Ayahuasca | A Story of Life and Death

Billy Barnes
Jun 20, 2018 · 11 min read


Before I share a first hand account of my first Ayahuasca ceremony, I would like to state that all names and locations have been omitted or changed in order to protect the sanctity of the ceremony and its organizers. I would also like to stress the importance of doing diligent research before taking high doses of any type of psychedelic medicine. Proceed with caution!

1:10pm — Mid June — Northern California

I pulled off the main road and made my way down a small driveway as instructed by Siri. I drove along the paved road until it eventually turned into dirt and sand. There were no visible signs that helped direct me to my desired destination. In fact I wasn’t even sure I was on the correct road being that I lost my navigation due to no signal. That is of course until I approached the one landmark I remembered from a handheld video I had watched the night before. The video acted as a visual aid to help document “the route”. There standing 15ft tall was massive block of marble with a figure halfway carved into it. The sun illuminating every angle of the limestone.

After following the dirt road for approximately 15 minutes I arrived at what appeared to be a giant campsite that sat tucked into a wooded ravine. As I exited my car and made my way to the grounds I couldn’t help but notice the energy moving about the the place. I immediately took note of how friends were greeting one another. It was as though they were greeting a favorite relative who they hadn’t seen for years. The way they looked into each other’s eyes. The way they embraced. The love and admiration were extremely transparent! So much so that I found myself pondering, “I wonder what they have experienced that has made their relationship so profound?”

After being greeted by several ceremony members, I was instructed to choose a place to set up my sleeping bag and backpack. I looked around the 50ft wide circle and chose a spot that suited my soul. I rolled out the sleeping bag, took a deep breath, and then looked around. “I wonder what this place will look like tonight during the Ayahuasca Ceremony?” I mused.

The pre-ceremony activities included; two gypsy women drawing shapes and figures with lit sticks of sage, Native American chants, which I later found out belonged to the Ohlone Indian tribe, and last but not least a quick rundown on how to hold your “purge” bucket. “You don’t want to get vomit all over your neighbor!” joked the ceremony leader. We, of course, knew she was being dead serious.

Ayahuasca Dieta

Leading up to the ceremony I was instructed by my new friend Kyle Kingsbury to follow what was referred to as “The Dieta”. The Ayahuasca Dieta required a person to adopt a 1–2 week long diet that limited the use of oils, red meat, spicy foods, and of course my favorite, fermented food. Everyone I spoke to who had gone through the ceremony before stressed that I take this part seriously. Even the no sex or masturbation part? Even that. Needless to say, I did my absolute best to follow every rule. I even put myself on a juice fast 2 days leading up to the ceremony.

Ayahuasca Pre-Ceremony

The overall mood moving about the camp was that of excitement and nerves. I looked around and an estimated 30 people were about to take part in this journey. A ceremonial drum was brought out by one of the chaperones who entered from the far edge of the camp. Dressed in all white attire, she moved across the site with a grace and honor. She made her way to the fire pit that laid in the middle of the camp circle. There she delivered a few prayers and then began beating the drum rhythmically.

From the far edge of the camp appeared 10, all white dressed helpers. In each of their hands rested a cup filled with what looked like mud. I watched as they made their way towards each participant. Each was greeted with a smile, a nod, and a simple blessing.

I put my nose up to the edge of the cup and drew in a smell that can only be described as bitter and earthy. Mud, tree bark, and burnt wood would be the way I would describe it. After drinking the entire cup in one disgusted gulp, I laid back and did my best to keep it down. How long would it take to hit?

The Purge

Within 30 minutes a loud scream rang out. The cadence in the woman’s voice sounded demonic in tone. Her words were marked with a warning to “stay away!!” I glanced over and couldn’t quite make out who these screams were coming from. But judging by the looks on other people’s faces, they too were spooked. I laid my head back and tried to calm my nerves.

