Ayahuasca is a brew made out of a combination of two different plants, the vines of Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of Psychotria Viridis which is used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ancient Shamanic rituals of Amazon. Many indigenous cultures of the region have used this brew for emotional, psychological, spiritual as well as physical healing for centuries. The active component in the brew is DMT which comes from the leaves. DMT on its own is broken down by an enzyme in the liver and hence has no effect on a person, however the vines contain an inhibitor that deactivates those enzymes and causes the DMT to get absorbed in the body. DMT, also known as ‘The Spirit Molecule’ affects the Pineal Gland in the brain which is believed to be the metaphorical third eye of a person. The effects vary for each individual and no two Ayahuasca ceremonies are the same for any person. While most Ayahuasca users report profound spiritual revelations and emotional healing of past traumas, some have even found it useful for treating PTSD, depression as well as addiction. There has been some scientific research suggesting Ayahuasca might have an effect on reducing certain cancer cells however it is still too early to consider it as an alternative treatment for cancer itself.
The following is an account of my experiences with the brew over a two day ceremony. Any individual interested in going for an Ayahuasca ceremony should do their own research on the subject as there are plenty of resources available online. Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug and should not be treated as such. The physical effects include violent retching, vomiting & diarrhoea apart from visual & auditory hallucinations. It is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions or those taking certain medications. Also there is a rigorous diet regime that individuals have to follow for a minimum of a week prior to the ceremony to get their bodies prepared for the extreme experiences.
I met Sergei at a restaurant near my hotel at around 7 pm. After some time we were joined by four others, two guys from Chandigarh and a guy and a girl from Delhi. We headed for the Shaman’s house which was a couple of kilometres away, on foot.Once there, we were asked to go inside one after the other and meet the Shaman personally.
The Shaman was a middle aged man with a pleasant personality and a calm demeanour. He asked each of us similar questions like if we have or have ever had any liver or heart problems; whether we took anti depressants or hypertension medication; whether we followed the Ayahuasca diet; and most importantly our purpose or intent behind going for the Ayahuasca ceremony? I told him that I was medically completely fine and had indeed followed the diet. As far as the purpose behind my attending the ceremony goes, it was just to clear some cobwebs from my mind and get some clarity. My main purpose behind going for this ceremony however was my search for the Divine. I have been an atheist for most of my life as I’ve always found religion to be extremely stifling and authoritative, and it has never quenched my thirst for spirituality. Through my four month research on Ayahuasca I had come to the conclusion that this indeed could be an experience worth trying and may show me a glimpse of what I have been seeking.
After we had all met and spoken with the Shaman, we were directed to the ceremonial room and asked to take seats on comfortable chairs kept in a circle around the room. There were buckets besides each chair and a bunch of tissue papers on tables kept in between the chairs.
While waiting for the ceremony to start we introduced ourselves to each other. In all there were 12 of us; five Indians, three Ukrainians, two Russians, an American and a Zimbabwean . A couple of them had prior experience with Ayahuasca but most of us were first timers.
Before starting the ceremony, the Shaman gave us instructions about the tea, its effects and other finer details. He told us that this being the first day, would be more about purging & cleansing than visions or life lessons. The purge would happen via throwing up and diarrhoea. According to the Shaman, the vomiting cleanses the organs of the upper torso including the lungs, throat, diaphragm and oesophagus while the diarrhoea does the same for the lower torso organs like the liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines.
We were instructed not to think too much about the mild visions that we might experience but rather to internalise them and concentrate on the cleansing by being attuned to our bodies and feeling the brew work inside. Another important instruction was to not talk to each other or touch each other during the entire process as this could lead to crossing of energies and may cause an unpleasant experience or render the cleansing ineffective. Also since Ayahuasca works on each individual in a unique way, it is best to keep it to yourself.
Once the Shaman was done with his instructions he started with the ceremony. He came to each of us with a small bottle of some sort of spirit/alcohol and a cigarette rolled from Amazonian tobacco(which is considered a purifying plant in many Shamanic rituals). He murmured some chants and applied the spirit to our heads, chests and back of our necks. He then blew the tobacco smoke around us. There were Icaros playing on a laptop in the room. Icaros are traditional Shamanic songs & chants with traditional Amazonian instruments and ambient jungle sounds that are a very integral part of Ayahuasca ceremonies.
