- 1 Ayahuasca Tea Background
- 2 How Mother Ayahuasca Called Me
- 3 The Ayahuasca-Wasi Retreat
- 4 The Ayahuasca Ceremony
- 5 Drinking With Focused Attention
- 6 Medicine Songs, Icaros & Shamanic Drumming
- 7 My Ayahuasca Retreat Experiences
- 8 Summing Up – Would I recommend Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca Tea Background
It is fair to say that you can compare ayahuasca to perhaps the Bible in western cultures.
Ayahuasca is still used by many shamans and tribes in Peru and other native tribes around the Amazon river. It holds an important part in the lives of the tribal people, one that cannot be described merely as a drug – it is much more meaningful than that.
Ayahuasca is a combination of two plants that are used to create a brew–a kind of pinkish looking jungle juice. When ingested, the juice gives you hallucinations and visions, deep philosophical thinking and other effects. The active ingredient is DMT – which is a substance that exists naturally in the body and is usually released during either birth or death. It’s believed that DMT is responsible for ‘the tunnel’ experience that is common to near-death reports.
How Mother Ayahuasca Called Me
I first heard of Ayahuasca from a friend in Melbourne.
We hung out one day, and he seemed very relaxed and lovely and even though we were hardly close friends up to that point we quickly sank into some very private and intimate conversation.
I remember feeling like I was floating on a cloud just chatting to him – he was such a good listener and listened with his heart. I think I must’ve asked him what allows him to do that – be so completely relaxed and into the person he’s speaking with. He replied mentioning about the Ayahuasca ceremonies he had done in Peru a few months beforehand and said they caused the biggest transformation in his life.
Me: “Sounds cool. Maybe I should try it out when I go to South America.”
Him: “Sure. But it’s no game. It’s very serious and strong. Not always pleasant. It can feel like you’re dying.”
Me: “Yeah. But you didn’t die. Does anyone die?”
Him: “No. It’s pretty safe. Oh and one more thing. You may throw up drinking it.”
Me: “Throwing up a bit? No problem.”
So, armed with this basic knowledge and not much more, I went to Ayahuasca Wasi’s website.
My friend said he had done a few Ayahuasca retreats and workshops but that these guys were by far the best ayahuasca retreat he had experienced. When I decided to go to South America to begin my travels, the first thing I did was to book the Ayahuasca retreat for my first week.
The Ayahuasca-Wasi Retreat
I got picked up from my hostel in Cuzco to be taken to Pisaq – a small community in the Sacred Valley 40 minutes away where the workshop was to be held.
Ayahuasca Wasi is run by Diego and Milagros, a married couple who have been facilitating workshops for a decade and a half, and do it on their own property right next to the house they live in.
When I got to the house I was surprised by how amazingly beautiful the place and surroundings were. We were surrounded by beautiful, towering lush mountain peaks in every direction (the Sacred Valley is a valley after all). The house where our hosts and workshop facilitators, Diego and his wife Milagros, lived was gorgeous with a lot of windowed walls which let a lot of natural light in.
The first thing that struck me was the other 20 or so people that came to the workshop.
I was expecting everyone there to be around my age – people in their 20s and 30s. But the age range was much wider. There was an 18 year old guy there that came with his mother and his aunt. Some people were scratching 60 from the bottom.
Unlike my situation, being out on the road traveling long term, most people at the retreat took a week or so from their busy lives specifically to go to this retreat. People came from as far as Australia, England, Canada, Italy, Switzerland etc. It made me realize the importance people gave to this experience.
Everything started with a sharing session where we all said why we had came to the ayahuasca center.
Most everyone treated it seriously (like I did) and shared the issues that were going on in their lives.
I’m used to sharing and intimacy, but this level of depth, this quick was amazing and intense. This kind of set the tone for the week – we were going to become very close to each other by the end of it.
Overall, the schedule of the workshop was consistent.
There was a ceremony with drinking Ayahuasca at around 9pm. The ceremony would finish at around 2am. There were vegetarian meals made by an in-house chef/volunteer, who, also, was doing the retreat. The following day we’d meet at 5pm and share our experiences from the night before and what lessons have stayed with us.
We would drink Ayahuasca every 2nd night, and on days after drinking we went on day trips in the beautiful sacred valley area.
The Ayahuasca Ceremony
Like I mentioned, the people around the Sacred Valley (and I assume other places) respect Ayahuasca and take it very seriously. They always refer to it as ‘the medicine’, ‘Mother Ayahuasca’ or even as a Guru that has something to teach you; never as some kind of recreational drug.
Consumption of Ayahuasca can be extremely dangerous if consumed outside of a ceremony setting that includes an experienced guide.
