A Bit of Background

[To read just the juicy bits of my 17-hour psychedelic trip, go to section entitled “Time to Drink—No Going Back”]

In March 2012 I had a spiritual awakening that shattered my decade's old narcissistic asshole identity that caused me to be in chronic low-level frustration and sadness. Since then, I’ve reoriented myself down a path of enlightenment, or some version thereof, predicated on no longer externalizing, otherwise known as blaming, all people and events in my life— and instead taking 100% accountability and responsibility for my past, present and future.

Now, my simplified life goal is to Love More | Hurt Less™.

And so began an intense period of experimentation and testing in the metaphysical world, all facets of which I’d previously mocked. I tried drumming circles, gratitude journaling, visualizations, affirmations, Law of Attraction, men’s groups, Tarot, kirtans, meditation, energy healing, New Thought — and my now chosen domain: the teachings of Buddha. Mixed in with these explorations was a growing fascination in psychedelics and psychotropic substances as a means to uncovering locked or hidden parts of our consciousness. ‘But that’s some serious shit I’m too scared to try’ I said to myself.

This is because until December 2014, I’d never done any drugs. Nor have I ever been a drinker or cigarette smoker. I’m pretty clean cut in this regard. That changed in December 2014, on the day after I got divorced—keeping a promise I made my ex-wife to never do drugs in our relationship—I smoked pot for the first time in my life (go to 52:16 in this podcast for the story). It was a nice experience conducted in the safety of my home by a close cannabis-friendly friend. Since then, I’ve had it two more times and find it to be a not-so-profound experience.

I tend to go big, so if I’m going to experiment with mind-altering substances, I’m going for what’s been called the ‘drive-by shooting of psychedelics’. Over the last year or so, I’ve been finding and studying articles about ayahuasca; as this particular substance is purported to be the most medicinal and powerful psychedelic substance known. And it’s sourced and been in use by indigenous communities in South America, particularly the Peruvian jungle, for centuries.

How convenient that my first continent as a nomad is South America? The more I read about ayahuasca and having been in South America for the last five months, my resolve to try it grew to the point of action; I found and selected a reputable entity just outside of Cusco, Peru that fuses shamanism with Western medical oversight.

I signed up for a three-day retreat that included two ayahuasca ceremonies.

Let me take you through the experience.

The Cleansing

Having just returned to Cusco from a five-day trek that took me from high altitude glaciated mountains down into the jungle and culminating with a glorious and strenuous day at Machu Picchu, I had one rest day scheduled before beginning the ayahuasca retreat. This day included a pre-meeting in Cusco to drink something the retreat center referred to a ‘medicinal water’. None of us had any idea what we were in for. The idea was to detoxify and cleanse our bodies by removing all toxins from it. The water, taken from a volcanic spring from the Quisach’ata Volcano located in the highlands of Cusco, is slightly salty. I figured that was good since I was not only a bit dehydrated from my 13-hour day at Machu Picchu having only two liters of water with me, I also needed to replenish my salt.

6 toilet stalls in a row with the doors open in an outdor courtyard.
I chose the second stall from left. Once the volcanic water kicked in, we all were flushing so much there was a septic tank backup. How lovely.

After having our blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels checked we were instructed to drink, as fast as we could, six glasses (approximately 20 ounces each) of this salty water. And so it began. A volcanic experience of our own ensued. I chose stall number two in the bank of six toilets and gave it quite a work out. I ended up drinking 10 cups in total and although I say I’m not competitive, I was the first to finish the initial six cups and the first to be deemed ‘detoxified’ by the nurse after my 10th cup. My vitals were taken a final time and I was told I could leave. After which we were each instructed to drink one liter of electrolytes over the course of the day since our entire gut was flushed clean.

Other Pre-Retreat Recommendations

The other strict indications in the two days prior to the retreat were:

  • Not consume drugs (not a problem)
  • Not consume alcohol (not a problem)
  • Not consume tobacco (not a problem)
  • Not consume coffee and chocolate (a problem, but I adhered)
  • Avoid canned food, red meat, pork, spicy food, and excessive sugar and salt (most of which I normally never consume anyway)
  • Cease all prescriptions, antibiotics, injections or pills (not a problem; I take nothing including any vitamins or herbs)
  • No sex, including masturbation (not a problem)
  • To eat organic food until midnight the night before the retreat and then begin fasting (the fast lasted 38 hours—until the morning after the first ceremony)
  • Mentally and spiritually prepare by meditating, praying, doing yoga or any other practice more than usual (not a problem)

Ayahuasca Basics

[this section is from Wikipedia]

Ayahuasca, also commonly called yagé, is an entheogenic brew made out of Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis leaf. The brew is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the Indigenous peoples of Amazonian Peru. It can be mixed with the leaves of Chacruna or Chagropanga, both dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing plant species. DMT is often referred to as the Spirit Molecule. In the Quechua languages, aya means “spirit, soul”, “corpse, dead body”, and waska means “rope” and “woody vine”.

