Ceremony III: "Show me the path to become the best, happiest, and most fulfilled artist I can be."

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez (@theongoingworldphotography)

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez (@theongoingworldphotography)

 
 

A full day had passed since the last ceremony. We had woken up from our second night with the Medicine weary, in both body and mind, and all realized why the Refugio took a break from ceremony every third day.

On the fourth day, I woke to the gentle sound of a rain shower. I stirred under the red and gold blanket that I had buried my head under to escape the night time jungle. The pitter-patter of water droplets bombarding the broad leaves of the rainforest canopy was a far less jarring wakeup call than the car alarms in Lima, allowing me to ease back into waking life.

After several minutes enjoying the rain, I climbed out of bed and stealthily descended the stairs. Zach continued to sleep deeply as my bare feet fell silently on each step and over to the main door and unlatched it. I took extra care to lift the door slightly as I swung it on its hinges.

I was filled with disappointment to find that small, black ants had found their way under the plastic wrap on our fruit bowls and had beat us to the feast. Begrudgingly, I removed the plastic coverings and tossed the colorful cubes of fruit on the forest floor. “Let the ants have it,” I told myself, “They need it more than you.”

For the past 24 hours I had been fiercely debating whether I would participate in tonight’s ceremony. My second meditation with ayahuasca had been far more intense than I could have ever imagined, and had shaken me enough to consider not partaking of the Medicine again. But today was a new day and my hesitation of the previous day was starting to give way. My work was not done, there was so much more for me to learn. And besides, how could this next ceremony be even more intense than what I had already survived?

My mind was made up. I needed to partake. Only this time I would be patient, trusting in Jose’s judgment and in the dose of Medicine that he deemed right for me.

Again, we spent our day filling time between our meals of chicken, rice, and lentils with naps, reading, and games. Engrossing my mind in an intense game of ‘Liar’s Dice’ Cole, Curtis, and the Silito’s, kept it from dwelling on my anxiety about the upcoming ceremony. I kept telling myself that there was no way that tonight would be worse than the second night, but then again, how could I know that for sure?

The afternoon came and went, once again I found myself gathering my wits about me in preparation for another night of learning and upheaval. This time I was not going to don my white clothes, which I had been keeping in exile outside the bungalow like a leper. Whether you call it a newfound superstition or just taking every possible precaution, I dug through my bag for the Incan scarf that the shaman Augostin had blessed at the water temple in Urqos and a shirt. I rummaged in the dim lamp light, passing up my shirt from a band called Full of Hell, and pulled out a dark red, Touche Amore shirt. The idea that having a form of the word ‘love’ printed on the shirt gave me a bit of peace of mind.

Downstairs, I sat and fiddled with the Incan cross that hung from my neck, touching each of the twelve points contemplatively as Zach gathered his effects for ceremony. As I sat, I knew that tonight I needed to ask ayahuasca to be gentle with me in helping me fulfill my intention; I wanted tonight to be manageable, and that would require that I be more specific and targeted.

Once again, a Guardian came to retrieve us and lead us to the maloca. I sat and focused on controlling my breath, being present in every inhale and exhale, in an attempt to calm my nerves. Familiar faces appeared in the doorway and took their spots at their usual mats. I smiled at humans’ apparent tendency to claim a space for their own and consistently return to it without instruction to do so.

The two curanderos showed up together. Jose’s white embroidered vest gave off a soft glow in the darkness. After briefly speaking to someone else in the group, Jose made his way over to where I sat.

“Como estas, mi hermano?” he said lightly with a gentle smile that seemed to already know the answer. I was flattered that such a spiritual man had so fondly called me his brother.

“Muy bien. Mucho mejor,” I told him, reflecting his calming tone.

Despite my feelings that the curanderos were truly unable to comprehend my previous torment and sufficiently come to my aid, Jose reassured me that he knew exactly what had been going on. Of course he did, I told myself. How could such a mystic not after working intimately with the Medicine for upwards of thirty years.

