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The Varieties of Ayahuasca Experience

Maybe I was just lucky. Oh no, not another Ayahuasca tale....

A foto of the Ayahuasca vine
An Ayahuasca vine (Paul Hessel, @Flickr)

My personal experience was the opposite of the following statement :

In the psychedelic space, real learning is so rare it is nothing short of miraculous. Most of the time, psychedelic experiences are no more transformative than a day trip to Disneyland.

Perhaps my age at the time (61-64) helped. And my beginner´s mind.


The varieties of Ayahusca experience: lessons


The following is a list of my various experiences with the entheogen Ayahuasca, and what I (hopefully!) learned from them. I call it "Ayahuasca as teacher" without intending to give Ayahuasca a "personality" even if it feels like this. I understand why many call it "Grandmother Ayahuasca", but I am not shamanistic enough to accept this view for me.


As I read a few years later, such writing can be a valuable type of integrating psychedelic experiences into one's life. The interpretation of what happened may change over time (Aixala 2021, in "Psychedelic Integration")


Each experience is annotated with references to science, psychology, some aspect of neuroscience and/or to meditation.


I am no expert in any of these - I was only brought to these through a single Ayahuasca experience described here.


Experiences, not traits

When I say "experience", this states what they were: subjective experiences that came and passed. I do not confuse them with "insights into the truth", or other wild claims to have seen the world "as it really is". One is not necessarily god when one imagines to be. They were states, not traits.


Set and Setting

I was aged 61 at the time of my first experience; I was one year before retirement. The experiences took place over a time of four years, from 2016 to 2019, and they distributed over four 3-day events, one event per year.


This corresponds to 12 Ayahuasca ceremonies of ca. 8 hours each. This, all in all, I have 96 hours of an altered state with this entheogen. That is comparatively litte: there are people who have hundreds of ceremonies, for example Dennis McKenna, or Benny Shannon.


They all happened, legal at the time, in a large repurposed barn in the Netherlands, in groups of 30-70 people. I never visited the South American jungle. This way, I may have missed out on the jungle-typical snake- and jaguar-visualisations. Instead, I heard a cock crawing very mystically, as if he was announcing a very important global message :-) But I missed out on nothing else.


The ceremonies were guided by an experienced Brazilian, with a helper team of 6-10 people. He died from Covid in 2021 (showing that Ayahuasca is not a safe protection).


What is an Ayahuasca experience

An experience with the psychedelic / entheogen Ayahuasca isn´t like an everyday experience. All experiences with Ayahuasca play in an expanded inner space that has a completely different feeling-tone to ordinary experience.


It is a miraculous world of unknown emotions, thoughts, perceptions, visions, sensations, love, insights, encounters, reversals, surprises, bliss, sadness, terror, extreme sensory sensitivity, schizophrenia, and deep sexuality, and timelessness. An Ayahuasca experience is always suffused with numinosity, mysteriousness, eternity, sacredness and unfathomable significance/ salience of every experienced second. At the same time, it appears more real than everyday reality, it seems to be a revelation of the true reality that had been hidden so far.

The possible breadth of experiences, their phenomenology and types is described in a thick 490-page book by the Israeli cognitive scientist Benny Shannon ("The Antipodes of the Mind"). It was published in 2002, long before the current wave, by Oxford University Press. A very reputable academic publishing house.


While that book is relatively dry and analytical reading at times, it is also utterly fascinating, and it is highly accurate if I compare it to my experiences. The author has participated in hundreds of ceremonies, thus his experiential base is much broader than mine. My experiences are a small but representative subset of his.


The following quote is Shannon's view:

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew consumed throughout the entire Amazon region. The term is a compound word meaning "vine of the dead spirits"... Typically, Ayahuasca introduces powerful visions well as hallucinations in all other perceptual modalities. Pronounce non perceptual cognitive effects are also manifest. These include personal insights, intellectual ideation, affective reactions, and profound spiritual and mystical experiences. Moreover, Ayahuasca introduces as those who partake of it to what are as other realities. Those who consume the group may feel that they are gaining access to new sources of knowledge and that the mysteries and ultimate truths of the universe are being revealed to them. All this is often coupled with what drinkers describe as an encounter with the Divine. (Shanon, 2003, p. 13)
As attested to by all who have had any significant exposure to a Ayahuasca the effects of this brew can be stupefying to the utmost. Both in the literature and reports of people have interviewed and I have found Ayahuasca visions to be characterised as exhibiting a beauty that is beyond imagination. Invariably the visions impress the viewers as marvellous and when powerful, they introduce drinkers to what seem to be enchanted realities that fill them with wonder and awe. The affective and spiritual impact that the Ayahuasca experience may have on people can be very profound. Often people say that their exposure to Ayahuasca has radically changed their lives; many say that after this exposure they were no longer the same person, but even when it does not have radical ramifications on people's lives at large the Ayahuasca integration is a wondrous experience that those who have been subject to it almost invariably describe as nothing they had experienced before. "(Shanon, 2003, p. 17)

Another great collection of experiences that manage very well to transmit the feeling-tone of Ayahuasca is the book "The Ayahuasca Experience" by Ralph Metzner.


An Ayahuasca experience is something that cannot be properly described but, as they say in letting agencies, "must be experienced to be appreciated" . The great researcher and practitioner Stanislav Grof experienced Ayahuasca to be one of the most potent therapeutic of all psychedelic compounds/substances. In particular, as opposed to LSD, for him and for me, encountering Ayahuasca is like meeting a living being. With LSD, there is no "encounter" with what seems like another organic living entity that is wise and infinitely compassionate and a "teacher". It must be noted though, that psilocybin has the same effect for many.


An example is Sam Harris, reporting in his "Sam´s Mushroom Trip" that it felt "like something other than an encounter with my own mind". I have no primary experience with anything else than Ayahuasca in high dose.


Against this type of experience, with all respect to a great researcher, the idea of Roland Griffiths, stated in a recent interview with Jordan Peterson, that one-day electrode stimulation might achieve this, as an improved solution, sounds preposterous. With all respect - I cannot imagine that Griffiths had any Ayahuasca exposure.


What follows is a short version of my experiences. For each experience, I try to point to an essential general idea, scientific insight or research area behind it.



