Iboga Part 2: Ceremony and Discovery Day

I am at home with family. It is the holiday season.

There is some anxiety about “integration” today. Now I’m back in the “real world” and it’s time to put into practice what I’ve learned.

Some points of focus:

  • Exert conscious control over the mind, and don’t use it when it isn’t necessary. Use my sense perceptions to come back to the present moment when I see my mind going off on its own. The present moment is where life is happening. And it’s usually pretty great, in the here and now!
  • Have awareness of the thoughts that pass through, and consciously choose which thoughts to allow “in”. We do get to choose. There’s no reason to stay with unhappy thoughts. They are weeds in the garden of my inner world. It’s time to affirm that which is life-affirming, and deny that which is life-denying. A simple way to respond to a negative thought is to say “STOP! Cancel that thought, I don’t believe that anymore.” And then affirm my highest truth, which might be the positive opposite of the negative thought. For example, if I notice a thought along the lines of “I’m not good enough”, I can recognize the thought and know that it isn’t true even if I’ve believed it in the past – I can say “Cancel that thought! I don’t believe that anymore! I AM good enough – more than good enough! I deserve to be happy. I am lucky to be here. I am me, and who I am is love.” Even now when I affirm that to myself I feel the happiness in my heart swell. That is what it feels like, to cancel out false thoughts and assert that which is true. Truth feels good. Truth is love! Truth is always love.
  • On that note… LOVE MYSELF! Take care of myself. Listen to the voice of my soul, which speaks to me through my heart. My soul is my guide, not my mind. I know in the past I’ve relied on my mental process to make my decisions… when all along, my heart was meant to be my compass. It is now my task to make space for the voice of my soul and to use that as the guide. This is an intention I must affirm every day… an art that requires steady practice. Dedication. Dedication to Self!
  • Stick to the truth. When I know my truth, I must act on it and not deny it. I must stand for truth and only truth. This is the path of the warrior, and the reward is freedom.

Now, to take us back in time where we can continue the story… it is Day 2 at Iboga Wellness Center, the night of our first Bwiti iboga ceremony, and I have just been walked to the mattress where I will be staying for the duration of the night.

The temple was set up under an outdoor awning, by the pool. There is a fire burning over here as well. Five mattresses are set up underneath the awning; we each have our pillows out here, a bucket for purging, an eye mask, a sheet to cover us, and some water. Tiffany is lying on the mattress next to mine, body covered with a sheet, eyes covered with a soft eye mask. Bwiti music is playing through a speaker, in the middle of all the mattresses. It is strange-sounding to my ears; the Bwiti use handmade instruments that don’t resemble anything I am familiar with. I recall Gary saying something along the lines of “The iboga told them how to make the instruments.” Traditionally, in Gabon, the music is played live during ceremony… we settle for a recorded version. The music is an important part of the ceremony. We have been instructed to put our attention on the music and let the medicine do its work.

I am grateful for the assistance I had in finding my way to my mat; I am already a bit wobbly. I lie down underneath the sheet, put my eye mask on, and close my eyes.


I focus on relaxing. It is my job now to surrender to the process, to let the medicine do its work. I don’t feel so much, yet. There is a pleasant warmth buzzing through my body… I imagine that the iboga spirit is scanning me, is laying a healing hand over me. Nothing crazy is happening in my mental space, though as I let my thoughts drift I see them pass through places that are normally more tucked away… flashes of my childhood… as if the iboga is reviewing my life story, and I am getting glimpses of it along the way.

The words of Bwiti wisdom are echoing in my mind. Truth… I think I’ve been lying a long time. I am remembering lying about little things as a small child. I am remembering believing that this was how life worked, that sometimes I have to lie to get what I want. My parents had the power to say “no” to things that I wanted, but only if they knew about it. There was this thread of deceitfulness through my whole childhood and adolescence. How did this happen? I guess I didn’t know any better! Damn!

A soft voice speaks my name beside me: another round of medicine is coming around. Am I feeling it strongly? I don’t think so? It just feels warm, and like I am in my mind for some rare extended time just with myself… so I accept more medicine and resume my contemplation time.

