The first time I drank Ayahuasca I was absolutely terrified.
“It’s okay to be scared.” the Shaman leading the ceremony said.
Although I had long since dropped the Fundamentalist Christian beliefs I’d been indoctrinated with during childhood, remnants of them remained. In particular, those which claimed that any form of consciousness exploration through the use of substances constituted ‘witchcraft’ and was ‘a crime against the Creator’ caused the most misgivings.
I was also afraid of what was lurking in the depths of my subconscious. Like most others, I had my share of insecurities and childhood issues which I’d done a pretty good job of repressing. But I had reached a point in my life where my current psycho-spiritual profile was no longer helping me get to where I wanted to be, and something needed to change.
The initial encounter with the plant teacher was beyond anything I expected. Since then I have had the medicine over 20 times and will continue to drink it on occasion in the future. It’s never easy, but each subsequent journey brings more illumination, more adventure, more clarity and more healing.
The Mechanism is Not Important
There are many theories as to what is happening to an individual undergoing an Ayahuasca trip. Some claim to have actually visited other dimensions, seen past lives, met alternate versions of themselves and even encountered alien life forms or extra-dimensional entities. Others explain it as a doorway into otherwise inaccessible realms of the individual’s (or the Collective) unconscious, while rational-materialists argue that it’s simply s chemically-induced hallucination created by the user’s own brain.
Ayahuasca could be any of these things, or a combination of several of them. Or none of them at all. But I don’t care how it does what it does. I’m just grateful that it does it.
My whole life, it always felt like there was something wrong. I couldn’t define it, but there was a consistent backdrop of mild discontent and aggravation that tainted pretty much everything I saw and did. Morpheus described it perfectly when he said to Neo in The Matrix “You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind”.
I knew there had to be a way to ‘fix’ myself, and I tried dozens of different things. Many did nothing, some hindered and some helped, but none provided a breakthrough on the level I was looking for. None except for Ayahuasca.
One trip in particular was so powerful and shattering that it unravelled the very fabric of my being. It’s far beyond my ability to explain how, but the ‘splinter’ was finally removed and my life has not been the same since.
It has also unlocked several other gifts including increased empathy, greater love of and connection with nature, improved intuition, and deeper insight into several aspects of my life. It's also filled me with and a great awe of and sense of appreciation for Existence and my place in it.
Connection to the Ultimate
Ayahuasca also gave me a taste of something I can only describe as ‘Divine’. It provided a glimpse into a world beyond the one that many of us have grown to accept as ‘all there is’.
One of my favorite quotes expresses it perfectly: “For those who understand, no explanations are necessary. For those who don’t, no explanations are possible.”
Richard Dawkins could make the most rational, logical and well-reasoned argument that there is no deeper aspect to reality, but I could never be convinced of that, because through the medicine I have had experiential knowledge of the Beyond. It’s not something I read about in a book, or an idea that somebody else gave to me. It’s something I’ve felt and lived.
Just having had this connection to something beyond my ordinary waking or dreaming states galvanizes me with an unshakeable faith that there is a purpose to what we are all experiencing here on earth.
“But I Don’t Do Drugs”
Harboring a belief such as this is an indication that you are probably not ready for Ayahuasca.
The ‘War on Drugs’ is a farce that governments, under the pressure of commercial influences and misinformed social movements, have used to, in the words of Graham Hancock, deny us of our “psychic sovereignty”.
Humans have been using substances for healing, altering consciousness and psychological integration since before recorded time.
Yes, certain chemicals (including many sold legally on street corners in every developed country in the world) can, when misused, severely damage people. But to lump ritualistic and sacred forays with plant teachers in the same category as recreational drug use or abuse is laughable – they are about as far from each other as any two things could be.
Don’t let society’s overly-simplistic and fear-based categorizations deprive you of what could be one of the most profound experiences of your life.
How to Prepare
Although there are certain things you can do to ensure you get the most out of the experience, nothing can truly prepare you for an Ayahuasca trip. Having said that, there are ways you can ensure that you get the most out of your interaction with the medicine.
Although some would argue that it is not necessary, I would strongly suggest you have a shaman to guide you during your first session. I would also recommend that you meet said shaman before the ceremony and listen closely to what your gut tells you about them. You want to be under the guidance and protection of someone you trust and feel good about.
It's important to keep in mind that Ayahuasca is not a magic elixir that will solve all of your problems. It is a tool that can help you understand more about yourself. You will have to put in work. The power of the experience is proportionate to the sanctity and reverence with which you approach it. Look at it as a fun, psychedelic trip or ‘party’ drug and it’s unlikely you’ll reap much benefit – in fact you might even get ‘burned’.
There are several opinions and variations on what is considered the correct diet to follow before you take your journey. From my current perspective, I believe that the longer you eat a clean diet (whole, unprocessed foods, no sugar or alcohol etc), the more effectively the medicine will be able to do its work in your system.
Note – It’s essential to avoid high-tyromine content foods, as they can react with the chemical makeup of the brew and cause severe illness. There are also several drugs and supplements that can have very negative interactions and consequences - a good shaman or retreat will be able to advise you of these. If the facilitators of the experience are not familiar with this potential complication, I suggest you entrust your care to someone else.
Regular meditation is also essential. The calmer and clearer your mind the more easily you will be able to process the information you receive. Spending 30 minutes every day in quiet contemplation for the month before your trip will make a massive difference, as will keeping a journal of your expectations and hopes for the ceremony. Eliminating distractions in your life such as television and emotionally draining relationships will also help.
Face Your Fears
Despite the possibility for profound positive effects, remember that Ayahuasca is not a panacea, nor can it answer all of your questions. Also know that there are potential dark sides and risks to both the experience and the industry that has sprung up around it. Like pretty much anything else, it can be taken too far and become a rabbit hole of its own.
Making sure that if you choose to go down this path you are aware of all the implications and risks involved. Nobody can make the decision for you and nobody is responsible for the outcome.
If you truly feel the call to use this powerful tool, do so with reverence and caution. You will dive deep into the Mystery of Life and just might have an adventure beyond anything you could have imagined.