Last fall, I embarked on an authentic Ayahuasca journey with a tremendously caring, exceedingly experienced Shaman from Colombia. For the safety of this sacred experience, which is misunderstood and persecuted by the American government, his name and the location of the ceremony shall be withheld. For more information on exactly what Ayahuasca is, feel free to do an internet search. I will focus on my personal experiences, which were astounding.
My husband lead me to my first Ayahuasca retreat. He was introduced to a world-class Shaman in an act of pure, random serendipity through someone he struck up a converstation with over drinks after a local, unrelated event we attended. He came home from his retreat so very different from when he left. Less afraid, with emotional and physical healing, and with an unshakable view of the oneness of humanity and understanding the illness of society and its illusion of separateness. It was powerful to behold.
I went with him for the next ceremony, two months later. I signed on for all three ceremonies that weekend, and steeled myself to face the discomfort (physically and emotionally) of vomiting, or worse, in front of strangers. I have vast issues with situations that require me to make myself vulnerable in front of people I do not know, and I packed an unnecessarily large amount of extra clothing just in case things got… well… messy.
I was initially made uneasy by the attitudes given off by the American and Canadian “regulars” of the group. There was a shit-ton of “I’m more spiritual than you” vibes that soaked the house and grounds belonging to the person who hosted the retreat. As more people arrived, including our Shaman and his wife and assistants, plus a group of Eastern Europeans who spoke little English, things lightened up a bit. But, as Ayahuasca is a journey of the self, and it is important that you not allow others to color your experience, I chose to remain disengaged with the exception of 2 ladies who had magnificent energy.
The altar was constructed, and the fire built. We arranged our sleeping areas around the firepit. As night fell, the ladies of the group began with a tobacco ceremony, where we puffed (but did not inhale) a sacred tobacco wrapped in corn husk. We set our intentions, and asked for blessings each in turn, and our requests were sent to spirit on the smoke. The men took their turn as well. I had contemplated my intention for weeks, and ultimately settled on physical and emotional healing, as well as an increase or refinement of my metaphysical capabilities, which I turn outward to the service of others. I spoke this to no one, and opted to send a blessing for others in the circle up on the smoke.
Next, in a circle around the fire, we were all given Rapé. It is a fine dust of sacred tobacco and other herbs, and was administered by our Shaman via a small pipe that allowed him to blow it up our nostrils with a fast puff of breath. It is used to open all the chakras to make them ready for healing, it clarifies the spirit, and allows everyone in the circle to begin Ayahuasca on the same spiritual vibration. It felt heavily of mint or menthol, and made my eyes water immediately. Others gagged and coughed straight away, but I was able to keep it in without sneezing. The sensation was a bit intense, but the effects were marvelous. I had an instant crystal clarity in my being and spirit, and my body hummed with the open flow of Chi. I felt as though I had been refocused, and all my senses, particularly my crown chakra and third eye, were alert and tuned in.
Our Shaman comes with a tremendous musical pedigree from his home country. His ceremonies are filled with Colombian folk music of his own composition, and it is a vital part of the ceremony. Known as “icaros,” or medicine music, the vibrations of the music guide the healing, dissipate blockages, and keep the sacred energy inside the circle. He and his helpers played guitar, pan flute, ukelele, drums, and he had several sacred rattles of gourds and cornhusks that he shook over each of us during the course of the night.
We lined up to take the first cup of Aya from the shaman. Men first, then ladies. It was a small soapstone cup, and the taste was awful, but not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. It tasted of dirt, blackened coffee, motor oil, and had chocolate undertones. Ayahuasca is a brew of the Ayahuasca vine, combined with herbs that block the stomach’s ability to neutralize the effects. His assistant gave each of us a bit of water to wash it down, but we were asked not to drink anymore water until we had our first “purge,” by way of vomiting, so as to not dilute the medicine. I sat down on my sleeping bag and waited, anxiously, not really knowing what to expect, but knowing there was no going back from this point.
My wait lasted about 4 minutes before I was overcome with nausea. I quickly made my way to the “purge pits,” three sizeable holes in the earth, lit with candles. Purging in Ayahuasca is a giving back to the earth the pain and ills that are put upon us, or willingly taken on, in the process of moving about our human experience. Aya draws these illnesses out of our bodies on a cellular level, and they are remanded back to the earth to be neutralized. In indoor ceremonies, each seeker has a basin of their own, or a container lined with a biodegradable plastic bag, which is taken away regularly for cleaning and burying by helpers specifically designated for this sacred task.