After the experiences

Of course, after such experiences, one should actively integrate them into one's mindstream and life, be they emotional, mystic, psychological, or intellectual experiences. The experience by itself can vanish in memory and emotional impact. This probably explains the sceptical statement at the beginning of this post. The experience needs to be anchored in real life through reflection and behavior. I began to meditate.


Integration of these experiences can be a lifelong process.


Is Ayahuasca addictive? No. I have currently, after nearly 3 years of pause, no need to make further such experiences. I am still saturated with its richness, and the changes resulting from the inner unfolding.


A catalogue of experiences

The experiences show the enormous bandwidth and richness of the Ayahuasca phenomena for which I am eternally grateful. Some examples:



The experiences


In the following descriptions, my comments and quotes are marked in blue.



Experiencing flowers dance

During the onset of my very first ceremony, I suddenly realised that the flowers in the vase of the little altar were subtly and alluringly performing a wavy erotic dance. Dancing flowers or moving walls etc are one of the first surprises that everybody encounters with psychedelics, so there is nothing special here.


I didn´t know then, that I was just repeating Huxley´s flower experience in "The Doors of Perception": "Shining with their own inner light and all but quivering".


This immediately burned into me the insight that my life experience until now had been a construct, an illusion of stability, a fabrication upheld by the mind.


Such surprising sensory experience can be much more convincing of the fact of change and impermanence (a core Buddhist tenet) than the abstract thought that we are all going to die one day.


Also, it shows how our experience is anchored to priors or assumptions: these are unquestioned top-down rules by which we construct our perception of reality. Examples of priors are: "flowers do not move dance-like", "walls don't breathe". Even these fundamental perceptual priors can be unhooked in psychedelic experiences. This un-hooking of priors is well described in Chandaria (2022) as effect of psychedelics and of meditation.


Gallimore (2022) explains this "quivering flower" (or breathing wall) phenomenon in the context of the predictive brain theory: the brain´s filter has been been removed, so that more information is absorbed. The brain is trying to model the flowers in a way that the model is constantly updated, trying different hypotheses.


As a typical pattern for DMT-experiences, or through other psychedelices this pattern is called "drifting". It is explained in a wider context as a pattern within the "hyperbolic geometry" phenomena and theory (Gómez-Emilsson, 2016)


My conclusion was therefore the same as that of the philosopher Bernardo Kastrup: everything we see is an illusion. This prepared my later intuitive understanding of Tibetan Buddhism and its concept of "mind-only" and emptiness.




Experiencing intense sounds

Outside, while walking on the wet grass of a field nearby the ceremony hall, I heard something fall to the ground in a quiet silvery sound in a circle of ca 2-3 meters around me every time I made a step on the grass. At first, I could not believe it, but then I tested it consciously. It was true. I could hear individual small dew droplets fall.


This showed me, how little we normally use of our sensory abilities. We can physiologically be highly sensitive antennas, but we are shielded from sensory overwhelm.


It gave me an insight into what Aldous Huxley called the power of "The Doors of Perception" after his experiments with mescaline and later, LSD.


This insight was repeated in the following experience.



Experiencing intense smell

I smelled the perfume and skin aroma of a lady a few meters away from me, like a dense cloud into which I could enter.


I got an idea, although a weak one, what it means to live as dog. Of course, it was probably still the experience of a severely handicapped dog, by what I know about dogs' incredible olfactory abilities.


Update Mai 2023: in fact, it seems that the human sense of smell is NOT so far away from that of a dog. For example, people can perceive 0.2 parts in 1 billion of mercaptan (the smelly additive to cooking gas). Check out Huberman, A., & Sobel, N. (2023, May 1).




Experiencing flow-state dancing

It is well known that Ayahuasca improves and liberates artistic impression.


At the end of one ceremony, I suddenly was transformed into a completely uninhibited free dancer, moving with the sounds of the drums that were played live. Later, several people spoke appreciatingly to me about what they had seen me do. I never lost this freedom of movement.


I learned from this, that we use only a fraction of our creative potential.



Experiencing piano improvisation

A further example of enhanced creativity through Ayahuasca was my sudden unexpected jump in the ability to improvise on the piano.


Below, you can listen to one of the first pieces that I played after 5 years pause. I had never experienced myself playing like this. The piece just created itself out of nowhere, without that I had a melody in my head, and without that I had practiced for it. I just sat down, "it played" itself and I would be totally incapable to replay it. The melodic developments, the phrasing, technique and rhythms were way above my pay-grade, even if a professional musician will find many musical, rhythmical etc issues with it. I was lucky to have recorded it.




This piano experience reflects exactly what Benny Shannon, the Israeli cognitive scientist reports about his sudden ability to improvise as amateur musician. I quote his text because it accurately describes and validates my own experience. The only difference to me: I had started to improvise some years before, but at low level.


I have played only classical music, always from the score, never improvising, and very seldom with an audience. Once during a private Ayahuasca session, I saw the piano in front of me and decided to play. A score of a Bach prelude was there. I played the piece repeatedly and felt I was entering a trance. I left the score aside and began to improvise. I played for more than an hour, and the manner of my playing was different from anything I had ever experienced. It was executed in one unaltering flow, constituting an ongoing narration that was composed as it was being executed. It appeared that my fingers just knew where to go. Throughout this act, my technical performance astounded me. I felt that a force was upon me and that I was performing at its command. No, it was not that I was an automation, nor was I enslaved by any external agency, rather the playing was an expression of a woundrous cooperation between me, my very self, and forces that were superior to me (page 22.f).

The "force" that was above me and brought me into this flow state was the sudden felt presence in me of the late jazz pianist McCoy Tyner.


Many years before I had had the accidental privilege to talk this this revered pianist. I had listened to him since I was a teenager. Our encounter occured during one of his last stays at the piano festival at La Roque d' Anteron . He stayed in the same hotel as me, and I had approached him with goosebumps on the hotel veranda on a sunny Sunday morning.


We got into a deep conversation about death, gratitude and relations. He shared his soul deeply with a complete stranger. He had just recovered temporarily from cancer from which he eventually died It must have been around the years of this recording - this is how I saw him.


As I write this, tears well up. I am very grateful to him.


