I don’t know how to explain what happened to me.
I first heard about Tonkiri when I interviewed Sarah Anne Johnson back in June about her work on festivals and mind-altering substances. After our interview, we continued chatting more generally about the benefits of altering consciousness. She began to tell me about her experiences with ayahuasca at Tonkiri, a learning and wellness centre near Sandilands Provincial Park, using ayahuasca ceremony to heal, learn, and inspire. When we parted ways, she promised me the contact information of the ayahuasca shaman who runs Tonkiri, Jim Sanders, warning me that if I wanted to write an article about Tonkiri, Jim would likely ask me to participate in a ceremony. I knew nothing about ayahuasca, but I was intrigued.
A few months later, I’m headed east on Highway 1 towards Tonkiri, riding with two people Jim asked me to pick up in the city. I still don’t know much about ayahuasca, having decided not to do any online research before the trip. I wanted to just let myself have the experience. But my curiosity gets the better of me in the car. My passengers respond to my questions by telling me a bit about the structure of the ceremony, but when I ask what it’s like to be on ayahuasca — what they call drinking the medicine — they tell me it’s hard to describe. It’s not like anything else, and everyone has their own experience with the medicine. By the time we get to Tonkiri, I’m nervous about what to expect.
We unload the car and Jim greets us as we walk toward the ceremony lodge. I’m introduced to a small group of people whose names I forget almost immediately. I’m happy to see that Sarah’s here. She and Jim’s helpers get me set up in the lodge where I’ll be sleeping for the night after the ceremony. I spend a bit of time orienting myself, relearning names, and chatting with people before ceremony starts.
After ceremony, I spent time talking with Sarah and Jim about how someone could possibly write about the experience of ayahuasca. As Sarah aptly put it to me, “How do you communicate your reverence?” And the truth is, I don’t know how or if I should write about it. My experience was profoundly personal: something just for me. And yet, I went out to Tonkiri with the purpose of writing about it. That sense of guilt, of owing my readers and Jim something in exchange for the experience of being out there, was something I thought through a lot during the ceremony.
Here’s what I will say about it to satisfy your natural human curiosity. Yes, I got mind-meltingly, life-altering high, but it was more than that. I was able to think about my life and the world and the barriers I’d constructed for myself about writing this article in a way that felt productive. The experience changed me for the better.
The day after the ceremony, Jim and I make time to talk more. We’re sitting in one of his favourite spots in the woods around Tonkiri with the wind rustling through the trees. I’m not quite myself yet, still reeling from the ceremony, but I feel ready for our conversation. Ayahuasca helped me sort out the questions I want to ask, and how I want to ask them. Read More