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Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Ayahuasca Experience



What's a stronger word for, "intense"?

Whatever you come up with will probably not even come close to how all-consuming the Ayahuasca experience is. On Monday night as I was on my knees a half an hour after taking the disgusting "medicine", purging my guts out and begging for mercy in my native tongue, I actually thought I was going to die.

But I didn't! On the contrary, I am more alive than I have ever been! This experience is no joke, so be prepared to hear the tale... of my story as an Ayahuasca Ceremony Survivor!



AYAHUASCA - What is it?


It is a powerfully psychedelic South American brew made from DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) containing plants. Some call it a medicinal tea that helps cure diseases like cancer, or depression, while others see it as more of a way to access to another spiritual dimension. (More detailed information here)

This brew is (or should be) consumed in the presence of a shaman, due to several rituals that are performed before and after the intake. After having gone through it myself, I don't think anyone should ever take it unsupervised because it won't be safe! You need the shaman (and a staff of assistants and nurses) there to guide you, otherwise your experience might prove to be ineffective or even dangerous.


MY AYAHUASCA RETREAT


I signed up for a 3 Day/2 Night Aya retreat at a company called, Etnikas. (Read about how I ended up learning about Ayahuasca, and WHY I decided to do it here.) They were recommended by a friend, and they have raving reviews on Trip Advisor. Their retreat house is situated in a remote place about 45 minutes away from Cusco where I was staying because of a day trip I planned to Machu Picchu. It worked out pretty well, scheduling the retreat first, then booking Machu a couple days after.

A day before the retreat, all the participants were asked to report to the Etnikas office for a volcanic-water-cleanse. We were instructed to fast and not have any breakfast that morning for the cleanse to be - eh - smoother. So basically, we all had to down a few liters of effervescent volcano water, and wait for our bowels to move... And we had to keep drinking till our poop was clear! There had to be nothing left!

I gotta say, it was really a great way to bond with the other participants... running into each other on the way to the bathrooms, asking each other if our poops were clear... We were set to be friends for life!

DAY 1 

We all reported back to the Etnikas office the next morning, and we were asked to fast for the entire day. They brought us to their retreat house in Motnaña Alegre, and after a few awkward introductions to the staff and the shamans, we began our ceremonies.

They explained how things were going to work, what the schedule was going to be for the next 3 days, and gave us a tour of the place. It was beautiful... definitely conducive.


View from my meditation spot
Then they did this ritual... I think it was meant to invoke "Pachamama" or Mother Ayahuasca... They had a bunch of materials laid out, like feathers, stones, totems, all of which had a symbolic meaning. One is meant for protection, one for health, one for love, etc... The shaman blessed all of it, wrapped it in a black piece of paper - which was meant to trap all the negative energy, then blessed all of us one by one.







After that, they dismissed us, asking us to use the time to meditate and think about what we wanted to get out of Ayahuasca.

Now at this point, my head was already sort of throbbing from a migraine that sprouted from altitude sickness. I hadn't acclimatized to Cusco's altitude yet, and I wasn't doing very well. I wasn't allowed to take any meds because it would interfere with the effects of Ayahuasca, so all I could do was drink or chew coca leaves... And it wasn't working.

FIRST DRINK 

After what felt like an eternity of waiting, we were all finally ready to do the Ayahuasca ceremony at 8pm. The staff laid out 10 sleeping bags (one for each of us) with a corresponding bucket right next to it in a room that fit all of us snugly. We were asked to bring our own bottles of water, and 2 rolls of toilet paper.



Photo from Makeithappen.co.uk
We took our places in a room, slipping comfortably into the sleeping bags, sitting up. There were about 3 or 4 assistants (including a nurse) that were present, along with the shaman and - I think his wife. The ceremony started with a prayer to Pachamama, asking her to bless this ritual, proceeded by the shaman blessing all of us with tobacco (he blew it in our faces and bodies).

The staff knew about my headache so the shaman skipped my tobacco blessing - which I appreciated. Otherwise I would have used the bucket next to me prematurely.

And then the drink.

God... how do I describe the drink? It's a mix of three things... Ayahuasca, water, and something else that I can't remember. The liquid is brown with little bits and pieces of floating bark... and it is, without a doubt, the nastiest thing I've ever tasted in my life. For realz. It's gross.


Photo from Etnikas.com

We were all given a full cup each, and we had to down the entire thing... as in chug it! Uuullkkk! Thinking about it now makes me gag.
After drinking, they turned the lights out and we all waited in silence... waiting for the medicine to take effect. How do you know it's taking effect? Ha. That's the worst part.


PURGING


You purge. You purge like you've never purged before. You purge like you're vomiting your soul out. You throw up, and you feel like you just want to die for it it to end. It's awful. Really, completely, horrible. Even the sound that comes out of you is otherworldly. Purging in that room sounded like there was an exorcism happening.

