The most asked questions I hear from prospective first time drinkers, and those trying to understand why a loved one might want to drink Ayahuasca, are some variations of, ‘what’s it like taking ayahuasca? [or Huachuma – San Pedro]’ or, ‘what will happen when I drink?’
[Ed. A page specific to Huachuma is coming soon.]
I’m going to give a viewpoint from one who regularly attends those in plant sacrament ceremony (ayahuasca and huachuma), drinks (occasionally), and serves (occasionally). My [author] personal specialties are one-on-one personal work and training, clearing curses and sites, and addressing the stagnations underlying health issues, rather than focusing on leading ceremonies for groups.
The background: Ayahuasca is a plant sacrament made from boiling together a specific leaf and vine found in the jungles of South and Central America, eventually delivering a strong, concentrated extract. Pharmacologically, it contains DMT, a powerful hallucinogen that occurs naturally in the human brain. It also contains an element that blocks the destruction of the DMT as soon as it is in the digestive system, allowing its oral absorption. The names, actions, and technicalities are written up and described in myriad other places on the web, so I will concentrate on the why and what.
The why is important. Why would someone want to sit in one place, in the dark, a bucket on one side for the vomiting that is almost certain to come, together with an even chance of experiencing explosive diarrhoea, and a possibility of psychological challenges that will reduce the strongest “hard-case” to a helpless, sobbing mess in minutes? There has to be a reason, a pay-off, right?
DMT is made in our brains, so it is not possible to form an addiction to Ayahuasca (use of DMT in a purified drug form is not discussed here). Unless in a terribly dirty shamanic circle (out of alignment, egoic, not clean), there is no ego or counting [of the number of ceremonies a person has done] that can be applicable to clean ayahuasca ceremonies. If someone can tell you exactly how many ceremonies they’ve done, and it’s over thirty, one needs to question why the number is even known. Most of the time, there’s an egoic reason. With Ayahuasca, it is what is learned that counts, what has changed, not how many times you’ve drunk.
Many indigenous with free access to Ayahuasca will still only drink when called to do so, often only drinking a dozen times or less in their life; but with profound changes and clarity from each ceremony with which they will credit life changing shifts in understandings and thinking. Only in the industrialised and egoic world are numbers relevant to some.
So why subject one’s self to such an ordeal like Ayahuasca? Spiritually, energetically, psychologically and physically, Ayahuasca offers a doorway,.. a window,.. a perspective,.. a way to perceive, recognise, and work with elements and aspects of life that are normally too hidden, too hard, or too complicated, and with too many attached stories.
[In this case, the term, “stories” are the associated fears, reaction patterns, and preconceptions formed in the past and associated with present events or present situations.]
In a person’s life, and their personal exploration and growth, Ayahuasca is similar to a short cut that goes straight up the side of a mountain, instead of following a nice series of easy gradient switch-back roads that gradually wind their way to the top. It is important here to visualise this example; that you’re going to eventually have to climb to the top, regardless of your chosen path, is the point. In our example, you can take the longer, easier and more gradual climb, retracing your steps, just slightly higher each time, or you can take the direct path, which is severely steep, very challenging and hugely scary. Ayahuasca offers a direct path into yourself. She (Ayahuasca) is also able to highlight and help you understand those things blocking you from seeing the beauty and connectedness within yourself, and between yourself, others, and the world around you.
You see, we are wired by our very nature to pay heed to negative lessons. Those are the most important ones to learn first, for survival. What hurts?, what bites?, what stings? What is to be avoided or responded to in order to survive? Learning pleasure rewards is a very low priority, serving little survival function, when learning about the dangers of the world you’re growing up in. In many traditional societies, plant psychedelics are first used as a child becomes an adult. Life has taught the harshness of survival. Now it is the plant’s turn to teach beauty, wonder, and understanding; balancing beauty against survival based negative programming.
