Iboga root bark is a powerful plant medicine that has been expanding consciousness for West African tribal peoples throughout eons of time. In Africa and now around the world, it is revered as a benevolent and wise guide. It has a mysterious capacity to welcome initiates into deep memories and emotional healing. It opens the door to profound, mystical realms of truth. I believe this plant is a key teacher for human beings as we learn to live in balance upon the Earth.
My intention to take ibogaine (the extracted alkaloid from the root of the iboga plant) was two-fold. First, I wanted to receive instruction. I humbly asked for lessons from this formidable flora-teacher. Secondly, I felt called to be part of the rising wave of support people who are using ibogaine as an addiction interrupter. I want to help those who go through the journey to find health and happiness in a new, drug free and addiction free life. It seemed important for me to have a first hand experience with the medicine if I was going to serve as a guide for someone who needed it.
Trying to describe an ibogaine trip is like trying to capture a sunrise and keep it in a bottle forever so you can keep looking at it and discovering more beauty. It just can’t be done, no matter how seductive the idea appears.
That said, I want to give you some of the colors I saw in the clouds on that day, even though the breezes and nuances will sadly be missing. At the time of most of this writing, it’s been less than a month since my flood dose and only a couple of days since my final booster. The experience is still fresh, even though my nausea has subsided and the intensity of my visions has mellowed. I hope you receive some pregnant seeds of iboga wisdom through my story.
One of the best things about the experience happened before the trip began. My team inspired confidence in me through their enthusiasm, knowledge and genuine reverence for the medicinal capacities of this amazing African plant. Two were Europeans who had traveled many times to Bwiti villages and who both had undergone indigenous initiations there. The other two were former heroin users who now dedicate their personal and professional lives to helping others reclaim their health, sanity and happiness. They all treated me with love, humor and respect. They checked my blood pressure and heart rate, gave me a booster dose several days ahead to make sure I didn’t have any negative reactions, and took me to the doctor in Oaxaca to get me an EEG and a liver panel. When I passed all of those tests with flying colors, I prayed and wrote my intentions down, placing the paper on the altar we set up in my room. Finally, it was time to begin the ceremony.
We started with prayers, dancing and rattling to Bwiti music from Gabon. This music is specifically designed to encourage the psychotropic nature of the initiation. Its complex rhythms and songs weave and undulate, scrambling the conscious mind and supporting the initiate to surrender into the unknown.
Once we were in sync together, I took the first dose and went into my room. The crew came with me, continuing to hold me close with rattles, rhythms and open hearts.
I sat on the bed. In front of me was a mirror flanked by candles on both sides. The African forest people paint a design on the mirror, so the initiate can see his or her face, but not as a whole image. Breaking up the visible face into segments helps the onset of visions. Often, beings will visit and show themselves in the mirror, so I stared at my slightly distorted reflection and wondered if anyone would appear. The drums rolled on, syncopated and insistent.
Nothing happened. I started to wonder if the dose they gave me wasn’t strong enough, or if perhaps I would be one of the few people who had an uneventful journey, or if I would even sleep through it. I admitted to myself that in spite of my intention to be completely open to whatever happened, I did have expectations and desires. I wanted something real and intensely life altering to occur. I wanted the “sacred wood” to share its genius with me. Would it ever happen, I wondered?
No one except me showed up in the mirror. I sat there, feeling quite normal, looking at my reflection for what seemed like almost an hour. Subtle changes were taking place within me, though, and I noticed something quite lovely: as I stared at my face, I did not critique. Perhaps it was the palpable love of my team that filled the air, or maybe the medicine was beginning to work its magic. I even loved my face. I was not attached to the image, and felt miles away from the dissatisfaction that I had often felt in the past.
Finally, I felt heavy in my bones and wanted to lie down. As my friends continued to shake their rattles in time to the music, I climbed into bed and adjusted my goggles. Lying there in the pitch black, I began to feel a bit queasy. At last, something was happening!
Goggles or eye shades are often used in iboga medicine journeys, because the initiate becomes very light sensitive. The darker the environment, the easier it is to see visions. As the night wore on, I became increasingly sensitive not only to light but to sounds as well. I could hear subtleties in the drumming and singing, as all of the voices poured forth their mysterious African harmonies. Later, I clearly heard whispered conversations across the apartment through a closed door. I felt like I had superpowers, which heightened my sense of being outside my normal waking consciousness.
