The following is excerpted from Heart Medicine: A True Love Story by E. Bast, published by Medicinal Media. In this intimate memoir, E. Bast shares the story of a healing journey between two longtime lovers with the African sacred medicine iboga.
A large, elegantly carved wooden door donning a horse greeted us and opened into an expansive, welcoming, minimalist living room. High ceilings and vast windows created plenty of space to contemplate. A jubilant, slender man buzzed out to greet us. “OK, guys,” said Moughenda, “Have a good sleep. Michael is the house manager. He will take good care of you! I’ll see you tomorrow!” Moughenda left to go to his nearby apartment.
Michael was like a wild bird in human form. “Welcome! Welcome!” he said, warm as summer sun, flitting about the living room. “You made it!” he exclaimed, sounding relieved. I wondered how often people didn’t make it. “Wonderful! This is going to be AMAZING! This is the BEST medicine. You are so lucky to be here with Moughenda. He’s the real deal!” Michael’s eyes sparkled.
Mountains of fresh tropical fruit salad waited for us in the kitchen: papaya, watermelon, pineapple. The house was charming, clean, safe, and homey. Yes, the door hinges needed a little lubrication. The landscaping looked a little wild. It wasn’t the Ritz. But we didn’t need the Ritz. We needed good medicine. And good care.
“It’s my duty to go over the house policies with you. I know you must be tired. It’ll only take a minute.” Michael went to get his laptop.
We sat on the sofa and began to flip through the photo albums. They were filled with images of the traditional rite of passage and the Bwiti initiation ceremony that was offered with Moughenda’s tribe in Gabon, Africa. The eyes of the men in the photos pierced me. These are the eyes of men who know themselves. One strong elder graced the cover of one album. “That’s Moughenda’s grandfather. He was the bigwig shaman of his tribe and the surrounding tribes. Moughenda began studying with him when he was 12 years old. Moughenda has been through five initiations with the medicine, doses beyond what we could believe.” Michael nodded passionately.
“Here we go. Just a formality, really. You guys will be great, I know! So no drugs or alcohol in the house, of course.” Big smile. “Gotta do a bag check before you settle in. I’m sure you understand,” he said with a wink. “Please don’t leave the grounds. Let us know if you need anything. No inappropriate sexual behavior with other guests or staff, et cetera. Oh, and no electronics or internet or phones the day after ceremonies.” Yes! I smirked with joy. Finally, Chor will get to be off the matrix for more than a minute!
“We have a great week planned for you. After your first ceremony, we’ll visit a volcanic clay spa where you can soak and enjoy the mud baths and massages. And it’s Costa Rica, after all, so you can enjoy a horseback ride through the jungle.”
Horses? Drats. “Oh, it all sounds lovely, but no horseback riding for me,” I said. “It’s just not my thing. Horse trauma. Chor likes it.”
A friend in my third grade class had been encased in a full body cast for weeks, after being thrown from a horse. That image of her always sat like a thorn in my psyche. I had tried to give horseback riding a chance as a teen, but the horse had run away with me. It was terrifying, like being on a derailed train. Another rider had to chase the big beast down. Supposedly just a gentle trail horse. Yeah, no thanks.
“They sure are pretty, though,” I added. “Gorgeous animals. I’d be happy to just look at ’em while you all ride.”
“Oh yeah?” Michael asked curiously. “That’s fine. As you like.”
We entered our private suite. No TV. No radio. No computer. No internet, at least in this main house. Nothing but our journals, each other, and the sounds of nature.
“OK, kids. Bag check.” Chor complied with ease and laid out his bags on the bed. Michael was meticulous with his search, keeping polite conversation about our flight and our journey the whole time. “Everything looks good! Sweet dreams!”
We barely slept that night, excited and crammed into the double-sized bed. We were accustomed to our king bed at home, but I’d soon discover that sleep would be almost obsolete over the next eight days. The bed would be merely a place for horizontal meditation.
From what we understood, sometimes the place could be filled with up to 10 guests at a time. We happened to be the only ones there that week, except for the two apprentices, Michael and Ann-Marie. We felt lucky, and stranded. We were at the mercy of these good people, out here in the middle of rural Costa Rica.
