Ayahuasca. My attempt at describing the indescribable…
Ayahuasca. So many things may come to mind when processing that word. Or maybe it sparks nothing at all for you. Maybe you've never heard of it. Either way, whatever it means to you, I believe every single human soul, no matter what sex, age or race they are, owes it to themselves to have an open mind and expose themselves to its purpose, its culture, and all that it embodies. Aya is honestly the most mind-blowing and somewhat indescribable experience of my life to date.
Depending on what society has told you about Ayahuasca, you may be inspired by it, apprehensive towards it, or even just too shit scared to try it. You may even feel that it's dangerous and second guess its purpose in modern life. It’s not all of our faults that Aya has found itself attached to so many different stigmas, but it is societies responsibility to differentiate right from wrong. My own personal experience was a positive one. But this could have been very different without extensive research and trustworthy recommendations. To me, living life to the full is all about taking risks. But on the flip side, my love for life is so strong that I would never want to take a stupid chance and tarnish or kill all that I've been blessed with.
This is why I feel a responsibility to share my experience with those who are interested. Please keep in mind that while these are all solely my own personal opinions, the safety components of my story are all 100% fact. I’m definitely not saying the experience will be the same everywhere you go, but this is how it was for me at a retreat in the Peruvian Amazon jungle near Iquitos, run by the Temple of the Way of Light. Now the disclaimers are out of the way, I can get into the juicy stuff…
Despite the extensive research I had done, all my fears and apprehensions came flooding back as the day of my retreat crept closer and closer. I began second guessing myself — what the hell am I doing? People die from doing this. What if I trip forever and am slightly NQR for eternity? What if I become convinced I’m a jaguar, run into the jungle to breed and never return? How on earth is someone like me going to follow a diet that’s basically vegan for so long? I may as well tell myself I’ve found the meaning of life already, just eat banquets of chair legs and call it a day. Here’s the real clincher — no alcohol? Wait, have I ever actually done that? I’m almost certain I popped out of the womb cheersing my own entrance into this world with a beer in hand. Don’t people only go to these places to solve serious mental and physical health issues? I feel like I don't have a worry in the world right now, so maybe this retreat isn't for me? Maybe removing myself from society and any form of communication to go and live in the jungle for nine days with a bunch of 20 odd strangers was not my brightest idea to date? Did I mention we would be drinking a brew (which some consider to be a dangerous psychedelic drug), 5 times in total over a period of 9 days? Well fuck it I guess, I’m here now, lets just at least try and make a new friend or two and avoid getting bitten by something deadly.
So many thoughts, so little time. The entrance to the Temple appeared before I knew it, and as I approached it, a very welcome shift came over me. The level of relief was similar to that of discovering you had a sub teacher the day your major project was due (which you hadn't even started yet). Intensely awesome, huh. Just as rapidly as those negative thoughts and fears had consumed me, they melted away the second I got close enough to connect with the energy of this place. It’s difficult to put words to exactly what it was that put me at ease, but whatever it was is a direct reflection of what the Temple, the Shamans and all the extended staff, work hard to embody and project. Despite not knowing a single soul there, I was immediately hit with a sense of community. It was from that very moment that I knew my life was about to change for the better.
Within the first hour, I had my biggest worry abolished. I can confirm that pure Ayahuasca is not a dangerous, psychedelic life threatening “drug”. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is a healing plant medicine. Not a plant drug. A plant medicine. Aya has been central to Shipibo culture in Peru and some other Southern American countries for what is rumoured to be thousands of years. Sadly, it has sometimes landed in the hands of those with ill intentions, leading to corruption and misuse. Because of this, Aya is developing a less favourable image and attracting people to it for the wrong reasons. Because of this, the youth of the Shipibo culture are beginning to shy away from continuing the tradition themselves in favour of following a more Western path. After my own experience with healing at the Temple, I can honestly say this breaks my heart. What this medicine does, along with the special people facilitating its work, is quite literally astounding. It’s beyond the capabilities of any kind of pharmaceutical drug or Western inspired process, which often focuses on symptoms and not root causes. Better yet, Aya is for everyone at any time. Some do it to address physical or mental illnesses. Some do it to work through a difficult time like a divorce. Some do it simply as a good way to start the year. In fact, it’s commonly described as like hitting a human “reset button”. It was this realization that abolished my second biggest fear that you had to be “sick” to use Ayahuasca.
The brew is an incredible gift from nature that propels humans to learn about themselves in a way they may not have ever thought was possible. It is often referred to as a “mirror” of oneself. It allows you to see all aspects of yourself which are often hidden away in our subconscious. While on one hand it could be described as giving you so much, on the other hand it doesn't give you anything that wasn't already inside of you. I know I've always had difficulty understanding how mind, body and spirit all connect. I've grown up with phrases such as “mind over matter”, which I now realize has made really listening to myself properly, a lot more difficult at times. I now know that for us to truly hear ourselves and what our bodies need, we need to listen to all components of ourselves. But modern life and all of its distractions can make this so, so difficult.
