Families, Holy and... there is no other kind: A Jewish Ayahuasca Journey

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December 19, 2012

I’ve never been much of an ancestors guy. Remember when, back in the 80’s, Jon Lovitz impersonated presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis, saying, “my ancestors were short people – short, swarthy people”? That’s how I’ve always felt. In my case, they were Eastern European shtetl-dwellers, but, like Dukakis’s Greek patriarchs, kind of nebbishes.

Plus, because of the Holocaust and the transatlantic crossing, I know nothing about anyone more than two generations ahead of me. My parents, my grandparents – and then a blank. I know that my maternal grandmother was one of ten children, and that they lived on a farm, and ate potatoes, and struggled. But not much more than that.

And yet, as I enter my thirties and consider having children myself, I’ve naturally found myself thinking more about ancestors, continuity, time. I look more like my dad everyday. I’m haunted by his failures, and even though I know I’m haunted by them I still get stuck. And I wonder whether I will have children, whether I’ll be remembered or not. To think of one’s ancestors is necessarily to ponder one’s descendants.

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian shamanic medicine, made of two different plants, which creates powerful visionary experiences – what other cultures might call prophecy or revelation. Some of these experiences are amazing visions of other worlds, others are more like emotional insights, and others still are mostly about the body (physical, astral, energetic, etc.). To state the obvious, ayahuasca is not a drug, and definitely not for day trippers.

In this particular ceremony, I spent a lot of time with my dad, who died ten years ago. Now, I don’t know what did or didn’t happen during that “trip.” But I can tell you what it seemed like: it seemed like I was with him. Not a mental image, or projection, or whatever. Him. Like a lot of guys, I’d had a difficult relationship with my father. He was emotionally awkward, probably depressed, and just… uneasy a lot of the time. He had his joys, especially when he was young, but to me the thought of saying “I love you” to my dad was impossible to consider.

My father died before I really came into my own as an adult and as a professional; he never saw the work I am today most proud of, and never really knew me as the person I’ve become. So this time with him, on whatever plane, was truly precious. I forgave him old sins. I shared with him some of who I am and what’s important to me. I told him I loved him and felt his love in return. It was like quality time on an astral level, and was deeply moving.

After a while, I began to see more. I saw, behind him, his father, and his father, and his. I saw, behind him and to his left, his mother, and her parents, and hers. Stretching backward in time, I saw generations of my ancestors, not in any particular detail, but like a phalanx of men and women supporting me and holding me.

And then, above and behind my father, I had a vision of something that felt like the God of our ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It wasn’t a clear vision – more like what Ezekiel says, the image of a likeness of a picture of a man. Beyond that, as best as I can relate, was God. Not “God” the character, but God the One, Being, the Infinite, All That Is – that. It was almost as if YHVH, and then my father, and then me, were emanations of the One, or expressions of it.

And then I noticed next to YHVH an infinite number of masks of the Infinite: gods and goddesses, energies and families. It was so clear to me how all of these personalities were elaborations of the One That Is – and how the male ones were father figures, ancestors, guides.

Usually when someone says “God is a projected father figure,” it’s meant as an insult to religion. See, the reductive voice says, it’s just projection and psychology. But a father figure is not “just” a father figure. It’s a father figure! This is important! In fact, aside perhaps from a mother, what’s more important a “figure” to have in one’s life? It was so clear to me, in that moment, that God was both real and a projected father figure; that these archetypes are deep and powerful and true, as true as anything can be.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for alternative images of God beside this patriarchal, male one. But as a man, I think it’s a big mistake to skip over that image, since it is so powerful and important for us, and in any case, this particular ceremony was more about the masculine than the feminine for me. Others were different.)

And suddenly, the temporal stretch of my earthly ancestors and the vertical expanse of my spiritual levels of emanation were reflections of one another. More than that – really there was no time, no space, and these chains were the same process, expressed in different ways. I understood why so many cultures venerate their ancestors as deities, and bemoaned our lack of doing so.

And, at the end, I felt I was able to take my place in the phalanx. I stood in front of my parents, and felt a sense of belonging. Maybe those past generations couldn’t have understood or approved of my life and the way I live it. But maybe, in this refined spiritual state, they could. Either way, as scion or rebel, I took my place among my ancestors, my God, and my Spirit.

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