Trip to the Mountains Getting High for God?


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Trip to the Mountains

Mawaan Rizwan visits the Oklevueha Native American Church in Utah, where people take Class A drug Peyote in the hope of finding religious enlightenment.


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This programme contains some strong language.

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My name is Mawaan Rizwan. I was brought up in a religious family.

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I'm not practising

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and I would say I don't necessarily believe in God.

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But I am curious to know if there is some kind of higher being.

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Is there something more to life?

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I've heard that some people are looking for answers through taking

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traditional medicines.

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Basically, powerful hallucinogenic drugs.

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I'm off to the American wilderness to meet a medicine man who uses the

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ancient drug peyote, one of the most powerful hallucinogenics on earth.

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Oh!

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And I've got to decide if it's something I'm going to try in my

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search for God.

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I've come to Salt Lake City in Utah, America.

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For centuries, Native Americans have taken a drug called peyote to

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connect with the spirit world.

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Peyote is illegal in the USA unless you're Native American,

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but in one corner of the state, anyone can take it legally.

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I'm on my way to meet the founder

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of the Oklevueha Native American Church,

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James Flaming Eagle Mooney.

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I'm really excited and really nervous

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because I don't really know what to expect.

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-Hi.

-Hey, guy.

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-How's it going?

-Como estas?

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I'm Mawaan. Nice to meet you.

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-How are you, James?

-I'm so kind and gentle today, it's almost sickening.

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Cool. That's good to know.

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-Have a seat.

-Thanks for doing this.

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One of the things I'm interested to know about is

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when I think of spirituality, I think of, like...

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I've been to a couple of yoga classes and I was terrible at it,

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so maybe it's not for me.

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JAMES LAUGHS But...

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where do I begin with that sort of understanding of actually what

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is spiritual and how do I delve into it?

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Well, that's where I come in.

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-Yeah.

-That's where I help you.

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I assist you. I'm a medicine man in terms of spirituality

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and emotions.

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Native Americans have used peyote in religion for thousands of years.

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It comes from a cactus plant.

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James's church offers non-Native Americans the chance to use peyote

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to connect with God.

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I'll be joining him on one of his ceremonial retreats.

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But I can't get it out of my head that peyote is a class A drug.

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Because of its active ingredient mescaline,

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it's put in the same category as heroin.

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I've come to a local hotel to get some head space.

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I've had friends who have used substances that, you know,

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I worry about, that they're dependent.

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And so I'm really on the fence about the whole thing

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because if it helps people, great, but, you know,

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I have been taught to see these things as dangerous and addictive.

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'I did some research the only way I know how, online.'

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Why is he in the middle of the street?

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High on peyote.

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Come on, mate. Get out the street.

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There's cars!

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Why would you do that?

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The effects of peyote are like LSD, so it's pretty intense.

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Taking it could put you at risk if you or a member of your family have

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suffered from psychosis in the past.

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But I couldn't find any strong medical evidence that taking it once

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would have any long-lasting effect.

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It feels like you sort of lose control of your body

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and you see things that are not there.

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Sounds ideal, actually.

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Possession of peyote can land you in prison in the UK.

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It's also highly illegal for most people in America.

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Four years ago, James Flaming Eagle Mooney

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was thrust into a struggle

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that pitted religious freedom against drug laws.

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For generations, Native Americans have been legally entitled to use

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peyote as part of their religion,

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but James led the fight to allow other Americans to take the drug

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in ceremonies.

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After serving a jail sentence,

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in 2004, he won his battle in Utah's Supreme Court.

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Since then, James has been allowed to bring non-Native Americans

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like me to try peyote, as long as they become church members.

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And seeing as I don't want to get arrested,

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I've had to get one of these,

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which is to say that I'm a member of the religious group

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so I can take it legally. This cost 200.

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It makes it really official, doesn't it?

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This says I can take a psychedelic drug

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which helps me get closer to God.

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And cos God is attached, that's a legit reason.

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You can't argue with that, in a way, can you?

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I've got the card in my pocket

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and now it's time to head off for the retreat.

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This is as remote as it gets.

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I mean, it's literally in the middle of nowhere,

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I can't see a building in sight.