Without such psychedelic experiences, many living in traditional societies would ask how one could possibly function as an adult without being depressed, angry, proud, and greedy. Without the experience that teaches the beauty and connections between us all as well, one would be considered a half adult at best; unable to understand, experience, and work with the whole world as it unfolds and wraps around us. In one culture I have stayed with, such a person is called half asleep.
Why drink Ayahuasca? In many cases, it is said that an evening with Ayahuasca is like a year of psychotherapy. I have not attended psychotherapy as a client, but have been in the para-medical field for a long time, and I constantly see real, tangible results following Ayahuasca ceremonies that are far beyond the efficacy of any orthodox psychological techniques or practices I know of. Addictions are addressed at their root fear level. Patterns of behaviour are addressed at their root fear level. Familial issues are seen from the objective viewpoint of another, and actions and corrections often become clear and obvious.
In the shamanic world, the plants have spirits, and in some cases, those spirits are master teachers. One may consider Ayahuasca’s vision as a gifted and highly trained specialist psychologist, psychiatrist, physiotherapist (and more) offering you their eyes and knowledge to examine yourself, and the opportunity to work with yourself, as your own physician.
So what is drinking ayahuasca like?
The actual ceremonies for Aya changes by region, lineage and cultural reference. In all cases, unless the shaman serving is trusted, and of the highest integrity, walk away from the ceremony and don’t bother to look back. Assuming you have a trusted shaman leading, you are probably sitting in a circle, most likely in a dark space at night. At some point, you will have in your hands a small cup or glass. In it is a shot or two of heavy, dark, pungent, foul and alien liquid. It never tastes the same twice. Very rarely is it pleasant, and in most cases, folks have a few stomach spasms as they drink, or right after. Rinsing your mouth makes little difference.
Now you are sitting, waiting, wondering what is going to happen. There may be a song, or a guided meditation, or a simple silence as you sit in the now fully darkened room. Your hand goes out to touch the rim of your bucket as you hear another in the room vomiting mightily. Sighs are starting to be heard around you. About twenty to forty minutes in, you start to notice your head swimming a bit. Sounds are becoming of a different quality, and you can feel an energy in your body moving about as your body feels the medicine and it’s spirit moving, inspecting, scanning.
When you close your eyes, you start to become aware of disturbances in the edges of your visual field. Your mind becomes wider and deeper and you find yourself riding a wave of increased sensory awareness. That awareness then begins to fold inwards as the visual disturbances take on shapes and colours, sounds begin to be heard that are not from the space you are in physically.
At some point, those sounds become the voice of the plant, and in your altered state, you are able to perceive what is always there, but is magical and new to you because you can hear it and see it now. The plant spirit will offer you insights and objectivity that cuts deep. If you have the courage to work with the spirit, and face your own issues head-on, Ayahuasca will work with you. Often, deep insights into the roots of fears that underpin all of our behavioural patterns are offered, and practical help is also often given in decoding, dissolving, and de-energising these things.
You may feel a strong nausea, and find that with a sudden realisation of a personality defect and its base fear, you scramble to grab your bucket in time for what will probably feel like an impossibly deep, purging vomit that is stripping all from your being. A medicine purge is not like being sick. It is a cleansing, satisfying, liberating experience. It is heavy and hard ‘stuff’ literally being cast from your body and mind.
The songs being sung give you something to cling to. They have an energy to them which a shaman uses to guide and modulate your journey. Some songs make introspection easier, or guide you to a beautiful plateau in the middle of a particularly trying time, offering a respite — a deserved break for a moment — before plunging back into the work. At times, you may feel your body dissolving, or even be presented with your own death in the most real and tangible way possible. Ayahuasca is also called the Vine of the Dead because she will take you into your own darkest places and shine light in there. She will demand that you accept your death, freeing yourself from that often deepest of human fears.