People who have consumed ayahuasca report having spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, as well as deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can. This is viewed by many as a spiritual awakening and what is often described as a rebirth. In addition, it is often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher spiritual dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra-dimensional beings who can act as guides or healers.

People often experience profound positive life changes subsequent to consuming ayahuasca. Vomiting can follow ayahuasca ingestion; this purging is considered by many shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience, as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Others report purging in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes.

The ingestion of ayahuasca can also cause significant, but temporary, emotional and psychological distress. Long-term negative effects are not known. A few deaths due to participation in the consumption of ayahuasca have been reported. The deaths may be due to preexisting heart conditions, as ayahuasca may increase pulse rates and blood pressure, or interaction with other medicines taken, such as antidepressants.

Sections of Banisteriopsis caapi vine are macerated and boiled alone or with leaves from any of a number of other plants, including Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (also known as chaliponga and chacropanga). The resulting brew may contain the powerful psychedelic drug DMT and MAO inhibiting harmala alkaloids, which are necessary to make the DMT orally active. Photo credit: http://ayahuasca-retreats.blogspot.pe/

Some shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca advise against consuming ayahuasca when not in the presence of one or several well-trained shamans. In some areas there are purported brujos (Spanish for ‘witches’) who masquerade as real shamans and who entice tourists to drink ayahuasca in their presence. Shamans believe one of the purposes for this is to steal one’s energy and/or power, of which they believe every person has a limited stockpile

Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament. Users of ayahuasca in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples like the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia. While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of ayahuasca. When used for its medicinal purposes, ayahuasca affects the human consciousness for fewer than six hours, beginning half an hour after consumption and peaking after two hours. Ayahuasca also has cardiovascular effects, moderately increasing both heart rate and diastolic blood pressure. In some cases, individuals experience significant psychological stress during the experience. It is for this reason that extreme caution should be taken with those who may be at risk of heart disease.

The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Its purgative properties are important (known as la purga or “the purge”). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites.

Dietary taboos are often associated with the use of ayahuasca. In the rainforest, these tend towards the purification of one’s self — abstaining from spicy and heavily-seasoned foods, excess fat, salt, caffeine, acidic foods (such as citrus) and sex before, after, or during a ceremony.

Arrival, Surrender Practice and Protection Ceremony

There were ten people in my group comprised mostly of Americans, one Icelandic, and one Swede; some of whom were doing a longer retreat but we all started at the same time. We departed Cusco for a 45 -minute van ride into the Sacred Valley to the retreat center. Upon arrival, we were split by gender and shown to our rooms, with three people per room. We had an orientation followed by individual meetings with both a doctor and psychologist. Mind you, we’d already filled out plenty of paperwork ahead of time, but the in-person meetings allowed the medical staff to assess our physical and mental fitness for taking ayahuasca.

I finished both meetings relatively early and spent the rest of the afternoon focusing on my intentions for the ceremony and practicing calmness in the face of underlying anxiety about the rapidly approaching ceremony. I also opted to observe Noble Silence (often associated with meditation retreats) and only speak with staff when needed and not with my fellow participants. Of note, I was the only participant to chose Noble Silence.

The retreat center has no clocks and shortly after we arrived, per the rules, I surrendered my phone which felt like having an appendage cut off. With no connection to the outside world and no way to know the time, my induction into surrender began in earnest; with what I now know was a teeny tiny fraction of what was soon coming once the ayahuasca pierced my blood-brain barrier.

After nightfall, the Andean shaman conducted two protection ceremonies on the grass in which we were individually blessed to be protected from mother ayahuasca; one for our bodies and one for our minds.