Maybe I should go back to study how to sound like McCoy Tyner in a systematic way, rather than relying on a mystical flow state! Unfortunately, it is never possible to step into the same river twice in improvisation.


PS. I do not claim to have sounded exactly like McCoy Tyner through Ayahuasca. But I think Ayahuasca allowed that the spirit of his playing was there, the dynamic, the energy and abandonment and the full grasp and orchestral treatment of the keyboard, with the support of the Yamaha P515 and its electronic rhythm section that I experienced like a live entity at those moments.


Ayahuasca removes inhibitions to access one´s available resources. That is the magic of it for the artist. I also do not claim that in a literal sense McCoy Tyner took possession of me.



Experiencing coming home

During the onset of the first ceremony in year 2, I got the overwhelming feeling that I had been in this space before, for eternities, and that I recognised that sacred space.


This way, I got the first feeling for a truly sacred space in my life.


In a later experience, this feeling of coming home to a space where I had been for eternities reappeared in a Mahamudra meditation retreat. Then, it reappeared as feeling-tone of a mystical "mind only" experience.


In Tibetan Buddhism, this feeling of "home" is one characteristic of the natural mind. Keith Dowman (2022c) has described it as such in "The Dzogchen View":


Ninth, the nature of mind is our natural dispensation—it is home. Spaciousness may induce the image of tractless spaces of empty nothingness, but that is an alien notion. Spaciousness, here, is warm and cloying, full of color and light, and above all ‘being there’, or rather ‘being here and now’, has the overwhelming sense of finally coming home. All tension has vanished, and finally there is nothing to do and nowhere to go, and at the same time every goal is consummate and every destination is achieved. ‘Home’ is recognition of what is without any conceptual projection or interface. ‘Home’ is the here and now understood by self-less cognition. ‘Home’ is the place of security where whatever needs to be done is automatically and immediately done without hesitation. ‘Home’ is the nature of mind, sufficient in itself, utterly complete and



Experiencing timelessness

I lost the feeling for time , and spent an eternity in endless space, with billions of bored birds like black crows. One or the other occasionally creaked, as they were sitting on endless strings spanning the entire universe. I still don't know what this meant!


Maybe showing me "this has been your life so far"?


Maybe suggesting, that I should not spend another eternity like this? Sitting isolated and creaking... ?


Anyway, I had a very intense impression of what eternity feels like, when the mind's normal processing (or, construction) of time is interrupted. It gave me a running start when in a Mahamudra retreat the guide gave pointing-out instructions for a Nagarjuna style emptiness of time special insight meditation. Conceptually imagining no time is actually quite difficult or even impossible.


The experience can become more explainable when one accepts the theory of cognitive science, that time is actually a way in which our mind "packages" a set of sensory impressions to make sense of them retroactively as a mind moment. Culadasa explains the cognitive science aspect of this in "The Mind Illuminated".



Experiencing letting go of lying

10-15 minutes after having taken the tea, during my very first ceremony, I was standing and watching everyone else who was on the floor. Everyone else was puking or crying or contorting or being very quiet.


Suddenly I noticed with surprise that I was projecting the image of "someone who is still able to stand up, is full of care and total control over his senses" . I saw myself performing an act. Actually, a lie. I was not real.


I saw myself clearly doing this impressive show-act, and I saw myself without sham and without the usual self-criticism. Instead I saw myself with deep amusement and a forgiving and compassionate "aaahh, that´s what you are doing! I got it!"


My main insight from this: in principle people can change permanently from one moment to the next. It may require extraordinary circumstances, but it is possible.


I never lost this ability to see myself doing an act in real-time. In the manner of the so-called "automatic self-liberation" mechanism described in Mahamudra meditation, these kind of urges or false images usually dissolve quite quickly, so that I am and feel more genuine. Role playing ("lying") has become very difficult or impossible. I now have my own bullshit-detector.


The bullshit detector increasingly detects all kinds of bullshit, such as the 17 kinds of lies quoted by Stephen Wolinsky. Not that I don't occasionally succumb. But I notice.



The Seventeen Faces of Lying

Satya

As Realized through the Teachings and Practice of Swami Pranvananda


1. Pretending

2. Withholding

3. Misinforming

4. Distorting

5. Denying

6. Justifying

7. Explaining

8. Manipulating

9. Marginalizing

10 Rationalizing

11 Deceiving

12 Going Along

13 Enabling

14. Hiding ones true intentions

15. Miss-representing

16. Omitting

17. Editing-out, cutting and pasting to fit or reenforce a position, point of view, identity or to makeor prove a point or point of view.


Others have noted this too: Ayahuasca spoils the funs of lying.


At the same moment, I learned to be fully non-judgemental towards myself and others. This is a commonly known effect of Ayahuasca in a therapeutical function.


A reading note. I am just reading "Moonbeams of Mahamudra" by Tashi Namgyel, a 16th century Tibetan author of a major work of mahamudra meditation practice . Here is a quote from a section on "path integration", i.e. the embedding of meditative practice in everyday life:

"Pride: identify the mindset when you feel impressed with yourself and feel superior to others, such as when you think "Me!" on the basis of yourself and you feel proud that you are better than others" (Namgyal & Callahan, 2019, p411)

Ayahuasca certainly makes said path-integration easier, since it removes large parts of aversion and clinging to self and objects, and since it is a great guilt and shame remover. The first effect (no self) may have to o with a deactivation of the Default Mode Network, and the second effect (no shame) with the ability of Ayahuasca to bring up memories without their attached emotional content (see the quote above).


The other most important effect of abandoning playing a role was a deep opening up for genuine heartfelt communication and empathy. I have really no idea how it worked, but from day 1 after coming home, I noticed a sudden skill in understanding other people's blocks and challenges at a totally intuitive level. It includes a deep compassion - the same compassion I extended to myself in that moment.


This effect is similar to the Buddhist tenet, that egolessness / no self is necessarily paired with compassion.


