May 7, 2013

So You Wanna Do Ayahuasca? ~ Dani Katz

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Let’s get something straight: I am not an accredited expert on ayahuasca. I have no PhD in entheogenic adventuring. I’ve never even been to Peru, let alone holed up in a mud hut with a native tribe for six consecutive months while spending all day, every day stirring God juice and chewing twigs.

I’m simply a gal who’s taken more than her share of psychedelics in service to the evolution of my consciousness and the unraveling of my ego, and has participated in lots and lots of ayahuasca ceremonies. As I now find myself on the receiving end of increasingly consistent inquiries from curious newbies, eager while nervous to drink of the sacred vine and wanting some advice. I have compiled this here document rife with helpful hints for your first aya ceremony. You. Are. Welcome.

So, you wanna try ayahuasca…Why?

First of all, check in with yourself and get really super real about what is inspiring you to participate in an ayhuasca ceremony.  Ayahuasca, though an infinitely loving consciousness, doesn’t fuck around. So, if you’re wanting to heal your body, mind or psyche, or if you’re inspired to delve deeper into your consciousness, karma, lineage and personal evolution, awesome; you’re on track.

If you’re wanting to impress a hot chick who’s into that sort of thing, or think it’ll look good on your CV, well…it’s not really my place to say you’re not on track. So, go ahead and have the experience, while keeping in mind that the medicine doesn’t miss a beat, and will likely slap you around a bit while under her spell, if she even decides to take you at all. If you’re not sure why you want the experience, that’s cool Take your time to meditate on it and hone in on your intention, because when it comes to ayahuasca ceremonies, intentions are key.

Specificity Rocks.

As you ready yourself for ceremony, start writing down your intentions. Pay careful attention to how you language them, because ayahuasca will give you precisely what you ask for. For me, this means being extra super specific such that when we read our intentions aloud at the beginning of ceremony, my list is about eleventeen times longer than anyone else’s, as I carefully delineate all the energies that I want to color my journey:  

grace, ease, levity, magic, insight that makes me smile, lessons for which I’m ready and which I quickly and gracefully and easily integrate in a balanced, sattvic way….healing of body, organs, bones, hormones, soft tissues, connective tissues, brain function; completion of karmic challenges, cords cut with beings whom are no longer serving me nor are inspiring me to be my highest iteration of myself…this sort of thing. I don’t simply ask for clarity. I ask for clarity about which writing project is calling for my immediate attention, and any insight on how to best approach the subject, as far as angles, perspectives, style and tone.

Otherwise, the medicine may give me clarity as to how I got that hangnail on my pinky, and—let’s be honest—who fucking cares about a hangnail when you’re soaring through an alternate dimensional reality?

And, don’t waste precious time and energy being embarrassed about reading a long, detailed list aloud to the group. Other participants will likely be doing the same with their intention lists, and if they aren’t, feel confident in knowing that you are modeling a very useful medicine skill—clear and deliberate intention setting. And if they think you’re a dweeb, so what? That’s their fucking problem.

It’s All (for) You.

When it comes to sacred ceremony, there are no accidents as far as who is gathered. The people who come together to share the aya ritual are a deliberate alchemical reflection for everyone involved. Yes, this applies to the curandero sobbing uncontrollably while singing the sacred icaros, as well as the woman masturbating next to you while screaming in tongues, and the rogue shaman who busts in during the beginning of the ceremony and threatens to kill you all. I won’t bore you with the processes around these incidents, which all really happened.

I will say that they were staged, in part, for my own specific growth, and that my job was to withhold judgment, and to forage through the perceived chaos for the reflections. With this in mind, hold your fellow participants, as well as the facilitating shaman in the light of unconditional love and compassion, while also exercising the consistent practice of looking inward, and asking “What is the reflection?” which we do all day, every day, anyway, right?


