Guest writer Gertrude Gingerly is back with another story in her search for spiritual truth.
I was staying in Quepos, Costa Rica. It is a small town located on the west coast of the country. I was trying to catch a taxi into town from the place I was staying. To get a cab you had to walk down to the road and wait for a car to drive by. The cars were not marked, they stopped, or they did not. If the car slowed down you knew to get in. Sometimes another person would be in the car as well, sometimes the car would be full. It was a small amount of money to get into town. It seemed bizarre that there would be a cab service in the middle of the jungle, but it existed.
The cab dropped me off downtown. I walked around, looking for breakfast I stopped at a local bakery. As I ordered a coffee (nothing caught my eye for breakfast) I scoped out the flyers like I usually do. Sifting through, I found one that caught my attention. Advertised were a yoga and chocolate making class at a retreat center in the jungle. I put the flyer in my purse, thinking it would be a wonderful opportunity. I spent the day on the beach.
After what ended up being too much I sun, I made my way home. That evening I emailed the contact info on the flyer about the yoga and chocolate making. I received a response the next day. The response said there was an opportunity for a ceremony (ayahuasca) and would be for yoga as well. It seemed these two things trumped the chocolate making.
I thought about it, I did not know much about ayahuasca but I did know that some of my friends had done it in the past. I decided to get a second opinion from my friends before responding. My friends responded with words of encouragement and enthusiasm.
After reading these reassuring words, I signed up for the ceremony.
They sent me instructions on how to fast beforehand and information on not taking any toxins etc. Luckily for me, I had gone on the trip to Costa Rica to cleanse myself. I needed a break from the toxins of city life. I also went because I was in between jobs, starting a new chapter, and had the time to do so. I had not drunk anything the entire week, which was cleansing for me. So much of my life at that point was spent in an office or socializing with others. I had spent my week thus far hiking, at the beach, and on the porch of the house, I was staying at.
I often laid in a hammock listening to the sounds of the dense jungle on my porch.
I was always on the lookout for monkeys. The French gentlemen, Thierry that owned the place I was staying at told me they frequented the area. I cannot remember where he was from in France, but he said he had been in Costa Rica for almost ten years. Thierry was a middle-aged man, easy to get along with, and accommodating. When I arrived in Costa Rica he picked me up, and I cannot remember who asked who, but we ended up going to get dinner and a drink one evening. We sat watching the sunset over the ocean on a beautiful cliff.
As we sipped drinks we talked about life.
He told me that he wanted a life where he didn’t have many material things. He wanted the freedom to do what he wanted when he wanted to do it. He told me that he had found Costa Rica was a perfect place for this kind of lifestyle.
In retrospect, Thierry was an omen for a later chapter in my life.
The response gave a location and time in Quepos to be picked up on Friday. Friday I was supposed to eat a light breakfast and then fast. I had filled out a questionnaire about what I wanted to gain from the ceremony. I wanted to let go of the pain that had been haunting me. The pain of a broken heart, and pain of an abortion I had a few years back.
Sometimes pain is a shadow that haunts you, even if you are not aware of it.
On Friday I caught a taxi into Quepos and went to the meeting spot. I sat on a curb outside the bakery waiting for my ride. After a while, a rickety old station wagon pulled up with a man and woman in the front, and two kids in the back. The woman approached me and asked if I was Gertrude. I said, ” Yes. “
The woman introduced herself, her husband, and children. She was a beautiful Italian woman with long, dark, curly hair. She had bronzed skin and was petite. Her eyes sparkled but she had a serious demeanor to her.
We started to drive away, away from Quepos out towards the jungle. We drove through field after field on an increasingly bumpy road. The forest became denser. There was small talk in the car, but mostly silence as we drifted through the lush green expanse of Costa Rica.
Chiara told me that she had visited Costa Rica and decided that it was her place. She had been living there for quite some time and loved it. This was something I had heard from several people I had talked with during my stay.