"The ultimate dedication is dedicating through the 3-fold purity, which takes place when you have actualized the true condition of the basic nature. Why is this so? Since the recipients of the dedication, what is dedicated, and the one who is dedicating are not conceptualised in one's mind, and since is not a contrived dualistic dedication, it is a unified dedication. To proceed in this way is also the pinnacle of benefiting beings" (Royal Seal of Mahamudra, vol 2,Khamtrul & Abboud, 2015, p411)

Thus, I now know, the few seconds of this lightning-like and staying insight was my first introduction to mindfulness and meditation. I later became aware of Culadasa (concentration meditation) and Daniel P Brown (Mahamudra / Dzog Chen / Insight Meditation)



Experiencing intense grief

In day two of the first year, I was overwhelmed by a massive flood of endless sadness about a separation from a long partnership. I experienced the raw brutality of the separation as the tearing apart of the intermingled roots of two very old large trees, who had been blocking growth for each other.


I also felt infinite compassion and love for her. I felt her pain as mine. I also clearly saw the flood of existential panic of losing me who had always been a part of her, literally a part of her mind, that had fostered her extraordinary behaviour which had so frightened me and reinforced my decision to leave. It was all forgiven at this moment.


At one moment I saw her curled up like a small child, and begged for her forgiveness. I cried endlessly, desperately for her pain.


I told her that a part of me would always love her, and that is still true.


In this sense, Ayahuasca has been described as "just what you need to consciously uncouple" in an older Vice article.


Maybe, Ayahuasca in this case acted as an amplifier what Selvam Raja (2022= in "The Practice of Embodying Emotions" calls "emotional embodied attunement"., the ability to feel another person´s emotions directly within one´s body. Moreover, since there was no simultaneous contact with my wife, this attunement must have been enabled by my own unconscious body memory at the time when we were separating.



Experiencing a goddess

In a ceremony where my partner was also present, and looking at me, I suddenly experienced her looking at me as being looked at by a goddess.


This looking had visual and emotional characteristics.


Her face was covered with golden-green-blue fine symmetric patterns running horizontally over her face from left to right. The symmetrical visual patterns were overlaid exactly over her face, they did not spill out into her surrounding space. It was like a computer simulation. Here eyes were large and completely rounded, and her face too seemed entirely symmetrical.


Her glance expressed exactly how she was looking at me: perhaps the right words are knowing, forgiving, teasing, and promising.


Visually, overall, her face and facial expression looked very much like Alex Jones Dharmadragon.


This meant, that my mind acted as psychedelic artist without any preparation or training or exposure to this kind of "art". In fact, as I later read, this is not art, but typical geometrical appearances through DMT.


The image of her face was extremely pleasurable. I have used the term "symmetrical". Years later I came across this characteristic as fundamental for the pleasurable "valence" (feeling tone) it generated.


"Psychedelics are, in a sense, unlocking the valence capacity of your visual cortex. It’s kind of transforming your cortex into a pleasure machine, basically allowing it to exhibit these profound symmetries, and that is what actually is making them feel so compelling. People will struggle to explain “Why were the visuals cool? Why were they interesting?”. When it comes down to it, I think it is the symmetry." (Andrés Gómez-Emilsson 2020)

As a general pattern of perception with DMT, it was an instance where "quasi-symmetric patterns tend to “lock into” perfectly symmetrical structures" through a lower symmetry detection threshold (Gómez-Emilsson, 2016).


I spent the next hour or two longing for this view to last eternities.


The next day I suddenly had this insight : the true lesson of this visual/emotional projection was that my own mind was capable of constructing all the characteristics that I perceived in that moment as being her's. Thus, in order to project these characteristics, I would have to know them already as my own (hidden in some corner of my brain). Thus, in a way, I was the true goddess from the beginning.


This insight was the same insight as that of Manolis Kellis in a Lex Fridman podcast (Lex Fridman, 2023): one day woke up from a dream where he had a significant discussion with his friend, and he remembered deep insights provided by his friend. Obviously, he said, it was his own neurons projecting those insights onto his friend - it was he having them. So, there are similiarities between what happened in my vision and dream processes.


That was also alesson: whatever happens as experience seemingly coming from the outside, is a fabrication by the inside. In a way, this was another preparation for my current meditation practice.


There was actually a similarity to one of the "extraordinary preliminaries" practices in the Tibetan Tradition. The adept visualises the lama sitting before him - and eventually

"he knows in absolute truth ..that the lama is merely an emanation of his own mind, which, like the rest of the world, is empty" (Mahamudra Meditation Stages, Brown 1981, p.158)

This experience also gave me an idea what erotic "devotion" feels like. So, while I find the "I am a goddess" cult a bit annoying, here is something to be said to experience one´s partner as goddess or god! It´s unique and gives another perspective on gender on an experiential level. As long as it is not conceptual and results in entitlement and hierarchy, I guess it´s fine!



Experiencing erotic freedom

I had a very visual fantasy a trois where I directed the scene in a dominant manner that in real life was / is completely uncharacteristic of me. Sorry no salacious details given here!


I learned that at a deep level, one's mind has hidden abilities that can be completely invisible for the entire life, also in the pleasure domain. Wouldn´t it be good to have direct access to them without having to go through expensive courses like one of Jaiya Ma.!


It was a demonstration of the Kinsey institute´s theory of brakes and accelerators: there are two control areas for sexual desire, one that increases and one that diminishes it. Our natural state is one of pleasure, but the "brakes" are pressed all the time in order to let us life a notmal life not ruled by overwhelming desire! This theory is well explained in Emily Nagoski´s "Come as You are", and in more brevity , in a Guru Viking podcast with Shinzen Young series dedicated to the exploration of Jhanas, Kundalini and orgasm.


The effect of psychedelics on sexuality has been widely explored now (Jesso & Elyse, 2021). In fact, one of the Ayahuasca guides now also runs "Tantrahuasca" events. Women only :-(.



Experiencing kundalini ("taking down the goddess", "descent experience")

I stood in the middle of the ceremony hall, when I experienced a blissful stream of pure energy like high voltage running through my body from head to toe. This went on for many minutes. The energy felt like a current and was so strong that my leg musculature was tense and vibrating.


A female guide noticed what was happening, came to me, and embraced me silently from behind. So we both experienced it in a non-sexual union of physical-energetic bliss. Thank you for that embrace, unknown sweetheart!


So, now I know, in a way, about energy channels and energy phenomena"about which I had known nothing. This has been enriching my life with possibilities that I actively use since.


From a bland neurological perspective, this experience corresponded to an "unrestrained oscillatory activity of the nervous system", as it may also be experienced as krya, kundalini etc in meditation. These are all high-pleasure states.


