By Julee Payne | Special to The Tico Times
Editor’s note: Julee Payne suffers from a rare, painful condition known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) in her left foot and leg as a result of a minor accident three years ago. Her pain became so severe that she could not sleep with a comforter touching her foot, and she often slept with a pillow between her legs to relieve the pressure. After conventional medical treatments failed, she came to Costa Rica to reboot her nervous system with a sacred medicine from the Amazon. Sometimes called the "spirit vine" or "vine of the souls," Ayahuasca is a hallucinogen presented in shamanistic ceremonies to treat a range of conditions. This is the story of her first experience with Ayahuasca.
We had our first ceremony last night. Uncertain and a bit afraid of things to come, the sounds and energy of the rain forest quickly soothed me as I thought about my intention for being there. Over the days leading up to the ceremony, I visualized my first encounter with Ayahuasca as a rebooting of my nervous system. Sitting in the temple under the gaze of a million stars and the warmth of our campfire, I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
The temple was adorned with candles, statues, and a beautiful altar, with mattresses throughout for those participating in the ceremony. The shaman wore traditional dress and spoke briefly and softly, and in fact, there was very little conversation through the night – it was a very personal experience for each of us.
The medicine took effect subtly at first. As I moved around the temple, I didn’t see or imagine things. The lights didn’t take on a life of their own. My thoughts didn’t wander to places unknown or scary. But I was keenly aware of my own voice – like a voiceover in a movie documenting my every thought and action. Wandering to the bathroom, I did feel like Alice in Wonderland as I stumbled through the darkness, but that excitement was cut short by severe stomach cramping. The shaman explained that this might happen, but the intensity was overwhelming.
Visualize that the cramping is negativity accumulating for expulsion from your being, she advised. So I curled up on my mattress and closed my eyes, losing myself to the sounds of the shaman's harmonica to distract from the pain. She played a beautiful, happy beat, at times adding shakers for a soft percussion, sometimes just chanting, other times performing a graceful native dance to its rhythm. At first I thought I would tire of the beat, but it actually became very comforting.
It was then that the entire night changed for me.
My eyes now closed, the visions became amazingly vivid, moving in waves and pulsating though my mind and body one after another. While escaping into the soothing rhythm, I felt my intention take hold.
It started with a strange pull in my foot, as if the medicine discovered its purpose. CE;LIACThen, a long twisting vine that felt centuries old began wrapping itself around me and cradling me with a boa’s firm grasp. I began to perceive sensations in each toe, all independently, without any intrusion from my conscious will. For the next two hours, my toes spasmed and curled in ways impossible were I to intentionally try. It felt as if my toes were in fact rebooting their circuitry, with 1,000 joules of power surging through each one. Some forward. Some back. Some side to side. Some swaying. Then in unison, they began opening and closing with extreme force.
I was a mere spectator, watching and witnessing but having nothing to do with the events unfolding. The nerves had a life of their own. I was in shock but deeply elated.
When the shaman came over and asked how my heart was feeling, I told her about my experience. I put the flashlight on my toes for her to see, and we watched as they spread and reconnected, undulating like water. I showed other participants, and we just sat speechless.
A week before the ceremony and every day here, the shaman has said we need to focus on the intention of our experience, but to balance it without expectation. She said the medicine has a spirit and it would know what we need and help us achieve it – though it might not be as we expect. I don’t know much about the centuries-long tradition of this medicine, but I do know I experienced something spectacular last night.
As I sit here in the middle of this majestic jungle, a roaring river below my cabin and the hum of locus all around me, I feel at peace. I can bend my toes almost all the way now, and I slept for the first time this afternoon without a pillow between my legs. I still feel some discomfort, but I’m trying to both pamper and stimulate my foot.
We’re doing another ceremony this evening. I’m really excited to see how it goes.