The writer Isabel Allende, known for her powerful imagination, narrates her experience with Ayahuasca in her autobiographical book The Sum of the Days. The Chilean writer sought this powerful Amazonian concoction in a period of apparent “writer’s block”, with the intention of reconnecting with her roots and drinking again from the glittering potion of herself:

I needed to be the girl again that I once was. That silent girl, tortured by her own imagination, wandering like a shadow in her grandfather’s house. I had to demolish my rational defences and open my mind and heart. And for that I decided to have the shamanic Ayahuasca experience, a concoction made with the Banisteriopsis vine and used by  the Amazon Indians to produce visions.

Willie [Isabel Allende’s husband] did not want me to take the risk of taking it alone and, as so often in our life together, blindly came along with me. We drank a dark tea which had a disgusting taste. Just a 1/3 of a cup, but so bitter and foul-smelling that it was almost impossible to swallow. Perhaps I have a fault in my cerebral cortex –somehow or other I am always a little in the clouds-, because while to others Ayahuasca serves as a push into the world of spirits, to me it was a direct kick that threw me so far I did not return until a couple of days later. 15 minutes after taking it, my balance failed me and I settled on the floor, from where I could no longer move. I panicked and called Willie, who managed to crawl to me, and I held his hand like a lifeline in the worst possible storm. I could not speak or open my eyes. I got lost in a whirlwind of geometric shapes and bright colours which at first were fascinating and then became annoying. I felt that I was coming out of my body. My heart exploding. And I plunged into a terrible anguish.  Then I was once again the girl trapped between the demons in the mirrors and the spirits behind the curtains.

It is a delight to have such an eloquent and profuse description of Ayahuasca, that although it gives almost everybody an unusual insight, referred to as “speaking with the heart”, in Allende, Ayahuasca finds an expert storyteller working language like a cluster of sapphire, jade, amethyst… We see in her description the archetypal encounter with shadows, death, the underworld, known as the katabasis, at the time when the first seduction of the kaleidoscopic DMT falls into the abyss of the vine:

After a while all the colours faded and the black stone that lay almost forgotten in my chest appeared, threatening like some Bolivian mountains. I knew I had to remove this from my journey or die. I tried to climb them and it was slippery. I wanted to turn them around and they were huge. I began to tear them apart and it was an endless task, while my certainty that the rock contained all the evil in the world and that I was filled with demons, grew. I don’t know how long I was like that; in that state time has nothing to do with clocks. Suddenly I felt an electric shot of energy. I  gave a formidable kick on the floor and I rose above the rock. I went back to my body for a moment; doubled over with disgust as I groped for the bucket I had at hand and threw up bile. Nausea, thirst, sand in my mouth, paralysis. I perceived, or understood, what my grandmother used to say: space is full of presence and everything happens simultaneously. There were superimposed and transparent images, like those printed on acetate sheets in science books. […]

[…] I wandered through gardens where threatening plants of fleshy leaves, large mushrooms sweating poison and evil flowers were growing. I saw a girl about 4 years old, shrunken, terrified. I reached over to lift her up and it was me. Different times and people moved from one sheet to another. I found myself at different times and in other lives. I met an old grey-haired woman, tiny, but upright and with shining eyes. It could have also been me in a few years, but I’m not sure, because the old woman was in the midst of a confused crowd.

Another recurring theme: Anamnesis – the soul’s memory that integrates its multiplicity, its river of blood, its “spirit house” that lies buried in the unconscious. That divine memory of the earth and the stars that led Plato to say that all learning is only our recollection. And in Ayahuasca it is part of that process of peace, forgiveness and liberation that human beings must achieve to be able to leave their tranquil home and take the spiritual flight. The journey of Ayahuasca, as a mysterious figure in medicine and as a microcosm of creation, repeats the soul’s journey into the world of generations and the separation of divinity. It’s about forgetting. But then always its anabasis, the rise through the luminous spheres towards the Infinite Being again, merging with divinity, which is achieved through death on this plane, which is always the unfolding of a life from the other plane, a chrysalis.

Soon after, that populated universe vanished and I went into a white and silent space. I was floating in the air. I was an eagle with its large wings outspread, supported by the breeze, seeing the world from above. Free, powerful, solitary, strong, indifferent. This big bird was there for a long time and then it went to another, even more glorious place, where its form disappeared and there was nothing but spirit. The eagle, memories and feelings finished; there was no I. I dissolved into silence. If I had had the slightest awareness or desire, I would have sought you, Paula (Isabel’s daughter). Much later I saw a small circle, like a silver coin, and I headed straight towards to it like an arrow. I crossed the gap and entered effortlessly into an absolute vacuum, grey translucent and deep. There was no feeling, spirit, or lower individual consciousness; however I felt a divine and absolute presence.

I was inside the Goddess. It was the death or the glory spoken of by prophets. If dying is like this, you’re in an unattainable dimension and it is absurd to imagine that you accompany me in everyday life or help me in my work, ambitions, fears and vanities.

A thousand years later I returned, like an exhausted pilgrim, to the known reality by the same way I had left, but in reverse: I crossed the small silver moon, I floated in the eagle’s space, I went down to the white sky, I sank into psychedelic images and finally entered my poor body which had been very sick for two days and attended to by Willie who was starting to believe he had lost his wife in the spirit world. In his experience with Ayahuasca, Willie did not ascend to glory or death, he remained stuck in a bureaucratic purgatory, moving papers around, until the effect of the substance was over a few hours later. Meanwhile I was lying on the floor, where he later placed pillows and blankets for me. I was shivering, mumbling nonsense and often throwing up an increasingly white foam. At first I was restless, but then I was relaxed and motionless, I did not seem to suffer, Willie says.

Finally the process of assimilation, of reintegration, of being able to have the deep treasure within the earth, of fulfilling the arc of vision, of making an individual path from divine will. The possibility of transformation that becomes clear from observing eternity, which is immutable, of understanding the supreme reality of the spirit and trusting the unity that embraces all beings.

I spent the third day, already aware, lying on my bed reliving every moment of this extraordinary journey. I knew I could already write the trilogy, because by facing the stumbles of imagination I had the resources to perceive the universe with the intensity of Ayahuasca again, which is similar to that of my childhood. The adventure with the substance overwhelmed me with something that I can only define as love, a feeling of unity: I dissolved into the divine. I felt that there was no separation between me and the rest of what exists, everything was light and silence. I was certain that we are spirits, and that matter is illusory, something that can not be rationally proven, but that I sometimes managed to experience briefly in moments of exaltation in nature, in privacy with someone I love, or with meditation. I accepted that in this human life my totemic animal is the eagle. That bird which in my visions floated watching everything from a great distance. That distance is what allows me to tell stories, because I can see the angles and horizons. It seems I was born to be sharing and telling things. My body ached, but I’ve never been more lucid. Of all the adventures of my hectic existence, the only one that can be compared to this visit to the dimension of the shamans was your death, my daughter. On both occasions something inexplicable and deep that transformed me happened. I was never again the same after your last night, and after drinking this powerful potion: I lost my fear of death and I experienced the eternity of the spirit.

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