She (Ayahuasca) knows that your lessons until now have [necessarily] been negative in nature, and that you’ve learned avoidance of those fearful things. There maybe a few positive goals and rewards along the way as well. The fact is, if most of us are honest, even when pursuing a positive goal, we are really running from a culturally induced or personal fear of not having enough, being enough, or doing enough. She knows most of our positive aspirations are based in avoidance of negative outcomes. She understands, sharing the connectedness, beauty, and flow of the world, not just that which can be seen and touched in the physical plane alone. She shows you a window, and a door, into a fuller world. A world where many of those negative lessons are still fully valid in a survival sense, but are now balanced against the understandings of the flows and cycles of the world in which you move. Now you understand how to see things with less and less stories attached, living with less and less fear.
Depression reveals itself as a result of limited thinking and perceptions, and dissolves under the increased perceptions of wider and deeper understandings and connectedness. Addictions lose their grip as addicts become aware of who they are, finding an identity beyond the label. Anger gets replaced by compassion as the one with anger realises that they are scared of rejection, having seen where it began as a child, and re-observing that story from an objective, adult perspective. Stories are re-observed and recontextualised; fears based on those stories, and the patterns reliant on those fears, begin to break down.
Many times in the evening, you keep hearing the words of your briefing, ‘The plant spirits do not want surrender or worship, they want to work with those willing to stand strong and do the work with them.’ Ayahuasca herself will tell you she does not want worship. She will instead, ask you to work with her, to open your vision beyond your eyes, to open your hearing beyond your ears, and to open your thinking far beyond the previously conditioned, negative constraints that limit your experience of life, and look deep within yourself for your own healing.
You want to lie down, and the mind feels under such assault at times that you want roll over and go belly up, begging for it to stop as the work becomes more and more intense and challenging. You know you must be willing to climb hard to take the direct path. You dig in, you stand strong, and you work together with the spirit to reach deeper understandings and self-healing. You allow yourself to see, experience, and wonder as you become aware of the missing half of the world you live in. You stand strong, de-energising patterns and fears that have held you back. She will also remind you that no matter how connected you may feel, avoiding the hunting lion is still a wise move in the physical world, even if perceiving its beauty and magnificence at the same time. Those negative lessons remain important, but now they are beginning to be balanced against a wider awareness of the world that was hidden behind those hard and harsh lessons.
As the ceremony draws to a close, you have probably gone through some phases of nausea, elation, deep challenge, and have been shaken to the root of your cells. You have probably been vomiting, and possibly also have had a good one or two sessions in the toilet as Ayahuasca help you to clear other heaviness in a very obvious way. You are still buzzing, probably profoundly tired and possibly also elated or even aroused.
Sleeping might not happen. You may get close, but not reach it. Others will sleep deeply. You may be remaining in the ceremony area on a mat, resting, or in a bed. If you were a higher risk participant, you will probably be in a group setting with a facilitator sitting with you and any others needing it, watching over you until morning.
The next day, a curious feeling of elation, emptiness, celebration, and mourning is likely. Probably all at the same time. Like most of what Ayahuasca is, the actual experience can’t be described. It’s like trying to describe the taste of a pear to someone who has never tasted one. Nothing can replace the personal experience.
Is ayahuasca for everyone? No!
Ayahuasca is only for those who are called to drink her. Not want to…, would like to try…, or thinking about giving it a go…, but She is only for those who are called to drink her. When the feeling is like something is going to be truly lost if this opportunity is not accepted, that your right steps are leading you to that ceremony, and that to not drink would feel like you have stepped away from a lighter path; this is when it is right to drink.
When it is right, and you are called, then Ayahuasca can offer you insight and introduction into your real world; the full, magical, real one that has always been around you. Now you can see with eyes more open, with senses and understandings that allow you to feel and walk more fully in this amazing world. Go to ayahuasca with respect, and give your preparation time due credit and effort. Choose to stand courageous, firm, and strong, and to work with her to learn, understand, and grow. If you are called, and stand firm in your resolve to go deep and understand the places and things she will show you, the places where the fears and stories hide, and you may just find your life transformed for the better.