Recently, my oldest son, Keith and I went on a road trip, the main purpose being to go to The Peyote Way Church of God, located in Wilcox, Arizona. We were each to go on our own Spirit Walk.
Arriving at Peyote Way
We arrived at Peyote Way at about 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. Keith and I had last eaten at around 12:30 p.m, in Messilla, New Mexico at a wonderful restaurant called La Post De Mesilla. The atmosphere and food is amazing there! En route, I became more apprehensive about the spirit walk I was to embark upon, wondering if I was doing the right thing. Looking back on it, I am convinced that my apprehension was a product of my ego, fearing it would lose it’s grip upon me.
Upon our arrival, Annie (Rev. Anne L. Zapf) gave us a tour of Peyote Way, showing us the Congregation House, introducing us to Matt (Rabbi Matthew S. Kent), and showing us the North and West Spirit Walk areas. All three sites are within easy walking distance from the Congregation House, just a few minutes walk away. A little later, Matthew came out and talked with us for a little while, after which I became more comfortable with the idea of going forward with the Spirit Walk.
The next morning, Matt showed us the South Spirit Walk area, which is the most remote, and was occupied the evening before. The South area definitely has the best views. Up to that point, Keith was planning on doing his Spirit Walk at the North area, but I could tell he liked the South site more, so I opted for the North site, wanting Keith to enjoy his experience as much as possible.
Peyote Way’s website says “The Spirit Walk communicant must fast for 24 hours on Church land prior to receipt of the Holy Sacrament.” The fast was a mix of good and bad. It felt good to flex the muscles of my will, choosing with the mind not to eat, despite the craving of food by the body.
I wondered what the Peyote experience would feel like. For many, myself included, Peyote is not considered a drug, but an entheogen. Still, my closest comparisons at the time, before my Spirit Walk were my very limited drug experiences: alcohol (just an occasional drink), caffeine, nicotine (22+ years since my last cigarette), and very limited experience with marijuana 28+ years ago. From what I’d read, Peyote is much more of an internal, psycological experience. In a discussion with Matt, he told us that Peyote is like a lubricant for the hinges of the Doors of Perception; it can help the doors swing open more easily, and it’s up to you to enter and experience what’s beyond. He also said that in comparison, Ayahuasca forces the doors open, then gives you a kick in the pants, forcing you over the threshold and the whole way in whether you want to go or not.
The Spirit Walk Experience
Shortly before departing for our Spirit Walks, we sat down at the kitchen table in the Congregation House with Annie, we were given instructions, and signed some paperwork. We were then given our 12-ounce jars of Peyote tea, along with sliced lime to cleanse the palette after sipping, and spoons to use for mixing the tea between sips or if we wished, to scoop Peyote sediment from the bottom of the jar.
I arrived at the North location at about 5:24 p.m., took some pictures of the beautiful landscape surrounding the area, then unpacked some essentials from my backpack for easier access later.
I took my first sip of the medicine at 5:32 p.m. The tea settles between sips, and needs to be stirred or swirled each time each time before sipping. The tea smelled somewhat like squash or pumpkin, and it tasted very bitter, similar to what I remember dandelion milk tasting like as a curious child. Although it’s bitter, I was able to swallow my sips with little effort. However, I was grateful for the sliced lime, which proved to be very effective at removing the unpleasant aftertaste.
About 45 minutes in, I realized that my hunger seemed to have dissipated, but as soon as I made that realization, the mere thought brought about it’s return. At 6:35 p.m., just over an hour in, I didn’t yet feel any effect.
After about two hours, or six sips, I began to feel the nausea…at which point I began to snooze the alarm I had set on my cell phone, delaying the next sip repeatedly until more than an hour had elapsed since the last sip. At that point, I figured it had been too long of a period since the last sip to continue drinking. I felt that the best course of action would be to just try to keep down what I had consumed thus far, thinking if I could keep down the almost half-jar of tea I had consumed, that would be enough. I thought if I could get through it without vomiting, then I would have a better experience because it would be more completely absorbed & processed. So severe was my nausea that it overshadowed the other parts of the experience. I did experience a little bit of visual phenomena , some geometric shapes and colors, and the stars in the night sky seemed to be flashing in patterns instead of doing their normal, everyday twinkling. I did not, however experience any introspective phenomena.
The bulk of my experience that evening was spent in severe nausea. Since Annie had said that the apex of the experience was typically 5 hours in, and I still felt terrible 7 hours in, I returned to my room around 12:30 a.m., I figured there was no point in being miserable at the site, when I could return to my bed and try to sleep it off. In hindsight, I should have meditated instead of giving in to the nausea and letting it take over. My plan had been to spend the entire night at the Spirit Walk area, and at the time, I felt that I had failed. I remember Matthew saying that some people don’t really experience much at the time of the spirit walk, and that they experience benefits days or weeks later, so I still remained hopeful.
