On August 8th, 2012 I participated in my second Ayahuasca Ceremony. Ayahuasca is a plant medicine or “entheogen” containing the psychedelic compound DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) which is currently considered a Class A drug and illegal in the UK. By sharing my experiences I hope to expedite the process of making this medicine legal so that everyone can reap the benefits of this sacred healer.
It’s Wednesday night and for the past nine days my diet has been strictly controlled by eliminating sugar, salt, spices, caffeine, red meat, dairy, alcohol, drugs, gluten, and cooking oils. What’s left you ask? Tuna surprise. I steam up fish with rice and broccoli and, if I’ve been good that day, I add an egg. I miss protein shakes, decaf coffee, curry powder and salt the most. Forget about lunch with friends. “Dressing on the side please.” Call me Gisele.
The shamans or maestros as they are called in Peru say three things are important for a good Ayahuasca ceremony, “Dieta, dieta, dieta.” But in the Go-Go energy-drink consumer-society of today even I’m guilty of spending too much time contemplating the next thing to shove into my pie hole. If we’re not chewing on something or smoking something, we’re about to drink something or eat something or suck on something. The only solace I find on my nine day journey is the fact that it's Ramadan now and my Muslim brothers and sisters get to have absolutely nothing pass through their lips from 4am – 9pm (if you’re a strict Shia). I agree to stop being a pussy.
My theory is that while the diet is important to prepare the body to consume something as completely foreign as Ayahuasca, there is more happening here. I believe the goal of the maestros is to force you to acknowledge your pending ceremony with every item you consider placing in your aforementioned hole, causing you to think about it no fewer than 50 times per day. Smart mofos those maestros in using the diet, you couldn’t set your iPhone to remind you so regularly or profoundly.
For me August 8th approaches with the same pending gloom as a date with the gallows. It’s booked, it’s going to happen, so I don’t cry over the soon-to-be spilled milk. I think about the many emotional issues brewing beneath the surface of my consciousness. Who am I angry with, who have I let down, what have I failed to do as a person. I try to resolve as many of these conflicts as possible pre-ceremony but deep down inside I know my attempts to diffuse anything are in vain.
There are many descriptions of what Ayahuasca does to your brain and I could quote a myriad of sources. But my one-minute elevator pitch is that it holds up a mirror to your soul and shows you how you have been treating the most important people in your life. For most of us this is a terrifying prospect, as it should be. Others describe Ayahuasca as 20 years of heavy psychotherapy boiled down (like the brew) into one night.
It's been five months since my first Ayahuasca ceremony which culminated in 18 months of research after first hearing Aubrey Marcus discuss it on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Thankfully my co-host Nic Gabriel kept after me and we drank together on March 19th, 2012. I find myself remembering these dates like a born-again Christian would.
Why Go Back
Why on earth would you return to a ceremony that involved drinking an extremely nasty, rotten brew, succumbing to a rollercoaster of emotions, and topped off with purging uncontrollably in front of strangers? Easy. Ayahuasca gives you very strong, compounded, emotional life lessons that really stick. A wise man once told me that most people’s problems are obvious immediately to another person observing them. Mother Ayahuasca makes those same personal problems painfully evident to oneself in rapid time.
Yeah, but really, why Go Back?
People have asked me and my only answer is this: You know when you have a near death experience like a heart attack or car crash and you make it home to your wife and kids and hold them close and vow that everything will be different and that each day in life is now special and then three months later you’re back down at the pub? Well, Ayahuasca is similar. If you don’t act on those lessons then you quickly return back to what in Physics we call your “steady state.” Unfortunately I’ve arrived back there, and then some.
My first session was profound and uncomfortable and amazing but that was 5 months ago and as I love telling myself in the mirror every morning when I get up, “What have you done for me lately?”
Suzy the Shaman
Suzy shows up at my flat with all of the goods. I can just imagine her getting stopped by the Tube police and frisked. “Agua de Florida”, Polo Santo (Holy Wood), funny-looking Inca clothes, bottle of brownish-orange looking “shampoo”. “You going to a kinky costume party?”
I don’t know Suzy well but at the same time she is a sister to me. I guess that’s what happens after you purge and cry like a little girl in front of someone all night. She has the deep, grounded, all-knowing aura of my 94-year-old Grandma Rose embodied in a Generation Y 30-something. When she looks into your eyes you can’t hide anything so don’t bother. Suzy announces that Mother Ayahuasca told her I need a very large dose tonight. I cheerfully agree, holding onto my poker face like some relic from the City. Seriously, what is wrong with me.
Suzy asks me to summon my warrior spirit and promises that if I give 50% then Mother Ayahuasca will return 100%. She tells me not to resist and to be open and brave and I promise that I will. Of course this is easy to say before you drink.
It’s time to walk the walk so we change into something more comfortable (Inca outfit for her, flu clothing for me) and she draws the shades. “Anyone watching would not understand what we’re doing here.” You think? I can only imagine.