He knew that I was entering uncertain territory where I would be vulnerable when I came up to him asking for a second and third sacrament. But I was already with the Medicine, and he was not to interfere. His wisdom was great, but Ayahuasca’s is still more vast and intuitive.

We gave each other a firm, brotherly embrace and he smiled as he patted me on the shoulder before going to prepare the ceremony materials.

As the preparations were made, Shayne finally brought to my attention just how brief the ceremonies lasted. I was shocked to find that the curanderos had been leaving the maloca each night around eleven pm and on the night of our second ceremony we had returned to Zach and I’s bungalow at 11:45 pm. How could all of my torment have been condensed into a mere three hours? The Medicine clearly did not abide by the same time table as the rest of reality. Hours may just as well have been days.

Conversation died out among our group. The ritual was the same, as always. Sanctify. Partake. Protect. Bless. The ayahuasca seemed to taste even more acrid than before and almost made me sputter after I drank from the small cup. I silently hoped the increasing bitterness of the Medicine was not some kind of omen.

Jose came around to each of us with the agua de florida, marking our foreheads, hands, and hearts. Unlike the taste of the ayahuasca, I was becoming more and more fond of the floral odor of the agua and looked forward to each time Jose came around to me and bless me by gently blowing tiny droplets of it onto the top of my head.

I sat breathing deeply, admiring the consistency and rigorous precautions taken with each ceremony with a newfound respect in securing the space and ensuring a safe experience for all participating. Kelly had told us over lunch the previous day about large outdoor parties where people had been drinking ayahuasca and having massive orgies. The idea of such reckless behavior without the proper supervision of a shaman was mind boggling. I could only imagine what kind of darkness could take advantage of a situation like that where so many were left so vulnerable.

The familiar fluttering of leathery bat wings zipped past my ear as I began to focus on conscious breathing and solidifying the night’s intention.

After having such an incredibly radical experience regarding my spiritual being, I decided to finally request the Medicine’s insight on my practice as an artist. It was clear that my previous intention had been left too open to interpretation, and I took extra caution in selecting my words to ensure me a happier and gentler experience this time around. My lungs filled with the warm, night air and the aromatic smoke of nearby mopachos, calming my anxious heartbeat as the words ‘Show me the path I must take to become the best, happiest, and most fulfilled artist I can be’ began to take shape in my mind.

I silently repeated the mantra, each time becoming more grateful that I had included the contingency of my lasting happiness.

With my eyes already closed, I was not aware that Jose had taken up the leaf fan and put out the candle. I was already starting to see the static darkness behind my eyelids shift and writhe like black flies. It was only a matter of time now. As I lay on my mat, I occasionally opened my eyes in nervous anticipation to glimpse the deep blue sky as a momentary reprise from the images that would soon demand my attention.

The icaros were of a different breed tonight. The words were the same, but there was a clear difference in the sultry tone with which Jose sang them. There was a feebleness to his vibrato that made him seem like a much older version of himself.

Jose’s voice continued with the inspired melodies as we all began to delve deeper into the Medicine. Slowly and subtly, it crept up almost imperceptibly. The inklings of writhing shapes continued to intensify, taking on more definite shapes. My heartbeat was now beating more distinctly; I could feel it in every fibre of my Being. It was not racing with a feverish pace, but seemed to be pumping blood very deliberately through my veins as in certain anticipation.

Jose had stopped singing, giving Horatio the floor to begin the healing sessions with three individuals. Where Jose sang with a sweeping legato, Horatio’s took a more rhythmically percussive form that reminded me of the times I had heard Native American shaman sing in pow-wows and other ceremonies. It was astonishingly beautiful and I couldn’t help but direct my attention to him as he sat beside those he was healing.