The purpose of the ceremony is to create a better, safer and blissful experience for everyone involved. Having gone through the experience a few times I can say a good ceremony really determines the quality of the experience with Ayahuasca – the structure of the ceremony and doing with people you trust is very important.
The ceremony was held in the temple on the grounds (next door to the house where the facilitators live) at 9pm. The temple, or moloca, is round and so everyone sat in a big circle around the walls of the room, covered in blankets to keep warm, and clutching to their own private purging bucket.
The ceremony starts by some sort of incense burning and blessings. All the people in the room (including the people helping to facilitate the ceremony) go forth to the front of the room and are given some Ayahuasca in the communal cup to drink.
The amount of the medicine, as well as the strength of any single batch made, completely determines your experience. Too weak and you may feel very little, too much and it could get too intense and unpleasant (scary etc). The first time you drink you’ll probably get a regular amount (not too much and not too little) – and with your experience you’ll learn to find just the sweet spot.
When it’s your turn, you come to the front of the room and are served with the cup. You can ask for a certain amount (more or less) but ultimately the amount is determined by the person running the ceremony.
Drinking With Focused Attention
You then hold the cup and concentrate on the intention you want for that night’s journey – letting go of fears, opening your heart, abundance in your life etc. You then turn your head around, making eye contact with everyone and exclaim “Kosai Pah” (which means “to life” in local Quechuan language, similar to “L’Chaim” in hebrew) before drinking the gruesome jungle brew.
After everyone finishes drinking, the lights are turned off and the room is in complete darkness, with nothing but moonlight from outside coming in. Ayahuasca makes you very photosensitive, and any light can be a distraction. Also, closing your eyes is when a lot of visions and beauty comes, and having light would make it harder to focus on that.
Then, you sit in the room while waiting to “go through to the other side”. Ayahuasca slowly starts taking effect.
You usually feel your body turn more numb and your thoughts becoming different (usually more philosophical and introspective).
After that, many times, visuals start – beautiful and colorful shapes and patterns – followed by more intricate ones at other times with actual characters and a something resembling a storyline. There are other possible effects to Ayahuasca like physical shaking off of nervous energy, sweating, runny nose and needing to go to the bathroom. They are all explained as letting go of negative energies.
One of the most infamous effects of Ayahuasca is throwing up, called ‘purging’ in Ayahuascero circles. So it happens that your purge bucket becomes your good friend for the night, and you always keep it pretty close.
However memorable, purging is a relatively small part of the night usually, and can actually feel pretty pleasant. The feeling is like you’re getting rid of some burden, and you’re encouraged to associate whatever you want to let go of to it (so for example, think of shedding your fears while you purge).
As the effects of Ayahuasca–visions, deep thoughts, purging–start happening, my favorite part of the ceremony starts.
Medicine Songs, Icaros & Shamanic Drumming
The people facilitating at Ayahuasca-Wasi are attuned to of how audio-sensitive you are under Ayahuasca. And so, they use that time to play seriously amazing, beautiful and soulful music. They have string instruments (guitars but also more intricate harp-like instruments I can’t name), flutes and simple drums. They sing together in beautiful medicine songs in English, Spanish, and other languages (Hebrew included!).
Together they create wonderful soulful music. What’s amazing about it all is that they are playing in the dark, under the influence of Ayahuasca. The music they produce is so beautiful, and seems so effortless – yet the task seems so impossible. When I asked them post ceremony they said they often feel like they are the instruments being played… And also that they’ve had a lot of practice.
The music is a really important part of the ceremonies – the lyrics and music elicit certain emotions and make everything deeper and more beautiful. If you’re interested, I suggest you check the absolutely huge amount of Ayahuasca medicine songs, i.e. icaros here.
Some songs that I particularly like are “Kol Galgal” (in hebrew), “Earth Child”, “The Ocean Refuses no river”, “Om namah Shivaya”, “Shakti Jai”, “Ayahuasca Takimuyki”, “La Sombra de mi Alma” and “This is our world”. Mind you, the recordings were made in ceremonies and not a studio so you may hear the occasional cricket (or person throwing up).
After the first hour or so of ceremony, Diego (the main facilitator) “opened the bar” for more: This pretty much means that if you feel like the effects are not strong enough and you want more, you can go to the front of the room and ask for a bit more to drink. If you already felt something before, you’d only need a tiny more to top it off and go through again. If you didn’t feel anything, you might need a bigger dosage; possibly even more than the original dosage.
One last thing to say about the ceremonies is that you are encouraged to go out of the temple, spend some time outside looking at the stars (which look particularly incredible), pet the local dogs (very relaxing if you’re having a challenging time) or just breathe some fresh air.
People who are going through a harder time, unable to maintain silence or moving around nervously are usually taken outside by one of the more experienced ‘drinkers’ who lovingly support them through the experience.
