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Full disclosure: I was offered a free week-long stay at Rythmia in exchange for writing up a review of my experience. Since this is the first retreat center review we’re writing, it is important to communicate where the burden of our responsibility lies: to the larger Third Wave community in offering an objective, thorough review of my experience.

 

In November 2017, I attended a week-long plant medicine retreat at Rythmia, an all-inclusive spiritual transformation center in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Having never attended a retreat like this, and considering my position as the founder at a growing psychedelic business venture, my choice to attend Rythmia provided an opportunity to both reflect on my personal path and ask some important questions around the ethics of sustainable business practice within the nascent above-ground psychedelic space.

 

What is Rythmia?

According to its website, the Rythmia Way is a program fusing ancient wisdom and modern techniques for healing and creating a life you love. Rythmia provides an all-inclusive resort model to help individuals reach their highest potential within the span of one week. At Rythmia, there is a strong emphasis on getting one’s “Miracle” with much of the language on the website and at the resort center focused on the likelihood of attaining said “Miracle.”

Rythmia is also the first medically licensed plant medicine center in the world. There is a medical doctor on site for all the psychedelic ceremonies.

Rythmia was founded by Gerard Powell, a warm-hearted, gregarious serial entrepreneur who, at the age of 41, sold his plastic surgery company for $94 million dollars. He owned six houses, two airplanes, 27 cars, and a boat – yet, he was completely miserable and unhappy.

After experiencing a life-changing “miracle” as a result of plant medicine, Gerard decided to purchase property in Guanacaste, Costa Rica and open a spiritual transformation center to make this same transformation available to a widespread audience.

Thus, Rythmia was born.

Curating a psychedelic retreat

In September 2017, Rythmia reached out to The Third Wave to see if I would be interested in coming down to the retreat center and writing up an overview of my experience while there. Although hesitant at first, I eventually agreed, booking a slot in November, when spiritual leader Panache Desai was leading workshops.

Because of our community’s growing interest in plant medicine retreats, we wanted to have a thorough understanding of the various options available when community members asked us about potential psychedelic retreats. Having heard of Rythmia’s largely positive reputation, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to get an on-the-ground look at the actual operation. As the only medically licensed plant medicine retreat in the world with, and considering its well-curated approach, we knew it would be at the top of the list for many of our community members who have a high level of disposable income.

Although experienced with LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, I had only drunk this particular plant medicine one previous time, in Rio Branco, Brazil. I drank in a circle of 70+ people in an outdoor amphitheater. I experienced nothing of significance, thus, chalking off my first experience as a microdose.

However, because of my involvement with the larger psychedelic community, I had heard dozens of intense stories about this plant medicine. The majority of them sounded somewhat harrowing: extensive purging, re-living of horrific traumas, and bone-shattering visions. Very few spoke of the actual experience in a positive light, which made going down to Rythmia all the more intimidating to me.

My experiences at Rythmia

Considering my role as a public figure in the psychedelic space, and the growing popularity of plant medicines, I want to share aspects of my own experience with The Third Wave community to provide an additional layer of insight into what is, oftentimes, an intimidating experience for many first-timers.

We drank the medicine four straight nights: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The first three evenings were led by Western shamans, all of whom had trained in the Amazon before landing their gig at Rythmia. The fourth night was led by Mitra, a shaman from Colombia, who had worked with plant medicines for eight years previously.

My experience over all four nights was, more or less, the same. I had no purging on any of the nights, drinking two cups on the first and fourth night and three cups on the second and third night.

After drinking the initial cup, I spent 1.5 hours or so lying on my mattress in the main ceremonial hall, waiting to see if the effect kicked in in any sort of significant way. Every night I returned to the shaman for a second – and sometimes third – cup, nearly begging to have my world split apart and opened up.

It was not to be. As was emphasized throughout the week at Rythmia, this plant medicine gives you what you need, not what you want. And, surprisingly to me, she delivered in every way.

Over the past three years, I’ve run myself ragged trying to “do” as much as possible. In September 2014, I began my first business, an online English teaching school called TOEFL Speaking Teacher. I spent about a year on that business, getting it up to speed, before beginning The Third Wave in September 2015. My modus operandi has been hustle, hustle, hustle. I consistently worked 60-70 hour weeks to keep my projects afloat and profitable, doing everything I could to manifest my own dream and desire about becoming a public figure in one of the most exciting conversations today: the intersection of psychedelics, self-optimization, and consciousness research.