We awoke the next morning and drew open the curtains to reveal a breathtaking view. We sat atop the highest point for miles around. We stepped out onto our generous balcony that stretched around the most of the stately house. We truly were out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but epic rural tropical land, fruit trees, wandering bulls out to pasture. Once a day or so, we’d get traffic: a lone caballero striding through a neighboring field.
We had breakfast with Michael. Before we prayed over the food he explained, “The Bwiti have one prayer. ONE,” he emphasized, holding up a finger. “‘Thank you for this day.’ That’s it! There’s no asking for things or self-deprecation. There’s just gratitude. So…thank you for this day!” And we feasted.
“So, how did you first meet Moughenda?” I asked, curious.
Michael told the tale of his auspicious meeting and apprenticeship with Moughenda. He proved to be a tenacious storyteller, animated and excited. He’d been a theater actor, he shared. His training as a thespian was clearly being put to good use.
“Here’s a story of what I like now to call, ‘A Gathering of Co-Inside-Essences.’”
He went on to tell the story that began with a warm summer evening in Toronto, around five years before, where a few people had gathered for a South American Incan healing ceremony that he was assisting and learning to offer. One of the participants, Sarah, had mentioned that she’d met an African shaman a couple weeks prior. She had participated in a ceremony he offered; a sacred medicine was administered that cures addictions.
“I raised an eyebrow,” Michael said. “With a lifetime of believing that addiction was an incurable disease that could only be arrested through recovery programs, I was certainly skeptical. Considering I was raised within 12-step recovery programs, as my father eternally identified as a recovering alcoholic, it was no wonder I didn’t take it too seriously. I was focused on other spiritual paths and, quite frankly, I dismissed it and continued with the Incan ceremony.”
Michael had been running a small organic seed and sprout shop that also sold wildcrafted teas and other herbs. A couple days after his conversation with Sarah, he was clearing a bulletin board in the front of the shop when he noticed a flier for a talk featuring a Bwiti shaman from Africa that had been held the week prior. He immediately thought this must have been the man that Sarah was talking about. Michael had considered attending when he originally saw the flier; however, he’d been sidetracked and had forgotten about it.
“I chuckled to myself at the ‘co-inside-essence,’” he said again, giggling. “Get it? Coincidence!” More giggles. Michael was thoroughly amused with his own story, as were we.
Michael went on to explain that despite his beliefs, he was intrigued by the possibility of a plant medicine capable of curing addictions. He had all kind of thoughts and ideas about what that meant—but ultimately he had more questions than answers.
He took big mouthfuls of his omelet between his spirited sentences. Michael was pure wind and motion. I could almost see his wings.
Michael continued his story. The following day after seeing the flier, he noticed Sarah sitting in a restaurant a few doors down, across from his shop. He peered in to say hello, and she was sitting with a guy with a hip-hop style. They invited Michael to join them.
“Sarah proceeded to tell me that this hip-hop dude was the shaman she’d spoken of, Moughenda. I remembered the photo from the flier; he was decked out in traditional Bwiti gear and tribal makeup. I blurted out, ‘Oh, you’re the shaman?’ with a slightly puzzled look, I guess. Moughenda smiled and looked around as if to check for any other shamans in the room, and then shrugged his shoulders with his hands turned up. He replied with a matter-of-fact, ‘Yeah.’ We all laughed. It was a pretty humorous exchange, yet we had also spoken seriously about addictions and mental health.
“When Moughenda told me that iboga assists in spiritual awakening and brings someone to meet their own soul, I immediately replied, ‘Oh, you mean it can bring you to the beginning of Creation.’ He responded with a resounding, ‘Yes, exactly!’”
Michael had spent many years practicing meditation and studying various Tao and Zen traditions. What Moughenda spoke of resonated with some of his own perspectives, yet he still had some big questions.
“How could something this simple do something so quickly for a problem that everyone says takes years and maybe lifetimes to deal with?” Michael replayed his thoughts. “It honestly sounded a bit too good to be true.”