What the continuing process of Ayahuasca does, is help unblock those internal barriers we create over time, giving us access to to all the varying aspects of ourselves at a conscious level. This can be a combination of amazing, liberating, surprising or just downright terrifying. Nobody is perfect and sometimes facing our shadow can be a very scary and shocking thing. But I promise you that facing it is the hardest part. The work that unfolds from then on, to me, is somewhat magical.
Human nature encourages us to become very strong masters of our own minds. In some ways this strength is impressive. Go humans. But unfortunately we are not always masters of finding the balance of mind, body and spirit, which can be detrimental to our development. Living our lives through solely our minds can lead to ill health and hinder our growth. Aya teaches us that if we don’t listen to ourselves (like really listen!), we harden the layers of existing blockages. We basically lock up our own souls and consequently watch our health deteriorate. While our minds may think they're protecting us by giving us this instant relief, I have learnt that nothing, either good or bad, ever truly goes away. Our bodies as a whole, remember everything. In saying that, we are still capable of letting go of things attached to those memories (such as guilt or forgiveness). But we need to consciously work through these things, which sometimes our minds don't allow.
I’ll avoid going into too many personal details, because this isn't supposed to be about me. But to put the complex nature of human memory into perspective, I remembered and relived my own birth during a ceremony with Aya. I relived what it was like in my mothers womb, how I felt and how she loved and cared for me during both her pregnancy and my birth. It is impossible to describe exactly what that felt like and what the experience has done for my perspective on family and my relationships. But when considering the purpose of Ayahuasca, I urge you to have an open mind and put yourself in my shoes in and after that moment. Crazy, huh? Everyone's stories with Aya will be different, because everyone's lives and experiences are different. But the way the medicine has the ability to completely unlock your brain, indicates that it is an extremely special catalyst which everyone can use in their lives.
Sometimes in life, shit happens. And we cant beat ourselves up over the fact that our minds will instinctively try to protect us by blocking some things out. But it is so important to remember that everything stays with us for life. And I mean everything! Its all in there, from the moment you were conceived. And whether things pop back up to a conscious level will depend on a multitude of triggers and how your life unfolds. There were so many things I didn't understand about myself before this retreat. Why is my reaction to this kind of situation always A? Why do I always feel like B when A happens? There are still endless things which remain beyond my conscious level. But its things like this that people tend to brush over and accept that its “just how they are”. Aya can give us a helping hand with bringing those things to the surface, helping us to understand ourselves better and essentially become more at peace.
I feel privileged to have discovered this medicine during a relatively tranquil time in my life. But some people at these retreats aren’t so lucky. Sometimes we don’t fully face things on the inside until they've already manifested for years and now surfaced in disease. If we continuously listened to what our bodies were trying to tell us, we would never reach such dire stages of health. If we continue to ignore the complex nature of our bodies, we destroy our own quality of life and consequently the quality of other lives we touch. And we only have ourselves to blame for that.
One of the things I struggled with most before drinking the medicine, was how to think in order to really listen to myself. That may sound weirdly abstract, but I didn't know how to think with my whole body in every day life. Surely only my mind is fit for the job of telling me if I want a coffee or not. That’s probably a crap example because I’ll always want coffee. But how is my body as a whole going to tell me the things I want to know? For me, Aya taught me to take an extra second to listen. To listen to my instincts and follow that path. To ignore the negativity sometimes sent to me from my ego, my fears and past experiences. To learn to have a good relationship with my ego, but not to let it take over. Realizing I've been functioning solely through emotionally charged reactions for 28 years was very enlightening for me. Here I was using only my head this whole time — what an idiot! But I had been the interpreter of my own mind, and my own translations had been leading me astray. It all seems so simple, but only if you underestimate the twists and turns (and sometimes atomic bombs) that this wonderful life brings us.
Humans are amazing and life is a gift. Every single person owes it to themselves to get the best out of their time here that they can. To be the best version of themselves that they can be. Sometimes shit happens, but it’s never shit forever, not if we don’t let it be. If we put in a bit of extra work to understand ourselves, we can also grow to better understand others. Our own energies and our relationships with others have a domino affect on communities. It’s pretty awesome how infections humans are, but if we don’t understand each other properly, that very notion can be dangerous too.
