As I write this, I am sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador on the fourth day of my five day ayahuasca retreat. I have done ayahuasca the last two nights but this is a new experience for me. Before coming here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t remember the first time I heard about ayahuasca, but I know it has been on my radar for at least a few years. For those of you who aren’t exactly sure what it is, here is a brief overview.
“Ayahuasca – meaning ‘spirit vine’ in Native South American Quechua languages – is a foul-tasting hallucinogenic brew that has been used for centuries by rain forest shamans as a religious sacrament. The infusion facilitates mystical visions and revelations, and is said to have healing properties.”
Mystical revelations? Healing? Ummm yes, please. So I started to read more about it. If you Google ‘ayahuasca experience’ you will find countless stories from others who have taken this plant medicine and what their experience was like. While their stories were all unique regarding the realizations they had about their lives, they all had similar aspects to them. Throwing up violently for the first hour, followed by a feeling of bliss.
Also having intense visions during their trip while receiving clear messages about their life path. Life changing revelations where you clearly understand your purpose. What you are supposed to do in life. What you could be doing better. That make you realize what is really important. Be more patient with your family. Appreciate your girlfriend more. Follow your dreams in search of a new career.
BUT I AM A LITTLE SCARED
While the later sounds soothing for the soul, the former parts of this experience honestly scared the shit out of me. I have taken LSD, MDMA, shrooms in the past but have never really had any intense hallucinations. I also dislike throwing up more than almost anything in the world. Even so much that I almost didn’t come on this retreat. I certainly do not want to throw up ‘violently’ for an hour even if it is followed by a feeling of intense love.
Because of the getting sick part, I initially decided it wasn’t for me. I have been there after a night of drinking. Laying in bed when your head starts spinning. All of the sudden getting incredibly hot. Breathing deeply in and out of your mouth, trying to talk yourself into not purging. That feeling of nausea is not one I want to willingly put myself through.
But then one day after booking my trip to Ecuador, I said to myself, “Fuck it.” I am all about putting myself through new experiences. Especially ones that scare me. If others can handle it, so can I. So after spending quite some time researching places to do it, I finally decided on one. I signed up and paid my deposit before I could talk myself out of it.
But GOING TO DO IT ANYWAYS
When picking a place there were a few major things on my mind. I didn’t want to have a touristy experience, I wanted something as authentic as possible. With a shaman. In the middle of the jungle. If I was going to get sick, I at least wanted to be throwing up out of control while surrounded by beautiful nature.
I also wanted to make sure the place I went had a good reputation. There are stories of shamans taking advantage of women under the influence. Stories of people getting hurt because they weren’t properly supervised. For that reason, it was important for me to find a place whose main motivation was helping people. Not making money. And the size of the group was important to me. If something went wrong, I wanted to make sure someone noticed right away.
This is how I found Feather Crown.
EXPECTATIONS COME FROM THE EGO
Fast forward a few months later. It is the night before my retreat and I am sitting in bed reading a few last stories. I read one about a guy who took too much. He is laying there and all of the sudden has the feeling like, “Get me the fuck out of here.” He gets up and runs out of the temple and through the jungle by himself. Freaking out about feeling like he is stuck in a concentration camp. He finally comes back to the camp, rips off all of his clothes and jumps in the shower. After the staff talking him down, he finally returns to the group.
Okay, I am scared. I don’t want to freak out and end up getting eaten by an anaconda or something. I also search for “ayahuasca deaths” and see that there have been a few. But the more I read, I realize this was not from the ayahuasca itself but from lack of care during the experience. People mixing other substances or freaking out and hurting another participant.
I also start to wonder what kind of realizations I will have. Will I wake up to realize I have been sabotaging all of my relationships? What will Mother Ayahuasca tell me about my life? I am happy but I do want answers. What is next for me? Will I ever meet someone I want to be in a relationship with? Where should I live when I am done traveling? What should I do to make money? These are most of the unanswered questions I have going through my head at this point in my life.
WHEN YOU RESIST, YOU STAY STUCK
I get to the retreat. The one I signed up for consists of two consecutive nights taking ayahuasca. The first night has come and I am extremely nervous. I really do not feel like throwing up for the next hour. But my name is called. I walk up to the shaman and down about 3/4 of a shot glass of ayahuasca. No turning back now. I return to my mattress on the floor and sit there in the dark and just wait. Wait for the feeling of sickness to overcome my body so that I can throw up for the next hour and get to the good part.