About a half an hour after the drink, one by one we started reaching for our buckets and we puked. We were instructed to get down on all fours for us to purge easier. And once we started going, an assistant or a nurse rushed to aid to hold our hair back, stroke our back, stroke our stomach, give us our toilet paper, and give us water afterwards. I gotta say, they were an integral part of the process. It's like you *need* their assistance, love, and support to be able to get through it. And they give it to you completely. I wouldn't have survived without them.

After we were done, the assistants asked us to lie down and wait. Usually the hallucinations start happening after the purge, and this is when the shaman starts chanting as well.

I waited.

Nothing.

One of the assistants came to me and asked - "Do you have any visions?" and I said no. He asked if I still had a headache, and I said yes. He thought for a second, and finally said - "I think you should take another drink."

"Noooooooo!!" I begged... Not another one of that nasty concoction! "Just half a cup", he offered.
I really had no choice. If it was necessary, then so be it. A few minutes later he came back with another cup half full, and I downed it without breathing or blinking. The sooner I got it over with, the better. I crawled back into my sleeping bag and waited for the purge to come.

It came, I puked my guts out, and laid back down.

Again... Nothing.

"Do you have any visions?" He asked me again.

"No," I sighed.

A few minutes later, the shaman himself came to sit beside me to perform some ritual. He was chanting a few things, blessing me with this nice smelly oil that had 32 different types of plants, and blowing tobacco over my head. I think he was trying to cure my headache... which I have to admit, sort of helped.

But alas, no visions came to me that night. And so I retired to my bed and slept.


This is sort of what it looked like when the Shaman was blowing smoke on my head.
Photo from ayahuascashamanism.wordpress.com


DAY 2

I was feeling a little left out when the group started talking about their "beautiful" and "intense" experiences. They all spoke of symbolic visions, colors, patterns, animals, love, etc... and the shaman was interpreting it all for them.
The shaman said that my headache really got in the way of the medicine working properly on me - and I get it. I was in too much pain to be in a psychedelic state probably. He did assure me that "tonight is your night" though, so I wasn't worried at all. 

After getting our blood pressures checked by the nurse, we spent the entire day in "Noble Silence", keeping to ourselves most of the time, finding a spot in the retreat house to meditate... 

At 8pm, we all assembled into our little sleeping bags once again with our trusty buckets and water and toilet paper in tow. I was asked to stay right next to the shaman this time - I suppose so they could make sure I had instant access to him if the drink didn't work.


SPIKING MY DRINK

Now, because I was right next to the shaman, I could see everything they were doing. And while they were preparing the drinks for us, I saw the shaman squirt some black liquid into one of the cups. Best way I could describe this black liquid is that it looked like black, thick paint. The assistant then used a tiny tong to mix it... and she was mixing it vigorously.
Just as I had suspected, they handed that cup to me. I was just given an Ayahuasca power boost, spiked with Ayahuasca concentrate! These guys were serious business! I gotta hand it to them, making sure I had my visions that night, and doing everything in their power to make it happen!


Photo from taboojive.com

I chugged it down, and it was even NASTIER! It had more bark in it! It felt like I was swallowing pieces of a bloody tree! YUCK! YUCK! GROSS! ULK!

Purging was even worse! It was harder to throw it up because of the little solid pieces... and it was so horrible. Soooo awful... it's the stuff of nightmares! Really!

But soon after I laid back down, I started to feel something really odd. My heart was beating really fast, and the room was spinning.

The assistant came to my side and whispered, "Do you have any visions?"

Finally... I said - "Yes".


PSYCHEDELIC HALLUCINATIONS

The first hour or so was the worst. My heart felt like it was going to beat itself out and explode out of my chest. I could see colors, prisms, shapes, all pulsating to the beat of the shaman's chants (or maybe to the beat of my heart, I can't tell). I could see a very clear image of a bird... At first, I thought it was a peacock. But a few days later, after having seen so many of the Cusco merchandise in the markets, I recognized the bird from my vision --- and it was actually a condor. The Andean/Incan symbol for the upper world in the sky.


This is an image I found online that BEST resembles what I saw while hallucinating. Almost
Exactly what I was seeing. Imagine that, but moving and pulsating. Now do you get why I thought
the bird was a peacock?
This is Ayahuasca Visions by Skyer on Deviantart.com

I can't explain how I felt properly through words, but I'll try...  

It's like the drink wants you to let yourself go and surrender to the power of Ayahuasca, but instinct tells you to fight it... So I fought as hell to keep my sanity for as long as I could... I kept pulling myself back to reality. I was making weird noises so I could feel my throat vibrate... I was touching my face to make sure it was still there... But the drink was so strong... Maybe too strong... and I was freaking scared. The most frightened I've ever felt in my life... I FEARED for my life. I thought I was going to die...This is what I mean by needing a stronger word for "intense". Everything was pulsating. The condor was showing me things... things that were both beautiful and overwhelming at the same time. It wanted me to let go so it could show me more... I wouldn't. I kept holding on... I held on until I couldn't anymore... Then finally, I purged again. Much worse than the first time.

