Alive in their stillness, the Peruvian mountains, or apus, rise up like ridges on a reptile’s back, speckled in green and reaching heavenward. I am sitting beneath a waterfall in a retreat center in the Sacred Valley, at peace in nature's beauty and Pachamama's loving embrace. The Incan Earth mother has drawn many of us here. The community that surrounds me is a cross-cultural mélange of seekers, yogis, healers, and locals, each bearing a warm smile and sharing sacred space. Crystals and statuary adorn a temple, its glass rooftop inviting us to open ourselves to the seemingly limitless stars and constellations. The food, which is healthy and organic, fuels my journey three times daily.
I think back now, and I remember that even weeks before the trip, I felt the vine's serpentine slinking in my dreams. These fantastical visions and expansions of consciousness flourished while I slept and meditated. I changed my diet, got razor-sharp on my intentions, and dug deep to clear away the nettings obstructing the darkest passages of my inner self.
I could not think of any better place to be building tapas (1), accumulating ojas (2), and preparing to accept the jungle elixir that would send me barefoot into a balancing act between death and awakening. Each day, for ten days, there would be four hours of asana. And then the ceremony. Then, and only then, the energy and intentions set in the temple room would be not only safe, but abundant and beautiful. I could not wait. I pictured my fellow journeymen and myself sitting in ceremony among the crystal mandala and the wood-carved Flower of Life floors. We would be masters of ourselves. This is absolutely the place, I thought, I am sure. But was I?
Two years prior, I had been invited into ceremony on this same hallowed ground and I declined. At the time, all I could think of was how sitting around all night with a barf bucket nearby as I stimulated DMT in my pineal gland seemed quite the nuisance.
This time though, it wasn't the bucket that gave me pause. What bothered me was that I knew I had already experienced very powerful and mystical sensations in devotional and contemplative practice without the use of drugs. Did really I need Ayahuasca to take it up a notch? No longer playing discretely in the metaphysical, advisable or even practical, the question lingered:
What is the true path of Yoga, and what is the best means to find it?
I landed in Peru, traversing the country via airplane, bus, taxi, and batwing cladded tuk-tuk. I hiked, swam, steamed, and dreamed as Mama Aya kept up her relentless pursuit of my consciousness. Once out of the hurly-burly of the touristic aspects of my trip, I settled in at a retreat center known for facilitating medicinal plant ceremonies. My meditations continued to unwind like the thousand petal lotus in kundalini awakening. My guests arrived, the logistics ironed out, and I was ready to go.
But something happened. I chose to stop accepting Mama Aya’s gentle nocturnal summons. The vine had been calling to me for weeks, so why now? Despite being surrounded by every possible impetus to take part in the ceremony, and perhaps because of it, I felt that I had already experienced many of its benefits vicariously. She had become a familiar friend; that kind older aunt that lived nearby and kept inviting me over. I kept referring back in my own mind to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali where drugs or medicinal plants are included in its mentions. Did I need, or is it possible, to obtain the advised one-pointedness as prescribed in the Sutras or cultivation of Siddhis through the means of plants (YSP 4:1)?
For me, the sticking point was external influence manipulating the internal constructs that were karmically created by me; these require internal work. It was all about taking the hard road, and doing the work over a course of a lifetime: months and years of yoga and meditation practice; good works; and relentless pursuit of Ishvara (3) by practicing abhyasa (4) with vairagya (5). I knew that for me this could not be achieved over a the course of a few days, much less a few precious hours in the evening. A holiday ritual is still a valuable experience, but not enough for me.
Also, to be honest, my curiosity and gathered knowledge of the experience far exceeded my intentions for doing it. I sought, and continue to seek oneness. I know people who have flourished through the use of plant medicinals (Aya and San Pedro in particular), as well as others who have not had such a positive experience. For me, I don’t judge it and have no problems with Aya when the circumstances align and it seems most beneficial to the goals of my practice. It is not my preference to choose to partake experimentally.
The grounds of the retreat center still inspire; I look out of my window and marvel at the waterfall that I hiked up after our two-hour practice earlier this morning. Despite my change of heart, this is still the perfect place to explore healing and higher consciousness facilitated by plants, observations of nature, and yoga practice. I am excited for my students' experiences that have yet to pass. This is absolutely the place; I am sure.
Tendrils of Aya still spiral around my ankles when I trip over a rock on a hike through the Andes and then wrap around my ribs, inviting me to the dance when the altitude siphons my breath away. But my preference is to work it out with turns on my mat and in the solemnity of my meditation, finding comfort atop the cushion and long steady vibration of OM.
- Conscious sacrifice for the purpose of insight.
- Essential life energy, enhancing clarity and vitality.
- Debated; sometimes referred to as the Supreme soul or highest reality.
- Effort and intention toward developing the stability that leads to a deeper practice.
- Non-attachment to the outcome.