I participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony in NY with seven other middle-aged woman, one man straight out of the Big Lebowski, and a shaman born in Brooklyn who said the word “coffee” just like you’d imagine he does. I couldn’t wait to “Eat, Pray, and Blow My Mind Apart” with these questers.

The clientele at this shindig featured some of the kings and queens of East Coast psychedelics. One woman I dubbed the queen of the toad. The man was the king of the frog. They both extract a venom from a specific toad and frog and administer it therapeutically for mind-blowing, healing experiences. I told them they should star in Frog & Toad: The Musical Off-Broadway.

Ayahausca first showed me how much of a mischievous little bitch I can be. As in, one of the most delightful parts of myself is this rascal of a boy who loves to be a bit naughty (and nice). I couldn’t focus at the beginning of the ceremony because the sound of the sacred spiritual chant the shaman was making truly sounded like the English phonetics for, “Where is the weenie? Where is the weenie? Where…is the weenie?”

I realized after my giggle-induced start that if I wanted to actually have a therapeutic session, I needed to focus and meet Mother Aya halfway there through my intention, which was: “How can I open to love?”

What happened next was a flashback to childhood. I cradled myself in a fetal position and could feel a “mother-like” presence enveloping me from behind. I found myself able to zoom to any moment on the timeline of my life, even ones from long ago, and relive the emotions of that experience. Intellectually, these were experiences I’ve recounted time and again to my therapist. But telling the story is different then sitting still enough to relive it and feel the pain or trauma or joy of that moment.

I realized that part of my hang-ups as an adult stem around the fact that I haven’t grown past some of the hurts of being a boy. There’s this kid inside me still craving love. He’s still furious at the unfairness of bullies — while desperate to get in their club. He’s turning his natural sense of joy into playing the fool to get attention (and not be bullied). He’s still playing sick and running to his mom’s office after elementary school to be consoled and told that everyone else is just jealous of him — that he’s better than the rest. He’s still listening to his mom rank how well everyone performed in this Fall’s school play (with Philip’s performance being #1 — of course). And he’s still betrayed after coming out as gay to his mother, who told him, “It was no big deal” at first — only to 180 in a couple months by trying to turn him straight via Christianity. I remembered this boy used to believe in Jesus wholeheartedly until his mom took his religion and used it as a cudgel to try and cut out the most vulnerable thing he’d ever shared with her.

Mother Aya played out an imaginary alternative version of events — of a mother who didn’t coddle me, yet loved me unconditionally, and asked me after I came out: “When you bringing a boyfriend home to Thanksgiving dinner, hun?” Just the thought of a Mom asking me that brought me to tears. I felt how less scarred I could be — how I wouldn’t be still rejecting men left and right because they don’t measure up to a golden standard that would defy my mother’s disapproval of gays (“If I could only find that perfect guy, she’d be unable to say no!”).

While this mom didn’t exist in my real life and is no longer alive for me to repair the relationship, I felt her spirit there cradling me with Mother Aya. At one point, Mother Aya asked if I’d like to speak to my mother, and my mom’s laugh came to me in the form of the tinkling notes the shaman was playing in dulcet tones on the piano. Each note spoke more meaning than I can write and dissipated before I could fully comprehend them.

I felt grateful for feeling the weight and importance of dealing with all my pain. Mother Aya gave me a road map and a mission to explore it all with my therapist when I came down to earth. I‘m not going to grow up until I truly face it and accept it and release it.

This experience with Ayahuasca was work — like the most intense version of self-therapy and self-healing I’ve ever attempted — and I got exhausted at one point after probing my deepest, darkest fears, so I sat up and allowed myself to get giddy again watching others trip. One woman was moving her body like a doll, limbs moving haltingly to the whims of an invisible puppet-master. I thought of Pinocchio learning to be a real boy.

The shaman asked if anyone would like to share a song, and several participants poured out beautiful melodies. Then, I volunteered.

“I don’t know,” the shaman said to me and everyone in his Brooklyn accent, “You’re a showman. This guy, I’ve seen him perform, he commits hard.”

I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not.

“You’d have to sing softly, Philip. This isn’t a performance. It’s healing medicine from the heart.”

I felt the boy inside me get offended, even a little enraged. As if Philip Sparkle didn’t understand tone, mood, and setting?! Bitch, please — I know how to read a room! I’m not gonna bust out into “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” at 2 AM in your ceremony!

But I swallowed that little guy’s tantrem (see — an adult thing to do!) and all I said was, “Yes, thank you. I understand.” I took a breath, tasted apprehension over whether I could please the shaman or not, felt Mother Aya give me a little pat on the back, and then sang my softest, most heartfelt rendition — low and quiet in my voice—of Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’ directly to her:

Darling, you send me
I know you send me
Darling, you send me
Honest you do, honest you do
Honest you do, whoa

I was proud to bring a little 60’s crooner soul into this Ayahuasca ceremony. The shaman was pleased also.

When I am my most self-self, I am playful. I’m a fairy mixed Puck — a spark of mischief and delight and heart. I feel like this when I’m liv-ing onstage or when I’m away on retreat from the stresses that turn me into an over-achieving, over-worrying, over-analyzing Scrooge. Someone who’s steadfastly executing the duties of adulthood, drained of inspiration. I had to grow up fast after my mom rejected me, and I think that I strove for managerial, ‘man-in-charge’ jobs in my career to play the role of a grown-up…while still feeling like a hurt child underneath the ‘achievements’ I was adding to my resume. I became a Do-Er, a Get-It-Done-Er, an ADHD Task-Master living day-day off small serotonin hits of accomplishments and accolades…without fully loving myself, just as I am, sans checking off boxes. And when life hasn’t been a parade of successes, I’ve fallen melancholy and resorted to childlike behaviors — like lashing out at others when I didn’t feel appreciated or pressuring or manipulating people to get my way. You know, the way a clever 10-year-old boy can convince his mom he deserves one more trip to the ice cream shop.

I purged just once. It came on suddenly and blew out my insides like a freight train hitting an apple cart. I labeled the bile that came out of “cynicism” and “bitterness” and felt good to let them go.

I didn’t see many visions except that of a rabid dog or wolf. It represented the hunger I felt to find intimacy with a partner (despite my fear of being betrayed again). The hunger looked like The Nothing from The Neverending Story, whom I’ve written of before. I didn’t cringe or hide from these violent images of a canine foaming at the mouth; instead, I tried to go into the mouth of the beast and find out what would feed it. Mother Aya told me it was simple: Love. Love fills the Hunger, where Achievements only offer it a morsel. When you feel the boy inside of you raging, feed him love.

It’s time to grow up, Peter Pan. But, let’s not lose the spirit of wicked fun on the way.

Performer, storyteller, teacher - living in NYC and traveling worldwide (www.philipmarkle.com). Artistic Director of The Brooklyn Comedy Collective.

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