Ayahuasca

So, last post, I shared some pretty personal stuff about how I was feeling extremely lonely, bored, and frustrated last summer, and it eventually led to a big freak out on my part.

Read that first, so you’re up to scruff here…

At the end of that post, I mentioned that Luke and I then went to South America together immediately after, and at the last minute decided to do ayahuasca together as a way to process, purge, and grow forward together and in ourselves after recent events.

What Is Ayahuasca?

Well, I spent a long time trying to figure how to tell you what it is with little success… so here’s an edited excerpt from wikipedia to give you the basic introduction.

Just to warn you that if you’re new to all this, this is all going to sound really friggin’ weird and out there. So bear with me.

Ayahuasca (said eye-a-wah-ska), is an entheogenic (and hallucinogenic) brew made out of the B. caapi vine, often in combination with various other plants. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous people of Amazonian Peru, many of whom say that they received the instructions in its use directly from the plants and plant spirits themselves.

People who have consumed ayahuasca report having spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, as well as extremely deep insight into how to be the best person they can possibly be. This is viewed by many as a spiritual awakening and what is often described as a rebirth. In addition, it is often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher spiritual dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra-dimensional beings who can act as guides or healers.

Author Don Jose Campos claims that people may experience profound positive life changes subsequent to consuming ayahuasca. The ripple effects of a powerful, mystical experience can potentially reverberate for the rest of an individual’s life span.

Vomiting can follow ayahuasca ingestion; this purging is considered by many shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience, as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Others report purging in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes.

Let’s Paint a Picture Here…

You head to Peru, to the Amazon jungle. Or in my case, the Andes mountains.

You go to an ayahuasca retreat, because you want to spiritually or emotionally heal in some way and make big headway on your own personal growth.

You are under the supervision of a shaman, a traditional plant doctor, who is there to spiritually guide your healing during the ceremony. And if it is a reputable place, there will also be nurses and other helpers there to make sure you are well taken care of on this journey.

You spend the day fasting, and then at 8 pm, you head into a dark hut in which you snuggle up in a sleeping bag and lie yourself down. There are usually quite a few people in the room with you, also snuggled in their sleeping bags, nervously awaiting what’s ahead.

uugggh...
uugggh…

A few ceremonial blessings and prayers occur, before you are dished up your serving of the most disgusting tasting brown sludge that ever existed. Seriously. I still have nightmares about the taste.

After choking that down, you lie back patiently for 40 minutes or so as you wait for it to kick in.

Next thing you know, you’re probably doubled over, throwing up in your ceremonial puke bucket. This is the purge… while it sounds awful (and it is), in ayahuasca this is always considered to be a good thing, as you are supposedly releasing everything spiritually, emotionally, and physically that isn’t serving you.

Once that happens, that’s generally when you are thrown in the deep end.

The room starts moving. Shapes start shifting. And for most people, when you close your eyes, you are now being transported to other dimensions, or deep deep inside your own mind and spirit.

Visions overtake; you see scenes unfold, spirit animals speaking to you. Spirits, God, the universe, and of course, your inner demons, all thrown at you from every direction.

It’s impossible to really say what’s going to happen to you when you take ayahuasca. Everyone’s experience is very different. Some people have the time of their life. Others experience hell on earth. Most experience some combination of the two.

The only certainty is that it’s going to be a wild ride. If you think you know what’s going to happen based on other people’s experiences, you’re wrong.

But for the Sake of Explanation…

It’s probably going to take you with a one way ticket to the deepest depths of your subconscious psyche. Completely bypassing the years of stories and beliefs and denial that you’ve heaped on top of it, to get straight to the truth.

And for the most part, you can expect for it to absolutely tear you apart. It brings you face to face with all your inner demons, your deepest fears, all the ugliest, nastiest shit about yourself.

It really is like a potent truth serum… all the terrifying things inside, the stuff you couldn’t bear to face… you are now being forced to face it in intense vividness and there is nowhere to run or hide.

And all the scary emotions that go along with this, well, they are amplified by a million. Every thought and emotion is extremely exaggerated.

It pummels you and pummels you with this, until you can’t stand it anymore.

So what’s the pay off?

It generally then starts putting you back together piece by piece. It may force you to face your biggest problems, but it also gives you incredible, unparalleled insight into their cause, shows you exactly what the solutions to them are, and how to move forward.

It is often described as “ten years of therapy in one go”

Luckily, many people feel overwhelming sense of universal peace and love at the end of the night (about four or so hours later). You may have just felt the worst you’ve ever felt, but then you feel the most blissful you’ve ever felt … pure love incarnate.

And by morning, when it’s all worn off, you feel like a revived human being. 100 times lighter. 100 times more clarity. Spiritually awakened, emotionally purged. A complete feeling of catharsis. And ready to do it again the next night.

