Ayahuasca Part 1
Updated: Oct 11, 2018
I have tried my best to write this in a shortened version but it’s proving pretty difficult. I spent ten days in the jungle and six of them were ceremony days. I wrote a daily diary and in this blog and the next I’ll share some extracts from it.
My bags are packed; I climb into my car nervously, tears running down my checks, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave Ziggy behind. What if it doesn’t work? What if I get worse? My mother picks Ziggy up off my lap, tells me that everything will be okay and says goodbye. She closes the car door and waves Ziggy’s paw at me.
I set off to London and drive straight to an acupuncture appointment, my last bit of therapy before the jungle.
After my appointment I drive home and head to bed. Sitting waiting, watching things to distract me, until Ganz and his two friends, Shannon and Ben, arrive. They turn up just after midnight. I’m nervous, I have no idea who his two friends are, what they are like, what they have been through and I assume that they’ll judge me.
We all head out to the garden for a cigarette before I take them upstairs and show them to their rooms.
We arrived in Lima late and headed straight to the hotel, forgetting to buy our plane tickets for our flight the next morning.
We wake up early to buy our tickets, have a bit of a nightmare doing so but we mange it. We check in, have breakfast and somehow we manage to miss our flight. Shannon, Ben and I have a different story to Ganz as to why but he insists it wasn’t because of him…
We buy another ticket to Pucallpa that flies in the evening and head into Lima for the day. We find a restaurant to chill in which has views over looking the Pacific Ocean, an ocean that I have never seen before, and I enjoy watching the para-gliders flying past and people surfing.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare this time. It's an hour flight to Pucallpa, a city in Eastern Peru located on the banks of the Ucayali River, our Shaman, Wiler and translator, Martim, meet us. They took us to a hotel, where we met two American men, Jim and Evan, who were joining us for four ceremonies. Everyone went out for dinner but I decided to stay and go to bed. I realised that I had slept eight hours in the past 72 hours.
I woke up and after a rather boring breakfast consisting of two plain bread rolls, one fresh and one stale, we went to the local market and bought a few items to take to the jungle. Aqua de Florida being one of the things we had to buy. It’s a scented cologne used throughout Peru as a holy water and used in ceremonies to help with healing and to give protection.
The journey is just over an hour upstream on a speedboat and we came to a stop on the muddy banks leading to the jungle where there’s a clearing; small trees stand along the path, which lead into a cleared village. There's a volleyball court, a bar, and a football pitch that we pass before we turn off and head down a slope to where we are staying.
The rooms are basic, I’m sharing with Shannon, and the boys have their own rooms. Inside is a bed with a mosquito net covering it, open widows with netting covering them and one light hanging from the ceiling covered in bugs. The loos and showers are basic, at night you'll find giant spiders climbing the walls or hanging off the mosquito nets above. The ceremony hut, known as a Maloca, is nice, about a 15 meter circle sat on top of stilts, with mattresses laid on the floor and two hammocks.
It was a hot day and we wondered around checking out the place before sitting down for lunch. Rice, chicken, and a boiled potato, all plain as was all of our food for the ten days. I spent the day exploring and getting to know the others.
Monday, my first ceremony day. I woke at 3am to a thunder and lighting storm, the rain was heavy and the odd drop would seep through the thatched roof. I managed to drift in and out of sleep for the next few hours.
At 7am I decided to get up and head down to the kitchen area to do some yoga and meditation. People arrived for breakfast and three people had decided to eat breakfast and three, including me, had decided to fast for the two ceremony days.
It rained pretty much all day, we stayed inside and played cards and read our books, there really isn't much else to do. We, one by one, spoke to Wiler about our intentions, he then told us what plant dieta we needed to be on. Ganz, Ben, Shannon, Evan, and myself were on a Mapcho dieta, a master teacher plant, also known as the Grandfather of the forest. He consists of Nicotiana Rustica, which is a black jungle tobacco; it is used for protection, wisdom and learning, and also as a spiritual aid. Jim was on different dieta, he was on a Piñon Blanco dieta, also a master plant, it helps open up the cosmos, it teaches energy of the plant and clarity of the medicine.