My Ayahuasca Retreat Experiences
I thought long and hard about how much of my experience I wanted to share. I wrote a version that contained 5 pages worth of experiences and I found it to be both uninteresting to read and too personal to want to share.
I understand most people would want to know about how various ceremonies felt, and I’m happy to give a broad strokes version. However I urge the reader to realize that every Ayahuasca ceremony is always different, and so this is just a sample of some things that are possible.
The first ceremony
(on the first night of the workshop) was beautiful with a lot of visuals.
The music blended in beautifully with the visuals, sometimes even creating them (somewhat like a music visualizer on some music player software). I was rather tired and at times just wanted it to end. However, I was imparted beautiful lessons on the importance of doing what you want in life and what you’re passionate about, how quickly life goes by. I felt the importance of being present in the moment. Also, as my heart burst open, I felt close to my family and other important people in my life.
The second ceremony
I asked to drink a bit more and the brew was also much stronger. My experience was hence much more intense. Milagros took me out of the temple, reminded me to return to my breath, held my hand and reassured me everything was OK. Despite my excess energy and my body’s wanting to thrash around–even to the point of punching my own leg–inside I was feeling blissful. I was shown of the uniqueness and beauty all of us had – it was a strong reminder to be a good listener and allow other people their space. I was again reminded the intelligence of going with my gut and doing what I really want. Being outside of the temple I was also affected by the beauty of this world, and felt very fortunate to be part of creation.
The following night
(on the day after the second ceremony), I had a weird experience.
At about the same time as we drank at the second ceremony, my heart started beating quicker, I was breathing heavier and was feeling woozy. I initially thought it was just the altitude and thin air – but it wouldn’t go away – for a whole 24 hours. I barely got sleep that night and hung out with one of the facilitators who kept me company. I managed to get some sleep the following morning, but as I woke up I still felt the same – elevated heartbeat and breathing. At some points my body felt numb and I felt disconnected to it (like I can’t feel it). It was a very long day with moments of terror (will I ever be the same?) as well as bliss (crying when seeing a flower or taking a picture of the most beautiful sunrise I ever had).
Overall, I can safely say it was the scariest day of my life. But I learnt how important it was to have people next to you when I was feeling bad – they may not be able to help, but at least I didn’t feel alone. I decided not to drink on the 3rd ceremony of the workshop which was on that night. Instead, I decided to have a big meal, which made me ‘drop back into my body,’ and get some sleep. It was exactly what I needed and I felt fine the following day.
My third ceremony
Not wanting to finish the retreat with such an experience, I decided to stay for one more night. The local community in Pisaq drinks every Monday and Friday and I decided to drink with them. There were locals and visitors at a ratio of about 50/50. However, the ceremony felt very different, like a celebration. Various more musicians showed up – some of them Israelis – which made everything more fun and special. The brew was the same as the one on the 2nd ceremony, which was strong and challenging still. This time, I was still very full of excess energy but I wasn’t feeling the bliss – just my own resistance. I knew I had to let go, just breath and surrender, but couldn’t.
I felt myself running away from the experience and struggling. It was very real. I had a lot of weird physical effects (weird ways I wanted to move like), and even made a strong scream when I was outside the temple at some point. A friendly German named Jakob supported me all throughout the experience, which was wonderful.
As the stronger effects wore down I went back into the temple and joined all the others. The woman sitting next to me, who did the retreat with me lent out her hand and we held hands for the rest of the ceremony. Afterwards, the locals stayed up till 8am and I stayed with them – just playing music, chilling out and connecting. It was wonderful and beautiful.
The lessons I got from this ceremony were (again) to trust my own intuition and gut, the importance of belonging (and how well Hebrew made me feel). I also really appreciated it when Jean, who facilitated this ceremony mentioned to me later how he appreciated my courage in doing it (I was certainly afraid after the night before). Overall it was a challenging but beautiful experience.
Summing Up – Would I recommend Ayahuasca?
I don’t think it’s for everyone. The experiences are intense, somewhat out of control and unrelenting. It’s physically safe, but it may not feel that way – you may feel like you’re dying or like something is terribly wrong.
If you are ready to take a hard look at your life, your fears and insecurities and also potentially feel pure beautiful bliss – it can be for you. If you’re looking for an easy, fun experience – this may not be it.
Either way, over 90% of the people who went there felt like Ayahuasca was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I too felt that way, despite being very much on my edge some of the time.
I’m still waiting for all the lessons I learnt to unfold and hopefully make me more of the person I want to be by showing me my own fears, deeply held beliefs and values.
And it was certainly an incredible first strong experience to begin my travels.
Reposted from http://www.unstagnate.com/ayahuasca
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