It has taken me a really long time to figure out how to write about it—partly because thinking about both substances still makes me feel nauseated (yes, they taste that gross), and partly because I don’t really feel like I have a solid position due to the choices I made. But, I read something yesterday about someone’s ayahuasca experience and I realized that there is a place for my “not solid” position.
When I was reading other people’s stories in my ayahuasca research, I found those who were very much for and very much against. I found epic adventures and massive healings. I found avid opponents. I didn’t find any stories from people like me.
Someone who had already done her healing, who was not broken or lost, who was curious about the potential for further spiritual opening but not searching for any particular outcome, who was healthy, happy, curious and open. A self-confessed “fluffy spiritualist,” I like my journeys to be deep but fun, so I was open to what plant medicines might offer, but also hesitant to use substances as a spiritual tool.
So, here is an article from that place in case anyone out there needs it.
I signed up for a “spiritual journey” in Peru, which, instead of being the meditation and heart journey that I was hoping for, actually consisted of a couple of weeks of touring the ruins, all the while obsessing about the week of ayahuasca ceremonies at the end.
The English guy running the journey was oddly “checked out” and didn’t interact much. The lovely, young, enthusiastic girl he had brought on to help him was a participant from the previous trip—no other experience in spiritual work or managing groups. Needless to say, without much guidance, questions and uncertainties were running pretty high by the time we actually got to the ceremonies part of the trip.
I knew that plant medicines were on offer, but it was always presented as being completely optional—it did not occur to me that these would be the main reason many of the participants were there. Some were completely opposed to the concept of meditation or spirituality, though quite a few were into alien conspiracies, which made my head spin!
So, ignoring the dude going on about the earth actually being flat (seriously!?), I approached the plant medicine ceremonies with as open a mind as a mind-altering substance newbie could have. I knew that if I experienced any strong feelings to not do it, I wouldn’t. I knew that self-control is one of my big attachments and since the mantra of plant medicines is “let go,” I knew I would probably struggle.
But still, I tried San Pedro and, a few days later in the jungle, ayahuasca.
Both experiences were pretty similar for me, even though others said they were different. Overall, my experience can be summarized by:
>> A revolting taste and vomiting—I wanted to throw up from the first taste of both, so not just “spiritual purging,” but truly “get this gross stuff out of my body now!” vomiting—fun!
>> Lots of fractals and visual light shows, but no messages, journeys, lessons or major hallucinations. I knew who and where I was at all times. Pretty, but not profound.
>> I dozed off for fair bits of both trips, waking up every so often hoping it was over. Some say spiritual avoidance, I say naps are good.
>> Listening to everyone else trip is not fun when they are crying and vomiting. It is really funny when they are giggling and happy.
I had a bit of a moment (on San Pedro) where my soul wanted to go home (not earth home) and I was feeling desolate and bereft and did some rather therapeutic sobbing. I think the shaman thought this was a breakthrough, but it was nothing new for me.
That was about it.
There were four ayahuasca ceremonies scheduled over the last week of the retreat but I decided to not drink again after the first ceremony. There was an enormous amount of pressure on those of us who were reluctant to drink again. It rapidly went from “completely optional” to serious persuasion being applied, and I really did not feel like our choice was being supported. This was an actual conversation I had with the guy who was running the retreat—supposedly the guy who was there to look after me and hold space for my well-being:
Him: C’mon, stay. Drink! (bossy tone) Drink. (whiney tone)
Me: That persuasion won’t work on me.
Him: This is just your ego trying to stay in charge. (A common accusation for anyone who doesn’t get on the ayahuasca bandwagon.)
Me: Pfft. That won’t work on me either. (walks away)
Any concerns, hesitations or instincts against ayahuasca are dismissed as being control or ego issues. I didn’t get an instinct about it before I drank, but from early on in San Pedro and the instant I drank the ayahuasca, my strongest instinct was “No!”
I asked both shamans if ayahuasca might not be for everyone and I was just told I was being difficult and resistant.
As for the others in my group, some loved it, some hated it. Some had rough nights and went back, a few left with me after one or two ceremonies. My overall position is that it is an avenue that will suit some people, and to approach it carefully. Plant medicines are not a white wine spritzer. This is serious stuff. As someone who has done most of their evolving through meditation, I would suggest having some practice in “self-directed self-awareness” first. Otherwise ayahuasca could be a bypass, a quick-fix for spiritual growth with no “work.” But that kind of growth is never real and it will not stick.
Long story short, I am going to stick to meditation—I already have some pretty cool spiritual experiences under my belt and feel like I earned them.
>> Be careful!
>> Be prepared to walk away or stand up for yourself if you get uncomfortable or want to stop.
>> Be open-minded but aware of your boundaries.
>> Do other spiritual work too.
>> It might or might not be for you! We all have our own paths, so decide for yourself.
>> If you are a fussy eater or easily nauseated, you have been warned!
Author: Tui Anderson
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Paul Hessell/Flickr