January 6, 2011

Is Ayahuasca a legitimate Spiritual Path?

How do “mindful” Western, spiritual folk relate to a magic tea from the Amazon that can cure illness and accelerate burning through your karma?

From time to time, I drink “the medicine.”

The medicine is ayahuasca, a traditional South American tea brewed up of two different plants then ingested for shamanic, healing, and spiritual purposes.

It ain’t for fun, nor is it a way to avoid your issues or psychology. Far from it.

However, some spiritual circles and communities might frown upon its use, arguing it’s trying to take an easy way out.  The lack of education around ayahuasca has people thinking it’s simply another hallucinogenic, new age, feel good, hipsterific experience.

From my own experience, it’s work—plain and simple. And, used in conjunction with your meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness-based practice, ayahuasca can change your life for the better.

When used properly and under the guidance of trained shamans, the experience is extraordinary and deeply healing. People say that one strong medicine ceremony is akin to years of therapy.

Ayahuasca is gaining momentum here in the U.S. More and more folks are drinking the medicine. More seekers are asking how to find it and people who are in genuine pain, want its guidance.  In two states it’s now legal to use ayahuasca for religious purposes.

Just yesterday on foxnews.com (of all places) there was a lengthy article on the subject. Check the Fox News piece out here. It’s even being touted as a legitimate treatment for addiction. Watch a short video of Dr. Gabor Mate on the subject here.

A lot of my clients and friends have been asking me about it and how to get involved. It has changed my life in such a profound way, I finally wrote about my experiences openly on my blog.

Is ayahuasca a legitimate spiritual path or just an amazing healing agent? I share my thoughts and personal experience below…

Let’s hear yours.


I’ve been avoiding this post for some time, mostly because I have been unclear about how to talk about my experience publicly.

But here goes.

I do not take posting this lightly. I write this with great respect and humility. It is not my intention to sensationalize here. Rather, I want you to hear about my experience and then decide for yourself.

I thought about avoiding it some more, but my heart wants to tell you about what is serving me and my heart wants you to experience this if you are called.

I also consulted one of the shamans and asked about my intention to blog about the medicine. He encouraged me to share openly but avoid sharing who, where, when due to confidentiality and certain illegal properties involved. Made sense to me.

For the past 2 years, I have participated in semi-regular plant medicine ceremonies. Most have been with shamans who carry the sacred grandmother medicine known as ayahuasca.

For three years prior to my first experience of ayahuasca I avoided it and judged those who used it.

A personal account

Over a year ago, I had the hardest night of my life on this medicine. I shat myself, threw up on myself and thought I was going insane.  I was in a room with some friends and mostly strangers. I was crying out for help. I was dying. It felt like a psychotic break to the point where I lost all reference points and “me” totally disappeared.

I experienced deep terror that I don’t wish upon anyone. Fortunately for me, the inferno ended and I felt the deepest shame of my life that night. After many hours of hell, I came out the other side in bliss and ecstasy.

I crossed through a threshold that night that marked the true beginning of my ego death and spiritual emergence that is still going on today.

At this point, you might be wondering why I went back for more. But, for those of you who know me, you know that I am that devoted to uncovering the truth of reality.  And, while I have experienced the dark night, I have also see the other side, of blissed out LOVE.

Should you desire great tranquility, prepare to sweat white beads. —Hakuin

The hero’s journey has always been my quest. I have been drawn toward raw, real, experiences all of my life.  In the past, I have explored “pushing through” and this is requires a whole different approach—receiving and surrendering.

Ayahuasca = love?

In my opinion, ayahuasca is essentially truth serum made up of 100% love.

Not the kind of feel good love you might think of however.

Many of us think that love is synonymous with good feelings. But from where I stand, love = giving me the opportunity to see myself (ego and my essence) and my games clearly.  Being loved in this way is showing me the utter rawness of reality with no filters or apologies.

Ayahuasca is not for everyone. In fact, I don’t recommend it unless you are very, very, very serious about waking up to the total truth of who you are.

If you are incredibly hungry for the truth and want to see the your own mind clearly, then it’s worth exploring under expert guidance.

If you participate more than once and welcome her into your life, she will show you more than you can ever imagine. Worlds beyond worlds. Painful and dark truths about yourself, cosmic love, past lives, your childhood, your future. If you work with her on a regular basis, you will potentially accelerate burning through your psychological blocks and other obstacles.