Back tracking a little here, two weeks before I came to the jungle (this goes for everyone else as well) I was on a strict diet where I wasn't allowed to eat processed foods, salt, sugar, all meat except chicken, as well as alcohol, drugs, including my antidepressants (I had to be off those for a minimum of a month before I went to the jungle) and also a sexual abstinence. The reason I had to be off the antidepressants is because they are an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor), which means that there is a high risk for serotonin syndrome when combined with ayahuasca, which is a potentially serious medical condition. People are put on this diet to ensure their safety and to optimise their outcome, not only that but to prepare you for Ayahuasca and the plant dietas.
It is advised but not necessary to be on a dieta in the jungle because there you will be at one with nature and can understand how the plants work. On the dieta, I was only allowed to eat, plain chicken, plain boiled potato, plain rice or pasta and bread made only of flour and water. Nothing that tastes sweet, including fruit, no salt and no vegetables because they will also interfere with the dieta. They say that this is the only way to learn from the plants. I am not allowed to cut my nails or hair or use toothpaste or deodorant, or wash with normal soaps or shampoos, what I use has to be organic.
Some people will have erotic dreams on their dieta, this happened to three people in the group I was with in the jungle. It’s also common to have dreams of food when you are on a dieta – I certainly had those dreams. One is put on a dieta because it is the best way for the plants to go deeper into you, to help with healing.
On a dieta, I found that the days and nights can feel long, time becomes slower and boredom will come, that's where cards and a good book come in handy, as does yoga and meditation.
At 5pm we started our plant dieta, we all sat around the table together and drank our dietas. I thought it was a good idea to try and take mine in one go, bad idea. I managed to get half of it into my mouth before it came straight back out. This was a serious challenge to get down. The other half of the glass I tried sipping it. Shannon said that if you smile and sit up straight then you won't be able to throw up. I would take a sip, then retch and smile. I felt like an idiot but it worked.
An hour later we all gathered round a bucket filled with flowers in our swimwear to bathe ourselves. You're not allowed to dry yourself with a towel, you have to drip dry to allow as much of it to absorb into your skin as possible. The flower bath is good for clearing energy and for protecting against demons and bad spirits that may attack and to help encourage the good spirits to come and work with you.
Once we had drip dried and put on some dry clothes we gathered in the Maloca and waited for the ceremony to start.
Before I tell you about my first ceremony I must tell you about what I have learnt about Ayahuasca. The word ayahuasca can be translated into three phases, one is "Vine of the Soul" another is "Vine of the Dead", and in its dialect it means "Drink of the Soul". You take Ayahuasca in a group setting, there we can release our masks and expose our real selves. We can confront our own "demons" or negative energies.
Ayahuasca is a decoction of two plants native to the Amazon Forest, Banisteriopsis Capital and Psychotria Viridis. When either plant is ingested by itself, it achieves no noticeable effect. However, when the two plants are brewed together for many hours, they can induce an extraordinary several hour-long visionary state.
Ayahuasca is used for healing, divination, cultural cohesion and to offer hope in a world filled which danger. Ayahuasca, while of great value for many who have experienced its effects, is not for the faint of heart. It calls for courage, inner strength and discipline. An ayahuasca experience offers us the opportunity to confront our own existential reality, and push us to the realisation and appreciation that all life is both finite and eternal. One can experience profound healing of self, relationship and community. Ayahuasca will reveal to you all the matters of the spirit. It allows you to feel what things are, the spiritual life and the physical life.
I have learnt a little about the science behind ayahuasca. Western scientists have determined that ayahuasca's psychoactivity is attributed to the biochemical interaction between Banisteriopsis and Psychotria. The powerful hallucinogenic drug DMT is present in Psychotria and when slowly brewed with Banisteriopsis it deactivates the enzymatic degradation and allows for absorption, which activates the DMT in the central nervous system.
At 7pm Wiler came and joined us as did an American who is on an isolation diet. I have to admit, I was surprised that Wiler was wearing 'normal' clothes, I imagined that he would be in a traditional outfit, not that I know what that would consist of but I imagined something along the lines of headgear, feathers, bones, and perhaps a robe of some sort but as Don Solon says "The wardrobe doesn't make the monk".
Now here is a little bit of info about Shamans, Icaros and purging before I tell you about my first ceremony.
