My First Ayahuasca Trip
A quick background on “the medicine”…
“Ayahuasca has a rich legacy of associated traditions, myths, therapies, rituals and aesthetics, spanning from the primordial roots of the indigenous tribes of South America, to diverse spiritual movements emerging across the planet.”
After being virtually ignored by Western civilization for centuries, there has been a huge surge of interest in Ayahuasca recently. There is a growing belief that it is a kind of ‘medicine for our times’, giving hope to people with drug addictions, PTSD, depression, severe anxiety, mood disorders, personality disorders, psychosis and heightening a spiritual relationship with one’s self and Mother Earth.
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic drink made from the stem of the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi). The ayahuasca drink is sometimes, but rarely; made from the ayahuasca vine alone; almost invariably other plants are added. The term Ayahuasca is in the Quechua language. The word huasca is the usual Quechua term for any species of vine. The word aya refers to something like a separable soul, and thus, also, to the spirit of a dead person — hence the two common English translations, “vine of the soul” and “vine of the dead.”
The ayahuasca drink has several primary actions: it is a hallucinogen, emetic, purgative, and vermifuge. In fact, there is reason to think that the ayahuasca vine was first used for its emetic, purgative, and vermifuge activities. Even today, the ayahuasca drink is often called, simply, la purga, and used to induce violent vomiting, with hallucinations considered side-effects. But the emetic effect of the ayahuasca drink has spiritual resonance as well; vomiting shows that the drinker is being cleansed. La purga misma te enseña, they say; vomiting itself teaches you.
A friend and I were looking into having an Ayahuasca experience, but couldn’t afford the time or money needed to head down into the jungles of South America. Instead, after a little research, we found a Shaman in Toronto, Canada — well she didn’t like to call herself a Shaman, because she was still an apprentice, but I will label her as such for the purpose of this story. She held many spiritual ceremonies in the summer months and we were fortunate enough to attend one of these ceremonies just before she headed back to the Amazon, to continue her study of the medicine and it’s rituals.
There were three of us attending the all night ceremony. I met my two friends with a sleeping bag under my arm and an overnight bag on my shoulder. We were told to bring something to lie on and healthy snacks to share in the morning. We were also told to refrain from food, alcohol, drugs, internet and sex for 12 hours before the ceremony. That’s a long time for me to go without sex, I mean food. We quickly bought some fresh fruit, nuts and water at a local corner store a block down from the address we were given. It was about 8pm in the evening when we arrived at our destination. We climbed the stairs to the second floor — to what seemed like a legion hall — where staff were still cleaning up after the day drunks. The years of beers made the hall have a sickly yet somewhat pleasing smell, which hung heavy in the air. The people who had shown up earlier gave me a bit of a displeased look upon my arrival. Unbeknownst to me, my black Rolling Stones t-shirt and ripped jeans were not the proper attire for this function. We were supposed to have dressed in all white clothing — this information was never provided to me. I have to admit, (at the time) the whole dressing in white thing felt a little cultist anyway. I learned later that the white clothing was to intensify the purity of the ceremony. Oops.
We introduced ourselves to a few people and went out on the back fire escape for some fresh air. The setting of the late summer sun was the backdrop as we chatted in anticipation of the coming event. A young man approached us and started telling us about his previous experiences with Ayahuasca. We were all very interested to hear what we might be getting ourselves into and listened intently to his every word. He told us about his last experience with the medicine, where he met his deceased father. He described himself standing in front of his father’s casket, viewing his lifeless body, when suddenly he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned and was shocked to see his father standing there, alive and healthy. His father began apologizing profusely for the actions that led to their relationship being somewhat severed. He explained that he now realized the wrongs he had committed, while he was alive. From how the story was told, the father seemed to be desperately seeking a son’s forgiveness. To my surprise, our storyteller said he did not accept his father’s apologies, said goodbye and proceeded to move on with his Ayahuasca experience. He stated that there was no way he was going to give his father the benefit of redemption. It seemed pretty cold and heartless, but then again, I did not know the dead man of which he spoke. He did say that it was a very profound experience, which allowed him to remove the emotional demons that resided deep within him. The one thing that stuck with me from talking with this person about his Ayahuasca experiences, was what he said towards the end of the conversation, “There will be obstacles to overcome. Don’t think about them. Just move through them without hesitation, so you reach the destination you’re looking for quicker. If there is a wall, climb over it. If there is a hole, go through it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t be distracted.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this information would prove useful in my own journey.
