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.
And really, if we want to know about this mystery, the last people we should ask are materialist reductionist scientists; they have nothing to say on the matter at all. Let’s go rather to the ancient Egyptians, who put their best minds to work for 3,000 years on the problem of death, and on the problem of how we should live our lives to prepare for what we will confront after death.
And the ancient Egyptians expressed their ideas in transcendent art, which still touches us emotionally today. And they came to certain very specific conclusions that the soul does survive death and that we will be held accountable for every thought, every action, every deed that we have lived through in our lives, so we’d better take this precious opportunity to be born in a human body seriously, and make the most of it. And in these inquiries into the mystery of death, the ancient Egyptians weren’t just exercising their imaginations; they highly valued dream states, and it’s now known that they used visionary plants like the hallucinogenic blue water lily. It’s interesting that the ancient Egyptian ‘tree of life’ has recently been identified as the Acacia nilotica which contains high quantities of DMT, dimethyltryptamine, the same active ingredient that we find in ayahuasca.