A Shaman is regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits and to see into your soul. A Shaman has the ability of invoking the powers of the animals and plants, and with their intention, they can pass it on to people for their healing. A Shaman typically enters a sort of trance state during a ceremony, and helps bring divination and healing. The word Icaro means healing. So when a Shaman sings an Icaro they are singing to heal you. An Icaro is more effective when you are on a plant diet. An Icaro does not work on a specific illness it works on all illnesses. That one Icaro can make you make you purge, yet that same Icaro can take you up and give you a high, or take you down, it can take you to all kinds of places.
When a Shaman sings an Icaro, they are invoking the mother of the plants. They are asking the mother of the plants to come and heal the illness, whatever illness the person has in their body, and they, the plant, will come and help you.
When you purge, you either have the shits or are throwing up. You purge all the illness that is inside your body. You are purging your sickness, your addiction, your depression or whatever it is that you are trying to move past.
This is where I start feeling a little crazy trying to explain some of this, perhaps not this first ceremony but some of my visions...
The ceremony started around 7:30pm. Before inviting us up to drink the Ayahuasca, Wiler opened up a space so that we can feel at ease and safe in. Then Wiler sets his intentions for the ceremony ahead.
One by one we went up to Wiler and sat down and took our shot of Ayahuasca. When it was my turn I did deep breathing, asked mother Ayahuasca to be kind to me and flung it back. I couldn't swallow straight away but at the same time knew I couldn't throw her back up without having to take her again. Ganz saw me struggling and ran over with my sick bucket, worried that I might throw up all over Wiler before we even started. I leant back and swallowed, I stayed in this position and did a little deep breathing to help it pass through and avoid the chance of it coming straight back up. I managed it and went back to my mattress the taste of the bitter Ayahuasca still lingering in my mouth, a combination of sweet and bitter earth mixed with gasoline, yet thick like tar. I took a swig from my water bottle and cocooned myself in my blanket.
Once everyone had taken their shot, the lights went out and we were in complete darkness and silence. Wiler started singing group Icaros and I tried my best to listen to the different songs, but they all sounded the same to me.
My stomach was uncomfortable, I didn't feel sick but it wasn't happy. Other than trying to calm my stomach nothing really happened for me. I kept repeating, "I'm safe, I'm here" over and over again. I decided to go to the loo to see if that would ease the discomfort, but nothing, except for a big scary spider. I went back into the Maloca, my stomach still in pain, and lay back down.
I could hear others purging throughout the ceremony, some got up and went to the loo for a bowl movement, one person went seven times - I'm not sure how there was anything left in him.
My parts started talking, my negative and critical parts arguing that it wasn't working, that I had failed again, while my positive and open parts were a small voice trying to argue back saying that I need to trust mother Ayahuasca and let her do her thing.
Wiler went around and sat at the foot of each mattress singing a personal Icaro to each of us. When it was my turn I sat up and moved to the end of my mattress. It was pitch black, my eyes could only make out Wiler's outline, as he sat there his body moved to the Icaro, swaying backwards and forwards, I thought that he looked a little bit like Golem. Once he had finished singing I lay back down and spent the rest of my time fighting sleep.
Wiler finally brought the ceremony to a close, the lights came on and people stirred. People started to talk of their experience and what they went through and when asked what I felt I disappointingly said nothing, I didn't feel anything. I expected so much and got nothing. My parts came out again and reminded me how much of a failure I am, asking me why I am here and telling me that I should just go back home.
I went to bed, consumed with disappointment and anger and convinced that it would not work for me, that I am unfixable. I crawled into bed and turned my phone off airplane mode hoping to receive a text from my mother. Nothing. I turned it off and wrapped myself in my blanket and slowly drifted to sleep.
We had three days without ceremonies, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. There really is not a lot to do in the jungle so we spent our time either walking through the jungle to the next village, or reading, writing, drawing, playing cards, talking or swimming in the river. On Wednesday about half a dozen Shipibo woman came to sell their beautiful textiles and jewellery. Wiler bought Shannon and I a necklace each, Ben a shirt and Ganz a tapestry. On Saturday it was Wilers birthday and he invited us to join in on the celebrations, it was a good test for my anxiety, which stayed at bay.
To Be Continued…
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