinating insight into everday Indian living and lives. The complete diaspora of Indian society seemed represented here – from old folks with obvious health issues seeking some kind of peaceful reckoning to young kids with the attention span of a gnat obviously forced to be here and to the more mature seekers in between. And then there were the women, always resplendent in their Sari’s, somehow always looking more composed and able to concentrate than any of the men. Megumi for one, had managed to completely avoid eye contact with me the entire time and always seemed to be in a perfect state of meditation and posture.

And as the silence gloves came off on the last day, I reconnected with Justin and Megumi and some of the other meditators that were obviously resonating on the same level as us. As we shared experiences (and nightmares) and the shared joy of survival, I realized that this was something I needed to do again. Next time though armed with more information and experience, I was confident there was a lot more to do and that this was only just the start of something. I left feeling sharper and more aware of myself than ever before, but still with many things unresolved and those damn insects…….!

NB: 6 weeks later neck deep in Africa I had a recurrence of the middle eye infection that had first cropped up in India, though this time it almost left me blind. I realized it was the same left eye that had tortured me during meditation. Can’t help thinking the bug action wasn’t just a simple coincidence!


Disneyland for the Soul

After 5 weeks of intense immersion in all things mind, body and spirit – we finally (and quite reluctantly) managed to eject ourselves from Rishkesh. […]

After 5 weeks of intense immersion in all things mind, body and spirit – we finally (and quite reluctantly) managed to eject ourselves from Rishkesh. It’s amazing the difference a month makes! Since Christmas we have fallen all the way through the mystical Indian “Looking Glass” with experiences in Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic medicine, zen macrobiotics, reiki, astrologers, enlightened guru’s and much more; all set against the backdrop of the worlds largest religious festival & spiritual mustering (the Kumbha Mela) and the beautiful, peaceful setting that is the Ganges River and Rishkesh. An indoctrination that was equally balanced through sharing the  experience with an amazing, talented and eclectic bunch of people (Indian, Korean, Icelandic, Greek, Canadian, Chinese, German, Bolivian and American amongst many others) that should ensure the experience lasts just as long in the memory, as the new friendships forged.

Stumbled over the edge there have we, I here you say? And perhaps so! Certainly I feel a bit like I have succumbed to my childhood fears and programming and sought out the Indian equivalent of a Christian boot camp! A seemingly well worn path in India and scarily stereotypical, but I can see why the Beatles and millions of others got stuck here for so long. Its not that most of this information is wildly new conceptually or unexpected, but there is a simple liberation in being able to completely open the mind to the possibilities, throw oneself into it and in the process wipe away the rusty cobwebs of the soul, gained through years of neglect. India uniquely probably cultivates this effect – so rich in its traditions, history, veneration and cultural acceptance of the rightness of the grand spiritual pursuit, that explorations of this kind can happen here much more unchecked than other places.

It will certainly take some time for me to really sit down and process all that we experienced and learnt here. It is definitely more akin to a spiritual awakening and the new knowledge and awareness necessitates much more meditation, practice and perspective over the months ahead. But as we rush southward to warmer climes and away from this spiritual Disneyland to the waiting tourist traps of Rajasthan and the beaches (and retoxins) of Goa, I thought I should document some of my more lingering reverberations and thoughts while they remain fresh, pure and unjaded by the return to reality ahead.