My Intentions for Taking Ayahuasca

People choose to take ayahuasca for a variety of reasons and ailments that span physical, metaphysical, emotional, and psychological realms. I had three intentions:

  1. To investigate and hopefully release my perceived lack of value that is holding me back from fully expressing myself.
  2. To cross the ultimate threshold of surrendering to something I cannot control by ingesting a substance that takes over the mind and body.
  3. To deal with my higher than average total and utter dislike of vomiting. I really hate to throw up — not that anyone really likes it — and have only done it a few times in my life; and it’s an inevitable hallmark physical and spiritual effect, also referred to as purging.

Time To Drink — No Going Back

The time finally came, around 7pm, when we entered the ceremonial building, a rounded room with a cone-shaped roof; and at the top of the cone roof was a translucent skylight that became one of my beacons during my experience.

I selected my spot. Each spot had a sleeping bag on a soft pad, a heavy wool blanket, a pillow and a bucket. We each supplied our own water and tissues.

In the hut were the ten participants, the program coordinator, a nurse and two shamans: one was a Peruvian Jungle shaman and the other an Andean Highlands shaman.

We conducted a final protection ceremony, rubbing a small amount of dirt mixed with water in our hands to create a mud on our heads as a protective helmet. And given a couple of drops of two different perfumes, one on each hand, which we rubbed together and wiped all over our bodies. At this point, I’d been fasting for 22 hours. We were reminded to not get up on our own and to request help for going to the bathroom (which I never did while in the hut).

The ceremonial building at Etnikas. Photo Credit: http://www.etnikas.com/es/

We were dosed a cup of a specific amount of ayahuasca based on criteria I do not know (likely weight and other factors). Before giving us our cup, the jungle shaman was smoking a pipe of natural tobacco and blew several puffs of smoke into each cup. After everyone had their cup, the moment came to drink. I was scared. Once this stuff goes in, there’s no turning back.

I was dosed half of glass of this vile, thick and nasty concoction. I looked into the cup that was half full of this powerful concoction and chugged it trying not to taste it. Looking at the thick sludge at the bottom of the empty cup I sat back and tried to relax as I looked around the room at my fellow participants. A small ceramic bowl of wood was lit aflame on the ground and the lights were turned off. The flickering light was distracting at first because my eyes are sensitive to light, but it subsided quickly. And the wait began.

And we were reminded, as we’d been all day, that love is the response to everything we were about to experience.

What follows is everything I remember and felt in no particular order.

Mind Activation, Body Devolvement and Super Surrendering

My first instance of seeing complex geometric patterns was experienced with no other effects beyond the beautiful imagery. The staff were walking around as some people were beginning to vomit and attending to them and asking people if they were beginning to feel the effects. And I said yes, thinking this won’t be so bad.

Shortly after, I realized my body was becoming limp and I slouched further into my sleeping bag and sought comfort as my primary focus; all the while clutching my bucket as the vomiting seemed imminent.

The effects of ayahuasca typically peak two to three hours after consumption. I’m pretty sure this was the timeline for me. Of note, before we began the coordinator conveyed that the ceremony would be four to five hours and then we would be taken to bed in our nearby rooms. This was not the case. We were in the hut well into the middle of night. And my effects lasted 17 hours, albeit decreasing towards the end.

The geometric patterns and colors began happening at hyper speed. The blazing fury of images, shapes, and patterns quickly overwhelmed me. Each time, I felt a need to assess what was I seeing and then decide how I felt about it. It felt like a test for me to see how fast I could comprehend what I was seeing and how fast I could I accept it. Imagine walking into a dark room, turning the lights on, looking around, assessing what’s in the room, and determining if there’s anything that could be dangerous for you—and then imagine that happening in your mind at a rate of what feels like several thousand times a second. Add to this that everything you see in the room is also twisted, distorted, warped and weird as shit. It was exhausting. If you believe in the 10,000 hours of learning theory, I was getting my entire 10,000 hours in— learning to surrender to what I cannot control—during my ayahuasca trip.

As the ayahuasca was assaulting me with these images, it’s sheer power took over 99% of my mind and at least 50% of my body. And in what was left of me physically and mentally, I summoned the strength to not fight but surrender. I knew that if I tried to change the images or to stop them, it would cause me suffering. In the greatest act of surrender and submission I have ever known, I chose to let go and allow these nano-images wash over me; which lasted for probably 12 of the 17 total hours the ayahuasca affected me. And in doing so, to do my best to flow with the galactic speed the ayahuasca was forcing upon, er, showing me.

