Both the most beautiful and challenging experience of my life came from Ayahuasca. The life changing experience was at times difficult, but always centered around understanding and having faith.
Setting – Amazon Rain Forest – Peru
Iquitos, 6 full days and 3 ceremonies deep in the Amazon rain forest. Being away from the distraction of the city tunes you back into the revolving nature of reality. A tree that provides nourishment and shade also houses a deadly tarantula or snake. The waters local tribes used for the hot springs claimed a few people’s lives. Dipping my feet with rain boots immediately shot a rush of searing heat. All it took was 3 seconds but it felt like an eternity.
The beauty of the rain forest is unlike anything else. All you hear are sounds of bugs at night, during the day the occasional monkey and exotic bird.
All you need is there, ripe fruit and vegetables that grow on their own, wild caught fish, all organic and as fresh as can be. The abundance of coconuts of different species, plantains, bananas, apples, pears, fresh eggs from the chickens, and many other exotic fruit.
To get to the retreat center it took a one hour drive off-road, a 20 minute boat ride and a 20 minute hike in the fresh mud and humidity that made me sweat more profusely than I sweat in a 180 degree sauna. My shirt and shorts were drenched in what had to be a couple cups worth of water. Once you land the locals are very nice, the atmosphere is serene and inviting. The setting is truly worth visiting and worth the hassle it was to get there.
I spent the day thinking of my intention. I’ve heard mystical things about the experience but I was never one to believe in anything which wasn’t scientifically provable.
There was a strange presence in one of the buildings (all of which are made only with trees that have naturally fallen down). I didn’t know it but the building in which we were to have the ceremony was the same one that gave me the strongest intuition of importance, it felt sacred but I didn’t know why until later.
1st Ayahuasca Ceremony
The day I landed was the day of my first ceremony and the anxiousness of the situation were put at ease when I met an English speaking Canadian and American. Both had been there for over a month, and apparently they experienced the worst of it during a tobacco purge the day before that I’m glad I didn’t participate in. A total of over 8 hours of vomiting followed by dry heaves and pain.
When I met them both they looked eager, a bit tired, but ready to continue. It was to be the American’s last day and I was already a bit sad to see them go, we all shared a great rapport and made terrible jokes before the ceremony to ease the tension.
It was night time, around 7 to 8 pm is when they begin but since it’s on Peruvian time it can mean an hour after the alleged start time. As we sit in a circle everyone is given a sizable barf bucket, pad to lie down, and you were invited to bring any personal belongings. It was pitch black, no light pollution, you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Giant flying cockroaches, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes occasionally crept in as there are no doors to keep things out.
The other locals came in and after some anticipation the Shaman and his 2 helpers walked in with their traditional gowns. There was a small fire in the center which they put out. I could make out the pouring of the first cup as the shaman settled in. Individuals were invited to come and drink from their cup, about 8 ounces worth of a thick, molasses like brew. I didn’t know it at the time but the Ayahuasca is generally made and served within a few days.
It was my turn now, I sat cross legged as the shaman poured. He knew it was my first time and asked me how much I wanted, “todo” or everything as it’s said in Spanish. You’re supposed to come with an honest intention which you are to meditate on the day of and especially during the ceremony. The intention was to be treated kindly and to learn whatever was most important at the time, to also have compassion for others. The taste can only be described as a thick, burnt seed, grapefruit rind taste but with extra bitterness unlike anything else. It wasn’t unbearable but I was glad it was only 8 ounces. After finishing most spit out or rinse their mouths to which I obliged.
We sat and what felt like roughly 30 minutes passed. No audible sound from anyone besides occasional spitting. The chirping of bugs and sounds of wild animals in the distance. Suddenly, almost on cue the beautiful sound of the shaman and his helpers begin. They chant and use handmade instruments that rattle and sway back and forth. It synced up my experience, I had felt a little funny but it started to kick in immediately once the sounds rang.
Each song was uniquely its own and I could interpret a meaning despite the fact that most of it was less lyrical than an expressive mood. I’ve only ever experienced it in very dramatic live music, where there is a clear kind of message that is felt in the beat. This made me smile and I felt a deep respect, I had tapped into something. Most of the time you get a feeling that you wouldn’t be able to express with logic but it’s a deep intuition that you know is true.
I’ve done psychedelic mushrooms before and learned on my first trip that every action and movement has “energy”, a certain vibe that reverberates. In this ceremony I started getting a feel for the music where it was almost like I had heard it before, and I could predict what the next note was. Between each song there is a small break for about a minute or so depending on how long they’ve gone.
After this passed and the sensations increased I started getting a feeling like I was home again. Sudden fractal patterns danced in a beautiful harmony. Almost like seeing a fireworks show but it danced as if to celebrate sheer existence.
The oddest part of all this is how much it felt like being home, as if it was my natural most organic state and that everything else I had known before was a dream. Suddenly another song started and just as quickly as it began the fractals changed their tempo, following in rhythm with each movement. I’ve come to realize this is the beginning intro to this experience. In this state I register the fact that even small gestures can make a significant difference (the “energy” aspect). Whether through generosity or humility, this is like a wave of sensation that is registered as a change in everyday reality.