Besides working on building a remote business, I also traveled extensively, visiting more than 50 countries within a three-year time span.

All of this came to a head in March 2017, when I began my speaking tour, traveling to 12 cities, and giving microdosing seminars. Further, I landed a couple speaking gigs about microdosing at tech conferences, all while running two businesses and attempting to juggle a burgeoning intimate relationship.

By time I moved to New York in August 2017, I was on my last legs.

That is why I chose to go to Rythmia. I needed rejuvenation and restoration from a lifestyle that was slowly burning me out. And through my experiences with at Rythmia, I received one firm message:

To take care of what I have and to stop the incessant striving for more. By recognizing the beauty life has provided for me, I could slow down and actually take care of it, rather than try to outpace it. Many men in our culture are now becoming attuned to a similar message: less building, more nurturing.

By the end of my experience at Rythmia, I felt ready to dive back into my professional pursuits. The plant medicine provided a much-needed reminder of why I chose to get involved in this work in the first place, and what had first inspired me to pursue an unconventional path seven years ago when I first did psychedelics. In short, my initial inspiration came from a desire to experience as much as possible, aiming to create a life of beauty, aesthetic, and adventure, while utilizing my privilege to contribute in making the world a tangibly better place.  

But enough about me. What was my general impression of Rythmia?

What I liked about Rythmia

Rythmia is an absolute top-tier resort, psychedelic or otherwise. Because of Gerry’s previous experience running a large timeshare operation, he applied his knowledge in curating phenomenal experiences for clients and integrated it into Rythmia’s approach.

For me, it all started with food. At Rythmia, every meal is served buffet style at the Roots restaurant on-site. Meghan Pearson, a passionate plant-pusher and conscious chef, sources Rythmia’s food, all of which is local and organic, ensuring only the highest-quality produce reaches your plate. Highlights included the Rythmia ‘Yum’ sauce, green smoothies for breakfast, and chia seeds in coconut yogurt. Staples included fresh salad, locally sourced fish, and the typical ‘dieta’ of rice and beans.

But the quality went well beyond the food. All of Rythmia’s staff knew my name and addressed me by it in passing. Every aspect of the greenery was manicured to breathe beauty, peace, and intention. As part of my stay, I had a one-hour Swedish massage, working the last bits of NYC stress out of my body, and lulling me into a place of deep relaxation.

This, however, wouldn’t be a review for our psychedelic community if we didn’t speak about the actual ceremonies.

As mentioned before, if you go to Rythmia you will drink plant medicine on four consecutive nights. For the first three nights, the ceremonies were led by Western shamans, all of whom I trusted deeply. They did an excellent job facilitating the experience. Keep in mind, when drinking you will be with upward of 50-60 other people. Holding space in a situation such as this requires extensive experience, and Rythmia’s staff and shamans proved just why they’ve created such a top-tier resort.

Although the ceremonial chamber often rang with sounds of purging, the transformations went beyond drinking the plant medicine.

Even if one attends and does not have a breakthrough in ceremony, Rythmia has curated the week-long retreat so that it is still possible to have a life-changing experience. Other modalities used to engender deep reflection and transformation are breathwork, daily yoga practice, and transformational workshops.

My critiques of Rythmia

To be clear, my experience at Rythmia was overwhelmingly positive. However, since I represent our community’s interests at The Third Wave, it is important I give an objective perspective of what could be improved with Rythmia’s approach.

Because Rythmia’s approach to developing a profitable high-end psychedelic retreat model is the first of its kind, the way in which this happens brings up one huge question: what are the ethics around upselling people when they are in a vulnerable psychological position after drinking a psychedelic brew for four straight nights?

As we know from research at Johns Hopkins in 2011, psychedelics leave people feeling more “vulnerable” and “open” in the days after their psychedelic experiences. In fact, most integration specialists recommend not making any major life decisions for at least one month after drinking this plant medicine.

One of my personal hesitations with Rythmia’s approach was the utilization the upsell tactics in the last couple days that, in my opinion, psychedelic retreat centers must be very careful about using.

