Mystic in Mexico: Synthesis

peyote raysThis is the last in a series of blogs I wrote about a peyote ceremony. To read from the beginning, click on this link to return to Part I.

My peyote experience occurred last November and yet, I’m still processing much of the information I received. Every time I sit down to meditate on the rising sun or even if the sun has been up for an hour or so, the portal appears after several seconds of concentrating on it. I’m very conscious of the energy at my solar plexus chakra being blocked, but must admit that I began actively working to unblock it only recently. I’ve been meditating and working to release the old stuck energy that I understand now is layers of emotional pain going back generations.

My intention for writing about my peyote experience was not to inspire others to try it or any other mind-altering substances. I personally would not use peyote carelessly and, based on a discussion with the shaman’s assistant, Mario, and further research, I believe that most people do not experience much of anything when it is used outside of the context of a spiritual ceremony with a proper guide.

I struggled with sharing what I learned while under the influence of peyote. I know much of what I related is probably pretty hard for many to believe and I don’t blame you. But I felt compelled to relate some of what I learned of the existence of realities alternative to those that churches, governments and mega-corporations spoon-feed so many of us from cradle to grave. I personally feel as though I’ve spent the last decade working to undo the brainwashing I received under the influence of schools, governments and media for the first several decades of my life. I’m encouraged to learn that there are so many interesting and exciting things about the way the world and our Universe work.

I found it interesting to discover that many anthropologists studying the Huichol and other indigenous people who use peyote in spiritual ceremonies dismiss the resulting visions as culturally induced hallucinations – the result purely of combining psychoactive compounds with religious indoctrination occurring over a person’s lifetime. Anthropologists maintain that people see the Blue Deer because they’ve grown up hearing how it’s the vision that appears as the messenger. I find it interesting then that my first vision was not of some white-bearded, flowing-haired old man sitting on a throne in the clouds. Or Santa Claus! Because my dad took me to the ice rink to play ringette on Sundays instead of dragging me to church. But I didn’t see Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or John Travolta. My first vision was of the head of a blue deer despite not knowing anything about the connection between the Blue Deer and peyote, nor the Huichol interpretation of it. Similarly, how is it that I saw a portal through the sun and the matrix, both visions of which I’ve since learned are spoken of by the Huichol? I’d wager a guess that the same anthropologists who dismissed peyote visions as nothing more than culturally-dictated hallucinations might find it difficult to explain how peyote induced these visions in a whitebread Canadian woman with no prior knowledge. So much of what I learned over the course of that three day period were things I’d never heard of or even imagined. Can what I saw and heard be explained or rationalized scientifically? Perhaps the greater question is why do we so often feel the need to try to explain or disprove the mystical source of such a powerful and illuminating experience?

I’ve come to believe that some things in life cannot be explained. I prefer to leave the mystery of peyote’s power intact and wonder, for all that it taught me about myself and the Universe, if peyote might not be the fabled “Tree of Knowledge.”

Mystic in Mexico Part III: The Blue Deer

Venado AzulThis is the third in a multi-part series. Here is where you’ll find Part I and Part II.

We were then instructed to stand before Guadalupe so that we could be blessed. The sky was dark now, but a soft orange light glowed on the eastern horizon. As Guadalupe blessed the other participants, I kept my eyes on the horizon as the light grew stronger until finally the moon crested. Gradually, it rose to cast a long shaft of soft orange and then yellow light across the sea’s smooth surface. It appeared enormous so close to the horizon, powerful, and surely blessed the occasion with its presence. The full moon happened to be in my astrological sign, Gemini, that night. I watched it rise to the sound of Guadalupe’s soft chanting behind me. Crystal called me when it was my turn and I stood quiet and still in front of Guadalupe as he moved the feathered wand first to my left, then to my right, placed it between my hands as he brought them to my heart. Finally he held it to my forehead. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer for guidance.

Now that we had been blessed, we were permitted to eat our first piece of peyote. Mario had carefully cut a golf ball-sized button into wedges. He showed us how to pick the small prickly hairs off the outside skin before eating it and explained that they made the cactus taste bitter. I imagined they also didn’t feel very good stuck in the roof of your mouth and tongue! I cleaned my piece thoroughly and put it in my mouth. I’d heard that peyote can be so bitter as to make you want to vomit and that some people do indeed. Mario instructed us to chew it down to a pulp before swallowing it. As I did so, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it tasted much better than I’d expected. It was not bitter at all and had a texture and taste a bit like a cucumber, but with fibrous strings mixed into the soft meat. Next I noticed it also had tiny hard pieces in it, like sand particles.  When I’d chewed it down into the texture of baby pablum, I swallowed the pulpy mass down.

It was time to enter the temescal. Crystal invited me to enter first. I removed all my clothing except for my bathing suit and a light cotton sun dress I wore over it. The night air was fresh and humid, the sand soft and cool on my bare feet. The sweat lodge is a low structure constructed from PVC tubing and boughs of a local shrub called Palo de Arco (literally “bowed branch” because, like willow, it is easily bent and shaped into bows). The PVC might seem incongruous, but it is practical. The dome-shaped skeleton of soft branches and plastic tubing is covered with many blankets and tarps all the way to the ground.  The result is a pitch black cocoon-like space that retains the heat and steam of the hot rocks. There is a hole in the ground at the center of the tented space that is about three feet by two feet wide and almost three feet deep. This is where the hot rocks are placed. I squatted down low and, duck-like, entered the lodge where the tarps and blankets were thrown back to create a low doorway.

