Two weeks ago I visited the hills north of Lismore, NSW to have part in a sacred shamanic medicine ceremony, a prior travelling companion, Maria, joined me and we traversed the beautiful green countryside roads up and up to our destination. Tall eucalypts surrounded the hilltop off-grid home and temple space of our facilitators, a grassy paradise broken by thwarts of palm trees, fragrant colourful gardens and natural wooden structures, a large vegetable garden centred the retreat fenced off against impeding animal marauders. Down the hill a giant white tepee housed a luxurious bedroom / temple space, further on, a creek – dry from the spring season – once carved through the valley boulders.
The ceremony would be held outside and already the temple space was being prepared, colourful tapestries with ancient shamanic artwork were hung, the altar was being adorned with relics and tools to help guide travellers through the internal worlds. Introductions and smiles were shared as fellow journeyers began to arrive, tents were erected and collaborated food was bought into the kitchen.
The first round of medicine would be taken in the afternoon, its effects lasting up to ten hours. To open the circle we would smudge ourselves around a fire with green eucalyptus leaves thrown on – a native Australian ritual of cleansing before taking any plant medicines. We then sat and observed individual intentions, guidelines and a history and philosophy of these ceremonies.
The brew was prepared and after drinking we were given some time to sit and absorb the moment before heading off for a walk through the bush, this particular medicine is helped by an active body and the exercise would improve the effects. I was feeling different by the time we stopped half way into the forest to do some qi gong, the breathing technique given was of great benefit and allowed me to stay focused and present. We continued on in concentrated breath, the surrounding foliage taking on a more vivid colour and if gazed at would slowly move and warp.
Through most of my prior medicine work there was a noble silence preventing the distraction of mind as I journeyed, this however was different, dialogue was open with everyone – the stubborn part of me kept my mouth shut, expecting that to do so would birth moments of introspective wisdom. The even deeper part of my mind told me to keep quiet to prevent embarrassment, a common and destructive habit that halted speech in fear of argument or humiliation – the shell of false protection created and hardened by ego. We reached the creek and my self-imposed silence remained, after recommendation by one of the girls I doffed my leather slippers and stood in a pool of water, the cool liquid felt so good on my feet, I began to relax, not worry about the other and smile. We returned to the temple space and spent the next hour with a minimal of noise, I tried to sit in meditation for a while, that stubbornness still wanting to control – I gave up and lay down on a mattress. Resistance is futile, I felt much more present just doing what I felt like, it was a freeing feeling, I did not have to obey rigid expectations of the self – I gave rest to the body and it returned a rejuvenated mind.
Through observing my own actions, nuances and thoughts during this period of rest I was quickly discovering my self-conditioned pretences, my idea, my self, identified, was made up of observations from others, taken as compliment then warped and enlarged by the mind in a vain attempt to describe itself – and in the process of description came belief and finally playing the role defined in the belief. The biggest shells borne of comparison, my sizing up of the self by relating to others, truly an impossible task when there is no other out there that is exact to me, I am unique.
Oh how the actor can perform so well he believes the act himself!
So what was I? I gave in and joined some conversations – dialogue in continuous flux, honest stories void of aggrandizement, through my words and listening to others I was bearing witness to a beautiful thing. My friends, the people surrounding me were mirrors of my personality, by having these seemingly random and un-particular discussions I was observing past conditioning and seeing the sculptured self come out from hearing others speak of their life. Were they unconsciously picking out my patterns and feeding them back to me?
The feeling of interconnectivity was intense, so intense that the rational mind understood, accepted and agreed. We were one entity, all playing separate roles in an effort to raise the awareness of the group as a whole. Like multiple skilled workers building a house we required such diversity to be able to cover all aspects of the construction. Loving attention was given openly as the true joy of equally shared dialogue evolved among the group. I dipped into the feeling of a flow, a continuous movement that no mind could keep up with, whence occasion the mind took over it was instantly bought into the open by unnatural speech or movement – an equivalent of alarm bells prompting one to pause and focus to resume the natural order of being.
A platter of fruit emerged on the hands of a server, beautiful vivid enticing colours instilled hedonistic feelings among the circle, each piece, chewed slowly and savoured bought explosions of sensation – strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and melons were relished by wide eyes closed only in enjoyment of the taste.
I took the time to return to my cushion and close my eyes, the images I saw were amazing – each person, visualised as a silver ball grouped geographically accurate to the open eyed world, the balls would flash with a person’s colour and as they spoke that colour would spill to another silver representative and on it imprint as symbols and blended colours, some balls accepted the colour more readily than others and even balls out of earshot would be blushed with the speaker’s colour temporarily.
This was real, stripped of our self-protection, we were real, there was no bullshit, no façade. Someone would be so passionate about a discovery and I would be in awe, realising that was also exactly what I needed to know, we were operating as a single mind in multiple bodies. A dozen probes of experience operating in harmony for self-understanding.
Slowly enough the medicine wound down, we lay on lounges in the arms of gentle conversation, eyelids closing, the body relaxed, a lazy peaceful smile drawn effortlessly across the face. Still in the moment but surrendering deeper and deeper into the cushioned fabric. Eventually the ceremony closed and I carried this exhausted body to bed.