After a small town, we turned and went even further into the jungle until we came to a sign that said “Nature Paradise”. We were about a half hour outside of Quepos. We pulled into what looked like a resort. I had remembered seeing the same place on the way out to a hike a few days before and was curious what the place was. As we drove down the driveway, Chiara, the Italian woman, told me to make myself comfortable.
Yoga was at six, the ceremony would start at nine. We would have a chance to talk to the shaman to express any concerns we may have and discuss the ceremony in general before it began.
I walked around the grounds getting my bearing. There was a beautiful house and it was located on the edge of a river. The house had open walls. When you were inside, you were outside, and a part of the noises and smells of the jungle. Hammocks were strung on the decks to relax, and I noticed that there was a pathway leading down to the river. I investigated and saw there was a nice area to swim. The water looked beautiful.
It was hot that day so I decided I wanted to go for a swim. I put on my swimming suit and walked down the hillside to the river. As I did that the children followed.
They jumped in, fearless.
I was cautious. The water was ice cold, especially in the hot midday sun. I swam for a while appreciating the children’s enthusiasm and connection with the natural world. I watched them jumping off of boulders and swimming downstream, then getting out, walking back the boulder, and doing it all over again.
After the swim I dried off and people for the ceremony had begun to arrive. Hunger had started to gnaw at me. I tried to put the thought of food away and drank water.
I dried off, dressed in my yoga clothing, and made my way upstairs for yoga and meditation. We all introduced one another. There was a couple from San Francisco and a girl from Germany. There was another couple from the United States. They had been to over twenty ceremonies. The guy was thin, and did not look very healthy. His girlfriend looked like a normal healthy woman. The guy was an extrovert, a rapper supposedly, and made music with the girl. They had a vibe about them that spoke to me as one of having been through a lot with one another. Another two people showed up, April and Ronan. I immediately bonded with them. They were both kind, friendly, people and it was also April’s first ceremony.
I found out that I was the only one there who had spontaneously had come.
After a nice yoga session, we had a beautiful meditation from one of the women that worked at the retreat center. She told us,
“Imagine you are a lizard sitting by the river. You are sitting, perched, on a rock, in the sunlight. Feel the sun on your scales, listen to the river flow around you.”
“Imagine you are a lizard in the sun…”
Before the ceremony started we were all sitting around waiting in anticipation. We had the opportunity to go speak with one of the shamans before the ceremony to express any concerns we may have. I wanted to express my fear of being alone and never having done the medicine before. That is exactly what I said to the shaman as we sat on the front porch facing the jungle.
As I expressed my well-founded fears (or at least I thought) the shaman sat in silence.
She offered no reassurance, but she acknowledged that she had heard what I said.
I was not used to not getting reassurance when I asked for it, so her response shocked me.
After I had finished speaking with her I sat on the front porch for awhile. Listening to the noises of the jungle and watching lizards play around. I was starving, stressed, and worried what the night would bring, but I wanted to remain calm.
I went inside and began talking to April and Ronan. I do not remember how the subject got brought up but I spoke of how I was in a place where I was trying to get over someone who was not available for me.
Ronan told me a story of a woman who took care of him once during the busiest and most stressful times of his life.
Ronan was trying to move up in the culinary world where he was living in Costa Rica. He was working nonstop. Despite that, he managed to meet someone and fall in love with her. She was from Canada and moved to Costa Rica to be with him. He said they moved in with one another. He was so busy that he barely had any time to hang out with her, and barely had time to take care of himself. He became irritated with her presence, he needed all the sleep he could get and she was a distraction. He ended up telling her this and said she understood. She practiced patience instead of anger.
Because of her patience, she showed him, love.
Ronan said he would never forget her kindness and even though in the end things had not worked out they remained in touch and he thought about her to this day. It made me think of my own experience, and how I could have handled it better, knowing my own boundaries and not trying to put my needs on someone who could not give them to me because of life’s circumstances.
Time was getting closer and closer to the ceremony. We were told to all walk out to the ceremony space.