Of Mind

  • Having not studied anything in almost 15 years, this whole course was really a mental exercise in itself with often several lectures broaching fascinating new subjects on a daily basis. Each subject, new exercise or technique had supportive notes and opened seemingly infinite gateways for further reading, practice and research.
  • What I did appreciate most about the Yogic method though – is that it largely see’s itself not as a religion but really as a scientific method for self realization. The Yogic systems have been developed over thousands of years and are seen as proven paths towards systemic improvement of the human spiritual condition and evolving higher states of consciousness.
  • The basis of the course we studied was essentially introducing this in detail and the  requirements of the path of the Yogi. Accordingly there were many references to the great Indian texts and the works / deeds and experience of the great Yogi masters.
  • Important in this, was a series of lectures on Yamas & Niyamas – the ethical codebook of the Yogi’s if you will, exploring the do’s and don’ts of the Yogic system. These include topics such as truth, theft, non-violence, celibacy (or the tantric alternative ejaculation control!) and self study, taking tapas (or vows) which were all worthy contemplations in themselves.
  • Central in all this as well though was receiving an understanding and scientific explanation of the various stages of consciousness and the 5 bodies  (ie physical, pranic, astral, causal etc) as outlined by the Yogi masters.  These are critical to the Yogic system and really where it starts to leave modern science behind. Our general conception of an energetic (pranic), aural (astral) body is minimal and the science while able to prove they exist, is limited beyond that. Whereas the great Yogi’s describe these planes in great detail and offer that progressing our awareness and control of these, beyond just the physical body is central to all transcendence .
  • We also learnt about the stages of mind – conscious, sub-conscious and higher consciousness and some beginner techniques for embarking on the difficult task of exploring / training / stilling these – starting with mental concentration exercises and some preliminary meditation techniques.
  • Among many other subjects, there were some particularly interesting lectures and initial practical explorations into the field of “Yoga Nidra” – a yoga focused on the development of lucid dreaming, the ability to relax the body completely during sleep, travel in the astral plane and develop / program the subconscious mind whilst sleeping!

Of Body

  • At an internal level – we studied Yogic purification, eating and alternative medicine techniques. These included a series of lectures on things like diets & vegetarianism, Zen Macrobiotics and included the learning of a series of traditional yogic cleansing techniques (Kriyas) that include tongue scraping, gum salt rubs, nasal / eye flushes, vomiting and bowel cleanses – some of which I have been doing everyday & can atest that they work wonders. (But I will leave it to you to guess which 😉
  • Of course true to its name we also studied Yoga and over the course learnt 20 asana’s in detail, (plus 6 warming exercises and sun salutations). Each of which had their own individual physiological (and healing) benefits. I can now rather surprisingly do a headstand for 5 minutes (and an inverted table) and at the end of the course we were working up to holding some poses for 5-10 minutes across a 2-3 hour session. The result being I am feeling a lot more flexible, healthy (and impressed with myself) though back bends are a struggle and I still rather frustratingly cannot touch my toes.
  • There were also some interesting lectures that introduced other more exotic and traditional Yogic healing techniques – the most interesting and surprisingly compelling of which was Urine Therapy – but I will give you a reprieve on the details there. (Suffice to say that it does make sense and that these Yogi’s really do go at things hard!)
  • We also learn’t about (and visited) several Ayurvedic doctors – Ayurvedic medicine is a 5,000 year old medical science that works hand in hand with Yoga as a system and is based on an analysis of your body type into its constituent dosha’s (there are 3). By simply feeling my pulse a doctor I visited was able to tell me that I suffered from prolonged back pain and a range of other previous conditions that were unnervingly accurate. He then told me what foods I should eat to keep balanced and prescribed some herbal supplements to improve vitality / energy (which has actually worked quite well). This same doctor has had significant success in curing Alzheimer’s disease and ageing with these methods.
  • I should also add here that living in a completely alcohol free and vegetarian town (and mostly organic restaurants at that) on top of all the exercise, has also meant that I am back to a weight last seen as a teenager. Though I sincerely doubt that can last!