Michael’s questions would have to wait for answers. He had stayed away from his shop too long already, and he had to return quickly. Michael invited Moughenda to attend the Incan rites he was offering the following weekend. Moughenda agreed and attended the ceremony. After the ceremony, Moughenda asked if Michael would be interested in joining him in Costa Rica to learn more about his medicine, iboga. “Frankly, I was intrigued,” said Michael, “but, I thought, I have this store, ceremonies, and traditions here in Canada. How could I take time off work? What would it accomplish? So, I blew it off at that time, despite my interest.”
Michael’s voice settled into a more serious baritone. A few months after first meeting Moughenda, Michael developed a serious illness. He thought it was the swine flu that had been going around. He was so sick that he couldn’t get out of bed for days. None of his herbs worked. He finally broke down and went to the hospital.
“On my walk down, my phone rings and I answer with a sputter and cough, ‘Hello.’ Lo and behold, it’s Moughenda. He then says, ‘I’m calling from Costa Rica. Man you sound like shit. What’s up? You OK?’”
Michael proceeded to tell Moughenda about his predicament and that he was on his way to the hospital to get medical care. “He tells me straight up that the doctors won’t be able to do anything for me and I’ll just be wasting my time. He told me to just go home and that he would take care of my sickness when he arrived in a week. I thanked him, but I thought it was all pretty bold. I told him that I’d see him when he got here. I hung up and then continued right on my way to the hospital anyway. Ha!” Sure enough, Michael spent seven hours in the emergency room only to have the doctors tell him that they weren’t even sure what he had, but they’d be happy to prescribe him an antibiotic all the same. He declined and headed back home.
When Moughenda arrived, Michael attended his first Bwiti ceremony. The first night, iboga cleared up 90% of his sickness. Not only that, he had a psycho-spiritual journey where he met his own soul and found answers to many questions he’d had about his life, who he really was, and much more.
“The first place I saw my soul was in Africa at Moughenda’s village. Then he asked that I go to his clinic in Costa Rica. He said, ‘Do not ask how you are gonna get there, just go.’ I found myself standing in the field just outside the house. I walked up the driveway, looked at the cactuses, archways, and then the intricate carving of a horse on the door.” After the ceremony, Michael knew that he wanted to go and train with Moughenda.
After another three months, Michael finally flew down to his clinic in Costa Rica. “When I stepped out of the car, my jaw dropped in complete astonishment. Everything was exactly as it had been in my vision: the cactus, the carving on the door, everything! Moughenda laughed and laughed and said, ‘What? You still don’t believe you were really here in that ceremony? Hahaha, you Westerners! You’ll learn.’ Let’s just say, he’s patient!”
The day rolled on like a turtle race. Time moved slower out here. We eventually made our way to the balcony with our notebooks. I streamed out a few more questions for God, and Chor started his own with earnest attention.
Later that afternoon, Chor wandered next door to the guesthouse to chat with Michael and Moughenda.
I had surrendered the snooping entirely. I let Michael take over. He was a pro. But completely by accident, I saw Chor’s questions as I was getting into my suitcase. He boldly, or carelessly, left them lying out, stark naked, on the shelves in our bedroom. His hand- writing jumped out at me.
Does Elizabeth love me?
Do I really love Elizabeth?
Will Elizabeth and I have children?
Do I love me?
I turned away suddenly, shocked and ashamed, an accidental thief. There were clearly a multitude of other questions on the page, but I would not read them.
Chor had first asked that question almost seven years earlier. We were curled up in my living room, just a month deep into each other. We had become enmeshed so swiftly; we hadn’t yet had the time to form concepts or contracts around our connection. That night, he finally gave words to the ineffable. “Do you LOVE me? Are you IN LOVE with me?” He asked, looking into me. My heart had jumped. I was speechless. He implored again, taking me gently by the shoulders and penetrating my eyes ever deeper with his.
Lightning passed through my body. My chest was pierced by flowered arrows. All that came out of my mouth was a full, unbounded laugh. My head fell back as I looked up into the heavens that I envisioned above our roof. My eyes blinked slowly, enchanted, then finally returned to earth to refocus on Chor.
He looked confused. I realized how this laughter might have come across in the wrong way.