In a great swell, I was thrust into a vision. Initially, it was unclear if my eyes had remained open or had instinctively shut tight. I was now in a surreal space of darkness, full of fluorescent lines that began to form a geometric structure. Lines of brilliant yellow, orange, and pink converged to create a neon temple amidst the darkness. The lines seemed simple at first creating a shallow sense of depth but quickly began to allude to a vastness that dwarfed both me and the temple. I could not see myself within this space and seemed to float up the steps of the temple in first person, passing two large spires that stood on either side of the grand entrance.

The suddenness with which I was being immersed in this new space startled me. I immediately became reluctant to fully give in to the medicine as I remembered how close I had felt to losing my Self as the Medicine took hold of me. I panicked slightly. I hated to admit it, but against my better judgment, I was fighting against the Medicine.

I opened my eyes to the dark maloca just as I had entered the brilliant temple. My fear of letting go had begun to manifest in my beating heart, its pace quickening with my anxious breath. I stared at the dark, vaulted ceiling with my hands over my heart as I tried to comfort myself. The sound of Cole’s violent vomiting traveled through the darkness and could be heard over Horatios singing.

Feigning composure, I turned to face where Horatio was kneeling next to Kim and tried to ground myself in my physical reality. As I lay on my side it was clear that the Medicine was not going to give in so easily.

The ayahuasca surged through my extremities with a force that I had never experienced before. It had jettisoned me to a level of high that demanded that I bend to its will. Almost as if my body was a marionette, I felt compelled against my better judgment to lay on my side with my hands folded under my head and succumb.

I felt myself delve deeper into the Medicine as I once again found myself in the temple, rising a second set of stairs to what I immediately knew was an altar. I began to contemplate kneeling in adoration, but once again tried to open my eyes. My eyes had hardly opened before slamming shut again, the temple disappearing.

I was now face to face with a seemingly infinite line of similarly fluorescent harpies. Each of their hybrid bodies was identical to the one on either side of it. They were reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs as they moved their radiant pink wings in tandem. Each gazed at me uninterruptedly with intense faces that were equal parts human and vulture. It was a mesmerizing display of both feathers and flesh. I watched in awe as I pondered if these hybrids were deities, demons, or merely sanctioned guardians of the temple I had seen.

Without any warning at all, my vision was once again interrupted as my jaws were flung open in gaping yawn that made my entire body quake. The yawn seemed to go on and on, wider and wider as it were going to turn my head inside out. Nausea grabbed at my stomach and I became disoriented the wider my mouth opened.

Even in light of my second ceremony, I had never experienced a high like this. It was blisteringly intense, and once again made me question if I could manage its power. Breathe. Just breathe.

After what seemed like an eternity, my jaws finally fell closed. Even as my lips pressed together in relief, silent, creeping tears began to pour from my eyes. Despite the disorienting intensity of the Medicine, I knew that these were not tears of sadness. My chest did not heave with sobs and my breath did not falter. I had to reach a hand to my face and trace the wet lines with my quivering fingertips to believe that they were streaming so consistently down my cheeks. As I wiped my tears on my shirt, I grabbed my bucket and placed it next to me as if to brace for a more violent purging to come.

Another cataclysmic yawn took hold of me, ushering a new stream of tears as I witnessed a panther come to me out of the darkness. Its lean body was blacker than night itself, reflecting a deep, dark purple, in the moonlight of my mind as it strode to perch itself on a rock. Its body lurched and from its fierce jaws sprang a fountain of bright white that cascaded into a pool of water below. The panther’s yellow eyes squeezed shut as the pool became illuminated by its glowing vomitus. It struck me as odd that this messenger was the one emptying its stomach and not me.

The panther began to pan out of view as I followed the flow of the glowing liquid to an opposite shore. A majestic and heavily ornamented bull stood on the dark bank, and slowly proceeded to wade into the shallows and meet the luminous current. The red and gold headdress that rested on his great white head did not fall as he bowed to the water’s surface and began to lap up the beaming water with a heavy, violet tongue.