I think about school, where I learned so much of how I am. School is a really weird thing. It teaches you to listen to the teacher, not to yourself. It seems like learning to listen to yourself the right way is the most important thing you can learn. While I didn’t really learn that in school, I did learn to get someone else’s sparkling approval and use that as my compass. This was also talked about around the fire tonight: the fact that sometimes, the truth is difficult because other people might not like it. So we all have, at some point in our lives, compromised our truth in order to get someone else’s approval. This is what it means to sell your soul! So I guess I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’ve been playing the get-approval-from-other-people game instead of the listen-to-my-soul game, and it’s eaten away at me, made life confusing and hard.

Nothing else in life is really like school. Nobody is going to tell me what I should do with my life, and nobody is going to give me a good grade when I do things right, or when I do the right things. I have to decide those things for myself, and it’s something I’ve been deeply struggling with since school ended. One of the main reasons I’m here at all, is to try to get an answer to some important questions, “Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? What can I do with my life that will make me happy?”

How will I find the answers to those questions? Iboga, are you here? Am I meant to find the answers on my own? Is this what this experience actually is, just a long time to be with myself and think about things, until I figure it all out?

I notice that when I ask myself questions, I am looking for answers from my brain. I notice myself strain while I do this… a familiar strain… I do this too often, trying to find the answers mentally instead of from a place of knowing. Where is the real voice of Emma, inside of me? How did I lose it?

When I don’t know where to go, I come back to happy thoughts about this moment. “The iboga is here to help me, and it will give me exactly what I need.” “So far this is pleasant! I will enjoy that while it lasts.”

The pleasant body feeling lasts for a few hours, maybe, and then the nausea starts to kick in. It builds and settles… not so bad at first, but it becomes awful. I feel like I am on a very, very long “time out” from life, sitting in a corner thinking over what I’ve done, and slowly getting sick with it.

The music is strange, intense, jarring. It seems to interact with my thoughts, forcing things to move and flow. It jars my body, adding to my nausea.

I haven’t drank any water. My mouth is dry but I am afraid to jostle my stomach.

I end up throwing up three times, each time temporarily relieving my nausea. Bits of rootbark get stuck in my throat.

I get up to go to the bathroom once. Deena holds my arm while I walk. “I feel terrible,” I tell her.

“Yeah, it’s awful, isn’t it?”

A small part of me is confused and upset. How could you know and still let us do this? This sucks! Another part of me is calm: Trust the process. Whatever is happening is what needs to happen.

It is a long night of intense discomfort. Eventually morning comes, and the ceremony officially ends. The music stops. The nausea doesn’t. Levi’s calm voice assures us: “You’ve made it through the night. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything yet. Be with yourselves today, things will start to make more sense as the day goes on. Be gentle on yourselves.” We are escorted to our rooms.


This day is called “Discovery Day”, and we’ve been told that this is where most of the magic really happens. The beginnings of integration and understanding. Today we are encouraged to stay in our rooms and be alone with ourselves. Insights will come. Stay present.

I am confused about the night. I think I took a lot of the medicine, and I definitely felt it, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It wasn’t a bunch of bells and whistles, it wasn’t visions… or, if there were visions, I don’t think I knew how to access that part of the experience… it felt like a long time of just being with myself and my thoughts. And that’s what today will be, too.

I was expecting discomfort and difficulty, and there was definitely some of that. It felt awful at the peak… but somehow even that part was more gentle than I expected.

Gary was the one who led me to my room. He brings me a coconut and asks if I want any fruit. No thank you, not yet… He says he’ll be back to check on me in an hour or so. He’s so friendly and loving. I am grateful.

Maybe this would have scared me before, just being with myself and my thoughts for a day, no distractions, but now it feels like exactly what I need. The nausea is actually subsiding a bit, and I feel relieved to be by myself in my room, in the quiet. I know I’ve just spent a lot of time in a deep state of thought and awareness, but I don’t fully understand what it means yet. Hopefully I will start to make sense of things today.