It was a decision of submission to that which cannot be controlled. In what we believe is our everyday life, where we think we are consciously aware, people spend, including myself, so much time attempting to control everyone and everything. To have tried to fight the speed, intensity, and comprehensiveness of the ayahuasca’s effects would have been unbearable; submitting, enduring seemed to be the better of the two options.

I choose to say endure because it was difficult to welcome the effects of the ayahuasca. It felt more like surviving than thriving. Rapid fire visions that were exhausting me and a growing disconnection from my body. What occurred was an awareness of my body’s devolvement into a useless bag of flesh and randomly firing neurons. The ayahuasca was in me, there was nothing I could do to stop it; it was undoable. I had to wait it out, which felt interminable, especially around dawn.

If you are familiar with the Singularity, I felt like my entire brain’s operating system became corrupted and was malfunctioning. Almost like short circuiting; my entire system was being corrupted. And I was recall being worried that things would not return back to their original state. I was concerned I may be doing permanent damage to my brain and there was nothing I could do the stop it. I wondered if my memories would be adversely affected, if my motor skills would be altered, and if somehow what made me ‘me’ was being irreversibly contaminated by the ayahuasca.

Mixed in with the fantastical quickly morphing colorful geometric patterns were snapshots of people in my life and phrases I’ve written. Throughout the night I was taking inventory of the prominent people in my life, yet I experienced memory loss often by not remembering their names or normally easily remembered facts about them. I found this initially frustrating and gave up trying to remember their names; I knew these people beyond their name.

What did frustrate me was not being able to recall what Lucca’s (my dog who died and who’s death is why I became a nomad) face looked like despite having thousands of pictures of her. Interestingly I did not have any visions of my father who died in 2007, although I wanted to. In the early morning hours, once I noticed the sun was rising, I was still pretty out of it and unable to move much. And my motor skills and depth perception were still quite impaired, I began to worry again that I had done irreversible damage to my brain and that it was entirely possible that I may never fully return to my ‘normal’ self. I thought I may need to learn how to live and function in this impaired and fractured state.

Beacons, Anchors and Self-Preservation While Being Self-Deconstructed

I kept seeing my favorite picture I took at Machu Picchu two days prior. I was so moved by being there. The beauty and mysticism of Machu Picchu is almost inescapable. Plus it was a closing of a loop after my first honeymoon fourteen years ago when we got to Peru and three days in my former wife got very sick and we needed to return home and scrap the two week trip, including Machu Picchu. This is the photo that kept flashing in my mind and eventually stopped.

My favorite picture from Machu Picchu where I had been two days before. Photo Credit: Steven Shewach

Throughout the night while we were in the hut, the shaman was chanting icaros (Incan chants) about the energy of plants, of nature, of the universal force. They were cyclical; building slowly, crescendoing, and then falling slowly into silence. This cycle was repeated many times throughout the night. And my trip was directly connected to the chanting; my visions would build in intensity as the chanting built in tone, pitch and speed. And when the silence came, it was usually welcome and peaceful but at least once it became too silent and I got scared.

I remember the psychologist earlier in the day in our private session telling me the ayahuasca is the river, and the shaman and his chants, are the boat and the captain on the river. The chants were like anchors to me and they allowed me to ride the waves of the ayahuasca pulsing 1,000,000 miles an hour in my brain. In particular, the shaman would make a short, low whistle sound that every time I heard it, it called me back from wherever I was once in my mind and whenever I heard it I saw a puff of smoke.

And sound, in general, was beyond wonky. It was like listening to Pink Floyd, but way more intense, where the source of sounds became moveable and malleable; moving around, between, and behind my head even when I knew they were fixed.

Related to this was the inclusion of the visuals and noises of the other people into my trip. One or two of the women in the group were moaning as if sexually climaxing which I found both enticing and fear-inducing. I wondered what would happen if I became aroused from their moaning or for any other reason. This is the power of ayahuasca — it takes your fears and worries and forces them upon you.

Remember the movie Inception? Each person had a totem, an object used to test if oneself is in one’s own reality. I had several totems I used, physical and mental. One was my love pillow weapon. Every time I got scared or felt threatened, I recalled this red heart-shaped pillow that a man dressed like Jesus walking around on stilts threw back and forth to the crowd at a street parade during Carnaval in Rio this past February.

