How to Read a Book

Mortimer J. Adler


The modern education systems does an inadequate job teaching it’s students how to read. There are 4 levels of reading, each of which builds off the previous. These 4 stages are: elementary reading, inspectional reading, analytical reading and syntopical reading. Almost all students are taught how to perform elementary reading, some learn how to perform inspectional reading and few are taught inspectional reading and almost none are taught syntopical reading. Some students may self educate the higher levels of reading. Syntopical reading is learned during graduate school but it should be taught well before then.

Elementary Reading

Adler’s How to Read a Book aims to outline steps students can take to achieve higher levels of understanding when reading. The first step is elementary reading. To understand a book you must first understand the symbols used to communicate. In this case, the symbols are the letters and words (mathematical and scientific books use a larger set of symbols). You must also understand the grammar of the book. This is taught early in childhood for most people. We know the alphabet and thus can perform elementary reading. We can achieve elementary understanding by performing elementary reading.

Inspectional Reading

During inspectional reading the you try to answer questions about the form of the book. What is the book about? What is the structure of the book? What are it’s part? There are two steps to inspectional reading: systematic skimming and superficial reading. Both of these steps are meant to let the reader achieve a higher level understanding of a book in a short amount of time. A book should be inspectionally read in under 30 minutes. To perform systematic skimming a you should: read the title and preface, read the table of contents, read the index, look at chapters which seem pivotal to the argument and read paragraphs (maybe pages) here and there. In many cases these steps are all you need to perform to decide if the book is worth more work. Maybe the book is poorly written. Maybe the book is filled with fluff. Maybe the book isn’t relevant to the your interests. Superficial reading requires the you to read without stopping. Reading a book beyond your level requires time and effort to understand. It is better to understand 50% of the whole book than getting discouraged after spending a week to understand 100% of the first chapter. Use superficial reading to see the forest without getting lost in the trees.

Analytical Reading

Analytical reading requires much effort. During this phase of reading the you questions such as: what is the book about as a whole? What questions is the author trying to answer? What arguments is the author making? There are four parts to analytical reading: pigeonholing the book, x-raying the book, coming to terms with the author and determining the author’s message. There are eight rules to analytical reading which come from these four parts.

Pigeonholing the Book

Reading is a two way street. Not only must the author act as a teacher, the reader must act as a student. A reader performing analytical reading has decided – because of inspectional reading – that this book is worthwhile. The author has done his job of being a teacher. Now the student must play the part of a student. Being a student is not a passive task but an active one. Students must put in effort to learn and should not expect understanding to come without work. The first step to being a student is knowing what you are being taught. Learning changes according to context. Teaching history is different from teaching physics. The words used, the arguments employed, the questions asked and the expectations of students. Similarly, learning history is done differently from learning physics. You must read books on history differently from books on physics. Pigeonholing the book you’re reading is an important part of setting your mental model of learning before putting in the work to learn.

X-raying the Book

X-raying is a deeper level of inspectional reading. X-raying a book results in finding the underlying structure of the book. In finding the bones under the flesh. Three rules must be followed to x-ray a book:

  1. State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence or at most a few sentences.
  2. Set forth the major parts of the book and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the book
  3. Find out what the author’s problems were.

These three rules complement each other. By knowing the unity of the book you can put the parts of the book into perspective. By understanding the parts you both gain deeper understanding of of the whole and understand the author’s problems and his solutions. Students should strive to outline books down to their most basic units. This may result in outlines longer than the original. To find out the author’s problems the you must know what questions the author has. Knowing an author’s questions gives insights to the author’s intentions. Knowing these things (unity, parts and problems) gives you a framework from which to build understanding.

Coming to Terms with the Author

Words and terms are different. Words have different meanings in different contexts. The word “point” means one thing in a book about logic and something else entirely in a book on geometry. To understand a book you must understand the key words that an author uses and the meaning of those words. Authors may go out of their way to define their terms as teachers sometimes do. It is impossible to learn what is being taught if foundational concepts are misunderstood. Examples of terms in this book are: read, understand, elementary, inspectional, analytical, syntopical, term, proposition and structure.