After some ceremony and declarations it’s time to get our drink on (yes both of us). Suzy pours out a huge cup of the brew and at first I think she’s joking and then realise there are no jokes during Ayahuasca ceremony. My first time I drank about a shot glass of the stuff and this easily looks like three. But I know I need it for my sins. I know I have work to do. I know I’ve been a bastard and it’s time to pay the piper. I also know these are horrible analogies. Forgive me.
And I knock it back, one drink. I even comment that it doesn’t really taste that bad. Always the tough guy right until the end. Just to show me who’s boss Suzy puts some water in the cup and makes me finish the dregs. Touché.
There’s a wonderful line in Trainspotting when Mark Renton says, “I don’t feel the sickness yet, but it’s in the post. That’s for sure.” And while I must strenuously deny any experience with opiates I know EXACTLY what he means. Bud Fox in Wall Street barks, “Now you own it. Give it back to who?” And the storm is on the horizon and approaching fast. Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”
The Tricky Part
And here’s where it gets interesting: I know I’m embarking on what will soon become a traumatic, wild ride and yet my attitude is key. If I resist it will be an even longer night. I try to remember everything I’ve read. “Breathe through it.” “Don’t fight it.” But all I can hear is Simon G. Powell from London Real yelling, “Just be with it. BE with it. BE WITH IT!”
At first there is nothing. Nothing except telling myself, “Please don’t purge within 45 minutes.” You see it takes time for the harmala alkaloids in the Ayahuasca to inhibit the monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) in your stomach thereby allowing the DMT to be preserved and then transferred across the blood-brain barrier into your head. If you purge before that then you’re pretty much wasting a perfectly good Wednesday night. I didn't learn all of this at MIT, I Googled it.
After 35 minutes dynamic swirls enter my vision with my eyes still closed. Very faint geometric formations move swiftly across my field of vision and then amplify to colored shapes and patterns. My frontal cortex feels pain and pressure and I smile knowing that she's here to overhaul the monkey brain, the part that was added to the lizard brain so we could cope with these horribly complex social structures. Time to defrag the hard drive.
Now comes the nausea that will be with me for the next 20 hours. Suzy says nausea is the medicine “healing” my insides but I think it’s a healthy human reaction to the poison I’ve just ingested but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I’m forced now to lie back on the sofa as the visions and sickness are becoming overbearing.
I’m a big believer in body language and the idea that forcing your own positive language can have a retroactive effect on your brain. So I put my palms up and place my arms behind my head to open my entire body to the experience regardless of what comes. It’s not a “Bring It” attitude but more of a submissive energy to Mother Ayahuasca and wherever she chooses to take me.
And within minutes I’m crying uncontrollably. Tears are streaming down my eyes so violently they are forming droplets of water coming off my ears. I haven’t cried properly in years, maybe longer. Tough guys don’t cry, everyone knows that. I cry for the insensitive and uncaring way I’ve been treating people I love and it feels pretty damn good to surrender myself to this so basic of human emotions. I remind myself to cry more often when I get back to the real world.
There were 3 or 4 issues I thought Mother Ayahuasca and I might discuss in a civil way at tonight’s ceremony. She’s having none of that. In about 10 seconds she's knocked all of those off the table with one hand and effectively said, “Stop doing that dumb shit and do what you know is right. I’m not even going to bother discussing it because you know what to do, stupid, so just fix it. If you want someone to listen to your problems stop wasting my time and go to a therapist, I’m here for spiritual healing. Now let’s go deeper and talk about your REAL problems…”
During this time I notice I’m making the facial expressions of a small boy when he’s being scolded by his mother. Trippy.
The Ayahuasca is ramping harder now, damn that was big dose. I’m shown human emotions: the entire range of love, fear, loneliness, sorrow, pain….things I never allow myself to experience in the real world. I feel the sadness of people around me who need me and I am shown the raw emotions that life is built upon. I see people I want to be closer to in my life, I see the list of many people who need my guidance, who I may or may not like but still seek me out. I envision my own dojo where students come to learn things at different parts of their lives and then move on. I see students who don’t want a teacher who knows all but want a teacher that never stops learning.
I see this super-tough guy. A guy who has built up these big strong walls around him so he doesn’t have to ever engage emotionally with anyone. For 34 years he’s constructed these walls and now they are suffocating and killing him. I see the frustration in my loved one’s eyes as they try and try and try again and again and again to get close to me unsuccessfully.
I’m shown that true love is putting yourself in such a vulnerable position that your emotions truly depend on someone else and that is a terrifying prospect. I’m show the love of a mother for her child, how her own emotions are completely intertwined with those of another human being. I get it for the first time.
I’m shown that London Real needs to be bigger, to give back more to people on a larger scale. It’s not here to entertain but needs to really help people resolve their problems and guide them on to a positive path forward. I’m told that I need to focus on 10 people, to make solving their problems my priority, to give all I can to help those people find their way in life.
