My first-hand account of ego-death:
I drank the first cup, walked back to my little nest and waited once again. The waiting was the worst part, and my mind started creating stories and projections about how this ceremony might go. “What if nothing happens?”, “what if it doesn’t work?” “What if it’s too scary?”, “Could I make myself throw up and just go home?”
It was taking longer than the previous night when I had immediately felt the medicine fizzing through my body and that subtle activation before it kicks in. I lay there in the darkness waiting while everyone around me was moaning, groaning, and purging (that’s what we call puking in the psychedelic world) into their little buckets.
I felt like I was trapped in my own skin; not quite sober but not quite ‘in it’ like everyone else was. I grew more and more frustrated after what felt like hours of waiting in an uncomfortable no-man’s land. I suddenly heard the booming voice of the ‘shaman’ yell out “BOOSTER!” which was my chance to top up and have a second dose of Ayahuasca.
My body made the decision for me as I felt myself sit up and open my mouth to receive another mouthful of the foul-tasting sludge. I swallowed, laid back down and the second my head touched the pillow I heard my voice say in a soft whisper;
“Open my heart.”
…and with that, I was gone.
Those words were like a magic spell that started a process over which I had no control. I felt like I had been placed on a conveyor belt, and as I moved along, I was being systematically disassembled one piece at a time. It felt methodical and like I was on a familiar production like that I had been on a million times before.
My human mind was still online at this point and wondering what the hell was going on. I felt my limbs disappear one by one as if I was a doll having its limbs pulled off.
I had no idea what was happening, but I remembered the voice of my therapist who gave me one piece of advice before I left for the retreat. The last thing she said to me was, “if you feel like you’re going to die, don’t resist it.” I had no clue what she meant until this moment.
It felt as if my breath was being crushed out of my body and no matter how much I gasped, there was no more air available. My breath became shallower until I was barely breathing, and I knew that whatever was coming required me to stop breathing completely.
Panic set in and I entered a battle between my desire to stay alive and my impending death. There was a part of me that trusted this, and knew that there was something incredible on the other side, but another very strong part of me writhed and fought to hold on to those last gasps.
With the strength of the second dose there was no chance of resisting, and I remember the exact moment that I decided to give up. I heard a whisper escape my lips once more saying:
Just like that, a feeling of peace flooded over me as I exited my human form. I no longer had a name, a gender, a body, or any memories to cling to.
After I let go, I remember ‘hearing’ a sound that was deeper than any frequency I’d ever heard and so loud that it would have deafened me if I still had my ears. Everything vibrated as if I was inside a giant speaker engulfed by this thunderous sound.
After the noise subsided, I was blasted in the direction of ‘up’ where everything was made of bright white light. When there was no more ‘up’, I landed in an octagonal space, and I was met by some kind of consciousness that wasn’t my own. I asked this thing for help, and it was happy to oblige. I looked at my own heart and saw it black as a smoker’s lung. I asked if I could replace it, and suddenly a light came bursting through my chest and I felt myself jolt as if I’d just been defibrillated and brought back to life. Equipped with my new glowing heart I was sent on my way to the next part of the journey.
I don’t remember much of the ‘afterlife’ except for meeting deceased relatives and friends along the way. My consciousness floated through some kind of light tunnel where I saw bits and pieces of my life along the way. This continued for a long time, and when I started to come back to my body it was daylight, and I could hear everyone outside eating breakfast and talking.
I had been completely paralysed throughout this journey and as I slowly started to thaw and come back to human form, I managed to open my eyes. The first thing I saw was my own hand and it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. I spent a long time in awe of this wonderous hand of mine. How mesmerising it was, how beautiful, how detailed!
I then decided to listen to music, which was absolutely mind blowing! Being able to feel music was something depression took from me, and I no longer got chills or felt moved when I listened to it. After I came back to life, I laughed with glee as I heard music in a completely new way. I was in awe of every note and every word, “what a miraculous creation!” I thought.
I felt like an alien who had just landed in a human body for the first time, and I was ecstatic to be alive! I couldn’t contain the huge surges of energy that were pulsing though my body and it felt like the complete opposite of depression.
It had been 9 hours since I drank that spoonful of medicine and I finally felt like I had my limbs back and could get up. I hadn’t used the bathroom or moved a muscle the whole time, yet I felt fresh and vital. I walked outside and was greeted with huge beaming smiles from my fellow participants who knew something big had happened to me. “You are a completely different person” they all said as I stood there glowing in my new enlightened state.
I waked out of that ceremony reborn, and empty like a new-born baby. I was free from pain, depression, rumination and from all those negative thoughts that had plagued me for most of my life. I naively thought “this is it; I’m done!” and I cried with gratitude and joy.
I wish that was the end of the story and I lived happily ever after, but I’m afraid this isn’t a fairy-tale ending.
For a week I got to experience how it felt to be happy, open, light, and completely present in my body. After that week I was catapulted into chaos and what I now know to be a spiritual emergency. I began hearing and seeing things that weren’t there and felt terrified as soon as the sun would go down.
I couldn’t tolerate darkness and could no longer sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I would hear animal growls as if a lion was right next to me roaring in my ear, and the feeling of dread would engulf me. I felt a dark entity following me everywhere and that if I looked over my shoulder it would kill me.
I still don’t know how I survived those months without much sleep and in a constant state of terror but somehow, I got through it. I found a book called “Spiritual Emergency” by Stan Groff, which gave context to what I was going through, and I tried to reframe it as some sort of initiation.
The only thing that stopped me checking myself into a psychiatric institution was knowing that there was something happening on a deeper level, something I did not understand. I couldn’t see how any western medical facility could help me with this, so I decided to find another way.
I met with a Shaman who was traveling through the UK, and he did some clearing on me and gave me an explanation for why this had happened. That’s a story for another time, but with his help and my own intuitive guidance things did start to get better, and gradually the terror subsided and I was able to sleep again.
It took some time to recover from that experience, and I still wonder why it happened. I felt like I was lifted to the mountaintop and seen heaven, only to be kicked all the way back down to the bottom where I lay half-dead and gasping for breath.
The only thing to do was to dust myself off, patch up my wounds and crawl on my hands and knees back up that mountain one painstaking step at a time.
One thing I’m sure of is that I got what I needed from that experience. I needed to know that there was hope, and that I have the capacity to feel joy, peace, and happiness. Even if it was fleeting, it gave me the motivation to start clawing my way up out of depression.
After my ego-death experience my purpose emerged and my ‘North Star’ became clear;
“I vow to be the support I wish I’d had”.
*If you’d like to learn how to have a safe psychedelic experience, it all begins with preparation. Working with me will give you the skills and tools you need to safely navigate the psychedelic realm and to feel confident and equipped for the journey.