The first unusual thing that happened was that I heard a commanding voice in my mind. It suddenly said, “Don’t Argue!” This admonition struck me as so definitively accurate and precise that I reveled completely in its elegant truth. Years before, I heard a similar teaching that said, “Don’t complain!” Here, decades later, was a companion teaching. How perfect. Also, the simple sentence seemed like the funniest thing I’d ever heard. Of course! Don’t argue with God! Did I get it yet? How about now? Just stop the battle! Just agree to let love and wisdom in! I laughed and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Colors began to swirl in front of my eyes. Finally, a picture of something indistinct swam into view. “A man and woman? What are they doing? They seem to be kissing. Who are these people? Oh – they are my parents. They look so young!” The thoughts came quickly to me in succession. I realized they were making love…and it occurred to me that I was witnessing the moment of my conception. I tuned into the state of consciousness they were in, acutely aware of my family history. My young brother, five-year-old Stevie, had died just two months before of a brain tumor. My parents were blindsided, grief stricken, and dumbfounded by the turn that life had given them. Family members had encouraged them to get pregnant again right away. This, apparently, was their attempt at putting aside their sorrow in order to create new life.
As I watched, I felt my father and his tenderness, trying to communicate with my mother, doing his best to enliven her with his love and his sexuality. I saw that he had a much better ego structure with which to handle Stevie’s death. My mother, on the other hand, was crushed. She barely moved, awash in sadness and guilt. My parents could not save their son from his death, and now they swam in torrents of emotion. My mother was barely able to avoid being sucked down into despair and her own death by heartbreak. I felt their pain as my own. I am a mother, too, and waves of sorrow pulsed through me as I sobbed in solidarity with them and with all parents who have faced the death of their children.
After a while, the vision disappeared and my tears subsided. New images came, one after another in a fast paced montage that I could barely keep up with. I moved past conception into birth. I contemplated my home and family. It was not a happy place, most times. When and where was I happy during my childhood? I asked. Immediately, the plant showed me four distinct memories of sweet, innocent joy: sledding on a little hill by the church, visiting the horses nearby our house, skipping with abandon, and swinging high on a swing under the crab apple tree in our front yard. As the journey went forward, my little about six-year- old self occasionally came skipping through the visions, like a pint sized Bal Shem Tov, anointing the scenes with wonder and giggles. This recurring experience of my joyful self turned out to be really helpful, especially since things were about to get even more serious.
The medicine took me through a series of additional scenarios requiring letting go and forgiveness, such as apologizing to my mother for my disrespect and disdain of her when I was a teenager. I felt that a lot in my heart and it felt good to let her soul know that I was truly remorseful for my actions. I felt she was there, receiving my apology and loving me unconditionally. Aaaahh. A big healing.
Another memory emerged that surprised me: one of a tryst I had instigated with a lover when I was about 18. It was a very brief affair with a young man I lusted after, and in the vision I realized that I had used him for my pleasure. It hadn’t worked out, in the end, and I felt disappointed that my fantasy had fallen flat (for both of us I think). The ibogaine let me know that although it wasn’t a habitual pattern, this was nonetheless a moment where I needed to atone for my behavior…so I did.
Each apology added to my sense of relief and peace. At one point, I was yelling at someone that I hated him (the father of my daughter, possibly, I’m still not sure) and a voice asked me, “Who do you hate?” In my openhearted honesty, with medicine pulsing through my veins and African rhythms rocking the room, I admitted that I hated myself. Since I’ve spent years forgiving myself and others, I knew this was simply a portal to deeper understanding, and even though it was difficult to touch this spot, it was not new to me. Admitting to self-hatred is a gateway to the glories of our souls, and I watched as the pain I felt about myself left me and expanded into yet another vision.
At this point, the nausea I’d been feeling ballooned in my gut and I knew that eventually, I’d be reaching for my barf bowl. But the idea of moving or asking for help or even more extreme – sitting up! – seemed utterly impossible. I was in full blown immobility. I knew I could move, but at the same time, the notion of doing anything but lying there watching visions exploding into themselves seemed ludicrous.