Such energy streams can also be experienced through whole-body breathing in meditation, or Holotropic Breathing, slowly building up the awareness of energy currents going out and into my body. If you want to try, check out the detailed instructions in Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated". But in my experience , the intensity of energy sensations through breathing is nothing like my Ayahuasca experience.


It can also happen completely out of the blue, as to the renowned Prof Garry Nolan of Stanford Medicine School who one night woke up with his his body filled with "electric fire, and a voice that said 'This is how you connect'". He is still puzzled what this was and what it meant. There are may experiences of this kind, and science is catching up to explain them.


In 2023, I received the following comment on the tradition from someone in a Buddhist group, who also has experience with Ayahuasca:


What you have experienced is called "taking down goddess" or "pulling down goddess". It is the most important preparatory step for real kundalini awakening when kundalini is moving upstream. If the goddess is satisfied with you and your purity (no flesh, nicotine, or alcohol) kundalini is going to start awakening spontaneously for a couple of months or years or two. Tantrics never begin the process of awakening without a successful goddess taking down, on an 'empty ride' it could be dangerous, it could damage your astral and mental body! (including Tibetan Mahamudra tantric from tummo yoga, they are also doing the first invocation of the goddess in your body). Then it can start spontaneously anywhere, but it is much better when the process is being done under the supervision of a guru on an isolated place.

This was an interesting hint. Well I didn´t find anything on Google called "taking down the goddess", but instead something called "descent experience" linked with Sri Aurobindo:


In Integral Yoga, after the constant practice of mental silence and concentration of the consciousness above the head, one inevitably experiences what may be called a “descent“, in which there is a palpable feeling of a Power/Force descending from above the head and working its way down the Brahmarandhra (door of Brahman, AKA anterior fontanelle) through the back of the head and down the spine. With progress, it is this Power that fills the heart and other parts of the lower being and gradually brings about a change of consciousness.
This “descent experience” has no equivalent in other Yogas where the focus is on raising the Kundalini upwards towards the head from the Muladhara at the base of the spine. (Descent Experience, 2016)

In fact, I was neither supervised nor in an isolated place (actually with 60 people), so I am a bit less risk-averse for anyone else. That said, it seems that the energy-experiences have by now been researched with significant results (Guru Viking, & Young, S. (2021a, February 12).



Experiencing the inner child

I had the visual and kinesthetic experience of giving birth through my body to myself as a baby. There was no pain, luckily, I only felt the gliding in the birth canal. When I was born, I held myself and looked at myself, realising the enormous vulnerability of me.


In a letter I had written this:


It suddenly opened like a window or a door to an area of my brain that still contains the old traces - the original need structure of a newborn, only the needs for hunger, shitting, and being held.

It was extraordinary, blissful, and then a stream of love and tenderness from myself for this little one, first I perceived only this emotional structure, and then I saw a little face, in a narrow channel inside myself, looking at me openly and joyfully. I still have tears in my eyes. It was like a rebirth of myself in my consciousness.

I spoke to him.

THAT was "inner child work". Everything else, conceptual, is pale and abstract. You can't imagine how it feels to BE a baby and at the same time an adult.

This had already started on the second day like a weather lightning. But then it was a bit scary because I had no idea where this wild, chaotic, simple came from. The urge to eat and defecate, to have something in my mouth. I always had to check, with some misgivings, if I had followed the urge. On the third day in the afternoon, after some other things had gone on before, as preparation, so to speak.


Until today I kept this feeling of the vulnerability of all of us. This imagined birth of myself through myself had been prepared throughout all day by alarming feelings of incontinence, and the very primitive urge to just shit and eat and be held.


So, now I have a very real, non-conceptual experience of therapeutical concept and technique of Inner Child Work. It's not a dry abstract concept for me. I experienced it as rooted in what must be very early neuronal networks that can still be accessed. In fact, I now know that there is inside whole set of different ages and associated personalities. As interesting aside: here is actually a possibility that we have stored 100% of our dreams: we just cannot access them.


I am therefore not astonished, that James Fadiman, one of the early pioneers of psychedelics, in his new book "The Symphony of Your Selves" lines up with the psychological/therapeutical parts theories, for example with Richard Schwarz "Internal Family System". It is interesting, furthermore, that Schwarz too now sees an important role for psychedelics in therapy.



Experiencing non-reactivity

My set and publicly stated intention for this ceremony was to get rid of my reactivity that I was experiencing (as I now know) as a traumatic reaction in many interactions with my partner.


In the experience I was shown a scene where I had to pick up and carry my partner across an endless desert, while she had turned into an ugly witch. Various challenging events occured. For each, my assigned task was to practice equanimity and to be non-reactive. I have to applaud myself: I completed all tasks!


For example, she looked with erotic lust at young men. Or, she was utterly greedy, trying to grab all kinds of things as we went. I was shown various not so nice traits of her, but had to continue carrying her and learning through that. I think that's actually not a bad description of reality!


Becoming non-reactive, I learned later, is also one of the psychological benefits of meditation. In fact, Daniel P Brown often stated, that the term dhukka is mistranslated from Sanskrit as "suffering". Instead, it should be translated as "reactivity".



Experiencing emotion-less sadness

While processing some deep emotions without really knowing what they were, I experienced all physical signs of sadness. In particular these included streaming tears. But I felt none of the usual emotions of sadness. Neither was there a story attached to it. Instead, I was watching myself having sadness without feeling sadness. Very unusual!


From that I learned a practice of letting myself experience emotions through somato-sensory inner expression without attaching a story to it.


This confirms, I think, what I read later: Lisa Feldman Barret's (2918) theory regarding the way emotions are constructed: as sensory reactions to which we attach cultural and individual patterned meanings.


As she sais: an emotion is an instance of a conceptual category that we learned as children. For example, that tears may mean feeling sad in specific circumstances, feeling angry"in others.


Note: this purely autonomic reaction is also a result of long meditation, according to Dr Daniel P Brown.