When I First Heard About Ayahuasca

I first heard about Ayahuasca several years ago when I read this article in National Geographic. It definitely piqued my interest.

As a result of that particular article, ayahuasca is rapidly growing in popularity amongst westerners of all kinds because of its therapeutic effects. It purportedly heals where nothing else does, especially if your problems are of the mental, spiritual, or emotional persuasion.

And since we know that those ’emotional ilks’ can heavily contribute to physical problems, the healing can transcend to physical problems as well.

But it is generally best known for it’s miraculous abilities to aid the healing of things like depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, grief, post traumatic stress disorder, as well as your run-of-the-mill emotional difficulties.

For me, when I heard about ayahuasca, I was in the middle of my own emotional healing journey (getting over the traumatic memories of my experience with severe acne), and, well, I’ll try anything once. I wouldn’t call myself even close to a highly spiritual person, but I am certainly open to exploring it.

And if it’s a possible fast track for self growth and emotional healing, well, I am for it.

So I filed away in my mind as something I would definitely try one day if the opportunity ever arose.

But Then I Moved On

Over time though, I kind of pushed it away. I found my own healing from the acne and its emotions, and everything started going really well in my life. I didn’t really feel like I was on a growth or healing journey anymore (well at least because nothing seemed to be going wrong at the moment!)

So I just kind of went… meh. I don’t need that.

At least right now.

I also wasn’t really sure about whether or not it was culturally cool, which was kind of turning me off.

Were white people going to the Amazon just to bastardize Amazonian traditions for their own gain? They probably are. That’s so white people.

In fact, due to these reservations (and despite my previous interest in ayahuasca), we had this trip booked to South America and we were a week out from going, and still had no plans to try it.

It wasn’t until I completely coincidentally spoke to a friend of mine within that week, who told me that her and her husband had done three ayahuasca ceremonies six months ago … and that she couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

She enthusiastically confirmed the common trope that it was like 10 years of therapy in the span of three days.

Since Luke and I had recently had all this drama and figured I had some things to process and heal from now…

Why not? Let’s do it. We’re literally going to Peru next week, and when will we ever go there again? It will be an amazing growth experience for us both to do together.

And in regard to the cultural concerns, I found out that young South Americans aren’t that interested in the traditions, and shamanism is a dying art… so western ayahuasca tourism is actually keeping it alive and allowing shamans to continue making a living from their practice.

So that made me feel better about it.

I got online and booked a retreat and off we went (I would highly recommend the place we did it, called Etnika’s; they were great).

And yes. It was a very wild ride.

Should You Do Ayahuasca?

A typical pre-ceremony scene
A typical pre-ceremony scene

I don’t know.

I had an extremely intense and difficult experience, so much more than I had ever imagined. And seemingly more awful than the others around me were having, all three nights.

But I certainly learned an insane amount of things about myself, that’s for sure.

They don’t lie when they say it’s a truth serum. It’ll show you the truth about your own shit, and show you the way forward, but it’s not going to be easy.

And at least for me, it was no magic healing bullet like is often reported. Don’t expect instant enlightenment or that it will magically fix your problems for you. It does show you where to go and what’s stopping you, but you still have to do the work. You have to meet it half way.

But anyway, over the next several posts I will let you in on all the details of my three Ayahuasca ceremonies, so you can decide for yourself (although remember that what happened to me doesn’t mean it’ll be anything like what happens for you).

One thing is for sure, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it unless you REALLY want to do it for your own self growth. Otherwise it could be totally traumatizing.

But luckily, you do have to really want it because it’s not like ayahuasca is an easy thing to just fall into. You have to go all the way to Peru.

See, it’s illegal in western countries because of similarities to the psychadelic drug DMT (despite ayahuasca’s similarities with certain psychadelic drugs… believe me… this is NOT something you do just for fun).

It’s not illegal in South America, as they are more open minded about the therapeutic potential of hallucinogenic substances in carefully controlled and safe environments.

Trained shamans do hold ceremonies in North America, and probably Europe too, but it’s more of a word of mouth kind of thing. You won’t find them advertising on google.

Anyway, if this is at all calling out to you right now, I suggest doing extensive reading on it before deciding you are ‘definitely doing this’. There are tons of blog posts all over the internet. Here is a great one from Elle magazine for a further introduction.

For more in depth reading, popular books are The Cosmic Serpent, or the really helpful one we read beforehand, Ayahuasca: A Test Pilot’s Handbook.

These books will answer all your questions such as “what is this stuff again?” “do people die or overdose from this?” “are there contraindications?” “how do I find a trained shaman and a reputable retreat?” and “is this really for me?”

And if you are thinking I am insane right now and would never ever ever do this, then great. Please don’t! Good self awareness!

Aaand, I’m out. Ask me whatever you want in the comments about ayahuasca itself, but I will save details of my own journey for next week.