One by one, my fellow travelers joined me, gradually forming a circle around the pit. Once we were all inside, Crystal asked each of us to say our name and tell the spirit of Hikuri what our intention was for being there that night. One of the participants asked to be helped in his quest to quit drinking. As the other participants spoke, I turned inside to see what intention I carried in my heart. When it was my turn I shared what I’d found there, “I seek knowledge of the spirit world and to open my heart.”

Fernando began to bring in the now white-hot rocks one at a time. As each rock was dropped into the pit, we all chimed, “Bienvenida abuelita! (welcome little grandmother).” As the rocks were placed, I could feel their heat snaking up out of the pit and across my legs. After seven had been delivered, Fernando came back into the lodge with a bucket of water and the door was closed tightly behind him. Crystal took the bucket and after chanting something I didn’t understand, poured the water onto the rocks in a constant slow stream. A strong blast of steam rose and enveloped us. Outside, Guadalupe continued to chant his mysterious prayer songs.

The first thing I noticed was that the steam did not burn the inside of my nose when I inhaled, like it had the first time I participated in the temescal. Others were breathing quickly, as though under stress, but I settled in and felt the heat enter the cells of my body. Crystal began to sing a spiritual song. I closed my eyes and began to move slowly side to side in time to the beat of her song.

Once the steam dissipated, Fernando left the lodge again to move more hot rocks from the fire into the pit. Again, we sang out, “Bienvenida abuelita!” as he dropped the rocks from his shovel blade, one by one into the pit. This time he brought 13 rocks in total and I felt the energy in the small space rise as we all anticipated the stronger heat they would create. Another bucket of water was brought and, once the door was sealed, poured over the rocks. The intensity of the steam was acute, yet I felt remarkably comfortable and hummed along as Crystal sang. Someone began to chant Om and I joined in. Mystified at how comfortable I was, thinking I had not even broken a sweat, I reached up to feel my face only to discover that I was, in fact, sweating profusely.

I guess this is an effect of the peyote, I thought and was grateful that I was more comfortable in the sweat lodge this time around. I closed my eyes and appreciated the feeling of the humid, heavy heat.

At one point I opened my eyes and saw an oblong blue light above our circle. There were two dark spots at the top of the shape, where it was widest and a dark line running vertically down the lower three quarters. I knew it hadn’t been there earlier, but guessed one of the blankets on top of the lodge must have blown back to allow the light of the moon to glow through a blue tarp. But when I listened for the wind, I heard nothing.

When the sweat lodge ceremony was over, we crawled out of the small sandy space one at a time. I removed my dress and, as instructed, poured cool fresh water from a 50 gallon barrel over my head and body to cleanse myself of the toxins I’d just sweated out. The water was quite cool, but I enjoyed the sensation of it washing over my body.

I dried off and put on warm clothes. One by one, we gathered around the fire while Fernando busied himself adding fuel.  Blankets were laid out around the fire to sit or lie on. I joined Crystal on one and wrapped myself in a heavy blanket I’d brought to guard against getting chilled. The heat from the fire felt good and I turned slowly in a circle so it would warm my whole body and help dry my hair.

Guadalupe and Mario remained seated on the white plastic chairs on the South side of the fire pit where they’d been when we entered the lodge. Guadalupe continued to chant quietly and I wondered if he would do it the entire night. We chatted amicably amongst ourselves until I heard Mario telling Mauricio, “Yes, you may take more Hikuri.” I looked to Crystal for guidance. She nodded and said, “Yes, you may take Hikuri as often as you want. Let your intuition guide you.”

Mario added, “It will help you if you find yourself getting tired.”

I took another wedge, cleaned it, and chewed it to a pulp.

Guadalupe paused from his chanting, got up and stretched then. He looked around and asked no one in particular, “How was the temescal?”

Ayax, the cardiologist, replied, “We were visited by the venado azul.” (the blue deer)

I looked at him in surprise and repeated what he’d said, wondering if I’d misunderstood, “Blue deer?”

Guadalupe looked at him intently and replied, “That is an auspicious sign.”

Ayax continued, “Part way through the second round, I saw a line of small blue deer prancing around above the heads of the people across from me.” As he spoke he pointed away from himself and motioned with his hand up and down. “A line of four small deer trotting around the circle.”

Guadalupe said quietly, “El Venado Azul is the messenger. It is a good sign.”

I turned to Ayax and asked, “So it was not the moon shining through one of the tarps that I saw?”

He smiled mischievously at me and asked, “What did you see?”

I described the blue light I’d seen and turned to Crystal to ask her if the moon had shone through the roof of the lodge, but even before she answered, I suddenly realized I’d had a vision of the head of a blue deer.

