The Dream Pods
The Dream Pods is a modified extract (3000 words) from my novel Eternity. This passage comes late in the novel and explores the protagonist’s experiences with kambo, coca and ayahuasca.
Midmorning sunshine illuminates the Maloka. The light dances off the central star pentagram carved into the polished wooden floorboards and fills the space up to the ceiling; impossibly high, with a spider’s web of wooden beams at the pinnacle. A dozen soft mats lie around the perimeter of the space, with bodies occupying a few of them. I choose one close to the bathroom, and next to my friend Billy. Seated, I take a draw from my mapacho cigarette then lay it to rest in my little wooden bowl. Margaret is lying with her back to me on a mat close by. Billy is already purging into his bucket.
Donovan is next to me now.
‘How are you feeling, Nick?’ He’s a jovial, pale-skinned dumpling of a man, with a bright-red watermelon for a head, and eyes that’ve known great pain and great love. Droplets of sweat trickle down his cheeks.
‘A little nervous,’ I say.
Donovan smiles to me and then it’s five burns on the fleshy part of my right shoulder with the smouldering end of his incense stick. Onto the wounds he heaps on the frog poison paste. My heartrate explodes, and my neck and face are hot with blood and panic. The blood pounds against my temples from the inside of my skull. Hot mouth and impending doom. Something slices at my stomach from the inside and all the moisture has left my throat. I feel my body shutting down, getting ready to give it all away. Donovan said I might feel like I’m dying.
I know I’m not dying.
I wonder though, if death would be more pleasant than this.
I have just a second to grab my bucket before a cascade of burning bile and water floods out of my mouth. My stomach heaves and a second purge comes. This one is more violent and painful and gut-wrenching. I don’t feel the same release as I have been when purging with Ayahuasca. This medicine is different.
I slump down onto my mat to rest for a few moments, exhausted. The blood pumps at my shoulder, the entry point for the poison. It’s still there feeding into my open wound.
An urgent message. I’ve got to get to the bathroom. I take my bucket and drag myself into the first cubicle. After stripping off my clothes I sit naked on the toilet, purging from both ends, with the bucket wedged between my legs.
‘This sucks!’ comes Billy’s voice. He must be in the cubicle next to me.
‘How’s it going in there?’ I splutter.
‘Is that you Nick?’
‘I’m purging out both ends.’
But soon I’m out of the worst of it. I leave the bathroom and lie back down on my mat. Donovan wipes off the poison and leaves me with my thoughts. The Kambo is still in my system, but the storm has passed.
I sit in the sunshine smoking a mapacho cigarette while the bronze-skinned ladies clean my room. These women must’ve seen some shit out here over the years. A grey lizard crawls up a thin tree between the path and my little wooden house. The lizard starts nodding its head back and forth. Then from under its neck fans out a bright orange disk.
It’s mild for this time of the year in the Peruvian Amazon.
Donovan has me staying at Pentagon, a one-bed wooden cabin, nestled into the jungle vegetation. There’s a stream running past at the rear and a tight balcony leading to the bathroom. Everything I own is in a backpack under my writing desk.
Earlier this afternoon, when I was lying on my bed and staring up at the ceiling, I spotted a pair of white-bellied rats crawling around in the roof. I figured they’d eat the things I really don’t want in my house.
Except for snakes. Snake beats rat.
This is where Jasper was staying back before he left. Jasper said his clothes never fully dried in this place. I liked Jasper at first. My initial tendency is to like people. But he did tend to tell the same stories over and over again. It didn’t take long before I’d heard them all.
“Never use toilet cubicle number one!” he’d say. “If anything ever happens during a ceremony, it always happens in cubicle number one!”
The others assured me this was superstitious bullshit. By the end of his three months here, he’d become angry and frustrated. I guess he must’ve always been angry and frustrated. He mentioned a few times to me that he was going to ask Donovan if he could work here. No one had the heart to crush his dream. I guess a place like this can be awfully small after three months, if you don’t get along well with the people. I’d imagine it could turn into a nightmare. The people here talk about him as though he lost his mind.
The Dream Pods
We sit crosslegged facing each other in a small room. Between us is a large pile of coca leaves resting on a square of coloured fabric. Around the piece of fabric, Donovan has arranged ceremonial items: stones, beads, cards, various green and white powders, little figures and symbols and the like. Next to him sits a hand-crafted drum.