Determining the Author’s Message

Now that you understand the author’s terms it is time to understand the author’s arguments. To understand the author’s arguments your must understand his propositions. A proposition is an expression of judgement. A declaration of knowledge. It is important to remember that propositions are opinions unless they are backed by reason or evidence. To understand an author’s message you must know the authors problems. To understand the author’s problems you must know his questions. To know his questions you must know answers. To know his answers you must know his arguments, their propositions, the fabric which weaves those propositions together and the terms used to composed the propositions.

The Eight rules of Analytical Reading

  1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
  2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
  3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.
  5. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
  6. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
  7. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
  8. Determine which of his problems the author has solved and which he has not; and as to the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.

Syntopical Reading

Syntopical reading is the highest form of reading which gives the deepest understanding. To read syntopically is to read many books about the same topic, synthesize understanding of each book and reach understanding of the topic as a whole. Much like analytical reading, syntopical reading has steps and rules. The first step is to decide on which books to read. The second step is to read them.

Building Your Bibliography

Inspectional reading must be done before analytical reading. Building a bibliography must be done before diving into a book. You must understand the topic of interest and it’s high level themes and ideas. You may find that some books originally of interest are not germane. You may discover books and articles which you would have otherwise missed had you not built your bibliography.

Reading Your Bibliography

Once again you should not dive into a single book. Perform an inspectional reading the books in your bibliography. Find the most important passages and read them first. Iteratively increase the resolution of your understanding. High level ideas must be understood before the details. Because authors may have different terms you must create a common vocabulary for all of the books in your bibliography. Define a set of questions to which most or all of the authors provide answers, either implicit or explicit. Define issues and by the opposing answers the authors provide for the questions you’ve defined. Analyze the topic by ordering questions and their issues from highest generality to lowest. This is the hardest form of reading as now the author must come to you. You must define a framework and decide how to fit books, questions, answers, propositions and terms within that framework.


Reading to achieve understanding is no small task. Effort must be put forth by the author and the reader. Just as there are steps to a game of chess, there are steps to achieve understanding when reading a book. Elementary reading is learning what the pieces of the game are and how they move. Inspectional reading is understanding the phases of the game. Analytical reading is understanding tactics and strategy. Syntopical reading is understanding styles of play. Each type of reading builds off the previous and following these steps will help you achieve understanding more effectively and efficiently.


Buy the book here.

All my notes can be found on goodreads.

An interesting idea that stood out to me was the notion that there are two types of discovery, aided discovery and unaided discovery. Going to school to learn from a teacher is aided discovery. Coming to understand a difficult to understand book is unaided discovery. All of the information is there but it’s up to the reader to have an ‘aha’ moment.

I’ve never in my life performed inspectional reading or syntopical reading. I think it will be quite some time before I do syntopical reading. However, I now understand the value of inspectional reading.

Speed reading should not be thought of reading fast all the time. Different parts of a book deserve different levels of thought and attention. Speed reading should be thought of as reading a various speeds, as demanded by the book.

If you read on a kindle you should follow these tips to read faster. The defaults aren’t optimal.

The finite and unbounded universe

In discussing the large-scale structure of the Cosmos, astronomers are fond of saying that space is curved, or that there is no center to the Cosmos, or that the universe is finite but unbounded. Whatever are they talking about? Let us imagine we inhabit a strange country where everyone is perfectly flat. Following Edwin Abbott, a Shakespearean scholar who lived in Victorian England, we call it Flatland. Some of us are squares; some are triangles; some have more complex shapes. We scurry about, in and out of our flat buildings, occupied with our flat businesses and dalliances. Everyone in Flatland has width and length, but no height whatever. We know about left -right and forward-back, but have no hint, not a trace of comprehension, about up-down – except for flat mathematicians. They say, ‘Listen, it’s really very easy. Imagine left -right. Imagine forward-back. Okay, so far? Now imagine another dimension, at right angles to the other two.’ And we say, ‘What are you talking about? “At right angles to the other two!” There are only two dimensions. Point to that third dimension. Where is it?’ So the mathematicians, disheartened, amble off. Nobody listens to mathematicians.

Every square creature in Flatland sees another square as merely a short line segment, the side of the square nearest to him. He can see the other side of the square only by taking a short walk. But the inside of a square is forever mysterious, unless some terrible accident or autopsy breaches the sides and exposes the interior parts.

