The Man By The Fire
Ryan was a sacred medicine retreat participant with the Eagle Condor Alliance in September of 2015. He wrote this article following his experience:
As long as I can remember I’ve been a cynic, a hard-headed rationalist who dealt with reality in terms of objective facts. I’ve always detested religion, laughed at the mystical and scoffed at the idea of an eternal soul. And it has served me well. I survived a difficult childhood unscathed, carved the path of my career, and avoided the pitfalls of depression and anxiety that plague modern man. When asked about my spiritual views I would often quote my favorite line from Conan The Barbarian:
“I seek not beyond death. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”
I’ve always had a deep thirst for the rich experiences of life, a seeker of novelty and beauty. But beneath the surface there was an emptiness. A hollow void in the fabric of my being that no amount of money, travel, whiskey, sex or weed could fill.
I’ve always had an affinity for psychedelics; like watching a good film that serves as the catalyst for a cathartic experience. So, as is my nature, I wanted to take this as far as it could go. And that was Ayahuasca, or Yagé, as it’s known in Colombia.
After months of research I settled on the Eagle Condor Alliance. I packed my bags, bought a one way ticket and headed off to the mountains for some internal exploration. I arrived full of bravado and machismo, the very qualities that have fueled my conquests. However, what would transpire would shake me to my core, call into question all the decisions I’ve made and force me to confront my fears.
Articulating the experience is a bit like telling all your friends the details of an intimate encounter with a beautiful woman. It demeans the experience. Rather then attempt to give a compartmentalized summary I will tell you what I learned.
I’m not as brave as I thought I was: The first night I experienced my own death, my ego was violently ripped from my being and I clung to it in desperation. I gripped a pillow for dear life, laying face down eyes closed wishing it would end. But Yagé had me in her clutches and would not let go. She was teaching me something I desperately needed to learn. My lack of humility was atrocious. My connection with my spirit was non-existent and my identification with my ego was all-encompassing. As I felt my light being extinguished there was sheer terror, but what came next was the single most profound thing I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing. After the self withered away there was still existence. Yet it wasn’t my existence; it was a unification with the infinite, a return to the place from which we all come and will inevitably return. In this place there was peace, harmony, rhythm and beauty. Death is not to be feared for it’s either everything, or nothing.
Women are warriors: I’m left with a deep admiration for the strength of women. All four women who attended the ceremony had an amazing capacity to bear the slings and arrows that Ayahuasca makes us endure. Yet they did it with grace, a uniquely feminine strength from the givers of life. I can only hope that one day I am fortunate enough to find a partner with the same reservoir of power that all four of them possessed, and if and when I do, I will cherish her.
Accept The Mystery: The German philosopher Edmund Husserl said that every known rest on an unknown. When we hold a box of matches, we can only perceive one side, yet we know with certainty that the other side exists. The same can be said of life; we have limited powers of perception but just because we cannot perceive something does not negate its existence. We will never unlock all the mysteries of the cosmos and that is okay, there is beauty in the mystery.
Our Relationship To Food Is Messed Up: Every living thing is a part of the continuum in which we exist. All of it divinely ordained. When we buy meat from a grocery store, there is no connection to the earth, to that which from which it came. There is no respect for the animal who gave its life to nourish us.
Just Listen: There is a rhythm to life and nature. When listened to properly it can be the guiding principle of our actions. It is the source of art and wisdom, beauty and love. Our minds’ incessant worries and fears block the music, disconnect us from who we really are and make us feel separate from nature. Quiet the mind, listen and follow.
I know who I am: When the superficiality is stripped away, when all the pride and fear is dissolved, at the very core is the essence of my being. And that is a ponderer, an inquisitive mind that’s not afraid to examine itself, no layer too deep, no island too far. A man by the fire staring into the flames of the eternal, unafraid. When push comes to shove, when the road gets rough, I will always remember, I am the man by the fire.