Humans are vulnerable and delicate creatures. We need to be kind to each other and not add to each others layers of shit. All that’s going to do is just come back to bite us on the bum. We need to find it in ourselves to send love to those who need it the most. This can sometimes be difficult as those people are more often than not the ones who hurt us. If we don’t acknowledge the complex nature of the human life form, it’s impossible for us to handle each other with the care and respect we deserve. Bad energies and imbalanced egos feed off each other like parasites, continuing to reform until they’ve negatively affected communities as a whole. From consumerism, narrow minded societies and negative aspects of social media, to terrorist attacks and world wars, the root issues all lie in a build up of peoples “layers of shit”. Aya can help with this. The experience may not give you these particular conscious thoughts as it did for me, but it will definitely help peel some layers of peoples onions.
I’m still getting over the fact that despite what I’d been telling myself, “thinking clearly” was something I hadn’t really ever done until last week. I'm 29 years old this year, how could that be possible!? You don’t need to continually ingest Ayahuasca for clarity, but exposure to it does escalate the natural process of self development. I’ll naturally approach things in life differently now, as the work continues to unfold. You also don’t just drink medicine and instantly solve all your problems. It simply gives you access to 100% of your brain for a few hours, which opens up your own personal can of worms. It doesn’t give you new or twisted thoughts that don’t belong to you. It simply shows you things about yourself, which continue to provoke further thought externally. It inspires a level of insight into yourself which is so deep and complexly connected to every part of your body, that you’ll never look at things the same way again.
Maybe you’re ready for Aya or maybe you're not, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those outcomes. But something has made you continue reading up until this point, so chances are something deep inside your body is telling you to spread your wings too! We all are the only people who have the key to our own lock. For me, having Aya help me turn that key has changed my life for the better. I have a new found respect for myself also as I wonder how the hell I've gotten through to my 29th year without an experience like this. There were so many things about myself that I “didn't know” as I just waded through life. So many pennies have dropped since my Aya experience. It's actually fucking inspiring.
Translating all that I have learnt back into day to day life is where my challenges now lie. I’ll surely be tested along the way, just as I always have been. However hopefully I'll now be better equipped to go through this process in a healthy way. That’s what Aya is, an ever evolving process. Not just a one stop hit and magic solution to the unknown. Personally, if you feel you are ready to experience the medicine yourself, I would encourage researching a retreat rather than attending one single ceremony. The reason being because so much of the value in the medicine is experienced through what happens outside of the ceremonies themselves. And retreats allow an environment that supports this growth, with like minded people around you and expert facilitators at your service.
What we think we know about ourselves is really only surface level. If you're ready to see a little more, please don’t hesitate and I encourage you to follow that instinct. Retreats can range in duration from less than one week, to months long. I did a 9 day retreat at the Temple of the Way of Light, which I feel was a perfect introduction to the medicine for me. I’ve crapped on for long enough now that you’re probably wondering when I’m going to explain the logistics of what the hell actually happens in a retreat… I'll try to avoid going into too much personal detail so as not to cloud your potential experiences, but I’ll attempt to give you a basic picture of how the 9 days at the Temple were run for me.
The Temple of the Way of Light has a lengthy screening process, turning away over 60% of applicants for a range of reasons. They recognize there are some issues and illnesses that need to be addressed in a different way prior to drinking plant medicine. On the other hand, a lot of applicants are simply looking for a psychedelic high which is illegal in their home country. Either way, the Temple has only the best intentions and really cares about those they work with, therefore accepting suitable applicants accordingly. Their chefs prepare delicious meals for you, the facilitators offer yoga before ceremonies and they also provide around the clock care. Everyone has access to councillors before retreats and also for months after retreats end. The Shamans are local Peruvians with years of experience, some born from generations of other healers. Shamans live on site and away from their own families, dedicating their lives to healing others. I can’t recommend the Temple enough, and will be eternally grateful to my friend Mia for sending me to such a safe environment (thanks Mia!).
To safely drink the medicine, it is essential to follow the dieta. These are diet guidelines set for you to help get the body as clean as possible in preparation for the medicine, and for post care. This is to limit the amount of work the medicine needs to do to clean your mind, physical body and your spirit. Different retreats have slightly different guidelines and time frames they suggest. Depending on your lifestyle, the dieta may be easy for you or it may be a huge struggle. Personally, cutting out alcohol and Advil was surprisingly not the hard part. I conveniently ignored the “no cheese or any dairy” suggestion, and the plants definitely punished me for that! You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson by now, post retreat. But no, just two days ago I inhaled about 400 gallons of sugar and yes I am still paying for that one. So take the guidelines how you will, every one of our bodies are different and we will react differently. But if you take anything from this at all, please don’t ignore the dieta guidelines around drug use, as a reaction can easily be fatal.
There was a group of around 20 of us, with five Shamans and three facilitators. The Shamans are the healers. We had five ceremonies over the nine days. Ceremonies took place at night in total darkness, to avoid any visual distractions. We drank an amount of Ayahuasca which was determined for the individual by the Shamans, the facilitators and ourselves. It tastes like absolute shit. The medicines affect is both mental and visual. You see images and interpret messages, somewhat like conscious dreaming. Sometimes you can decipher meaning from your ceremony experience and messages that very night, and sometimes it takes a little longer. Sometimes things don’t make sense until group sharing afterwards, during your own time of self reflection or maybe not even until years and years later.
