Some would say I had it all. Certainly not wealthy by American standards, but by world standards I was quite successful. A stable and permanent job with the federal government; known for offering generous benefits including retirement, health insurance, paid leave, sick time, and holidays. I lived in a city with a high quality of life, including easy access to nature, many organic food stores nearby, and a population of educated people. My apartment had a beautiful view of the bay, and I owned a reliable car for trips that were too far to bike. I also had a loving girlfriend and a close friend. Yet I gave it all away for a trip to Peru. Was it a foolish decision? Perhaps, but before you answer consider my reasons for leaving.
I had reached the limits of my patience with a job that was leading me nowhere. There was little possibility of advancing further in the agency, or learning more skills to become a better employee. The job was nothing more than a way of paying my bills, as many jobs are. The repetitive nature of the work, my uninspiring coworkers, and the dark rainy climate left me feeling depressed. Sitting in an office and staring at a computer screen all day was draining the life energy from my body. Sunday evenings my mood would steadily decline as the workweek approached. The long commute to the office tormented me. My applications for open positions with other organizations were being ignored. I wondered, is this all there is to life??? I wanted to reach my full potential and that definitely was not happening in my position. Something had to change soon.
Symptoms and sources
In addition to my depression and existential crisis, I had been suffering from some rare food sensitivities that western medicine could not help me with. Western medicine’s solution was to treat my food reactions with pharmaceuticals, but having been trained in Ayurvedic medicine I knew that it is better to treat the source of disease rather than the symptoms. Fortunately an Ayurvedic practitioner showed me what types of food I was sensitive to, which was extremely helpful because I could now avoid the culprits. Unfortunately this removed over 50% of the common diet from my plate, which as you can imagine makes eating quite a challenge. My practitioner showed me the source of my reactions, but not the reason why those foods were a problem. I wanted to find the reason I reacted to foods regularly eaten by others.
Connect the dots
As Steve Jobs once said during a Stanford commencement speech, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards”. Looking back I can see the dots that connected me to a sacred plant, an effective medicine, a powerful psychedelic, an entheogen known as Ayahuasca. I had been practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of my training partners introduced me to Joe Rogan who is an avid martial artist among other roles. Through the Joe Rogan Experience podcast I was introduced to guests like Aubrey Marcus, Dr Dan Engle and Dennis McKenna; all of these men introduced me to Ayahuasca (despite the fact that Rogan has never admitted to drinking this medicine). Their podcast discussions of the potential benefits of Ayahuasca were fascinating and I quickly realized that it wasn’t enough for me to sit around listening to others speak of this mystical vine; I needed a direct experience. I was going to drink this exotic brew in the plant’s native home, the Amazon rainforest.
Leave or LEAVE
I had enough vacation time saved up to take a 3-week paid leave from work. In the US not all employers offer paid vacation so there are many people that can’t afford to be away from work for even 2 weeks per year. Compared to them I was certainly fortunate. Despite this generous opportunity I was seeking a more radical transformation in my life than a 3-week break followed by a return to the old routine, so I decided to resign from my position. I like to call it a preemptive action against a mid life crisis. Why wait for the crisis to happen? As I learned from Ayurveda, it’s better to prevent disease than to react to it, so leaving in relatively good health sounded preferable to waiting 10 more years until I broke down and burned out. This decision raised many difficult questions. If not 3 weeks then how long will the trip be? Should I buy a one-way plane ticket? Should I sell all my possessions or put them in storage? How to deal with the strain on my relationship? And of course, how will I earn an income when I return from the Amazon?
It was time to swallow the red pill and unplug from the Matrix. I wanted to improve my health. I wanted to find meaningful and satisfying work. I wanted to experience Ayahuasca, the sacred medicine. I wanted to evolve spiritually. In order to accomplish these lofty goals I decided it was necessary to walk away from it all, and to do that there were a few important prerequisites. First, I was debt free, an increasingly rare concept in this credit driven society. By living a minimalist lifestyle and separating my needs from wants I was able to save enough money over the years for the trip and the unemployment that followed. Second, I was child free, also rare for a man in his thirties, and part of the reason I was debt free. However, my girlfriend was not child free, which prevented her from coming along and made my decision to follow my passion more difficult. Finally, being a home renter rather than owner and having no pets or other major responsibilities certainly made my trip much easier.
Long strange trip
Just as Rogan led me to Ayahuasca in the Amazon, the dots continued to connect me to Huachuma (San Pedro cactus) in the Andes where I met a wonderful woman during a full moon ceremony. She introduced me to an amazing network of people who I now call my Sangha, or community. My trip to Peru ended up being 3 months long instead of the 3-week vacation that I originally considered. The journey never really ended after leaving Peru and has extended back to the US. The woman I met joined me in other beautiful places like the energetic red rocks of Sedona, the giant redwood trees and Mount Shasta of California, the green mossy rainforests of Washington, and so on. Together we expanded our exploration of entheogens beyond Ayahuasca and San Pedro to other sacred medicines like Peyote, Psilocybin, and even the man made MDMA and LSD. We did this through private personal ceremonies and other legal organized ceremonies that exist in the US. Throughout all of this I’ve lived by my rules, and followed my schedule rather than those of my employer, which has been extremely satisfying.
“Give it up, Instead of grabbing for decay, What we viewed as gold, I believe pollutes this space, And its grace ascending, Like a snake up your tree, Up your happy ending, understanding, All you’re supposed to be”
-Lyrics from Golden Age, performed by TV on the Radio
Body mind spirit
During my quest to discover and eliminate the source of my food reactions I initially focused on the physical body. My efforts included a combination of Kambo poison frog therapy, juice fasts, yoga, massage, high elevation hikes in the Andes, and of course strong doses of plant medicines like Ayahuasca. In addition, replacing the daily routine of sitting in front of a computer all day at the office with moving through a new landscape was very therapeutic. While all my attention was on physically detoxing my body I was pleased to notice the improvements in my mind and spirit emerging. The cold defensive wall surrounding my heart began to slowly melt and emotions were felt. Past traumas were processed and removed. Stored energies were released in the form of leg shaking and epic Incredible Hulk anger yells. I even had the pleasure of experiencing a true awakening for one unforgettable day.
As they say in the Matrix, after you take the red pill there is no turning back. Yet when I look back at these past 2 years a question that naturally arises is, was it worth leaving my job for Ayahuasca? The people, places and experiences associated with the medicine path I’ve been following certainly added great depth to my life, and gave me many new stories to write about! I have no regret for my decision to walk away from it all though it certainly came at a cost. I still haven’t replaced the last job with a better one, and the stress and uncertainty of not knowing where I’m heading next has been quite a challenge. Having a savings account has helped me avoid taking an undesirable job out of desperation. My relationship came to a painful end, and a new one began. The food sensitivities remain, however this physical condition should be seen as the fuel that drove me to Peru and led to my mental and spiritual development. I exchanged comfort and stability for adventure, healing, and magic. I try and remember that healing and growth happens on a timeline beyond my control and I can’t expect to solve a lifetime of issues in a single trip. Enough about me, what are you going to be in your life?