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Iboga: A Dive into the Subconscious

“My personal journey has always been about finding balance. And not balance in the sense of moderation, but balance as the arithmetic mean of the extremes in which I live. Over three years since my Vipassana experience, my mind sought another deep, holistic cleansing, and this time the solution came in the form of Iboga. I have written about Iboga in the article “Iboga, Africa’s Best-Kept Secret,” but in the following, I will recount my personal experience.

Organizing this retreat was filled with trials. After Iboga spontaneously appeared in several discussions, a strong calling emerged, just as it had with Ayahuasca. It seems there is a high receptivity to medicinal plants that manifests as an uncontrollable intellectual craving, hiding a peculiar need to assimilate a substance that had never been part of my spiritual diet. After some research, I discovered that the miraculous roots lay deep within the primal soils of Gabon, right on the other side of Africa. I found several retreats and promptly sent a message expressing my intent to participate in an initiation course. The only person who responded was Tracy, an American introduced to the secrets of the Bwiti culture. She explained that for a first experience, the most suitable option is a maximum one-week healing retreat with a single ceremony where the chemistry of the plant interacts with the body and mind. The initiation experience is generally a brutal, merciless one, under harsh conditions in the middle of Gabon’s jungle and requires high physical and psychological endurance. Due to travel restrictions in the context of the pandemic, such an adventure in Gabon was difficult, and Tracy invited me to one of her retreats in Costa Rica or Mexico. Being a busy period, it was a bit difficult for me to travel half the globe for this retreat, and I asked her how she liked the idea of organizing it in Zanzibar. Most of her clients are from the United States, and moving the retreat to Zanzibar would have been logistically very challenging and expensive. She said she would try, and even if she could not gather a group, she would come on a family vacation, go on a safari, visit Zanzibar, and administer Iboga to me. Tracy finds another three people to join the ceremony and brings two shamans from France, one of whom was originally from Gabon. After countless changed or missed flights, lost baggage, and many emotions, we all met at a secluded villa in Matemwe, which would be our sacred temple for the next few days.

“It is said that after God created Heaven, Earth, and all living creatures, he realized that a shaping element was missing from his creation, so he created Man. After creating man, God thought that he did not want to remain in direct contact with his intelligent creation because it would always be curious and would constantly ask for his help. To be left in peace, God thought about hiding in the Earth. But then he realized that man would invent all kinds of machines, excavators, explosives with which he would dig and reach Him, and thus he would never find his tranquility. Then God thought about hiding in Heaven but realized that man would invent telescopes, radio waves, and rockets, and thus he would reach Him again, so he would not find his peace. Then God realized that there is a place where man will not look too soon. Inside himself. So God hid within every human being.”

It all begins with expressing your intent. Firstly, you need to articulate why you want to acquaint yourself with Iboga. Iboga is a teacher that answers your questions, a librarian who leafs through every page of your life and brings buried answers from your subconscious to the surface. It is a wise guide who interprets each event for you and presents solutions. To get the right answers and explanations, your intention needs to be clear, and you should know how to formulate your questions. This retreat was a combination of psychotherapy and a spiritual journey. The role of Tracy and the shamans was to help determine the real reasons that had led us to a point where only Iboga could provide a way out.

Ms. Fear of Responsibility, Mr. Dependent, Ms. Depression, Mr. Self-Destructive Pattern, we all presented our issues to the three emissaries of truth, only to find out that the real problem was something else. To heal surface-level issues, we had to undergo deep inner cleansing, dispose of accumulated, solidified waste, and treat the place with much care and love. We started with a collective intention-setting session where the facilitators helped us see exactly where the problems lay and what we needed to resolve. We went to bed, being asked to remember our dreams. I had two dreams, one related to the spiritual experience and one related to work.

In the first dream, Tembo held a pot at the bottom of which were drawn three colourful silhouettes of oddly shaped people. After he cast some spells, he said: “Now we’ll release the spirits!” I kept looking at the bottom of the pot, trying to imagine these figures coming to life. I realized that it was just my imagination trying to animate them, so I stopped projecting. In the second dream, the tax authority of Zanzibar visited me. They told me something was wrong with the last audit, and I began anxiously re-examining all documents, trapped in a loop I couldn’t escape. Stress was one of the main reasons I was here, and it was made very clear in the dream. The other fantasy about spirits would make sense later on.

We started individual intention-setting sessions, and at the therapists’ encouragement, we took paper and pen and began writing down our intentions in three plans. The Present Plan required expressing acceptance for everything we had and everything we had become so far, both good and bad. The Past Plan required expressing forgiveness for those who behaved in ways that caused us suffering. The Future Plan required expressing gratitude for what we would have after the therapeutic process concluded.

We fasted for a day and worked intensively to realize the real reason we were there. In the evening, we were given a test spoonful of wood. Images of recent events started to play in our minds, each with a subtitle explaining behaviours, situations, and outcomes. After several hours of making sure there were no adverse effects, the shamans donned their traditional costumes, took their amulets, and started the ceremony. Dance, music, and chants ensued, after which Tembo asked us to show deep respect for what was to follow.

