My Date with Aya
After many years of floating on the beautiful stream of privileged comfort and ease we call suburbia, my inner self demanded more. While the ride was pleasant, there was a lack of stimulation which bored me… I wanted more. Motivated by curiosity and a desire for excitement, I stood up and leapt over the edge of the abyss, trusting my eagle wings would take me where I needed to go. My landing was soft and sweet in the mountainous jungles of Colombia.
I was atop a rickety bus, clinging to luggage straps as we wound our way up a seemingly endless road. We crested a peak and for the first time my eyes feasted on a paradise made for fairytales: a small village nestled in rolling hills of jungle, abundant water flowing into numerous streams and waterfalls, ancient ruins placed perfectly by ancestors unknown. The village was called San Agustin and I knew I was home.
I had a tip from a fellow backpacker about a cute hostel set somewhere in the outskirts of San Agustin. To get there, I found out, would require another ride, this time in a Jeep. After a small jot out of town the truck dropped me off at La Casa Francoise… Francoise’s house, a quaint hostel nestled in the hills with views on all sides, plenty of hammocks, plenty of resting spaces, a hot cup of coca tea… ahhh. Chill out.
A moment later, a woman on horseback came riding onto the property, her clothes flowing angelically behind her, feathers in her long wavy black hair, indigenous and gorgeous. She dismounted with ease and walked into the house with an attractive radiance. We met eyes, she smiled, I was enchanted. Her face spoke of passion and beauty, and hidden a little deeper, a sultry sadness. The gods gifted me this wish, and Mariana became my first love.
After 22 mundane years in the cookie cutter neighborhoods of the US, I was finally living a fantasy full of color. For a week I yawned the yawns of morning, of waking up. My jaw unhinged as glorious drafts of air poured into my lungs. I was alive! I was waking up to a reality so much more real than the dull monotony of western schools. But this school, the school of life, was amazing! I was a freshman in a university so much more real than anything I had experienced before, and the lessons of life were pouring into my beginner's mind.
I woke up each morning at sunrise, saddled my horse, Vaco, and rode down windy hills to the market. I would leave Vaco with Juan, the shoeshine boy. Since I never wore shoes, Juan would clean the hooves of Vaco as I bought the day’s market. I’d pack the groceries into the saddle bags and return to Franciose’ house.
Back home I would first be greeted by Jose who cared for the horses and tended the gardens. He would lead Vaco to the stable and would chop sugarcane into bite size chunks for him to eat. During my year in Colombia I spent countless hours watching the horses chew their sugarcane. But not in the morning, there were other jobs at hand.
Inside I would be greeted by Jose’s wife, Mary who helped with the house work. La Casa Francoise was a lively hostel with 16 guest beds that were usually full. Francoise had built the place 12 years earlier, but when his parents grew sick, he returned to France to care for them and left his house, the hostel, to his girlfriend… my girlfriend… Mariana.
Mary and I would start our breakfast preparation by baking the bread from the dough that I had prepared the night before. We’d make a fruit salad with every tropical fruit you can imagine, and some you’ve never heard of… kiwi, mango, red jungle bananas, dragon fruit, bread fruit, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. San Agustin was a cornucopia of abundance. It was gifted with dozens of micro climates that grew everything from tropical mangos to high mountain potatoes all within a one hour drive from downtown. We’d make a frittata by whisking our hen’s eggs together with all of the previous night’s leftovers and herbs from the garden, then frying it on both sides.
The primary cash crops of the area were coca, cacao (chocolate), and coffee. We’d brew a big pot of coffee and a big pot of hot chocolate and recommend mixing them together. The blend was a perfection unobtainable in your local coffee shop, the best food is served at the farm on which it grows. We’d boil and fry potatoes with freshly picked rosemary and churned butter from our neighbor’s cow. We’d serve a pitcher of “water”, water boiled with lemon grass, and a pitcher of coca tea. Breakfast was served at 8:30am and my day of work was complete.
I’d wake Mariana up with a beautiful tray of the morning’s bounty along with a vase of freshly cut flowers. We’d eat breakfast in a bed framed by an enormous window open to views of the valley below. Life was perfect. I was in love. I was in heaven. “Oh time will tell… you think you’re in heaven but you’re really in hell.”
While the moments were sweet and blissful, the bigger picture carried a shadow that was slowly wearing me down. The same desire for excitement and drama that had drawn me to Mariana also cast an imperceptible shadow over our lives. Instead of enjoying the ease of stillness, we were summoning turbulence into our lives for entertainment, driven by a naive desire to create stimulation for our Spirit’s evolution. Any imbalance in the spiritual realm will eventually manifest in the physical. The disease that finally got me began with a horseback ride.
Mariana and I set out for an adventure on Vaco and Cholita (her horse) to a nearby stream. Beneath a beautiful weeping willow we had a “spa day”. We rubbed avocado into each others hair. We clipped our nails. We prepared a facial using an old family recipe of Mariana’s and applied it, and we massaged each other's bodies with coconut oil. It was these moments of bliss that hid the looming shadow.
