My First Ayahuasca Ceremony
On the evening of the first ceremony, we were all to meet outside the maloca at 5:30pm.
Earlier in the day when I had paid the additional fee to participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies (aka: “taking the plant medicine”, as they called it), I was given four tokens – one for each session or ceremony. So when we entered the maloca, each person gave their name, which was then checked-off on a list, and then surrendered one of their “herbal support therapy” tokens.
The maloca was a fairly new building. It had many sliding doors and windows, making it easy to air out. But at the moment, the doors and windows were closed (save for the entrance which was in use), and the air was thick with the smoke of ceremonial tobacco.
I had done some research prior to this trip, and I’ve read that jungle tobacco, also known as mapacho, is believed to be a sacred plant with energetic cleansing properties. It’s also believed to be energetically protective. So the reason a shaman will surround the maloca (inside and outside along its perimeter) with tobacco smoke is to energetic cleanse the area, as well as to create a protective bubble of sorts to ward of negative energies.
I typically abhor tobacco cigarette smoke. But surprisingly, I found the scent of the mapacho smoke to be soothing and pleasant. There was a calming vibe inside the maloca. I liked the energetic vibe they had created. Although I was a bit nervous, I surprised myself with the sense of calm I also seemed to be experiencing. Was it confidence? Given how uncertain I was about participating in this experience a mere hour or so beforehand, I was a little taken aback.
Inside the maloca were dozens of sheeted mattresses arranged in rows. Each mattress had a folded blanket, a pillow, and a bucket. If you didn’t already guess, the bucket was for vomiting. “Your bucket is your amigo.” Oh fun!
I staked out a mattress in a corner near the front of the room. I love staking out “power positions” whenever I go out someplace like a café or a restaurant. This way, I’d have a nice overall view of the inside, and plus I’d be able sit and prop my back up against a wall.
Near the front of the room were three signs suspended from the ceiling. The first read, Show me who I’ve become. The second sign read, Merge me back with my soul at all costs. The third sign: Heal my heart.
These three signs were the intentions we were all supposed to hold when taking the ayahuasca, starting with the first. It was said, however, that once the first step was achieved, the second and third usually follow suit.
Our shaman for this ceremony was named Christian. He seemed to be a rather chill, relaxed, friendly, and gentle guy. I remember he had a unique way of speaking that stood out to me. Once everyone was inside the maloca and had staked out the mattresses, we were beckoned to sit close to the shaman near the front center of the room as he addressed us all.
I don’t remember exactly what he said. I think it was general musings on the nautre of the plant medicine. “It will always give you exactly what you need,” is something he likely said. He (as did all the shamans) also encouraged us to take a fair bit of the brew: “Don’t think. Drink.” That mentality made me a bit dubious (as it reminded me of the attitude of a drug pusher), but I tried to let that judgement subside.
After Christian’s talk, he and several assistants would be giving rapé to all those who desired to receive it. Due to my extensive pre-trip research, I knew in advance that this was going to be offered.
Rapé is essentially a type of tobacco snuff made primarily from the aforementioned mapacho (aka nicotiana rustica). This type of tobacco is known to have up to 9 or 10 times the amount of nicotine than conventional tobacco. I believe it’s used to sharpen the senses, as well as for its purported energy cleansing ability. But since I can feel ill and dehydrated simply from being around tobacco smoke, I didn’t think it was a good idea for me to have that stuff blown up my nostrils. So I opted out.
Soon it became time to bless the ayahuasca brew. While everyone was at their respective mattresses, the shaman performed an ikaros while various assistants played purcusive instruments and rhythmically stomped their feet. It sounded mysterious and beautiful.
I could make out a few Spanish words here and there, particularly “proteccion” (protection). The shaman would also blow mapacho smoke onto the ayahuasca brew to bless it with protective energy. Then the assistants were served the aya brew, and the shaman drank as well.
Soon, we were told to form two lines to take the drink. A female assistant poured for one line while the shaman Christian poured for the other line.
