“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
The Ayahuasca experience was the most intense, spiritual, emotional, mind-blowing, frightening and loving experience I have ever had. Nothing could have prepared me for the inner journey I am about to describe. Because I believe I died. ‘I’ meaning that which I am in this current form while I’m writing this. It was if my awareness that seems normally tied to this body shot loose and entered a world before unknown. My greatest challenge in this article lies into interpreting and expressing these visions I encountered, to share the insights gained.
Ayahuasca, the ‘spirit vine’ or the ‘vine of death’, is a brew containing the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana leaves. The vine contains harmine and harmaline which are MAO-A inhibitors, and tetrahydroharmine which is a weak serotonin uptake inhibitor. The leaves contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the strongest hallucinogenic known to man. Ingested, the combination of these plants lead to the uptake of DMT by your brain where it will alter your perceptions of reality. Many claim these are visions where the Ayahuasca spirit will talk to you, giving you knowledge about the, normally, hidden (collective?) unconscious psyche. Or so I was told.
With drugs like these it’s hard to extrapolate the meaning of your experience and use it for the benefit of your daily life, and so I was skeptical about what the insights could bring to me. Taking drugs can be a fun thing in itself, but I believe there’s a strong possibility that such an approach will lead to the devaluation of that same experience and the essential meaning will be lost. If drugs change the frequency by which we perceive reality, we still need to have the right radio to understand the broadcast, and in this way ‘set and setting’ is, as ever, extremely important. The taking of Ayahuasca will inevitably lead, for most people, to vomiting and diarrhea, which is called ‘la purga’, meaning the cleansing of one’s body and mind. This is why the shamans don’t use the label of drugs. For them, it’s been a medicine for thousands of years. Despite the latter fact of ‘la purga,’ my curiosity was raised to a point where I would say yes to undergo the journey if it ever crossed my path. Who would say no to some ancient, magic, spiritual, drug-induced, puke and shit-fest that is also a medicine?
It all started with my interest in the link between psychedelics and spirituality, partly fueled by the book ‘DMT: The Spirit Molecule‘ by Rick Strassman. For me, spirituality is the experiencing of the spirit, the essence of which I call ‘I’. Different experiments in physics lead to a broader understanding of the objective outer world we inhabit and in exactly the same way different experiments in our own psyche lead to a broader understanding of the subjective world we also inhabit. This has been my main drive to experiment with consciousness on a very personal level. It has led me to meditation, yoga, qi gong, floating, fasting, drugs, polyphasic sleep, lucid dreaming and the most important of all, my daily life. Because in the end this is the reality you have to face, and finding your life in alternative states of consciousness can be just another easy escape to keep you from facing your true self.
I found out that two Peruvian shamans were visiting my country to give workshops on Ayahuasca healing. I asked two of my best friends to join me on this journey because I thought they would find it interesting and inspiring… and I was perhaps a bit afraid to go on my own. The workshop was a three-day gathering where we had an Ayahuasca session on Friday and Saturday. Sunday would be a day of reflection and relaxing. When we arrived at the ayahuasca center we met the shamans. Their faces, powerful, radiant, wise but most of all loving and kind. In our culture, the role of the shaman has been long forgotten and it reminded me that we need them dearly. Elder shamans know the inner workings of the mind and the influence society has upon it. This knowledge of ‘what has been’ seems increasingly important in a world that is changing ever so rapidly. This is why I believe that it is important to reflect once in a while on your role in the greater perspective of things.
Before we did the Ayahuasca we had to follow a strict diet and to avoid the following:
- sugar and sweeteners
- soft drinks and energy drinks
- dairy products
- salt, pepper, sharp spices and chilis
- red meat (avoid pork 2 weeks before and after)
- olive or coconut oil
- alcohol and drugs (no alcohol-free beer either), 1 week before and after
- ice cream, ice cubes or ice-cold drinks
- bruised or overripe fruit, dried fruit and/or raisins
- no sex, including masturbation
- no perfumed or synthetic soap, body lotion or other toiletries, insect repellent lotions like DEET and others
- good blood pressure and preferably no medication, especially antibiotics and antidepressants, even St. John’s wort
- no pregnancy
The intention of this diet was to make sure we got pleasure from within, not from without.
Everybody in our group, eight total, except for the two shamans and the organizer, were Ayahuasca virgins. So on friday, the first ceremonial night, we all took a small dose of amazonian magic. It’s hard for me to remember much of the first night because the second one swept away most memories. But this is what I do remember. A little bit of nausea in the beginning followed by intense, bright visualizations. Geometrical patterns that were swirling, changing, inter-twining and flowing. They were beautiful. After a while the philosophical/spiritual part started where it seems I got a hint of the essence of awareness.The best description would be that while I looked around everything looked back. I thought I understood it then but I quickly lost it, as it happens with most ‘insights’ on psychedelics. I had some personal ‘openings’. Situations where I agreed with myself to take more responsibility and stop being lazy. Situations where I should show more empathy and less judgement. My sense of time was completely gone and it felt I just had a glimpse of a dream world that is inter-connected to our normal world. The biggest insight that night was at the end when several people were going for a second dose and a single brave hearted went for a third double dose. I immediately felt the urge to join them. To experience more and more. There was some healthy fear and I took the time to think about what to do. I asked one of my friends of what he thought we should do and it seemed clear to me that what he thought wouldn’t matter and I would definitely do it anyway.
Why do I always need more?
Why is now not enough?
What is missing in this moment?
I couldn’t answer these deep personal questions and with the struggle for answers I felt the huge relief of ‘not-wanting’.
