Many dancers use bulimia as a solution to getting and staying thin, but I have never been able to stomach it. In fact, I refused even the occasional necessary illness purge. Through a recent Ayahuasca journey in Brazil, I got from that fear and loathing to gratefully accepting my body’s grace.
I am in an airless anteroom, under fluorescent light, with two hundred people, all wearing white, crowded close. Anticipation mingled with anxiety, nervousness, glee swell the murmuring. Some bring memories of previous journeys. Others have never had this experience, though experienced or not, everyone acknowledges that expectation is a hindrance.
A hush falls. The shaman speaks about the the approaching ceremony. There will be an invocation, drinking of the Ayahuasca, music for the initial stages of the journey and some silence. Later, musicians will sing songs, and finally, dance. There will be people to assist who are not drinking the vine. After, in the dining room, there will something to eat, a light soup, before bed. I like that we have a map. He requests that everyone now take a short turn at the microphone to share their intention while the group bears witness.
We enter the open air theatre. A fresh breeze gusts, then a brief rain thrums gently on enormous metal canopy vaulting overhead. The stage area is carpeted with mattresses and wastebaskets placed here and there. A circle of chairs four deep fills the main floor area. Along all the edges are chairs and more mattresses. People find their spots. I decide on the end of a concrete bench near the exit ramp. I put down my sheepskin. Eneida, my translator and assistant, places a chair near me. She will also drink the vine.
Quiet descends. The invocation consists of a few songs sung by all, then begins the line to receive the vine potion. Waves of people snake in and out of the communion line leading to a gentle, lean man. He pours me a half of a plastic cup of dark syrup. I take it to the side and, after the first sip, realizing that it is too bitter to take more slowly, dash it down quickly. I carefully walk back between those standing on line and those sitting, to watch from my spot. Though I feel quite normal, the taste and thickness of the brew promises something unknown and possibly more than I want.
Down and Down
A wave of heat. I fumble in my yoga bag for my water bottle. My fingers have thickened. Eneida, slightly hunched, with her arms wrapped around her waist sits very still, her eyes closed. She hears me stirring and opens heavy eyes to ask if I’m alright. Yes. I’m alright. But I begin to feel that I’m not alright. I’m beginning to feel queasy. I hear wisps of song, rambling talk. I whip my head around. The surrounding space is oddly shaped. A man gesticulates behind me. He paces back and forth. I try to shift, to stand, but feel more than queasy. I stop moving to calm the sensation. Some people perambulate, others are lying down and I envy them. I want to lie down. No. I want to go to my room because I think I might need the bathroom at some point. The bathrooms for this big hall are far away, and I can’t right this moment remember where they are. I want to be where everything is close. My room. I think more and more about leaving. I will walk down the long hall, across the dining room, through the lobby, up the ramp, but now see that this is impossible. It is too late because the barest head turn nauseates me. I slowly, gingerly lean back on a cushion. Oh yes, a lovely cushion! Who put it there? Someone asks me if I need water. No. A tissue. I point to it in their hand. I want something to hang onto.
Eneida stands with two helpers. She gazes sadly at me, to not stay to help me, but she has to lie down. And she is gone. Her empty chair is there. People walk and walk. I hear people throwing up. A woman cries out. Once she starts she doesn’t stop. People throw up into the wastebaskets, others help them, bringing water or tissues. I feel my mouth begin to water and I know I cannot stop what will happen. I see a wastebasket over there. By those chairs. Somehow my body gets up, stumbles over to it, brings it back. I am on the sheepskin, the basket between my legs, and it comes, the clenching and retching. I hate to vomit. I hate it but it has to happen. Then comes the huge surge, choking over the basket, then the contents of my stomach lurching through, up, and out. I grab the tissues, wipe my mouth. I breath heavily, panting. Someone leaves a cup of water for me. In a while, I drink.
Blue Flowered Rocker
I sat on the rocking chair. It was white with blue blue flowers. My feet didn’t touch the floor so I must have been quite young. My mother leans toward me smiling. She has red lipstick and dark brown hair. I feel so sick. She waves my doll near to me, to cheer me, and, suddenly, I thrown up. Oh dear! She has to clean this up. And that is when it knit together that my need, my illness was a bother to someone, to my mother. I have hated to throw up ever since.
I feel woozy and disconnected. Sounds, strange music, and the wailer wailing, and the shaman shouting to take her away, and her wailing moving into the distance, and the light gleaming, and I lean or sit up, it is all I can do, and wait for the growing nausea to rise again, and again I am throwing up and coughing and choking, and all around me I hear vomiting. So many people throwing up! Though I can’t see it, I hear it. Time crawls and heaves and is full of vomiting.