Ayahuasca is much different than mushrooms in the sense that it feels much more like you’re tapping into a deeper sense of reality. You learn a lot with mushrooms but I would describe Ayahuasca as being multi-layered, much more encompassing about the state of affairs for existence itself. It feels like you’re getting a deeper insight into reality while mushrooms tend to focus on your own individual experience. But it also feels much more guided, in mushrooms I get to decide what to learn about, in Ayahuasca you get the whole shebang and it can take you to new places like a guide.
As the fractals started I felt immense virility. I had never felt so alive and so happy to be in the state I was. All my issues and insecurities washed away, left to be meaningless. I wanted to go back home simply to hug all my friends and family. I wasn’t as expressive and I noticed how I often reject hugs in favor of a handshake. The desire to thank my friends for being on this journey with me was at an all-time high. They needed to know how important they were, and how I loved them.
I then began to center myself and realized I had been so enraptured by sensations that I decided to focus on finding out something to share, but at the same time it felt like “nothing needs to change, it’s all going to work out”. The ayahuasca suddenly started to talk to me telepathically in what I could only describe as being a sort of female presence. Aya is often described as mother ayahuasca and now I know why. All plants have consciousness and it let me know I was appreciated but that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, that I have good intentions.
I was asking in a Q and A style but I came to a realization my head where it felt like I didn’t have to ask, but that it would be transmitted. The female energy gave a sort of giggle as it could read my thoughts and I thought “wait, I don’t have to ask the question I can just know the answer?” It gave me the impression it was nodding its head but without me actually seeing anything.
I was amazed at how deeply it knew me, it felt as though my entire history and essence was instantaneously discovered.
I asked what the meaning of life is and what I got back was “to experience life”. “Huh” I thought, I guess I’m doing pretty good then.
2nd Ayahuasca ceremony and the day before
I felt like leaving after my first ceremony because I had felt I learned enough. But since I already paid and was curious about what else I could learn I opted to stay. After the experience I went straight to bed but couldn’t sleep for another 2 hours which at this time was about 3 am. I didn’t feel tired, and I hear this is natural for most which is why we have candlelight so we can write.
I finally slept and the next day had an amazing breakfast of boiled plantains, rice, eggs, fruit, and yams. I talked with the locals and shared my experiences as we all got to know each other. The people there are incredibly humble and generally curious about my experiences and what it’s like in the US. On more than one occasion I was asked “Oh you’re from California, how often do you drive past New York”.
“Not often” I quipped.
The people had no sense of anxiety, worry, or desire to change they simply were. It fascinated me because I expected going in that because they were from a 3rd world country they would be bored, tired, and generally desperate to get out. I was surprised to see they were all happy, genuinely glowing and loving.
Hiking through the Amazon is another amazing trip. The amount of diverse fauna and trees is overwhelming. Lush vegetation, sudden unexpected showers that were actually pleasantly warm.
The local children tied a string to a stressed out but cute capuchin that tried to squirm away in a playful way.
Finally the next day passed and it was to be day 3, 2nd ceremony.
All my energy was spent on intention, hoping to get a sense for forgiveness to a strained relationship I had to a past lover and issues with my father.
I was also reading fascinating books, 2 of which were from anthropologists who visited indigenous South American tribes all to learn about what Ayahuasca is all about. In one the person who wrote it said they had no inclination towards the spiritual, being a staunch atheist and materialist finding truth only by the observable in clinical evidence. Their journey reminded me a lot of my own, being in my own head instead of living in the moment. The book was so good I finished it in a day and a half.
They essentially found that it made no sense that these tribes knew to combine two plants, boiling them for a specific time period to ensure that it actually will bind together without degrading. How could they have known? The unsatisfactory answer the shamans would give is
“You say you’re the smartest man of your land and you came around the world to ask me this question? How else? They taught us!
This is a major unanswered question in in the scientific community. In order for ayahuasca to be properly made it has to be temperature controlled for a certain period. If it’s heated for too long it degrades, too little and it’s not extracted enough. How was it with no background in chemistry that those indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, and Colombia were all aware about this substance which combines a vine and leaves of a plant? I have always been one to only trust that which is scientifically provable but after this experience I’m not sure. If it’s only your mind playing tricks on you then somehow it’s also effective enough to truly change lives. I am a testament to that.
Those suffering from addictions, PTSD, low self-worth, and other issues often find resolve in this substance. If it’s truly just a drug then somehow it’s therapeutic regardless of the fact that it’s a mind game of sorts.
The ceremony began similar to the first, but I recall a giant cockroach was circling around and with a big smack it was killed by a local.
This time even with the same dosage strength and with the same meals I had at the first session it came on stronger the 2nd time. The female entity came alive again but this time it decided to show me more, a lot more. It was unnerving at times as I saw the planet through all its cycles. From the emptiness before dinosaurs, to their extinction, to the world we live in now.