Keith, on the other hand, didn’t return to our room until around sunrise. Later that morning, he shared some of his experience with me. He told me that at one point he wrote down on a notebook page everything he didn’t like about himself. He then tore out the page, crumpled it up, and threw it into the fire, releasing what he had written. Also, during his spirit walk, he asked the Peyote if it was going to show him something, reveal something to him. The answer he received was that he wasn’t ready yet. Later, during his spirit walk, he was “given” thoughts. He said he could feel that they were not his own, but that they were given to him. He recorded 5 pages worth of such thoughts & revelations into his notebook. Keith also said that periodically during the night, he wondered how I was doing with my Spirit Walk, and he said he could feel my presence with him during his.
Speaking with someone else the next morning who had previously done multiple spirit walks, she told me that she thinks vomiting is a good thing, that it helps to release negative energy during the spirit walk, I really began to regret not pushing forward, drinking more of the tea, and just vomiting and letting things take their course. I felt, in hindsight that I was trying to control things too much. I so wished that I had a do-over for the whole experience. Later, via email, Annie, disagreed and told me:
The actual revelations often don’t come for days after the experience, but if we are too mental, like me, for example, analyzing the experience as we go, we often miss the revelations that are there to be had–not images, colors or other fluff, but heart breaking sorrow at our past foolishness-es, and other very painful memories. I’ve had those too. So in that way you are lucky. The Peyote couldn’t get past your analytical mind to pierce your heart.
Also, because you kept the sacrament down you have given yourself a very healing experience. You don’t look sick, but sometimes we have the beginnings of a disease that the sacrament can help heal or prevent. In this we will probably never know. I am sorry that you went to bed. Up to that point you did everything absolutely correctly. Maybe waiting longer and then drinking some more tea would have been more powerful for you, but it may not have been either. From the look at your jars, I think you both ingested plenty enough sacrament. You think if you had been greedy, and drank and thrown up the tea a couple of times you would have had an experience that met your expectations. Sorry, no. You might have felt more interested in staying outside though, but you went to bed rather than staying up until your stomach stopped roiling. That was the only do over I can see. You are not alone in that. I often wonder why people bother taking the medicine if they are only going to flee into sleep–which is usually pretty evasive.
Again, you don’t need a do over, just another opportunity to ingest the sacrament without all the expectations and fear. I attribute fleeing into sleep as the mind’s response when our consciousness is too afraid to face the knowledge peyote is digging up. You were impeccable with the sacrament, respectful and proper. Just because someone says something (about vomiting releasing negative energy) doesn’t make it the truth.
I only hope that your need to discuss your experience with your son didn’t destroy the experience for him. If you had stayed still through the night instead of going to bed, and if you had stayed still in the car as you left, you probably could have heard the voice of peyote trying to be heard. Never mind. I am always amazed at how many positive experiences first timers report, as expectations are always higher when someone has never experienced a sacramental plant, and disappointment is not uncommon. Try to stop thinking so much and try to be here now. That is Peyote’s first message.
Be here now. That is and always has been one of my biggest life challenges.
I’ve considered the possibility that the whole trip was meant to be more so for my son, Keith. Maybe my primary role in all this was to bring Keith and to provide the vehicle for him to experience it. He seemed to have a more profound experience than I did at the time, though it did not reach his expectations either. I think we both went into it with too many expectations & preconceived ideas. My advice for any first-time Spirit Walk communicants would be this: Forget everything you think you may know regarding Peyote. Spend a lot of time meditating before, during, and after your Spirit Walk experience. Know that even if your experience seems disappointing at the time, it may be that you just haven’t experienced the results YET.
The next time I go to Peyote Way for a spirit walk, I’ll be staying for the whole day after instead of leaving right away. That will be better than rushing back out into “the world”, instead spending more time meditating, absorbing and integrating the experience, more time walking the property, and more time talking with Annie & Matt.
It’s been only 5 weeks since my Spirit Walk, and so much has changed. It’s a little difficult to express, but I feel like I’m becoming more clear, and I’m focusing more on what really matters. I feel like some big changes are needed in my life, I have a genuine desire to live more authentically, more freely, more meaningfully. Whether or not my percieved benefits are really the effect of the Peyote, or merely placebo doesn’t matter to me. Either way, I’m experiencing the same end result.
I’ve signed up for a 10-day Vipassana course in February, 2016. I’ll be posting more about Vipassana, soon!