This experience of grief as purely physical feeling has also been reported by other people in Ayahuasca ceremony, as in the following example :


I dealt directly with the death of my brother during ceremony. The strange thing was, the uncontrollable tears I cried in which I was an observer to my body's response to the grief. I sat there with tears flowing but felt very numb to any pain
In one of the ceremonies, I asked Aya [ayahuasca] to help me feel my grief. Rather than looking and reviewing the stories associated with the many losses I've had in my life, Aya had me sit with my grief. I actually physically experienced in my body the emotion of grief as a heaviness, pressing my shoulders and back toward the earth, as an absence of any color except shades of grey. Even the visions were grey. Aya specifically told me not to go into the stories, as they were a distraction from the feelings. She [ayahuasca] also told me that by being with the feelings I was honoring the experiences, the losses, and myself. (Source for both : Labate 2022, Ayahuasca Healing and Science).



Experiencing self-reconstruction

Lying on the mattress, processing, I suddenly saw my mind, in a weird way, how it "worked on the brain" by flattening the usual spikes of emotion. I was touched to be able to see the endless power of our minds to improve themselves at biological level. Later, I saw this "flattening of spikes" in a diagram by Daniel Siegel, in "The Mindful Therapist".


It looked somewhat like this:



A chart showing spikes of cortical activation

This gave me an enormously positive outlook on the possibility of change, and a direct view into how mind works on brain , while brain is creating mind (is it?).



Experiencing evolution

This is not a very clear memory. I participated as observer and being part of the history of human evolution. I experienced animalistic and cannibalistic states, raw and naked aggression for survival, and then later more and more refined cultural states.


I do not know whether I learned something from this; except maybe that I - possibly everyone - has some kind of inbuilt knowledge of how it may feel to be in each level. Obviously, the perception will be colored and shaped by the culture in which one grew up, in particular the later stages. It is well possible thought that the raw states have somehow survived deep inside and may turn up in exceptional circumstances such as expanded states of consciousness.



Experiencing the universe

I experienced myself as a kind of creator-god, observing the entire universe from the vantage point of its outer rim along which I was stretched out, thus being part of it.


Later, my partner joined me in this god-like scene, and we came together and separated a few times, marvelling at our creation of which we too were a part.


I know of course, that this experience was just an experience and not some deeper reality. The deceased Culadasa pointed this out very clearly, mocking the idea that one "is" God.


But "being the creator" and overlooking one´s creation is a fun experience!


The experience may also have primed my mind for my later emptiness meditation exercises which require the meditator to take the vantage point of a timeless changeless borderless expanse without edges or corners, depth, height etc.



Experiencing I AM

I experienced the processing of rage against my parents who had neglected me so much as parents when I was between 1 and 7. I said to them, triumphantly "I exist despite you!".


This was during the single period of intense physical purging (puking) I had during all my Ayahuasca experiences. Physical purging may or may not accompany these experiences.


Then, when the rage slowly disappeared, that changed into an overpowering feeling / perception of "I AM!".


This feeling-perception of "I AM" can only be compared to the strength of sunlight against the normal feeling of "I am" as a dim light-bulb. I had never felt "myself" so strongly. I was aware of this change and marvelled at it as it was happening.


It was preceded by a particular typical illumination.

"A common effect is that part of the visual field being focally Illuminated. Typically, it is as if a, flashlight were illuminating it" (Benny Shannon, p275)

I remember that the perception started as ego-feeling , but then generalised itself as if there was only one of these "I AM" spanning everything


This experience of myself as "I AM" was continued into yet another mystical view described below.


This experience is actually interesting. It is apparently just the opposite of the effect Ayahuasca has on the Default Mode Network (DMN). Ayahuasca is known to reduce the activity of the DMN to an extraordinarily strong degree.



Experiencing mirror-like awareness

This turned out to be a core "Buddhist" experience of non-duality. I have described it in detail here.


I left the small room in which I had experienced "I AM" and went outside. There, I was suddenly confronted with a giant, all-encompassing mirror of which what remained as "I" knew it was reflecting "my" own mind. In it were all objects of my perception - trees, clouds , sky, houses, people etc. I was in awe about "myself" . However this was not the usual "myself". It was the single awareness itself.


This experience brought me to meditation. I never forgot how "I" had been looking at myself as awareness. I later learned, and got confirmation by the famous meditation teacher Culadasa , that this was an awakening experience, and that I had experienced what is "the new normal of an awakened person".


For my modest and unassuming definition of awakening, see my post on a special meditation retreat with Daniel P Brown.


Being very lucky, some years later I stumbled upon a retreat (the first I ever did) with Daniel P Brown. This was in the Mahamudra / Dzog Chen tradition. And there, I re-experienced fully the view that I had had through Ayahuasca. But this time, I was systematically guided there through the pointing-out instructions of the meditation teachers.


Through this single experience I was fully introduced experientially into the world of cave yogis, Mahamudra, DzogChen. I admit - I am a beginner. But also - what an advantage!



Experiencing a murderer

I saw myself drag two dead bodies behind me, over a hot and dusty, dirty road. I knew that I had killed them, although it was not in my awareness how or why I had done that.


I learned from this about how devastating my behavior must sometimes have been towards the important women in my life. My unbearable closedness and lack of empathy and compassion and sharing in important moments of their life. And I learned that I had done it unconsciously, without intent. I also learned, that I would drag this knowledge with me, regardless of the effort: I would never forget this.



Experiencing my brutality

Immediately after that, another, even more disturbing fantasy emerged. I saw myself, in a corner of my vision, participating in an orgy of brutality: hacking and slashing away with sword or machete at bodies. Even more disturbing: after a while I recognised that one of the victims I was mutilating was my partner. This was a horrifying thought. I wished that the images should disappear, and after a while they did.


Looking back at it, the story evolved. First, the devil had been projected on another person, Norberto. Then, it was the little devils that emerged from my inside. And finally, the truth emerged: the real devil was myself. The infinite wisdom in which these stories can be constructed, with Ayahuasca!


I still knew that it was all a projection of my mind, but all the thoughts and interpretations expressed here came only later. At the time I was just wishing that this "truth about me" would go away.


The memory of what was hidden in my unconscious mind never left me. Just as my mind is capable to project godlike wisdom on the face of my partner, it is able to tell me that I might be her murderer. Humans...


The couple therapists David Schnarch and Terry Real are fond of the terms "Normal Marital Hate" and "Normal Marital Sadism".