Of Spirit

  • A lot of the Yoga we learnt was specifically designed to work on different Chakra points (7 energy points on the body) and in doing so open up / increase our awareness and specific capabilities through the direct development of these. Examples of this might very briefly include cultivating such things as vitality (Root Chakra – Mulladara), sensuality (Sex Chakra – Svadisthana), willpower (Belly – Manipura), love (Heart – Anahata), mastery of time / space (Throat – Vishuda), mental control (3rd Eye – Ajna) or higher states of consciousness (Crown – Shahsrara). As we got more into the yoga postures, you could really start to feel these chakra’s individually become more activated and actually affect your overall state of being, as the energy starts to run and flow more effectively. Additionally through specific sublimation exercises we learn’t to convert energy between the chakra’s, focused largely on energy movement from the lower more popular chakra’s energy centres to the higher and more transcendent ones.
  • Assisting these, we also did a serious of music meditations designed to support the yoga with music specifically targeted at stimulating / resonating with a chakra to increase the overall effects.
  • We also learnt some meditation techniques – based around chanting and the heart that focus on trying to calm the “wandering monkey mind” and open up for explorations of self. This is obviously really the focus of the great yogi masters  and the “yoga of the mind control” was really only a basic introduction at the course level. The greater emphasis being to open things up to start with through the physical yoga systems.
  • Outside class, Megumi did also embark on some explorations in Reiki, a Japanese system known more for its healing powers that seems similar to Yoga. With a lot of commonality with what we have learn’t it is certainly something she would like to learn more about.
  • But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the Rishkesh metaphysical experience was the Astrologer. A strange, early 40’s innocuous looking Indian man whose family had been doing astrology for 20 generations, he possessed the amazing and particularly freaky ability to perceive very personal, secret truths about everyone’s past and key glints into aspects of the future. Everyone who visited him came back equally astounded at his insights and psychic levels of perception – revealing unnervingly accurate truths without exception. I wont go into personal details, I will leave it simply at that – but he left a lot to ponder!
  • Daily around Rishkesh as well – there were also a series of Gurus – all wise sages conducting different hearing sessions or lectures with disciples and others at their ashrams on any given day – many featuring dancing and devotional singing which all added to the spiritual vibe and magic of the place.
  • Many Guru’s were actually in town as part of the greater Kumbha Mela happening in nearby Haridwar – a gathering (up to 50 million people) of all the great Yogi’s, saddhu’s and hindu’s held every 4 years as they gather to bathe (purify their souls) on the Ganges. Haridwar had prepared by building a tent city 50km by 10 km around the town and while it was only early in the 3 month festival and a bit cold when we attended – the energy was still electric and quite magical; emphasized by the solar eclipse taking place that day –  a special experience that warrants its own blog when I find the time.
  • There were other workshops / lectures that also proliferated – some that we attended included heart meditations, devotional chanting / singing and bio-wave dance experimentations. The list goes on…

As you can no doubt imagine, my head is now spinning with all this information, ideas, possibilities and experiences and my sincere apologies if I do come across here like a naïve schoolboy. Full to the brim – I have loved every bit of it, though I am very much looking forward to the break of normal travel again. Even as we pried ourselves away, Rishkesh was conspiring to keep us there longer. The 2nd last day we trialled the second month yoga class that was even more engaging than the first month and our last experience on the way to the train station, was sitting down to hear Shantimayi – an American female guru give a beautiful 2 hour open session on love & quantum connectivity, mixed with some lovely chanting. It was cultish but beautiful, pure & inspirational in its simplicity.

As for next steps I really don’t know, I am not a Yogi yet, as tempting as the call has been. But I am certainly inspired and want more. Much of it resonates very well with me and seems a natural extension and development to my own independent naval gazing and latent attraction to buddhism and so I emerge keen to continue my explorations deeper down some of these new paths. There is plenty of time and thinking to do yet though and many more experiences to be added to the mix – including a 10 day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana) in Hyderabad at the start of March…….. It would appear that the Plots are definitely Melting and starting to thicken…!!.

Some Suggested Reading:

A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton

Autobiography of a Yogi, by Yogananda

Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda

Yoga Nidra, by Swami Satyananda

Meditations from the Tantras, by Swami Satyananda

See also:


Yogic Explorations

We had arrived expecting to stay a week... but here we are, 10 days later and 1 week into a 1 month esoteric yoga course; ensconced in an ashram apartment overlooking the Ganges and enjoying more than 6 hours a day of yogic activities focused on balancing the mind, body and soul. Surprised - wasn't quite on my radar either.

After almost a month exploring the dusty, loud and chaotic treasure chest of Northern India, we arrived in Rishkesh and were immediately seduced by the clean, relaxed magnetic energy of the place. We had arrived expecting to maybe stay a week, perhaps two if we really connected. But here we are, 10 days later and 1 week into a 1 month esoteric yoga course; ensconced in an ashram apartment overlooking the Ganges and enjoying more than 6 hours a day of yogic activities focused on balancing the mind, body and soul. Surprised – wasn’t quite on my radar either.