He retreated to a room where he stayed for a few minutes, then returned with a box full of leather figurines, seashells, textiles, a pot of feathers, carved wood, brooms, and candles. He carefully arranged these in the middle of the room, and after the miniature temple was finished, he said: “Now we will invoke the spirits of our ancestors to protect us on this journey of rebirth.” With that, the first dream began to make sense.

The ritual represents symbolically the passage from one shore to the other of the turbulent ocean of truth lying within each of us, all under the attentive care and protection of spirits invoked by the Shaman. The immersion begins peacefully, then you face a storm, ride gigantic waves, get absorbed by whirlpools, and finally shipwreck into utter silence on a new seabed. To the accompaniment of the Moungongo music, a harp-like instrument with one or more strings that emit very rudimentary sounds, you start sinking. Metallic geometric patterns unfold in front of you, constantly dynamic and transforming. Unlike Ayahuasca, this truly seemed like a visual experience rather than one I was merging with. After a short journey, a huge screen takes shape in the middle of which I see a non-uniform horizontal line drawn, and behind it, the whole universe unfolds. I notice that I have a remote control to zoom in or out of the horizon line, to scroll forward or backward, and as I get closer, I realize that the horizon line is just a personal archive of events. I flip through them and discover countless moments from my own life arranged chronologically. Recalling the shaman’s advice, I distance myself and start asking questions. The first questions are about the present: who am I at this moment? Key moments from my present unfold before me, which I observe, understand and then accept. Then I start to ask how the current situation was reached, and moments from the past that directly caused a behavior, a trait, a state in the present start to reveal themselves. They are displayed, interpreted, and then detached from who you’ve become.

The experience starts from the principle that everything we do, say, and feel leaves an informational imprint in an energetic space with which we coexist. Iboga creates a channel between our world and our own story, which remains printed in this informational field, the subconscious. What is truly extraordinary is that we can change the vibration of the informational imprint, and the facilitator’s most important role is to show you how to access this information and manipulate it to change its effect in the present moment. The following hours are a melancholic journey through the first 9 years of life. I started a healing process years ago during which I underwent therapy, meditation retreats, and tried various medicinal plants to better know myself. All these techniques helped me realize many things, but nothing was fully healed because the most valuable ingredient was missing: forgiveness! The experience with Iboga helped me add forgiveness to the process I had started long ago and finalize a painful journey that seemed endless. Iboga is an incredibly powerful medicinal plant. It offers 5 years of therapy in 5 hours. It is remarkable to be able to watch the movie of your own life and give past events a different charge, thus changing who you are in the present. For the plant to take effect, you must completely surrender. Many of us resist in a desperate attempt of the ego to maintain its totality. After you surrender, what you consider yourself to be disintegrates. The ego realizes that it is only a collection of past moments, a socio-cultural circumstance, an amalgamation of climatic, material, political, hereditary, and educational influences. It’s a package, a story we tell ourselves, which we are so afraid to part with for fear of losing our sense and identity. But true happiness and reconciliation appear when you can free yourself from this image, when you realize that what you call the body is just a vehicle, the mind is just the driver, and you are the path. The journey with Iboga was painful yet enchanting, distant yet deep, unprecedented yet familiar.

Physically, iboga is not a pleasant experience at all. The ground wood that you have to take with a spoon every hour is very bitter and ferments. As you consume more, your senses sharpen, the wood becomes even more bitter, and you are compelled to drink large amounts of water. Then, after fermentation, your stomach heats up and you need to add more water to regulate its temperature. Your body also tries to control the amount of iboga it ingests, so you start to vomit. You take a new dose, the body assimilates as much as it can tolerate, you vomit again, take another dose and so on. At first, it’s weird, but then you realize that’s how things work. The body is the vehicle you use to get to where you want to go, it is neither an object of worship nor a cause for concern, as it will inevitably oxidize and die.

After the experience ends, comes the last part, that of integration. After the ceremony, you can’t sleep, as iboga is a potent stimulant and all the images you had the night before go through your mind one more time. Among other things, all the tasks that remained unfinished and awaited me ran through my mind. I then say to myself: I’m on a retreat and even here I can’t escape the stress of my own work. Eventually, I fell asleep and the first ray of light and the carelessly slipping waves on the beach, becoming less and less daring, woke me up in the morning. There was a silence in my head like I hadn’t felt since childhood. Mental reset, physical rebirth, spiritual detachment.

Any experience that changes lives needs to be shared. For this reason, I’m organizing another retreat with the same skilled and competent shamans at the beginning of April. Each of us has things to resolve, whether from childhood or traumatic moments from recent years. Since I moved to Zanzibar, I’ve been selling only dreams, rooms, excursions, entertainment, experiences that feed people’s egos. Now, it’s time to nourish souls.

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