The venue was a beautiful structure surrounded by the jungle. There was an altar in the middle where the shamans sat and mattresses set up on the floor in a circle around them. We were asked to lay next to someone but told we should not touch the person next to us and to respect their experience by not talking. We were told not to talk at all. There was a fire going outside of the ceremony space. Chiara explained how to enter the fire on the left and walk out on the right.
The shaman explained the medicine to us and what we might expect to experience. Purging was part of the experience. Chiara said,
“It is best to go purge in the jungle, to give back to the earth.”
There were also bathrooms if you were more comfortable using a toilet. The ceremony started at nine o’clock and was expected to last until dawn the next day.
I laid down next to a guy who was from the area. He did not speak any English and seemed extremely scared and anxious. As we laid down I could hear the sounds of the jungle in the background, including the river’s strong current. It was a beautiful, warm night out, but mosquitoes were present so I had dressed in long pants and a long shirt. I had also brought my sleeping bag.
One by one we got up to go take the medicine. After I took mine I returned to my mattress and waited. I started to feel sick after a while. I got up and walked into the jungle and purged. It did not feel as bad as I had thought it would. I stood for a moment, then felt ok to return to my mattress. I understood what Chiara had said about giving back to the jungle by purging there.
I came back into the ceremony space and laid down.
I could not stop thinking about food. Hamburgers and cheeseburgers, pizza, fries, they all flooded my mind and I thought,
‘I think about food way too much. I need to think of food in a different way.’
As that thought drifted off I shut my eyes.
When I shut my eyes I began to see a smorgasbord of my worst fears. Dating back to my childhood were fears of clowns, demons, and now they flooded my mind endlessly. I had remembered Ronan’s advice from earlier,
“If you tell mother to back off, she will.”
When the images began to be too intense, I would open my eyes or simply ask for her to stop and the images would stop. I went through this a few times. To my side, the local man was having a tough time. Squirming around and kneeling in pain, he was in a world of torture. I am not sure if I was imagining this, but it seemed like he was creeping closer to me, trying to be close physically, which was bothering me. I did not know this person, nor was I there to comfort him.
I realized that I did not think I had much to give at that moment.
I saturated this thought, then another drifted along. I recalled advice I had from my ex.
“Go deep to the void,” he said.
“When you think you cannot go further, go further.”
I realized that if I did not face my fears I would never progress in the way that I wanted to, that I knew I was capable of.
I shut my eyes and prepared to face my demons. A kaleidoscope of fears ensued.
Clown after clown, bloody knives, endless rooms with no exits, being chased, insanity creeping into those I love, into my own mind, and a darkness I had not known in my waking hours.
Finally, when I felt I could take it no more, but I kept on going anyway, everything
I had reached my brink of sanity and standing there was my ex. Strong, safe, solid in a way that had made my world seem to crumble after our breakup. I started to cry. I started to sob. I couldn’t give him what he wanted nor could he give me what I wanted. I saw our love regardless and knew then that although we would never be with one another physically, in our hearts the love we had would lie.
Dormant but awakened if life leads us to need one another. I wept thinking of our unborn child and how much I had hated myself for having an abortion. I sobbed and felt something break and start to loosen. I saw the dog we had shared that I had given him. I saw how much hatred I had harbored towards myself for doing things that I knew needed to be done.
Not because I wanted to, but because that was the direction of the river.
I felt something different in my heart, something I could not allow on my own, but the medicine allowed.
It melted my heart, I could see myself. Imperfect, but aware of who I was, and doing my best to do the right thing knowing my limitations.
Then I traveled into the universe, through time and space, through epochs of forgotten dust and debris, but all exploding with colors so vibrant I had to squint my eyes. At the end of the tunnel was love.
Love deep within me.
A lot of it, so much that I did not know where to put it all. And maybe that was the confusing part because I wanted to give, I wanted to love. Until I loved myself though, my task to place love on others would be futile and phony. I searched for who to love, taking an omen I saw the wrong way ( I will explain this in a future essay), but one place I knew I could start was with myself.
