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#27: Mission Very Difficult: Effing the Ineffable


Hermanas y hermanos!

It's nice to be back in the newsletter flow! Our team took some well deserved time off around the holidays and recently wrapped up a spectacular January retreat to start off the year right. It felt reinvigorating to be around such kindred spirits who absolutely brought it the entire time!

Selva continues to impressively lead our Huachuma ceremonies, and her mesadas consistently receive top-notch reviews from all of our participants. Many former SpiritQuest alums have told me how Selva so impeccably carries forward her father's Chavin Huachumero lineage, and yet brings her own energy to the mesada which makes for a completely unique experience. One multiple time SpiritQuest grad remarked that he had never experienced the mesa pulsating with so much energy as the Selva mesada. (I reckon that it certainly doesn't hurt to have Don Howard assisting from the Other Side.) If you thought that the Selva Huachuma experience would be a watered-down one, well...you would be sorely mistaken. We're also excited to share that starting this month, we are back to our usual practice of permitting people to come to the Sanctuary who only want to work with Huachuma.



GoFundMe for Our Indigenous Friends & Neighbors


SpiritQuest's indigenous neighbors and friends in the Peruvian Amazon used to humbly make various financial requests to Don Howard. Now, they ultimately land on my proverbial desk, and we have set up a GoFundMe to assist them. Here is the link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/assistance-for-spiritquest039s-indigenous-neighbors

The Alamas would love some assistance to repair their maloca, which has seen much better days due to severe storm damage over the years. The Muruy Huitoto have aspirations of erecting a maloca in their current meeting place where the benches low to the ground currently exist, just up the hill from the Enchanted Stream. Our Bora, Kukama, and Yahua friends also have various projects for which they'd be eternally grateful for a bit of funding as well. Financial resources that can be allocated to smaller ticket items like school supplies, clothing, and miscellaneous tools would be most welcomed.

The odds that our indigenous neighbors could acquire the necessary resources to fund these projects themselves in the short term are not particularly plausible. However, your donations can truly make an enormous impact, and we're off to a solid start with over $3,000 raised to date.

Perhaps our neighbors' kindness impacted you positively, or the way that they live life with an abundance mindset and a loving, open heart gave you a helpful blueprint and an indelible example to follow. Please consider donating and/or sharing this GoFundMe with others. I'll make sure to provide periodic updates and include photos as the projects unfold.



"She Makes You Sick Before She Makes You Well"


The mystical experience is inherently ineffable. Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books, had a way of expressing the concept of ineffability better than anyone. Adams urged us to, “Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

Michael Pollan made a similar observation, noting that “To put words to an experience that was, in fact, ineffable at the time, and then to shape them into sentences and then a story, is inevitably to do it a kind of violence. But the alternative is, literally, unthinkable.”

Along the same lines, Sam Harris once explained that, "We have a word for love. But what's the word for all of the love you can possibly feel and all of the love that you recognize that you have failed to feel at every moment of your life up until that moment? What do you call the experience of having that ocean of feeling invade you and fill every empty space in your mind? There are no words to describe that experience. Language is simply the wrong tool for the job."

Putting words to an experience that Terence McKenna might label as "un-Englishable" may be Mission: Impossible for some, but that wouldn't stop a SpiritQuest graduate now, would it?

It certainly didn't stop Chad Shoemaker from Minneapolis. He wrote one of the most poignant ceremonial summaries that I have ever read about a Shamanic journey in describing his fourth Ayahuasca ceremony at SpiritQuest.

As a parenthetical aside, I can't help but think what a gift it is that anyone could experience such a heart-opening, crown blasting experiencing like the one that Mother Ayahuasca dialed up for Chad. That this landscape exists on the other side of drinking a brew with a handful of jungle plants completely defies any rational explanation that our minds could possibly concoct.

For Chad and many others, the motifs of sacrifice and surrender should not be overlooked. I'm reminded of this exchange in the movie Interstellar:

Cooper: You sent people out there looking for a new home? Dr. Brand: The Lazarus missions. Cooper: That sounds cheerful. Dr. Brand: Lazarus came back from the dead. Cooper: Sure, but he had to die in the first place.

Chad had three extremely challenging experiences in ceremonies one, two, and three. Undaunted and undeterred, he went back for the fourth and final ceremony. His courage - and the courage of everyone who shows up to the maloca with an empty cup, seeking truth and confrontation, and leaning into whatever experience may or may not unfold in seeing their work to its completion - deeply inspires me. 