The bull’s dark eyes closed heavily as his velvet muzzle hovered over the surface of the water; he was clearly as unthreatened by the nearby panther as I was. His great throat undulated as peristalsis forced the liquid down his esophagus. As the bull drank, he seemed to radiate an increasingly bright aura of divinity into the surrounding darkness.

Another cavernous yawn forced a new wave of salty tears to stream down my face, and in its wake my eyes crept open for a brief moment, giving me a glimpse of the darkened maloca. The tranquility of my vision was not reflected in my perceived control of my corporeal experience as I thought to myself “I have never been high like this before.”

In the moments where I tried to stave off the bold advances that the Medicine was making on my being, I tried to find the ability to remove myself from the visions. Each time the ayahuasca fought back, pulling me back to lay on my mat with an intense, supernatural strength. The reminders that I was in the hands of a force much wiser and stronger than myself were constant, and ultimately forced me to bend to its will for my own benefit.

Once I decided to fully succumb, my mind erupted.

In an instant my mind became inundated with validations and knowledge about itself and its unbridled potential. The knowledge being bestowed upon me was crystal clear and pure. I came to truly understand my brain, and the brains of all others, as not only an organ but its nature as a conduit which allows us to experience reality.

As individuals go through the journey of life, it is our minds that assimilate all sensory information about ourselves and the world that we encounter, taking in all we see, smell, taste, hear, feel, and learn. From this raw information, our mind constructs our own uniquely subjective representations, metaphorical facsimiles of the objective reality of our existences. Metaphor is the language of the mind after all, facilitating the comprehension of ideas that are so much more vast than our own finite realms of experience

A boy riding on the back of a great polar bear, pointing towards the starry heavens; visages of young adolescents having intimate, unspoken meditations with different animals began to appear, warp, and disappear as knowledge continued to funnel into my liberated mind.

From what we glean from objective reality, each of our own existences is entirely in our control to shape as we please. Bias, the fallibility of memory, and our unbridled creativity driven by imagination distort, revise, and embellish the subjective worlds that we choose to live in. Our mediation of our subjective reality and the objective reality is what truly defines us.

The words “It’s all in your head” became unavoidable in my mind as I saw a young girl sitting across from a monkey, both tenderly clasping hands in the light of a lantern in a silent exchange of understanding. I heard this phrase so often used in a negative manner to dismiss one’s thoughts and feelings, diminishing the true capabilities of our minds. Yes, it is all in our heads. Everything: our realities, our memories, thoughts, and experiences, our figments of imagination, and the incredible capacity to change the circumstances of our lives.

As we find ourselves in an unending flood of information, our mind creates stories, associations, and metaphors that allow us to construct these worlds of existence. The true power of this process lies in how we utilize these to either empower or disenfranchise our Selves in the journey of life. Existence is not just about what you have received, but what you choose to do with what you have been given.

Choice. The creation of life and existence is the product of conscious choice; the mind, in all its beautiful and infinite complexity even allows us to dream up completely fictional worlds, worlds far removed from our realms of experience. We can build worlds and get to decide which we choose to exist in at any given moment. But with this power comes the responsibility to be mindful that our choices to do so have repercussions that will greatly affect us.

Amidst the buzzing of my brain, to my right I could hear Shayne purge quietly into his bucket. I silently expressed my gratitude for my purging taking on the form of body shaking yawns and silent tears.

As if struck by a bolt of white-hot clairvoyance, I was made aware of my true nature and calling as an artist: the power, and even innate responsibility, to create fictional realms to inform others of ‘truths’ about our own world like so many artists, authors, storytellers, and other creative minds have done before. So clear was the realization of the artist as a sort of mystic or shaman whose duty it is to bridge the gap between higher realms of illumination and enlightenment and mankind. But how does the artist make this tangible and accessible to others?

