Featured art by Luis Tamani
“To access real power, you have to let go the illusion of power.”
This is a story of how I regained control and power in my life after realizing that I have none. I have attended and facilitated several ayahuasca retreats at the Spirit Vine Retreat Center over the last few years, and what kept me going was that I could tangibly measure the changes in my life. Each retreat would noticeably catapult me to a new level of the life experience and a feeling of true and lasting freedom.
I don’t believe it is Ayahuasca alone that makes any real difference in a person’s life. I have seen plenty of seekers that have attended 10s or 100s of ceremonies and have made no change in their life. What transforms a seeker to a finder is having a solid intention to find what they are looking for, and an unbending determination to do whatever it takes to follow the path once it has been illuminated. There are infinite ways in which the path is shown to people — books, movies, talks by gurus and inspirational speakers, entheogens, meditation, and the list goes on. But most people fail in following the path they have witnessed that can liberate them from the suffering of everyday life.
I too had this problem initially. I believed I had been liberated just because I had witnessed the path, and now as a free being I could do what I want. Reality slapped me hard in the face a few weeks later when I realized that I did not even have freedom from what my parents wanted me to do, let alone the rest of the power-hungry world. Constantly battling to get even the tiniest bit of control back from my family drained me completely and I felt lost and confused more than ever before. Since I have been part of various ayahuasca communities, I have now learned that this experience of feeling lost after the first few experiences is very common, and this is one of the first stages in which most people fail. Instead of working to figure out the disconnect between the magnificent freedom that had been tasted recently and the chains that everyone wants to wrap around them, many people go into (or rather return to) an illusory state of freedom, and others go into a depressive state that the experience of freedom was just an illusion and the world is after all an evil place without any respite (a self-fulfilling prophecy).
The Key Insight
A few people actually make the effort to integrate the lessons that seemed to be a magic pill initially. I spoke again with Silvia Polivoy, the lead facilitator at Spirit Vine. She is a psychologist by profession with over 30 years of experience in modified states of consciousness for spiritual development and healing, including entheogens and a range of other modalities . She explained — “The visions are very beautiful and it is worth experiencing them, but what is much more important are the insights received and the integration after the retreat”. When she explained in very rational terms what I had been going through and why I had been failing so miserably at what I thought was an easy task, I knew that I had just started on a very long path and there was a lot more work required on a moment-to-moment basis. This is also when I realized and decided that ayahuasca is a part of this path and I was ready to go back for another retreat. This time I decided to go as a volunteer for an extended stay and have a deeper experience with time after the ceremonies to integrate the lessons into my actions and lifestyle. And am I glad to have made this decision; after participating in several retreats I decided to quit my job and now live here as a volunteer facilitator.
Over the next few retreats I had a very different experience from my first one. I was patiently dealing with seemingly small and insignificant issues, but later witnessing that with these subtle realizations I was making much more effective, realistic and tangible transformations in my everyday life. I had cut out all toxic habits of which I had many, I had started maintaining a relatively good exercise routine which was unimaginable at one point, and I felt much more alive and connected to myself and the world around me than ever before. While these transformations were very powerful, I still yearned for the feeling of freedom I had experienced initially, and neither did I re-experience it in the ceremonies nor in my everyday life. It had been a bit more than a year since my first retreat, but the taste of freedom had not left my being and I felt even more determined to attain that. At this point it seemed much more realistic and achievable due to the changes I had made in my life — I was no longer tied down by many of my habitual patterns and I had also let go of many people that were causing stress and sadness.
It was June 2016 when I attended my fifth retreat at Spirit Vine, and this time I had locked my intention on finding out what is holding me back from being free. What I found most helpful in this and all other retreats were the workshops before and sharing sessions after the ceremonies and Silvia’s help — her experience combined with a very powerful intuition helps her to connect the dots and give people insights into their patterns of behavior. Having a highly addictive personality, I would get hooked to anything just after experiencing it once, whether it be food, substances or people. I had no boundaries or limits and always went beyond the known extremes. After I shared my behavior in one of the workshops, I was asked a simple question, “Did your parents ever say No to you?”. I thought the answer would be “Obviously! Who doesn’t say No?!” Although I couldn’t give an instance of this, I was sure in my mind that my parents wouldn’t ever give me what I wanted and they regularly said “no”.
When I went into the ceremony that night, I started witnessing events from my life where my parents were saying no to me constantly, and I felt vindicated — “See! They Always say NO!”. A few moments later, I started seeing myself pushing my parents to give me what I wanted, incessantly nagging them, and finally they buckled. I saw this repeating over and over and I finally saw what Silvia had been talking about. Although my parents used to say no to me, they wouldn’t ever hold that boundary. I never had a good model in my life to set boundaries, I always received mixed messages — “No means Yes!” Because of this paradox, I always kept giving control to others to feed my insatiable thirst for freedom. I let others set my boundaries so I could break them and feel an artificial sense of freedom. As I lay in my mattress, this pattern unraveled in the most marvelous and beautiful way, eventually leading me to the key insight: “I need to learn how to set healthy boundaries and MAINTAIN them instead of attempting to break them!”
I had started gaining back control of my life by cutting out the toxic habits, and in my opinion this is what paved the way for me to have such a powerful insight into my behavior. Over the following months I had a radical change in my personality. Not only do I live a completely clean and healthy lifestyle, I am constantly aware of setting boundaries in all aspects of my life, especially with people. One of my main problems as mentioned earlier was that I allowed others to set boundaries for me, ones which I felt were chaining me down and which I would want to break as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Not only was this leading to passive-aggressive behavior, it was also building up a large reservoir of repressed anger.
Once I started taking back the reigns, I felt myself transforming; several parts of my body in which I felt extreme tension and pain had suddenly opened up and relaxed. I feel far more comfortable being present in my body without the need to consume any substance in order to feel this sense of peace. My mental and emotional state has become much more balanced and I can now easily relate with people because I do not give them any power to control me or set boundaries for me. Not only do I feel much more in control, I feel this is real control, something that goes beyond what the rational mind believes to be control. The regular state of mind which I notice even in people all around me is a very artificial sense of control. People are triggered by the smallest of things and lose all control when they react unconsciously to the circumstances in their life.
After having been in highly stressful situations and seeing how differently I behave now, I can understand the meaning of real freedom and power — a state where you do not allow the situation to control you, rather you are in control of the situation no matter how bad things may get. I am not saying that I have mastered anything, but just knowing this insight at a deeper level has set the path forward. Now I know what I need to practice and of what I need to be aware in every moment. My transformation has been reflected by every person I’ve met since that retreat. The feedback I received about my behavior corroborated that what I was seeking had finally been found.
Set and Setting
As I mentioned before, ayahuasca alone is not enough to effect anything. The facilitator, the space, your mindset, your intention, and your determination are key factors in what you experience and the changes you make. Having spoken to a lot of people in this community, the nature of the retreats at Spirit Vine is deeply focused on spiritual development. Many people who had visited other centers spoke about the striking difference in the way ayahuasca can help one transform when done in the right set and setting and with an experienced guide. If you feel ready to bring about real change, then I definitely recommend Spirit Vine as the place to go. Silvia’s expertise are unparalleled, and this can be seen in the reviews all over. The center is a paradise like no other place on this planet and the ceremonies are conducted in a very safe, caring, and comfortable space.