Since December 2015 there hasn’t been a single day that passed without reminding myself about what happened in the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil. The vivid memory of drinking Ayahuasca in these mountains still makes me sentimental. I think it’s gratitude.
I met the shaman in front of a supermarket. We were supposed to meet at 5, but he was late about a half an hour or so. Leo unexpectedly had to take his son back from school. He excused himself and invited me to sit down and tell why I wanted to undergo the ceremony. In my broken Portuguese I explained that I’m in a bit of a junction in my life , that past few months have been pretty hard on me. He asked me how I got to know him, I mentioned Facebook. He nodded, told it happened few times before and proposed that we see each other in two days. I should spend this time thinking about my intentions for the plant and eating healthy. “Vegetarian pizza is OK. We do it a little differently than in Peru. There’s no need to starve yourself. You will need energy”, he said.
Two days passed quickly and suddenly we were walking into the deep forest, passing water cascades and waterfalls, discussing economy, social policy and similar matters. I told myself that if my guide is still in touch with everyday life, all is eventually going to be fine. I kept repeating that to calm myself down, as I knew that what I was about to experience is generally described as a life altering rite induced by one of the strongest psychoactive substances known to human kind. Ayahuasca is often considered the Mount-Everest of psychedelics. The problem was that I didn’t even climb a hill before.
The brew is also called The Vine of the Dead, Yage, Caapi or Vegetal. Most researchers agree that drinking this psychoactive tea is a ritual performed in the Amazon (Peru, Colombia, Brazil) that dates few thousand years back. Native people do it for healing, self-exploration and spiritual purposes. Its known for its capacity to uplift the consciousness, dissolve the Ego and make people confront their subconscious fears. It’s always an experienced shaman who leads the ceremony and works with the spirit of the plant for the benefit of those who dare to drink it.
The effects of Ayahuasca are due to a compound called dimetiltriptamine, commonly DMT. It is a neurotransmitter, most-likely present in our own bodies and some of the world fauna and flora. Supposedly our pineal gland releases DMT during birth, death and near-death, psychosis, and mystical experiences, as explains Rick Strassman, MD and the author of the famous book DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The effects of artificially created dimetiltriptamine are extremely short, lasting only 5 to 10 minutes. If you intake it in a form of Ayahuasca brew, which combines DMT with naturally occurring monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), they last about 4-5 hours.
This is pretty much all I knew when we finally found a shaded place, unfolded blankets and put them on wide, flat rocks, next to running water stream. As I was soon about to discover, the location was perfect. After meditating for about thirty minutes, Leo took out the brew and offered me a glass, followed by another one forty minutes later.
Nothing happened for the first half an hour. I was sitting with my legs crossed, a bit dizzy as I woke up with a sore throat and a running nose. He was sitting on another rock, few meters away, quietly reading the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”. At the time I didn’t know that it is one of the most famous Buddhist works describing transitioning trough life and death. The only thing I understood was an image of a skull on its cover. “It’s going to be fun” I told myself and hoped for the best.
About half an hour after ingesting the brew colors started to gain more depth. Leo begun quietly humming. Few minutes later I felt an actual presence of some sort of intelligent entity. Let’s call it the spirit of the plant. It felt like it was all around, summoned by his chants and the substance. I wasn’t hallucinating, but had a very strong sensation that something is already here. It was just about to take full control of my mind. I would compare the sensation to a feeling that you may have experienced, when you perhaps at some point felt that someone is watching you from the back. Words fail to describe what happened next, but I will do my best.
The first thing I noticed was the power of this surrounding spirit. It was tremendous, exuberant, savage; wild like a lion with a muzzle covered in a fresh and warm blood of his prey, looking straight into your eyes. I could try to resist it and fail or accept and see what it had to offer. As this was the ultimate goal of the whole experience, I tried to let go. I lied down and closed my eyes. What I saw was plentiful of animal-like entities, predators, calling me to join them. Every time I’d open my eyes I was back in the forest, but everything was different. It felt like taking off scratched and dirty glasses. The nature was all alive and looking at me. Every plant, every tree, every rock, water running in the stream – it all suddenly became conscious. I had control over my body, but the Ego somehow diluted. I felt that a spirit of a snake possessed me. I became much more then my physical self. Leo was sitting still and chanting quietly with his eyes closed.
In the next few minutes I heard a woman’s voice. It felt as it was my own intuition speaking. She asked me to get up and take few sips of water. That’s what I did and after maybe one more minute I felt nauseous. I turned away, still lying on the rock, I put my head down and started to vomit into the running water stream. Things were coming out of me with immense power. I realized this is the part of the experience and the way the plant works to cleanse you from old emotions, anxieties and illnesses, things that should be let go of. When I was hanging and vomiting, I suddenly saw Leo’s face. He was asking if I’m allright. I remember showing my thumbs up and continued.