There were about 12 of us in all. We all set up a spot on the floor in a wide semi circle. Some with yoga mats, others with full blown queen size air mattresses adorned with pillows and duvets. I rolled out my sleeping back on the hard floor and wondered if I would be comfortable enough, considering the 10 hours I would be lying on it. I pushed it out of my mind. It’s not like I would be sleeping anyway. The Shaman stood in the semi circle and addressed us all with greetings and explained how the ceremony would proceed. To start, she would take each of us aside and privately discuss what they hoped to get out of the journey that we were about to embark on. She told us that we would feel the effects of the ayahuasca for a good portion of the ceremony, which started at 10pm and ended at about 7am. Then we would have a light healthy breakfast and share our experiences with one another.
I was anxious to get started. I wanted to go deep and experience as much as possible. I wanted a true undeniable journey to occur. I looked around the room as I patiently waited for my private one-on-one with the Shaman. The age range looked to be mostly mid 20’s to early 30’s. Everyone was given a small bucket for the upcoming purging (uncontrollable vomiting) that would take hold of us once the medicine started it’s work. No one spoke really, just sort of kept to themselves, gearing up for the pilgrimage within. I never had a bad trip with any drug previous to this, and had years of meditation under my belt, so I felt like I was in a good mindset for this experiment. I was anticipating a wild, yet controlled ride and was confident that the bucket placed beside me would remain empty, which turned out to be correct — in the literal sense.
I was in a semi meditative state when the Shaman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was ready for my one-on-one. She had a very gentle, comforting way about her, which I’m sure is important when holding these ceremonies. I doubt everyone takes to ayahuasca in the same way. It’s pretty powerful stuff and can unpack a wide variety of emotional baggage. I overheard a few conversations to what people hoped the outcome would be after this experience and most seemed to need closure in a past personal relationship, whether that be a family member or a lover. If that’s what they needed, then so be it, but I really wanted more out of this. I followed the Shaman to a corner of the room. We sat facing each other and she asked me my name. I told her. Then she asked me straight up, “What is your intention with tonight’s ceremony? What do you wish to experience?” I didn’t hesitate with my answer, “I want to go as deep as I can get.” That got her attention. “And what do you mean by that?”, she said. I responded, “If possible, talk to other beings and shit. Go on a full fledged astral journey and gain comprehensive wisdom from whomever I encounter along the way.” The Shaman seemed surprised and excited by my response and proceeded to lay out how the night would unfold. Now to be honest, I kinda forget most of that conversation. I was excited to get “there”. Impatient, if you will.
After the one-on-one I went back to my spot and looked around the room. I was amused by the thought of partaking in such an adventure within a beer infused legion. It didn’t seem to be the most appropriate location for such a spiritual experience, but then again, I was hoping to be elsewhere most of the time. Finally, the Shaman dimmed the lights and went around the semi-circle giving everyone a personal smudge ceremony with sacred tobacco — cleansing the mind and body. The thick smoke enveloped me with it’s relaxing and purifying qualities. It really gave me a sense of confidence and fearlessness to explore the unlimited possibilities I intended to experience. Then it was time to receive the medicine. One by one we knelled in front of the Shaman as she offered the ayahuasca, which I believe was served to us in a sacred wooden bowl. When it was offered to me, I looked into the cup and got my first glimpse at the medicine I was about to consume. It was a very dark and thick liquid. Not appetizing at all. Though it didn’t appeal to my senses, I didn’t hesitate getting it in me. The first thing that caught me off guard was the amount. It was more than I expected. Next was the consistency and smell. It reminded me of molasses, yet thinner and had a really potent earthy smell. I’m not going to lie, it tempted my gag reflexes to react, but I held back. Once I fully swallowed the medicinal sludge, the Shaman gave me a smile and a nod. I went back to my spot and continued to swallow — trying to remove the taste from my mouth and throat. I half anticipated for it’s magic to work immediately, but knew it would be a while before I felt any effect. After everyone had taken their portion, the Shaman took some as well. I was a little taken a back by that, as I thought she would need to be in control of the situation at all times. But hey, she had done these ceremonies many times over and I was confident that she had grown accustomed to it’s effects. At least I hoped so. The Shaman said that we could take as many doses as we felt necessary. I hoped that wouldn’t be a necessity given my initial reaction to it. I got horizontal on the sleeping bag and closed my eyes. I was ready and willing for the ayahuasca to take over me.