If the vision was scary or had anxiety attached to it, I’d throw the pillow at it— and each time the vision ended. Another totem-like thing I did was put my hand on my belly, often in the fetal position, to test if I still had any control of my body and to verify I was comfortable. Another was to put my hand in my front pocket with the thumb out, like a cowboy.

Jesus with his pillow heart at bloco in Santa Teresa in Rio at Carnaval 2016. Photo Credit: Steven Shewach

At the height of the ayahuasca’s effects there was no escaping its power. Whether my eyes were open or closed, crazy, fast-paced shit was happening that seemed absolutely out of my control. Yet, over and over, when my eyes were closed and I was experiencing something intense or scary, so much that I felt I could not withstand it, I opened my eyes, as one normally would, to shake oneself from the visions being seen in the mind. Yet, this didn’t work, because instead I saw people around me turn into dinosaurs or got scared that I couldn’t figure out what my eyes were seeing. One thing I could always seem to make out, thankfully, was the cone-shaped translucent skylight of the hut. The eyes-open effect became more normalized as the ayahuasca wore off over the course of the morning; when actually opening my eyes removed me from whatever I was seeing in my mind and what my eyes were seeing were, for the most part, what was there, but still out of focus or layered in a weird way.

When we first got in the hut I had procured some extra wool blankets (I was sitting next to the extras) before drinking the ayahuasca and used them to make a nest for myself. It was my protective zone where the blankets, just like when I was kid I when I believed my sheets could be protect me from anything, were shielding me from what was going on in the hut with everyone else. I was blocking myself, as best I could, from all the other activity; some of which was pretty intense including wretched vomiting. I felt isolated there, yet in a loving and safe way. It dovetailed with my decision to surrender to the ayahuasca and to my body, which lay still, except for the frequent involuntary muscle twitches and intermittent numbness in my hands. I was yawning — a lot. In my focus on being comfortable I remember thinking, my default state in life is to be idle and relax; and when I thought that I recall judging it.

Hilarity and Humor: A Wonderful Response Watching Myself Temporarily Devolve Into a Pile of Flesh

My first laughing session occurred within the first couple of hours; likely at the height of the ayahuasca’s effects. I noticed my nose was running quite severely and I did not have enough physical energy to wipe the snot away. I felt it leaking out and believed it was bubbling out like tapioca pudding. I remember tasting it on my lips and I began laughing at how absurd it was that my body was becoming an oozing, twitching, fidgeting, non-sensical verbal uttering mass of flesh. This was the first time I was able to recognize that I was observing myself. I was floating above my body looking down at it, splayed out on the floor, snot bubbling out of my nose, muscles twitching on their own—and my response was humor. And this pleased me. More hysterical laughing sessions occurred throughout the night and early morning as I remained detached from my body. The other times usually related to some uncontrollable physiological response I was having, but also from thoughts or visions that seemed absurdly funny.

This is one of my favorite stories, in hindsight as you’ll see. I only vomited once or twice while in the hut and those purgings weren’t too bad. Sometime after I was returned to my bed, I needed to go to the bathroom. This alone was a monumental effort to get myself up and over to the bathroom and safely sitting on the toilet. After having diarrhea, I was sitting on the toilet in a daze and realized my stomach was hurting and that some serious puking was imminent.

Mind you, I was far from thinking clearly and I was confused as how to handle the soon-to-erupt vomit since I was sitting and needing to remain seated because I knew I wouldn’t be able to balance myself standing up. It did not occur to me that the toilet bowl was an option. In case you don’t know, in South America you do not put used toilet paper in the toilet so there is always a bin next to toilet for used paper. This one had a plastic liner which I removed and now I had myself a puke pail. I held it in my hands, while still seated, and in an instant I was about to erupt.

And in that precise moment, without any thought, I became a mother bird. I instinctively opened my mouth wide and erupted and like a fire hydrant uncapped, a stream of the foulest, nastiest dark liquid spewed forth. I was ‘feeding’ the pail as a doting mother bird feeds her chicks, And again, I opened my mouth for another round. And again. And again. After four successive high volume feedings and I looked into the puke pail with utter disgust not only at the volume of liquid; but its dark color, stinky smell, and heat that I felt wafting up to my face. It was like I purged liquid fire.