My question seemed incredibly dumb and was immediately answered. I was already doing it, and doing it as I lay in the maloca surrounded by the vast Amazon jungle. Living. Not just existing, but truly living with purpose and seeking new knowledge and greater perspective through experiences was the answer.

Scenes of adventures in faraway places began to swarm my field of vision. Riding bikes through the hills of Italy on beautiful summer nights, filling the warm, night air with laughter as we passed rustic, tile-roofed villas. I could actually feel the cool rush of the breeze on my face. Lovers then walked hand in hand on a golden beach, waves lapping at the sand as a crimson sun began to dip below the horizon. It is moments like these, ecstatic realizations of true happiness and adventure, that we as living beings so inherently and desperately seek. The desire to truly live runs through each one of us.

My trip to Peru had been a long string of these glorious moments. This pilgrimage was a literal odyssey of enlightenment and fulfillment; a crucial opportunity for me to truly grow as an individual. The opportunity had presented itself to me, and to my great fortune I had prepared myself to take full advantage of it. But one doesn’t merely stumble upon a happy and fulfilled life full of opportunities for growth.

A break in Horatio’s healing icaros and the quick beam from Jose’s flashlight jarred my eyes open and broke my trance, but only for a quick second.

Like all forms of creation, the cultivation of a happy life full of fertile opportunities for growth requires dedicated work and conscious decisions. Good things are never free, they demand investment and sacrifice, and truly great things often require even more. happiness is ultimately a choice that we each have to make, one that we must make on a daily basis.

Prior to leaving for Peru, I had been frugal with my money, ensured that I bought the proper equipment, and made arrangements to keep my job secure. Physical and material preparations. Once I arrived in South America, we were immersed in environments that provided us with spiritual preparation. Cole and Andy had organized a yoga retreat in the Sacred Valley that focused on the practices of grounding and conscious intention, both of which would prove to remain recurring themes throughout our trip. We had gone to visit and experience the spiritual haven of Machu Picchu and were inspired by both the Incan people’s unity with the earth and cosmos and their technological prowess as they constructed such an awe-inspiring marvel. We even had the benefit of encountering several other shamans whose connection to all things as well as their intuitive wisdom continued time and time again to leave us speechless.

Even as all these preparations seem like adventures unto themselves, they were all vital to the preparation for what we would experience in the Amazon. I was thoroughly convinced that my experience with ayahuasca would have been radically different if I had not prepared as I had.

Just as my heart began to beat with a quickening pace, I heard the soft sound of Jose’s bare feet crossing the wooden floor. Then the sound of a flint being struck as a miniscule flame appeared in the center of the room and jumped to consume the wick of the white candle.

I sat up, quickly and almost entirely without thinking. It was as if the light of the candle was compelling me to come back and center myself back into both my physical body and the maloca.

My head spun a bit as I sat upright, crossing my legs in hopes to steady myself. I had tracers again. As my eyes peered about the dim room, it looked as though each object had an ethereal other slightly offset from it. I saw two candles where I knew there was just one.

Many of the others had responded to the enticing call of the candle light. Cole, Andy, Curtis, and the Silitos all looked dazed as they adjusted to the light and divine as their white clothes each gave off an angelic glow.

I felt my eyes widen with a gaze that sought to peer beyond the corporeal reality that lay before me.

My body felt heavy laden as my mind remained in a elated state of liberation. Some invisible force drew my legs to kneel and bring my chest to fall slowly down until my forehead touched the synthetic blue plastic of the mat.

After a moment, I slowly rose back upright. As we all sat immersed in the candlelight, I thought to myself that I may never encounter a place so sacred and so spiritually inspired for the rest of my days. It didn’t seem real. Or at least like it could exist in our terrestrial world. The walls of the maloca seemed to disappear as the orange glow of the candle failed to illuminate the boundaries of their wooden planks. We were like great sages basking in a powerful and eternal light.