I lay there focusing all of my intention on getting into a meditative state. This became increasingly harder once the Shaman began beating a drum and chanting. I’m sure it was part of the ritual, but it wasn’t necessarily working for me. After about an hour, my only experiences were seeing colours and having a warm body buzz. I sat up to see how others were reacting and found everyone in their own little world. I looked over at my friend who was happily giggling away. The effects seemed to have put him in a place of pure bliss. I was determined to get what I came for, so I put my head down and focused on getting into a zone. I was almost there when I heard the first vomiting episode, which started a chain reaction within the group. I don’t know about you, but hearing the sound of people gaging and violently puking — along with the drumming and chanting — was very different from the soothing sounds of rainfall that I was used to meditating to. I tried to block out the noise, but couldn’t seem to get there. I have no idea how long I had been trying at that point. Time seems to be a non issue when it comes to ayahuasca. You’re just there, in the moment. I assumed the Shaman noticed my frustration, because she came over to offer another cup of the medicine. I had kept from vomiting up to that point — though always a lingering feeling throughout — and wasn’t sure I would be able to control it after another dose. She encouraged me to do another, to reach the goal we discussed. She was quite persistent actually. So, again I drank from the cup, but this time it was much harder to swallow. It took everything within me not to hurl right there, which wouldn’t have been a good scenario for the Shaman sitting across from me. I took a few deep breaths and the feeling subsided — somewhat. The Shaman smiled and nodded and I went back to my spot on the floor. My head was a buzz and I now felt confident that I would be able to get to where I intended to be.
A feeling of utter well-being flooded my body as the colours behind my eyelids began to intensify into fractal designs, swirling and changing like a kaleidoscope. The images were soothing and almost conversing with me in some odd manner that I semi-understood. It was wondrously strange and inviting. A few times it felt like my body was levitating off the floor and I had to reach out to see if it was actually happening. Just a feeling of absolute euphoria washed over me and I knew that this was the beginning of my journey, but it would have to wait. My bladder was in need of immediate attention. I had to piss pretty bad. As I rose from the floor, I thought I would initially be upset about this interruption, but was in awe of my heightened senses. I was so clear headed and knew I would return to where I left off. As I walked towards the washroom, my awareness was in tune with everything. It was a powerful level of consciousness that I had never experienced before. I had never felt more in the present as I did at that moment. It seemed silly to experience such extremes, while just on the way to relieve myself, but they were undeniable. I felt fuck’n great! I walked out into the hall and noticed the Shaman sitting with a young woman. She had her arm around her and seemed to be consoling her. I asked if everything was okay. The Shaman replied, “All good.” I was selfishly relieved by her response. I just wanted to take care of my business and get back to my trip.
To enter the washroom you needed to walk through an outer door, which had a small hallway, immediately followed by an inner door, which opened into a washroom consisting of two stalls, three urinals and two sinks. I pushed open the first door and was lifting my arm to open the second door when my mouth exploded from projectile vomit. It splattered in great fashion all over the door to the washroom. I opened it and ridiculously projectile vomited again, all over the outside wall of a stall. It didn’t phase me in the least, even though it looked like I entered a gruesome crime scene. I almost felt like I was a spectator to what was happening. I walked over the mess and took a lengthy piss at one of the urinals. Once empty, I casually went to the paper towel dispenser and removed more than what I thought would be enough. It wasn’t. Not even close. As I worked the floor in a circular motion with my foot on a pile of paper towels, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was way too big of a job for what I was doing. There was no way I could slop up all this chuck with the tools at hand. I walked out into the hallway where the Shaman was sitting with the young woman and asked, “Sorry to interrupt, but do you know where I can find a mop and a bucket?” The Shaman told me not to worry about it. I tried to explain that this was not just any slight situation, but she stopped me abruptly and said she would take care of it. Again, I was selfishly relieved by her response, along with a pang of guilt that quickly subsided. I thanked her and went quickly back to my sleeping bag before she happened to change her mind.