At first it was kind of cool, it felt like it was trying to show me the progression of life but then it turned sour real fast. At first it was beyond any sort of beauty and bliss I could imagine. It didn’t feel like I was experiencing love, it felt like I was love. I’ve never felt so good and potent but at the same time it was like I wasn’t in my body. It was as if I was beyond the need for the expression of goodness, I just was. Then as the visions became more about decay I had the unshakable feeling that it was all my own doing, all the suffering.
Everything bad that ever was and ever will be was manifested by me. This of course made no sense so I pleaded and said there’s no way I’m responsible I wasn’t even born then. But it would not relent and finally I started to lose a grip for who I was. All that I knew and understood to be a simple fact like who I was , what I was doing there and even basic existence was lost. It felt as though I was an empty vessel, worse than death because it didn’t feel instantaneous. It was like suddenly one layer was removed, then another, finally to the point where I didn’t know what anything was. Everything I had done was meaningless and all historical knowledge and humanities accomplishments washed away.
I came to the point where I realized the futility of fighting, in fact it was inviting me to simply let go, that just as beautiful as it was before I lost my sense of self, and that it would only get better. As I fought it looked similar to a microscopic image of cells but it multiplied and became strained. I could see the effort of fighting this multiplying, it looked like a visual representation of looped anxious thinking.
Oddly enough I couldn’t trust it, it didn’t make sense that I made it all so I clung to who I was. It suddenly gave up trying to convince me with bit of disappointment I heard it say:
“Ok, but eventually you’re going to have to let go so when you’re ready
I suddenly awoke to find myself back in the building, the shaman facing me asking me if I was OK. I said yes and apparently when he came over to check on me earlier I grabbed him by the collar and put my fists up like a boxer. I apologized and told him I had no idea to which he replied:
“well at least you didn’t punch me”
During the trip an older man had been trying to help guide me, letting me know that it would only get better when I let go. No old man was there leading the ceremony, the shaman told me that was his father who passed away who likes to help those who he deems as worthy of going to the “next level”. I was sitting cross legged and could sense that my spirit was looking to dance around the room and he was telling me it was OK, nothing bad was going to happen if I let go.
During the ceremony I felt myself elevate to different dimensions, each one progressively more beautiful and exciting. First with the dancing fractals, then in a small but unbound room with a figure with many arms moving things along in space time. Then I elevated to a state where I was soaring above the universe, apparently the shaman claims this was the final fourth level and that it’s incredibly rare for a first time ayahuasca user to get there. All these descriptions weren’t detailed to me by anyone or the plant, in other words nothing told me I was in space or seeing space time but it was sensed with intuition. A fascinating part of this experience is that information is communicated to you and understanding is felt without verbalization, you simply know. This may be why it’s frustrating and not considered usable in the scientific community, you can’t test this hypothesis.
The lead shaman told me he saw a great energy in me and that I have pure intentions. He also explained that he saw my spirit floating in space, describing in exact detail as to what I saw. I’m still not sure what this means exactly, but it was eerie how much detail he saw of my experience.
3rd and Final Ayahuasca Ceremony
By this point I was fortunate enough to have had spent many hours with each person at the resort. One of the greatest non-plant medicine based epiphanies I realized is how much more liberating and relaxed it is living in nature, using the elements and working around them. Essentially all your time is left with reflection, book reading, writing, conversations, stretching and the random soccer game.
It was the most rewarding environment though I wonder how I would feel if it was present more than 6 days.
As nightfall crept I had been interacting with another person who just arrived as I was leaving and he had never done ayahuasca. I reassured him with good intention that he would learn a lot. Sure enough after the final ceremony he didn’t have much to say other than expressing sheer signs of amazement. He had learned something deep and I could see he was never to be the same. I left a note of encouragement within a great book I found at the resort.
The final experience was far lighter than the previous 2 which was odd seeing as how the dosage strength was equal. It felt as if the substance knew I was to leave and it gently let me enjoy the music, dancing fractals once again with a sudden sensation that everything was going to be OK. I can’t explain it but I had the sensation that there was nothing to worry about in death, that in some way, this life was a beginning stage and that with death it’s actually a release back to my real self.
Ayahuasca is not something I would advocate to all, I personally recommend reading a lot about it so you know if it’s right for you. Erowid.com is a great unbiased resource.
Here in the West where I live the idea of taking such a substance might be seen in some circles as an escape, a drug. There at the retreat it’s always described as “planta medecina” or plant medicine. This is not something to be played with, it is a tool and like any tool. The experience is shaped by the users intention. But I would never take this without doing self-reflection, it’s not for fun even though it is enjoyable at times. This is not an escape, in fact it tunes you into the true nature of things to the point where you can’t help but see the root of your flawed thinking and/or bad habits.
Equating the myth of eating from the tree of knowledge works well for this experience. You’ll never be the same again and what you do with this information is all up to you. It’s a real “no-bullshit” kind of drug where you learn about what has been keeping you down, how you’ve been, and you really peer into your true nature. For some this is the scariest kind of information. That’s why it’s so much easier to give advice than to take your own.
I’m eternally grateful to have been able to experience this, even without the ayahuasca, simply being in that atmosphere with generally caring people made me realize what’s truly important in life.