I did ayahuasca in Peru in 2016 and was totally blown away. It was everything I expected and more. Through visions, I was taught significant life lessons. At times I was bathed in waves of ecstasy. Other moments felt like a near death experience. It was deeply cathartic. However, it wasn’t the hallucinogenic itself that did the job. It was the whole ten day retreat, led by Dr. Dennis Mckenna, a man revered for his pioneering research on the Amazonian plant medicine. Together with his shaman, they created a safe ceremonial space for me to to go down the rabbit hole. I am glad I made it back to share my journey, which was nothing short of magical.
Why I decided to do Ayahuasca in the first place
Before ayahuasca, I was a 38 year old virgin when it came to psychedelics. As a matter of fact, I had never even smoked weed. So what made me go from being a prude to doing the mother of all psychedelics?
Like many spiritual seekers, I was convinced that India had all the answers. For years I immersed myself in her philosophy and spiritual practices. I studied the words of prominent teachers, did yoga and heaps of meditation. Yet despite my efforts, I was never able to experience any of the mystical states the traditions had promised. Then after another rather disappointing trip to India, I came back with a new mantra:
“I.N.D.I.A – I’ll Never Do It Again”
In my disillusionment, I decided to reach out to Gary Weber, a renowned meditator, for whom the practices have worked. Gary’s straight talking and scientific approach appealed to me. Our conversation sort of went down like this:
Me: “I’ve hit a brick wall with my meditation, what did you do?”
Gary: “Well, I just kept meditating and doing self-enquiry until I had blissful experiences and then, one day the page turned for me.”
Me: “So what’s life like for you now?”
Gary: “There are hardly any thoughts, it’s a really sweet space. It must be like being on a psychedelic at all times; not that I have ever had a psychedelic before.”
Me: “Man, I want what you are having!”
Gary: “Well, have you had a psychedelic before?”
Me: “Er… No.”
Gary: “I know people whose practice opened up after having a psychedelic.1 Have you seen the research done by places like the Johns Hopkins University?”
Me: “Er… No.”
I was to learn that recently the Johns Hopkins University administered magic mushrooms to people and discovered that at high doses, it was inducing the same mystical states of long-term meditators. A year on, the same subjects said that it was one of the most meaningful events in their life.2 Other reputable institutions were experimenting with ayahuasca for treating depression and addictions.3 Intrigued, I fervently read up and YouTubed the topic. For some reason, ayahuasca, in particular, struck a chord in me.
For millennia, shamans of the Amazon region have been using the brew in healing ceremonies. The effects of ayahuasca can include visions, encounters with spirits and feelings of overwhelming significance. When ingested its effects typically lasts between 4 to 8 hours. The hallucinogenic chemical in ayahuasca is DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), which is found in our bodies, as well as in many plants. Ayahuasca is not physically harmful and not at all addictive. If anything, the brew is repulsive, because it tastes like dirt and can cause vomiting. However, shamans consider the vomiting as a purge and part of the healing process.
Magical and Mysterious Peru
My wife always wanted to go to Machu Picchu in Peru. It happened to be our 10 year wedding anniversary that year, so I hatched a plan for us to go to Peru and do ayahuasca together. However, roughing it out in a hut in the jungle isn’t our style. So, I Googled “luxury ayahuasca retreat” and up popped a centre called, Willka T’ika. A so called, Dr. Dennis Mckenna, was running an upcoming ayahuasca retreat there and we decided to sign up for it. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Dennis was the brother of the late and famous, Terence Mckenna.
Next thing you know, my wife and I were in Peru. Dennis took our group on a magical tour including the breathtaking, Machu Picchu. Willka T’ika turned out to be an idealistic setting for the introspective work we were about to embark upon. Dennis introduced us to our Peruvian shaman, Wayra, who he endorsed as the best and most humble shaman he has ever known in his forty years of drinking ayahuasca.
Thus, the scene was set for our three ayahuasca ceremonies. Each night we formed a sacred circle and drank with Dennis, while Wayra sang and chanted blessings.