I knelt before the pit furthest to the right, my ego terrified to vomit in front of strangers, and the prospect of getting it on my clothes. I wretched several times quite hard, and twice barfed neatly into the center of the pit. My stomach had been quite empty, as my nerves forbade me to eat beforehand, so there was not much to bring up. I braced myself for the next round of wretching, because my experiences with flu and food poisoning showed me that the first wave was usually only the beginning, but it never came. I rinsed my mouth out with water, blew my nose, and waited for the visions that often accompany taking the medicine.
Two hours and countless trips to the toilet later, I still felt nothing. Aya’s purging takes place at both ends, and my poor butt was tremendously unhappy. For one who entered the ceremony with an empty digestive tract, I can frankly say that I don’t know what the hell I was passing, or where it all came from, but it was seemingly endless. I trusted no farts that night, and was rewarded with no wardrobe mishaps. And that’s really saying something, considering the queue for the loo was always three people deep. My sphincter is apparently a team player. My guts would continue to gurgle, and sometimes writhe with discomfort through the bulk of the night, but eventually the diarrhea abated.
At one point in the evening, before I finally laid down, I was waiting for the bathroom when an overwhelming sense of homesickness came over me. And it wasn’t a “Jesus, this puking and shitting is no fun and I wanna go home,” type of homesickness, and it did not come from a lack of acceptance or appreciation of the culture I had immersed myself in that night. I was in happy awe of the atmosphere our shaman created, and his love for us that was projected through the ancient ways he practiced, while foreign to me in all my whiteness, was nothing short of divinity manifested. There were no races or religions here, as Aya makes no such distinctions, and so there is no room for them, and you are wise to shed those contexts, even if just for ceremony.
My homesickness was geographically-based. The Colombian jungle atmosphere, icaros and the palo santo-based incenses caused me to ache for my green mountains, with their clear, cold, rocky streams hidden by the laurels, glacier-smoothed stones, and the sweet, damp aroma of moss beds flecked with pine needles. I understood, in that moment, that I am karmically tied to the region I call home. I draw my metaphysical power from, and work best with the geology of northeastern PA. I am not a jungle, sea, or desert witch. I am a mountain witch, and this time around at least, it is here that I must remain. (Which is great news, because all the things that bring me the most joy are in Jim Thorpe!)
It was bitter cold, and frost was forming on our bedding. I struggled with my sleeping bag, because it was far too cold to take my boots off, in spite of the 3 pair of wool socks I had on. Nonetheless, I did my best to snuggle down, and sipped my water to keep me hydrated. And there I laid, no visions, no light bulb moments. It seemed like hours, and there was little physical comfort to be had. I tossed and turned with muscle spasms and bowel agitation. It was too cold to have my face uncovered, so I kept the blankets over my head, often coming up to gasp for fresh air.
Finally, as I thought I was nodding off into sleep, I began having geometric visions. I literally pinched myself, and no, I definitely was not sleeping. They were sharp line art, ever-shifting and morphing patterns of circles, stars, and triangles in pastels of pink, yellow and blue, with a dazzling iridescent glow of pearly white. I let go of the fears I had of being confronted with the pain of my past. I had worried that, even in a constructive process of healing, that I would be called to revisit the pain of widowhood, emotional abuse by an ex-spouse’s hand, sexual assault, and the myriad of things in which I had not chosen wisely. Aya WILL “drag to to hell,” so to speak, if you must forcibly be brought to this sort of enlightenment in order to facilitate healing. We are, as humans, farcically good at hiding from things and sweeping them under our beds, even though it’s never in our best interest to do so.
But for me, it never came, and I understood that I was MUCH farther ahead in my process of reflection and self-healing than I thought I was. Yay, me! Seriously. I didn’t need to go there, and Aya let me know that my personal methods were doing just fine. It was a relief, and I allowed myself to enjoy the lighthearted visual display she gifted me with.
My visions of kaleidoscopic art faded, and were replaced with candy-colored cartoons. Hello Kitty and Felix the cat cavorted among a fairy-tale landscape, riding their bicycles along a sky-blue stream jumping with happy, shimmering fish. I was keenly aware of my kawaii experience, while many around me were wretching, writhing, and crying out in agitation. Sooo… I take this leap of faith to come to the feet of Grandmother Aya for healing and expansion, and she puts me in the corner to watch cartoons?! I felt like a seven year old who got invited to the most boring birthday party ever thrown. In my irritation, I said, perhaps out loud, “I’m grateful to be here, but where are you? Are you coming to see me, or not?” In a flash, the head of a python met me eye to eye. Her scales were a radiant iridescent white, rimmed, as were her eyes, in a pulsing neon blue. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, she winked at me, and was gone.