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I'm looking forward to meeting the people who are taking part in the

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ceremony, they're called the Seekers.

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And I want to know why they would come all this way to find God.

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I'm a bit apprehensive, but I'm open.

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I'm willing to be out of my comfort zone and maybe it will pay off.

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Yeah, who knows? I think we're here now.

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Wow! This is absolutely stunning.

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It's snowing a bit, as well.

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Hey, how's it going? I'm Mawaan.

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-Josiah.

-Josiah? Nice to meet you, Josiah.

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-Hey, man, Mawaan.

-Donovan.

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What a peaceful place, with these beautiful lakes and mountains.

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Yeah, it's beautiful,

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we're just trying to get camp set up now

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before it gets too dark and then we have no place to sleep.

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Richie is one of 12 members of the Church who have travelled from all

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over the USA to come to the retreat.

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He's come nearly 2,000 miles to be here, all the way from Ohio.

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Can I be of any help?

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-Certainly.

-Yeah.

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So is this your first time in the mountains?

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Yes, it is.

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-What do you make of it?

-The best, it's amazing.

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I just love being around nature and rocks.

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I live in the downtown of a city, so this is very nice.

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What are your expectations for the next few days?

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Learn how to forgive myself a bit better.

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-Yeah.

-I've done a few ceremonies already, but, you know,

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hopefully third time's a charm.

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Yeah.

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James will lead the peyote ceremony in a Native American tepee.

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He's got an interesting take on his role as a medicine man.

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I'm known as a roto-rooter man, that's what they call me.

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-What does that mean?

-Well, you know what a roto-rooter is?

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-No.

-It cleans out toilets.

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Roto-rooter man.

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Who gave you that name?

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-A lot of people.

-You dig for the shit and scoop it out.

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That's right, that's what I do.

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Whatever is blocking people from believing and seeing that beauty,

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I'm going to get rid of it.

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My job, when those people walk through that tepee,

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or walk into the ceremony,

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is to penetrate all the stuff

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that we manufacture to cover up that vulnerability.

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What do you think I've manufactured to hide some of my true spirit?

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Denial that you're a spiritual man.

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Right.

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I don't know what to make of James Flaming Eagle Mooney.

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I mean, what a guy. I think I like him.

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He's endearing in a way that, you know, when your grandad speaks

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to you, and he talks a bit, but you're like, you know,

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"I still respect you for what you do."

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Do you mind if I join in?

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Yeah.

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What made you choose this over other more traditional

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-systems of belief?

-This is what...

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It started out as respecting Mother Earth, respecting your body,

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loving yourself.

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Giving free massages?

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Giving free...

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Serving, that's all it comes down to, is everybody serves.

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Have you dabbled in other religions?

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Yes, definitely. I've studied a lot of different things.

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I grew up, actually, Mormon.

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I find there's actually a lot of truth in a lot of different things.

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It's not just getting high in the forest?

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-No!

-No!

-OK.

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I don't know what to make of all of this.

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Are these guys really here to find God?

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I'm getting the feeling that they might already be on something.

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I swear you will take your first breath ever after you get it.

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-It's insane.

-What are you actually doing, though?

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You're relieving the bone.

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You actually get, like, a face-lift, as well.

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It heightens your cheeks and...

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So you're... Oh! Wow.

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-Wait, wait, wait, do this side first.

-OK.

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SHE SCREAMS

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THEY LAUGH

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Rock on!

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You literally just put your entire pinkie in her nostril.

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And remember, you're not jerking or anything. It's not violent.

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You're just following the passage and you can literally

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-feel the bone just moving.

-You're just opening the passage.

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What does it...what does it feel like having your nose fingered like that?

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Great afterwards.

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Really? It sounded really painful!

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After it's, like, the most amazing thing, like, literally,

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it just feels like I'm connected to myself.

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It sounded really painful.

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It is, but, you know, like,

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it's worth it if it's going to make me feel better.

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-Let's go, let's go, let's go.

-What kind of pain is it?

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-WOMAN SHOUTS IN BACKGROUND

-It's tightness, it depends.

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The very first one's the worst and from there it only gets better.

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It gets clear. Like, mine, I didn't even react or scream.

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I cried the first time.

