“Venga, toma”, the shaman called, his knowing eyes glistening in the dim candlelight, his reassuring smile kind and patient, as always.
I approached, nervous, but trusting – in him, myself, my intentions. I spoke to the brew and asked it to be gentle and to teach me what I needed. I prayed to the spirits that dwell within those two powerful plants, entreating them for my safety.
I had learned previously that ayahuasca gives generously if you come to it with openness, humility, and respect. With all the qualms about preparation for the experience though, it’s difficult not to build up expectations; but, not imposing them on your journey goes a long way. All you really need to do is surrender and trust that the ancient medicine knows where it’s taking you.
So I drank the thick, bitter liquid and felt it make its way through my esophagus and down to my stomach. Very soon I knew I was in for quite a ride. There’s no going back once the ‘coaster starts rolling.
Are You Ready To Drink Ayahuasca?
Simply put, if you’re reading this prior to your first ayahuasca journey, no, you are not ready. And there’s no way you can be. What this incredibly potent combination of MAOIs and DMT can show you is not something from the familiar reality we spend our days in. It’s also very much wilder and more vivid than any dream you’ve ever had, and it dispenses with the layers of symbolism that our sleep-time adventures are usually rife with. Aya explicitly extracts the contents of your subconscious mind and shows you what you need to work on.
While you can’t be ready for what you’re about to experience, there are a number of ways you can and should prepare for it.
Ayahuasca is not for the faint of heart… Literally. If you have cardiovascular issues, you should not be drinking it. The MAOI in ayahuasca, typically the active agent of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi (the main ingredient), is known to elevate heart rate and raise blood pressure. Additionally, the brew can trigger latent psychoses, or exacerbate current ones, and could potentially cause manic episodes in those suffering from bipolar disorder. Although the research is lacking, there is also potential for harmful interactions between the components of ayahuasca and various medications – check with your physician if you’re concerned.
Although drinking it may potentially be helpful with the likes of addiction, anxiety, depression, or PTSD, the brew is there only to point you in the right direction – it is still up to you to walk the path of healing. So, if you’re dealing with any serious psychological or physiological conditions, keep in mind that ayahuasca will not cure them.
Even healthy participants should be aware that ayahuasca causes intense and challenging changes in consciousness and emotions, with strange and often grueling bodily sensations following suit. Due to this, spatial orientation and recognition is changed in a way that can potentially cause one to accidentally harm oneself or others. This is why every session needs competent supervision.
Pick Your Shaman Well
If you’re traveling to South America to try ayahuasca, be warned that it’s become quite a business there. In all countries that connect into the Amazon basin, and especially in Peru, the influx of curious westerners over the past few decades has attracted many indigenous people to this new, budding branch of the tourism industry. Some of them lack the proper training, which prepares them for conducting the ceremonies and gives them the knowledge of how to prepare the brew. Additionally, some have problems with alcohol abuse.
There are many possible scenarios of shamans failing to successfully manage the ceremony space: allowing individuals to disturb the collective, not helping with psychological distress or noticing physical problems, or simply retreating to their quarters and leaving the participants to fend for themselves. More recently, troubling reports of sexual misconduct among shamans have surfaced from violated women who have undergone the immense trauma of being exploited under the influence of a powerful psychedelic. Extremely, even death and murder have occurred during ceremonies without proper guidance.
All this said, pure ayahuasca poses no dangers. So far, all reports of serious consequences can be attributed either to questionable brew composition (additional ingredients that can sometimes be found in indigenous preparations can cause adverse effects in those not accustomed to them) or to inadequate shaman conduct. This is why it’s critical to have utmost trust in the individual who will be guiding your ceremony. Be sure to talk to them ahead of time and verify their legitimacy and experience. If possible, spend some time with them before the session to make sure you feel comfortable and protected in their presence.
Dieting – What’s It About?
The pre-ceremony guidelines for what you bring into your body, and how you think and behave, can vary between shamans and ceremonies. The custom to avoid salt, red meats, sugar, alcohol, drugs and sex stem from the legendary dietas that young indigenous chosen ones subject themselves to in order to acquire the power needed to call themselves shamans. They spend years in solitude living in the jungle, surviving on its fruits and fish and drinking ayahuasca along with another plant whose power they are also to receive and wield. This rite of passage evolved into a several day long cleansing we now undergo before and after taking the brew.