We had a returning alum doing some advanced, graduate-level work in our January retreat. He was willing to surrender to such a superhuman length that he even wrote goodbye letters to his partner and to his son. The term "maximum effort" in the dictionary gets bandied about quite a bit. Mother Ayahuasca doesn't accept partial payments, and I can't think of a better example of "maximum effort". 

Chad entitled his ceremonial recap, "She Makes You Sick Before She Makes You Well". He writes:

"I went into last night’s ceremony meditating on four phrases, “Don Howard-isms” that had been offered up by Parker throughout the week.


  • I am an empty vessel.

  • Heart forward and head up.

  • I intend to fully integrate the human.

  • Unconditional love. 


The previous three sessions had been interesting yet challenging, and I’d felt a subtle shift with each, but no big reveal. This time, Mother Ayahuasca did not disappoint.

I was not to see this big reveal immediately, though. My focus deep and my will strong, I soon became disheartened, as I entered another challenging, draining landscape of lower creatures. It felt like an insect world, the grass tall and me helpless, reduced to base, emotionless survival. My body was doubled over, my muscles once again taxed to the point of exploding, a frightening repeat of the previous night’s ceremony.

Insect chirping and chatter filled my ears. Contoured, H.R. Giger-esque landscapes teemed with snakes and lizards, and strobing lights throbbed and pulsed. Same as the past three sessions, I asked myself, "Why did I come to this hell? Why would I do this to myself?"

This went on for nearly an hour, discomfort, cold sweats, barely able to hold myself in my chair. In a moment of clarity, the words "She makes you sick before she makes you well" appeared in my head.

Finally, with great relief, I was able to sit back in the chair without nausea. The first icaros held me together by a thread.

Once the first round of icaros stopped, my visions stopped simultaneously. Solace! This was very brief, but represented a turning point. I was finally resting back comfortably in my chair. The visions started again, but this time with gentler, albeit vivid, colors. I was no longer in the insect realm.

I began to ride a rollercoaster through visions I can’t remember. At the climax, though, I drifted briefly through the nursery of creation, a cloud of stardust filling me with wonder.

Then things got really intense, and that’s saying a lot, because the whole thing to this point was as, or more, extreme as anything I’ve ever experienced. I was transported to the edge of the universe, where I glimpsed the golden machines of creation grinding out the fabric of the universe, an infinite work in progress. I was in awe, my breath in tune with the breath of the eternal cosmos.

I reached my hand to my heart, and felt it throbbing, warming, coated in a healing balm or nectar that energized and nourished. The throbbing, the warmth intensified, and my body floated out of the chair and up into a nebulous heaven of radiant golds and blues. My jaw was slack, my third eye wide. It was as though all of the energy in the universe was concentrated on my heart, healing me on every level. 

I was continually raised up into the heavens, my heart near-bursting with love, raising into a crescendo of what I can only describe as an INFINITE HEART-GASM.

Drifting down, my heart swelled and teeming, I was back on the rollercoaster. This dipped up and down through the Halls of Eternity, a shimmering, intricate clockwork landscape. The rollercoaster once again climaxed, this time at the edge of the Godhead, the lip of Infinite Ecstasy. I shuddered with awe and reverence.

From there, the trip began to devolve, almost as if defragmenting. Shards of gold, silver, and platinum machinery unlocked like geared puzzles being disassembled. The chirping and chatter of the jungle grew louder and more intense. I began to hear an owl creature hooting in the distance. It kept getting closer. I felt that it sensed my vulnerability and was attempting to do something evil, but the icaros kept me safe.

All of this continued for some time, to the point of discomfort. I was ready for the end, but Mother Ayahuasca was not.

Eventually, the discomfort subsided, just before Don Rober finished the last icaros and the altar candle was lit. I was laid out in my chair, still buzzing and reeling with the sheer weight of the whole thing. My breath was deep but stunted, in tune with the ecstatic glow and pulse of my filled, healed heart.

I barely slept. I lay in a dream-like state with the buzz and awe and glow of it all. I had several fits of weeping.

It was stunning how it all came together over the week. Each ceremony seemingly unproductive, or not quite living up to the experiences and tales of others, the stories that brought me here on this pilgrimage. I realize now they were all just steps in the process, a part of the path to this wonderful, intense communion with God and healing of my heart."

I've read Chad's summary a dozen or more times, and my eyes still get misty every time.

Para el bien de todos! -Parker

Warriors' Hearts Beat As One

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