In setting out on this travel adventure, our goals had always been about using this time to focus on rebalancing & realigning ourselves; to clean out some of our baggage and forge new experience’s and perspectives on life. From our auspicious early experiments with the detox, this focus has resonated particularly well and here, now, with the fresh start that a new decade and the onset of the “year of the tiger” augers (we are both tigers!), yoga & meditation seems especially relevant and Rishkesh – the right thing in the right time and place.

Footbridge to Laxman Jhula

Made famous care of an extended stay by the Beatles in the 1960’s – Rishkesh has been a major destination for Westerners seeking the spiritual delights of the Indian sub- continent ever since. The Rishkesh of the pilgrims and travellers though, is set back from the main town, among scenic hills that conceal several settlements either side of the beautiful, smoky aqua waters of the Ganges. Largely car free, it is packed with hundreds of Ashrams, guru’s, sadhu’s (ascetics), yoga / meditation centres, shops and vegetarian restaurants, all linked across the holy river by a pair of long walking bridges.

The yoga course we have signed up for is called Trika Yoga & Meditation under the Agama school. Focused on the esoteric traditions of Indian & Tibetan tantric yoga, it purports to  represent  many of the secret spiritual, mental and physical techniques as they have been practised for more than 5,000 years. The curriculum is a modern construct though that draws from a range of Yoga practice areas – Hatha Yoga (Physical), Kriya Yoga (Purification), Meditations (including music, yantra’s) and others, along with ideas integrated from other eastern (Tibetan, Zen, Daoist etc), Christian or alternative medicine practices. This is all neatly presented as a fusion of theory, practice, science and philosophy that engages on many levels and seems especially suited to the curious requirements of the enquiring Western mind. In truth it is a bit “new age in a box”, perhaps trying to integrate too much in places and a tad over zealous in its approach to others, but overall it is well structured and captivating; a sound and comprehensive introduction to the path of becoming a Yogi.

The Trika class room

Along with a dozen or so other fantastic and engaging classmates from all over the globe, our daily routine has become fairly regulated and full.  In the morning, following an early meditation session that I in truth rarely make (Megumi is a star); we learn a new “Asana” (A yoga position) and receive a small lecture on its relative physical, healing and Chakra related effects (ie key body energetic flows). From there we jump into an hour and a half of practice focused as much on holding and visualizing the energy flows of each position as on physical movement or flexibility(rather gratefully). Then in the afternoon, we do a solid 2 hour practice of the various asana’s, which is often supplemented by other practices (ie music meditation or mental concentration) and following a short break, finish with a 2–3 hour evening lecture and discussion on a specific aspect of an esoteric Yoga practice (ie Meditation, Ethics, Mental concentration, Healing etc).

It does all feel a long way from the yoga classes that I had managed to avoid so effectively to date (My classic stereotype of popular yoga as mostly just physical exercise at any rate). In fact, ‘downward facing dog’ has not come up once in any class to date and I hesitate to think how I could rationalize its energetic and healing benefits if it ever actually did. The experience thus far has been transformative and thoroughly enjoyable, not least because it provides an intriguing insight into all those mystical Indian traditions that endlessly fascinate; but also because it forces one to allocate time and systemic study for genuine self analysis and does so against a potential blueprint for self improvement and realization. In truth, I am not sure what will actually really stick and become personal dogma at the courses end, but I can definitely see many seeds for further practice and investigation on several fronts and I look forward to updating these in more detail down the track. For the moment though, mired in the physical – I still have not managed to touch my toes. But I am closer than I have been in years & happily I now realize that this is not really the point anyway…


8 Days, No Food & a Beach – Part 2

Simply put I found the “fasting” experience fantastic and right up there with one of the best things I have done! In part this was […]

Simply put I found the “fasting” experience fantastic and right up there with one of the best things I have done! In part this was purely the physical effects of the cleansing – my skin felt great, the body free of toxins (possibly for the first time in 20 years) and I generally felt healthy and full of energy. Certainly there was also the satisfaction that comes with actually finishing the fast itself (and quitting smoking for that matter), something I wasn’t too sure I could do when I started.

