Sometimes it feels as if we are literally going mad—going crazy, losing all sense of “self” as we know it. Yet sometimes we really do need to come apart before we can come back together again.
While there is a context for madness within art—an acceptance that losing one’s mind can be a gateway to new ways of sensing and perceiving, our common Western view doesn’t have such a context. And while states of spirituality can be viewed as akin to states of madness (sometimes shamanic journeying is called entering ‘non ordinary reality,’ for instance), these terrains are still unfamiliar to most of us. But entering our own madness states is a gateway to tremendous growth, expansion, and healing.
There is there is a beauty in allowing the dissolving of identity to occur—a surrender the unknown. We often get phone calls from people post ceremony who are having disintegration experiences, where they are afraid that their normal ways of thinking no longer seem to work, they seem extra sensitive, and in some ways unable to function as they ‘think’ they should. While I do have empathy for people going through these transitory experiences, I am also happy for them. I tell them this is good news and to celebrate that this is happening. They are having the direct experience of disintegration, which will inevitably follow a new path into integration. Periods of temporary madness allow the day to day busy-ness and the distractions to fall apart. And what rising from the ashes are new ways of relating to spirit world, the all of creation, and an opportunity to have direct experiences of spiritual wisdom and knowledge.
The cycle seems to go in spirals of learning—moving from the known into the unknown, assumptions about self and reality challenged, states of confusion and deformation present, followed by integration of new ways of being and operating, and last a re-entry into one’s community or family system. The cycle then repeats.
While not everyone goes through such dramatic and overt dissolving of identity, this cycle of learning/healing with plant medicines within a ceremonial context seems replicable.
Ayahuasca can be sometimes subtle, sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes visionary; sometimes dialogical. Sometimes upsetting and painful; sometimes blissful. No matter what the experience is during the ceremonies themselves, some sort of change happens each time we work with this master plant teacher. And these changes, post-ceremony occur within mini-to large-periods of disintegration.
The only consistent experience I have had, is that aya constantly pulls the rug out from underneath my feet, letting me know that what I think is not real, what I consider “me” is not real, and what I even imagine is real is not real. And the tighter of a grip I try to place on “reality” the harder she will rip those illusions away from me. In those moments, I try my best to just let go, shut up, and listen the best I can.
In the stages of disintegration, we often are keenly aware of patterns of behavior and thought that simply do not work anymore. We see the unseen forces at play and how they affect us. We see the cost of hating others and how that may show up in our bodies as tension, stress, or possibly dis-ease. We may see how fear and jealousy create barriers to having a partner we love. We may see how our spiritual arrogance is a crutch, and used to spiritually bypass the pain we may have, or the loneliness we may feel. And we can then set new actions in motion to heal our lives and challenge outdated stories.
The disintegration process can certainly hurt, and be something we want to avoid or get away from as quickly as possible. However, spending time in this deep dive into psyche is the medicine working post-ceremony at our depths. It is like a sponge pulling out the dark crap in our mind and extracting it so we can be free, or at least see our patterns at work and show us alternatives to living in a different way. It’s like installing a different operating system into our computer and requires a new learning curve to fully understand how it works and the nuances of it.
And for some of us, the disintegration process may be wonderful and beautiful—finally realizing that our self-concept as unlovable, stupid, or fill in the blank, is not true—and we are amazing, beautiful, and loved by many. We heal the bullshit story that we are less than others and unlovable and discover that in fact we are quite the contrary.
However, disintegration remains for most of us confusing. It is unfamiliar terrain, as discussed earlier. It can be a time of gestation-where we realize old habits do not work and yet we do not yet have new habits. We realize old paradigms no longer serve us, and yet we can barely imagine living in a different way. We realize that where we are is not working and yet we are unsure where to go. So, during this time of confusion or like a trapeze artist letting go of one bar only to be flying through the air hoping the next bar shows up within our grasp, we simply have to trust and have faith in the process to work out. And our process of dis-integration in this case, is unlike any other process of disintegration. Our gestation period is unlike another’s.
And yet, this is another form of spiritual work—and certainly plant medicine work. To give ourselves the gift of the time it takes to return to center, and to birth new visions, new solutions, new concepts, new actions, new ways of relating to self and others. This all takes tremendous courage and our culture certainly does not embrace this form of healing. This perhaps is why these states of disintegration are more akin to madness than anything else. To the outside world it may look as if we are losing our grasp of every day reality, but inside our souls we are not—we are just learning how to walk again, learning how to walk our paths in new ways.
One of the big tasks I believe people have post-ceremony, is to rigorously challenge our assumptions about self, ego mind, what may be an insight during ceremony, and what may be simply stroking our ego. For example, sometimes someone comes to one ceremony and in the morning proclaims that they are meant to facilitate ceremonies. Or someone believes they are the second coming of Christ, or another version of a Messianic complex. These things are not necessarily real, as they are not grounded in actual reality—usually simply forms of ego mind or mental masturbation. While perhaps they are meant to lead ceremonies at some point on their path, this skill like every other skill requires much dedicated effort, time, etc.
The Messianic complex, on the other hand suggests they believe they some sort of savior of humanity, through a grandiose worldview or sense of self as better than others. While we all may develop a keener sense of empathy and compassion for humanity and the natural world (a noted byproduct of working with plant medicines in general), we must also walk in a humble way, doing the things we can as simple humans. Therefore, rigor in this case, means true community who can call us out when we are talking gibberish, and friends who can challenge us from a space of love. We need feedback so we can see our beauty reflected back and our innate wisdom and strengths, just as we need others to call us out when we are simply speaking from our ego mind. These dialogues are all important parts of the integration process. We all need community and fellow ceremony friends to fully find our way within the post ceremony process. I rely on a variety of friends to keep me grounded, to make sure I’m not losing my mind or saying things or believing things that may be foolish or delusional.
Working with plant medicines is hard work and challenging work. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and inner-strength to keep surrendering to this path. The lessons can be rough, and ceremonies taxing, but as we have all witnessed, can be beautiful beyond words. The sharing we all hear in the mornings post ceremony are always filled with immense gratitude for being alive, appreciation for our fellow travellers, for our families, and for the healing we all receive.
For some of us we find meaning and purpose, for others we process trauma in various forms, for others we heal negative stories about ourselves, some people experience freedom from nightmares, depression, and anxiety, and others simply courage to keep on living. The process of disintegration is an important, and often overlooked, part of the ceremony process. The process begins with preparing one’s self mentally, physically, and spirituality.
Next, proceed into the experience itself and the various phases of the ceremony nights. The last part, which is where it all becomes real, is the post-ceremony experience that puts these lessons into reality. Wherever you are on your journey at this precise moment, I hope it is bringing you meaning, purpose, and healing.