The following are narrative representations of the phenomenal content of ayahuasca visions. These representations attempt to capture a depth and richness of cognitive activity that are admittedly “beyond representation”. The context of these descriptions are as follows:
- Each of the three events were the first three events of my personal experience experimenting with the states-of-mind produced through using ayahuasca
- The events took place with a European religious organization mythologically influenced by Western Christianity, South American Shamanism, and African Spiritualism.
- Drinking of ayahuasca occurred within well-structured ritualistic environment, and the hallucinatory transitions and experiences took place within an environment highly mediated by ritual song and dance.
- The sessions occurred during the first year of my PhD work in Brussels, Belgium; a period in which I was starting to read and be influenced by various strands of transcendental philosophy.
Event #1 — November 2014
After taking the first cup I didn’t feel very much, just some interesting shapes and colours on the periphery of my vision.
After the second cup the musical instrumentation and the singing around me started gaining a qualitative dimension of “perfection”. I immediately felt a strong “pull” towards the “center” of the social group as if the instrumentation and singing were in-themselves gravitational forces mediating an irresistible attraction of mental activity.
For a moment “Cadell” (as “ego” or “self-identity”) resisted these attractive pull due to an intuitive recognition that this transformation would lead to a type of phase transition beyond personal control. I specifically remember feeling an overwhelming “fear” or even “terror”, something like “Oh My God”, I could go off an edge/cliff of my own being. I could lose all sense perception of time and linear development, or lose my mind altogether. However, I was able to recall the advice of some participants before the ceremony started that was relevant to this experience, which empathized not to “fear losing control” and to “let the phenomenon take you”.
Upon affirming this cognitive action I was completely off in a positive (albeit insane) direction. I felt phenomenally oriented towards the centre of the social action and I could immediately conceive the whole of humanity integrated as “One” in a type of dynamic joyous harmony.
In this space I was surprising capable of what I perceived to be “higher levels” of “self-reflection” about my life (a “meta-view” of my “life history” and “current trajectory”). In this mode I was all-consumed by questions of ultimate meaning and purpose, i.e. “What does it mean to engage in right action?” “What does it mean to be a good person?” “What can I do with my life?” “What can I do to make the world a better place?”
In response to these questions the “medium of visions” repeatedly reflected images of humanity/civilization as around an enormous global campfire singing and dancing in spaces with strange geometries or higher dimensional patterns and “spirally”/”fractally” movements. I had the direct impression that if I could immediately share this experience with others then the world itself would be reconciled of all evil and suffering.
In these strange geometric spaces I felt whatever was left of my “ego” burning (within a fire that disintegrated my identity in an almost sexually satisfying way) and whatever observational point was left was filled with laughter and joy. The “I” felt like “All” and possessed a strength that was unparalleled. The feeling was of a “force in-itself” that was in some sense “in control without any reflective self-consciousness controlling the becoming”. This state was perceived as a “gift” and an opening on to a horizon with a feminine presence that “said” something like: “Here, I know you have been waiting; I know you wanted mystery; I know you wanted to see the divine for yourself, so here it is.”
This gift phenomenon was associated with feeling “on top” or “at the peak” of potential mind, a mind mirror where everything was a reflection of my own loci of observation. In other words the feeling of “I” as “All” could be represented in a sentence as “This is everything, absolutely everything, the experience of the height of all experience”.
In this mode there were a few moments where I though I felt “the presence of ayahuasca” for just a moment in the form of female eyes. These eyes were leading me or guiding me through different pathways of consciousness that were disorienting and connected with a sense of confusion and sometimes trouble. I intuitively felt like I wanted to explore in greater depth these pathways but didn’t know how to reach them or actualize them.
Towards the end of this contemplation of pathways I felt larger than not only the universe but the totally of all universes (the multiverse). I was capable of maneuvering and transitioning in scale from the incomprehensibly large to the realms of galaxies and solar systems and eventually around the sphere of our Earth. I was able to “view the Earth as a whole sphere simultaneously” which felt as though I was being presented with a structural impossibility as an actualized observation.
Finally, there were sensations of my mind really opening up to a deeper dimension of space that was too overwhelming to possible represent. This dimension presented its to me with a depth of being and complexity of a truly other world. This opening up felt as if it was an ever deep “phase transition of mind”, like my reality could easily be ripped through and I could even leave what we call mind. I had a mixture of wanting it to happen and being hesitant, and before I could think further about it, the phenomenon fell away.
In a reflective return to the social action of the circle I felt overwhelmed by the power of the circular drive and vitality of the instrumentation and music, as if I had become a part (or was playing my part) in some emergent perpetual motion machine in a centripetal pattern. The production as a whole felt like the ultimate triumph as if “We had done IT!” (with “IT” representing some internally generated cosmic pinnacle that had conquered suffering, evil, and empty otherness).