Donovan blows mapacho smoke around the both of us and over the coca leaves. He blows plumes of smoke into his hands and pushes them over his watermelon head like he’s washing his face at a river’s edge. Donovan’s mapacho cigarette is long and thick, like a goddamned cigar.
The mapachos I splutter on are dainty and slender.
‘This is a safe space,’ he says. Donovan has soft eyes and an unassuming smile. ‘Here, we are bound by Sacred Lore. You are free to share anything, and I will never repeat it. You may choose to repeat what happens here, but I cannot.’
‘Do you have a relationship with Coca?’
‘I wouldn’t say a relationship, but I’ve used Coca before. I used it a lot when I was in Cusco. Mostly to manage altitude sickness in the city. And to help with the altitude when I was hiking in the Sacred Valley. It gave me give energy and suppressed my appetite and that kind of thing. It was really useful.’
‘Ok, so you have met Coca. That’s good. Have you used Coca before in ceremony?’
‘No, never. I’ve never heard of it being used in a ceremony.’
Donovan shows me how to grab a few leaves and roll them up, with a mysterious white powder as an activator, and then drive the pile into a ball in the side of my mouth. He rests his right hand on his handcrafted drum, and gestures with his outstretched left arm and open palm to a single mattress by the wall.
The drumming starts. I approach the Great Tree and speak the intention:
I will travel to the world below and find my Dream Pods
And I spiral down like Alice, through the portal within the Great Tree.
Eventually, I draw myself to the ground and step out of the tree and into the underworld. My view is blocked by a great disk of light in the centre of my field of vision, so I change perspective from first person to third, and look down upon myself as though my consciousness were a bird in the sky.
I persist through the underworld in search of my dream pods and come to a building that resembles a back shed standing alone in an overgrown field. Inside are little vases, like Egyptian Sarcophagi. Donovan told me some of these dream pods would be ripe and plump and colourful, and others would be dull and shrivelled and grey.
Four dream pods in particular, command my attention, and I move back and forth between these four, opening them and examining the contents. None are beautifully ripe. The first three, though, have colour. The last is grey.
The first. I am a school teacher. Tie. Sharp clothes. Kids clamber around me, jostling for my attention. I’m smiling but there are clouds in the sky.
The second. There is a woman with child. My chest jolts with a strong inbreath.
A great Dragon appears in the back shed, an impressive figure, large and scaled with an enormous wingspan. I shoo it away, and it launches into the sky. Like a rocket, it spirals up towards the sun.
The third. There is a property in the countryside. I am in the garden. My hands in the dirt. Vegetables grow all around me. I walk a dirt path through the forest. I have a long beard. Long hair. A young girl in a floral dress holds my hand. The girl and I reach the top of a hill in the forest, and I lift her onto my shoulders. Together we look out at the enormous radiating orb of light, exploding beauty across the sky.
The fourth. The big city. Cafes and apartments and traffic. Roommates. Trendy cocktail bars and nightlife. Coffee and vodka and pills. This dream pod is grey.
I let it go.
Donovan slows his drumming, and I return to my body in the room.
I lift myself off the mattress and move back over to my seated position opposite Donovan, taking a fresh clump of Coca leaves and driving them into the side of my mouth.
‘I was listening to the spirits,’ he says, ‘while I was observing your body during the ceremony. I noticed a strong heartbeat through your belly.’
‘That’s typical for me.’
He nods and chews. ‘I noticed three distinct Spirit Animals when I focused on your three energy centres: The Head, Heart and Base.’
I sit captivated, Coca juice sliding down my throat.
‘The Head,’ he says. ‘This centre is associated with the element of Air. As I was observing you, I perceived the image of a Dragonfly.’
I gasp, and my eyes shoot wide open.
‘Hold on.’ He smiles. ‘Don’t say anything yet.’
‘The Heart,’ he says, holding his hand over his chest, chewing coca leaves all the while. ‘This centre is associated with the element of Fire. For you, I saw The Dragon.’
I shake my head and grin.
‘And The Base energy centre. The abdomen. Your medicine. Associated with the element of Water. There I saw The Wolf.’
He smiles and nods and chews.
‘I had a vision of an enormous Dragon,’ I say. ‘It flew in right into the middle of my Dream Pods!’
‘I can’t make this stuff up,’ he says with a grin.
‘Now,’ he says, ‘tell me about the other night, the last Ayahuasca ceremony, when you asked me to stay with you. What were you afraid of?’