It was good to be back at my spot on the floor. It felt comforting and safe. I closed my eyes and the colours and fractal designs started flashing and spiraling immediately. I was back where I left off and I was ready to continue. After a few moments, or not — time was pretty irrelevant — I had what felt like an out of body experience. Not a lifting from my body but a busting out, which made me soar through the roof and into the sky. It was incredibly invigorating. I was fuck’n fly’n! Well, shooting straight upward and not in any control of where I was heading. I could feel the g-forces on my body as I went higher and higher. My heart was in my throat. I got nervous for a second, but it soon passed as I continued to zoom by planets, stars and beyond. I saw what looked like a star emerging from the darkness ahead and instinctively knew this was my destination. As I got closer, I realized it was not a star at all. A worm hole began to appear and it was gigantic. I sailed into it, zipping and zagging through it as the cosmic tunnel started closing in on me. I was truly in an altered state. In a flash, I felt the pull of gravity again and began to fall from what seemed like hundreds if not thousands of feet. The ground came fast, but I landed like a super hero, one knee and one fist to the terrain. I realized I was on sand and then it became clear I was on a beach, a beautiful tropical beach. I could smell the salt in the breeze and hear the soothing sounds of waves crashing to the shore. Far off in the distance I noticed a small white beach house. I felt the need to investigate. As I took my first step a brick wall violently erupted from the earth in front of me. I was looking straight up at the top of it when it abruptly stopped. As I lowered my head, I was surprised to see a white door with a brass knob. Without hesitation I opened it and walked through. On the other side was another brick wall, but this time it had a white framed window and thin white curtains. Without hesitation I opened it and crawled through it, only to encounter yet another brick wall, but this time there was no opening. I instantly knew what to do. I took a step back, bent my knees and jumped. Without much effort, I soared over the wall with ease and landed heavily, yet safely on the other side. There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t make it. I thought, “Hmmph, well that was easy enough,” and continued to walk towards the beach house.
As I got closer, I could see a hammock on the front porch and the windows were open with their thin sheer curtains floating rhythmically in the ocean breeze. I walked through the front door into an open spaced design. All the furniture was white, clean and inviting. There was a sense of total calm in this place. I proceeded through the living room area to the wide open garden doors that led to a back porch with an ocean view. Long flowing white sheer curtains covered the doorway. I didn’t part them and just walked through. The softness of the fabric was incredibly soothing as they ran across my face and head. I stood on the shady porch over looking the beach and the expanse of the turquoise blue in front of me. I was in awe of its beauty and took a deep breath through my nostrils. As I exhaled I turned to my right and became aware of an older gentlemen sitting on a modern looking outdoor sectional couch. He was wearing a blue baseball cap, white button shirt with no sleeves, baby blue surf shorts and had long wavy white hair. The white of his shirt and hair intensified his dark golden tan. My first impression was — old surfer dude. This was the first time ever seeing this man, but I felt like I had known him forever. He seemed to be working on something with his hands, possibly whittling — I can’t seem to remember this detail. His head was lowered as he focused on what he was doing, the brim of his hat covering his face. I sunk into the outdoor sofa chair across from him and said nothing, waiting for him to acknowledge me. After a moment and without raising his head he said, “You know that you can ask me anything, at any time and I will answer, right?” I didn’t waver with my response, “Well I hope you have some time on your hands, because I have a lot of questions for you.” That’s when he raised his head and looked into my eyes, though for the life of me, I would not be able to recognize this man’s face if I were to ever see him again. At the moment his eyes met mine, I was instantly and forcibly ripped from my seat and shot back up into the sky. I was very troubled by this and anxiously called to the man in the blue cap who was quickly fading from sight, “Who are you? What is your name?” — holding my arm outstretched, hoping in some way to grasp onto something and stop the velocity at which I was traveling. His voice entered my mind, with one word — “patience”. I accelerated to what seemed like the speed of light, then awoke with a jolt.