My visions began to change. Morphing seamlessly into new territory, I experienced profound insights into macro-level areas of humanity. I felt humanity’s pain and its search for peace. I knew that before we get to enjoy peace, we must wade through the muck of our misunderstanding and pain. This is the message of A Course in Miracles and other spiritual philosophies: know thyself by knowing what is true and what is false. And falsehood, because it gets in our way, must be dealt with. The “bois sacre” of the Babongo and Bwiti people constantly shines light on darkness, illuminating both the places of pain and the luminous warmth and bright understanding that arise once we forgive.
My journey continued to unfold with a series of three excruciating visions, one after the other. First came an intimate portrayal of Rape. In my psyche, the ibogaine showed me graphic images of sexual violation. Thankfully, there was no personalization included so I was not thinking about anyone in particular. It was more like a movie or waking dream filled with information about what it feels like to be raped, both from a male-as-rapist and female-as-rapee perspective. I was very emotionally and physically uncomfortable while this was happening. Bile rose in my throat as the visions moved in a macabre dance of power, control and sexuality gone horribly wrong. I could sense how dirty women feel after rape, and how the energy of her rapist can live on in her auric field. (I acknowledge that men can be raped, as well, but this is how the vision came to me.) I easily understood that rape is actually not about sex at its foundation, but stems instead from a deep, distorted need for power and control. I felt horrified, poisoned and wretched, and I knew that I needed help to become clean once again.
I prayed to God to help me. “Please, Beloved, cleanse me! Take this energy of hatred out of my body!” I called out in humble need to my Creator. Immediately, waves of rainbow colored light began coursing through my veins, lifting the images and discomfort from every cell. Whew. That was tough.
What followed were two more visions of horror in quick succession. The medicine showed me Murder and Insanity after the Rape part was over. (Are we having fun yet? No! This medicine is not for the faint of heart.) The information about murder was brief. Pictures of people bludgeoning each other with brute force told the simple story. After that, dreams of people going crazy danced through my mind. I did my best to have compassion but I was also scared. Insanity is my biggest threat, my most worthy opponent. It has dogged me from the moment I arrived here on Earth, and I again asked for help to see and understand.
At some point during this section of the trip I got assistance from my team to sit up. I threw up about 5 times. I wretched and heaved and almost peed in the bed. My physical body moved on its own, beyond the control of my mind. When I looked around the room, hallucinations warbled throughout my physical space: walls melted like lava and one friend had tiny gnats all over one side of his face. The gnats were also moving around on the wall and crawled down his neck. I stared hard at him, realizing how truly high I was. Although it’s common, I’d never seen insects during a psychedelic trip before.
During this time I also clearly heard the strange buzzing sound that often accompanies the medicine. It was very loud, as if a constant and unshakeable giant bee was camped out inside my inner ear. Fortunately, my team had alerted me to the buzz and told me it was normal. For most of the time, the drums and rattles were so loud that I couldn’t hear it.
I managed somehow to go to the bathroom and returned to my room to take my second dose of ibogaine. I laid down again and felt a bit better. Soon after, a fly mysteriously appeared in the blackness of my visionary field. Hmmm. So bizarre.
Holding compassion in my heart for my own insanity and the craziness of the world, I asked, “What is going on here? What does someone who is acting deranged feel at his or her most tender core?” Instantly, the plant responded with an image of a young child, terrified and completely lost in a dark wood. I’ve felt that way myself, many times, since childhood. Most of us have. I tuned in to the swirling vision of dark branches and the ancient fear of snarling, hungry wolves (as I write this, exactly one month later, suddenly two raccoons begin a blood thirsty battle with each other outside my window during the dark and rainy night, sounding like ravenous hellhounds…wow). I felt the child’s utter helplessness and desolation. Acting like a crazy person made sense, given this torturous scene from the midst of the abyss.
Iboga helped me to understand that rape, murder and depravity of mind all connect in a shared purgatory of alienation and despair. It showed me a new vision, which morphed seamlessly from the dream of the child alone in the woods. From the human level where the small child was lost in the frightening forest, my awareness expanded to the cosmic level where our souls live in eternity. I beheld a lone soul, standing in a vast ocean of darkness. I felt the immense loneliness of this soul, who I knew was myself and you and everyone with an ego who lives on Earth.