However, she comes at a very high price. Not monetarily. Your personality will suffer and you will see parts of yourself that literally make you vomit. Once she is in your system, there is no where to run or hide and you can’t get out of the experience until the medicine wears off, often 4-8 hours later.

If you resist her, you may feel nothing at all. Your unconscious might be too wiley and defended. Or she will amplify your resistance 100 times and make you feel how painful that is.

Everything you have ever avoided feeling will have to be faced. Everything you pushed down, stuffed. Everyone you have ever hurt, blamed, judged will be felt throughout your entire body.

If you come humbly with great reverence and ask and pray for deep healing, teaching and surrender, you will get what you ask for and then some.

I have never been so generously given to in all my life. Her love is unwavering and as big as all the cosmos combined.

Ayahuasca is a huge part of my spiritual path now. I am not a seeker looking for some one hit wonder that will take away my pain and show me a good time. Nor am I using this sacred medicine to avoid the day-to-day grind of the householder path I am on.

This is nothing like LSD, mushrooms, X, or even peyote. To compare them is simply inappropriate. To call it a drug is disrespect.

So what is it?

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is spirit accessed by a South America sacred plant medicine made by shamans that takes days to prepare. They mix two different plants, a vine and a leaf. Once the two plants are combined, DMT ( N,N-dimethyltryptamine) becomes active which gives the hallucinogenic effects. How shamans first discovered this still debated, but it’s obvious to me they spoke to plants and the plants spoke back.

Many folks use the name “grandmother” for this sacred medicine, thus suggesting it has a feminine essence. Traditionally it is known as yagé.  Some refer to ayahuasca as “the vine of death” because of the dying/rebirth process involved. Ayahuasca is considered a spirit that is called into the space by the actual brew and the shamans (see references and links below).

Ayahuasca is used traditionally as spiritual medicine to heal people, gain insight about the land, hunting information, and to receive guidance from the other side.

Ayahuasca as a brew is illegal in all states but two right now because DMT is a  Schedule 1 drug. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is gaining momentum as a legitimate religious practice, specifically in the Santo Daime community.

Why is it becoming more popular now?

Why now?

I have no idea, but here are some guesses.

Ayahuasca is gaining more and more credibility in the medical world as a legitimate treatment for addiction. More on that here. Also, just google “ayahuasca addiction treatment” and see what you find.

It is also gaining ground as a legitimate spiritual path for Westerners.  Perhaps folks are tired of the guru’s human limitations. Perhaps with the growing consciousness movement and 2012 predictions, people are hungry for more immediate results and insights that address today’s challenges.

The clients I work with long for meaning and truths beyond books. People are in pain and have tried everything to relieve it or work through it and don’t see results. People are hungry for experiences that show them first hand what is really going on.

Some important words of caution

Ayahuasca used alone without working with your everyday relative reality has the potential of just being another spiritual bypass.  While I cured my sugar addiction with this medicine, it is not a magic bullet for your pain or problems.

Used in conjunction with ongoing integration...read the rest here.

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thedaneurysm Mar 20, 2015 1:36pm

I recently watched 4 different documentaries, 4 different "shamans", 4 different groups of people who'd travelled to the Peruvian amazon for their journey. These were people from all walks of life with their own fears, anxieties, troubles, worries, home situations, and life experiences, all their for their own unique reasons. I got the distinct sense among most of them that they'd never had a serious hallucinogenic experience.

In all 5 documentaries, the "journey" took place over a 5-day period. One thing that struck me as peculiar was that while I've no doubt, all of them experienced the ayahuasca differently, there was a common thread in the overall theme to their experience: For the first 2 days, each ayahuasca session was mortal terror, sadness, negativity, fear. On the 3rd day it seemed to sort of plateau, on the 4th day, most of them had reached some kind of resolve or redemption with whatever they were their to fix, and on the 5th day, it was more like a party: singing, dancing, laughing, etc.

I've never taken ayahuasca, but I've taken ridiculous amounts of LSD when I was younger, compounded with Mushrooms on more than one occasion. I had experiences that were indescribably intense and terrifying. I went to hell in one of them, felt serpents emerging from my body. I've also had incredibly intense, but beautiful experiences that were exactly the opposite. Most of the experiences just made going out dancing more fun.

But I remember that every other week, the specific type of LSD going around would change periodically. One week it was purple blotter, the next week it was white blotter, the next week it was shamrock, or McFry (mcdonald's logo on it), there was some stuff that had green stripes on it. Then maybe a few months later purple blotter would come back around (or any of the others).