Some traditions require participants to sing and dance. Others allow for more fluid interaction among otherwise free to move and speak participants. I’ve sat with folks who bring lots of pillows and blankets, and spend the bulk of the ceremony curled up, as if taking a nap. In my experience, I find that sitting up straight, in a strong lotus position is most effective, in that it allows me to stay present and aware, while also able to track the energetics in the room and among my fellow medicine brethren. Plus, it feels more respectful. Personally, I consider the time I spend with aya to be a great, magical honor, and it feels rude to slouch or lounge in her presence.

Crossing Over.

Know that to be taken inside an ayahuasca journey is a gift, and not everyone crosses over her elusive threshold, and even those who do don’t necessarily cross over every time. The key to crossing over, when it’s aligned to do so, is surrender. This can sometimes be tricky, as the ego is tenacious, and will try super very hard to distract you from having the experience. Humility, courage and surrender are your most valuable guides in breaking through the veil.

So, what is courage, anyway? Well, courage isn’t pretending to not be afraid when facing the death of your ego and a wonky world full of strange looking creatures. Courage is owning the truth of your experience. I have been faced with fear on numerous occasions when engaging both ayahuasca and DMT, and in being courageous enough to acknowledge: I am afraid, I am afraid, I am granted permission to enter the mysterious realms of the medicine. Paradoxes like this one are pretty much par for the ayahuasca course. When in doubt: surrender, surrender again and surrender some more.

But, I don’t know how to surrender! you protest.

Pshaw!  It’s as simple as saying (to yourself): I surrender, I surrender, I surrender…

Yes, really.  I repeat: You. Are. Welcome.

The Gatekeepers.

In sniffing out ceremonies in which to participate, you may come across arrogant asshole types who sneer at ignorant pedestrian dolts like you who are late to the party, and are—in their eyes—not spiritual or evolved enough to be worthy of the experience.  Don’t take it personally. This type of spiritual superiority is a phase the person is going through. It’s unsightly, sure, as are so many human phases and expressions. But, we all have ‘em, so exercise compassion and tolerance, while trying your best not to drop-kick or insult the asshole gatekeeper in question.

Besides, the message is moot and irrelevant, and—in a sense—a test. If you choose to believe it, then sure, you might not be ready, and the self-appointed keeper has played their role well. If you can see it as the other person’s ego trip, you can either choose to navigate around it to get the information you need (i.e. I’m not actually interested in your opinion as to my readiness.  When and where is the ceremony?), or you can take it as a sign to find another way to the medicine, wherein you don’t have to deal with gatekeepers playing out distorted third chakra power trips. Either way, man. There is no wrong, which brings me to the next point.

She Will Find You

When you are ready, the medicine will find you. Don’t underestimate the power, presence and intelligence of ayahuasca. If you are called to engage her, then you are already on her radar, and when she decides you are ready, she will make it abundantly clear. I have yet to hear of any exceptions to the contrary. She works through synchronicity, this mysterious consciousness, yagé. So, as you feel your curiosity percolate, pay attention to the signs – to how often you hear her mentioned, to books that come into your life, to people who have information to share with you…this is how she works. She is a plant, which means she’s dependent upon walking, breathing animals to do her networking for her. If you are feeling ready, and are wanting to participate in ceremony, sure – you can book a trip to Peru, or do a regional curandero search on Yelp, and you can also sit back and trust by meditating on the medicine, your intentions and the experience you are calling in, and see how the universe converges to meet your requests.

Don’t Try this at Home

“Why do I need a shaman?” you ask. “I’ve done plenty of psychedelics on my own, and I don’t buy into that guru crap, anyway.”

I’m probably not technically qualified to speak to this, as I’ve never actually tried ayahuasca without a curandero leading the ceremony. What I will say is that ayahuasca is unlike any psychedelic I’ve taken, and seems to be a means of connecting with an alternate dimensional reality, with its own pitfalls, its own language, and its own rules of engagement. The shamans who lead the ceremony are adept at weaving the energies together, transmitting the icaros, and clearing whatever is needed to facilitate a graceful experience. Plus, there’s the matter of entities, which we all know prey upon those who’ve opened themselves up to plant energies, because it’s such an easy in. I feel safer having a shaman around to help keep gnarly disembodied spirits at bay. And, the whole ceremony rigmarole is super fun, and allows for a really connected, interdependent experience.