One day a three-dimensional creature – shaped like an apple, say – comes upon Flatland, hovering above it. Observing a particularly attractive and congenial-looking square entering its flat house, the apple decides, in a gesture of interdimensional amity, to say hello. ‘How are you?’ asks the visitor from the third dimension. ‘I am a visitor from the third dimension.’ The wretched square looks about his closed house and sees no one. What is worse, to him it appears that the greeting, entering from above, is emanating from his own flat body, a voice from within. A little insanity, he perhaps reminds himself gamely, runs in the family.

Exasperated at being judged a psychological aberration, the apple descends into Flatland. Now a three-dimensional creature can exist, in Flatland, only partially; only a cross section can be seen, only the points of contact with the plane surface of Flatland. An apple slithering through Flatland would appear first as a point and then as progressively larger, roughly circular slices. The square sees a point appearing in a closed room in his two-dimensional world and slowly growing into a near circle. A creature of strange and changing shape has appeared from nowhere.

Rebuffed, unhappy at the obtuseness of the very flat, the apple bumps the square and sends him aloft, fluttering and spinning into that mysterious third dimension. At first the square can make no sense of what is happening; it is utterly outside his experience. But eventually he realizes that he is viewing Flatland from a peculiar vantage point: ‘above’. He can see into closed rooms. He can see into his flat fellows. He is viewing his universe from a unique and devastating perspective. Traveling through another dimension provides, as an incidental benefit, a kind of X-ray vision. Eventually, like a falling leaf, our square slowly descends to the surface. From the point of view of his fellow Flatlanders, he has unaccountably disappeared from a closed room and then distressingly materialized from nowhere. ‘For heaven’s sake,’ they say, ‘what’s happened to you?’ ‘I think,’ he finds himself replying, ‘I was “up.” ’ They pat him on his sides and comfort him. Delusions always ran in his family.

In such interdimensional contemplations, we need not be restricted to two dimensions. We can, following Abbott, imagine a world of one dimension, where everyone is a line segment, or even the magical world of zero-dimensional beasts, the points. But perhaps more interesting is the question of higher dimensions. Could there be a fourth physical dimension?

We can imagine generating a cube in the following way: Take a line segment of a certain length and move it an equal length at right angles to itself. That makes a square. Move the square an equal length at right angles to itself, and we have a cube. We understand this cube to cast a shadow, which we usually draw as two squares with their vertices connected. If we examine the shadow of a cube in two dimensions, we notice that not all the lines appear equal, and not all the angles are right angles. The three-dimensional object has not been perfectly represented in its transfiguration into two dimensions. This is the cost of losing a dimension in the geometrical projection. Now let us take our three-dimensional cube and carry it, at right angles to itself, through a fourth physical dimension: not left-right, not forward-back, not up-down, but simultaneously at right angles to all those directions. I cannot show you what direction that is, but I can imagine it to exist. In such a case, we would have generated a four-dimensional hypercube, also called a tesseract. I cannot show you a tesseract, because we are trapped in three dimensions. But what I can show you is the shadow in three dimensions of a tesseract. It resembles two nested cubes, all the vertices connected by lines. But for a real tesseract, in four dimensions, all the lines would be of equal length and all the angles would be right angles.

Imagine a universe just like Flatland, except that unbeknownst to the inhabitants, their two-dimensional universe is curved through a third physical dimension. When the Flatlanders take short excursions, their universe looks flat enough. But if one of them takes a long enough walk along what seems to be a perfectly straight line, he uncovers a great mystery: although he has not reached a barrier and has never turned around, he has somehow come back to the place from which he started. His two-dimensional universe must have been warped, bent or curved through a mysterious third dimension. He cannot imagine that third dimension, but he can deduce it. Increase all dimensions in this story by one, and you have a situation that may apply to us.

Where is the center of the Cosmos? Is there an edge to the universe? What lies beyond that? In a two-dimensional universe, curved through a third dimension, there is no center – at least not on the surface of the sphere. The center of such a universe is not in that universe; it lies, inaccessible, in the third dimension, inside the sphere. While there is only so much area on the surface of the sphere, there is no edge to this universe – it is finite but unbounded. And the question of what lies beyond is meaningless. Flat creatures cannot, on their own, escape their two dimensions.

  • Carl Sagan, Cosmos

The Stars

We eat berries and roots. Nuts and leaves. And dead animals. Some animals we find. Some we kill. We know which foods are good and which are dangerous. If we taste some foods we are struck down, in punishment for eating them. We did not mean to do something bad. But foxglove or hemlock can kill you. We love our children and our friends. We warn them of such foods.