Before taking the trip I had done a lot of research on the use and healing powers of Ayahuasca. A quick YouTube search will provide you with hours and hours of recorded first-hand accounts. One common theme I saw in countless videos was the torment that people endured. Both physically and mentally. The “purge”, as it has come to be known as, is the act of throwing up uncontrollably. It is said that Ayahuasca will get you in touch with your innermost problems. That it forces you to reckon with all that prevents you from achieving your full potential. In the act of facing your underlying fears and doubts, your body spits up all that it deems “impure”. And that is exactly what started happening.

The Vine of Death

After 40 minutes had passed I began to notice that most of the group had begun the vomiting stage. To my right, a man in his 50’s sat hunched over his purge bucket. His voice, full of fear and anger began yelling, “No more!” Another woman to my left looked as though she was wrestling with a giant serpent. She rolled from side to side, moaning and whimpering.

The sound of crying and heavy, painful breathing mixed eerily well with the low frequency of the ceremonial drum. I took mental and physical note of my body to see exactly where I was on my ascend. Aside from the urge to constantly shift my weight, I hadn’t noticed any effects outside of auditory hallucinations and a slight head change.

I motioned for one of the chaperones to come over. I whispered, “Will there be a second offering?” He assured me that there would be and that he could fetch me a second helping if I so desired. I thanked him and confirmed. Within 5 minutes of disappearing into the back area, he returned holding another cup.

I mentally prepared for the awful taste that was about to assault my entire body. I gagged a little before even resting the cup to my lips. I shot it back and within 15 minutes noticed that the effects were compounded 2X.

The 2nd Serving

I immediately took notice of what can only be described as death and decay. All around me the floor seemed to move as one dying organism. A man in his 40’s, began vomiting uncontrollably. His chest reached towards the sky as if something was trying to exit his chest cavity. The low growling tones of pain and anguish rang out like a shotgun. Immediately the chaperones came over and began comforting him with sage smoke and prayer. Washing it over his body with an eagle’s wing.

The sounds of moaning and torment only seemed to get louder and louder until I eventually had to retreat to my sleeping bag. I laid there staring up into the trees, watching as faces and moving serpent-like bodies began appearing from the canopy. I remember repeating a mantra that had been recommended specifically for the Ayahuasca Ceremony. It simply went, “Surrender to it and it shall guide you.” And that’s exactly what I did.

I sat watching as the visions became stronger and stronger. Everything solid around me seemed to now be flexible in nature. Everything pulsed as though it was breathing and all I could do was giggle maniacally. The overwhelming nature of the entire vision was enough to trigger a sort of mad amusement.

After noticing that I still maintained a good amount of “control”, I decided that I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to go into a realm that resided away from this current one. I motioned to one of the chaperones and asked, “Would there be a third serving?” I was met with a look of intrigue and mischief. “Are you sure?” I was asked with a tone of caution. I smiled back and said, “I want to see her.” Referring to the mother spirit that is so often associated with Ayahuasca. “Ok. I will fetch you another cup”.

The Third Serving

This is when things became out of body. Almost immediately after taking the third cup I was shot into an entirely different reality that consisted of complex geometry and weird shapes that seemed to completely ignore the laws of physics.

There in the middle of this geometric world was a 5-foot tall wheel that was levitating a foot off the ground. I floated over to it and saw it slowly turning on its axis. From the wheel spun out long intense looking equations that seemed to float right past me. They were then absorbed into the walls that made up the reality. Perhaps signifying that our reality is governed by mathematical equations that we cannot see?

Almost as abruptly as I entered this world, I was spat out and pulled back into the shared reality.

How long had I been gone in that alternate dimension? It only felt like minutes but judging by what I was now seeing all around the campsite, I estimated a total of 30–40 minutes.

Note: One thing I did take note of was the fact that time simply did not exist. There was no concept of time in that altered state. When I finally got around to checking my watch that was tucked inside my sleeping bag, I noticed that only a few hours had passed. When in fact it felt as though 6 hours had gone by. That part really threw me off!

I found myself much deeper inside the visions. Colors began pouring out from the fire. Blues, Greens, Reds, Yellows. From the embers, I watched as snakes slithered up the glowing red logs and made their way into the smoke. The motion of the bodies that surrounded the fire intensified as the drumming picked up in nature. Life and Death were dancing together right before my eyes. The visuals were unlike anything I have ever witnessed.