The terror of being a lost and lonely child mirrored the terror of being separated and split off from God. I sent compassion and love to the lone soul. I knew that only divine light could heal the tremendous sorrow and sense of loss that lies at the core of our collective pain.
I could feel iboga working with me, cruising the cosmos with me as a wayshower and trusted friend. Every time it showed me a vision (and there were uncountable visions…so many that I cannot remember them all), it also showed me many other facets of the same aspect of life. It was like contemplating a diamond and slowly turning it to view its myriad facets. Beautiful and complex, yet always playing out the simple dance of duality over and over again.
I began to feel tired after hours of being mind-altered and nauseated. The Bwiti drumming and friends with rattles and shakers went on and on. I was so sensitive to sound! I knew this trip wouldn’t end until it was good and ready, and there were hours of fantastical dreaming left ahead of me. It felt similar to that point in childbirth when I felt like calling the whole thing off, but knew that was never going to be an option. I was on the ride and that was that. I needed to surrender even deeper.
At times I listened to my mind commenting and chattering on. I felt frustrated with my mental clutter. Why wouldn’t it stop? I wanted it to shut the fuck up. And almost the whole time, a headache. Only when I was intimately involved in a major vision did I get a break from the pain. I felt disappointed that the medicine had not healed this tender place inside me. All I could do was feel it and try to accept it.
Many times I wanted various things to change during the trip. The music wasn’t quite right. Someone was shaking a rattle too enthusiastically, too close to my head. I couldn’t get comfortable. Some light peeked through my goggles. The little complaints continued, and I heard the iboga telling me, “Don’t worry, it will shift in a little while.” Which proved to be correct. I could see how my habit of wanting constant perfection in my physical world showed up as impatience. Just mellow out, the plant seemed to advise me. Wait a minute. And don’t worry about it. I smile now as I write this, because this wisdom has stayed with me for a month since the journey. I complain about my situation less and I don’t worry. I guess my addictions have been interrupted!
The last portion of the trip gave me blessings of spiritual peace and a sense of unbounded calm. Full of childlike joy and innocence, I ran to meet a beneficent white fog which completely embraced me in love. The Divine Mother, radiating grace, opened her arms to me and blessed me. Thank you, Beloved! My heart overflowed with gratitude. I witnessed God and Goddess emanating from One Source. I beheld the absolute power of creation. I danced and floated in a field of perfect, unformed potentiality. White and blue streamers of cosmic energy filled my vision. I came home to my Creator. This experience is still with me. It is deep, unfathomable, and impossible to express in words. I keep it alive in my meditations and in my awareness throughout the day. This is the lasting gift of iboga for which I will always be thankful!
Gradually, night deepened. I could sense my companions’ need for rest. Although I still felt wakeful, I needed more quiet. I requested that the music stop and eventually everyone settled down, either in my room or close by. I got up to admire the transcendent sunrise, glowing just for me. At around 8 am, I slept a bit until 10. Sometime in the afternoon, I managed to get up to pee and shower. I felt completely renewed, if also wobbly on my feet. The walls still shimmered and moved. The buzzing sound thankfully stopped. My mind was clear and open.
At about 24 hours after the flood dose, I went to bed and slept deeply. I felt sensitive and like a newborn the next day. My friends helped me, brought me food, asked after me, and cared for me. It was so soothing to be cared for. By 48 hours, I wrote, “My Creator has taken up residence in the middle of my head. I was able to meditate while opening my forehead wide, as the medicine told me to do to help me with headaches. My head feels better now than it has in a week. Aaahhh.”
The next day I took a booster of HCL (pure ibogaine, one alkaloid of iboga) and TA (“total alkaloid” from plant). I also took one anti-nausea pill (just in case). I listened to Babonga music and then rested in silence. It was a mellow time of integration and reflection. Creator moved through my chakras and emanated in waves through and from my whole being.
My entire ibogaine experience took place from the Spring Equinox through Holy Week in Oaxaca, Mexico. It changed my life. Now, one month later, I finish this writing at exactly the time of the full moon in Scorpio. It is up to me to carry on the openings to God, the relaxing away from arguing, and the sharing of my good fortune. Tomorrow is Passover and Earth Day. What a holy time this is!
in peace and reverence,
Ana Holub 4.21.16