That was the most painful night of my life.
‘I don’t really know. I was afraid that ah, I guess that things would get dark for me? I don’t really know exactly what I was afraid of –’
I nod. ‘I guess so. There’s this fear I have, of going insane. Part of me was reluctant to go back to drinking Ayahuasca because of this fear. I was scared that I would lose it in there, in the Maloka. That I’d go nuts and never come back.’
‘Fear of the Unknown. What else is there to fear, in the end?’
‘But then when I went into ceremony the following night, ready to face anything, it was the most beautiful night of my life. I had this real sense of satisfaction with my body, like with my internal organs. I felt clean, really, for the first time ever. And I had let go of all the fear and pain of the night before.’
‘You went in with courage.’
‘It’s not a coincidence that I had such a powerful breakthrough after all this, right?’
Donovan smiles and chews. ‘That’s right,’ he says. ‘This feeling, this represents a progression with the medicine. The spirit had been waiting until your body was ready to accept the medicine before you could progress any deeper.’
‘I guess I don’t want to dive right back in and open up something that I can’t close, you know? With only a few days left here before I go home, I don’t want to start something that I can’t finish.’
‘This is a fair concern. It seems your spiritual vessel has reached saturation point. You need to integrate what you’ve learned here into your life. Otherwise, the medicine can't do its work. After integration, your spiritual vessel will be ready to take on more.’ He pauses to grasp a few green leaves between his thumb and forefinger and add them to the pile within his mouth. ‘Each time you fill your vessel, the vessel grows larger.’
‘So, what about tonight? Do you think I should go to ceremony? I’m not sure.’
‘If you have fear or doubt, then don’t go. If you decide to go, then don’t try to control it. Go in and surrender to the medicine. You can go in with this intention if you like: This is for all of us. You can say that as you drink, and when you return to your mat.’
‘I’m feeling apprehensive about going back home to the Matrix.’
‘Many people are afraid of living in their light,’ he says. ‘This is a fear of the true self. A fear of life without control. Without others controlling us, and without us trying to control things. With the true self, we are free. We are released. We allow the universe to happen. The alternative is living for eternity in a lie. Sometimes we fear our own happiness, because it represents the unknown. We are so used to living with our pain and suffering that we are afraid of living in our happiness. When you live in your light, on your true path, there is no off switch and there is no going back. There’s no lying to your true self. And that’s the frightening part.’
He smiles at my blank face.
‘What is freedom, Nicholas?’ he asks.
‘Wanting for nothing,’ he says. ‘You know, I asked the plants one time,’ he begins, after selecting a few more leaves of coca to slip into his mouth. ‘I asked them: “why now? Why are you spreading across the world now?” And this is what the plants told me: “because you don’t have time to spend ten years in a cave!” Do you know what I mean, Nick? We must evolve now. The plants are helping us. We don’t have time to sit in a cave or in an ashram. We need to change now. Which is good, right? I don’t want to sit in a cave for ten years.’
I laugh. ‘Neither do I.’
‘It’s time to evolve,’ he says. ‘To evolve with nature, as a part of nature. The plants will help us. They want to help us.’
I hug Donovan and thank him for all his help throughout my journey.
‘This is real,’ he says. ‘Remember this.’
Amid darkness in the centre of the Maloka, a large pot billows smoke, and around it sits softly quivering candles. Shadows creep along the floorboards, and across the room, Donovan sits silently with Paulo, the Ayahuascero.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
This is for all of us.
To the left of my mat are my mapachos, lined up one by one, my lighter, my little wooden bowl, my torch, and my glasses. Against the wall is my backpack with my towel and spare clothes. To the right of my mat is my bucket. I’m wearing just my shorts.
Paulo rises from his mat and walks to the pot in the centre of the room. He’s wearing those same long black pants and white singlet as he always does. He kills the smoke and picks up the pot and carries it over to a wooden table adorned with ornaments and bottles of liquid and candles. Paulo’s skin is dark, and his arms are powerful. His eyes are forgiving and understanding. He returns to sit on his mat and starts to hum. His vibration is haunting and beautiful.
I lie back onto my mat and close my eyes.
The blood pulses in my gut.
This is for all of us.
I rise from my mat and walk over to Paulo and Donovan, my legs a little lighter than usual, and sit cross-legged before them. Candlelight flickers across their solemn faces. Paulo pours the brew. I hold the cup to my lips and almost retch with the smell.