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He literally just put his entire finger through her nasal...

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I mean...

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I don't know. I need to Google that. Is that a thing? Is that a thing?

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Does that make you breathe better?

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I Googled it. It's not a thing.

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I feel quite detached to faith and spirituality in a way.

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I think those words come preloaded with a lot of misconceptions

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and a lot of people have used them in the West to do some whack stuff.

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So when it comes to spirituality and village, I feel a bit detached

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and a bit cynical.

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I was a bit surprised by the fact

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that it's called Native American Church

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and there's not a lot of Native Americans here.

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It's interesting because they're dealing with a lot

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of ancient rituals and ceremonies and, like, that guy's got an iPhone.

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So... You know.

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It's an interesting merging of cultures, I guess.

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Around three quarters of all Americans subscribe to some kind of

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formal religion.

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So I want to know what these guys get from peyote that they

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couldn't find in more traditional faiths.

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What led me to these practices was desire for truth,

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a desire for reality.

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Peyote itself is considered a truth serum.

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Some people refer to it as that, so it removes, kind of,

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the facade of who we like to paint ourself as.

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Richard, what does God mean to you?

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I see God as everything.

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I see God as you, I see God as me, I see God as this dirt,

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I see God as the stars and the moon.

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For a long time...

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..I...

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..I didn't believe in God.

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Cos I didn't have enough love there, in your heart.

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I used to be a very dark person through and through.

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I used to be evil.

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Where did that stem from?

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Self-abuse.

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Neglect to take care of myself, my physical body, my mind.

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Also blaming myself for my father's death,

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which was not my fault whatsoever.

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He died of a brain aneurysm.

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But for a long time I really believed I caused it.

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How old were you when that happened?

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I was ten years old.

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A year and a half after he died,

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I have no memory of that part of my life.

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I was in such a dark place.

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God pushed me into the light.

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Because I feel like the first two times I did peyote...

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..it really hit me deep.

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And it was able to let

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me forgive myself...

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..for all of the beating up I've done to myself over the years.

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(Oh, my gosh.)

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I feel like I'm slowly starting to understand why these guys are here

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and what it means to them.

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Because, actually, being in these surroundings, they're really

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candid and they're really honest and open,

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and not afraid to look vulnerable and...

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Yeah, some deep stuff.

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It's not just getting high in the mountains.

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It's not just...

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It's not just a fun weekend for them,

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this is some intense stuff going on.

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And they're bringing it all out.

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Over the next couple of days I've got to decide if peyote is something

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I'm going to try.

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It's time to get serious.

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There's one important ritual

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that you have to do before the peyote ceremony.

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It's called a sweat lodge.

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It's an ancient Native American tradition stretching back

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thousands of years and it's supposed to bring about a spiritual rebirth.

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The divot in the centre is supposed to represent the womb of the woman.

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And then over there we have lava rocks,

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which come from, like, the core of the Earth.

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And in American belief, that is the seed of the man.

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So we take those and we put them in the womb of the woman and it's

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supposed to be, like, the joining of man and woman.

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Together in the sweat lodge.

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-I'm helping.

-All the pieces can go up top.

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It's kind of cool.

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Everyone's really getting stuck into it and working together.

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It's really communal and stuff.

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And Bear, who looks a lot like my dad,

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is leading and guiding everyone into it.

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Bear is pretty old school and strict

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when it comes to traditional Native American rituals.

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Once the lodge is dedicated, or we praise over it,

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we have what we call a spirit line

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that runs from the fire, through here into the fire pit.

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Once that's blessed, no-one is to step over the line except

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the fire man and whoever's conducting.

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Bear? Can I ask a question?

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-Yes.

-How many people are going to go in the sweat lodge?

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-I think he said 12.

-You're going to fit 12 people in there?

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-Yes.

-You're supposed to be real tight.

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-You know, like, skin to skin.

-All right.

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-Great!

-Like, like really like this.

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We're going to be spooning in the sweat lodge.

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-Yes.

-I can't wait.

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I haven't spooned in ages.

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WHISTLE BLOWS

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DRUM BEATS SLOWLY

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Go.

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Go.

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MAN CHANTS

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-THEY GREET EACH OTHER

-Welcome, brother.