After this, the Shaman asked us to approach him one by one to take the tea. We had to take the bowl of Ayahuasca from the Shaman and while holding it, reiterate our intent in our own head and drink it. The bowl was then filled with warm water which we had to gulp down. Not surprisingly, the tea was probably the most disgusting drink I have ever tasted. The after taste that it left in the mouth was even worse.
We then sat down at our respective seats and the Shaman switched off all the lights. There was complete darkness except a sole candle burning in the middle of the room. We started getting immersed in the ambience and the chants and tried to listen to our bodies as the tea started to take effect. Fifteen minutes into the ceremony, one girl started vomiting & retching violently which did make me a little weary but I was pretty OK till then.
About an hour into the ceremony the purge started. Within a span of a few minutes everyone started getting sick and all our heads were inside our respective puke buckets. It hit me out of nowhere and it was a torrential downpour. I had never puked like that in my life. The Shaman’s wife/assistant kept filling our bowls with warm water & encouraged us to drink it after every bout of vomiting; this in turn caused us to throw up even more. It was relentless and felt like my body was turning inside out.
Some people started visiting the washroom soon as it was time for the diarrhoea to kick in. I hadn’t eaten anything all day except a granola bar and didn’t expect that I’d go through it but boy was I wrong. I rushed to the toilet and as I moved from darkness to light, I realised the visual effects of the tea. It might sound corny, but it was almost exactly like the scene from the movie-‘The Man of Steel’ where the Kryptonians lose their helmets and experience strange visuals as they get acclimatised to Earth. All my senses were enhanced in some way and I could see every motion in trails of exaggerated wave patterns. My astonishment was short lived though as I started leaking from both ends. Never before had I ever shat & puked at the same time, but I guess there is a first time for everything. Thankfully there was a puke bucket right there in the toilet and came pretty handy. After getting back to the ceremonial room the visual effects and the purge continued for some more time and then a sense of serene calmness and tranquillity took over. Few people were still going through intense purging but I think the worst for me was over.
The Shaman changed the mood of the room by changing the music to more relaxed chants and ambient sounds of the jungle. He even played a couple of Icaros using a traditional shamanic string instrument the likes of which I’d never seen. After some time the Shaman called for the closure of the ceremony and advised us to get some sleep either in the house or on the terrace. By then all of us were done with the purge and had come out of the visual effects as well. I had no idea what the time was or how long I was under the effects of Ayahusaca. I was expecting it to be at least 5 to 6 hours if not a life time, but surprisingly it had been just 3.We finally called it a day went to catch some sleep. I along with 3 others went to the terrace and slept there. I slept like a baby that night.
I woke up early the next morning, around 6 am and was pleasantly surprised at how fresh & relaxed I felt. There was no headache or nausea or discomfort of any sorts just a rejuvenated but peaceful feeling. The Shaman gave us each a cup containing a herbal mixture of some sort to drink in the morning. Apparently it was some Amazonian medicine that helps your body to cope with the purge. The instructions for the day included eating light and clean and getting good rest as we had to come back in the evening for the 2nd ceremony. We finally left for our respective abodes with anticipation and excitement about day 2.
I spent most of the day hanging around the beach, eating fruits and writing. I wrote down my entire experience of the previous day in my journal while sipping juice in front of the Arabian Sea. I hadn’t felt so clear headed in years. In the evening I left for the Shaman’s place at approximately the same time as the previous day. When I got there I came to know that 3 people out of the 12 of us were out. They had violent purges all through the day and were in no condition for the 2nd ceremony. This is when I realised the importance of the whole diet regime that is recommended before any Ayahuasca ceremony. The brew was still working on their physical cleansing as they had ignored the diet and indulged in alcohol & unhealthy junk right up to the day of the ceremony. This was their price to pay.