As soon as it was over, I remember thinking this is going to make a great story. Do you agree? I pushed the pail under the pedestal sink, summoned all of my energy to stand up and to clean myself, flush the toilet, and wash my hands. I remember, when washing my hands, I decided to look at myself in the mirror and subsequently freaked myself out. And then I stumbled back to bed. Once back in bed, I felt much better and that was thankfully the last time I vomited.

Animal imagery is common while on ayahuasca and I think it’s very cool that my brain and body created a way for me to purge so violently as a way to push through my fear and disdain of vomiting.

I knew, while it was happening, that the humor response was good for me. I knew what it meant; my current personal development work revolves around me continuing to deflate my ego to a point of eradicating my ‘not good enough’ bogus beliefs. A relayed messages I received was to smile more and that I have a great smile and I withhold it often, especially around strangers.

Love or Fear: Ayahuasca Will Show It To You

One of the articles about ayahuasca from my research relayed a story about a participant who killed another while tripping. As I mentioned I was one of the first people to be taken back to the our rooms, so it seemed like a while until both of my roommates were escorted to our room. The first one was no problem, he and I were next to each other in the hut and he did not scare me. The other roommate, a young man in his twenties who had not tried ayahuasca before but had done mushrooms and LSD, came back to the room in a state of intense agitation. It was as if he was fighting invisible enemies. He was talking constantly, sometimes in a babbling language, and at one point spontaneously projectile vomited, twice, onto himself and the floor.

Luckily my bed was on the opposite side of the room so I was spared by his vomiting, but it was a huge mess. So the other roommate, who seemed way less affected than myself or the young man, left the room more than once to get someone to clean up the mess. It was then I became anxious about this young man potentially coming over to my nearly lifeless body and hurting me. My energy and body language (turned away from from him laying on my side) was strong and only twice did he acknowledge me by asking how I was; to which I raised my hand in the air to respond. And this young man, in his discomfort and agitation, did get up and walk around the room and I feared he may hurt himself by falling; he was hanging onto the curtains in front of the bay window (we were on the second floor).

Of note, this young man’s message from mother ayahuasca was to cease all drugs and get sober. And he decided to not partake in the second night’s ceremony and left the retreat center that morning.

Sometime during the night once I was in bed, I had one of my scariest visions of grizzly bear swiping its huge paw at me and I threw the love pillow and poof, the vision went away.

Throughout the experience I had a fear of loosing control of my bowels, or worse, getting visibly aroused. I found out later, after I broke my noble silence, that one of the participants, when I conveyed this fear of shitting my pants, said she had shat herself early on in the ceremony.

Ayahuasca Bits & Pieces

Once I saw daylight, the effects were subsiding, but not as fast I thought. I was still really out of it and moving very slowly and with great effort. My balance was still impaired but I was eager to get out of the room because without a clock, it felt like the night and dawn was dragging on forever. So when the bell rang for breakfast, I went down even though I wasn’t hungry. I went to see what was happening and everyone was talking and eating. I just stood against the door jamb looking at all of this activity and turned around sat on a bench outside on the deck facing the sun. I just sat there not moving at all, in a catatonic state, for perhaps an hour, when the coordinator came over to see how I was. She suggested I eat, specifically a tangerine as the acid helps to make the ayahuasca wear off faster. So I went into the dining room and sat down and had a tangerine which lead to some eggs and then to some juice and into a feast as I’d been fasting now for 36 hours. I didn’t realize how hungry I was. I felt better quickly.

Every sensory input was heightened or extreme. Early on I got feverishly hot and took off my jacket and sweatshirt wearing only my t-shirt and pants. I had nearly debilitating thirst but could not satisfy it even though my water bottle was within easy reach. It was too heavy for me to lift and I did not think to ask for help to drink (probably because I have Lone Wolf Syndrome). Only when I vomited and the staff came to help did I drink water while in the hut. Once I was in the room, I was able to drink myself but the effort to unscrew the cap, lift the bottle and align it with my mouth and then tilt it just right was akin to performing brain surgery.

Other sensory oddities: touch was extreme, I found myself endlessly making micro-movements to continuously adjust my comfort level. And felt numbness in my hands. The smell of the vomit was unbearable. And sound, as I mentioned before, was the trippiest sense for me; shifting sound spaces. And everything else, depth perception, balance, dexterity, energy level, climate sensitivity, pressure sensitivity (the weight of the covers felt too heavy at one point) were all warped, twisted, distorted, and separated into layers. And time — time was nowhere.

