My Education

Ayahuascan Paratexts

I didn’t see the light. I heard the sound.

Things haven’t happened yet. I have to keep reminding myself of that. To make it real. The things that are going to happen haven’t happened yet. Otherwise, things get all fucked up on the timeline. You have to iron out history until it doesn’t have any wrinkles left. Nothing hiding in the creases. No events unaccounted for. Put them out in a row like raisins onto peanut butter in the trough of a celery stalk.

The beat is the operative mode proper to circulation. It’s how things move. Everything has a frequency, or a bandwidth. Harmonize those things and you’ll be free.

“These are all words lost in dreams / traveling the speed that blood pumps”

Thoughts are coming too fast, I can’t process all this at once. Don’t close your eyes, I tell myself, remember what Simon says. Try to stay upright – that’s the position of bodily consciousness. Ah, fuck what Simon says. I lay back and close my eyes. My heart starts beating out of my shirt. I break into a cold sweat. It must be starting.

Let me begin again. I’m deep in the rainforest of Peru, about half an hour downriver from the city of Iquitos, and about half an hour’s trek inland from the Amazon, at a tiny village called Kapitari – a spirit medicine centre established in 1980 by a local shipibo shaman called Luis Culquitón, who is otherwise affectionately known as Don Lucho. Right now, Don Lucho is busy chanting Icaros and shaking a chakapa to about thirty people alternately purging, sighing, and sprawling back on the floor.

For years, that tornado came back in dreams, in nightmares. A cloud would suddenly swirl and drop from the sky, whipping and snapping and darting across the prairie plains, hoovering up everything into its spout, throwing off trees and trucks and trailers like a spoilt brat throws away toys. It stalked me, that tornado, as wide as a highway, and taller than a grain silo. It was like a grumpy Grecian column that snaked up into the heavens. A vertical bridge to the sky.

And before I knew it, that was gone too. It ran away from my mind like a fleeing convict, wrists and ankles chained, hobbling across an empty field. You can watch it going for miles before it dawns on you that it’s dangerous out there. And you’ll never see it again, only the havoc it’ll leave in its wake. It destroys everything that it comes into contact with. The Bizarro King Midas touch. It’ll turn the desert into a wasteland. Even snakes and lizards won’t go there anymore. The birds have all flown away.

A telephone rings.

“Is that Radiohead I hear in the background?”

[Everything in its Right Place can faintly be heard on the line]


“What’s the matter? Are you depressed?”

“It just reminds me of a saner time, I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you work on making now a saner time instead of pining for some time that’s obviously gone?”

“That’s the thing: I didn’t have to work on it back then. Striving toward sanity takes up all my time now.”

“You just don’t want to work.”

“No. No I do not want to work. I want this to be a lot easier. Because right now, it’s impossible work.”

“Fine. Listen to Radiohead. Stay lost in the past. See if I care.”

“I’m not lost in the past, I’m lost in the present. In the past, I know exactly where I am.”

The dream came again, as real as this word. Swimming in a pool full of sheets. Doing laundry laps. Half pool, half bed, depending on whether you’re closer to waking or sleeping consciousness. You’re swimming upstream. The reeds are dragging you backwards. You can’t breathe. You wake up with the sheets twisted and wrapped around your limbs, high thread count handcuffs.

It takes a long time, in our version of time, to get to where we are right now. But to the earth, it’s a blink of an eye, our lifetimes. They don’t matter. When you’re born, you’re already dead to the universe. Your old bones are just fertilizer for something that’ll live way longer than you did. And the roots of that life go deeper than all the wood-paneled rumpus rooms in all the basements in all the post-war houses in all of suburbia.

Let me begin again. About twenty minutes ago, I downed about half a cupful of ayahuasca, a powerful plant psychedelic that’s brewed by slowly boiling a combination of the indigenous Banisteriopsis caapi vine with DMT-rich leaves, producing a viscous black drink that’s been ingested by the aboriginal peoples of South America for millennia for healing and divining purposes. Like the old slogan for Buckley’s Mixture goes: it tastes awful, and it works.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t the same as before. The sound didn’t just come in through my ears, it rearranged my memories, and by extension, my whole perspective on them. I value life a lot more and a lot less now. It’s a paradox, I know, but life is precious and ubiquitous at once.

Let me begin again. It’s dark. So dark, you can’t see your hand in front of your face, dark. It’s jungle dark. No electricity dark. No light pollution from lampposts and airport searchlights and high-watt anti-teenager spotlights dark. It’s fucking dark. And all you can see in the dark is what you can hear.

I died. I died right there on the table. That is, the floor. I died, and was born again. Halle fucking lujah. Come on, heart. Beat your way out of this ache.

And there you were, waiting for the end. But it just didn’t end. It just kept escaping into another place. Thoughts in your mind that are almost words, memories of memories. Those are the ones that always find a way to lay low.

You have to take responsibility, even for things you’re not responsible for. That’s the way it’s going to be from now on. The new normal, they call it. The future is going to look a lot more like the past. Another voice will sing.

Although it’s always expanding, at any given instant, the past has a definite quantity, contained in what’s been done before. The future, by contrast, is unknown and terrifyingly infinite.

Anywhere can be anywhere else with a screen in front of your face. But you’re here, running an index finger over the spines of books, stopping at the ones you also have, the ones that you read, the ones that shaped you too. You’re here. And our hearts are beating in a sort of rhythm together that is not digital, not mediated, real. I shiver at the realness of it. I know each passing moment that these moments are gone.

The beat is how energy travels. Pulses. There is no absolute flow. Things move in fits and starts and then stop almost altogether.

Don Lucho is walking around the circle now, singing Icaros to everyone individually, and performing some kind of protective ceremony with tobacco smoke. I sit upright as he makes his way round. He shakes his chakapa about my body and I can feel the chaotic minutiae of airflows around my skin. I am being reconstituted in space by Don Lucho’s gentle and intentional command for the redirection of energy.

I am still under the stuff when Don Lucho blows smoke three times into the top of my head. I can feel a new spirit enter, awake and alert and ready. Or maybe it was the same old spirit suddenly revived anew, breathed into another life.

I have seen with my own eyes that to be spared violence is the ultimate grace that exists. That’s all there is. Don’t even ask for more because shut up there is no more.

Someone remember where we parked.