But it never happens. Well believe me, I do get sick. But not like they said I would in the stories I read. I was told it would come right away so I was sitting there waiting for it. Expecting it. And therefore, sort of resisting it instead of just letting it happen. I did end up getting sick, a lot. And often. But it didn’t happen in the first hour at all. Instead, I got sick near the end of my trip. I think I was holding back, actively trying to relax and not get sick. It was all I could think about for that first hour.
As I was laying there, I was also actively waiting for revelations to come to me. For the ayahuasca to speak to me and show me the answers I needed. But they never came. I did see, hear, and feel many things (the ayahuasca was definitely working) but it wasn’t how others described it to be.
I woke up the next morning feeling slightly disappointed. I certainly tripped but why didn’t I have any clear answers? How come everyone else I read about did and I didn’t? I also didn’t get as sick as I had anticipated.
I walked around all day feeling like there were still bad feelings stuck inside of me. Not just the disappointment, but also a feeling of anxiety. Last night was rough, I had no realizations, and I have to do it again tonight. Ugh, not looking forward to it. Why put myself through the physical discomfort if there isn’t a tradeoff to receive clear insight?
Before my second trip, I thought a lot about it and I really believe my expectations had kept me from just riding the wave and having my own experience. So I set an intention to just go with the flow and see what happens. To let the ayahuasca give me whatever it is I needed, without judgement.
And she sure did. I won’t go into what I experienced, but I will say that I didn’t have many thoughts that night at all. Only visions and feelings. No answers. But maybe I didn’t need them. Maybe I already knew the answers all along and the ayahuasca was just there to remove all of the internal obstacles I had blocking me from seeing them. Because deep down, don’t we all actually kind of know what is best for us?
A good friend once told me, “If you are asking the question, you already know the answer.” This is advice that I have always kept close to my heart. I believe this is absolutely true. While you may not know right away, you can discover the answer by removing the fear, the self doubt, the self sabotaging protective tendencies. Until you are back at the root. Your instinct. Our bodies and minds are constantly working to protect us. But I believe our souls always know the way.
LETTING GO FEELS GReAT
I woke up this morning after my second ayahuasca trip and immediately smiled. I felt wonderful. Like I had let go of so many things I had been holding on to that may have been keeping me from embracing my path.
Sitting here thinking about it, I realize that even though my experience was nothing like any of those I had read about, it was exactly what I needed. It was a two night process of letting go of my demons. Clearing away the negative energy. Healing and falling in love with myself all over again. It made me face everything blocking me from what I already knew. The truth. It took me two days to let go. But I finally was able to. And it feels so great.
AYAHUASCA IS NOT A DRUG, IT IS A MEDICINE
Looking back, if I could change one thing, it would be to not hold on so much to the stories of others. Instead, I would just sit back and believe that I would receive exactly what I needed. And I think this is good advice to follow for life in general. Comparing yourself to others always distracts you from your own journey.
When you take medicine, you don’t sit there and actively tell it where to go inside your body. You trust it to know where you are hurting and heal you. It is exactly the same with ayahuasca. After you take it, you just need to trust it and let it work its magic.
If you are planning on experiencing it for yourself, you can listen to the stories of others if you want to, but know that your experience will likely be unlike anything you have heard about. You might be sick the first hour or even the entire time. Or not at all. Although very unlikely. You may not leave with all of the answers you came there in search of or any at all. But you will leave with exactly what you needed. And the more you set your expectations aside the more you will realize and appreciate that you did.
If you are unsure if you should do ayahuasca, I highly recommend waiting until you feel like the time is right. This is a personal experience on your own personal journey. A highly personal one. It is not simply a drug trip.
With that being said, if you do want to know about my personal experience or have any general questions, I would be more than happy to answer them.
So, was it what I expected? Definitely not at all. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes, I am planning on it. Was it easy? God, NO. Was it enjoyable? Not until the end. But it is a process. What would I change or what would I do differently going in? I wouldn’t read any stories about others’ experiences. I would instead turn inward and focus on my own.
I do want to provide info for a great place to do it. If you feel Mother Ayahuasca calling to you. They are gentle and really care about your well being. They are there to give you answers, and assist in the process, but understand this is your journey and let you make your own decisions. After all, isn’t that the whole point of this experience?
FEATHER CROWN INFO
Feather Crown Ayahuasca Ceremony Retreat
Santa Clara, Ecuador (outside of Tena)
Feather Crown offers 5 day, 8 day, and 12 day retreats starting around $500. Lodging, meals, plant baths, jungle walks, ayahuasca ceremonies, and a visit to a local village are included in the price.
Getting There: Quito is the best city to fly into and you can take a shuttle from there. Once your retreat is booked, they will assist you in providing options to get there.