When we hunt animals, then also can we be killed. We can be gored. Or trampled. Or eaten. What animals do means life and death for us: how they behave, what tracks they leave, their times for mating and giving birth, their times for wandering. We must know these things. We tell our children. They will tell their children.

We depend on animals. We follow them – especially in winter when there are few plants to eat. We are wandering hunters and gatherers. We call ourselves the hunterfolk.

Most of us fall asleep under the sky or under a tree or in its branches. We use animal skins for clothing: to keep us warm, to cover our nakedness and sometimes as a hammock. When we wear the animal skins we feel the animal’s power. We leap with the gazelle. We hunt with the bear. There is a bond between us and the animals. We hunt and eat the animals. They hunt and eat us. We are part of one another.

We make tools and stay alive. Some of us are experts at splitting, flaking, sharpening and polishing, as well as finding, rocks. Some rocks we tie with animal sinew to a wooden handle and make an ax. With the ax we strike plants and animals. Other rocks are tied to long sticks. If we are quiet and watchful, we can sometimes come close to an animal and stick it with the spear.

Meat spoils. Sometimes we are hungry and try not to notice. Sometimes we mix herbs with the bad meat to hide the taste. We fold foods that will not spoil into pieces of animal skin. Or big leaves. Or the shell of a large nut. It is wise to put food aside and carry it. If we eat this food too early, some of us will starve later. So we must help one another. For this and many other reasons we have rules. Everyone must obey the rules. We have always had rules. Rules are sacred.

One day there was a storm, with much lightning and thunder and rain. The little ones are afraid of storms. And sometimes so am I. The secret of the storm is hidden. The thunder is deep and loud; the lightning is brief and bright. Maybe someone very powerful is very angry. It must be someone in the sky, I think.

After the storm there was a flickering and crackling in the forest nearby. We went to see. There was a bright, hot, leaping thing, yellow and red. We had never seen such a thing before. We now call it ‘flame’. It has a special smell. In a way it is alive: It eats food. It eats plants and tree limbs and even whole trees, if you let it. It is strong. But it is not very smart. If all the food is gone, it dies. It will not walk a spear’s throw from one tree to another if there a no food along the way. It cannot walk without eating. But where there is much food, it grows and makes many flame children.

One of us had a brave and fearful thought: to capture the flame, feed it a little, and make it our friend. We found some long branches of hard wood. The flame was eating them, but slowly. We could pick them up by the end that had no flame. If you run fast with a small flame, it dies. Their children are weak. We did not run. We walked, shouting good wishes. ‘Do not die, ’ we said to the flame. The other hunterfolk looked with wide eyes.

Ever after, we have carried it with us. We have aflame mother to feed the flame slowly so it does not die of hunger. Flame is a wonder, and useful too; surely a gift from powerful beings. Are they the same as the angry beings in the storm ?

The flame keeps us warm on cold n ights. It gives us light. It makes holes in the darkness when the Moon is new. We can fix spears at night for tomorrow’s hunt. And if we are not tired, even in the darkness we can see each other and talk. Also – a good thing! – fire keeps animals away. We can be hurt at night. Sometimes we have been eaten, even by small animals, hyenas and wolves. Now it is differen t. Now the flame keeps the animals back. We see them baying softly in the dark, prowling, their eyes glowing in the light of the flame. They are frightened of the flame. But we are not frightened. The flame is ours. We take care of the flame. The flame takes care of us.

The sky is importan t. It covers us. It speaks to us. Before the time we found the flame, we would lie back in the dark and look up at all the poin ts of light. Some points would come together to make a picture in the sky. One of us could see the pictures better than the rest. She taught us the star pictures and what names to call them. We would sit around late at night and make up stories about the pictures in the sky: lions, dogs, bears, hunterfolk. Other, stranger things. Could they be the pictures of the powerful beings in the sky, the ones who make the storms when angry?

Mostly, the sky does not change. The same star pictures are there year after year. The Moon grows from nothing to a thin sliver to a round ball, and then back again to nothing. When the Moon changes, the women bleed. Some tribes have rules against sex at certain times in the growing and shrinking of the Moon. Some tribes scratch the days of the Moon or the days that the women bleed on antler bones. They can plan ahead and obey their rules. Rules are sacred.