This came about in typical affiliate marketing form. In short, Rythmia has a catchy slogan to encourage affiliate marketing of their retreats: “Refer 3, get 1 free.” Basically, if an attendee registers for another plant medicine retreat at Rythmia before the end of their week, they qualify to take part in Rythmia’s affiliate marketing program. This approach encourages rushed decision making when in a suggestible mental state.

While I believe the quality of Rythmia’s approach is worth investing in, particularly for those who have a high level of disposable income, I also think it is worth generating discussion around the ethics of selling an individual on a $3-5K+ investment immediately after drinking a psychedelic brew for four straight nights. When putting people into a permeable and suggestible mental state through psychedelics, business initiatives must be extremely careful about how they utilize this increased level of power and influence.

My overall impression

Rythmia is an excellent fit for those who have a high-level of disposable income, and want to experience the best of the best for a plant medicine retreat. Because it is the first medically licensed plant medicine retreat in the world, those who are new to psychedelics may feel an extra sense of reassurance in knowing there is medical staff on hand.

Further, spiritual advancement and transformation isn’t explicitly linked to working with plant medicine, and this is where Rythmia delivers in almost every way. By the end of the week, your soul will feel rejuvenated and re-inspired to face the inevitable obstacles of existing in this realm of space and time.

Despite some minor hesitations about business practices employed to increase profitability, Rythmia remains an excellent choice for a psychedelic retreat.

However, as with any new initiative, there is certainly room for improvement. Their program to begin offering scholarships to less fortunate people – for example, to veterans who suffer from PTSD – is a good start, although it currently relies on donations and hasn’t progressed far. Rythmia could potentially expend more effort into spreading the abundance Gerry has come into in helping those who are less fortunate.

Because of its market position, Rythmia has an excellent opportunity to facilitate healing for important cultural figures that will, ideally, inspire them to give back in a way that helps to heal the intergenerational trauma that industrialization and late-stage capitalism has wrought on our ecological and social ecosystems.

By toning down the exaggeration in its sales and marketing materials, and taking a slower and more sustainable approach to building out its  business model by eliminating questionable upsell practices, I believe Rythmia could also set the gold standard for a luxury psychedelic business.

Interested in going to Rythmia yourself? Click this link to get $150 off when you book a retreat!

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Comments

  1. I’ve been to multiple retreats in Peru and can tell you the native shamans always better that the western ones.

    Also, having a n MD means nothing for having a great experience. The only time having an MD would be good would be if there is a medical emergency.

    Finally there is no way they can do a good job with 60 people. Try a retreat with less than 20 and you’ll see a big difference.

    If you had to drink 3 cups and still didn’t feel much then there brew wasn’t good.

  2. I have been studying, using and advocating entheogens since the early 70s . This model saddens me deeply. I fail to see the development of a strong spiritual base and a reverent mindset ib an approach which essentially operates on a solid capitalist model , and acts essentially as a club of opportunity for the wealthy. As a scientist, I must also say that the commercialization of use through businesses like this , as well as the steady pumping of unfiltered information on use through the internet , which is indiscriminate in who may access the information with zero regard for the readiness of the individual , nor the LEGALITY — all causes me deep concern. I have written several e mails to The Third Wave requesting dialogue, with no response. I urge you to look at Rick Doblin’s mistakes with MDMA in the 80s , which in part set in motion a crush of federal backlash . ( All due respect to Rick and MAPS now for their excellent work). PLEASE exercise care and consideration when approaching sacred medicines and other psychedelics and set aside institutional ego. I think your hearts are in the right place , but …

    • Hello, we are actually in the last stages of obtaining a non-profit status. Our goal is not to commercialize psychedelics, on the contrary, we have had many podcasts which discuss the issue of commercializing psychedelics.

      Two recent episodes which tackle this issue are episodes 50 and 56.
      Episode 50 features Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham who discusses the difference between cultural preservation and appropriation.
      Episode 56 features Anthropologist Sophia Rokhlin who, amongst other things, discusses the role of microdosing in a capitalist society.

      Our goal at the Third Wave is not to encourage any kind of illicit activity, our mission is to change the public discourse surrounding psychedelics through education.

