Here are some details I might have wanted to know before my first cup of ayahuasca five years ago. (Despite the not-knowing, it’s all worked out perfectly okay.)
1. It can change your life, big time. And for the better, which is why a lot of people are turning to it. But the scale and pace of transformation can rock your world. Sometimes it opens up Pandora’s Box (I’m thinking of repressed memories here), in a way that dramatically alters your sense of self. Then your view of the past, your present actions and future possibilities—all are up for revision.
2. It’s not for everybody. By the time I met ayahuasca, I’d had several decades of personal and professional experience working with diverse healing paths, for which I was extremely grateful. If you haven’t done much work on yourself, it can catapult you into the urgent need to do some, fast. Ayahuasca is by no means a casual thing. Don’t approach it unless you’re ready to work with whatever it reveals.
3. Because of this, be circumspect. Early on, I shared some experiences perhaps a bit too enthusiastically with several close friends, one of whom tried it herself and had a difficult encounter she was unprepared for. I’ve learned to be more discreet: walk over talk.
4. The work comes in layers. Looking back at my ayahuasca experiences, I see progressive stages of work. In my first ceremony, I asked for trauma healing, and got both a strong, loving connection with the plant spirit, and a clear message about more trauma that had happened. This has continued throughout my ayahuasca career. I work through one layer of experience (family inheritance, early imprinting, past-life karma, ancestral trauma), and upon integrating this, another level is revealed. I’m not yet sure there is a bottom to all this.
5. Handy organizational tips, like: A red-light flashlight is easy on the photosensitive eyeballs. Arrange your blanket carefully, to avoid having to fumble with perplexing fractals of fabric mid-ceremony. Suss out the route to the bathroom before the lights go out, and set up some visual/tactile landmarks along the way.
6. Purging is good. My first ceremony, I felt vaguely pleased at not vomiting. I’ve since come to recognize that purging is an important part of the process—and that everything that leaves my body is liberated, once and for all.
7. Purging can be an Olympic sport. Seriously. Head in bucket—bleeeccch—rotate face to side to take a breath, à la the Australian crawl—head back in bucket—bleeeeccch—rotate to side for another breath—keep on going.
8. It’s not all about the visions. Ayahuasca speaks through an immense variety of experiences: auditory bliss, kinesthetic waves, a sense of inner knowing or direction, patterns of meaning, proprioceptive sensing. Visual experiences are not necessarily vivid or dramatic. Personally I haven’t seen anything near what Pablo Amaringo depicted in his exquisite paintings, though I have no doubt he was expressing something real. I’ve witnessed no jaguars in my visionary career, and very few snakes. The medicine seems to operate differently inside every system, bringing distinct experiences to each individual.
9. Movement helps. The first time I laid there virtually comatose. Since then I’ve learned that intermittent subtle movements—rolling the head, undulating the spine, rocking the hips—can help release stagnant or stuck energy. Again, different bodies, different energetic systems. For some people, sitting absolutely straight and still through the entire ceremony is the way to go.
10. It doesn’t get any easier to drink. Indeed, the taste grows more and more vile.
What about you? Add your experiential wisdom in the Comments section below.