“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” – Carl Jung

In my previous article I mentioned that for each individual there are some entheogens that makes them feel great, while others have the opposite effect. Some entheogens seem to have an uncanny ability to shake things up so the detritus rises to the top. For me, that entheogen is ayahuasca.

I lived in the Peruvian Amazon at a medicine centre for almost a year and a half during which I did roughly 35 ayahuasca ceremonies. Things started off great, the brew would transport me to the nether regions of the cosmos and show me places and things my mind up to that point had not even conceived of. But then at a certain point, roundabout ceremony number 20, things started to get dark. Very dark. In one ceremony I was drowning in a river of thick blood as I was attempting to swim upstream, the river banks flanked with pestilence-ridden individuals clawing at each other’s festering sores. Spiked maces impaled skulls that were crushed like easter-eggs, high-frequency eviscerations were stuck on loop in my head, and mischievous little imps showed me things I wish I could, but cannot ever unsee. Rot, decay, torture, blood, guts, and gore, over and over and over.

These visions would also be accompanied by a suite of physical sensations. Panic boiling up in me, extreme restlessness (which I dubbed the “fire ants in my pants”), unquenchable heat permeating my body, my chest constricting, and an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, as if the darkness was suffocating me. And then, almost on cue, I would start being filled with self-pity. Lots and lots of self-pity, one of the ego’s favourite tools – “oh, poor me”.

Why is this happening to me? Why the horror buffet? Why am I being punished? Why can’t I have nice vision of emerald owls and flying jaguars and crystal moonlit pools like other people? Is there something wrong with me? What did I do to deserve this? Was I born bad, is my soul tainted, my being rotten to the core? Did I watch too many horror movies as a kid, too much White Zombie and SlipKnot in my teenage years? Was my DNA stained by the atrocities of my barbarian forebears, conquerors who raped and pillaged and plundered? Was I now the unfortunate martyr that needed to suffer for their sins so that the genetic memory could be “purged”? Whatever explanation my ego latched onto, the conclusion was always the same – I was being punished, I was a victim here, and “She” did not like me. Poor little old me.

This same pattern would repeat itself over and over for about 20 ceremonies – after some initial pleasantries soon the experience would turn dark and self-pity would follow. I would cower, brace my body, and push the experience away. I would will it away, wish for it to end, and as soon as any form of respite offered itself I would grab hold and cling my way out of the experience.

And then, in my last ceremony, it changed. The same thing happened – the dark thoughts, the uncomfortable sensations, and the self-pity. But then, instead of cowering and pushing the experience away, an insight beckoned me to do the opposite. I realized that I was not being punished, but rather in the most visceral sense imaginable I was being given an opportunity to meet my shadows face-to-face. The dark images were not demonic entities here to haunt me, they were me! And they came to me to be loved and accepted. This was not a punishment, rather, this was a magical opportunity and a great gift. I realized that instead of cowering all I needed to do was to keep my heart open and to accept things as they are. Accept that this is me, that I have this in me, and that that’s okay.

And as soon as I did that, as soon as I accepted the darkness it immediately transmuted into the most beautiful and serene images and feelings, the flipside of the same coin. In all the past experiences when I pushed my shadows away I simply made sure they would come back later. That’s why I was “stuck” and reliving that exact same event over and over in my ceremonies. Like a console game you cannot advance to the next level until you have successfully completed this one. But this game is the most real of them all – it is the game of life. And part of “winning” at this game requires you to unconditionally accept and love all aspects of yourself.