I get a faint vision of a seven year old boy isolated and alone and it’s me. I see a picture of myself and I try to force my brain into his and I’m crying violently as I try to feel his pain and isolation. When my parents divorced this kid was told that there was nothing he could count on and he was forced to dig a moat around his castle and never stopped digging.
Next an army of mischievous serpents and demons appears and moves about anxiously with an evil agenda. They pause to contemplate and then swarm in to devour my body as I lay back with open arms and think, “Yeah, go ahead, devour it all, it’s rotten anyways. Enjoy it bitches.” Sensing no resistance, they soon grow bored and leave.
And the cycle of nausea and crying and pain and elation and profound positive visions of the future continues to hit me over and over all while Suzy is mentally guiding me and singing these beautiful Spanish icaros. At times I’m completely submerged in this alternate world of emotional visions and then I’m snapped back into a room in Central London.
At what I think is the two hour mark I can’t control the nausea anymore and make quick haste to the bathroom. I personally love the bathroom during an Ayahuasca ceremony and tonight it might as well be the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf because it’s fucking BEAUTIFUL! Cold tiles, pristine toilet, running water making crazy buzzing and humming sounds, mild hallucinations, I’m definitely getting one of these! And then the purge comes and I’m retching every last drop of that nasty black substance out of my body. Purge until dry heave. Purge again. Dry heave. I stare into the toilet and see demons and they force me to purge the black evilness from my soul, all of my malevolent sin is sucked from my insides. Again and again and again. I've heard of Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon compared to death. Now I understand.
The buzzing and humming sounds are amplifying and now coming from everywhere, like dragonflies dive-bombing all around the room. My hands are leaving an image trail behind when I move and lights are colored and flashing and my fingers are numb and I’M NOT ENJOYING ANY OF THIS! I keep thinking, “I had my visions, this trip should be slowing down but the audio and visuals are RAMPING UP! Oh shit Mama Aya, just make it stop. I understood the lessons, I will make these changes, I promise, please don’t take me to the woodshed again!
But she’s just getting warmed up. We’ll be going back to the woodshed about 10 more times tonight so strap in and get comfy. The next two hours I spend in that wonderful Presidential Suite, all by myself, purging every possible liquid from both ends of my body. I must have used that toilet 25 times God bless it. And the waves of visions repeat and keep hammering the same lessons in my head over and over and over again. I see equations and information and symbols and faces and heads and demons and when that gets old it’s time to purge again.
Rejoining the Group
What makes Suzy a professional is that she lets you experience and deal with these emotions alone. She never consoled me once, never held my hand, never checked on me in the bathroom. She sang icaros and played chimes and channeled spiritual guidance. And thank God, I needed to experience this all on my own and would have had it no other way.
I get back to Suzy and applaud her for the Olympic dose she administered. She praises my violent purges and is duly impressed with her handiwork. Now is a calm, wonderful, quiet time and briefly she is no longer my shaman and we talk about personal things and my visions like we were very close friends. We take turns blowing strong snuff made from boa constrictor skin up each other’s nostrils (as you do). I get very self-conscious about what I say: “I saw the love of a mother for her child” – Stupid! “I saw how much I need to guide people.” – Lame! I opt to shut up and go back to my beloved bathroom for more purging.
I exit the bathroom after Round 2 and find Suzy on my sofa crashed out. It’s probably 4am now, about six hours after drinking. I get into my bed and focus on trying to control the ever-present nausea knowing that I will not be sleeping. These are some of the harder times for me with Ayahuasca because I’m too wired to sleep but the visions have disappeared and the lessons are just ticking away in the background. I spend hours in a horizontal vigil.
I remember Graham Hancock saying that he liked to listen to old Terence McKenna tapes when he was ramping down after Aya so I sneak out my iPhone and play his audio lectures on psychedelics and consciousness as I drift in and out of reality. Divine!
Suzy wakes at 9:30am and conducts a closing ceremony and we talk about everything from the night before. I feel enlightened and wonderful like a warrior back from a hard and heavy battle who can now be praised and adored by the tribe. We talk about my next ceremony but I can’t begin to conceive of ingesting that brew again anytime soon. I give Suzy a huge hug, probably one of my best ever and she’s off. What a wonderful spirit, she spent 13 hours of her life giving so much so one person could chase his demons.
For the past week I’ve wandered around London in a post-Ayahuasca glow. I find it impossible to engage with ANY type of negative energy around me. I’ve made some big life changes with the ones I love and I seem to cherish them more than ever. I have reached out to estranged friends in efforts to help or improve their lives or just connect. Hell, I even Skyped Grandma Rose.
Part of me deep down wonders how long this party can last, how long will it take for me to settle back into my nihilist, self-defeating steady state where angst rises up and dwarfs compassion. But the other part believes that I’ve raised the empathy and tolerance bar higher, to a new standard of personal character. Only time will tell.
Either way I will be back to drink again Mother Ayahuasca, so keep the light on for me.
And I didn’t even tell you the half of it…