Experiencing the devil

I went outside of the big hall with its pandemonium of drums, shouts, cries, puking, ecstasy of 60-70 people, alone with myself. I had thought that after yesterday's "enlightenment" experience, today I would perhaps receive some more blissful lessons on how to implement this all. But no: I was shown demons.


First, I began to experience our host, the always peaceful Norberto, as an incarnation of the devil. Fear came up, along with the knowledge that "this is just my mind under Ayahuasca, playing a trick". Still, the fear was very real. When one other person came out, my mind let me imagine, that he might be a hidden emissary. In short, I experienced how schizophrenia might feel, when the mind gives frightening salience to ordinary people and things. A furtive look; or a look held for a second too long: what menace might be in that?


Still, I breathed through it and kept walking outside until this subsided. I learned about the strength of the mind when clearly seeing itself. I also got an experiential idea how psychosis and mystic experiences may be related.



Experiencing abandoned ghouls

But then, a second illusion emerged. I saw in the corner of my eyes a cigar box, from which 4 little ghouls emerged, angry and looking at me. They were menacing and had sharp teeth as far as I remember. At first I wanted to ignore them, so that they go away. But they did not, they emerged ever more from that box. So I tried various way of being threatening or defensive, all in my fantasy of course.


But that did not help either. Thus, at the end, I had the idea of turning my attention to them with care and compassion, and talk to them in a friendly voice. This was what apparently they had needed. In a nearly funny retreat, they withdrew slow into the box, all the while kind of muttering something incomprehensible to me. But it seemed as if they were talking about me.


I learned from this once more about the need for compassion and patience, and for not misunderstanding what seems initially to be attack and aggression. Dealing with ghouls as growing compassion!


So I had put the little ghouls at rest.


It occured to me later , that these 4 little "ghouls" might also have been symbolising my 4 children, who rightly feel that I have neglected them as father again and again when they were young. What they would have needed, and need now, ist attention and care. Who knows? Ayahuasca symbols can be like dream symbols. They may have many meanings.




Experiencing living and conscious trees

This experience occured three days after the end of an Ayahuasca experience. This is my protocol.


During a walk in the forest, after almost 2 weeks of quasi-fasting, one week of which was a bad flu in bed, I feel the forest differently, the trees. I see a large branch lying bent on the ground, it moves me to tears with its expressiveness. I see the branches reaching for the sky and feel their growth. I see a group of 3 birches standing close together and feel them as 3 close mutual friends. The whole forest has become for me deeply felt expressive life that speaks to me and touches me.


I reflect and I think that I have made acquaintance with the forest and he with me through Ayahuasca.


This type of experienced is of course not limited to psychedelics. This is an account of the American meditation teacher Jackson Peterson.

"My attention focused on one particular pine tree and its dark brown bark. For a moment it seemed that I felt the texture of the bark with my eyes and that my space of awareness expanded to include the tree. In that brief moment I could feel the tree’s life force as the sun’s warmth on the upper branches drew the sap upward from the roots. It felt as though the sap was passing through me. I felt as though I was that tree in that brief moment." (Peterson, 2016)



Experiencing eye-gazing

I had and I am having the experience of looking at myself by looking into another person's eyes. Yes I have the direct experience of looking at myself.


This can now happen with anyone on the street. A passer-by, a shop assistant, a friend, a beggar. It is a wondrous thing: I look into a deep endless space. That space is somehow not is not inside that other person, but it is "myself" in another embodiment. Sometimes I search for people´s eyes to have this connecting experience.


Our Ayahuasca guide had foreseen this, and I am particularly grateful for this. In an introductory exercise, before drinking the tea, he had the group of 30 people wander about in the large hall, such that one would pass other people by walking towards them. This should be done without thinking and without conceptualising about them, and without judging or projecting, while looking them straight into the eyes. At another ceremony, this exercise was conducted as a pair exercise. After the 3 days of ceremonies had ended, he again asked the group to look other people into the eyes and notice the difference. It was as if a window had opened up. A little bit of person-person non-duality.


I have to give credit here to David Carse who, in "Perfect Brilliant Stillness" gives a much deeper and poetic description of this way of looking into someone´s eyes in chapter "Not a taxi", where is is accidentally looking into a beggar´s eyes in Mumbai.


It is difficult to describe the sense that is experienced in these moments. Whatever feeling might have been starting to arise stopped, and there was no pity, no anguish, no aversion, no awkwardness or discomfort, hardly even compassion. As I looked at him it was clear I was staring at myself, and clear that I was staring at God. The twisted 150 20. Sfot Taxi physical form of this beggar seemed so transparent, stretched so shimmeringly thin in the heat of the tropical city, and the Brilliance streaming through him and around him so visible, that it was impossible not to see him and the street scene behind him as dream forms and the light of the Brilliance as the obvious underlying reality unable to be hidden. In that moment there was a sense of intense neutral quietness: as our eyes stared into each other there was nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to feel, nothing to think. (Perfect Brilliant Stillness, page 150)

Eye gazing is in fact a fundamental way in which we get into contact with others from our earliest time on. And there are many ways in which we may have had early experiences making it difficult. I think it's worth quoting a longer passage from the book "We Do" by Stan Tatkin (2018). Tatkin, a couple therapist, integrates knowledge from what is called "nterpersonal neurobiology into his work, as well as adult attachment theory and others.


Thus, when our guide directed us to look "without judgement and without schemas", it was actually therapeutical intervention which then was massively improved through the Ayahuasca experience.


