Recently, one of my friends participated in an ayahuasca ceremony. We went to dinner the other day and I got to hear all about it. The ceremony was set in nature with a shaman guide and a small group of participants. Over the three days, the group drank varied amounts of the hallucinatory potion and for my friend, who has a deep spiritual practice, the experience was intense, difficult and profound. I have a scientific curiosity about these things. I was very interested in hearing all about it and intrigued by my friend’s experience, but my interest is not a personal one. Forever, I’ve just known that this isn’t my thing. I don’t fully understand why I feel this way, so since our conversation, I’ve been wondering why am I so sure I’m not interested in a mind-altering and potentially expanding journey? After all, I’m all for expanding consciousness and having an experience that helps change our perspective to more clearly see who, how and what we are. This is part of why I practice yoga. I don’t have any moral objections and I wouldn’t qualify as highly risk averse, so what’s the deal?
Then I saw this video:
This has been circulating around the interwebs this week. In the video, some man sprays a praying mantis with insecticide and once it’s dead, out slips a Nematomorph or hairworm, a parasite that lives in insect abdomens, does serious damage to the host and grows really long. But that’s not all. The worm can also take over parts of an insect’s brain so that it jumps into water where the host will die, but the adult hairworm can slide out of the carcass and happily swim out the remainder of it’s little parasite life. Sick. Sick. Sick.
I can’t get into it. I think a lot of things that happen in the natural world are amazing. I like creatures and life cycles , and I’ve even enjoyed a trip to a parasite museum in Tokyo, Japan. But this? This mind-controlling abdomen-dwelling hairworm really upsets me. I feel queasy thinking about it. It was while watching this video that I realized this queasy nematomorph-feeling is the same one I have when I think of voluntarily signing up to go on some body and mind altering ayahuasca journey where I know something else inside of me will be captaining the Amanda ship. No way would I sign up for that. I wouldn’t take something into my body to feel something beyond myself because I deal with that shit every day already.
Sometimes, I can feel what’s going on in a room or in someone next to me. This happens with strangers but is especially acute with the people I’m close to. I can read a book about the pain or plight someone experienced and have a physical reaction. I can drive by an accident scene and fight-or-flight kicks in and I get all jacked up. Point is, I already know what it is like for something that isn’t me to come into my awareness, into my body, and then have an impact on how I feel. And feelings are a big deal. How we feel has a huge impact on how we are in the world: How we see things, react, even what we think about and say. Some of this is under our control and some isn’t. Just consider the physiology of feelings- the slew of chemicals that our body releases when we are happy or sad or angry or threatened. Yoga has helped me to better understand and influence how I feel so that I’m better able to live consciously and intentionally. Part of my ongoing work is learning how to distinguish what I feel, vs. something I’m feeling off of someone else. When it used to seem like it was all “me” I was often out of balance, wondering how I could be just fine in the morning and then feel something really not fine soon after. I’m still learning how to have boundaries that are appropriate, so that I’m not so open to the emotional torrents that are always around, but I’m not closed off either. It’s a delicate balance. I’ve found, I need presence, mindfulness, a mind-altering and clarifying yoga practice, clean diet and lots of rest to maintain it.