But I think the real value for me was the result of the overall process, what I would perhaps call the “body meditation” – effectively 10+ days of reading, thinking about (and experiencing) the bodies various “ins” and “outs”, how we treat it, what it needs. And in doing so I realized that this process was something I had never really sat down and thought through in a lot of detail before – quite amazing really, how much we take our bodies for granted. Taking time out to educate, experiment and “clean house” so to speak, couldn’t make more sense to me in the context of our co-dependency (body + mind).

All of which created a lot of clarity and resolve for me personally, on how I aspired to live my life moving forward – perhaps moving my diet away from processed foods – starches, dairy and meat towards more raw food – fruit & vegetables. And in other ways looking to control my acidity better and more regularly cleanse – the “liver” and “kidneys” are definitely next!


That’s was the gist of it at least – it is hard to really distill the whole experience into words, but I have structured a range of other thoughts below to summarize this where I can.

The Big Picture (My version at least) – The modern diet in the last 20-30 years has changed dramatically with all its processed foods, alcohols, cigarettes and drugs etc. These have created a lot of new challenges for a body that was never designed to deal with these things. The end result is that these come into the body much more acidic than simple fresh foods would be and your stomach has to break all this down and make it more alkaline to process it. As the body is not designed to operate at these levels, it reacts by compromising maintenance in other areas of your body – stomach, colon etc (Likely responsible for many modern cancers) and also fortifies your intestines / bowel with a special lining in order to protect the body from the higher acidity levels of food that is now required to process. Over time, the typical westerner’s intestine becomes lined with 20 – 30 feet of this ‘Mucoid plaque’ that is lining the walls, some of it up to an inch thick. The net result of this plaque is that

  • Many toxins get caught up in the lining (including those from stress & bad memories !)
  • The lining makes it much harder (and much less efficient) to extract nutrients from food and
  • It therefore takes much longer for important titbits to enter the blood stream & get distributed

With all that said, the goal of the cleansing and colonic is really to remove much of this plaque and return the digestive system to its peak operating efficiency. Lots of amazing stories abound on the results of this from cancer sufferes etc, I’ll leave that paraphrasing to the Americans, but you can find out more by reading the following book by Richard Anderson, ‘Cleanse & Purify Thyself, Book 1, I highly recommend it and it forms the background to the cleanse program as we did it.

The colonic cleansing itself – Not as bad as I feared, the first day was intense but after that the whole process was fine. In terms of results, I certainly made a lot of progress clearing some of the mucoid plaque away from the intestines (several metres at least – big stuff!!), but can see that this needs another few fasts to really finish the job. Not many other fellow fasters had the same success on this front as me I think – as they were mostly healthy vegetarians, hippies and women I can see that I obviously fitted the bill and needed this the most.

Of hunger – was not really an issue actually. The first day was a little challenging, but after that I was pretty ok and didn’t crave food at all. I certainly felt that I could have kept going past day 8 (though I was ready to stop). The much harder challenge was the tobacco cravings. Megumi was different, after day 6 she had no energy and felt faint and really needed to eat or balance out things with some iron. She did some blood analysis after the colonic that was really interesting in showing this as well.


Me, Ange & Megumi post fast

Of weight loss – Not very significant, I lost about 3.5 kg, which is not as much as I was expecting and I pretty much put it back on within a week of finishing the fast. Since I have lost almost 20 kg or so in the last 9 months anyway, I had probably already burned the easy stuff off.

Of first meals – Suprisingly disappointing on day 8, I had a bowl of fresh papaya and couldn’t finish it. After that, it was not the food, but the f lavours that I craved really, so once the stomach was ready to handle solids again, I quickly launched back into lots of thai soups, spicy salads and anything with a real zing or taste to it. I did manage to steer clear of meats, processed foods and starches for about a week though. Noticeably when I did start eating non-fresh foods again, I feel heavy and tired immediately afterwards.