The stars are very far away. When we climb a hill or a tree they are no closer. And clouds come between us and the stars: the stars must be behind the clouds. The Moon, as it slowly moves, passes in front of stars. Later you can see that the stars are not harmed. The Moon does not eat stars. The stars must be behind the Moon. They flicker. A strange, cold, white, faraway light. Many of them. All over the sky. But only at night. I wonder what they are.

After we found the flame, I was sitting near the campfire wondering about the stars.

Slowly a thought came: The stars are flame, I thought. Then I had another thought: The stars are campfires that other hunterfolk light at night. The stars give a smaller light than campfires. So the stars must be campfires very far away. ‘But, ’ they ask me, ‘how can there be campfires in the sky ? Why do the campfires and the hunter people around those flames not fall down at our feet? Why don’t strange tribes drop from the sky?’

Those are good questions. They trouble me. Sometimes I think the sky is half of a big eggshell or a big nutshell. I think the people around those faraway campfires look down at us – except for them it seems up – and say that we are in their sky, and wonder why we do not fall up to them, if you see what I mean. But hunterfolk say, ‘Down is down and up is up. ’ That is a good answer, too.

There is another thought that one of us had. His thought is that night is a great black animal skin, thrown up over the sky. There are holes in the skin. We look through the holes. And we see flame. His thought is not just that there is flame in a few places where we see stars. He thinks there is flame everywhere. He thinks flame covers the whole sky. But the skin hides the flame. Except where there are holes.

Some stars wander. Like the animals we hunt. Like us. If you watch with care over many months, you find they move. There are only five of them, like the fingers on a hand. They wander slowly among the stars. If the campfire thought is true, those stars must be tribes of wandering hunterfolk, carrying big fires. But I don’t see how wandering stars can be holes in a skin. When you make a hole, there it is. A hole is a hole. Holes do not wander. Also, I don’t want to be surrounded by a sky of flame. If the skin fell, the night sky would be bright – too bright – like seeing flame everywhere. I think a sky of flame would eat us all. Maybe there are two kinds of powerful beings in the sky. Bad ones, who wish the flame to eat us. And good ones who put up the skin to keep the flame away. We must find some way to thank the good ones.

I don’t know if the stars are campfires in the sky. Or holes in a skin through which the flame of power looks down on us. Sometimes I think one way. Sometimes 1 think a different way. Once I thought there are no campfires and no holes but something else, too hard for me to understand.

Rest your neck on a log. Your head goes back. Then you can see only the sky. No hills, no trees, no hunterfolk, no campfire. Just sky. Sometimes I feel I may fall up into the sky. If the stars are campfires, I would like to visit those other hunterfolk – the ones who wander. Then I feel good about falling up. But if the stars are holes in a skin, I become afraid. 1 don’t want to fall up through a hole and into the flame of power.

I wish I knew which was true. I don’t like not knowing.

  • Cosmos, Carl Sagan


RE: Simulation

This is the story of how Ayahuasca changed my life.

I immediately felt a connection to all the people I would be spending the next week with. On the way to the retreat we spoke of health care, cryptocurrencies, nanotechnology and history. We shared similar musical interests. We were all curious. What would the following week have in store for us? We all joked about how profound of an experience we’ll have, about how life changing Ayahuasca would be. Nothing could have prepared us for what would happen.

We arrived at the center on Sunday afternoon. A welcoming ceremony for us. People were dancing, music was playing, everyone was happy and the mood was light. A group of fourteen of us arrived and we found six people who had already been there for at least one week. We took a tour of the center and had an informational session. Our first dinner was the start of a week of strict dieting. It’s recommended avoid caffeine, alcohol, red meats, refined sugars, marijuana, sex and SSRIs for two weeks before the retreat. It’s also recommended to have a diet of the earth: fruits and vegetables, rice, fish, chicken. I later learned that the idea behind this diet was to keep our energy source as close to the sun as possible. Sprouts > fruits/vegetables > fish > herbivores > omnivores > carnivores. Interesting idea. I like it. I doubt there’s a biological basis for this diet and it’s interaction with Ayahuasca. I do believe that there’s a spiritual/mental interaction. It’s part of the prep work and I’m glad I did it, even a little bit. I’m thankful for the quality of food Arkana provided given the restrictions of the diet.