The morning drifts by. My nausea slowly subsides. I don’t sleep, but I find myself in a more restful space for a bit. My mind is quiet. I feel spent.

Eventually the room isn’t spinning so much when I move, and I venture out for some breakfast. It’s quiet.


I am so used to making decisions from my mind, which is schizophrenic and not suited for life-decision-making. I am so used to discarding the voice of my soul.

I am practicing being with myself in a new way. Being with my heart open, instead of hiding inside my head.

I notice that when I bring my awareness to topics where I have had ‘inner conflict’, I am used to asking my head about it. When I think about my mom, I see some judgmental thoughts and I get upset, like “Why do I think all these bad thoughts? What is wrong with me?” – then I realize that I am doing this all up in my mind, so I decide to ask my heart about my mom… suddenly there is a warm and beautiful feeling in my heart, a loving feeling.

I want to get in the habit of asking my heart instead of my head.

There is some sadness. I want to “be fixed”. I know I need to change my life and make it more me. I don’t know what that means yet. I don’t have my answers yet. My head has so many things to say, and I’m not confident about the process of asking my heart… yet.


I venture out for a stretch of the afternoon and find a hammock to lie in. My mind is peacefully blank. I feel the iboga like a hum in my brain and body. When the nausea faded completely I was left with this pleasant sensation… knowing the medicine is still doing its work. I look up into the trees and sway back and forth, content. An hour or two passes in this blissful, aware, present state.


Most of my companions make it to dinner, although Danny is still in his room. The others seem to have had a rockier day than me. Tiffany has been through an emotional rollercoaster and says she had the worst anxiety she’s ever had last night. Sometimes the way out of our problems is through… right through the heart, where we don’t want to go.


Late night, it doesn’t feel like sleep is coming any time soon.

I miss myself. I’ve been searching for her for a long time. I just want to be me. Please help me find her and hear her.

Forgive me.


The first night I was here, I cried about the possibility that finding out the “truth” might mean the end of my partnership and everything else that I “know”. Last night I cried about how awful it felt to be nauseous and puking up gritty rootbark. Tonight I cry, looking back on how much time I’ve spent feeling awkward and grasping uncomfortably to try to mentally figure out how to act all the time – that lack of authenticity is painful. Where am I? How do I get back in right relationship with my soul?

I suppose I start here, going inwards. Unplugging, as my grandfather so wisely suggested.

It’s probably why writing has been so hard lately. My heart hasn’t been in my life enough. I haven’t been alive enough.

Levi had told us that it’s normal for tough things to come up on Discovery Day, and told us to not take it too seriously if that happens – we have to experience things when they are on their way out.

I thought that I’d been experiencing a lot of “nothing much” today, but as I look back on the day I see that I was actually in a lot of self-doubt… a feeling that’s just become normalized for me, so normalized that I didn’t even notice it today. When I was around others today I was uncomfortable and distant. Feeling awkward. Second-guessing my actions and words. Now I see what that feeling is – it’s what it feels like when my mind shows up but not my soul. It feels hollow. It’s the way of being that I want to leave behind.

Sometimes it’s a lonely feeling, the self-doubt. But it doesn’t get fixed by being around others, because the true source of the loneliness isn’t lack of connection with others… it’s lack of connection with myself. I think that it’s okay, and important, to just spend time with myself. When I lose the feeling of certainty in who I am, when I become anxious, the answer is not to go looking for a remedy in the external world. Instead I need to be quiet and still, gather myself, come back to my center. I need to feel “just me”. The answer to feeling lost is not finding the right place to be, but finding the right orientation inside myself. Feeling my heart, my soul. There I am. Right here. I had to get away from all the noise, it got too loud.

I don’t know when, but sleep comes for me, and I pass the night in peace.


2 thoughts on “Iboga Part 2: Ceremony and Discovery Day

  1. Pingback: Iboga Part 3: In-Between Two Ceremonies – Expressions from this side of the here & now

  2. Pingback: Iboga Part 4: Completion and Rebirth – Expressions from this side of the here & now

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