Sitting at the airport a little over three months ago, waiting to take off for Peru and encounter ayahuasca for the first time, I wrote in my journal:
My life up until now is over.
It felt cathartic, exciting, hopeful. It was a huge relief. All of the drama and the pain, all of the stories that weren’t serving me, all of the shit…was over now.
(Suffice it to say, or so I thought.)
I don’t think I was naïve in writing that—I think it was fairly prophetic, actually. I can say now, three months later, that indeed my life up until that point had ended, and I was starting fresh.
I just had no idea what the grieving process of that would be like.
I returned from Peru in a sort of haze. It was like being mildly sedated, and it lasted for weeks. I came back to the remnants of a relationship that ended only one week before I left and a new role at work and a contract to review and sign for a play that I wrote to be produced Off-Broadway in the coming year.
It was a lot to handle as a “spiritual newborn.”
I was also experiencing a lot of “past-life” regressions: revisiting old relationship patterns with my ex, smoking a lot of pot, turning to junk food and hook-up apps for quick fixes of physical pleasure. I didn’t even think much of it, because I’d found a new apartment and I signed the contract and maybe I wasn’t putting much effort in at work, but I was showing up, so life seemed to be ambling by just fine.
In my post-ayahuasca fog, I was unaware that the ice I was skating on was razor thin. In fact, it was never meant to be skated on in the first place. It had started melting long before I went to South America.
About a month in, it fell apart. It was as if the Universe swooped in and said, “Okay, you’ve had your grace period, but there is Work to Be Done.”
I got a short but crushing flu that left me stranded on the couch. I ran out of weed, which was a blessing. I stopped having contact with my ex almost entirely and deleted the hookup apps and started to wake up.
The sedated haze was fading into some wisps at the edges of my consciousness. I thought we’d have more time, but I’m grateful that it eased off when it did.
I then attended the Spirit Junkie Masterclass early in June, and it pretty much took a (compassionate) sledgehammer to my life. I had actually signed up for it while I was in Peru—in fact, the night before we left for the retreat in the jungle. I remember thinking, “This would be a really great way to get some direction with Recipe for a Life, make some connections, really commit my efforts to the site. “I saw it as some kind of spiritually-informed business seminar.
I learned some solid business skills, sure, but I mostly had my entire soul exposed.
As I tell everyone, I firmly believe that ayahuasca starts working in your life well before you drink it. After that weekend, I thought, “Oh that had ayahuasca’s fingerprints all over it!”
It was an essential part of my Integration and a necessary stepping stone in continuing my spiritual journey. It picked up right where ayahuasca left off.
And kicked off what is commonly understood as a Dark Night of the Soul.
I didn’t necessarily know that’s what it was at the time. I just know that I spent all of that following Monday after the Spirit Junkie Masterclass crying. And that when the crying finally stopped, I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself.
Despite the community of people I had found through SJM, I never felt more alone. Even during my worst days in high school, I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt this level of loneliness. I wasn’t a stranger in a strange place—I was a stranger in a very familiar place, which felt so much more hopeless.
I started to lose my identity.
The problem wasn’t just, “I need to get out of New York.” It wasn’t only, “I need a sense of community”—feeling that so much of my social life had dissolved with my relationship, which was true and not in its own nuanced ways.
It was like I was devolving. I didn’t even know how to talk to people anymore. I could vaguely remember how I used to operate in social situations—I had this sort of “getting my shit together one day at a time” character, and I played it for a laugh any chance I could get.
I loved telling people that I’d go home and eat pad Thai in bed and hide from my fear of commitment. I’d tell the truth but tell it slant—but all of that was actually true and really depressing.
I joked about panic attacks and Xanax prescriptions and the need for a buzz of some sort, but the reality was that I was subsumed with anxiety pretty much 90% of the time I was awake, and probably much of the time I was asleep too.
When I was single, I was promiscuous and adventurous and coy and very easy to get into bed. (When I was in a relationship—well, that’s a whole other story, because relationships just dredged all of my shit up and sent me running for any door, window or hole in the fence I could find.)
I identified 100% with my ego’s ideas of who I should be. But the Dark Night of the Soul is essentially the slow, lingering death of those ideas, and ultimately of your ego itself.
I am likely still in the throes of it, to be honest. The worst days have typically been followed by the biggest breakthroughs. A couple weeks ago, I could hear my ego screaming, “Why am I being punished?! I don’t want to be punished!” And I was able to compassionately respond, “You’re not being punished. This is okay.” I was really saying, “It’s okay, you can let go,” the way you might to someone on their death bed.
After the Spirit Junkie Masterclass, I finally started meditating as a daily practice, which is vitally important to my ayahuasca integration. At this point, to be honest, it’s a fucking lifeline.
I journal and free-write to burn off some of the egoic pain and intense energy when the darkness gets to be just too much, and I meditate to heal. I meditate to release my identification with my past, to let go of the story that I lived out for so many years.
I can hear my ego begging me to reconsider. “Look at all the friends and all the attention that story got!” But the reality is, I can’t just stop. That’s one of the darkest realizations during the Dark Night of the Soul. You don’t have the opportunity to give up and go back to the way life was.
That way of life is gone. So you can either crumble in this limbo hell, or you can break through to a full awakening.
I’ve had to face the fact that, even in my post-ayahuasca Integration, I have adopted this ego-based idea of, “I need to heal. I’m recovering. I just went through all of these life changes and I’m in rehabilitation now.”
I think there is some truth in there—I have gone through some massive life changes this year and I do need to be patient with myself—but I am by no means limping along the side of the road, just getting by.
The more I identify as someone “going through it right now,” the more I reinforce that identity. And I can feel it in my gut: choosing to see myself as someone complete and whole and capable scares the hell out of me.
I can see this period of my life as a struggle or a part of the journey. I can be terrified of losing my ego-based identity, or I can get excited about finally meeting my authentic self. I can worry about what I’m losing, or embrace what I am gaining.
Everything really is a choice between love and fear.
And you always have the right to choose.