Nunu was the first ceremony we did. We did it the first night after a briefing on Kambo (which I’ll get to later) and Nunu. Nunu is a blend of 7 different herbs, primarily tobacco, which get shot into each of your nostrils. Nunu is used to clear your sinuses and open your third eye. Your third eye is the spiritual eye. It’s located in your pineal gland and many people believe it’s blocked off because of our diets. The word ‘calcified’ is used to describe the pineal gland of those who have a blocked third eye. I don’t buy into it. Nunu is not something I’d do again. It hurt. It was uncomfortable. It flushed out my sinuses but provided no feeling of relief.

Everyone woke up early the next morning to try Kambo, a frog venom. Indigenous people use Kambo before hunting to heighten their senses. They believe Kambo cures ailments and boosts their immune system. To use Kambo, a shaman burns the skin on the outside of your shoulder and applies the venom (a paste) to each of the burns. Kambo makes your heart race and your body temperature rise. Some people throw up. I had intense diarrhea. I did *not* feel like any of my senses had been heightened and I don’t think it would be a good way to start a hunt. It did not feel good. Kambo and Nunu are worth trying. I don’t think I’ll ever use them again.

Monday night, the night of the Kambo, was our first Ayahuasca ceremony. We each got a mat in the big maloka. The three shamans got their own mats. Each of the facilitators had their own mats. We had a briefing at 5:30. Quiet time started at 6:30. The ceremony started at 7:30. It was abrupt. We all went up one by one as Craig called us, told him how much we’d like to consume (nobody had more than 2 shot glasses) and took our dose. I was one of the last to go up. As I took the Ayahuasca I thought about my intention one last time: have fun. Earlier that day I had spoken with the facilitators and the head shaman about my past and why I was there. They recommended that my intention be to get closer with my family but I chose to instead desire fun. Intentions are similar to prayers, something you think about going into the ceremony. Intentions prime your mind. The candles get blown out after the last adventurer takes their Ayahuasca, shamans and facilitators included. The maloka went dark. The journey began.

Fifteen minutes after the candle was blown out I heard the first of many purges. The trips started soon after. One person repeated “fuck”. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. He was in a loop. Others were crying. Some were yelling. Most were facing demons. The room was full of energy. The facilitators were working hard to keep folks calm. The shamans started singing and it was beautiful. My trip hadn’t started but I was nauseous. I was envious of those who were deep into their trip. Ninety minutes into my trip I called over a facilitator to ask for more[1]. Two neighbors to my right took more with me. This put me over the edge. Ayahuasca is more wonderful than LSD. I became a kid; I laughed at the music, pretended to conduct the songs, I danced on my mat. I couldn’t help but laugh and more than once the facilitators came by and asked me to quiet down. Others were having a hard time. Sometimes the songs would stop and we would have to sit there in silence confronting our thoughts. During these breaks I would play with my shirt. I’d throw it up into the darkness trying to land it on my face. The songs would start again and I would start conducting again. Why was anyone having a hard time? This drug is so wonderful. One of the facilitators brought me to the shamans for my Icaro. I’m not sure when. Icaros are songs sung to you by one of the shamans. The shaman sung about the intention given to me earlier in the day, to get closer to my family. I couldn’t distinguish that intention. I only heard beautiful music. Three of us would get Icaros simultaneously. I could feel the energy of the shamans. I could feel them feeling each others energy. The music and energy wove together. I felt a deep sense of wonder and amazement within me. Music is beautiful. My Icaro finished and a facilitator guided me back to my mat. It was sudden. I needed to vomit. My first purge. The facilitators had told us not to worry about the purge by hovering around our bucket. The purge will come when it needs to come. The facilitators were right. My purge was beautiful. Relieving. Spiritual. It felt *good* to vomit. I threw myself backwards on my mat and revelled in the lightness of my being. My visuals became intense. I was blind. I couldn’t understand anything I was seeing. I was still rooted in reality but I couldn’t see anything. I could hear but I couldn’t listen. Others continued to purge and received their Icaros but I was too absorbed in my own experience to consider how others felt. I felt so good. I wanted to pay for Alex and Reid to come experience this with me when I come back in six months. I convinced myself that I’d be back soon and I wanted to share the experience with close friends. Ayahuasca taught me the value of generosity. I am not a generous person. I’m selfish. I put myself before others. Ayahuasca taught me the value of putting others first. This is still a lesson I’m learning. Generosity breeds happiness and enriches life.