While we were in line (or perhaps it was shortly before that), I felt this strange energy come over me. I was pondering the nature of the intention we were encouraged to have – Show me who I have become – when I suddenly had a massive insight wash over me.
You Are Courageous
My insight was this:
Don’t concern yourself who you’ve become. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is who you are in the here and now.
You are courageous.
All of us, by our very nature, are courageous. We are, at our core (i.e. coeur), heart-centered; we are all love. We all come from the same heart / seed / core of the universe. We are all intrinsically connected.
We may forget this, but if so, this is a temporary state of mind.
Remember your / our innate courageousness. Help others to remember this, too.
Courage doesn’t have to equate to action. Rather, courage is a state of mind. It’s a frame. It’s a lens. It’s an opening of the heart and an alignment with love.
Having this insight wash over me was quite an exhilarating feeling. I felt like I already received my answer to the intention, “Show me who I have become.” I thought a better intention to ask for – in the generalized sense – is: “Show me who I am.” And the answer to that will effectively be the same for everyone: You are love. We are love. This is a message we all need reminding of. With that knowledge, how can one not merge with their soul and heal their heart?
When it was my turn to be at the front of the line, I stood before Christian calmly. I asked for a smaller serving, since that’s what my intuition said to go with. He nodded, turned around, poured the tea into the communal shot glass, then turned around and stood before me again. He blessed the drink with mesmerizing whooshing and clicking sounds, and then offered it to me. I’d estimate the shot glass was about half full, or maybe slightly more.
I took the glass, whispered the intention into the cup, then drank the shot similar to how one might drink a shot of alcohol like tequila. I was expecting the ayahuasca to taste bitter and/or sour as that’s how many others from my research have described it, but I was actually surprised by its taste. Its flavor reminded me of raw cacao. I love dark and bitter chocolate, so the taste of the brew was actually somewhat pleasant to me.
I swallowed the drink. I’m pretty sure it was served at room temperature, but it felt warm going doing down. I returned the shot glass, gently nodded/bowed, and whispered thank you.
You Are in a Constant State of Becoming
I returned to my mattress and propped myself up on the folded blanket, sitting with my back against the wall. It was fairly dark in the room, and I couldn’t really see well enough to write, but I took notes anyway, trusting that I was writing the right words without being able to see them.
I wrote some further insights, thoughts, and questions that came to me:
Use I / you interchangeably here.
I / You = I / Ya = Aya
I am supported.
Love = support. Support others.
Who is your character? What are the traits?
You (we) are in a constant state of becoming.
I then for some reason I was inspired to write a note to read Life of Pi. It’s a book I started to read a while back but then never finished.
Inspired by the words I wrote of love and support, I was drawn to just hold a loving space for everyone in the room. I sat with my right hand over my heart and existed in a space of love and joy as much as I could.
After everyone had returned to their mattresses, and if memory serves me correctly, the shaman went outside to the fire pit to light more mapacho in a pot and spread the smoke throughout the inside and outside of the maloca.
Then, to help air out the smoke from the room, the assistants opened many of the room’s sliding windows. As luck would have it, one of the windows was opened just behind me, so I was able to feel the deliciousness of the cool nighttime air.
At some point, the started to recorded play music over the maloca’s sound system. The music had a fascinating role in adding to the ambiance and overall experience of the ceremony. I’ll share more about that in one of the other six posts, though. (Likely Part 3.)
Over the course of the night, I witnessed not, not two, but three fireflies dance their way into the maloca. Seeing these fireflies lit such a resounding joy within my being. I’ve always loved seeing fireflies, but it felt especially magical to see them during this first night of ayahuasca ceremonies. I almost felt like the were there to say hi and make me feel loved and protected.
The first person who started to vomit in the room was sitting to my left. The sounds were certainly unpleasant, and it lasted for quite a while. But through it all I just focused on holding that space of love.
