It was a Dorothy moment if there ever was one. I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore – at least that part was certain. But this was a far curiouser case of disorientation than being deposited by a tornado somewhere over the rainbow. Far stranger than tripping down Alice’s rabbit hole too. For I was in the reality I had always been, only now appearing nothing how it usually seemed.
I had come to Peru to seek personal healing and insights into the nature of reality that can be received through the ayahuasca experience. San Pedro – the native Andean psychedelic cactus of South American shamanism – had come as an afterthought. I hadn’t expected it to show up with anything as important to say as its more fabled compatriot of the psychedelic plant scene, ayahuasca. Yet here I was, neck deep, about fourhours into a day long ceremony with a cactus that had completely obliterated the apertures of my senses. In one foul gulp, San Pedro seemed to have stretched wide my visible perception into a version of reality far more complex, immense and devastating than that which I was usually privy. Reality #nofilter.
Quadrillions of particles of light energy now surged all around me – humming, buzzing, writhing, frenetically weaving and then coalescing into intricate fractal patterns of hectic beauty and rampaging possibility. Coruscating, colourful, chaotic forms. Each in some kind of perpetual state of self-transformation, waltzing to an endless rendition of solve et coagula as they came apart and together, then apart and together, again and again. And what were these forms? They were just the mere things of the world – people, trees, grass, rocks, a stick, someone’s ponytail, the dog, a butterfly. The common, the plain, the simple, the bourgeois, the expected, now transformed into something that looked more like, well – magic. Miniature dimensions existed in the underbelly of a leaf. A new galaxy orbited within the nail of my thumb. It was like being inside a life-size Wheatfield with Crows that had been plugged into Pachamama’s psychedelic generator charging every living thing with this throbbing undulation of light and aliveness and sparkling things that cannot be said. Every thing was absolute and unique, yet at once they were one in the same. For when I took in the whole frame, attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible, everything connected perfectly together. Utter. Limitless. Endless. A reality something like one I vaguely remembered from long ago, yet one like nothing I could have ever imagined.
By definition the term ‘reality’ means: ‘the state of things as they actually exist’. A fine description until you consider that the state of things are determined by our perception. In the human body, the sensory faculties – vision, gustation, audition, olfaction, somatosensory and the other less-popular brands – are the arbiters of perception that sort the wheat from the chaff, what exists from what does not. We are then both liberated and hindered. We have the ability to hear like bats, yet we cannot pick-up on a dog whistle. Sight is our most prosperous sense, yet even with 1/4 of our brain participating in visual processing we still cannot identify ultra-violet or infrared light. Our retinas’ even come with their own blind spots. We define our reality as not: ‘the state of things as they actually exist’, but rather as we experience it through the function of the frequencies we are capable of reproducing. The question becomes then: what can we do to expand our perception to observe a purer reality or, preferably, one precisely as it is?
“It seemed to me that everybody had an idea but not a clue. And if that were the case, why shouldn’t I go out into the bulrush of the fringes, find the shaman, and seek the wisdom of something other entirely? A plant. What does it know that I do not?”
This was one of the questions that had led me to the plants. Scientists, priests, teachers, parents, gurus, friends, artists, the greatest thinkers in the world had failed me. And why should they have had the answers? Some may have read more books, or asked more questions, or analysed information more efficiently. Though really they were no different to me. We are all human. We all possess the same freedoms, limitations, abilities and frustrations. After 27 years of searching, the mysteries of how we’d all come here, who we are, and what reality is anyway still nagged at me in that unsettling way that keeps you up into the darkest hours. It seemed to me that everybody had an idea but not a clue. And if that were the case, why shouldn’t I go out into the bulrush of the fringes, find the shaman, and seek the wisdom of something other entirely? A plant. What does it know that I do not? What can it show me? What can it heal in me? The shamans of South America believe plants to be ‘teachers’ who are here to help and guide us. Entities who contain a consciousness just like us but with a different kind of knowledge. Tricky concepts for a mind flagellated by Western culture to curl itself around and find warmth from the cold. But, so what if I turned up and found out the plants had nothing? Then I had only struck off another possibility from the list and come one step closer to the truth.
Truth. It was becoming stranger than fiction as each moment passed. I wondered if this is how Galileo would feel if he could be resurrected into his scientific field as it stands today. Physics, the once Golden Child of the paradigmatic sciences – to paraphrase the words of Terence McKenna – envied for its ability to produce wonderful congruence of theory and experimental data. “But let me describe to you the state of play here,” Terence goes on to explain how physicists of today are suddenly dealing with phenomenons of the irrational and matter that is no longer playing to the rules . For example, they have things like backwards flowing time, where time is not experienced as we know it. They’ve got matter that appears magically on one side of an energy barrier without apparently crossing through it. Non-locality which seems to apply that there is no such thing as place or distance and that every particle that exists is somehow connected with every other particle. Then there’s teleportation, black holes…
It appears that even in the realm of materialist science, mundane old matter – the bricks and mortar of every living thing reduced to basic line drawings in every margin of every science textbook I had ever yawned and doodled over – is not mundane at all. Matter is something more like magic.
But hadn’t I always known this? Before I was old enough to understand anyone who told me otherwise? Old potentials – dormant but not dead – glimmered like new again. That things are not what they seem. That the impossible doesn’t just exist in fairytales. That the world is made up of energy. That we are all connected. That we are more than what we think we are. That our possibilities are actually limitless. That magic is real and it pours out of every single living thing. Why had I distrusted that which I once believed to be true? Why had I distrusted myself? I closed my eyes and considered all the damage my culture had done through its one-size-fits-all belief system. The explicit and not-so explicit lies it had employed to re-wire, re-tune and re-condition my perception. Like how it taught me that my power of imagination was allegedly second-rate to the logic processing of my mind. And that if I was to be a good girl, to stop letting myself run away with it. To not question or think for myself, but to instead mindlessly adopt the concepts and practices of a culture that I never chose. That I could do anything, though anything was conditional upon the labels society had attached to me from birth – my age, my gender, where I was from, the colour of my skin, etc.. That I was unique and to always be myself, providing being myself fit within these four, straight lines. Or else be regarded as an outsider looking into the box. Which is exactly how I’d always felt. Like the foreigner who never quite fits in. A stranger wherever I went. I was the carrier of an incessant un-belonging. Displaced and detached without knowing how to articulate this sense of living in a reality that was constantly teasing at me an eerie sense of unreality.
I opened my eyes again and cried. Tears rushed out, roaring with the anger of what had been stolen from me. Tears rolled out, releasing the grief of what had once been lost. Then there was the relief that entered, the kind that comes with finding something you thought had been forever lost. I laid down onto the ground, and allowed the river to flow through. The energy that had been swarming around me, now stampeding within me, breaking open a damn that I didn’t even know existed inside. I cried Soul Salty now – tears that originate from the deepest haunts of a soul. And they did not stop until the dirt had turned to mud beneath my cheek and the ground rumbled below, revealing an old woman living on the underside of the earth. She had quartz stones for irises and earthworms for hair. Her face crinkled in bedrock, her cavernous body fashioned in clay, and as she sprouted her ancient limbs from the earth wrapping her gnarled roots around me, pulling me into her embrace, she drew her agate lips close to my ear and whispered, “You belong here. You are not a stranger. You came up out of this Earth. This is your home.”