Mornings after ceremonies start with group share. Everyone sits on their mat and gets an opportunity to share with the group whatever they want. We take turns holding a ball, sharing and throwing the ball to another when we’re done. A facilitator translates what we share for the head shaman. The shaman then gives advice on what the trip meant and what intention he thinks you should have going into the next ceremony. When it was my turn to share, I didn’t speak much about my experience. Instead I spoke about the events leading up to the ceremony. During the prior two days I had a lot of skepticism about many of the traditions and ideas surrounding Ayahuasca. I challenged lots of them. I wanted to know the dosage of DMT in our drinks. I wanted to know why we took floral baths. I wanted to know what flowers are used in the bath. I challenged the notion of Kambo making hunters more effective. I asked lots of questions and I felt vilified for it. How dare I question what’s been done for generations. When I asked one of my questions one of the other adventurers told me to shut up. I felt disrespected. This attitude surprised me. Many put on an air of open mindedness but didn’t accept my curiosity. I felt like the vibe of the room change after I shared that. I felt disconnected from the group that day and kept to myself. I worried some of the adventurers would walk on eggshells for fear of hurting my feelings. That was the last thing I wanted. I wanted others to challenge me and question *my* beliefs. I didn’t want others to tell me to shut up and I didn’t want others to get exasperated by my questions. I wanted respect. After I shared my feelings I shared my experience. I shared how my intention going into the ceremony was to have fun. I had no deep revelations and didn’t face any demons like many of the others. The advice given to me by the shaman was useless. So useless that I don’t remember any of it. This was a theme for me throughout the retreat.

My intention for the second ceremony, on Tuesday, was understanding. The results: total confusion. My second ceremony was emotional. We all sat on our mats at 7:30 and one by one Craig called us to take the drug. I took one shot on Monday. I took 1.5 shots this time. Most adventurers started their journey within fifteen minutes of taking the drug. My journey didn’t start until two hours into the ceremony. Ayahuasca redefined love. Whatever I called love before was meaningless and superficial. I hadn’t loved anyone before. I hadn’t loved myself. Love filled me. I radiated love. Love of self. Love of others. Before this ceremony I had a fear of death. Not fear of a horrible and painful death, but fear of the idea of death. I would think about not being alive anymore and that would scare me. I felt such love for myself that I no longer fear the idea of death. My purge, like the ceremony before felt great. Ayahuasca had a much stronger hold of me this time. My purge lasted much longer. It seemed like it lasted much longer. After the purge I got stuck in a loop. The love was overwhelming. Why was I so happy? Will I always be like this? Did I eat something? I don’t want this anymore. I’m scared. Why am I so happy? It confused the hell out of me. I was stuck in this loop for what felt like hours. It was uncomfortable. The ceremony finally ended and the candle was lit. I was blind. I couldn’t perceive any light hitting my retina. I could see light and objects but I couldn’t make out what any of it meant. There was someone lying on my mat and I wasn’t sure who it was. I kept asking “who is this?” and “who’s there?” but they wouldn’t respond. I was so, so confused. I couldn’t make sense of anything. I couldn’t stop asking questions. My questions had no theme. What is philosophy? How do I sleep? What are questions? Can someone talk to me please? What’s going on? Who are you? Who am I? I kept repeating the same questions. I had felt confusion before on LSD, but not like this. I have no idea what Alzheimers feels like but I felt like I had hints of it. I was lucky that Charlotte, Rebecca and Justin were so patient. They dealt with me for hours. So did many others. Thank you to everyone who tolerated me. I’m sure it was annoying. During this eternal confusion I felt a great need to touch people. I hugged everyone in the room at least once. I cuddled with everyone too. Jay was the best cuddler in the room. This ceremony I learned what it means to love, that questions are good and that touch is powerful. It’s such a shame touching isn’t ok. I hope that changes before I die.

During groupshare on Wednesday I shared my experience. I had radiated love towards myself. I wanted understanding but instead got total confusion. My connection with the drug felt much deeper. I was almost ready to start calling it a medicine like everyone else. After groupshare we did yoga. The exercise felt great. I missed moving my body with purpose. At the very end of yoga we did a few minutes of shavasana. To perform shavasana you lie on your back and relax. Simple but powerful. Val spoke to us during shavasana. She told us to love ourselves. To love others. She spoke of pure messages. I started to cry. When shavasana ended and all the others left the room, I stayed. I wasn’t ready to leave. I kept crying. Yesterday’s confusion was still lingering. Why do I feel so *good*? Why did it take me so long to achieve this understanding of happiness and love? How is it that most people never experience this? What happened to me last night? My own happiness and love confused me. I had an emotional glow like I’ve never had before. My emotional breakdown must have lasted close to an hour. Justin, Craig and Val helped me through it. I’m so grateful to have had such an amazing group of people to help me. In that moment and throughout the retreat. Thank you.

