Ayahuasca. The mother of all medicines. Made from the vine Banisteriopsis caapi (often called caapi) and the leaf Psychotria viridis, (known as chakruna) ayahuasca is both a portal to the spirit world, and a sacred doorway to enter altered states of consciousness and wholeness. Many who have partaken in her ceremonies have had transformational experiences, insights and healings which profoundly changed their lives in significant ways.
I had been wanting to do ayahuasca for time now but was waiting for the right place and person to do it with. When I learned about two healers in the Portland who have been doing it for years and had spent time in Peru working with the medicine and with the local shamans, I knew it was time to answer the call. It’s important to do this with people who are trained and can hold a safe container for all those partaking in the ceremony. I also liked that they do small groups as a lot of energy is released and there were two skilled facilitators to keep us safe.
We rented a b&b on the Oregon coast and had our ceremony in the living room all our pads, pillow and blankets laid out in a circle around our guides who set the alter which we all contributed an item fas an offering for the weekend. At 6:30 we were told not to drink anymore water, as we wanted the medicine to work in our system and gathered around for a meeting where they explained to us where the medicine came from, how it was made and prepared.
We were also shown the vine to pass around and set our intentions. We were given an idea of what to expect, how the ceremony would be run, what we might want to do, run away during it, curl up in a ball, and to just stay there and breathe it out. (This was good because I experienced exactly those things at some had to remind myself that this was normal and to work through the discomfort.)
Then we were given the next half hour to be on our own before the ceremony began and called back at 7:30 to begin. I entered the room and everyone was sitting on their mats in intentional silence. I could feel the energy in the room - a mixture of trepidation, fear, excitement, and hope all swirled together in one.
There were 9 of us partaking in the ceremony and I was the last one to receive the medicine as it was passed around from right to left. Our Shamans served the tea with one of them holding a flashlight to ensure each person got an exact amount and was prayed over before being offered. Each one of us one by one went up, knelt or sat down, received the medicine then sat back down. It was my turn. I had all these expectations, I was nervous, excited, and apprehensive all at the same time. I drank it down, it was thick, slightly sweet, sticky like tar. Not the best tasting.
I went and sat back down - they said “Have a beautiful evening” and blew out the candle. We were instructed to stay seated 30-45 min in silence until it started taking affect. In the darkness I began to see shapes of everyone sitting there when I started feeling it I laid down. That’s when the our Shamans also referred to as curanderos, began singing and chanting and playing the chakapa which is a shaker or rattle constructed of bundled leaves designed to work with the medicine inside of us. I loved the sound of this rattle it sounded like angels wings and was so calming and soothing.
Songs are an important part of healing experience, and curanderos use healing songs called “icaros”. These songs help our guides to communicate with spirits and ask for help in healing treatments.. Each icaro has a specific purpose in the healing process and the curanderos also use the icaros to raise and lower the intensity of the experience. Curanderos sing to open every ceremony, inviting spirits to be present in the ceremony in order to perform healings sing throughout the ceremony as the patients navigate their own experiences.
When the medicine began taking effect, I started to see geometric patterns, the stars and a vivid animated display behind my eyes. Each change in tempo of the songs being sung sent the colors and cartoon show spiraling into another direction so I couldn't grasp onto anything for long. Then the cold started. I became freezing cold as the medicine began to move through my body. It felt like antifreeze was moving slowly through every inch of my body slowly seeping up sinking into my bones. I had to put my head under my covers, to not only stay warm but to feel safe. It felt like the energy in the room dropped as we all moved to this altered state.
I was being taken away by the display and was feeling it in my body when all of a sudden I heard a retching across the room. This immediately brought me back into the room as I was terrified everyone was going to start vomiting and I didn't know how I was going to handle it. I am super sensitive to smell and I could already smell the lavender oil and Florida water which smelled so good. I, of course, didn't want to throw up myself as this is something I avoid at all costs.
From that point on I was hyperaware of everything going on in the room. Every noise, every movement, every breath. My mind was all over the place, I was uncomfortable, my body ached, I was annoyed, I wanted to be alone, I wanted drama retching guy who was now crying to be quiet. Luckily the type of Ayahuasca is from Hawaii and its gentler on the body so no one else purged. Though later on I found out retching guy thought that was what he was supposed to do so he was trying to force it to happen.
As the night torturously dragged on I was thinking “Oh my god this is the stupidest thing I have ever done”, “I am the one person this doesn’t work for”, "What do I believe in anymore?" “I can’t go through this all night,” “there is no way I can do this again” “I need to cancel tomorrow,” “I wonder how much an Über would cost to pick me up out here” ...on and on
At one point I reached over to Jameal, one of our Shamans, and told him I was uncomfortable. I didn’t think it was working. He calmed me and said just breathe, the medicine was working, sometimes it has to clear out the vessel on the first night in order to go deeper. It's doing exactly what it needs to do. I was doubtful but able to relax a little bit.
I did have some flashes of memories from my past, like a slow strobe from one to the next. About my childhood, times of feeling abandoned and mystical experiences. Interesting what memories were pulled up out of my subconscious - ones I had long forgotten about.
My mind was wreaking havoc on me. I was tortured, exhausted and at my wits end. Finally I said “I can’t take these thoughts anymore, my mind is driving me crazy - I give up. I let go. I surrender” And then I found release, my body relaxed and I moved into a peaceful state. A calming warmth washed over me. Finally I was free of myself. My ego. My mind. I just was.
The ceremony ended with a ventiada which provides us with protection from spiritual vulnerability. When it was my turn I was still laying in bliss as oil was rubbed over my face and forehead, I was provided with a blessing, and was administered a soplar by Florida water being blown over my body and a tobacco called mapacho into my head. Mapacho as a cleansing agent, is a used as a conduit to transmit the healing energies of the plants and protection against negative energies. After the end of the ceremony, a few lights were lit and our hosts began to make tea and prepare fruit for us to share.
I was still feeling the effects of the ayahuasca and wasn't having any part of it (apples, pears, people ugh!) and stumbled back to my room where I continued to trip balls. I just wanted to be alone and everything was annoying me. I lay in bed and thinking about getting up or moving to do something by my body was not cooperating and my mind knew it was impossible so I tossed and turned til it finally wore off and I slept - not long - but I mercifully slept.
The next morning after our sharing circle, upon deeper reflection on this first night, though agonizing for the most part, was exactly what I needed. My head full of expectations, doubts, my mind going a million miles a minute, the eternal thoughts causing angst and anxiety, the non stop chatter, being distracted and taken out of the moment and losing any semblance of calm. It’s only when I finally had enough and surrendered I entered a state of bliss.
And that all prepared me for the second night ….to be continued...