And of the future – I would definitely do it again in the next 12 months I think and apply some of the principles and thinking to the rest of my life, hopefully. I do wonder though why we aren’t taught / educated better about these things as part of growing up though. Its not like fasting or enema’s are modern, it is mentioned in the bible and many other cultures fast religiously – obviously though its not in big corporates (Food, Medical & Pharma’s) interest to see us all eating better and more healthy, but maybe our kids will be better off.

Next time around, armed with some more foreknowledge I will probably do a more thorough preparation so I can get the maximum out of it. I also intend to flush my liver and do a kidney cleanse as well when I find some time in my travels, as these are the 2 organs I have probably been working the hardest over the last 20 years 😉

Also check out:  ‘8 Days, no Food & a beach’ – Part 1


8 Days, No Food & a Beach

Seemed like a great concept really, start our around the world adventure with a “Detox”... a chance to recalibrate the body for the path ahead...


Sept 5-14: “The Sanctuary”, Koh Phangan, Thailand


A Thai LongBoat (Haad Rin)

Travel Notes: Departed Bangkok and took a bus / Catamaran south to the island of Koh Phangan. The trip took about 8 hours or so. From the ferry at Koh Phangan we took a combination of taxi and long boat to a secluded bay, called Haad Thaan. The bay is about 15 minutes by long boat from Had Rin and is home to “the sanctuary” – a set of bungalows, restaurant, spa and detox centre with a quiet little beach. Our home for the next  10 days.

On an island paradise, reknown for its parties, “the sanctuary” is indeed that. A labrynth of buildings into the rocks, hills and bay resplendent with relaxation spots, hammocks, cushions, yoga sites, massages and book libraries – it is designed for relaxation & comfort and seemingly keeping you from straying into the toxifying boys, towns and bars around every corner. A hefty challenge in itself.


The Sanctuary

All of which seemed like a great concept really. Start our around the world adventure with a “Detox” – a 7 day fast and colonic treatment on a tropical island. For me at least it was pretty symbolic, a chance perhaps to recalibrate the body (and mind) for the path ahead; to mark a new beginning, by spending some time repairing the damage of a sedentary and unbalanced Tokyo lifestyle! Megumi I think was just happy to go along with it and likely hadn’t paid much attention to this part of the trip preparation, so I fancied she was in for a little bit more of a surprise.

The fast isreally more like a 12 day program to detoxify your body and very much focused on cleansing bowel and intestines as a priority. It is a significant process which I had done some research on & together with a few recommendations from friends, felt right about enough to give it a good ol’ try, though its certainly not for the faint hearted!

Relaxing at the sanctuary

The Wellness centre at the sanctuary - note the Hammocks & Ange in the background

For those not to scared off by the word “bowel” and willing to keep reading at this point –  let me paraphrase the experience for you a little. The Fast program (from the sanctuary at least) essentially involves 4 key components:

  1. Preliminary Detox – cutting out all meat, dairy, alcohol, carbohydrates etc for 2-3 days prior to starting. This is in order to bring your bodies PH (ie overall acidity) down to within a certain range. (I also chose to quit smoking again for good measure!)

  2. The 7 Day Fast – All day for 7 days you take a course of clay / psyllium shakes, fruit juices, herbal pills and probiotic pills designed to brush & flush  your system. You end up essentially ingesting something every 1.5 hours so you don’t feel that hungry or get cravings except at night. (well me at least anyway)

  3. The Colonics – This is the bit for the not so fragile. Every day around 4pm, we would have a colonic treatment. Which essentially involves flushing your bowel with 7 litres of coffee. Certainly one of the more interesting body interactions out there, feel free to look it up, if you want more detail 😉

  4. Post Colonic – You finish the fast and get to slowly reintroduce solid foods to your system, this takes several days and you need to build up your bacteria levels again to help with digestion.

In all, we had factored in 9 days for the fast, plus changed our diet completely for a few days before hand. On arriving, we walked straight into the Wellness Centre only to find Angela, a good friend from Japan, comfortably entrenched in a hammock 2 days already into her own fast. With another fast buddy in play, we were well encouraged and as we were literally able to pass our litmus (PH) test first time (many people fail) we were good to go – one last salad before we started!

I will give you the full post-mortem of the experience in a follow-up post.

Continue to ‘ 8 days, no Food & a Beach’ – Part 2