In personal reflection the feeling was very strong that we could start new types of societies. In relation to our current society it felt like “non-conformism” and not “playing-the-game” was the best approach. A passage from a book by David Graeber I had been reading came to my mind as central: “fill out ‘their’ forms from time-to-time but mostly just ignore ‘them’ and do your own thing, disobey wherever you can.”
The ideal emerged to me in an image of a free society around roaring campfires with music and song and dance and deep thoughtful conversations under the stars. The idea that we should hug more. The idea that our current society was robotic, robotic in the way we love, the way we think, the way we restrict possibilities of otherness. The idea that life is a celebration, that life is warm, that the Earth is our home, that the universe as an object did not diminish the importance of the subject.
The totality of the experience lacked a sense of clear “temporality” but instead gave the impression of an “eternity” (an ‘outside of time and space’). This “spatial eternity” was connected to an overwhelming “presence of Love”. In the final moments as the group’s music and motion slowed, it felt as though my mind had been dirty and muddy, and that I had just emerged from a perfect clear river.
Event #2 — December 2014
In this experience the first cup started to make me feel queazy, like I could vomit, but I didn’t. Furthermore, at first, the dancing prevented me from fully getting into rhythm with my experience, and so I left the circle to sit by myself.
When I sat down to explore my mind the experience did not feel coherent. I kept collapsing in on myself with no real direction or orientation. I felt like I kept opening new chapters of my self but not able to make any thoughtful progress in reflection. This was then followed by (light) images of me collapsing in on myself.
Then, following the second cup, my mind immediately exploded. I felt “gone gone gone” as my mind was surrounded with unending (limitless) geometric patterns full of colour and brilliant symmetries that evoked the impression of immortal life. My whole experience was so full of energy that I felt as though I was in another dimension of being.
Indeed, the main interpretation from the phenomenal perception was that I was in my own universe, a universe of my imagination, and I was travelling at “light speeds” (or very quickly) through the cosmos — by passing planets, stars, galaxies — and my Will was in charge the whole time (i.e. the direction I wanted to travel or the changes I wanted to effect within the imagination space). Phenomena responded to the opening and closing of my vision, the focusing of my vision on a particular location, and the whole field was an energy connected and flowing through my loci of observation.
Then at one moment the field stopped, or I slowed down within the field. I saw a virtual reality-like figure that was very powerful and big and green and smiling and shifting or drifting upwards around an enormous Earth-like planet. The smile was incredibly interesting for some perplexing reason and I followed this figure.
As I approached the planet I saw endless art in mediums and designs beyond comprehension and city structures of incredible diversity and complexity. This environment once again produced a feeling of “revelation” (something like the ‘Kingdom of God’) as if I could just communicate this experience to every human on Earth the “Truth” of the “highest existence” would become apparent or obvious.
In the city I felt like humanity could be this transcendent in “actual reality” (in contrast to “imaginary reality”), but it would take a currently unfathomable “metasystem of thought/feeling and being”.
As I walked and explored the streets and alleys of this city I found myself reflecting on the nature of belief. What is belief? What is its function? What does belief as an object of analysis in-itself say about our species, our aspirations, our possibilities? We want to believe that there is something higher/deeper/more than us, or: that we ourselves can be higher/deeper/more; that there is a way to escape what William Blake referred to as the “Mundane Shell”.
As I opened my eyes to observe the social action around me I became mesmerized by the symmetry of motion, it felt as if the dance was itself in defiance of the “fallen universe”, that our dance speaks of itself, that we are calling into being a higher order of existence through the collective organization of individual minds, that from our free cooperation an emergent order can arise. The dance of transcendence itself.
I then encountered what was the impression of the paradoxical nature of Church structure. On the one hand I deeply appreciated the order and ritual that the Church provided, I deeply appreciated the connection to higher meaning that it spoke for in-itself. However, on the other hand, I wanted very deeply to experience this moment on my own terms. I thought it would be ideal if there were less authority, hierarchy, lineage, and also less symbolism from traditional religions. I recalled Emerson’s “does the sun not shine to-day?” “Can we not develop our own rituals, worship, and relations?” This is in some sense in line with the Freudian ideas of “revivification of the Father”.
Towards the end of the ritual I had to lay down on my own because I had the intuition that I needed to explore once again my own visions independent of the group. I found myself overlooking a plane or field of vision that seemed to represent the evolutionary history of the universe that specifically highlighted the topography of primate evolution in many different forested regions. I saw all types of biological forms come into existence change and disappear from view. I saw human beings gradually emerge from this field of appearance and disappearance.
However, most of the experiences during this final stretch are extremely blurry and hard to recall in detail although I have an impression that the experiences in-themselves were rich and somehow related to other evolutionary processes.
Event #3 — August 2015
During the first two cups (which I had back to back) I started to feel a deep sense of anger and even a deeper sense of existential fear. The anger and fear revolved around my own “creaturely-ness” and the imperfections, finiteness, and limits that come with being a creature.
There was an “all-consuming darkness” that involves a sense of being “hyper critical” of myself. I started to “hate” myself and all of my flaws and inconsistencies and lack of social love and ability to communicate with others, etc. This lasted for what felt like quite some time and I had a growing sense of emptiness or void in the center of myself.
