~ from the essay " Sacred Spirit Medicine: “Sacred Spirit Medicine”
Pleasing Tree by Brooke Larson
How did we get here?
God was my youthful drug of choice. I’ve heard descriptions of the euphoria and hard fall of heroin that uncannily resemble the experience of my girlhood prayers. Curiously, I never had that experience when I tried heroin. I never felt anything out of the ordinary when I took ecstasy. My non-experiences of these drugs baffled others and greatly frustrated me. Drugs would always seem modest in comparison to my mutterings in pajamas at my long ago bedside.
"A very spiritual girl," my parents would say. This, I would come to realize, was a euphemism. Once, my Mom, shaken awake in the middle of the night to hear my exuberant account of a message from God, would unguardedly say, “You’re acting crazy.” It’s touchy talking about talking to God, even—or especially—among those who believe in God, who is, by any other name, a certain way of thinking and talking. Personal visions unsettle the narrative.
It wasn’t long after I learned to count past one-hundred that I started telling my mom that I wasn’t meant to be in this world. I cried some, on the bottom bunk I shared with my older sister, and I started sticking my fingers in electric sockets, my butter knife in toasters, daring them to beam me to a different realm. I wanted to die the same way I wanted to change out of my stiff school clothes. A matter of feeling free. Fortunately I didn’t understand the realities of electric conduction—my poking around was innocuous. Looking at those behaviors it would be natural to infer that I was a sad kid. But I wasn’t sad, and not especially angry. Something more like hungry. I wanted what no finger could point to. Fantasy books did or didn’t help. Narnia seemed to be my biological planet whence I was trans-existentially adopted. There came a night that this feeling reached an unbearable pitch, which was the only register God seemed to hear, like Lassie, or Flipper. We talked. Our conversation about the problem would become a core story of my personal mythology.
A prayer: Dear God, this world doesn’t feel like home. And heaven sounds lame. What’s the point of living or even being saved if there’s no Narnia?
Here’s where, according to the palimpsest of memory, I suddenly enter into one of my life’s most emotionally vivid landscapes, reaching the heights of exact language without words, colors without names, sensations beyond stimulation, all behind closed eyelids. I am transported to a world of unknown feeling, and God says, in essence, Girl you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In my fourth-grade class I had a girlfriend who also loved Narnia. We would talk about the sadness of finishing all the books. So, at the point in a birthday slumber party when she and I found ourselves off on our own, slurping blue Otter Pops on the back deck and fireflies here and there, I thought I’d tell her the vision God gave me so that she wouldn’t have to worry about finishing books anymore. I knew, the second the story came out of me, that I was ridiculous. We quickly and silently rejoined the party, and I really knew. Not long after, Mom took the fantasy books away, said I couldn’t read them for a while, because they got me too caught up. She was probably right to do it, but I wonder if she need have bothered. I wonder if my friend need have been silent. The fantasy novels would have been traded for more serious books soon enough. The visions would abandon me soon enough. Soon, like a good person, I would not be crazy, just sad. I would do pills, not prayers, but I would never again see all that I saw when childish faith wasn’t a sin.
That is, until last spring, when I abruptly woke up to plants. When I woke up to plants awake to me. And life was enchanted again. Too wild not to be true.
What are you seeing? I ask Dave. “The colors still, but less. Some wild patterns. And a body rush.” But does your mind feel different? I press. Dave says it doesn’t. He asks if there’s anything happening for me yet. I say no. He tells me there’s still time. It’s about 5 am at this point. If there were magic, it would already be wearing off. Some of our people have wandered off having their inner experiences. Michael’s friend is roaming about in a blanket sobbing and telling her awakenings to anyone who will listen. The cute couple, it turns out, is not a couple. She has a nice place in Midtown. He lives on the street. Their connection isn’t clear.
The absolute fog has become a sort of lukewarm nightmare to me. I would take terrors, demons, blood, over this colorlessness. I can’t look anymore at nothing. I close my eyes and try to conjure my own color show. Vague darkness. There’s no manufacturing any convincing color on the backs of my lids and I start to question if I ever could. Inside me, the graying glare of waves and sand in the dark. Dave says it first, “This is sad.”
I have to sit up. You feeling it here? the Shaman asks me pointing to his chest, patting his heart. I don’t feel anything, I tell him. But I know he can’t take me seriously because now I’m crying. “Awesome, perfect,” he says. “This is great.”
No, Mr. Shaman, this is totally not awesome. This is cosmically shitty. The Shaman keeps repeating that this experience is me, is my mind, is what I’m made of, the story I’m making.
What does that make me? Colorless. Empty. Lifeless...
Stop! I tell myself, but I can’t stop crying and the Shaman can’t stop saying how beautiful this is. So my insight is that there is no insight? No anything? Not even a blue or a green for God’s sake! “Maybe,” enthuses the Shaman. “Isn’t it wonderful! That you were already that perfect?”
Perfectly void? I’m devastated. He says I can drink more if I want. I want. I take two more cups, two more than the others. An hour later, when nothing happens, the Shaman taps my forehead and says, “This is what we call ayahuasca hardheadedness.” But all I wanted was to get out of my head, I protest in my mind. I wanted the plant to talk to me in its own way—why else would I be here? I want. I want.