  3. Thanks Paul for your openheartily, reflective en constructive report on Rytmia. Most beautiful thought: ayahuasca gives you what you need, not what you want. That is a good summary of what I also experienced after a weekend ayahuasca ceremonie in The Netherlands. More than two years ago.
    I also agree with you that pushing for buying and investing shortly after using macrodoses of psychedelica is unethical business. They must break with that. Maybe it can be done later on, a month later or so.
    Rytmia is for the upper class. That’s okay, for it are they, the people with money, assets and power, on key-positions in our societies, who’s change for the best we need the most.

  4. I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous.Monetizing a sacred experience…do you really think experiencing this plant, in a group of 50-60 others, while being shepherded by shamanistic/ marketing experts of dubious credentials is an any way respectful of the purpose, origin, and potential of this plant ally? Please re listen, re read, or otherwise experience this in a setting more akin to Terence McKenna’s descriptions of optimal environment and mind set. This plant is not to be commodified and packaged as some sort of psychedelic yuppie Disneyland attraction; I find this disrespectful on a very basic level, and indicative of a fundamental lack of understanding and empathy with the nature and purpose of the plant and it’s significance to human consciousness. Sorry Paul, this is Psychedelic colonialism , count me out.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with Robert Moynier’s review – I have just finished a 2 week Ibogaine retreat and was altogether disappointed. The treatment was gruelling and I did not leave with the desired effect, my life and ability to deal with my ‘Weltschmerz’ have not changed for the better. Yes – I am off drugs but feel empty and have gained no real insight. I have not given up on finding help by using psychedelics but I have become more careful about whom to trust and I have misgivings about fully believing Paul’s story.
      I also went to a retreat that offered all kinds of kicks, such as daily massage, yoga, swimming pool, etc – that’s all very nice for people who just need to take some time off a stressful life but it does nothing for someone wanting a deep insight into their subconscious and a greater understanding and feeling of unity with the universe and all sentient beings.
      The money aspect is another thing – why are so many of these retreats so elitist? There are too many people, like the creator of Rythmia, who seem to be on some sort of ego trip – these plants should be accessible to anyone who approaches them with a real intention to change, people who have lost the ability to feel happiness.
      I am not expecting to get something of such immense value for nothing. Shamans provide an immense service and should be paid for it accordingly. However, I do believe it should be offered in a simple and affordable way and the people who seek out these plants should come from all walks of life and the people who conduct the ceremonies should do so with compassion and humanity.

      • Hello Barbara, I am sorry to hear about your negative experience. Congratulations on finding relief from addiction! The topic of ibogaine and addiction is a rather complicated one due to the lack of research and the legal status of this substance.

        Correct me if I am mistaken — ibogaine has helped you kick the addiction but it hasn’t provided you with a mystical experience? Could it be that ibogaine’s ability to help you kick your addiction has made way for you to now focus on digging deeper within yourself?

        Hopefully, the legalization of psychedelics in the future will make it more accessible to people who need it as a form of treatment. It would be ideal if medical insurance can help cover psychedelic treatment in the future, that will help prevent psychedelics from becoming categorized under elitism.

        We wish you the best with your future psychedelic endeavors, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns in the future. We are here to support the psychedelic community by educating the public and creating a safe space for these important discussions.

    • I was there last July… with 50 plus people. Im not wealthy. It was a great experience that to this day im processing and still benefiting from. Don’t condemn it before giving it a try.

  5. Sounds incredibly weak. The brew is no good. To many people in ceremony. I’m guessing that with such large groups they need to use weak brew to minimize their risks (someone freaking the fuck out!), especially since they have so much invested in building such a nice center, they have more to lose (can get sued if some rich guest loses their shit, which is possible with ayahuasca).

    Traditionally, ayahuasca was done with the maestro one on one or in very small groups of say around three. Go to Peru for the real deal my friend. You’ll find yourself in Peru.

      • Hi Rachel,

        I had an excellent retreat experience at the Hummingbird Healing Center in Peru. Excellent facilitator and shaman. However, should I make the trip again, I will be going to Eagle Condor Alliance, outside of Medellin, Colombia. You can google them both if you are interested.