I was convulsing a little bit, after it was over. I couldn't stop shaking.  I remember being on my knees, saying, "Tama na... Please, ayoko na... Ayoko na..." which is me, begging Pachamama to stop, in Tagalog. The assistant asked me to lay down... she tucked me in... and I remember holding on to her hand as long as I could...
Until finally, I let go. I let go of her hand, of my resistance... I let go of everything. I surrendered.

Then that's when the real visions started.


PACHAMAMA AND I

I don't want to go into full detail about what I saw - because some of it is extremely personal... But let's just say that I was shown a possibility of an interesting and different future, if I let go of certain fears I have (or had).
Most of what the other participants saw were very symbolic. Some saw themselves pregnant and giving birth to themselves... Some saw wolves... Some saw themselves melting into the ground and being reborn... Two people had visions of making love to Pachamama herself (one of which was in the form of a snake... but let's not get into that)

My visions weren't symbolic at all! Mine were VERY literal. Clear. Like I was seeing a movie of myself being shown to me through a projector. I had asked for a little clarity and guidance... And she showed me what life could be like if I took another leap of faith and acted on courage.


I remember resisting. I asked her to show me different scenarios... What if I didn't want to do it? What if I was too scared? She obliged... and showed me what I had expected... That things weren't ever going to change, and will remain exactly the same. Then she showed me the first movie again... kept playing it over and over until I couldn't watch it anymore.

I remember telling her I was tired... and that I missed my mother. After that, I got overwhelmed with an intense feeling of love... I felt a motherly presence wrap her arms around me, cradling me like a baby... This motherly feeling was something that most of the other participants experienced as well... Love. Just pure love... and it felt really good. She showed me that love was all around me... and reminded me that everything that happens in my life are dependent on the choices that I make. She said all I had to do was choose love over fear, and everything will fall into place. She showed me through images, and I understood.

I felt the medicine start waning off... I was slowly becoming more and more lucid... And I said to her, "Please... don't go... Don't leave me yet..." And then I saw - what was probably the only symbolic thing in my visions - a bright stone in my hands... Like a big shining egg... Glowing... And I held it close, until it went into my body. Before it engulfed me with light, she said, "I'm with you. I'm a part of you. I'm always here."

And that was it.


DAY 3


I couldn't sleep. I woke up still feeling a little trippy. Still a little dazed, but definitely lucid. We all gathered once again to talk about the visions so the shaman could translate the stuff we couldn't understand. Like I said, mine hardly needed any translating because it was crystal clear. I did share that I got what I needed from it, but that I was a little scared to do what Pachamama asked me to do. The shaman just said that I was strong... And that the visions I saw were coming from me... from my soul... He said whatever it is that she wants me to do, he urges me to follow it.




We did another ritual similar to the one we did on the first day. This time, we focused more on gratitude. We thanked Pachamama for the visions, and for the journey we went through with her... We were blessed by the shamans, and we burned all the materials used for the ritual - offering them all up to Pachamama.
Then - we group hugged. :)






AFTERMATH

We were asked to keep the diet for 7 more days after the retreat... no meat, no alcohol or coffee or chocolate, make love instead of just having sex... (?!?) etc... The group sort of got hit with a little separation anxiety in Cusco after the retreat because we couldn't seem to let each other go just yet. We kept meeting up for lunch and dinner in the days after, just so we could keep talking about what happened. It's almost like we went through a war together, that we needed each other to sort of keep ourselves sane. I guess there's a certain comfort that you get from people whom you know went through the exact same thing you did, and we tried to hold on to that as long as we could. I mean, I know I did.


New friends for life!

In general, I'm glad I did it... BUT I would NOT recommend it. Not to everyone. It's true what they say... That to do Ayahuasca, one has to be ready. Some even say that you don't find Ayahuasca - It finds you... Which is sort of true in my case.

It's definitely not for the faint of heart... And as I've said - the process in which you have to go through to get your big "eureka" moment is HORRIBLE. The end result is positive though, so I don't regret any of it. I think I was guided here, and I *was* ready for it... I'm in a good place in my life right now, and because of Ayahuasca, I think my life might make an interesting turn pretty soon. :)


IF YOU WANT TO DO IT

Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Focus on your intentions - and be absolutely positive they're coming from the right place... Meaning - that you're not just looking to get high from DMT. And please... PLEASE make sure that you do it in a safe and reputable location. Do your research first. Wherever you do it, whether it be in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador or Peru, make sure you don't just find a random shaman on the side of the road, offering the drink for 50 bucks a pop. Someone just died doing that recently - and you don't want this experience to be fatal for you too. Find a good place, check out their reviews online... get recommendations from people. If you have to pay a little more - then so be it. As long as you're safe, that's all that matters.
When you take Ayahuasca... all I can say is, the more you resist to its power, the more painful it will be... So just let go. The sooner you do it, the better it will be. :)

If you guys have any questions about it, or want to share your experience - please shoot me a comment below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you are thinking about doing this -- Best of luck, my friend! May the force of Pachamama be with you!