Giving your digestive, circulatory, and mental system a break is not in vain – it will help you feel more physically and spiritually prepared for the experience. However, the warnings of negative consequences should you not honor this diet are sometimes overstated. The only potential chemical conflict is between tyramine and MAOIs, so avoiding fermented and yeasted foods and drinks, as well as processed meat and milk products is a good idea. Everything else may influence individual experience, but no evidence points to serious issues arising from interactions of the “prohibited” foods and ayahuasca.
Being physically healthy is an important part of any psychedelic journey. To get a better understanding of what diet is ideal for your unique physiology, sign up to Viome now with this special Third Wave offer.
Setting Your Intention
A powerful potion such as ayahuasca should be approached with humility and respect. Before you embark on this adventure, at least the first time, try to give some thought to what you’re looking for. Is there anything you’d like to resolve within yourself, or something you’re curious to learn from the universe? Some users report visiting immensely powerful worlds and meeting incredible entities there. Should you find yourself in such a scenario, it might be useful to bring along an inquiry or two.
Many users understand the ayahuasca trip as a journey to the brink of death and/or the source of creation. Be wise and try to take advantage of being exposed to eternal knowledge.
Your intention can also play a crucial role in getting you out from dark trips. Similar to icaros (sacred songs that shamans sing during ceremonies), your intention can act as a sort of anchor. If you can make the decision to disregard the chaos you’re in and the effort to remember what brought you to explore or heal in the first place, it can re-center you and dispel the darkness.
Once you drink the brew, there’s no going back. Here’s what to expect in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual domains.
An ayahuasca trip is a long and strange ride. Before you drink, it’s hard to believe that such a tiny amount of liquid can induce sensations so overwhelming and unlike anything you’ve ever felt.
Relatively quickly after drinking, you will notice your heart rate go up and your temperature begin to oscillate. You may be sweating in one instant and shivering in the next. Your extremities might tingle at times, especially your palms. If you focus, you may be able to feel the medicine circulate throughout your body.
It’s best to sit for a while after drinking and then lie down when it feels comfortable. Soon the nausea begins. It is a disturbing, alien sensation that will make you feel like your stomach has been possessed by demons. However, it comes and goes in waves and normally recedes into the background at some point and doesn’t disturb the trip too much, until it intensifies and needs releasing.
All your senses will become more perceptive: there will be a million stars in the sky, the burning wood or sage will smell sacred, the voices and sounds that others produce will echo like you’re in a long cave and being held will feel extremely comfortable. These are the positive and amusing outcomes. The negative ones can make you feel irritated/overstimulated and should be circumvented by shifting focus from them back to the intentions with which you set out.
Whatever changes you notice, don’t be afraid – be aware that they come from ayahuasca and that they will pass. Accept them and try to enjoy and learn from them, be they positive or negative.
Vomiting Or Purging
Nobody is thrilled about it, but it comes with the territory. Actually, many people are very concerned about this part of the experience and consider it a deal-breaker. If you’re among them, it’s probably best not to drink, as other parts of the experience can be much more intense and uncomfortable than this one. You should only go into an ayahuasca ceremony once you’re open to surrendering yourself and embracing all that comes.
Puking is a frequent side-effect of drinking the brew and, in any decent ceremony, the facilitator will have provided all participants with a vessel to dispose of the vomit. Sometimes it comes out right after the bitter liquid hits your stomach. Other times it’s a culmination of progressively more intense stages of nausea. There are times when it goes the other way (so make sure you know exactly where the toilet is). And sometimes nothing comes out.
In indigenous cultures of the Amazon, purging is actually considered to be among the main objectives of drinking ayahuasca. It is said that it helps your body to get rid of its toxins and your soul to release blocked negative energies. In any case, it usually makes you feel a whole lot better after it passes, so be happy about it.
A quick heads up – vomiting on ayahuasca will not quite match anything you’ve experienced. It’s visceral and intense, just like you’d expect from a deep cleansing.
The truly indescribable part of the ayahuasca trip is the astounding astral show to which your soul becomes a witness.
In the beginning, closing your eyes will reveal an interesting fractal display of intensely colored lights, shapes, and textures. These usually react to outside noise, twisting and twirling to the rhythm of the music or to the sounds of purging or laughing coming from your fellow travelers. They come and go in waves, each time becoming stronger and more puzzling.