And that sounded like a good place.
Visions of people I loved popped into my head. My mother, father, sibling, faces of friends floated through my mind. I began to realize how blessed I was. I had love all around me, it was everywhere, it was unstoppable.
I began to relax and in the distance, the shamans were singing beautiful songs and playing the harmonica. Friends of mind from France popped into my head. I knew their presence had meaning. Their culture had importance to me, and I should listen, even if it was not clear why in that moment.
I decided to try to go out to the fire as I had to use the bathroom anyway. At this point I had purged twice in the jungle, it had felt so good. Before my fears had settled in I had noticed how much I was thinking about food. Cheeseburgers, cheese, butter. I made a mental note again of how food had become a drug to me, and it was not healthy for me any longer.
I got up and stumbled my way to the bathroom. It was difficult to walk, my balance was off. On my way out I noticed that the guy next to me was sitting next to the fire next to one of the shamans, Chiara’s husband. He was a quiet, domineering man full of mystery. He was sitting next to the man next to me who had suffered so much. There were having an animated conversation with one another over the fire, silently. Laughing hysterically, but no sound coming out. Body language. They looked like they had known one another forever and had unlocked an ancient secret. I saw laughter and love.
I saw my neighbor in a different light.
I went to the bathroom and came back to be around the fire. I saw April and she mouthed “How are you?”
I mouthed back, “Ok” having a difficult time remembering language in a verbal way.
After sitting by the fire for awhile I made my way back to my mattress and snuggled up into my sleeping bag. I enjoyed the music and felt a warmth, lightness, love, and security I had not felt in a long time. I no longer felt an intrusion of space from my neighbor, rather a connectedness, we experience the same emotions.
After awhile the shamans announced that they would be doing a part of the ceremony for the men and for the women. The women were first. We were told to sit in the middle of the room. The shamans danced around us and blew cold air onto us. At one point the shaman put her hands on my womb and released something. I felt tears come to my eyes again.
Trauma can last a long time and take a lot of healing.
After this, we were told we could sleep and that the ceremony was officially ended. I tried to move my sleeping bag somewhere quiet and closed my eyes, drifting off into a slumber.
When I awoke most people were gone. It was light out. I walked out of the ceremony space towards the main building. I saw one of the people from ceremony playing with the children. I walked inside and someone else was laying in a hammock, watching other cook breakfast.
We ate a beautiful breakfast, all of the food we had was from the jungle floor. One of the women who was working at the retreat center said,
“Everything you need is in the jungle.”
After breakfast, we had a sharing circle. The ceremony had beyond exceeded my expectations, but I did not have many expectations from the beginning. Other people had read up on the medicine, and some seem disappointed by the effects. Or that they wanted to focus on one thing and another had popped up. I was not able to share everything verbally that I had experienced with the group.
But after, I went up to Chiara and told her about the releasing of darkness from my womb. She said that it had been her that had placed her hands on my womb, and when she did it she said she felt something release. A darkness. I told her that I realized that I had been searching for love. Perhaps in the wrong places. She told me,
“Love will come to you, you cannot ask for it.”
I swam in the river again that day. I hung out with other people from the ceremony, and finally, a taxi was called for me to depart.
I left feeling so much lighter than I had ever felt before. I was glowing. I departed back to my house in the jungle. When I arrived I wrote notes to all of those that had been on my mind throughout the ceremony.
As I was sitting out on the porch, I heard a crying from out in the jungle. I had no idea what it was. I ran outside, walking around, looking to see what the noise was. Some other people staying were also outside. I asked them if they knew what the noise was,
About two dozen monkeys were swinging from trees right in front of my house. It was another lesson. All week long I had hoped to see monkeys. Once I gave up and accepted it might not happen, and gave up my attachment to the thought, they appeared!
I left the jungle the day after, smiling, a smile of hope and love, not from the outside, but the inside, I knew that my life would never be the same.
I would carry these lessons with me the rest of my life.
Inspirational music for this essay is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oACQyGiM9Lg