Here we go again…
I pour the liquid into my mouth. The brew is thick and bitter. It tastes of vile and concentrated earth and yeast and dirt. I swallow and breathe out deeply. I bring my hands together in-front of my chest in a gesture of prayer.
‘Thank you,’ I say and return to my mat.
It is done.
Margaret is the last to drink and then Donovan blows out the candles.
Mother Ayahuasca, please guide me in my integration. Let me see what I need to see. Let me experience what I need to experience.
Lying on my mat, I make a prayer of gratitude. First to all the different parts of my body. One by one, I acknowledge and thank them. My stomach, intestines, heart, lungs, my liver, my kidneys. All my organs. My muscles, my feet, my hands, my bones, my brain. I thank all the people in my life. The people here at the centre. My friends and family back home. I thank the plants. Mapacho. Coca. Chiric. San Pedro. I even thank Kambo, the gift from the frog. And of course, I thank the Mother. Ayahuasca.
And then across the Maloka, Margaret is deep in the shit.
‘Make it stop, Donovan!’ she cries. ‘Please! Make it stop.’
Ugh, I groan. This is heavy.
‘I want to die!’ she cries.
A strange and sinking black mass envelopes me.
My eyes water, and saliva pours from the sides of my lips onto my pillow. There’s a frightening, sickening energy about. I curl up into a ball and rock like an insane person. My mouth hangs open. I notice myself mumbling nonsense into my pillow.
I can feel Margaret’s pain now. I’m breathing for her. The medicine takes over and I piss myself for her. I piss myself to make a commitment to confront whatever comes up.
Donovan moves to Margaret.
‘Can you sit on my legs please, Donovan. I don’t feel my legs.’
I want to check out. The medicine is coming on too strong.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Surrender, release, allow.
The room spins, and my body sinks deeper and deeper into the mat. Streams of salt liquid squeeze a path down my cheeks. Black clouds invade my consciousness.
Head in the pillow.
Ride it out.
But now a sharp pain in my stomach! And an urgent rushing of saliva to my mouth. I haul myself up into a leaning position, just hovering over my bucket. The universe begins to spiral around me. I am a black hole.
And then it comes… the purge!
A black, moving grid is transposed over my bucket as I purge. A strange grinding, grolshing, sloshing, buzzing. The sickness bellows out of me. There is more leaving my body than just the dark liquid. Swirling, writhing worms coming out of the darkness. Black worms cascade out from my belly and out of my mouth and into the bucket along with all of my fears.
All my fears! All my fears! All my fears!
Exhausted, I lie back down on my mat and curl up and close my eyes.
In the cubicle, with my pants around my ankles and a bucket between my legs, the medicine comes back. Fierce! It’s cubicle number one and the Fear kicks in and I know that’s all bullshit but now the walls swell and pulse and sparkle and shimmer and a portal opens in the wooden door and I hear a strange language. It’s a slingshot boomerang tumbling language. Firing and spinning and somersaulting. And now I’m purging from both ends. The language morphs into feeling and its growlsy, oozy, grolshy, frothy. And now Blackness. I’m still purging from both ends and there’s too much liquid. An endless purge. Usually a purge will pull me out of a trip but not this time. I hang my head and let the saliva pour out of my mouth and I close my eyes and the skin of my face hangs like a mask.
I peer through the slits of my eyes. My bucket is in-front of my face. I must be on my mat. It feels like there’s a pillow under my head. Water leaks out of my eyes and my lips. My feet are warm. There is a weight next to them. I open my eyes a little more and tilt my head to catch a glimpse of my feet. Gaia, the black and white sheepdog, is lying at my feet. I feel protected and I close my eyes and notice the warm tingling sensations flowing through my body.
I sit up on my mat and bring my bucket to my lap. I sense Paulo is about to close the ceremony. I can feel him weaving through energy and watching the spirits.
I want him to close.
Sing your final song Paulo!
I can feel the song on his lips. I want it to be finished. I want the warm, safety of the candles. This will be the last Ayahuasca ceremony of my journey.
Please let this be the end. I want the lesson to be learned already. Please let it be over.
But Paulo doesn’t close the ceremony. It’s not time yet.
I have more work to do. I place my bucket back down and sink into the mat. I remind myself to surrender to the process. I close my eyes and repeat my mantra from the start of the ceremony. And I dive back down into the shadow, for the last time, to search for a golden nugget I can bring back from the deep black ocean of darkness.