“Oh, darling…” I held his face in my hands and dove equally into his eyes. “Do you even have to ask? You know.”
He stood up and held out his hand for me like a princess. I rose to meet him and he picked me up, cradling me in both of his powerful arms. I felt like a languid feather. It was a miracle…because I am an amazon, so to speak. I am 5 foot 9 and 140 pounds of strength and curve. No man had ever been able to pick me up like that, so solid and sure, much less walk with me.
He carried me to the bedroom. Candles were lit. Music was put on. We stripped each other in a slow ritual. We crawled to each other on the bed and met on our knees. Heart to heart. Sex to sex. Face to face. “I LOVE YOU,” I said firmly. “My heart is yours. You are my temple. I’ve never been so deep. You are heaven on earth, baby.” I spoke in a honeyed rhythm.
“And I…LOVE…YOU.” He answered, smiling like the sunrise.
There is something about words: declarations and prose, incantations and prayer. They are something so human. Communion through communication. Audible art. Written reflection. Translation of raw reality. Intellectual intimacy. So we professed our love with words for the first time, and often after that.
Chor entered me and made my heart rain and rain and rain. He planted himself in my soul. My body unfurled for him, petal by petal. The ancient feminine sentiment washed through me like a silent tidal wave: I wanna make you live forever. My body-mind-spirit knew how deep to go with him. My unfolding was in alignment with nature.
Here we were, all these years later…asking the same questions all over again. Do you love me? Do I love you? We were asking with new bodies. New cells. New challenges. In a new era. And I was curious to know his fresh answers.
The kitchen staff, all motherly local ladies, fed us fresh comidas tipicas de Costa Rica, typical food of Costa Rica: Casada, meaning married, referred to rice and beans, along with steamed vegetables, and salad with fresh herbs. The big bowl of fresh-cut local fruit was continually abundant. Aguas frescas were cool nectars of freshly blended fruits. This was my kind of food. Vegan, whole, simple food. They made fried chicken for Chor. He indulged.
Moughenda joined us for lunch, and I took the opportunity to indulge my curiosity. “Would you tell us about your grandfather?” I asked. He smiled with his eyes.
“Oh yeah, he was a tough man! He knew about so many plants. And my grandmother was with him always, helping him. He would feed me all kinds of medicinal plants to see how I’d take it. Sometimes I didn’t even know what he was giving me!” He laughed. “One time he loaded me with some crazy plants and left me in the jungle overnight!” He chortled, barely containing all the amusement that was popping off inside him. “Well, I did kind of wander off, but he just left me out there!
“He was strict, but I was a rascal. Oh, I was trouble! Once I wandered into another village to steal some eggs with friends. When we were caught, I just told them who my grandfather was and they let me off the hook! He really was the big shaman for miles around. But, boy, did he give it to me later!” I thought Moughenda’s belly was going to burst from laughing.
I shuffled the food around on my plate. “I am so excited for our first healing ceremony. Tropical butterflies are fluttering in my belly! I could easily eat only fruit today.”
“Eat! And eat good!” Moughenda insisted. “You will need your strength,” he encouraged us, as if we were preparing to climb a formidable mountain. So we feasted, and then stopped eating at 4 p.m., as our guides had advised.
Just after 4 p.m., Michael tapped on our door as we lay holding each other. “We are going to look at another house real quick. You guys want to come along? It’s right on the beach. You’ll be able to see more of Costa Rica,” he tempted with a grin.
Moughenda had received a call back about a new place for rent. Iboga House needed to expand, to meet the growing demand for treatments while being able to lower the price. They were looking at larger mansions and small hotels.
I was still tired from jet lag and felt to conserve my energy for the evening’s journey. Chor leapt up. “Yeah, I’ll go!” Ever the adventurer.
I’m sure they would keep a good eye on him. And Chor’s commitment to the experience was so solid at this point; I felt it in my gut. Indeed, Moughenda seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. He would likely keep multiple eyes on Chor from multiple angles in time and space. So I rested.
5 p.m. passed. 6 p.m. passed. 7 p.m. The sun went down.
Worry ate at my belly a bit, like a persistent little ferret.
7:30 p.m. Ay dios mio!
Where are they?