This process may have been a reflection of the character or climate of the room as the whole room felt dark and silent as if the whole room were anticipating a horrible tragedy. This feeling was overwhelmingly “creepy” and I started to worry that this would foreshadow the experience as a whole.
However, after the third cup this “lowly creature state” was transformed into the emergence of a meta-dialogue or analysis of myself, almost as if the flawed, inconsistent, and darker parts of me had been synthesized to a higher form. This was coupled with a feeling of the importance of my embodied state, even the Truth and the purpose of my embodied state and the action in my embodied state. I received the impression in an image that the feeling of your body wanting to vomit or throw up was in some sense an “ayahuasca metaphor for the state of the Self”, i.e. vomiting up your self was equal to a criticism of self, a type of purging yourself of faults and inconsistencies.
In this experience a type of dialectic between creature and creator played a dominant form of my thought. How the “creature” and the “creator” were both “me” at different levels of thought, i.e. I could meta-analyze my creature self when I was in “creator” mode. This appeared to me logically interpreted as the imagination “sculpting” biology in the form of its desire.
The mind felt like a vertical “pole” that was all along its axis “me”, at the top of the pole I was eternal, and all-knowing (not in the sense of “omniscient vis-a-vis the world” but in the sense of just “knowing” my own ground in-myself), i.e. consciousness “in” and “for” itself. The highest pole of myself could look down at my creature self with no fears and no concerns, everything was fine, and I was forgiven for being on a lower-level of mind, unable to overcome my inconsistencies.
In this highest pole I interpreted this state to be “pure self-relating existence”, the strangest state of consciousness where everything was once again “I” (as in Idealism where everything in the “not-I” could be found internal to the “I”). This felt like a type of “virtual consciousness” which was in some sense distinct from my biological and physical states or constraints, an “excess” that was “me” (a paradoxical nothing and everything).
I connected this highest state to the nature of eternity. In this state you are not linked to the material causal chain of necessity but outside of it looking down on your self as a free spirit.
I recognized while in this state how crucial the music and social energy of the circle contributed to a type of “coherent platform” that enabled me to stabilize such a pure state of transcendental self-relating. I felt that if this music and social energy of the circle were to disappear I could risk falling into an abyssal darkness. I furthermore recognized again the patterns that the group generated, specifically the fact that the circular organization gathered its own energy and clearly directed it towards an inner center.
These reflections were then coupled with a theory of the “end of the universe”. I felt that the “end of the universe” deserved to a glorious celebration ordered by music and dance as opposed to a gradual decay into disorder and death. I thought that perhaps in the future we would develop the psycho-social and technical know-how to develop “our own ground” where our own “substantive work/effort” produced a virtual mental plane higher than nature.
In this sense the social energy and experience of this group was in some sense the opposite or an inversion of “real social life”. The bonds for community life are in this experience, and it refreshes/rejuvenates everyone. In your collective work you produce something more than you, and in that it provides the justification and motivation for the communities existence (there is no need for an external coercive power as an external ground).
I felt that this could potentially be explained by a type of alienation, where social systems are composed of people who do not truly give their spirit to the organization. In contrast, this social order was built in-and-through the subjective energy of your own work towards a transcendent self, coupled with the subjective energy of all the others who shared a similar motion. From this perspective I thought that the “transcendent ground” could be “willed/actualized” by our own self-work.
However, I also realized that this state could not actually be discursively communicated to others who have not experienced it in-and-for themselves. In other words, you cannot “convince” someone of this experience, someone who does not want to experience it, will not experience it. It can only be willed/actualized by your own self-work.
As the effects wore down I reflected on the harsh fact that ayahuasca in-itself does not “actualize” you when the experience is over. It rather opens the door for actualization, for deeper reflection on yourself, but the burden still ultimately falls on yourself. In this sense the biggest adjustment to ayahuasca experience is in the relation between acquired habits and the self. You are forced to confront change in yourself, to not “hold on to yourself” but to question and criticize everything about yourself in the goal of climbing the mental pole to the top (to overcome your particular creaturely self for a higher creative self).
In this frame I recalled the Zizekian/Badiouian historical challenge: how can we forsake our particular animality for a higher transcendental Truth in the 21st century (how is this even “thinkable” on a large scale?). The idea of a “return to Plato” in the sense that, not democracy, but transcendental Truth/enlightenment in the form of a “community of philosopher kings” could only generate the power of the “One”.
From this perspective I thought that there was much to gain from the rituals and practices of the ayahuasca ceremony. The customs of the event are important, everything from the music, the ordering of the people, the lighting, the rituals, all add dimensions of meaning and significance in-and-for the social group. This process even opens up a strange mystery internal to the social group: that we are protecting and the guardians of something special (guardians of a sacred order). The idea that in the social act you rekindle mystery of something beyond life itself (something immortal): the Truth as actualized effective appearances.