You are encouraged to enter ceremonies with an intention or thoughts you’d like to address. Sometimes your intentions are directly addressed, and sometimes your body says nah, sorry, fuck that mind, we’re going in a different direction tonight! The more you roll with this and the less you resist or try and redirect the process, the more you get out of the experience on a deeper level. Facilitators give you these kinds of tips outside of ceremonies. There’s plenty of other stuff that happens outside of ceremonies actually, such as; flower baths, plant medicine education, massages, jungle walks and even vomitivos (yes, that is exactly what it sounds like and I definitely wont be missing that experience….)
The role of the Shamans is to sing to you during ceremonies and connect with your energy via these songs (which are called Ikaros). I'll never completely understand exactly what it entails to be a Shaman, but I do understand that they send you what they think you need. This is in order to try and help draw things out of you that will help cleanse the combination of your mind, body and spirit, helping you to find balance and harmony in your life. This is another reason why it is imperative to research honourable retreats like the Temple, as those with ill intentions have no place in the vulnerable environment of ceremony. Ceremonies last for around four or five hours, and the medicine lasts for varying times for each person. For some people it wears off quickly. For others, like myself, it could last for up to eight hours at a time.
You go through everything in a ceremony. And I mean everything! It is like a crash course in self discovery via an emotional boot camp. I was absolutely exhausted after ceremonies. I swear the saying “we only use 10% of our brains” is giving our conscious selves way too much credit. When you have 100% access to that thing, you’ll understand why! This is another reason why the affect of the medicine is a continuing process. Shit can explode in ceremony (sometimes real shit!), but it’s processing things after ceremony that continues to evolve forever.
Nobodies experience of ceremony is the same because we all live different lives, have different thoughts and consequently face different things to work through. What can come out in ceremony is indescribable. You can have physical reactions to your thoughts, and you really feel the emotion as you purge it out of your body. People weep, scream, cry, laugh, gasp for air, talk to themselves, vomit and poo. Really, anything can happen as your body cleans itself, expelling the bad while simultaneously sparking revolutionary realizations for the good.
One ceremony I balled my eyes out and vomited for hours and hours. Sounds fun, huh? I went into the ceremony with an intention to make a decision on something I had agonized over for months. But the answer slapped me in the back. Literally, I was winded. I struggled to breathe and was gasping for air. I continued riding the wave of emotion as the reality of my decision became more and more apparent. I visually saw it and I felt it. I cried uncontrollably and mourned the grief, then I eventually smiled. The intensity of the rollercoaster I went through in that ceremony literally rid my body of those emotions. The Shamans helped pull all the negativity out of me (my tendency to question myself and overthink things), that had been blocking me from seeing that path of clarity. I left that ceremony exhausted, yet feeling 20 kilos lighter. I was a combination of sad and happy. The decision was a sad one, but I was happy to finally have a conclusion. And better yet, I knew and felt deep down inside of me that it was the right one. Reading back over this, it’s kind of insane. Like some serious sci-fi shit. But the sense of relief and cleanliness is so exhilarating.
The connection I felt with others during ceremonies gave me an entirely new appreciation for the concept of empathy. If someone sounds like they’re having a rough one, the compassion you feel for them is somewhat special. That’s just another amazing thing about the medicine. It brings us together and reminds us that nobody is in this life alone.
Leaving the Temple was very emotional for all of us. I can safely say I’ve never connected with people on a deeper level than I have during my time there. It’s an incredible kind of relationship to have with someone and we will no doubt remain in touch forever. I’m obviously very passionate about Ayahuasca, but the last thing I want to be is a preacher. If you don’t want to try it or you aren’t yet ready for it then I absolutely respect that. I am thankful that you even read this far! I just hope that you do yourself a favour and take a look at what’s on the inside, you might be surprised at what you find.
Finally, even though this is one hell of a lengthy piece of writing, it really is just the tip of the iceberg. If any of my friends out there are interested in visiting a retreat, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I can’t medically advise you on anything, but I can give you a couple of tips on how to prepare your bodies and how to stay safe. I’m also very happy to share further detail on my own visions in ceremony. I tried to leave most of that out of this and focus on what I've discovered Aya to be. But in case you’re wondering, I did manage not to shit myself, so don’t be too afraid of the detail I may share with you!
Now it’s back to the Floridian rat race for me, with the huge challenge ahead of trying not to forget who I really am. It’s also only 10 days until I can have a pina colada on the beach again, but who’s counting right…..
Thanks for reading y'all…. Namaste legends x