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Nice.

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Give this for the north of wisdom and understanding.

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Door down.

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TRADITIONAL CHANTING

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After two hours, it's so hot it feels like my skin is burning.

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Oh!

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Let it go. Yell it out.

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-Yell it out.

-Yell it out.

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HE YELLS

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Oh.

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HE BREATHES HEAVILY

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Ah! Ah!

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'I had, like... I had visions.

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'It was really dark and all you could see was these fiery stones.'

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And so, you could just...

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let everything go, just get completely lost.

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It's fucking euphoric.

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I feel really...

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I feel euphoria and I don't know why.

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OTHERS SCREAM AND YELP

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I feel really alive. I think this is the most alert I've ever felt...

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..in my life.

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I just thought it was a sauna!

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I was saying, "What's the big deal? It's just a sauna."

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We've been in the mountains for four days.

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The sweat lodge has been such an intense experience,

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I've decided to go for it and try the peyote.

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In the tepee, everything is ready for the ceremony.

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Cool.

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'Made out of dried cactus, peyote can be taken in a variety of ways,

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'including as a tea or a paste.'

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I'm excited. But I'm absolutely pooing my pants.

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EAGLE CALLS

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I've been told that it's a truth serum,

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but I'm not sure how truthful I want to be.

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So, I want to welcome all of you to the ceremony.

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These are indigenous ceremonies, they've been proven over and over,

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thousands of years, assisting people to change and alter their behaviour.

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Leah, you have a question for me.

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Erm, I would like some medicine, please.

0:21:320:21:37

You got it, girl. Have a seat.

0:21:370:21:39

Put it in your hand.

0:21:480:21:50

Make a ball out of it.

0:21:500:21:51

Mawaan, I'm honoured to have you here.

0:21:560:21:59

When you joined Oklevueha Native American Church,

0:22:050:22:08

you didn't join a church, you joined a family.

0:22:080:22:13

That's what prevails.

0:22:130:22:14

-Can I have some tea, please?

-You sure may.

0:22:160:22:18

-Thank you.

-You're welcome.

0:22:370:22:39

-Ya-ho.

-OTHERS:

-Ya-ho.

0:22:390:22:43

Sometimes we've been so maligned

0:22:430:22:47

that we just don't understand what we really want.

0:22:470:22:50

This medicine helps us to really find out

0:22:500:22:53

what it is that we really want.

0:22:530:22:55

How do you know truth

0:22:550:22:59

from falsehood?

0:22:590:23:00

If you hear something, or somebody says something about you,

0:23:010:23:05

and you have this peaceful feeling, and you kind of...

0:23:050:23:08

'James droned on for four hours, and, to be honest,

0:23:080:23:11

'it wasn't doing much for my quest for inner truth.'

0:23:110:23:13

I'd like some fresh air.

0:23:130:23:15

-What?

-I'd like some fresh air.

0:23:150:23:18

OK, do you want to come back?

0:23:180:23:20

-Yes, potentially.

-Oh, absolutely.

0:23:200:23:23

-Thanks, James.

-You do whatever you like.

0:23:230:23:25

I couldn't spend a second longer in there

0:23:260:23:29

without feeling like I couldn't take it, because I didn't believe it,

0:23:290:23:35

and I don't want to be disrespectful, but that's me being honest.

0:23:350:23:38

I want a smoothie!

0:23:460:23:47

Are you high right now?

0:23:500:23:51

I don't know, I think I'm high.

0:23:510:23:53

I don't think I... I think I'm...

0:23:530:23:55

OK, I think I'm being really honest.

0:23:570:24:01

I think that's the highness.

0:24:010:24:02

I think if I wasn't this high...

0:24:050:24:08

I think if I wasn't high, I wouldn't be being this honest,

0:24:080:24:12

and I don't know if it's honest or not, but it feels really honest.

0:24:120:24:15

I don't believe in it.

0:24:150:24:17

I want a smoothie and I want to paint pictures.

0:24:170:24:20

On the other hand, on the other hand...

0:24:220:24:25

I feel cool, like, I feel like I can...

0:24:250:24:30

do the essence of what I want to do, you know, like, I can...