  6. Paul, an even handed conversation on the pros and cons of this expensive and curated experience. Though I think too I’ve gone a little light on the owner. I haven’t heard of night after night large dose exposure to pschedilics and wonder if a difficult experience in an early session would result in and dangerous escalation. I wonder if the dosage has been decreased to extend the stay and fill seats for a longer period. In native rituals are extended 4 day rituals common, and if not why here?I have had two experiences spaced out over two months, only as a very important attendance to my mental illness requires. I would expect that anything experience less than 4 weeks apart would not leave time for integration of the message in the experience.
    I do find the upsell abhorant. I expect this owner has taken his entrepreneurial tendencies and baggage with him and further actualization is required. I like your recommendation of the more wealthy of the attendees assisting with less furtunate, be it income or mental illness related. Personally I’d have a hard time attending to my experiences with thoughts of profit as an underlying the mattress. Staff Knowing my name as a mechanism to get me upsell to friends seems to be manipulation. I’d attend out of curiosity, but I think an experience with an experienced guide that trust has been earned with the be far superior and far less expensive.

  7. Hello. Good day to all. Not long ago I went to Rythmia to experience ayahuasca. The place was great, the program well though and the Shamans were really diligent. I felt very safe, which was what I was looking for since this was my first experience with psychedelics.

    Integration after the experience has been tricky even though I had a great experience during the ceremonies. My main issue is that I have not find my place in the world yet as I am still searching for my purpose. I love helping people that are ready to be help but that is all I know.

    Since integration has been difficult I imagine that a lot of people go trough the same after a experience with the Grandmother. this got me thinking ,I studied Psychology but there is not official training for counselling for integration… is there anyone you could recommend me that would be willing to teach me the skills need it to help other people to integrate? by the way I also speak spanish and I am willing to leave everything behind for a few months to be able to do so.

    • Krystal – I suggest searching “MeetUp” using key words like plant medicine, integration, entheogens, and psychedelic to find the others who have returned from journeys as well and want to talk about it. It’s hapoening.

      • I have visited Rythmia twice this year. Choose it for safety reasons. I concer with much of the discussion. Particularly the hard sell and promise of a miracle. The owners heart is in the right place. His spirit may have some catching up to do. IMHO

  8. Hello folks I’ve been to Rythmia 4 times over many years. I’ve done a bunch of healing work. I know the staff and can vouch for this place being the place to start your Aya journey. Sure there’s others. Sure you can do smaller groups. But this is a medically licensed facility it’s safe they provide a lot of counsel and guidelines as to how to integrate back and concur that everyone gets what they need not what they want. The Shamans are just people like you and me and have gone through their own far share of traumas and releases. They are impeccable. As for Gerry and his business model. I know of no other place not even from third wave themselves that has figured out the how to give back model impeccably. For me they introduce the concept of bringing Aya to more people. Time is short. Awakening is needed and if there is a free week you get by referring 3 people then I think for them to offer this when it’s not turning a profit and the Gerry himself has invested his own personal money – it’s extremely generous. Yes it’s expensive. But so are ther retreats. It’s safe. It’s beautiful. They provide you with all the context. There’s clean food, yoga classes, spa, colonics and massage all included in the price. So really you are getting more than just the medicine. You are being cleaned inside and out. There was never any tough sell they just shared they have this benefit. Some take it others can donate their free weekend to a friend in need. This to be is hands down the best to start anyone’s journey. As for the amount of people. It hasn’t mattered. They have the staff to handle that amount of people and no the brew is not altered in any way. It’s sacred and blessed with purity and prayer. You get what you need not what you want. I have gone back a number of times not for any reason but because my trauma took a while to uncover as many walls were built around it to protect me. Those walls have come tumbling down and I owe a lot to the amazing staff that work at this facility who create a clearing for all those even those who claim to be awake but slam places like these. I would just say this. Try it once evaluate for yourself. I would agree that integration is hard. Ryhmia doesn’t claim to offer integration but there are many great consultants available locally. Find them. Finally after you return you have to still chop wood and carry water. This means the spiritual path requires you to continue to work. Aya only does 50% the other 50% you have to incorporate all the insights into your daily life. That is the work. There is no magic pill for enlightenment to think so is foolish. But this is a step in the right direction. God bless all your journeys.

  9. I just returned from Rythmia. I was there was Taita Juanito, a Colombian shaman. The place is legit. The upsell is annoying. I did feel safe though. And believe me, people lost their shit.

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