I was amazed at how unperturbed I was. I never would’ve thought that I could maintain such a composure of love and peace and even joy while someone was puking their guts out beside me. I maintained that composure when other people started to vomit in the room, too. The purging seemed to move throughout the room like a wave, working it’s way up to a crest and then followed by a wane.
Steve’s mattress was only a few mattresses to the left of mine. I could tell he was having difficulty. He didn’t purge, but many assistants came to check up on him. And at one point, they even helped him up and took him away. I was concerned for him, but I diligently maintained my state of peace and love, and I imagined sending waves of protective love energy his way.
Thankfully, I didn’t feel the need to purge. I wasn’t feeling any nausea, actually.
The ayahuasca brew is known for its hallucinogenic properties. I’m not sure if I took enough to have any full-blown hallucinations, but I did experience something.
Have you ever noticed visual patterns firing off inside your eyeballs behind your closed eyelids when you’re in the dark at night while trying to fall asleep? I have. Sometimes I try to actively watch these patterns. Doing so usually helps me to fall asleep.
I mention the above because the visions and patterns I experienced while on ayahuasca were remarkably similar, but much more “high definition”. They were clearer and had more depth to them than the usual patterns I’d observe at night. They’d move in and out, almost as though they were breathing and had a life of their own.
There isn’t a particular image that stands out more in my mind than others. They were mostly just interesting three-dimensional patterns moving and morphing into each other. At one point earlier on in the night, I think I made out the image of a jaguar. But for the most part, the images, patterns, and designs I observed were more abstract.
I remember seeing at some point images of people made up from the texture of teeny tiny puzzle pieces, and some people had pieces missing from them, as though to symbolize their internal feeling of brokenness. I also recall seeing some patterns that looked like a foreign or alien language.
Somewhere around 60-90 minutes after the first serving of ayahuasca, we were invited to come up for another round of ayahuasca. Since I hadn’t experienced any nausea, I was thinking of trying to take a bit more. But first I figured I’d wait until most people had already gone up for their second round.
After 5 or 10 minutes or so, as the lines for the second serving were dwindling, I was about to get up to go in line when suddenly my vibe dramatically shifted. It was almost like a hand had pushed me down and said, “No. Stay.”
I felt a small surge of fear energy enter my body, and it was intertwined with a nauseous feeling. It was so strange. I had the clear sense that this medicine, as they called it, somehow amplifies emotional vibrations such that any misaligned emotions or feelings would result in nausea and feeling ill. I immediately tried to shift my focus and emotion back to my heart and into a space of love. As soon as I did, I could feel the nausea dissipate. Fascinating.
The physical sensation in my body felt so foreign. It was like a tingling sensation coming from the inside, and it interfered with my ability to feel my body “normally”, if that makes any sense. (This is hard to describe, so my apologies if it doesn’t make sense.) You know the feeling you get in your hands or feet when they “fall asleep”? It wasn’t exactly like that pins and needles sensation, but it definitely reminded me of that. I spent extra energy focusing on my breath since my chest felt tingly and it was hard for me to tell if I was breathing. My arms also started feeling a little tingly.
I was, for the most part, still able to keep myself in a happy and calm state of mind, but the joy wasn’t as intense as it had been earlier in the night. I focused intently on my breath, the music, and the morphing patterns and visions behind my closed eyes. Finally, after many hours, the ceremony drew to a close.
I don’t recall the exact hour that things wrapped up, but it was late. I think it was between 1:30am and 2:30am. I reconnected with Steve, who was thankfully feeling better than he had been earlier. The shaman again invited people to draw near as he gave a closing talk and offered to answer any questions people had.
Later on, Steve and I compared notes. I’ll let him share his own story later, but I will say that what we experienced visually was remarkably similar. The fractal morphing was somewhat similar to this YouTube animation (but of course still rather different).
When we returned to our room that night, I believe that’s when I saw a large frog or toad sitting in the in a path close by. I started to wonder about the traditional symbolism of frogs and toads. If spirit animals exist, might that be my spirit animal?
…Stay tuned for my next post in this mini-series, in which I share my second ayahuasca experience.