0:24:300:24:35

close off all the distractions, but this is what I need to do,

0:24:360:24:40

and then just get on with it.

0:24:400:24:41

Like, right now, I want an Oreo milkshake,

0:24:410:24:46

and I need to do that.

0:24:460:24:47

I think that's what God is...

0:24:500:24:51

'Maybe this drug really is a truth serum.

0:24:560:24:59

'I'm definitely feeling like letting it all out.'

0:24:590:25:02

I feel like...

0:25:040:25:05

I don't really know what love is.

0:25:090:25:13

So I don't really know...

0:25:130:25:15

..when it's around.

0:25:160:25:17

And that can make me quite cynical,

0:25:200:25:23

if I'm being completely honest.

0:25:230:25:24

Mmm.

0:25:240:25:26

It's ringing true to me.

0:25:260:25:28

OTHERS LAUGH

0:25:280:25:30

So, do you like it there?

0:25:300:25:32

Um...

0:25:340:25:36

What's strange is I think a part of me does really like it.

0:25:360:25:41

-That's good.

-Because it makes me feel...

0:25:410:25:44

like I'm better than everyone else.

0:25:440:25:46

Oh, my gosh.

0:25:460:25:48

You've got time now.

0:25:480:25:51

There's not an exterior thing that is overcoming all your thoughts.

0:25:510:25:57

In here, you're looking at it, you're seeing.

0:25:570:26:01

I feel like if I'm not cynical then I'll just fall for anything.

0:26:010:26:04

Boy, that's a double whammy, man. That's a tough one.

0:26:080:26:11

These are the battles that are going on in my head.

0:26:110:26:15

Especially when I'm in new surroundings.

0:26:150:26:17

All those kinds of feelings, like cynicism, like,

0:26:170:26:20

"What are these people really doing?"

0:26:200:26:22

And surely there's a way to understand this better.

0:26:220:26:27

What I found out is that it took a good while for me to sit with the

0:26:270:26:31

medicine and learn what it was teaching me.

0:26:310:26:34

And so you don't treat that lightly, man. That's the real deal.

0:26:370:26:41

Even though the peyote wasn't really doing it for me, it was obvious that

0:26:430:26:47

these guys take it really seriously.

0:26:470:26:50

It allows you to forgive.

0:26:500:26:52

That's the miracle of the peyote medicine.

0:26:520:26:55

It takes something that's within you,

0:26:550:26:58

that's holding you back from your true self,

0:26:580:27:01

the love and light person you really want to be.

0:27:010:27:05

And whatever's holding you back, if you can let it go...

0:27:050:27:09

it assists you.

0:27:090:27:12

I felt God there with me, you know?

0:27:120:27:15

And it was powerful.

0:27:150:27:18

OTHERS CHANT

0:27:210:27:24

SHE EXHALES

0:27:240:27:26

HE EXHALES

0:27:310:27:34

When I first got here, to be really honest,

0:27:340:27:36

I thought it was a bit of a con.

0:27:360:27:38

Just an excuse for some hippies to take drugs in the hills.

0:27:380:27:41

THEY SPEAK INDISTINCTLY

0:27:410:27:43

But sharing these days has made me change my mind.

0:27:430:27:46

I personally don't think I talked to God,

0:27:480:27:52

didn't really get my money's worth,

0:27:520:27:54

but I still felt really safe and held by a group of people,

0:27:540:27:59

and that in itself is a bit of an enlightening experience, you know?

0:27:590:28:03

-THEY LAUGH

-I can't compete with that!

0:28:030:28:06

UPBEAT MUSIC PLAYS

0:28:060:28:11

You are amazing.

0:28:140:28:16

Next time, I'm in Brazil and on the trail of another legendary drug -

0:28:190:28:24

ayahuasca.

0:28:240:28:25

So I'm going to knock on God's door

0:28:250:28:28

and let's see if he's there.

0:28:280:28:30

Mawaan Rizwan travels to Utah to spend time with the Oklevueha Native American Church. People from across the USA come here to use the Class A drug Peyote seeking religious enlightenment. Is the whole thing is just an excuse to get high in the mountains, or can the medicine man really can help him unlock a link to the spirit world?