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March 18, 2021

Ayahuasca: a Soul-healing, Party-drug Family Experience.

For years, I’ve been hearing people talk about the whole Ayahuasca experience with so much awe and reverence that, at first, my inner skeptic screamed, “Ignore them!”

The line between “life-changing, inner-exploratory, and soul-healing experience” and “party drug” is often very thin. I’ve been recommended so many life-changing things in my life (cross-fit, calisthenics, raw veganism, liquid diets, four-hour sleep days, or freezing cold baths) that whenever somebody told me,

“You’ve got to try this.”

I would just say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then change the subject.

But they knew something I didn’t. These Ayahuasca devotees kept telling me that the plant would call me and I would laugh saying,

“Plants can’t dial.”

Funnily enough, my dad was the one who started researching about the plant. A lot of people recommended the experience, so all of a sudden, there were books in the house and at least once a week I would hear a documentary about the ceremony.

Soon, almost every family conversation would eventually touch upon the subject.

A few weeks later, on a health appointment, my mum started talking to a patient in the waiting room of a clinic. You can guess what the involuntary topic was. The practitioner who heard the conversation disclosed his own Ayahuasca adventure. Before she knew it, she was leaving the clinic with the shaman‘s details.

She reached out to her and was really surprised: the shaman was a young woman with a warm, cheerful voice. From the start, she sounded like a pro: it was like talking to an ancient doctor (isn’t that what shamans are?). She trained for two years in the Amazon, with native shamans. She spoke to us individually, explained the ceremony, and cleared every doubt. She was extremely thorough in making sure that the four of us (mum, dad, sister, and me) were in mental and physical well-being.

She called Ayahuasca, “the medicine” and “the mother,” which was nice because it was less of a mouthful. She also told us the medicine is said to heal seven generations both ways. For her, it was an honour to lead a family ceremony.

About a week before the ceremony, we were put on a detox diet. Limited intakes of caffeine, sugar, salt, and so forth. Healthy or nothing. I’m not a fan of diets, but in this case, I was good for it. I didn’t want to risk a bad experience.

The ceremony started around 6 p.m. It was autumn, so it was already darkening. I wasn’t allowed anything except water after 2  p.m. I couldn’t wait to ingest something, even if it was a psychedelic, Amazonian beverage.

The ritual space was set up with mats, blankets, cushions, empty bowls (an uplifting view), lots of water, and what I can only call “shamanic instruments”: drums, gongs, rattles. It felt like we were camping indoors. 

The shaman began by smoking her pipe as a pre-ceremony ritual. It smelled woody. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. The space was suddenly transformed into a Moroccan-style shamanic den.

She said a prayer whilst wafting the pipe around each of us. My sister started giggling. I was wondering whether my dad or she would be the first ones to crack a joke. I glared at them subtly. Saying, “Be quiet you’re interrupting the shaman,” felt too ridiculous. She didn’t seem to mind though and started pouring out our dose of medium-dense consistency, brown-reddish, Ayahuasca drink into a cup. One by one we drank it, like tea.

After drinking, the lights were turned off. We were in full darkness (“like the Amazon at night,”  said the shaman). I remember lying down with my eye mask on in pitch darkness, relieved that I was finally about to experience whatever it was I was supposed to experience.

The shaman began singing, playing the instruments, and moving around the room. She was loud on purpose, so we wouldn’t fall asleep. She managed to keep this up for the whole ceremony. Some shamanic stamina that was.

After an hour or so, I heard my Mum’s quiet tears. I knew she was getting to that special place. It was hard staying there and not doing anything, but we were warned that everyone had their own journey. We were not to interfere.

In my case, it took two to three hours for the medicine to kick in—it was impossible to tell in the darkness.

At first, I started to fall into a relaxed and heightened dream-like state. That was at first. From one moment to the other, I wasn’t so relaxed. I was sweating, shivering, twitching; my body felt trapped in a never-ending dull ache. It was like having the flu tenfold.

Thing is, the flu, I can live with, but what came after was intense. Without a moment’s notice, every single feeling I’ve ever had in my life reappeared all at once: joy, sadness, excitement, fear. A total recap of my emotional journey through life so far. It was amazing and frightful, and it came in a roller coaster of uncontrollable waves.

After the roller coaster, were images: symbols, animals, quotes, childhood memories. It wasn’t all nice. For some reason, the mask from the film “Scream,”  the one that gave me nightmares as a child, kept reappearing.

“Medicine,” what a way of calling it.

I was feeling as fragile and weak as humanly possible. I asked it to stop, but the medicine did whatever the hell it wanted. It was after some time that I surrendered and quietly said,

“Do your worst.”

The medicine was like this being living alongside me now—I felt it applauding my effort not to make an effort anymore.

It wasn’t until the last hour that I finally began purging. That’s a fancy word for vomiting. It was actually really close to being comforting. I wasn’t just vomiting (sorry), I was leaving the pain behind.

When it was time for her to close the ceremony, another ritual was performed, and the lights were switched on. I skipped the post-ceremony soup and discussion. I just wanted to be pointed in the direction of my bed.

Any time I drifted off, I was woken up by more twitching. It was like I was still on that emotional roller coaster. It was coming to an end gradually, but for it to stop, it had to come out physically.

After a broken night’s sleep, getting out of bed was almost fascinating. Where’s the pain? The exhaustion? I felt the most refreshed I’ve ever been in my life.

The shaman said the medicine carries on working for a few weeks post-ceremony. From what I understood, once you try it, it’s like you’re connected to the Ayahuasca Central Network forever and, from time to time, you get messages and the occasional download into your life’s software.

I believe this to be true. Something as little as seeing my reflection would remind me of something the medicine told me during my ceremony.

To all of those people who kept telling me Ayahuasca would call me, I hate to say it,
“You were right.”

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