At some point, opening your eyes will uncover a whole new reality of default-world hallucinations as well. However, it is likely that you will spend your ceremony in darkness (nighttime is considered good for drinking ayahuasca in indigenous cultures of the Amazon, as most spirits of the jungle are asleep and it’s easier to hear the spirit of the vine in the dark) and won’t see too much around you.
Eventually, the fractal shapes and colors become strong and morph into more concrete visions, ones with their own intelligence and separate from any outside stimulation. This is where it gets difficult rationalizing them as products of your own mind, because they feel like your soul has been ported into a different world.
Nobody can tell you what you will see in this hyper-dimensional plane. Anything goes and no rules apply. From spirits of the animals and safe worlds that the shaman creates with his sacred songs to mythical beings, demons, spirits, demi-gods, structures, ineffable sources of energy… Every experience is unique and none can be portrayed faithfully enough for you to get a picture of what it looks like. It’s like being in a lucid dream of an alien.
Only drink more if nothing has happened to you for over 90 minutes, you’re still in the mood to journey, and you believe you’re ready to handle a double dose in case the first one decides to wake up all of a sudden. Also, don’t be disappointed if the visions don’t come – it’s rare to experience them when you drink the first time and it is never good to impose your expectations on the medicine. If you didn’t get them, that was supposed to happen.
Just as unexplainable as the visions, the medicine’s potential for deepening understanding is highly varied and personal.
Ayahuasca is infamous for dragging out the contents of your subconscious for you to face head-on. This reputation is well deserved, as it is exactly what happens. Once under the influence, there is nowhere to run from the things you’re hiding from yourself. If you’ve been doing wrong, aya will gladly point it out to you, and then it’s up to you to choose how to deal with it.
These realizations can be difficult to digest (as the brew itself). They can touch the core of your vulnerabilities and make you feel like you’re a lost cause. So, one way – usually, the first instinct – is to try to resist the findings and keep insisting that your ego is right to defend itself. However, this is unwise and can potentially bring you to dark places.
A healthier way is to be a good sport about the whole thing and accept that the plant knows you better than you know yourself. Surrendering the notion that we are the masters of ourselves, under complete control of our actions and reactions, thoughts and feelings, that we know ourselves and that we’re stable, consistent personalities. This can lead to something beautiful, but painful – the ultimate gift ayahuasca can give: ego death.
Seeing your ego for what it really is and what it does to your sense of existence is the first step toward letting it go. This is a long and difficult road, and ayahuasca is a solid way to start walking, go further down it or get back to it if you’ve lost your way.
The ayahuasca comedown is gentle and quick, in no way abrupt. The intensity lasts almost until the final moment of the trip and it is very clear once everything is over.
After the experience, a good shaman will make sure to do a cleansing ritual with each participant. This is a way to touch base spiritually and lose any remaining negative energy clinging on to the vulnerable state you’re likely in. After that, it’s advisable to rest.
Shaman work doesn’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) end at the ceremony. An experienced and interested guide will ask you about your experience and help you interpret and make sense of what you saw and felt. In addition, sharing is usually done in a circle, and you should get the chance to hear about others’ journeys as well.
Talking, though, may not be the most useful tool for the purposes of integration. This is in part because a portion of the experience gets erased, as it can’t all fit into our memories, and partly because words are simply not enough to describe and account for what happened. These are especially true for first-time drinkers. For this reason, externalizing your impressions in a different way, e.g., through music, painting, writing, dance, or any other art form, may provide for more honest and rewarding communication.
In any case, there may be some explicit takeaways that you can think about and try to make peace with. However, there will be a lot else under the iceberg – many implicit realizations that will take their time with settling down in your soul, slowly shaping your behavior and thoughts in the coming days, weeks, and months. If you’ve approached the experience with humility and respect, the sheer encounter with your mortality and hyper-dimensional realities should be enough to mold your perception of the default world.
As you may have noticed, ayahuasca is a serious, powerful medicine. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended) and it will require sacrifice and investment from you. Think well about your reasons for drinking, make sure everything about the ceremony makes you feel comfortable and go into it with trust and love. Surrender to the spirits of the jungle and they will give you unfathomable insight into the nature of your soul, life, and the universe.
Like the sound of ayahuasca, but intimidated by the thought of an intense experience? Read our guide to microdosing ayahuasca for an alternative.