The earthy aroma of a lit mopacho filled the air and tickled my nostrils with tiny tendrils. It was Shayne’s. I turned to him and asked how he was. He gave a couple slow, pensive nods as he held the mopacho to his mouth and then uttered “I’m good.” He said it in an ambiguous tone that really didn’t provide any more information, but given the intense nature of ayahuasca, I figured that response was about as good as any.

I then turned to my left and check on Zach. He was still laying on his back, his hands folded behind his head, not saying anything. But his bewildered eyes said it all. Fifteen seconds later, he said “I’m alright” in a voice that was barely audible, even in the near silence of the maloca. Clearly he had gone through a wringer this time as well.

Jose and Horatio said their gentle goodbyes as they left to go find their own bungalows for the night. Still enraptured by the candle, I hadn’t noticed that Danielle had brought out her guitar and begun playing a tune as she sang, bringing yet another layer of beauty to the night.

I didn’t recognize the song, and given her prowess with both instruments, I figured that it was a song that she herself had written. It was beautiful and so appropriate for the environment that we were in.

After another fifteen minutes, we each began rising to our feet and preparing to venture back into the jungle.

With difficulty, I found my rubber boots and nearly feel over several times as I attempted to slide me feet down into them. I laughed at my debilitated equilibrium as I pictured myself as a newborn giraffe trying to stand on its shaky, stilt-like legs.

Warm embraces were in order as we embarked each with our respective guardians down the stairs and into the darkness.

I continued to struggle with my balance as Zach and I crossed the muddy terrain and vocalized my appreciation for not having a longer hike back.

We settled with our blankets in our prospective spots in the wooden arm chair and hammock. Zach procured his iPhone in an attempt to fill the bungalow with familiar music to drown out the lively and unsettling symphony of the jungle.

Zach lit the white candle on the table with his lighter before using it to spark a Canadian cigarette. I was given the honor of selecting the first several songs, but was frustratingly dazzled by the glowing touch screen that displayed an extensive music library that I was struggling to navigate. Eventually, my wide eyes found the song ‘Machu Picchu’ by the Strokes and thought it rather fitting.

As the first percussive guitar harmonies rang through the small speaker, it was apparent just how warped my sense of time was. The fairly fast tempo of the song seemed to have been amped up by about fifty percent.

My confusion must have been clear on my dumbfounded face, as Zach quickly took note and asked if I was alright.

We continued to peer into the flame of the candle as the Clash, and Phantogram were added to the chorus of the nocturnal jungle. Never had a single, solitary flame appeared so alive; I gave myself up to its mesmerizing radiance.

I slouched in the wooden chair as my troubled mind attempted to reconcile my experiences from my last two ceremonies.

The torment that I experienced as I waged for my soul on the second night felt so incredibly real and fully instigated by an external force, but in tonight’s experience, Aya assured me that the mind is a metaphorical realm which cast an uncomfortable doubt into my mind. Had I really experienced the sort of entity that I had heard so much about and suffered at its hand? Or was it a metaphorical phenomenon facilitated by the incredible intuition of Mother Ayahuasca for my personalized learning? And if it was a device of Aya’s teaching, did that make my experience less legitimate?

My gaze found its way over to Zach as he lounged pensively in the hammock across the room. He seemed to be searching the great beyond for answers to a question plaguing his mind. After a gentle prod, he told me that his whole night had been a harrowing experience of a reality completely filled with snakes.

I silently expressed my gratitude that I had a far less terrifying conversation with the Medicine.

A sudden gust of wind burst through the trees and the bug netting that covered our bungalow, causing the flame of the candle to dance so violently that it was almost extinguished. My hopes for a night time drizzle were soon dashed as several seconds later, another gust of wind came from the opposite direction to threaten the flame once more.

How the hell does that happen? The breeze make a 180 degree turn in a matter of seconds. I may have just been super high, but it felt as though some supernatural force had a desire to snuff out the only light in the room. Our matches had gotten too damp to light during the first couple days and we had only one small lighter that was floating about in the darkness.