“Ah. So you are indeed here. No worries, I’ll wait my turn. I can clearly see that there are others whose needs are greater than my own, so please forgive my impatience.” If my experience here is meant to be a blissful escape into Candyland, then I must be immeasurably blessed with a fairly uncomplicated existence! I rolled over and dozed off.
It was still dark when I was awakened, hours or seconds later, I cannot tell, by a searing, staggeringly painful burning in my hands and feet. I thought right away that my extremeties had succumbed to the numbing cold, and I curled up into a ball to chafe them to restore my circulation. But, to my abject surprise, they were not cold, and neither was the rest of me. “What the hell is happening to me?”
No sooner had the words entered my conscious thought, I had a KNOWING that hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no need to question it, the information came rushing into my crown like water from a firehose. As a newly-minted first level Reiki practitioner, she was purifying and amplifying my abilities. My hands and feet screamed with the pain of the orange and red fire that shot from them, and the intensity of their light seared my eyes. “YES! My God, yes! I accept this gift, with the joy in knowing how many people I can help! But you must help me learn where to apply it. Please!”
As a Reiki practitioner, I struggled with finding and opening the avenues with which to reach inside the body and apply the flow of healing. My channels were clearly open, and the energy was crackling, but how to transfer it to others in an effective method?
BOOM. Aya whips out a friggin’ whiteboard and draws me a picure! She draws a gingerbread man, outlined in the color-coordinated layers of the aura, red nearest to the body, violet on the outermost ring. Yes, yes. I am very familiar with that. But how do I get in there to do my work?
She shows me one of my most prized possessions. A great big red Webster’s dictionary, gifted to me by my blessed Aunt Nellie on my 12th birthday. It has concave lettered tabs on the edge, so that you can turn to the appropriate section. BINGO! I can stick my hands in your aura, and turn back the layers to reach the area that needs attending to.
Next, she bids me to turn my hands, palms up, and look underneath my fingernails. The space between them and my fingertips opens like a garage door, and I slip my consciousness into the slit of shining darkness that has been revealed. Here, too, I can enter the body and take a look around, and direct the flow of healing directly into the organs and tissues that need care. Holy shit, right? I am over the moon with these abilities, and the potential to turn them outward to the service of others.
I sit up and stretch. Dawn is approaching, and my visions are at an end. I take a sip of water, and rub my freezing face. I feel incredible! All at once, my mouth waters and my stomach lurches. I bolt to the purge area, and without kneeling or wretching, I projectile vomit into the pit. Woof! Woof! My mouth is left with a silvery, sour vinegar taste. Before I could say, “What the hell was that about?” my entire being is flooded with weightlessness and white light. I knew that the majority of my disordered eating habits were in the bottom of that earthen hole, and I went back to my sleeping bag with a completely changed attitude of what I put into my body.
I tried to grab a few moments sleep before the others roused. But, Aya had one more message for me. She told me to go home. “What? But I’m signed up for two more cups this weekend!” “Yes. Go home. You are strong and loved, but this is not your medicine. Your ways will lead you to what you seek. You do not need me today.” Alrighty, then.
At the closing circle of that ceremony, our Shaman, by way of translation through his wife, was delighted and astounded that Aya approved my personal path. It is a blessing granted to very few of those who come to her seeking the answers to their struggles, and a release of that which does not serve them. I left my donation for the next two nights in the kitty, so that someone less fortunate than I could seek healing, and made sure my husband had a ride home. Everyone who attends ceremony must drink Aya, and as I was not to continue, I could not be present. Although, the next night, as I slept, I was aware that my consciousness was with my husband, who had two very long nights ahead of him still.
Ayahuasca is not for the faint of heart, and should only be experienced within the context of an authentic ceremony, and with a shaman who possesses the wisdom that only comes with elder lineage. If you feel that this is a path for you, do your due diligence before embarking. You must be willing to embrace the difficulty that comes with this course of healing, for to struggle against it, without trust and with ego, makes it that much harder to receive what you seek. But for the bravest among us, Ayahuasca can bring you to the feet of Source herself, a shining, expansive blackness, wherein nothing exists but love and truth.