As it finally wore off, I felt so grateful for being able to close my eyes and not see the hyperspace assault of imagery and patterns to process and accept. And for always now, I will cherish the simple act of closing my eyes and seeing nothing, unless I want to see something.

One and Done—No Second Ceremony

I opted to not participate in the second ceremony on the second night. I came to this decision during my ayahuasca trip. While I thought about reversing it after the trip was over because I was told the first time is the worst and usually the second, third or more times one has ayahuasca the physical effects are lessened and the visions are usually less intense. Plus they informed me we’d receive less ayahuasca on the second night. Still, I felt I got what I came for and my life-long preference to not ingest mind-altering substances prevails.

So I was able to eat lunch and dinner this day, while of the rest of group was to fast for the second ceremony in the evening. I decided to relax in the serene environment surrounded by mountains and relax, reflect and read. In keeping with the theme of Noble Silence, I chose to read a book about Buddhism and psychology on my Kindle. It was a bit strange to be at the in my room while everyone was in the hut going into altered states of consciousness. The hut was right outside of my window and they were in there until the middle of the night. The next morning at breakfast everyone was talking about their experience and I remained silent listening to them discuss their experiences and felt content with my decision.

What I Learned

My first intention was to investigate and hopefully release whatever it is that I perceive is holding me back from fully expressing myself. I choose to believe, this was clearly answered as ‘stop taking myself so seriously’ and that there is humor everywhere. To stop feeding my ego with worry about what people will or will not think about what I say or do. To realize at a visceral level, in the absence of ego, we are all the same; just a bunch of cells. And the ego’s distortions are what cause my suffering, my withholding, my fear. So seeing myself whimpering, twitching, and devolved into such a simplified state of existence deflated my ego; and I saw the folly and futility of my obese ego. The fact that my higher self responded with humor means that behind the obese ego is a more balanced, healthy ego; a person who is maturing spiritually. A person who is learning to focus on simplicity and similarities, rather than complications and differences.

And mother ayahuasca encouraged me to smile more. The simplicity and power of a real smile is profound. It comes from feeling whole and integrated and subsequently open to giving universal love. It is the result of a balanced ego that knows how to give and receive love independent of context.

My second intention to was to accelerate arriving at the ultimate threshold of surrendering to something I cannot control by ingesting a substance that takes over the mind and body. Slam fucking dunk.

My third intention was to deal with my higher than average total and utter dislike of vomiting. And I love how my mind and body redefined the experience of throwing up by instantaneously morphing into a mama bird feeding her baby birds.

But the most important realization I had was seeing that ayahuasca is not a panacea and that meditation can get me to the same or similar place that ayahuasca did, but more slowly and way less intensely. I know what it feels like to be connected with Infinite Intelligence when I am focused on being more mindful and compassionate. I experienced this before; last year during my months of focused grieving and forgiving following the death of my dog and being cheated on in my marriage. I know this can all be achieved without any external substances.

Closing ceremony making blessings for our future with the Andean Shaman.

One last thing. I’m amazed and fascinated how some people are wired in such a way that they actively seek to lose control at such a profound level that ayahuasca (and other psychedelics and hallucinogens) provide. One guy at the retreat did a total of nine ceremonies in two weeks (some of which were at a different retreat center). For me, I will never take for granted the ability to close my eyes and not be assaulted by visions that overwhelm me, and if they do, for example in a dream, I can wake myself up and become conscious again. While I did surrender to it, the ayahuasca’s comprehensive mind, body and soul takeover, is not something I choose to experience again. I prefer to connect with alternate realities and the Universe in a slower, less jarring way.

The day I left the retreat center I felt fine and in the week following the ceremony I rested in Cusco, Peru in a comfortable Airbnb room. I did, however, disregard the ‘no caffeine for a week’ recommendation and got sick for 24 hours.

For some ayahuasca is life altering. For me it was a boundary line to cross. The act of taking it and submitting to its power was as much part of the experience as what it showed me over those 17 hours. My life now as a nomad, after selling my home and all of my stuff last year, is a living experiment. I’m constantly experimenting with my edges, my boundaries, my comfort zone and this experience was pretty high up there in intensity. I’m glad I did, I’m proud I did it, and I would recommend it.

Two other participants, myself, the Andean Shaman and his wife and the Peruvian Jungle Shaman and his wife.

If you want to learn more about the Etnikas Retreat Center go here.

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