I'm lying on my back watching the black plastic bags that line the corrugated tin roof turn into a geodesic dome of zigzag patterns. Adela, the curandera, says she is going to turn off the light. I suggest that she keep the light on, but she says it's better in the dark. The images are stronger now, and I don't know if my eyes are open or shut. I do know that what I am seeing is not projected onto my retina, but neither is it a hallucination. I had taken my share of LSD in my youth and the hallucinations always referred to some external reality - to music, to light. In retrospect, Adela is wearing, as always, a grey and brown striped cardigan and I am covered in part by a tan and brown striped Kashmiri shawl I bought in Nepal 35 years ago. Is that where the zigzags come from? But these patterns are in rich earth colors - orange, red, dark green. I tell myself it's just the mushrooms.
A deep male voice responds in my mind and says no, this is real. For a few minutes I engage the voice in debate. I take the identity of an analytic Ashkenazi Jew. I see a Bar Mitzvah boy, a torah, an ark. The colors are white and a deep rich blue. Who are you? I ask. What do you represent? The voice indicates that we are somewhere where we do not engage in polemics. I am in his territory where my rules, my form of thinking, have no substance. This is frightening. I had been hoping for a "we are all one" and "God is love" type of experience. What I found was Hamlet's "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
I am lying on a bed on my back and I am wrapped in a blanket, a shawl, and a nylon windbreaker. It's cold but I feel nothing. From time to time I lift my left hand to scratch my face. There seems to be a time lag. I feel an itch. Can I, dare I respond? Then I do. Otherwise I am oblivious to my body. When my eyes are open I see Adela sitting absolutely still at the edge of the bed near where my legs are. It amazes me that she can sit so still for so long. She has taken the mushrooms too.
I had come to Huautla de Jiménez to take psilocybin mushrooms in the remote mountain village of the famous shaman María Sabina; my goal was to get over a man who had done me wrong. Nine months after the break-up he was still embedded in my mind. I had told Adela and her husband Marcelino about this obsession and I how I wanted to be free. Now I felt as if Adela were talking to me, in English, of course, or really without words - just mind to mind. She communicated that I was a hussy or slut, because I had sex for fun. I was quite taken aback. I heard a long list of men's names in Spanish: Denis, Miguel, Pedro, Pablo, José etc., all of whom were presumed to have been my lovers, I almost bought the image; then I remembered I had had only one Mexican lover, the guy I was trying to get over. Did Adela see me as a threat, the gringa who had come to her country to steal their men? I'm 60 years old, get real, I retorted, mind-to-mind. This trip is not going to work, I thought, if I have to defend myself not only from the mushrooms but also from my guide.
At this point I was rather shaken too, because it occurred to me that I was a very selfish person, only concerned with her own needs and feelings. Then I thought about my son who had not been on my mind very often since I moved to Mexico a year and a half ago. This was strange because he was always on my mind before. Now I saw him distant and suffering. Could it be that I hadn't loved him enough all these years but had only treated him as an extension of myself? As I write these words, I know they aren't true. Or if they are, then that is what a mother's love is.
Now Adela seems to have come to her senses, because she asks me if I would like to stop smoking. Sure, I say. You must say, "I want to stop smoking." I repeat her words. Then she puts herbs on me and starts rubbing my stomach and arms and neck with some cold, sticky liquid. I am not comfortable with her touching me, but decide that I am probably just being uptight and that I should trust her. Later I read that rubbing stuff on your stomach is standard curandero treatment. I didn't actually quit smoking, but I smoked less for a while.
What most stayed with me was the sense that the life force comes from outside ourselves and fills our bodies and when we die we are empty husks. I felt tired and weary of living, not wanting to die but still not enthralled with life. I was definitely free of my obsession.
Although I had not eaten or drunk anything in almost twelve hours, four hours after I had taken the mushrooms I felt a strong need to urinate. I told Adela and she offered to help walk me to the bathroom which was outside the house. I told her I could go by myself and sat up. As I put on my sandals, I said, "That is if I can find my legs." Strangely I had the sensation of having feet but not legs. But I did find them, and walked out of the room by myself and used the bathroom without any problem. When I returned, I was back in my body. Eventually I fell asleep.
The next day I felt both weak and restless. I wanted to leave Adela and Marcelino's house and get a hotel room in town, but I also didn't want to leave. The countryside was beautiful; Adela suggested we take a walk. I had no idea that she was taking me to a church where a mass was being said. It was a small, wooden church, the congregants were mostly older women, Mazatec Indians, all much shorter than I am, and I'm only 5'2". I didn't like that I had to kneel and do all those Christian things, but I did whatever was required. The service was in Mazatec. Later, Adela told me the mass was for the anniversary of a woman who had died the year before. When the service was over, everyone shook hands with the people around them. Not really shaking hands, but rather placing a hand lightly on an outsretched palm. Then the priest walked down the aisle throwing holy water onto everyone including myself.
From the church we walked down a steep path along the mountainside to a large, open room, which appeared to be a community center, where we were served tamales. I had no appetite but ate one to be polite. There were around 20 women inside and outside, all talking in Mazatec. Adela did not introduce me to anyone she spoke with. No one seemed notice me, although I'm sure I smiled a lot. I felt as invisible as an obedient child.
Now I was ready to go home. Marcelino found me a taxi and I went into the town of Huautla and did town things like checking my e-mail and calling my son, who was quite all right but rather broke, so I told him I'd send some money. The next day I took the 5 a.m. van to Oaxaca, a four-hour journey, and then another five-hour van ride to Puerto Escondido.
Barbara Joan Schaffer.