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Observations placeholder

Pinchbeck, Daniel - Ten years of therapy in one night – 04



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Pinchbeck, Daniel - Ten years of therapy in one night – 04  

[Guardian newspaper - Saturday 20 September 2003]

Randy Hencken drove us from San Diego to the Ibogaine Association. A 25-year-old former heroin addict who had kicked the habit after two ibogaine treatments at the clinic, he was now working for the association, going to local methadone centres with flyers and keeping in contact with former patients. The first treatment costs $2,800 (£1,760), including an initial medical examination and several days' convalescence afterwards, but subsequent visits are only $600 (£377) - and it seems most addicts need at least two doses of ibogaine to avoid relapsing.

The Ibogaine Association is in a quiet, dignified house overlooking the Pacific, decorated with Buddhist statues and yarn paintings from Mexico's Huichol people. I was given a medical examination by Polanco and a test dose of the drug. Twenty minutes after ingesting the test dose, I started to feel nervous and light-headed. As I took the other pills - a gel-capped extract of the rootbark powder - I realised I was in for a serious trip.

The nurse led me back to my room. My head already spinning, I lay back on the bed as she hooked me up to an electrocardiograph and headphones playing ambient music.Why was I doing this again? Ibogaine is no pleasure trip. It not only causes violent nausea and vomiting, but many of the "visions" it induces amount to a painful parading of one's deepest faults and moral failings. I had a loud, unpleasant buzzing in my ears - the Bwiti probably pound on drums throughout the ceremony to overwhelm this noise. With my eyes closed, I watched as images began to emerge like patterns out of TV static. I saw a black man in a 1940s-looking suit. He was holding the hand of a five-year-old girl and leading her up some stairs. I understood that the girl in the vision was me and that the man represented the spirit of iboga. He was going to show me around his castle.

While startling at the time, such an encounter with a seeming "spirit of iboga" is a typical vision produced by the Bwiti sacrament. In many accounts, people describe meeting a primordial African couple in the jungle. Sometimes, the iboga spirit manifests itself as a "ball of light" that speaks to the baanzi, saying, "Do you know who I am? I am the chief of the world, I am the essential point!" Part of my trip took the form of an interview that was almost journalistic. I could ask direct questions of "Mr Iboga" and receive answers that were like emphatic, telegraphed shouts inside my head - even in my deeply stoned state, I managed to scrawl down in my notebook many of the responses.

I asked Mr Iboga what iboga was. I was told simply: "Primordial wisdom teacher of humanity!"

Later, my personal faults and lazy, decadent habits were replayed for me in detail. When I asked what I should do, the answer was stern and paternal: "Get it straight now!"

This ideal of straightness, uprightness, kept returning during the trip - a meaningful image for me, as I suffer from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. When I was shown other faults that seemed rather petty and insignificant, I tried to protest that some of these things really didn't matter. Iboga would have none of it, insisting: "Everything matters!"

Iboga told me that I had no idea of the potential significance of even the smallest actions. I reviewed some events in my life and my friends' lives that seemed bitterly unfair. Yet, in this altered state, I felt I could sense a karmic pattern behind all of them, perhaps extending back to previous incarnations. Iboga affirmed this, dictating: "God is just!"

To many readers, these insights may sound trivial. They did not feel that way at the time. They were delivered with great force and minimalist precision. While they might have been manifestations of my own mind, they seemed like the voice of an "other". Generally, I never think in such direct terms about "God", and "primordial wisdom teacher" is not my syntax.

During the night, I had numerous visions and ponderous metaphysical insights. At one point, I seemed to fly through the solar system and into the sun, where winged beings were spinning around the core at a tremendous rate. Up close, they looked like the gold-tinged angels in early Renaissance paintings. Perhaps due to my recent reading of the Austrian visionary Rudolf Steiner, this whole trip had a kind of eco-Christian flavour to it. At one point, I thought of humans as an expression of the Gaian Mind, the earth's sensory organs and self-reflective capacities, at the planet's present state of development. If we are changing quickly right now, I considered, it is only because the earth has entered an accelerated phase of transformation, forcing a fast evolution in human consciousness.

The loud buzzing sound that ibogaine produced seemed to be something like a dial tone, as if the alkaloid were in itself a device for communicating on a different frequency than the usual one. Thinking of my girlfriend and our child, I realised that I was lucky - "You are lucky!" Mr Iboga echoed. I felt tremendous, tearful gratitude that I had been given a chance to live and love, to explore and try to understand so many things.

As so often these days, I pondered on the terrible state of the world - wars and terrors and environmental ruin. I saw sheets of radioactive flame devouring cities, huge crowds reduced to cinders. I asked Mr Iboga if this was going to be the tragic fate of humanity. The answer I received was startling - and reassuring: "Everything is safe in God's hands!"

As ludicrous as it may sound, this message has stayed with me and alleviated much paranoia and anxiety. While tripping, I decided that Mr Iboga was a form of enlightened mind, like a buddha who had chosen a different form, as a plant spirit rather than human teacher, to work with humanity, imparting a cosmic message of "tough love". At one point I asked if he would consider incarnating as a person, and the answer I got was, basically, "Already did that!" - implying that, in some previous cycle, he had passed through the perilous stages of evolution we are now navigating. I also came away from this trip with the suspicion that iboga was the original inspiration for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Biblical tale. The plant's placement in equatorial Africa, cradle of humanity, would support this idea, as well as its sobering moral rectitude. The "good and evil" that iboga reveals is not abstract but deeply personal, and rooted in the character of the individual.

Late in the night, I retched and vomited out bitter rootbark residue. I put on a CD of African drumming. Closing my eyes, I watched a group of smiling Bwiti women dance around a jungle bonfire. After that, the visions died down, although it was impossible to sleep until late the next night.

My friend in recovery had a less visionary experience. His faults were also paraded in front of him in repetitive loops that seemed endless. At one point, I heard him scream out, "No! No! No!" He saw a possible future for himself if he didn't kick heroin - becoming a dishwasher, sinking into dissolute old age with a bad back and a paunch. He asked what he could do to help save the world. He was told: "Clean up your room!" Meditating on his experience later, my friend quipped, "Ibogaine is God's way of saying, 'You're mine!' "

The source of the experience

Pinchbeck, Daniel

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps