Early last month (i.e. November 2019), Steve and I traveled to Costa Rica and stayed at a resort that featured offering ayahuasca ceremonies to its guests. I’ve decided to write a six-part mini-series to share my thoughts and experiences pertaining to this journey.
First off, I’ll readily admit that I was very hesitant to try ayahuasca. I live a pretty clean lifestyle. Sure, I’ll drink alcohol on occasion, and I enjoy caffeine from time to time as well (I have an on-and-off relationships with espresso beverages), but that essentially sums up my drug use.
I’ve never had a single drag of a cigarette in my life. I’ve barely ever tried marijuana – I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever gotten high from it once. And since I pretty much despise smoking anything (I wanna keep my lungs healthy, thank you!), I really have no desire to smoke it again.
I experimented once with making vegan pot brownies, but the ratio of pot marijuana to brownie was so very low that you would only experience a mild effect if you ate them on an empty stomach first thing in the morning (which I barely managed to experience while wandering through a museum in Amsterdam).
That pretty much sums up my entire life’s drug use! I’ve never tried anything else before, ever. …Up until last month, that is.
What the hell is ayahuasca, anyway?
Ayahuasca literally means soul vine. Ayahuasca, however, typically refers to the brew or tea prepared from the bark of the ayahuasca vine along with other plants. The vine, banisteriopsis caapi, contains a compound that inhibits the human body’s naturally ability to quickly digest the tea’s hallucinogenic ingredient, DMT (dimethyltryptamine). The DMT-containing plant in the aya brew is often a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), but it could include a different DMT source. In either case, ayahuasca tea is also known to have strong purgative effects.
“Drugs Are Bad” …Right?
Ayahuasca is illegal in many countries around the world, but it is legal to prepare and consume it in Costa Rica.
Since I pretty much shun drugs by default, I had a lot of concern and hesitancy about trying ayahuasca. Is it safe? What does it do to my physiology? (I don’t like messing with my physiology. I even avoid pain killers and haven’t taken a single one in 10-15 years or so, maybe more.) Why would I want to mess with my body’s natural chemistry? Can something that’s known to induce vomiting and diarrhea really be good for you?
Plus, in all honesty, I was afraid that taking it might somehow lead to my untimely demise. I realize that sounds lie paranoia, but a handful of deaths have certainly been linked to or perhaps even the direct result of ayahuasca. It’s not without risk.
Additionally, a friend of mine died while in Peru several years ago as the result of participating in a tea ceremony that was known to have purgative effects. (You can read about that here.) It was deeply saddening to me to learn of her death.
I also remember hearing a story from a guy I once briefly dated that a friend of his died from mushrooms. Apparently she had a reaction to the mushrooms that caused her brain to swell, and that swelling led to her death.
Even though deaths from such drugs are uncommon, they do happen. And since they have happened to people I know or people that others I’ve met have known, it’s always been a concern of mine. What can I say. My survival instinct and desire to live is strong.
I realize that many people have very positive, and even beneficial experiences with psychedelics and other drugs, and I’m not meaning to pass judgment on anyone who consciously decides to explore this realm. It’s just that I tend to be weary of any type of drug – including the legal ones. (But that’s a whole other story.)
If Steve hadn’t been so keen on wanting to try ayahuasca, I’m pretty sure I would have never sought it out on my own.
In order to reduce the potential for unsafe reactions to ayahuasca, everyone is encouraged to follow a particular diet for at least a week or so beforehand. Being vegan, Steve and I had no problems following this diet. It also recommended abstaining from caffeine / coffee, which was also no problem since I had already been avoiding caffeine leading up to then, anyway.
For safety reasons, it is also necessary for participants to be med-free. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, one must be free from prescribed medications for a month prior to participation in the ayahuasca ceremonies. This was no problem for either Steve or myself because we both live med-free lifestyles.
In addition to the above precautions, one also has to pass a simple medical exam upon arrival to the resort. They checked my blood pressure, heart rate, and asked a few basic questions. It was pretty straight forward.
My blood pressure was great, as was my heart rate. So there was nothing to stop me from participating. But even so, I was still unsure if I should do it.
A Blessing in Disguise?
I had been on the fence about trying ayahuasca for a long time. My uncertainties certainy hadn’t dissipated once we had arrived at the resort in Costa Rica, or after I had my med exam.
Why even bother to go to the resort at all in the light of uncertainty, you might ask? I figured that even if I didn’t participate in the ceremonies, I could still enjoy the weather, the beach, the hammocks, the spa, etc.
It almost came down to a coin-toss in terms of deciding whether or not to do it. But instead of a coin-toss, a serendipitous synchronicity of sorts presented itself to me, which led me to decide to take the plunge go for it.
[ Note: Since I’m not sure if I have other people’s consent to share the their presence at the resort, I’m going to be somewhat vague here when in comes to describing people. ]
One of the people in attendance is an author who had recently published a book about money and our emotional and energetic relationship with it. He published his book in English as well as another language (his mother-tongue).
As chance would have it, this fellow was beside me when I was debating whether or not to pay the additional $400 to participate in any or all of the four ayahuasca ceremonies that would be held at the resort that week. While he was standing beside me, and while I was deliberating with cash in hand, I noticed that there was an interesting character that had been stamped on one of the bills. It was a non-English character, and I suspected it was in the language that the aforementioned fellow read and spoke. So I asked him if he knew what that character said.
“Oh, I think it means means blessing or blessed.” Did it really? Was the money telling me it was giving me its blessing to participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies? I honestly thought he was joking and pulling me leg. So I took out my iPhone and used ran the Google Translate app on the character that was on my bill. …And well, he was right!
He said, “That’s really cool, I’ve never seen that before!” Stamping this character on money was right in line with the theme of his recent book. “I should look into finding a stamp like that!” …Seriously, what are the odds? And it wasn’t just on that one bill, it was on at least two or three or them! (In hindsight, I SO wish I had taken a picture of the characters on the bills.)
Considering the crazy synchronicity of the circumstance, I decided to take it as some kind of affirmation to go ahead and sign up to participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies. So I did!
The first ceremony would be taking place later that very night.
…Stay tuned for my next post in this mini-series, in which I describe my first ayahuasca experience.