Before the ceremony I was advised to meditate on my intentions. What was it that I wanted to get out of this experience? During the week leading up to the ceremony I meditated on having my path revealed to me. I had been struggling with an overwhelming doubt. Whether it was my aspirations, progress, or overall existence in the modern world, all of it seemed controlled by the doubt. So much so that I felt it slowly draining my desire to make moves.

I laid back down and that’s when the inner work began. Images from my childhood and my current struggles with the doubt seemed to torment me at first. But after surrendering to the mother spirit and giving it permission to seek what it wanted within my body, I found that the answers were slowly being revealed.

It revealed to me that I was in fact walking my path. That I no longer needed to question if I was doing the right thing for my future. Tears of pain and joy simultaneously streamed down my face. I had received the answers I was looking for!

I remember a peaceful warmth that fell over my body and it was at that moment when I heard loud clapping and cheering from the crowd. I lifted my head up off the floor and witnessed something I will never forget.

The Rebirth

What I saw then and there I will never forget. All the people who I had seen suffering and dying before my eyes were all of a sudden up and dancing. As though possessed by the ambient music, they no longer were struggling with their demons. They had risen from the dead and were now radiating light from their eyes and chests. The man who I had seen toppled over his bucket screaming in tongues was now dancing around with his hands raised towards the sky. Rejoicing in his rise from death.

At this point one of the chaperones began speaking to the crowd. “This will be our last song. Our journey is coming to an end. Let us all rejoice for we have faced our fears and have come out on top.”

As the music drew to an end I felt the rush of the purge fill my body. I shot forward from my lying down position and grabbed for my bucket. I purged 10 times in a row. It was unlike any vomiting I had ever experienced before. It wasn’t the typical sick throw up. More it felt like a heavy dose of euphoria.

I found it odd that I had not felt any real urge to purge all night. Sure there were times when I gagged a little but that was more because I would burp and the taste of the Ayahuasca would come up. But aside from that, I was shocked that I had not felt the sickness that had seemingly laid waste to the entire group. More intriguing to me is why as the ceremony was ending that I felt the sudden urge? Was I that harmonized with the ceremony? Questions I still am contemplating.

The Bucket of Eyes

After the purge had ended, I opened my eyes and was taken by the image that sat before me. The 2 gallon bucket that was being cradled in my arms was a quarter of the way full with a dark thick liquid that was brimming with bubbles and light. In almost every single bubble was an eye staring back at me.

When I moved my head to the left the eyes followed me. When I moved my head to the right they again followed me. The words, “This is so beautiful” were mumbled from my vomit dripping mouth. I remember asking myself, “How is it possible that there was that much in my stomach?”

I sat there hunched over the bucket for 10 minutes staring into the eyes. Those eye bubbles staring back at me were composed of all my fears, angst, and emotional baggage that I had been carrying around for well over 30 years. It was there that I discovered the true essence of love.


The Ayahuasca Ceremony was one of the most intense experiences I have ever encountered. Even as I am writing this article, I am still trying to grasp all that I saw and experienced. So much information that the human mind simply collapses when trying to put meaning or words to it all. They say that Ayahuasca is like 10 years of therapy in one sitting. I truly believe this!

My biggest takeaway from the journey was that Ayahuasca had the power to tap into a deeper level of love and appreciation. It radiated throughout every cell in my body. And as the night rolled on, the meaning behind the love eventually revealed itself to me.

It was there under the canopy of the trees that I understood what it was like to experience a near death experience. Seeing death manifested right before my eyes made me appreciate being alive that much more! And that is where the love sprang from. Oh to be alive!

As the morning rolled on and the campsite was being vacated, I remembered something that had struck me when I had first arrived. I began recalling the way that each person greeted each other when they had arrived. The warmth. The embrace. The love. And that is when it all made sense! These people not only experienced dying together, but they also had been reborn together. Thank you Ayahuasca.

Director | Alchemist | Entrepreneur | @braythirteen

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