Hours later I raise my hand to my nose. It’s running cold and wet, like a dog. I feel my heart growing sore. I look at my hand, huge white hand, and put it on Dad’s knee. He puts his over mine. And now I am holding hands with him, right now. He is in my hand. Beyond my hands the floor begins to move. An enormous snake. I ride a gargantuan snake.
I can’t move but I want to lie down. I look around and see an empty mattress not far. Can we help you? they ask. Yes. I need to lie down. They help me stand and stumble to a mattress on the floor. Which way do you want to face? I choose the night sky. To lie down. To bring my things. To bring the basket. They put water by me and tissues. I cry now. Dad is with me. He swirls. He is leaving now. Forever. And he enters me now forever. My cells swell with light. The door between worlds dissolves. The ceiling above shimmies, but I can’t close my eyes. There is too much sensation, too much too much. Around the bed the floor slowly heaves–I am on a raft in a wide dark sea–but I no longer feel nauseous. I am uneasy. My nose is cold. I am cold! That’s it. That’s what is amiss. I look plaintively around and someone comes to me. Can I help? Yes, I am cold. Then there is another blanket on me and then someone’s jacket. I stop shivering. I feel for the first time in a very long time, neutral.
My pelvic floor is the rich dark lot of a primordial forest. On it is a homunculus-size skeleton. My father. He looks so perfect. So beatific. He gently rises and goes to my left hip. He breaks off a bit of his rib and begins repairing my hip, poking bits of his bone into mine. After a while he makes his way across to my other hip…
I fade away, open my eyes, the night is soft. I hear singing. The group is singing. They sound joyful.
I made it through that very long journey. The most glittering realizations concerned my late father, my abruptly crippled hips as well as a sense of metaphysical knowing and spiritual understanding, but the more mundane weathering of purging has lingered with me as well.
All my life I had refused to vomit. I suffered through nausea, making my body pass everything through my digestive track. During the journey, as I threw up again and again, others saw me and helped me, and after a while I grew accustomed to the intense roil rising and subsiding. My resistance gradually diminished. I woke the next day relieved of the shame of being trouble to others in times of need, and appreciating my body’s ability to eliminate, to clear, to take out the trash.
I was educated, as we all are, to hide elimination–coughing, sneezing, farting, peeing, pooping, vomiting–from everyone but a caregiver. I am happy for such social graces, but I also hid theses eliminations from myself. My appetites and desires, as long as they weren’t too gluttonous, could live in both the light of society and the light of my awareness, however the inevitable and necessary elimination would take place behind closed door, invisibly. (My dog also had this sense of decorum preferring to vomit her over-indulgences behind a chair or in a dark corner.)
This is all fine. Except that because my throwing up had caused my mother trouble, the seed of shame froze in me in a larger-than-life dimension and leaked into other body perceptions. I had a lopsided bodily experience, a feeling that elimination was disconnected from ingestion, as if it was something completely separate. I felt that I could ingest without consequence. This model of division played out in many arenas. I would pursue a desire without considering where it might lead, and it lead often enough to foreseeable unhappiness which I resented because I did not want to connect desire with consequence. I cried my guts out from being with a man who was obviously wrong wrong wrong from point one, or fractured my shin from starving myself then dancing too hard and too competitively. I refused to approach my life with any caution, or with the simple common sense of foreseeable consequence.
Life has taught me, tamed me. Less charmed by my desires, seeing the end at the beginning, I have become an epicure of consequence, but it took those hours in the journey to purge this childhood boondoggle from my flesh. I now feel a relaxation with all our marvelous bodily clearings. Shame and resistance is gone and now it easier to not ingest what I don’t wish to eliminate. Why poison myself? I simply turn away if I don’t wish the entire experience.
Most important, I am at peace with knowing that elimination is a form of death, the end of a process. I open to the daily death passing through me.
And then I stumble upon this amusing passage from Proust:
“…what delighted me was the asparagus, steeped in ultramarine and pink [terrine], whose tips, delicately painted with little stokes of mauve and azure, shade off imperceptibly down to their feet–still soiled though they are from the dirt of their garden–with an iridescence that is not of this earth. It seemed to me that these celestial hues revealed the delicious creatures who had merrily metamorphosed themselves into vegetables and who, through the disguise of their firm, edible flesh, disclosed in these early tints of dawn, in these beginnings of rainbows, in this extinction of blue evenings, the precious essence that I recognized again when, all night following a dinner at which I had eaten them, they played, in farces as crude and poetic as a fairy play by Shakespeare, at changing my chamber pot into a jar of perfume.”
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