The Venado Azul is the guide, messenger, and guardian of the sacred land the Huichol call Wirikuta, where the peyote cactus is collected. This spirit deer also symbolizes peyote and their names are sometimes used interchangeably. The Huichol refer to “hunting the blue deer” when they go on pilgrimage to Wirikuta to collect peyote.

I sat and questioned what I’d seen. My mind, the product of years of scientific and western dogma struggled to accept what I knew on a more visceral level to be true. Ayax’s vision was so similar. I felt a wave of understanding pass through me and acceptance of their explanation seemed to make me feel lighter. I felt my chest open and expand as I decided that the vision of the blue deer was a sign that my quest to know Hikuri was not misguided.

In Part IV: The Portal Hikuri extends an invitation to travel to another world. Will I go?

Alive and Writing

I know that from where you’re sitting it looks like I haven’t been writing, but I have, I tell you, I have! For now, anyway, you’ll have to take my word for it. Okay, I’ll be honest and admit that there’s been a lot of surfing and procrastination. Even some foot dragging and downright reticence. But since I last posted here and promised you a blog about the second half of my trip to California, what seems like such very long time ago, I have accomplished the following as far as writing is concerned:

I’ve dusted off my memoir, given its structure some serious thought, cut the several of the opening chapters (saving them of course in a file that I’ll probably never be able to find if I decide I need to exhume them) and taken another stab at writing parts of it. I’ll tell you in all honesty that reading 50 Shades of Grey inspired me to write some of the juicier bits, particularly one scene that involves a dive instructor.

I’ve written copious emails (one of my weaknesses and a way in which I waste bucket-loads of time, but I am here to contend that some of those emails are written in the manner of letter-writing that existed in the early 20th century, long before email and when consideration was given to the literariness (wow, that’s actually a word!) of personal communications. In the case of famous authors and poets anyway, it’s as though they knew that years later biographers and their readers would be judging their letters alongside their literary works).

I’ve journalized. [Yes, that is the correct verb for writing in a journal and according to my dictionary “journalled” is not a word, but I use it to describe this action all the time. Perhaps my dictionary needs updating?] I’ve done this to deal with the mounting anguish I’ve felt because I haven’t been posting to my blog, I’ve generally been misbehaving and none of it has involved a MAN. I’ve been writing the classic stuff of existential navel-gazing that any writer worth their mettle is practically required to do. And I’ve pined in my journal. I’ve pined for my lover. Any lover.

Most recently, I’ve been working on an essay I was asked to write for an online journal called Anthropologies. It describes, albeit in extreme shorthand, my experience working on community-based conservation when I first moved here to Mexico.

And lists…I’ve been writing lists – grocery lists and lists of all the things I should be doing, including chores, repairs and writing. After I make my lists, I promptly go surfing even though it’s not on the list.

I’ve also been mind writing, but hardly at all, because I’ve noticed mind writing mostly occurs a lot between actual writing sessions. So if I’m not doing one, I don’t do much of the other.

Aside from writing, I’ve begun conducting research related to an article I’m going to write examining a topic related to the history of surfing. I’ve even conducted two interviews related to said article and set about arranging several others. I don’t want to reveal too much just yet (don’t want to get scooped!), but I will tell you that this project has me more excited than I can say and I’m looking forward to the entire process, particularly the interviews, the people I will get to meet as a result and the knowledge, both specific to the article and about surfing in general, that they may impart to me.

I haven’t just been writing either – I’ve been doing one of the most important things a writer must do – I’ve been reading:

  • Deep in the Wave by Bear Woznick which I will review here at some point in the coming weeks;
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, which if you haven’t read and think it is anything like the movie, then I will save you the trouble and tell you it is a stretch to say it is even remotely like the movie. There is not even one mention of her romance with Denys Fitch-Haton (played by the lovely Robert Redford in the movie), which clearly was the raison d’être of the movie.
  • Some of the poems in Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje, always worth the time for their beauty and ability to inspire;
  • Several articles in the current and back issues of The Surfer’s Journal (the bible of surfers everywhere);
  • I’ve been picking up and putting down Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster by Markus Wolf, but I finally put it down in order to read:
  • Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.

Millay was an early 20th century Pulitzer Prize winning poet to whom the expression “burning the candle at both ends” is attributed. So far my favorite part of the book (probably because it introduces some much needed levity to what is a depressing story) is when the author describes how Vincent (as she was called) helps her sister Norma, who’s just moved to bohemian Greenwich Village from conservative Camden, Maine, get used to life in the city.

One of the first things Vincent explained to Norma was that there was a
certain freedom of languarge in the Village that mustn’t shock her…”So
we sat darning socks…and practiced the use of profanity as we stitched.
Needle in, shit. Needle out, piss. Needle in, fuck. Needle out, cunt. Until
we were easy with the words.”

I am a third of the way through the book and so far I find Millay to be an unsympathetic character, selfish and manipulative, particularly where men are concerned. I’ll let you know if my opinion is altered by the time she dies.

There is so much I want to share with you! I do hope you’ll check back here in the coming days or better yet why don’t you subscribe and get my posts delivered direct to your email so it’s super easy for you to get the latest on my adventures over the last five or so odd weeks. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Double pinky finger promise!