All this is to say, I don’t actually know why, but ayahuasca seems to lend itself toward group engagement, facilitated by an experienced shaman. The real question here is why are you so triggered by humbling yourself before a curandero and engaging in a group ritual?

There Will be Vomit (Maybe).

Yes, there is puking. Not always, and not for everyone, and still, puking happens. and it’s but a tiny fraction of the whole aya experience. For me, it’s a five-minute threshold that I pass as I enter the medicine’s embrace. In the grand scheme of a twelve-hour ceremony, it’s hardly noteworthy enough to warrant all the attention it seems to garner. Plus, aya puke isn’t like normal puke, filled with frothy bile and bits of undigested corn. It’s alkaline, meaning it doesn’t burn your throat as it comes up. In my experience, it comes out pretty much the way it went in, and I’ve yet to barf up any deeper belly-laden substances while purging, but then again, I’m an A+ faster, and steer clear of any and all food for at least 24 hours before I drink the medicine, because I like to travel on an empty belly.

Purge related tip: Do try to wait at least thirty minutes after drinking your dose of aya before sipping/gulping any water, lest you purge before the medicine has had a chance to take effect.


Any good curandero will tell you to avoid a handful of ingestibles for at least three to 10 days before ceremony—meat, chocolate, avocado, red wine, fermented foods, booze, weed. Oh, and sex—you’ll also want to steer clear of sex before ceremony, and definitely for several days after, because sex tends to entangle us to energies that aren’t ours. This practice of limiting ones nutritional and erotic intake is called dieta, and I highly recommend sticking diligently to it. And if you have it in you to fast completely the day of ceremony, all the better, unless of course you’re rocking some sort of fasting averse chemistry or condition, in which case, defer to your own body and your own guidance, which is great advice for everyone, always, fasting averse body chemistry, or not. Except when it comes to the sex part. Really, don’t have sex before ceremony. Or, after. I know, I’m repeating myself. Moving on…

Miscellaneous Tools.

You will likely see your fair share of crystals, feathers and miscellaneous talisman decorating your fellow aya drinkers’ nests. I tend toward the minimal, but always bring at least a crystal or two—definitely garnet or hematite to ground, rose quartz to connect me to unconditional love, and whatever other energetic conduits I’m feeling called to accompany me during my travels. As well, I recommend rose water, or some sort of energy shifting spray to use in case of entities, dark/scary energies, or if you’re simply feeling a little ragged and wanting a refreshing pick me up.

Don’t cross your legs or your arms, unless you are sitting in a lotus variation. This allows your energetic channels to remain open and unencumbered, which supports a more potent, free-flowing experience.

Remember that you can always ask the medicine to let up—to tone it down a notch or 12 so you can go to the bathroom, or come up for air, or whatever. Actively engage ayahuasca. She’s very responsive, and appreciates your curiosity and your presence.

Mind your space, your sound and your motions. Be compassionate, conscientious and aware. Wear white. Send love. Be love. Embrace the experience.

I think that about covers it.  Safe travels, y’all…


Dani Katz established her reputation as one of Los Angeles’ finest literary talents by way of her bold voice, her expanded perspective and her mastery of language, having published hundreds of articles in the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Whole Life Times, LA Yoga and Swindle, among others.  In addition to her broad spectrum of practical experience and formal studies, including a Master’s Degree in Journalism, she has spent the past seven years immersed in the study of integrated languaging and conscious communication, researching and perfecting the myriad ways, whys and hows that language influences our every human experience.  Katz currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she just finished writing her first book, which may or may not be called Love in the Time of Chemtrails.


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