Award-winning slam poet Josie Hyde wrote and performs Wind in a Mirror…Ayahuasca Visions, centered on her experience of an Ayahuasca ceremony.
Two weekend-long runs of this one-woman multimedia feast for the senses have been produced at Center Stage Theater, with more possibly to come. Called “the vine of death,” the hallucinogenic plant used to brew this sacred concoction has been used for centuries by the Inca. But even before this foray, she was no stranger to mind-altering substances.
Starting with an acid trip as a teenager on a New York City rooftop in 1966, her eyes were opened to the depth of mystical inner truths and the enormity of universal enigmas. She relates in a rhythmic cadence, punctuated by chant-like song and flowing movement, how she found it difficult to go back to her everyday life when she felt that she had discovered elemental answers whereas others around her were unaware of the questions.
Her rap-like riffs are sometimes along the lines of the late George Carlin’s commentary on society’s foibles and failings. On a large screen behind her are constantly changing images, rich in elements of pop and folk art along with bright colors. The entire experience is quite hypnotic.
As an adult, Hyde found that while she was functioning in the mundane world, she was always reaching for something more. After a long period of insomnia, she heard a voice say, “If you don’t sleep, you don’t dream, and if you don’t dream, how do you use up all the leftovers?”
Searching for meaning in life and a good night’s sleep, Hyde journeyed to South America to work with indigenous shamans.
As a storyteller, she really hits her stride here, attaining a delicate balance between curious self-observation and raunchy humor. She describes being deathly ill with pneumonia during a bizarre ritual wherein a shaman requests that she disrobe in front of the rest of her tour group, then spits cane liquor all over her naked body while whipping her with branches to drive out the sickness.
The later part of the trip took her into the heart of the Amazon and her psyche’s deepest places when she and her group took part in a ceremony which involved drinking Ayahuasca, made by boiling the vine along with the leaves of another plant containing DMT.
The physical effects of ingesting this mystical brew include vomiting and diarrhea, which Hyde describes with colorful language and dry wit. It also can cause intense psychedelic visions, often taking the form of great spiritual revelations and deep insights regarding life and death. She tells how during the ceremony she spontaneously began singing in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Inca, and feeling a deep love for everyone in her group, including the one woman who had been annoying the bejeezus out of her since the start.
In the end, she comes to the startlingly comforting revelation that we’re all going to die, and that’s not just OK, it’s the point. Rather than being a downer, this conclusion gave her a deeper appreciation for the time we have here in this mortal form. If you can’t fully accept death, she seems to be saying, you can’t fully embrace life and all it has to offer.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.