I wrote down the details of all three of my journeys:
The first ceremony
I drink my cup and hours seem to pass before I notice any changes. I sit in meditation and am mesmerised by Wayra’s chanting. Eventually, I lie down and a warm sensation in my chest expands into a feeling of happiness. I smile and tears of joy pour down my cheeks. I ask myself why I am so happy and a vision emerges in the form of a beautiful being, who has been gifted to me in this life. She is luminous and pure. It is my wife. Around about then, the shaman offers us the second drink, which I accept.
Subsequently, the joy in my heart transforms into a heaviness and then a strong hurt. As if wearing my wife’s emotions, I feel the hurt she endures when I am mean to her. (Our 10 year marriage had been challenging, and at my worst, I can be a total asshole). I think, surely she has hurt me too. Yet, in that moment I am not able to generate a single bad thought against her. It is strange, because I was always good at vindicating my actions. I feel stupid. The lesson is clear: The happiness I seek lies in honouring and loving my wife.
The ceremony, which began at 7 pm, adjourns at around 2 am. On my way back to my room, I think to myself, “How pure am I? I didn’t need to vomit to purge anything.” Then right on cue, my jaw widens like a snake’s mouth and I do the biggest projectile of my life.
In bed, I feel the medicine still active and moving around like a serpent. I start tripping my nuts off. Small alien like beings hover around my body. I can’t move and it feels invasive. I continue journeying into other dimensions beyond this world, until I encounter wise beings that are all-knowing. Here, it is timeless and beyond anything I have ever known. The beings want to reveal to me the secrets of the Universe, but I am not ready. Suddenly, everything appears foreign and I feel trapped in between life and death. I am scared.
A close friend and spiritual mentor, Kalyani4 manifests. (Prior to leaving for Peru, she had called me to schedule a time to catch up after my trip, and I didn’t tell her I was going to do ayahuasca). Presently in my vision, Kalyani assures me she knew all along. She tells the wise beings that I belong with her, and that she has come to take me back. Immediately, I return to ordinary consciousness and feel relieved. The sun is out and birds outside are singing.
That morning, I embrace my wife, and share my journey with her and our group. Wayra warns us of the dangers of not being in the ceremonial space, while still under the effects of ayahuasca, and he insists I stay with him next time I am in that condition. He also asks me to personally thank Kalyani for her help.
Epilogue: After Peru, Kalyani and I did meet up. I told both her and her husband about my journey and her “astral” appearance. I said, “I don’t know whether it actually happened or was just a projection of my mind, but I thank you, Kalyani, for being there in my moment of need.” In response, they both looked at me earnestly and at the same time proclaimed, “It actually happened.”
The second ceremony
After drinking, the effects again take a long time to come on. I feel apprehensive from what happened in the previous ceremony and brace myself for a long night. Wayra offers a second drink and this time I decline.
The night wears on and I become aware of spirits. They are animal spirits from these lands, who are anthropomorphic and benevolent. There is a big serpent with a friendly smile. They tell me to not be afraid. Wayra’s singing and rhythmic chanting creates a soothing ambience. The spirits dance around and make me feel at ease.
Shortly after, the lessons begin. This time, I see my beautiful son (who is presently nine years old). I love him so much. He is perfect and innocent. My mood shifts and I start to wear my son’s emotions. I feel the hurt and shame he suffers when he is not able to please me. I feel him collapsing under my expectations. I feel him cry from sheer frustration.
I reflect on how I can be cruel to my son, often pushing him to tears. It then occurs to me that I want him to grow up and be my best friend. However, in order for that to happen, I need to stop destroying his confidence.
After 8 hours the ceremony is adjourned. Most people leave, but this time I decide to stay back. I am nauseas and go to vomit, but nothing comes out. Wayra performs a blessing and vomits on my behalf. I feel some respite, but the snakes in my stomach return. Morning arrives and sunlight floods the room. I am still floored by the medicine. Now, I am alone in the room with Wayra and his assistant, Christina.
