By Andreas Vou
AFTER some 18,000 kilometres of travelling, consisting of five flights, a bumpy two-hour drive, a boat ride and an exhausting trek, I finally arrived at my location hidden deep in the Peruvian Amazon. The journey I would go on shortly after my arrival, however, would take me far beyond anywhere else I had ever been.
The plant medicine Ayahuasca has been used in South American shamanic cultures for thousands of years, yet only now are Westerners, like myself, learning of its incredible powers which fuel one’s curiosity to take the strenuous journey to drink it.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew comprised of two natural ingredients which are boiled together for three to four days: first, the chacruna leaves which contain large quantities of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a naturally occurring chemical produced in the brain. Consumed alone, the DMT would be broken up by a gut enzyme, which is why the second ingredient, the banisteriopsis caapi vine, is vital as it switches this off.
When combined and then consumed, these two induce an intense visionary state which takes you on an internal journey of around four to five hours, delving into the subconscious mind, stripping away the ego and the layers of conditioning picked up throughout your life, subsequently providing new perspectives, thought patterns and information.
I had not taken any drugs before, and nor can Ayahuasca rightfully be labelled as such. Though a Schedule I/Class A drug in the United States and Europe respectively, it is in no way addictive. In fact, it is notorious for curing long-term drug addictions and dependence on harmful anti-depressants. Taking Ayahuasca is not for a thrill-seeker looking to score a good time, it is a demanding ordeal and there is a fair amount of preparation involved in terms of research, diet and lifestyle.
My intentions were purely for self-development and the exploration of consciousness. As a curious deep thinker, my aim was to learn more about this incredible computer we have in our heads that we know so little about and use so little of. I wanted to travel inside the subconscious where, whether we like it or not, emotional clutter is not only stored but plays an active role in our decision-making, as well as to gain clarity on some long-standing dilemmas swirling around my mind.
Under Ayahuasca, the entire brain region where we store emotional memory is hyperactivated and therefore we can access deeply hidden memories and subsequently rewire the brain to create new, more positive thought patterns.
Held in a ceremonial setting in pitch darkness in a round hut called a Malocha, you are provided no shortage of warnings that your first experience will be dark and unpleasant; after all, Ayahuasca’s purpose is to get to the root of deep lying issues, phobias, harmful personal traits, and present them to you in such a stark way that you will be led to reexamine them.
Despite a grueling three-day journey with very little sleep topped off by being woken up from a brief nap to join the ceremony, my first time, strangely, was quite the opposite.
I walked into the Malocha and took my place on one of the vacant mattresses dotted around the room. Soon enough, I was called by the Shaman to take my cup of the brew. I had read all about its horrific taste and texture, and it was no overstatement. Imagine if you will, a tar-like thickness, black liquorice flavour and the bitterness of ten espressos rolled into one tall narrow cup.
It typically takes 30 minutes to an hour for the visionary effects to kick in. Sitting in a meditative pose awaiting to be flipped into another dimension, my heart began to race. After about an hour, I noticed my perception begin to alter.
After some initial unpleasant images which left me feeling slightly queasy, I was fortunate to feel the positive effects of Ayahuasca from my very first experience.
Upon coming into contact with an intense female energy, I was swiftly led on a tour of a serene jungle where nature was brimming with life. I soon felt myself begin to vibrate with my surroundings and eventually became immersed with all the plants, trees, rivers and animals around me, experiencing that much fabled ‘oneness with everything’.
It is important to stress that this is not like a dream state where you are simply watching images sail past, you are fully conscious and the vision state is felt fully, in fact, more intensely than everyday reality.
With this, a spontaneous outpour of tears began gushing from my eyes in what felt like a rebirth, a reconnection with the feeling of pure love and elation which, prior to my trip, I had lost touch with as a result of becoming constantly worried about the future, fuelled by my rather harsh levels of self-expectation.
In shamanic culture, Ayahuasca is commonly referred to as ‘abuelita’, or little grandmother, and is described as an all-loving female energy, the spirit of Mother Nature manifested into this plant to assist humanity, with whom many come into contact during their experience with the medicine.
Rather than a sequence from one to the next, visions in each ceremony are unique, as I would soon find out. In stark contrast to the first, my second ceremony saw me submerged into a gloomy underworld – I had the feeling that I was sinking into my mattress and ended in a room where serpents slithered past my body and sewer water flowed beneath me, bringing about a strong need to purge. These nightmarish visions would go on even after the ceremony had ended and I had returned to my cabin.
However, any rough experience you may have, Ayahuasca’s purpose is to bring you onto a noble life path and the shedding of jealousy, lust and other malignant traits picked up throughout life. ‘Bad trips’ tend to be a visual representation of negative tendencies and vomiting is a fundamental part of shedding certain emotional baggage.
In our society, we are quick to brand or slander something we have little to no knowledge of, and Ayahuasca, a mind-altering brew which takes people into different states of reality, certainly has not escaped this treatment.
Governments, media and pharmaceutical companies, whose industries rely on a passive and obedient general public, are quick to brand such substances as drugs, a sentiment which has precipitated into the minds of most. Research into psychedelics gathered momentum in the 1950s but once their benefits came to light, they were quickly thwarted by the aforementioned trio.
A mere mention of psychedelics is often met with startle or suspicion, yet our society is not without its mind-altering drugs, they simply are not presented as such. Sugar, cigarettes and alcohol are the cause of millions of deaths every year but are perfectly legal, in fact incessantly hammered into the public psyche. After all, they serve the current system to a tee while Ayahuasca, on the other hand, will shatter the illusion that this power structure maintains.
We are at a point in time where much of humanity has lost its way; our ego-dominant culture has made us numb to the treatment of animals, our environment and our fellow human. We squabble for temporary power and possessions and have consequently lost touch with soul and spirit.
But like an organism producing antibodies at a time of illness, psychedelics like Ayahuasca have resurged in the West in similar fashion at a time where our society needs healing the most. If we are to claim to be an advanced society then the way in which these plants are represented must change and more intelligent debate must take place.
Opening ourselves up to Ayahuasca and its worldly benefits could be the key to liberating ourselves from this mental cage we have unknowingly trapped ourselves in.