Researching Iboga online, the predominant thought in my head was “why do I always get called to the hardcore stuff?”
As soon as I heard about this sacred medicine, the root of the Tabernathe Iboga plant from Central Africa way back in 2010, I knew we would journey together. I had issues I needed to get to the “root” of and my instinct told me that Iboga held powerful healing for me. Then I spent the next four years avoiding it.
What I discovered about Iboga freaked me out – it’s one of the strongest visionary substances on the planet and having little experience in this field I was reluctant to jump in at the deep end. Also dissuading me was its reputation for being dark, difficult and the all-round bad ass of the ethnobotanical world.
Then the same friend who told me about it years ago emailed me that his Iboga practitioner or N’ganga was coming to Wales in Spring 2014. For whatever reason I wasn’t ready in April but when he returned in September I seriously had to think about it. Some car crash behavioural patterns I thought I’d put to bed years ago surprisingly resurfaced in the summer. I was also about to embark on a major life change so it seemed like the perfect time to face my fears. Not that I didn’t try many things to self-sabotage it though, including trying to book myself on another retreat the other end of the country on the same weekend. When awareness dawned on my avoidance tactics, my behaviour seemed hilarious.
Three things fortified my resolve – one the patience and understanding of the retreat facilitator with whom I shared an uncanny number of similarities too – including some medical history. She re-assured me this would be very safely held in the Bwiti traditions and done with the utmost safety and respect in wonderful rural surroundings with an experienced team.
She also sent me an interview with Daniel Raphael, a shamanic apprentice working with Iboga who explained the progress and insights he’d had with this plant medicine. He also said that it triggers the same brainwaves that are active during deep REM sleep so it’s more like lucid dreaming than tripping. I don’t know why but that made a huge difference. That night, I dreamt the Spirit of Iboga came to me and told me to stop focusing on all the negative aspects.
Thirdly, a quote popped up on my Facebook feed that just about slapped me round the face “that which you fear the most can hold the deepest healing”. I began packing.
I arrived on Friday night to the warmest welcome, to share the group meal and settle in. There were about 20 of us journeyers, 11 helpers and Pierre the N’ganga. Ashort meeting followed to explain the process of the following day.
Saturday itself was spent cleansing ourselves with Kambo, frog medicine from the Amazon, which helps clean the body to enable the Iboga to work deeper or in the sauna. I spent a long time meditating on my journey’s intentions in the Stone Circle. There were four main issues I needed help with, sure there was other stuff too, but for my first time I felt this was enough work to do.
About 4.30pm we started preparing the ceremony space, the mattresses where we were to lie, then ourselves with ritual bathing, dressing, anointing, singing and declaring ourselves and our intentions to the ancestors and the altar. I loved all the ritual, it added to my sense of security and propriety as did shared wisdom from previous journeyers including the simple advice “Iboga is your friend”.
Around 11pm we had our first two doses of medicine – this was the dried and ground up root bark itself, not easy to take, a bit like eating gravel but swallowed quickly with a prayer of gratitude and a swig of water. Then we did some ceremonial dancing to get the Iboga working in our systems. During the second dance I perceived the arrival of the pretty lights in my vision and not long after had to sit down and take some deep breaths. Feeling a moment’s anxiety at an impending loss of control I called on my Spirit guides to draw close, focused on my intentions and slowly surrendered as the lights and trails increased and I lay down on my bed of dreams.
After the third dose, the geometric patterns increased and it became very disorientating to walk to the toilet. My brain felt like it was in a giant glitter ball spinning not only round and round but up and down and diagonally as well as the lights danced in front of me. I moved like a drunk on board a ship in a heavy storm, luckily we were followed every time by someone in case we needed help. Although dizzying, it wasn’t quite as debilitating as I’d expected Iboga to be.
The Bwiti music played by the musicians was unceasingly exquisite and had a crucial part in guiding us in our journeys and encouraging those vital brain wave patterns. My hearing became extremely amplified and at one time could hear the music resonating in many dimensions through the room, the thick stone walls of the converted barn and on out into the night. This aural sensitivity was also disconcerting as I kept being pulled from my journey by people whispering right by my head, only to open my eyes and discover they were at the far end of the room.
The visions I saw weren’t particularly revealing – lights, trails, patterns, flying high over ice-caps following the curve of the planet, and a random black Elvis cartoon character who I was told was just for the fun of it. But I went deeply into dialogue with Iboga, asking it what was at the root of my chronic low back pain that I’d had since a child following an injury. Despite years of different therapies that had improved it a great deal, there was still something there plaguing me. The answer I received was “you are”.
“No, I don’t think you understood me, Iboga, what’s at the root of my pain?”
Again, the same answer. “You are, the way you take on too much and don’t accept your limitations, the way you don’t prioritise the physiotherapy that you know will help you, the way you push yourself so hard and have to take strong painkillers to cope. Why would you do that to yourself?”
Errr….OK….I was expecting something more esoteric like I was stabbed in the back in a previous life or it was related to unexpressed emotional stress following early childhood trauma, not this starkly simple truth. It was a little hard to accept so I moved swiftly on to another issue. During the course of the night Iboga showed me more truths about myself which were uncomfortable but it presented them with love and gentleness. It revealed outdated modes of behaviour that weren’t serving my soul, asked me if I was done with them and on agreement from myself, deleted them.
I thought I’d gone into the journey with four separate intentions but it revealed their connectedness and suggested to me better ways in which to conduct myself, how I waste my time and energy on people and projects that don’t serve me, how to improve my romantic relationships and heal the relationship with my Father. During the course of the night it became my ceremony for releasing “childish things” and stepping up to be the Sovereign of my own reality, an initiation into the rest of my life if you like.
The Guardian published an article about Iboga in 2003 describing it as “Ten years of Therapy in One Night” That description was pretty bang on for me as it gave me everything I’d searched for and more. I spent most of the journey in a state of deep peaceful bliss with the hugest grin on my face, but experiences in the group varied. Some experienced very little at all, a couple of guys had a pretty dark time, others also experienced a powerful healing journey.
The vision trails lasted for a surprisingly long time and I was only capable of driving home about 12 hours after, and they stayed with me for about 5 days appearing in the mornings and at night. I quite missed them when they finally went. My sleep pattern took about the same time to settle down, all that “power dreaming” negated the need for much dozing.
But the feeling of peace remained for a long time. I just wish I’d taken a few days off after the weekend as there was so much to process and I longed to stay immersed in that pure state of bliss as long as possible. Whilst journaling the next day the tears rolled down my face from a profound sense of relief and harmony.
Like all these sacred medicines, taking them is just the start of the work, and I don’t believe they should be a substitute for a regular spiritual practise or self-enquiry which helps maintain and build on the valuable insights bestowed.
I will definitely be back to journey with Iboga again. I loved the Bwiti rituals, they helped me feel safe and introduced a great sense of honour and integrity. I can’t praise the team enough, they worked tirelessly to ensure we got the most out of the weekend, it was all such an immensely rich experience.
And my back pain? Well it hasn’t lessened but somehow has got easier to bear as I know I’m the one ultimately responsible for it. I’m not looking to blame some outside influence anymore. Also, not one of my stated intentions but as an occasional smoker, I still enjoyed the odd cigarette. Not any more, Iboga deleted those desires completely. The last lesson it left me with is that I need to forgive myself, be more gentle with myself. For me, Iboga is the soul of consciousness and you don’t lay with it and not come back a changed person. Bassi Bassi!
For info on Iboga ceremonies with Pierre in the UK please email firstname.lastname@example.org