And as these paintings show, another universal experience of ayahuasca is the encounter with seemingly intelligent entities which communicate with us telepathically. Now, I’m making no claim one way or another as to the reality status of these entities we encounter, simply that phenomenologically, in the ayahuasca experience they are encountered by people all over the world. And most frequently of all, the spirit of ayahuasca herself, mother ayahuasca, who is a healer — and although she’s kind of the mother goddess of the planet she seems to take a direct personal interest in us as individuals — to heal our ills, to want us to be the best that we can possibly be, to correct errors and mistakes in our behavior that may be leading us down the wrong path. And this is perhaps why — and it’s an untold story really — ayahuasca has been fantastically successful in getting people off harmful addictions to hard drugs such as heroine and cocaine. As Jacques Mabit of Takiwasi clinic in Peru brings heroine and cocaine addicts out there for a month, gives them twelve ayahuasca sessions, and they have encounters with mother ayahuasca during those sessions that lead them, not to wish to take heroine and cocaine anymore, and more than half leave completely free of their addiction and never return to it and don’t even have withdrawal symptoms. And the same incredible healing work was being done in Canada by Dr. Gabor Maté until the Canadian Government intervened and stopped his healing practice on the grounds that ayahuasca itself was an illegal drug.
Now, I have some personal experience of this. I’ve not been addicted to heroine or cocaine, but I had a 24-year nonstop cannabis habit. And this started off smoking the herb, and naturally vaporizing it, but the basic truth is that for 24 years I was pretty much permanently stoned — and I enjoyed being stoned, and I felt that it helped me with my work as a writer, and perhaps at some point it did, but when I first encountered ayahuasca, I had already been smoking cannabis for 16 years. And almost immediately, ayahuasca started giving me messages that this was no longer serving me, that it was leading me to behave in negative and unhealthful ways towards others. Of course, I ignored those messages for years and years and went back to being stoned 16 hours a day.
But that negative behavior that ayahuasca was pointing out did actually get worse and worse — I don’t want to put down cannabis and I believe it’s the sovereign right of every adult to choose to smoke cannabis if they wish to do so, but I think I was overusing it, I think I was abusing it, not using it responsibly. I became more and more paranoid, jealous, possessive, suspicious, I was subject to irrational rages, I often made the life of my beloved partner Santha a misery.
When I went down for my regular encounter with ayahuasca in October 2011, I was given the most unbelievable kicking by mother ayahuasca. I was put through an ordeal, it was a kind of life-review. And it’s not an accident that ayahuasca is ‘the vine of the dead’. I was shown my death, and I was shown that if I came to death — and what awaits us after death — without having corrected the mistakes that I was making in my life, that it would be a very bad thing for me — and actually, mother ayahuasca literally took me to hell, and that hell was a little like this “Hell” painted by Hieronymous Bosch., a truly terrible place and a little like the place that the ancient Egyptians called the Judgement Hall of Osiris, where our souls are weighed on the scales in the presence of the Gods against the feather of Truth and Justice of Cosmic Harmony. And I was shown that the path I was walking — my abuse of cannabis and the behavior associated with it — was going to lead me to be found wanting in the judgement, and that I might face annihilation in the world beyond death.
So, perhaps not surprisingly, when I came back to England later in October 2011 I gave up cannabis and I’ve never smoked it again since then. Actually, again I’m speaking only personally with no comment on others’ use of cannabis, it’s as though a monkey has been lifted off my back. I’m liberated in incredible ways, far from my creativity being inhibited, I find myself writing much more productively, much more creatively, much more focused, and much more efficiently as well. I’ve begun to be able to address those negative aspects of my behavior which cannabis had revealed, and hopefully to make myself slowly — it’s a long progress — into a more nurturing, more loving, more positive person. And this whole transformation — it really has been a personal transformation for me — was made possible by this encounter with death that mother ayahuasca gave me.
That leads me to ask, what is death? Our materialist science reduces everything to matter, materialist science in the West says that we are just meat, we’re just our bodies. So when the brain is dead, that’s the end of consciousness, there is no life after death, there is no soul; we just rot and are gone. Actually, many honest scientists should admit that consciousness is the greatest mystery of science and that we don’t know exactly how it works. The brain is involved in it some way but we’re not sure how. It could be that the brain generates consciousness the way a generator makes electricity, if you hold to that paradigm, then of course you can’t believe in life after death, when the generator’s broken, consciousness is gone. But it’s equally possible that the relationship — and nothing in neuroscience rules it out – that the relationship is more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set, and in that case, when the TV set is broken, of course the TV signal continues. And this is the paradigm of all spiritual traditions, that we are immortal souls temporarily incarnated in these physical forms, to learn and to grow and to develop.