Finding my authenticity

Submitted by a professional musician

The story I wish to recount is of an experience drinking Ayahuasca during three sessions in Colombia. I was drinking in a ritual context with shamans who had worked with ‘Mama’ Ayahuasca their whole lives, in a ‘Malloca’ (traditional wooden hut for ceremonies) where great care was taken in how the ceremony was set-up and conducted – very slow, very respectful. Sometimes I felt a little like I as a tourist, but the welcome was warm, and they really wanted to show us how they worked with their spirits and their ancient earth medicines.

Although I had been a successful professional musician for 20 years I had never felt comfortable in calling myself a musician – it was strange, but I felt deep down that there was something missing in the way I made music which made me feel unable to describe myself as one. I had never dwelt on this too much in the past, but as I was reviewing certain things in my life, I had decided to concentrate on this as an intention during the ceremonies. In the first ceremony I played with the shamans (some were conducting the ceremony, and some were there as musicians), and it was a beautiful experience, but one that was quite like other musical experiences I had had. I found myself tuning in to what else was playing and going into a musical space I was familiar with, a kind of yearning lament. I had recently realised that the reason I chose my instrument at the age of seven was because I identified it with a certain kind of keening emotion that I had felt was not being recognised in me by my parents – as though music was the only way I was allowed to be sad. So it was a way to express something that I couldn’t elsewhere, but because this had never been conscious it was a kind of escapist musical knee-jerk reaction. This is very different (and in my opinion inferior) to a mature choice of how and why you play music.

On the second night I didn’t play, giving myself the possibility not to have to identify myself as a musician in any way. I wanted to let go of that need to make music in a particular way for that particular reason. I found myself in the middle of that ceremony lying face down on the earth, making a very deep connection to our dear mother! It was healing in its simplicity, and rich in its symbolism.

In the third session I played again. That night I found myself making up a piece that was so clear and simple that I could remember it all the following day, despite the length and power of the ceremony which lasted around 12 hours through the night. The music was of a different quality to anything I had played before – it had a freedom and purity to it that was gently exhilarating. More importantly I realised quite quietly that the experience felt like being a musician – it had been such a profound experience of music-making, in a context that was so ancient and natural, that it provided the missing link for me. As a creative artist, there are certain things that you chase, and one of the things for me was this depth of experience - an authenticity - that I had lacked before. Ayahuasca is seen as a medicine by the cultures that have been using it for thousands of years, and it has been observed that to drink this medicine is like plugging yourself back in to the earth. Much of the world of arts has turned into an industry, so finding that elemental connection is difficult, but drinking Ayahuasca for me provided the bridge that has made a lasting, and positive, change in how I regard myself.