Wayra comes and sits beside me. He lights a cigarette and uses the tobacco smoke to perform a blessing. I feel a rush of calming energy. He then proceeds to guide me through an introspective meditation. I become aware that I am holding a lot of shame and guilt in my body. He urges me to trace the origins of the shame. Suddenly, my father appears in my vision. I see myself as a child again, wanting so badly to have my father’s love. But Dad is brutal and despite my best efforts to please him, he doesn’t acknowledge me. I am devastated by this reenactment and start sobbing uncontrollably. Wayra and Christina console me in their arms.
It dawns on me that I have been acting out my father’s patterns towards my own son. The pain is intergenerational. This insight offers me a pathway for change.
After shedding many tears, I feel strangely at peace. Seeing that I am now settled, Wayra starts to tidy up. He personally washes everyone’s vomit bucket. Over the last ten hours, he had just performed an intensive ceremony – chanting, dancing and attending to everyone in our group of twenty, individually. Yet, he is still full of energy. I ask him where he gets his superhuman energy from and he credits the plant medicine. I am touched by his humility.
The nausea subsides and I am grateful I did not vomit once. Before I leave, Wayra gives me a long comforting hug. With sweetness, he says, “My brother, the medicine is for healing. The more you resist it, the more discomfort you will suffer. It is better you trust it and go with the flow. It will teach you how to liberate the habits that are destroying your relationships. But I know you are a good husband and father. Try to make every moment happy. Bless you and your family.”
Later that morning, during our group sharing, I tell everyone that I came to Peru wanting to understand the Universe, but instead, the medicine has taught me what I needed to learn: That my spiritual work must start at home.
Dennis is astonished that ayahuasca had been active in me for 13 hours. He says that it is the longest he has ever known. Despite being up all night in the ceremony, I feel wide awake and rejuvenated.
The third and final ceremony
Taking on board Wayra’s advice, I enter the final ceremony a lot more relaxed. I lie down and let the medicine do its thing. This time, almost instantly I’m intoxicated. The melodic chanting of the shaman is awe-inspiring. His singing and rattling lulls my body deeper and deeper into an ecstasy. What starts out as a pleasing sensation in my stomach, soon overtakes my entire body.
In Wayra, I sense the presence of a great healing spirit. Waves of bliss wash over me with each invocation – cleansing and purifying. For a moment I feel my body being dismembered and scattered into outer space. Pleasure becomes overwhelming and then subsides.
There is a window on the ceiling with a view of the sky. I see the full moon, and again I am overtaken by ecstasy. It is so intense that I shift my body to not be exposed to the moonlight. Time flies and the ceremony draws to a close. Wayra goes around the circle, blessing each us with tobacco smoke. After he blows smoke onto me, I am sent into another bout of rapture.
I decide to stay after the ceremony ends. Christina asks how I am feeling and I tell her that I am still high and that it is pure pleasure with no discomfort whatsoever.
Back from the rabbit hole
So, did the rituals miraculously cure me of the issues with my wife and son? I wish it could be that easy. It certainly gave me an understanding of what I needed to do. But, I know that it is still up to me to do the work.
I will forever remember my ten days in Peru with Dennis, the wise shaman, the indigenous spirits and the important lessons I learned. What a wonderful mystery. Ayahuasca has given me the glimpse into the transcendent that I was yearning for.
PHOTO: Final night, sitting around around the fire with Christina, Wayra and Dennis
(from left to right).
Dennis Mckenna and Wayra hold ayahuasca retreats in Peru every year. For more information visit: www.symbiolifesciences.com/event/
- If you want to find out more about what Gary has to say about psychedelics and meditative states, check out his talk entitled, “Magic Mushrooms or Meditation?”
- Link to research paper.
- Link to Scientific American article.
- Kalyani and her husband, Peter run monthly non-duality workshops in Melbourne, Australia.