Deep in the Amazonian rainforest, beside an ironwood tree, our guide tells us about his ayahuasca experience. In a dark hut with his shaman, after days of fasting, he took the sacred plant concoction. It felt like snakes were coming out of his mouth and nose, he said, as all the bad in his soul was purged. He saw, as if watching a movie, episodes from his life that formed who he was, ones from his childhood that he had forgotten. He said the next day, and to this day, ten years later, he understood himself and others much better.
I thought about seeking out an ayahuasca experience on this trip to Peru. I knew people who had tried it, who said that it was the equivalent of years of therapy. I was concerned about what it would be like, however, and also about charlatans, taking advantage of the tourists who see another culture’s sacred traditions as entertainment, who look for a short cut to enlightenment.
It occurs to me that in some ways I had gone through my own “ayahuasca experience.” The shock of my husband leaving changed my world, made me physically sick, exposed the darkest corners of my soul. It did not happen in a day, but over the course of a year I revisited all the life experiences that had formed who I was, and brought me to the place I ended up. I met again the small child who lived inside me.
Later that day, floating down a jungle river in the dark, watching the stars, I think of my obsession with understanding how and why it happened. I run through the theories. Perhaps Don’s involuntary retirement brought up his fear of aging and death and he fought against the changes I urged him to accept. Perhaps he was a narcissist and when his perfect life was slipping away and he started to lose control, he simply walked away. Perhaps he fell in love and leapt at a late chance for true happiness. Perhaps he had never been monogamous, but when he realized I was blindly stupid instead of complicit, we already had a child, and it was easier to continue the secret life that somehow made it easier for him to be the “ideal” husband and father. Perhaps we simply grew apart and this was the only way he could think to break away.
One by one, I let the stories slip into the water. It doesn’t matter. I thought that if I understood, my world would once more be safe and sensible, that I could protect myself from ever feeling that sort of pain again. But we can only ever know our own truth, our own selves, and I realize that there is no undoing, no going back, and even if I could perhaps I would not want to.
The sounds of the rainforest surround me and I am content to be here, in this moment, on my brave travels.