Death: Ayahuasca will turn every skeptic into a believer
The next day I was in a very good mood. I was really looking forward to what the plant spirit would reveal to me next. We started the second ceremony at nightfall. Just as the first night I went first. I stood up and walked to the shamans to get my, now double, dose of Ayahuasca. It was thick green-black-ish and tasted a little sweet and sour. It reminded us most of the taste of liquorice, just not nearly as good. I went back to my mattress and tried to meditate and observe the other participants when they went to get their medicine.
Waiting, exciting, fearing, fantasizing…
After about 25 minutes it hit in. Much earlier than the day before or than any of the other participants. The visualizations were overwhelming. My stomach was screaming and my body erupted in cold sweat. I felt feverish and my thought was ‘oh what have I done now…’ Then the vomiting began. I was puking out my greasy, slimy ego. I was throwing up and screaming with such force that the best description would be a nuclear blast that ripped apart the fabric of everything that I ever thought was real. Intense visualisation bombarding me from every direction with such speed; I couldn’t make sense of anything. Emotions erupting like a volcano. I could only grasp for air, thoughts were non-existent. My awareness wasn’t anymore connected to my body, the room nor to this dimension. Was it even mine to begin with? I was consumed by fear and loneliness. I can only describe this experience as pure hell, and even that seems a big understatement. My first thought after what seemed an eternity was how to get out of there. Or to get there out of me. (Work with ayahuasca does that with you). Once I realized the complete horror I was in I couldn’t imagine an experience this cruel. I was telling myself I could handle it, which implies I wasn’t convinced. “I am strong enough to stay calm and to just observe without identifying with the pure evil I am experiencing”. Oh boy, what was I, the ego, wrong. It felt as if something was playing, no, toying with me. A puppet for their sick pleasure. It took me a while to find out I was not as strong as I believe myself to be. I was scared, lonely and lost.
Rebirth: It’s a shock
Slowly I started making sense of what I was experiencing. I took a drug, and as with any experience, this too shall pass. But I couldn’t shed the doubt: but what if it the experience didn’t pass? I still had no clue where my awareness was or how to get out but I was relieved by some moments of clarity where I had thoughts that contained some meaning. Total acceptance is to give up the infinite urge to control. So I did. And then, for the first time, I opened my eyes and saw the ceremony room, which gave me hope that I could fight my way out of it. I? No, we! I desperately needed help to find my way back to common ground. The whole time I had my back turned from the whole group and was hanging over the puke bucket, which I immediately threw a couple of feet away from me when I realised that. I turned around only to find out the shaman had been singing a personal song for me since the purging started. This little silent guy in daylight seemed so powerful and huge in the dark. I finally gave in and asked him for help. The biggest lesson I learned that night is that I can’t do everything by myself and one is only just as powerful as the support of the people behind him. I feel like I had to experience this to understand that it doesn’t matter how strong you believe yourself to be, opening your heart and asking for help is in many situations is the best thing you can do. The only thing that holds you back is your own ego, and fear and shame.
I once saw an interview with psychiatrist and psychonaut Stan Grof where he said he experienced being many animals and once even a plant! Utter bullcrap if you asked me pre-ayah. But when I let go of the me that was trying to control inner instincts took over. I felt like a hunted animal, a zebra if I must guess, that used all his energy to fight for his last breath. This feeling was very vivid and distinct and it was amazing. I’ve never felt anything like it.
Love: The greatest sin is not feeling love for your existence. To actually feel it and not to dabble in nonsense of what it means.
I stood up and walked, or more like crawled, to the organizer. She hugged me with a blanket and the warmth instantly made me relax and calm. I suddenly realised I was so cold. She said some soothing words and I felt a glimpse of love breaking through the madness. A small opening up, the relaxing of a grip. Dimming of negative energy. I was transported back to my youth and felt the love of my mother. Then to the love of the organizer and the people around me. Then to just love, where human beings are an instrument to express it if they can open themselves up for it, trust it, have faith in it, love themselves for it. Love is the glue that makes us stick together.
There was a deep-rooted empathy for the natural world. I saw the interconnectedness of the world, I saw the air we breathe in and the food we eat becoming us. A child knows these facts, but when the magic is banned from our perception when we grow up and become ‘individual persons’, we tend to forget. We tend to forget that the trees are our extended lungs and the rivers our extended veins. This is not the right time to delve into the depths of consciousness, but as never before I felt connected to the earth that is our birthplace. That there was something of me in all, and something of all in me. I felt the love for which nature sacrifices itself, offering their own lives for our benefit. And I felt the sadness and the disappointment by the ongoing abuse of natural resources. Where we don’t see the spirit in the forests and the mountains but see them as wood and ore, waiting to be mined and plundered for profit.
As of now, the earth is not yet swallowed up by hatred and greed. Humankind must transform to fit itself, once again, in the bed of Procrustes. I hope, this time, we have a generation that has no need for a war or a great depression to change over the long term. That this once, the force is not oppression from the outside but a liberation from the inside. A generation that changes because we want to, because we finally listen to our own heart and the hearts of others. Where we finally understand it is our moral responsibility to care about our inner but also our outer environment. And I hope us HEthens will lead the way.
Since all this I’ve been living lighter and happier, the world has become dream-like with endless possibilities. The philosophical implications of experiencing an awareness not fixated on these forms are mind breaking and I am slowly opening up to what the sages, shamans and mystics of all ages have been saying since the dawn of language.
Will I drink ayahuasca again? Attend future ayahuasca retreats?
I don’t know.