Just like the day before, we took seats in the ceremonial room and waited for the Shaman. He gave us a banisteriopsis caapi vine and asked us to pass the stick around and whoever held it had to share their experiences of the previous day along with what they expected to achieve out of the 2nd ceremony. Most people wished to achieve some sort of clarity about their general direction in life, while a couple of them were seeking reconciliation with past traumas and emotional baggage. Once we had all shared our experiences and expectations, the Shaman told us that the experience on this day would be much different than before, with less purging(of course there’s purging) and more visions. Also we would be offered more Ayahuasca after every hour or so since some people might have more tolerance for it. However, he warned us that too much of it might make it a very unpleasant experience and thus we should be sure and listen to our bodies before taking more. The visions, he said, might include spirits or otherworldly creatures apart from strange places, geometric shapes, animals and even people. He instructed us to not panic if we see something scary and treat it just like we’re watching a movie. After all no matter how engrossed you are in the plot of a film, you cannot enter the scene and get involved physically. He advised us not to hold back if we felt like crying as that could be the release of emotional baggage or trauma and is a part of the healing process for some.
After about an hour or so of instructions and discussions, we were ready for the ceremony to begin. On this day, apart from the usual blowing of tobacco smoke and application of alcohol there was another key ingredient before consuming Ayahuasca, a brown powder that we had to snort through each nostril. This substance was something that supposedly helps in opening of the ‘Third Eye’ or the Pineal Gland in our brains. It caused a severe bout of sneezing for several minutes. We then cleaned our noses and approached the shaman one by one to receive the brew. Once we had drunk the tea we went back to our seats and waited for it to take effect. The shaman emphasized that we sit with our necks straight, preferably keeping a pillow behind our heads so that it doesn’t droop backwards too much as that may cause us to lose the visions & fall asleep. Apparently it had something to do with ‘Chakras’ and their alignment. He said that when he feels that the spirits and mother Ayahuasca are done and it is time to end the ceremony, he would ring a small bell that was kept on the table as an announcement of the closure of the ceremony.
About 15-20 minutes after ingesting the tea most people started vomiting, except me and another guy. I just had an uncomfortable feeling, but no purging or visions. One girl started crying and seemed to be distraught over some thing. An hour into the ceremony, the shaman asked if anyone needed more. As I was still not feeling anything, I went ahead and asked for some more. He touched my forehead and shoulder and seemed to say a prayer before giving me a shot of concentrated Ayahuasca. As soon as I had downed the shot, it started taking effect. I wearily went back to my seat and had to wait only a couple of minutes for the purge to start.
The puking was quiet intense and I broke into a cold sweat. As soon as the puking and retching stopped I could feel my heart racing really fast and my body going limp. I had started to breathe heavily and perspire profusely. My eyes were semi closed and my mouth open. I had no idea what was happening to me and for a second there I thought I might be dying, and may be that this was a heart attack or a stroke. I started to panic and began tapping my feet really fast and hard to attract the shaman’s attention. He came over along with his wife and they both started singing and chanting Icaros standing right in front of my almost paralysed body. As the chanting intensified I felt my breathing relax and I was suddenly transported to an entire different dimension it seemed. I saw brilliant colours and bright lights. I still cannot completely fathom what all I saw as the visuals moved at a very fast pace and it was difficult to keep track of all the information that I was being bombarded with, but one thing is for sure that it wasn’t just an out of the world experience, it was out of body as well. Devoid of a physical form, I felt like a molecule made out of pure energy that has been beamed into the middle of the cosmos and the universe was showing me its enormity and complexity through a display of lights and colours. I had never seen anything like it before. I was travelling through solar systems and galaxies. Stars passed me by as I flew through space at incredible speeds. There were flares of rapidly changing colours all around that looked like the pictures of solar flares that I’ve seen on the internet but alive and changing right in front of me. I saw stars being born and starts exploding, spreading all the matter & energy inside their guts into the void of space, filling up the emptiness with new planets and celestial objects. I also saw geometrical shapes and patterns- triangles, cubes, tetrahedrons, hexagons etc all made of light. I saw the Pyramids of Egypt and the ruins of ancient cities, it was like a crash course in all human knowledge and history. I tried to open my eyes a little bit and to me the entire room and everything in it seemed to be made out of hexagonal blocks, like a beehive.
As I closed my eyes again, I saw eyes everywhere. Every shape, every object, everything I saw had an eye in the middle of it with its gaze directed upon me. I saw a few animals too. First I saw cattle of some sort, it was either a bull or a buffalo I’m not really sure which. Then I saw a bird. It was some sort of magical creature made out of radiant lights. It had a small head, wide wings, a long tail and prominent eyes staring right at me as it took me through a journey into the vast cosmos. Lights exploded from every pore of its being, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my fraction of a lifetime in this existence. The beauty and brilliance of the visions are impossible to put into words. I could feel tears running down my face as probably for the first time in my life I felt pure bliss. It was as if I was in divine presence and its warmth had engulfed every inch of me, like a bear hug from God.