I sat upright on my sleeping bag fully awake, aware and feeling a little out of sorts. My mind was racing. The dawns early light had already started seeping its way into the room. I desperately wanted to be back on that beach having a conversation with the man in the blue cap, but knew there was no retuning — not at this ceremony anyway. I instantly realized that my approach to this experience was not an appropriate one. I thought that being in control would get me to where I wanted to go quickly and effectively, but that was not the case. The medicine doesn’t work that way. It leads you to where it wants to lead you, not the other way around. I had been impatient throughout the whole process, which didn’t allow me to freely and openly explore. I should have just sat back and gone for a ride, as a passenger not a driver. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed in myself and felt I had missed a momentous opportunity. But as I sat and reflected on this experience, I became overwhelmingly humbled and in absolute awe at what I had just encountered. There was an undeniable knowing that I would see this man again, which provided me solace.
All were now rousing from their own trips and looking around the room with wide eyed energy. The Shaman eventually started asking about everyone’s individual experiences. I hardly tuned in to these stories as I was still trying to make sense of my own. When it became my turn to speak, I firstly apologized to the Shaman for my “accident” in the washroom. She shrugged it off like it was spilled milk and was more interested in what I had experienced. I told my story — the frustration of not getting into a zone, the journey through time and space, the worm hole, the beach, the walls and the man in the blue cap. I found the telling of it to be somewhat therapeutic. The Shaman suggested that the man in the blue cap could be my future self. That came as quite the revelation, something I had not considered. My mind was a little blown by that actually. I was pretty certain this was not the case though, or was I. I’ve been back and forth on this possibility ever since. She asked what I gained by the experience, if anything at all. It took me a moment, then I responded with, “I assume that the lesson was to be patient, don’t rush things and that there is something much more than what we perceive as reality.” That last statement I believed with unequivocal certainty. It was like a veil had been lifted — a secret once hidden, now revealed. After all had been told, we went to the kitchen and shared the food we had brought. There was a feeling of solidarity within the group, even though we had not really communicated with each other verbally and we all had been on our own personal journeys, the feeling of connectivity was strong in that moment. We were all one.
I decided to walk home — a 30 minute travel time. My awareness was strikingly in tune. I felt like I was seeing everything with new eyes. Colours were more vibrant, strangers more easily noticed, relevant and respected. I was buzzing with emotions — most prominent were love and gratitude. I felt a strong sense of empathy, from the squirrel that crossed my path to the trees that swayed above — my ego seemed absent. I have tried to keep this mindset since, but life gets in the way. I am constantly reminding and correcting myself — telling the nagging voice within to kick rocks — in order to continuously improve. Ayahuasca has made me much more aware of the ego and its destructive nature. It gave me the mindfulness needed to try and keep it in check. It’s not easy, but even just having the awareness to push the ego aside, no matter how often, is encouraging in itself. Ayahuasca is not for everyone, but should be. If you are looking to go deep inside your truest self and trust in the medicine to guide you, you will have an experience that will change your views and perspectives for life. Ayahuasca is a powerful mixture and has been described as “10 years of psychotherapy in one night.” Everyone will have different results, but all will gain immensely from it’s teachings. It is imperative that you partake in Ayahuasca ceremonies only in safe environments and under the supervision of trained ayahuasqueros. I would certainly be down for another ceremony if the opportunity were to arise. Maybe not in a legion though.
Ayahuasca is like a truth serum for the soul. It can take you to your deepest fears or to places of pure ecstasy. You need to be prepared for any outcome, but know that all are healing. One thing Ayahuasca won’t do is bullshit you. In this day and age, I think we all deserve a refreshing dose of genuine truth, no matter the outcome.