EYE CONTACT
In the attachment world, making and maintaining eye contact is a fundamental way we communicate love, interest, and emotion. We tend to fall in love through the eyes—with our babies, children, and partners (even pets). Eye contact is a powerful connector. It’s also one of the ways in which we can read others. Eye contact is highly stimulating and can be very difficult for some people. Sustained eye contact, even with one’s partner, can lead to increased anxiety, panic, sadness, tearfulness, depression, shame, and anger. Here are some reasons you may encounter problems with sustained eye gazing:
No one made loving eye contact with you as a child. Mothers who frequently held their babies away from their bodies or turned them to face outward set the stage for decreased eye contact in adulthood. If eye contact is difficult for you, it may be that you didn’t receive a great deal of eye contact as an infant and child.
A parent or other authority figure used eye contact to intimidate you. It’s a sad fact that eye contact, which should be used for love, can also be used for abuse. Yet some of us had early experiences where eye contact was used as a method of intimidation or aggression. Doing so repeatedly, especially in the eyes of a loving partner, can rewire the experience into something relaxing and comforting.
A parent or other authority figure used prolonged eye contact to monitor or shame you. Some of us were looked at with less than loving eyes too much of the time. Eye contact then becomes overly exposing because the other is looking inside you, without your permission, and not in a good way. It feels as if they’re criticizing you, observing your defective parts.
A parent or other early caregiver “chased your eyes” or was insensitive to your cues. Some caregivers demand eye contact by “chasing your eyes.” They’re insensitive to their child’s cues of discomfort or overstimulation. On the receiving end of this, the child feels trapped. Once grown, eye contact continues to feel like entrapment, which can feel threatening.
A parent or other early caregiver behaved as if they could see you, but they couldn’t. There are caregivers who project their thoughts, feelings, and intentions on their child, which results in repeated misattunement. The result is being seen inaccurately while feeling invaded and intruded upon.
Regardless of why you might be gaze averse, you can train yourself to acclimate to sustaining eye contact with your partner, with the eye contact–avoidant partner in charge of how long you maintain your gaze. But don’t avoid this, at least not with your partner. Be curious about what pushes you around inside, and if it’s appropriate, push back."


Experiencing synchronicity and telepathy

A very strange and initially disturbing experience is that of synchronicity. In particular, when it happens three times, each time in an Ayahuasca ceremony, and it can be confirmed by comparing date and time. Each time, the physical distance was ca 400 km, between Wiesbaden and Utrecht. I am still trying to explain it away!


The reason why I keep explaining it away, is that type of experienced synchronicity was a kind of telepathy. And, Telepathy would break the law of physics, as Joscha Bach explains ( Theories of Everything with Curt Jaimungal. Podcast(2022a, February 7))


There were three. The first synchronicity resulted in my parter going into an Ayahuasca like trance around 1:00 in the morning. But she was at home, not in any ceremony. That was exactly the time at which I had an utterly erotic dream involving her (described above). As she woke, she told me later, she felt my physical union with her, as well as my mental closeness.


The two next times involved her communicating with me "through other women". Each time, I was in a state of needing some assistance, feeling somewhat lonely. Both times one of the women in the group turned to me exactly in that instance, talking to me in a way, and looking at me, that I immediately thought "My partner is speaking to me".


On one of these occasions the woman lying on the neighboring mattress suddenly turned to me and said "It is so good to be close to you". We had not talked before, or only a few short words of welcoming the mattress neighbor.


These events might have been unremarkeable, had not my partner told me, when I came home, that at specific times she suddenly had an overpowering feeling that I needed her just then. She then turned her entire inner attention to me, imagining me in the Ayauhuasca ceremony in the specific state. Those where exactly the times at which I was spoken to. I know this because of the strange impression that I was spoken to remotely, and looked at, I noted down the time.


From that point on, apparent synchronicities tended to appear in real life. For example, I had the most intense conversation with my deceased brother on the evening before his heart attack. Or, a complete stranger called me for help at a moment of considering suicide; we are now close friends.


I still don´t know what to make of this, like the many people to whom this happens in Ayahuasca ceremonies! I take the Mahamudra view that it doesn´t exist and doesn´t not exist :-)


But one starts to believe that it has been used in the jungle by indigenous people for centuries, also to establish communication with tribal members over a distance, or to find animals.


Recently, I heard Daniel Siegel speak in a podcast, curious about these synchronicities in the interpersonal field.


The latest book on this topic from a serious therapist and researcher, Selvam Raja (Raja, 2022), calls this general phenomenon (outside of psychedelics) "resonance at longer distances". He hypotheses, and uses personal examples, that such direct contact can / may be explained by quantum phenomena enabling long range instant information transfer between our body-minds. While this is not (yet ?) a scientifically proven or provable theory in the field of psychology, it can at least no longer be excluded. If there is truth to it, just like with "emotional embodied attunement", Ayahuasca could be seen a non-specific amplifier for capabilities innate to the human brain/mind.


The "resonance" theory is also mentioned by the well known German AI researcher and philosopher Joscha Bach in a Lex Fridman podcast .



 

And this was the end of each ceremony, 30-70 people standing in a circle, holding hands.

The verses ending all Ayahuasca ceremonies which I attended

Resources


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Theories of Everything with Curt Jaimungal. (2022a, February 7). Donald Hoffman Λ Joscha Bach on Consciousness & Gödel [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhSlYfVtgww



Brown, Daniel P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation). http://abhidharma.ru/A/Tantra/Content/Raznoe/0028.pdf

This dissertation is a free download. It is a massive, highly technical volume that nevertheless gives an unparallelled insight into the education of a yogi.It draws on the knowledge of cognitive science as of the late 1970s, so it is not the newest in this regard.As compensation, Daniel P Brown gives some insight into the experiments with tachiscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021.The Universits of Chicago library entry:


Brown, D. P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated). Wisdom Publications.

https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Daniel-P-Brown/dp/0861713044/


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Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.

Also available for free on Youtube

Note: while this is free, the value of the print edition lies also in the appendices. it´s worth spending the money on the paper version, if only to support the audio version.


Culadasa. (2021c, September 17). Culadasa June 2020 Patreon Q&A N°2 Recording (on Psychedelics) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8XJrNx7iN0


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A science book by a very reputable author that does away with the idea that the brain has specific centres for emotional processing. Surprisingly, even the famous amygdala is no longer associated with fear etc. Lisa Feldman Barret has recently been making the round on all top level podcasts such as Sam Harris.


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about the sense of reality with psychedelics: 2:45:50 ff


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Shanon, B. (2003). The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience (Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.

A book of several hundred pages with a systematic overview of the experiences of this cognitive scientist, who had stumbled over Ayahuasca like me. Many more experiences, his own and that of other people.


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(minute 46.30 on the role of purging)


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Guru Viking, & Young, S. (2021a, February 12). EP81: Orgasm, Epilepsy, & Mystical Experience - Shinzen Young & Chelsey Fasano 3 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47knJDyqcgU

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