I tried to open my eyes a few times during the visions, but kept getting pulled back to the dream like state. However I did manage to open them for a few seconds every now and then and every time I did, I saw giant humanoid beings inside the room. There were about 4 or 5 of them standing at different positions in the room and looking at us. They didn’t seem scary or intimidating at all. In fact I got a feeling that they were benevolent beings, kind of like guardian angels of some sort who cared about us and loved us. One such entity was constantly by the shaman’s side and moved with him wherever he moved in the room. I guess that must’ve been Mother Ayahuasca. The shaman kept going from person to person playing his instrument and singing Icaros and guiding each of us through the spiritual experience. As my gaze followed the shaman, I could see auras around every person in the room. Everyone was surrounded by a translucent hue, may be that was the aura of their souls. I can’t say for sure, especially considering the fact that I do not believe in God or supernatural phenomenon, this was quite a trip for me.
At this point I started feeling strong discomfort in my bowels but I didn’t want to leave my chair. I wanted to take in as much of those wonderful visions as I could, I didn’t want to come back to this dreary existence but stay where I was with the colours, the patterns, the auras, the strange beings and the dazzling lights in all their mysterious glory. I finally couldn’t take the pain anymore and got up from my seat. As I moved towards the washroom with my head still reeling under the effects of the tea, I saw two of the humanoid figures who were standing near the passage the whole time, starting to move. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening and stopped right in my tracks until I realized they were making room for me to pass.
In the washroom, just like the previous night I started seeing trails and patterns. The brightness of the lights was quite uncomfortable on my eyes and so I kept them closed for most of the time. After relieving myself as I moved from the lights to darkness again I had difficulty seeing where I was going. Being unsure of my movements I stopped in the passage trying to focus on the shaman’s voice coming from the ceremonial room. That was when I suddenly felt someone pulling me from my arm and I started moving pretty rapidly through the darkness and reached my seat in what seemed like a couple of seconds.
I sat down on my seat with my eyes closed, however the visions were far milder now. In fact the visions had become very faint & blurry but instead a feeling of strong epiphany took its place. I can’t describe what the feeling exactly was, but it was as if after showing me the glory of the universe and making me realize the infinite potential of Life, it was time to look inwards. I felt as if I could take a look at my life from another person’s point of view, devoid of any ego or feeling of ‘Self’. It was like reading off the pages of a book, the decisions I’ve made, the habits I’ve inculcated, the way I’ve treated people, the things I’ve done all from a completely unbiased and factual view point. This lasted a few minutes and then a sense of soothing calmness engulfed the entire room. We all just sat there with our eyes closed and felt the tea’s effects coming to an end.
The unidentified beings had all disappeared and so were the visions and the epiphany. We were coming back to our earthly senses. And as if on cue, the Shaman rang the bell and called the ceremony to a close. Almost instantaneously everyone in the room came back to their senses. This seemed very strange to me since this doesn’t happen with any other form of intoxication or drug use. The effects vary from individual to individual based on tolerance & dosage and no two individuals experience intoxication & sobriety in the same way at the same time. The chances of that happening are miniscule at best. However here we were, 9 of us getting high and sobering up almost simultaneously. We stayed in our seats for a few more minutes trying to gather our thoughts and make some sense of the incomprehensibly things we’d seen and felt.
Just like the previous night a couple of us went to the terrace to catch some sleep but sleep was elusive that night. I kept tossing & turning all night thinking about the visions and my own existence within the Universe. Alas, all my attempts were futile as I passed in & out of consciousness throughout the night and eventually just gave in to the helplessness and got up. It was around 6 in the morning when a few others also woke up. We all said our goodbyes to each other and with hopes of keeping in touch, left for our respective hotels. I walked back with a smile on my face and a fulfilment in my heart as I knew then that I have received what I had come for.
I hope someday I’ll be able to fully comprehend what the ‘Teacher Plant’ was trying to tell me with its magic, but till then I think I’ll try to enjoy the journey of this life knowing that the Universe has its eyes on me and a love for me which is eternal. And no matter which way this life turns, I am as much a part of this Universe as it is of me.