It was only then that I realized that our candle was dwindling and we had not gotten a spare from the main compound earlier that day. Already a bit freaked out, I panicked a bit more.

Zach was already starting to doze off in the hammock and moved to sprawl out on his bed. I couldn’t blame Zach for being tired, I was quite exhausted myself, but sleep was still far from reach for my buzzing brain. I definitely felt vulnerable. Every so often I would call out to him and rouse him from his rest to regain a false sense of comfort.

It was the candle, the iPhone, and me versus the night. And the iPhone’s finally hit twenty percent.

With dwindling resources, I recalled the story of the Hanukkah menorah lasting an amazing eight nights and gave a sarcastic chuckle as I thought “What I need is a Jewish miracle.”

Even if just for my sanity’s sake, I needed this single candle to last either until I drifted off or until dawn.

Aside from the sense of protection that candlelight had consistently provided for me in the jungle, I came to realize just how beautiful a soft, solitary flame is. Basking in candlelight is an incredibly intimate experience, regardless whether you are in the dark jungle or having a romantic meal in a high end restaurant. The mere size of the candle’s flame limits the reach of its scope of illumination: you must draw near to it to experience its light and warmth. This small proximity creates a similar sense of emotional closeness to whomever you may be sharing the light with. I felt this unique intimacy each night as Zach and I returned from ceremony to gaze into the small flame as Aya continued to illuminate our minds.

Another facet of the candle’s beauty that seized my attention was the impact that it had on the surrounding environment. The wooden planks that made up the table, chairs, and support beams of the bungalow looked divinely sublime in the soft orange glow and the sharp shadows that were cast across the room added a dramatic and haunting vibe within the space.

If only I could capture the beauty of these moments in an oil painting.

I called out to Zach. Several seconds passed before I repeated myself and was given a drowsy, non-intelligible grunt. I knew it was lights out for him and I was now entirely on my own.

The iPhone continued to remind me of the draining battery. I began to scour the music library with songs that mentioned the jungle in the titles. I bobbed my head to the funky bass and shrill trumpet flourishes of ‘Jungle Fever’ by Kool and the Gang. Several songs later, I found Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Run through the Jungle’ and couldn’t help but consider how ill-advised that would be as guidance in that moment and laugh.

Between CCR and the sense of danger that the night-time jungle instilled in me, I briefly imagined what it must have been like to suffer through the Vietnam War as member of the US military. My current fears seemed well justified, but were nowhere near having the risk of being ambushed by guerrilla soldiers while I slept.

I scanned the eastern side of the tree line for hints of dawn, but only found the deep, deep blue and glimmering stars indicative of the wee hours of the morning.

A sudden yawn pried open my mouth, tilting my head back to rest on the wooden back of the chair. This was a welcomed sign. The candle was in its last moments of life and I would soon have to surrender to the darkness.

I rose from my chair, wrapped myself in my blanket, and wearily shuffled across the floor to get my headlamp. The darkness of the jungle merging with the new umbral space of the bungalow was an uncomfortable thought, and I decided to make a new, smaller space for me to seek refuge in.

Carefully, I lowered myself into the hammock that was now on the very edge of the candle’s dying light. As I reclined in the cloth pouch, I draped my blanket over my entire body to form a cocoon-like sanctuary. Here I was free of witnessing any mysterious lights in the surrounding rainforest and less distracted by the eerie cacophony of thousands of organisms living their lives.

It did in fact feel safer here, even if I was deluding myself a bit.

I turned on my headlamp to provide a light if I needed to search the folds of my makeshift marsupial pouch for the iPhone or water bottle. By connecting my earbuds to the iPhone, I ever further removed myself from my physical environment and closed my eyes.

Sleep did not find me immediately after, but still came swiftly and plunged me into a sleep so deep that dreams could not even find me.