The next day I woke up with a horrendous rash. The locals knew the rash well, it was an allergy to a tree called Caspe. My groin and armpits turned dark purple with countless eruptions of inflammation and pus. My face was swollen and my eyes were almost sealed shut. For two weeks Mariana and Mary applied cold compresses of local herbs intended to bring down the inflammation. The look of disgust and pity on people’s faces when they saw me told me what I needed to know, the herbs hadn’t worked… I went to see a doctor.
After two more weeks with injections of anti-inflammatories and antihistamines the rash persisted. I was at my wits end. Finally, Mariana reached out to a Shaman who told her to bring me to the Colombian jungle of Putumayo. There we were going to drink a jungle brew called Yajé, or Ayahuasca. We immediately boarded a bus and ten hours later we were at the healer's house.
“I don’t know if Ayahuasca will work for your condition,” he told me honestly. “What you have is in the blood, it’s deep within you. We’ll give it a try, but if it doesn’t work, you need to return to the tree that gave you this lesson and pay your dues, give it offerings, ask how you may serve.”
Over the course of the day the house slowly filled with jungle people of all ages. Mariana and I had set up camp by the fire place and I felt relatively at ease, especially considering I was in a house full of strangers and about to drink Ayahuasca for the first time. But the energy of those around me was light and pleasant.
The day finally grew dark and the Shaman began to call in the energy. I gazed at the crowd that had gathered around him, an old woman, a father with his young son, families, individuals, all gathering to take part in this ancient healing ceremony. After a few directions, mostly logistical regarding the bathroom, the Shaman began to call people up to his alter. He then mumbled a few unrecognizable words, and would then pass a small cup with the medicine. It was finally my turn, I approached with the confidence of naive youth. The Shaman spoke a prayer in his native language, passed me the cup, and said “salud”, to your health.
The medicine was almost sweet and thick like molasses, it slid down easy and I returned to my spot by the fire. Once everyone had consumed the brew, a long silence incurred. My belly rumbled with heat, but my head was clear. Finally the Shaman began to drum and the medicine danced inside me to the beat. I became cold and covered myself with a blanket. I felt my strength being drained from my body. I curled up in the fetal position and began to shiver. I became violently sick, a seizure like convulsion had taken control of my body. I surrendered to the medicine and ‘I’ was no longer there.
For unknown time I laid on the floor in a trance. And then, suddenly, the Shaman’s music approached me like a physical entity and picked my body up, placing me in a sitting position. The Music Entity gave me force to sit strong and focus on my work. I was here to heal and heal I would. I suddenly felt the feet of a million insects crawling over my body starting at my toes and moving upwards. But I didn’t feel the fear and panic one would expect, for I knew that what I felt was the spirit of the Caspe crawling up my body. The little feet of the Caspe slowly made their way to the crown of my head and like a stream of energy flowed across the room into the Shaman’s drum. For timeless time this continued until the Spirit was gone and ‘I’ was back. I walked outside just in time to vomit. Opening my mouth opened a tunnel to the demons within. A kaleidoscope of darkness, black and red, the tunnel expanded into the depths of my soul and the demons flew out with the vomit. Over and over and over again I purged. Finally, I lay on the ground, exhausted, embraced in the arms of Pachamama Mother Earth. She held me with her kindness and love and let me heal.
The next day I awoke filled with a clarity and wisdom I had never experienced. I felt refreshed, alive… clean. The horrible rash that had plagued my body for weeks was completely gone! My skin was a little red and tender, but the Caspe had left. I had experienced the truth of Plant Medicine. I witnessed the power of the Spirit World and I could not deny it’s magnificence.
I wish I could say that Ayahuasca saved my relationship with Mariana, but it didn’t. Instead, it showed me that Spirit doesn’t need excitement. The darkness that lay between Mariana and myself was our lust for action, but the ultimate experience, that which excites Spirit more than any worldly pleasure, is found in the silence of meditation. “The best way to climb a mountain is in full lotus.”
For the next twelve years I studied the incredible powers of Plant Medicine, investigating its seemingly limitless capabilities, and still I feel as though I’m hardly scratching the surface. People come to visit me from all over the world to find balance, health and happiness in their lives. I watched my wife (yes, I did fall in love again) recover from years of chronic pain in two ayahuasca ceremonies. I’ve seen cancers disappear in a few months from Shamanic Diets. Shamanic healing is the true medicine of the planet, and the jungle is the pharmacy.
Those who come healthy and strong get to delve into Plant Medicine from a different angle. When the body is free of disease we work on the spiritual plane instead of the physical. Our spirits are far more capable than we’ll ever know and on the path of awakening we get to be surprised by these hidden capabilities. People arrive with stories about themselves like “I can’t sing” or “I am not an artist”. It’s a beautiful experience to watch them surprise themselves with their amazing talents. I’ve watched countless people transform into radiant warriors with a mission to cast their light forward. The path to the ultimate reality is long and mysterious and can only be understood when experienced. Are you ready to be surprised by the power you carry within?
While traveling abroad during University, Coby met a Peruvian healer who liberated him from the material realm. “Now that you have entered the Spiritual world”, she told him, “you’ll never have to concern yourself with money or materials, they will manifest effortlessly. Your new path is a spiritual one wrought with its own challenges.” Coby took this belief to heart, starting a spiritual journey that took him several times around the globe. To learn more about Coby and see his upcoming yoga teacher trainings and retreats, click here.