Wednesday was our day off. We didn’t do any drugs. We didn’t do Ayahuasca. Our schedule gave us time to recover and reflect. I needed. We all needed it.

Thursday was third ceremony. Third of four. It was my last ceremony. I struggled deciding on my intention. I didn’t settle on one until a few minutes before my dose. I took a half dose with the intention of “teach me”. Again, it took several hours to start my journey. I didn’t start tripping until the Icaros started. This journey was by far the most productive. I learned more than could have ever imagined. This was more than an individual event. It was a species wide event. Coming into this retreat one thing I hoped to find answers for was my weak work ethic. I have never been one to buckle down when things get tough. I’m quick to give up. When learning a new skill I get the quick novice gains and give up when the hard work begins. I got my answer for this. My past two ceremonies had been positive. I had not dealt with any demons, fear or terror. Many, if not most, of the other adventurers had. This journey started with demons. I could see them in my periphery with closed eyes. They looked like snakes. I couldn’t quite perceive them. I was aware of what was going on. I had to work to keep them at bay. If I gave up, they would take over. Failure was not an option. I noticed I had scrunched my face. This self awareness astonished me. I decided that the only way to keep the demons away was to smile. So I smiled. I faked it. I wasn’t scared. I knew I could win but it would be hard. I suddenly realized the power of listening to others. I had beaten the demons. My face was no longer scrunched. It was no longer working to keep them away. They stood no chance. I learned the power of positivity. I learned mental resolve. I learned resilience. I learned the value of work. I learned understanding. I learned to question. I learned to be curious. In an instant I gained the wisdom of a lifetime. I no longer had anything holding me back. I could grow unbounded. I learned the most profound lesson of my life. I am great. I have greatness within me. I could feel the neuroplasticity of my brain. My brain was rewiring and I could feel it. My thought patterns were changing. My perspective was changing. I had more questions than anyone has had in the history of time. I felt powerful. I didn’t feel like the world was at my fingertips. I felt like the universe was at my fingertips. I will change the world. I understood people like I never had before. There’s this notion that the subconscious processes many many times more information that the conscious mind. I felt like a small part of my subconscious had become conscious. I could think so much faster. So much more effectively. I felt powerful. No words will ever do justice how I felt. Ayahuasca is medicine.

Friday morning we did group share again. Many of us had experiences the night before that tied things together. Our lives were finally being resolved. Our journey’s coming to an end. Closure. After group share several of us tried 5-MeO-DMT. 5-MeO cured someone at the retreat of PTSD. I experienced eternal peace. It was hard to understand the feeling. I felt calm and collected. Content with all things. Apathetic of the future. Forgetful of the past. Present. The experience was far less intense than my last Ayahuasca journey but because of it I decided to forgo the final ceremony.

My life now has purpose. I don’t know what that purpose is yet.  Faster than light travel is possible. I suspect I will be part of that solution. Whether it is or not, I know that I will put my stamp on humanity. This idea scares me. What does it mean? I know I’m capable of executing on this. I’ve found that people laugh when I share this idea. I’m sure there’s skepticism. Even with my own conviction I find myself skeptical. It’s hard to integrate this idea. The best way forward for myself and all humans is to make sharing ideas easier. Ideas are the cornerstone of humanity. I have many ideas but I can never have enough.

What are your ideas? What do you think?


[1] This is my understanding of how Ayahuasca works interacts with the body. There are two active ingredients, DMT and a MAO inhibitor (MAOI). DMT ingested without a MAOI inhibitor will not be absorbed by the body, the DMT isn’t bioavailable. This is because the MAO enzyme destroys the DMT. Much of the DMT in a first dose isn’t absorbed because the MAOI in the shot hasn’t had time to inhibit the enzyme. When given a second dose, you’re given a lot less because the MAOIs from the first dose have had time to take full effect. My second dose was a quarter shot. If any of this is wrong, someone please correct me.