Episode 2: Makgathi Unplugged

I need to rewind a bit before I delve into the subject of my plant medicine experience.

The period of my Lent was very hard, despite how I make it appear in the previous post. A lot happened in my forty days:

I suddenly had to leave the easy rhythm of my days as work demands crept up. Venus and Mercury went retrograde, throwing me into deep discombobulation. Hm, I’d never noticed my sensitivity before.

Equinox came and went, peppered by various ceremonial rituals and painful riots in my valley, which unsettled me to the core. Not for the first time in my life I asked myself, who does land really belong to? How do we get the right to lay claims on her? To sell and buy her and own her? And then name her and limit her with self-created borders, so that even indigenous peoples that were here before us are rendered landless, and have to endure our rapacity for basic shelter? I struggle to make sense of what it means to be human.

On that fateful Friday in South Africa, my friend Ria and I drove in to town to a political rally, with me trying to introduce a ‘We Must Rise’ response chant. It doesn’t gain much momentum though. I think we find it easier to break anything down, than build it up.

The turn-out at the protest rally is remarkable, and simultaneously breaks my heart that it is anger that has brought us together as South Africans. I shout “We must rise” some more, a little embarrassed, and very desperate, hoping that love can make its way through the throng of us, and help us build. But perhaps right now what we need is to break down? I don’t know.

A couple of weeks before then, whilst visiting family in Tshwane, I got woken up in the early hours of the morning by excruciating stomach cramps. Those old familiar ones. I rolled around the bed all night, unable to breathe due to the pain. When I started vomiting from its intensity, I knew I was in trouble.

But I refused to believe that this undiagnosed issue had reared its head again. “What is it?”, I kept asking it,through laboured breath. “What am I failing to attend to, to learn? Why are you shaking me from within?” But I got no response. Nothing. Just more breath-taking pain and body shaking retching.

My stubborn/stupid self waited until the break of dawn before I decided to ask for help. I phoned my sister Poppy from the bedroom in which I was sleeping. Instead of answering the phone,  she comes running in to see what’s wrong, to find me ashen in pain.

By then I was so worn out that I agreed to be taken to Casualty at Die Wilgers hospital in Pretoria, where I received superlative, kind and generous care. Constantiaberg Casualty, please take note.

Later on, my other sister Maureen comes to join us at the hospital. I’m discharged as soon as they’ve drugged me silly, and Aus Maureen takes me for a meal at The Grove. I am in my several sizes too large, faded old pyjamas, my hair looking deranged in half done dreadlocks. My sister, who runs a Mental Health hospital, could easily be mistaken for being on a mall field trip with one of her patients (is there such a thing even?!)  Somehow though, neither of us finds anything wrong with this scene. Love is here, and that is all that matters.

Whilst in hospital, I had received a call offering me work for the following day, and I incredulously had accepted it. When I arrived at work that Sunday, I mustered all my focus and pushed through the pain, continuing with some fairly demanding tasks. To drive the point of my determination home, I showed up for other previously scheduled work, instead of cancelling, which had been my typical response to this medical issue in the past. ‘I see you pain, but I’m unplugging from your story’. I simply refused to allow the viccicitudes of my life get in the way of my living.

This unplugging ushers in an inner shift in me, one of not feeling overcome by my life. In fact, although the condition of my life is exactly the same as my last blogposts- in debt, broke, fat and single- somehow I’m able to surpass it.

I don’t wake up to tight anxiety knots in my stomach all that often, and when I do, I acknowledge them, and continue with my life. Inexplicable depression visits me, bringing a depthless well of tears with it, but I am able to acknowledge it and walk right past it. Anything and everything is a trigger, and I honestly can’t say who I’m crying for anymore, whose tears I’m shedding. It’s very easy for me to turn innocuous melancholia, that gnawing home-sickness, into full-blown depression, but now when it arises, I acknowledge that I am forgetting that I am loved, and so send myself some.

I am desperate to perceive the miracle that is all life, but my senses are blunted. Somehow though this is okay, since I do not get involved in the condemning thoughts my mind tries to spin about my failure.

I used to be so afraid of life, and now, I’m not anymore, since I have pulled the plug out of the socket of story-telling and drama. I am a player; on the field and simultaneously spectating the game of my own life.

The thing about not being plugged in though, is I start noticing how rudderless I feel, as if I’m floating in space. The stories I used to tell myself provided a pillar for me, and with them gone, my pillar has crumbled, exposing me to how ill equipped I am to prop myself up. I wonder if this is what flat affect feels like, but no, this isn’t it. Maybe nihilistic, somehow? No. The difference is subtle… with this, feeling more ethereal. I am still me, just unsubstantiated by my stories. I waft between being afraid of this, and not caring a shit. I’m 51 years old and my life isn’t what I thought it would be, but I embrace it all.

It is whilst in this inner space that I have the experience with the now legal in Cape Town plant medicine.

Nothing much happened around the time of ingestion actually, except that I noticed I was a little louder in my speech, and partially ostentatious in my manner. After the lunch, we had gone home in the early evening to prettify ourselves for a night out at the theatre, to watch a physical theatre piece our friend was performing in. After the show we decided to go a local pizza joint (haha) in Observatory for a meal. I was surprised to hear me support this pizza idea, since I’m generally unaffected by the hype surrounding pizza. I just fail to perceive its joy-making properties. It is after all, but an open cheese and tomato sandwich.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we went upstairs and found a table to sit around. Someone said something silly as we sit, and I laughed so hard that I had to put my head down on the table, and watched as my body convulsed uncontrollably in the release of happy hormones. I lifted my head up and declared to my friends “oh my God, I’m high!” And got lost in another laughing fit.

In that moment I’m fully aware of myself as me, then I slip into another realm right next to this one we are in, from which I observe myself. In this other realm, which is exactly like this one, but different somehow, I see very clearly how I keep myself imprisoned by my thought stories. In this realm, non-attachment is offered as a real, viable, option. It is not a delusional denial this, but rather an acknowledgment of things as they are, without getting lost in their story.

I re-enter the regular realm, and continue a conversation with my friends, and then retreat back into the parallel one. This is wild! Everything is more pronounced, but also lighter here. It feels like I’ve gone through a portal, opened by MaryJane.

I spent the entire night swinging between realms, getting up to dance when Lauren Hill comes through the speakers. I even surprised myself by enjoying the pizza, and kept eating slices after slices of it. Is it really this delicious? I make a mental note to return to this place in a more sober state, to validate my findings.

By the time I got to bed after midnight I was still in this space.

I’m content, and grateful I was with safe people for this experience. My friend Nina corroborates this, and cautions that it’s not unheard of for people to experience paranoia in this state.

When I later share my experiences with some other friends, they ask me if I’d be keen to try it again, and I tell them no. I’ve been given that experience for some reason, but feel zero need or desire to repeat it.

In truth though, I cannot credit the plant medicine for offering me the gift of non-attachment, since I’d already slipped into it anyway a little bit before then. The biggest gift it did offer though was to affirm the non-attachment for me. It did also take me through to the parallel other side. I’d known about this other realm, but had only had a cognitive understanding of it. Now I know it’s real. And for reasons unknown to me right now, I needed to have the veil lifted, to help me catch a visceral glimpse of it.

I will post the third instalment in this trilogy soon.

Ka Lerato 🙏🏾