Once this was over, I came back refreshed and carried on this crazy ride. This is when the plant begun to be really hard on me. One of the things it made me experience was the suffering of the world: wars, racism, xenophobia and other illnesses of today’s society. It felt like it was Ayahuasca’s way to tell me “It’s OK to ask for an improvement in your own life, which is why you’re came to meet me, and we will do it in a second, but first you need to become aware of how the world is today and become compassionate with all who suffer”. I felt like Virgil from Dante’s Divine Comedy, going through hell and watching all this demon-like entities suffer. The hard part came from the fact, that not only I was seeing them, but experiencing the pain in my own mind. I thought my brain would explode. It was a horrifying nightmare. I was sweating all over my body, my heart-rate went up and I remember holding my head between hands and telling myself that this all is not possible to handle for much longer. It finished as soon as I reached my mental limits and said to myself “that’s enough, I can’t take it anymore, get me back from here”.
Soon after that finished, some personal realizations started to appear, one after another. I asked the question, the plant answered. It was instantaneous. The answers seemed obvious, simple but profound. They concerned relationships with people I’m close with, professional life and other matters. I can say they were very practical, pragmatic and solution based. All that I asked for, came to me in one way or another. It didn’t come in form of words though. It was pure information downloaded from what Jung would perhaps call the collective subconsciousness. It was a spiritual, but at the same time purely practical consultancy, at least it felt that way. I would simply put my hand on the rock, focus and wait for the rock tell me something. I could just look at the tree and wait for its guidance. This conversation with nature spirits about behavioral patterns that I need to change to make life more fulfilling lasted perhaps for the next two hours.
And then I died.
Well, of course I didn’t die. But it felt like dying and coming back to life again. Reborn strong, pure, open and savage. It felt like nothing can ever be the same again. My heart opened and filled with joy, compassion and love so overwhelming that I realized, that after all, it is a beautiful and heavenly place, this world we share together. I felt purified and healthy in my every bodily cell. The illness I woke up with in the morning was gone. The nature looked astonishing, interdependent, pulsing with life. And I was a part of it, wow! I realized that we are domesticated animals, that at the core our hearts are wild, like those of Jaguars hiding and hunting in Brazilian forests. We need to be strong and fight for whatever our cause is, but deep down there is this invisible loving bond that keeps us all bound together. When I took a breath it felt like breathing truly for the first time. It was the most beautiful and exhilarating feeling I have ever experienced.
It’s easy for me to try not to sound ridiculous and say that the neurotransmitter called dimetiltriptamine, the active ingredient in the brew, triggered a reaction in my brain that tricked me into thinking that I was actually leaving my body, seeing different dimensions and encountering spirit entities. But as ridiculous as this may sound, once you actually are under the influence of Ayahuasca and later back on the planet Earth with your feet firmly on the ground, you feel like this experience is more real than real.
Ayahuasca feels way beyond your mind, beyond your brain and beyond science, which by the way fails to explain it. There is so much we don’t know about our brains that we can easily argue if all this is actually real or only a story that those who drink it tell themselves. I understand and respect that opinion. But believe me, it really does feel sacred. It’s simply like your brain switches frequencies to tune in some other reality, for the lack of better words, and downloads the knowledge straight into your essence. Putting this knowledge in real life is where the work continues. This is called integration and is the most important part of the experience.
So what’s the follow-up, you might ask? Well, even tough I eventually touched down and came back to normal, everyday life, after these four months that passed from the experience I can say that all that I heard from the plant, turned out to be true. The solutions I applied have worked. I feel lighter, happier and certainly stronger. My personality didn’t change, I still am who I was before this experience. But somehow I feel more integrated, more in touch with myself. My procrastination level decreased and my relationship with alcohol is definitely way healthier then before. I spoke to people who I didn’t talk to for years. I tend to judge others way less than I used to and the bar I put for myself is higher.
Every night when I go to sleep I tell myself that in one way or another, life always puts in front of us all the things that we need. Just like it led me to this experience, it might be leading you to a different one right now. Everyone has its own path to walk. Drinking Ayahuasca is a very personal choice that I’m convinced can be beneficial if you approach it with humility, intention and respect. But it’s by no means necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. For that you don’t have to fly to the Amazon, you don’t have to subscribe to Yoga classes, you don’t have to be anything else that you already are. Bells and whistles aside, what the plant really does is simple. It slaps you in the face, so that you wake up and apply the knowledge that you were born with.
Just look inside your heart.