My interest in Ayahuasca
I first heard about ayahuasca years ago when I read the now-famous National Geographic article in which a journalist drinks a mystical Amazonian brew that changes her life and cures her depression. I wasn’t looking to be cured of any illnesses or ailments, though many people report being healed of numerous addictions and diseases, including various forms of cancer, after drinking ayahuasca. The thing that stood out for me – beside the writer’s descriptions of facing her own personal hell – is that in her final ayahuasca ceremony, she vomits up a black snake. I’m sitting in my friend’s college apartment, and I’m reading in National Geographic that a journalist actually vomited a snake.
My first thought was, NO she did not.
My second thought was, I HAVE to try it.
Fast forward to 2010 and I’m living in an apartment with three strangers in Ecuador, doing a little thing we like to call Jet Set Zero. Laurene, fresh from volunteering in the Ecuadorian Amazon, asks if I want to try ayahuasca in probably our second ever conversation. That was my first lesson in learning that the French don’t mince words. And as she talks, I remember: Ayahuasca. Just the name conjured up visions of jungles, shamans, and encountering my inner demons, exploring my subconscious, pushing back the veil of our modern-day blinders and reconnecting with an ancient, spiritual past. Let’s be honest- I was mostly wondering if I, too, was going to vomit a snake.
I wasn’t always fascinated by the prospect of drinking an Amazonian plant that had been boiled and prayed over for hours and hours. I wasn’t always intrigued by the thought of confronting my worst fears or exploring other dimensions. Nor do I recall ever wondering what I would find deep within me- after every shred of vanity, ego, and finally, dignity, had been torn away. But the more time I spent in Ecuador, the more I found myself researching everything I could about ayahuasca and the knowledge it imparts to those who venture down its path.
I do find shamanism interesting- mostly because I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and the way they hold on to beliefs that are so ancient compared to ours. And I seem to be drawn to countries where aboriginal or indigenous cultures still exist. My favorite places to travel to are the ones that are the most different from home.
Give me Papua New Guinea over Paris any day. While we’re moving on to touch screen this and high def that, other cultures are practicing the same beliefs that their ancestors have for the last several hundred years. I’m all for progress, but I find meaning in the fact that these societies’ customs have been fostered by centuries of learning and experience, as opposed to modern-day worship of the latest, greatest iPhone app. The irony is that as technology increasingly connects our world, it also drives us further from the basic experience of face-to-face interaction. Technology may make life easier, but it also weakens meaningful connection as interpersonal contact is diluted by texts, emails, and Facebook messages.
The more I travel, the more I encounter firsthand the glaring disconnect between hyper-materialistic America and the rest of the world. In the U.S., we are consumed by our consumption and our belief that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” To me, mobility – not money – equates to freedom and I believe that the more things you own, the more things own you. Living in South America, I felt more grounded, more in tune with what really matters in life. As a result, I felt surprisingly comfortable seeking answers and exploring spirituality through shamanism and ayahuasca, practices that indigenous people have honored for centuries.
The biggest obstacle to partaking in ayahuasca was finding a shaman- a legitimate shaman. The shaman is perhaps the most important part of the experience, because if ayahuasca shows you your worst fears and demons, you are going to want someone skilled in navigating the spiritual realms to make sure you come out on the other side. The ‘work’ you do on yourself with ayahuasca is personal in that it does come from you (and it is work), but the shaman plays a vital role in facilitating your journey. The shaman also administers special healing songs, called icaros, that heal the spirit and in turn, the body.
People say ayahuasca gives you exactly what you need and never more than you can handle. There were times when I would beg to differ on the latter though, times when I felt ayahuasca gave me way more than I was ready for and I questioned whether I would come out on the other side.
Australian journalist Rak Razam summed it up when he said something like, “Sometimes ayahuasca breaks you apart and afterward, the pieces fit together in a different way. You’re broken, but stronger in the broken places.”
A single ayahuasca ceremony can be so powerful that it can equate to years of self-development in terms of the issues you can work through and the new perspectives you can reach. You do not need an illness or crisis to benefit from ayahuasca. Not everyone drinks ayahuasca because they seek healing, though it is hard not to feel that you have been healed afterward. Simply look around to observe how much healing our world needs. Symptoms of our Western malaise are evident: a mass mentality of material accumulation; a society that would rather type an email than knock on their neighbor’s door; an entire generation who doesn’t know what to do with their lives.
Ayahuasca holds the space for undertaking a journey deep within your psyche and has the potential to shatter all the beliefs you hold about how the world works. It can be hard to feel that you are the same person afterward.
No one wants to vomit snakes, but then again, think about how much better off we would all be if we purged the equivalent of a spiritual black snake. Ridding ourselves of negativity in the form of old belief systems, self-defeating or addictive behavior – consider the collective healing our entire planet would experience if we each relinquished some of the toxic debris we carry around.
Food For Thought – Some things I read while researching ayahuasca