All of these carried a different experience, but the experience was fairly predictable among the respective types (i.e. purple blotter always more or less felt the same, white blotter felt the same, etc). That told me there was a standard formula for each of these and varied strengths between each type. White blotter was consistently the strongest and most intense. McFry was mostly body-high, and the others were somewhere in between.

What does this tell me about these ayahuasca tales? It tells me that the "shamans" are just manipulating the dosage around what they are giving these people through out the week: blast them out of their skull on monday, which (freaks them out beyond comprehension) gradually tone it down, and leave it at a pleasure level on Friday. In pure physiological terms, they aren't so much "getting healed" as they are "getting less high" and thus not freaking out as badly at the end of the week as they were at the start. It tells me that these "shamans" are about as spiritual as a drug dealer.

I posited this idea to a woman who told me that she saw "aliens" in her experience, the likes of which she had never seen in TV or movies, comics, books, magazines, etc. So where did that come from? My answer was that our brains are massively inventive organs and highly skilled at producing visual concepts out of thin air….like paintings, drawings, music, writing, etc.

Let's not forget the business of these little ventures. The largest outfit: Blue Morpho charges roughly $2400 (not including airfare) a head for one week of puking in a bucket and wiping your ass with leaves in the Peruvian Amazon. If you only had 5 attendees per week, that's roughly $80k-$100k per month.

My own opinion is that A chemically (organic or synthetic) induced state of spiritual enlightenment is neither spiritual nor enlightenment; it's just getting high. Call it what it is: tripping balls in the jungle for a week.

Devol Jun 3, 2014 7:34pm

Loved the article, and I honor your commitment to reach more awakened states via sacred psychedelic medicines. Mushrooms and Peyote are considered sacred for a reason; they hold a rich shamanistic tradition. If you've ever participated in a traditional Peyote ceremony, you would note some similarities with Ayahuasca, including connection with animal guides and native plant spirits, as well as "purging" chanting, etc.
Although seemingly controversial among those who love the "plant" medicines, LSD is a powerful modern shamanic substance, brought about by evolution at the same time as humanity was learning to split the atom. It is as if Universal Consciousness was holding out a choice to the human species of either awakening/evolving or destruction/extinction. LSD should also never be considered a "drug", as it is a powerful tool of consciousness, and to those who use it ceremonially, recreational use is taboo. As an LSD shaman for over 40 years, I can attest to amazing awakenings and changes in countless seekers throughout the years.
Now that "scientific" research has begun again on LSD, modern shaman, psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers and spiritual seekers are beginning to speak out about the full awakening of our Higher Selves with the use of this sacred gift.
Happily, there are many tools available to us at this time, when our species most desperately needs them. May we all keep open minds and meditate upon whether to partake of the various medicines offered to us.

Vidura May 26, 2014 5:12pm

Ayahuasca has some uses…in cases it has been proven to cure depression and it can open the mind to realize that there are other realities beyond what the senses perceive. That said, I personally don't consider the regular consumption of it a "high" spiritual practice. I took it once. It was an interesting experience…and it felt like I was loosing my mind at some point. It was with a "shaman" at a gathering of over 40 people in a hippie's loft in NYC. Seeing all these people puking at the same time and having hallucinations of seeing their faces morph into demons is not my idea of fun. I did not consider the experience uplifting. And the people who were taking this in a regular basis did not seem particularly enlightened. There was something dark about the whole scene. And I felt the people leading the gathering were irresponsible and a bit deluded. Maybe if I had gone to the Amazon with a proper shaman I would have had a better experience. I'll stick to my meditation and yoga practice. Thank you very much.

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Jayson Gaddis

Jayson Gaddis, founder of The Relationship School®
, and host of The Smart Couple Podcast , is on a mission to teach people the one class they didn’t get in school–”How to do intimate relationships.” He was emotionally constipated for years before relationship failure forced him to master relationships. In 2007 he stopped running away from intimacy, asked his wife to marry him and now they have two beautiful kids. When he doesn’t live and breathe this stuff with his family, he pretty much gets his ass handed to him. You can find him here: Jayson Gaddis or sign up for a free training here if you are dealing with an emotionally unavailable man like Jayson used to be. You can also become a fan on Facebook here: Jayson Gaddis Fan Page.