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My First Ayahuasca Experience

Whilst I’ve long known about Ayahuasca, a medicine that the indigenous people of South America discovered and shared with people in ceremonies. I was never in a rush to try it.

However, this year, I felt the interest to seek it out. Not wanting to go as far as South America (for now) I came across an organisation in Europe that offered it.

About a week prior to writing this article, I embarked on a 3-day Ayahuasca retreat in the South of Spain.

Rather than let the details fade, I thought I’d write up my experience in a blog post.

For me, there were 4 key parts to the retreat. I’ll use them to structure the rest of the article.

The Location and Hosts

The retreat was run by an organization called Amoraleza. They are based in a very beautiful set of hills close to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. The closest town is one called Lanjaron, which you can get to by bus from Granada.

When I arrived I was amazed at the beauty of the place. They have a lot of land, with just one substantial (stone) building. The rest of the buildings are yurts or small wooden buildings. The land itself overlooks a city called Orgiva.

The view from the land, with Orgiva in the distance.

As you can imagine, because there isn’t a lot of light pollution, at night the sky is lit up with stars.

They have a central dining room, where during retreats they have it stocked with fruit and water, and then 3 times per day they serve vegan meals. I’m not a vegan, in fact, I’m quite partial to meat, but the food was very fresh, colourful and tasty.

I stayed in a small yurt towards the top of their hill. It was comfy, cosy and had a beautiful view of the valley below.

The yurt I stayed in

The only issue is that it gets very warm during the day. As such, I was glad to have a small battery-powered fan with me, on the odd occasion I needed a nap.

A cheeky centipede that visited my yurt. Luckily it was amenable to being “escorted” out the door

Then, further down the hill the retreat has shared showers and toilets.

Colourful mural in the bathroom

During my visit, a young lady called Sapphira was doing a lot of the coordination when it came to welcoming guests, making food, and dealing with the day-to-day issues. She was fantastic in this role and managed to be everywhere at once.

I personally arrived a couple days prior to the start of the ceremony, in order to land and adjust to the way of life.

In hindsight, this was a good move, and it meant I was comfortable with the otherwise foreign setting, before taking the medicine.

Otherwise, I think I’d have been a bit overwhelmed with the foreign landscape, lay of the land, unusual sleeping arrangements (yurt), and then the ayahuasca ceremony to add on top.

Cactus on the land, starting to bear fruit

Ceremony Guests

Another huge part of the experience was all the guests that joined the land for the ceremonies. Most guests were from Europe, but we also had guests from Mexico, the USA and Australia.

Each person came to the experience with a different set of life experiences that had led them to this place, but most shared common goals of learning and healing.

It was actually interesting to me that in the “registration/intake” process there isn’t a great deal of screening people. Despite that, the commonalities of guests far outweighed the differences. And it was fascinating to get to know people’s stories over meals and hikes. Whilst I may not stay in touch with many of them in the future, their presence during the ceremonies was warm and vulnerable and I’m grateful to have shared the space with them.

I only had the privilege of hearing a few of the stories of what led people to this place. Whilst they’re not my stories to share, they represented a range from PTSD, to the loss of a loved one to (possibly) chronic health issues. Struggles with which they may not have found answers elsewhere, and thus sought out medicine to deal with

I couldn’t help but feel compassion and appreciation for their braveness to step out of their comfort zone, trust in Amoraleza and the medicine, and seek healing.

It’s not easy. It takes time, money, energy and bravery to do so. However, the potential payoff is huge. If they can heal trauma, grow, and expand, they can then be better and more ‘present’ humans for all their future relationships. Be it work colleagues, partners or strangers in the street.

The Evening Ceremony

So, on to the ceremony details.

They had a big ceremonial yurt on the premises where the ceremony would be carried out.

Ceremonial Yurt

Prior to the ceremony, I didn’t know a great deal about what to expect, other than at some point there would be ayahuasca served 😆

Here are some key points around it:

  • The ceremony starts early evening. We would meet around 7:30pm to be smudged prior to entering the ceremonial yurt. My vague understanding of smudging is that it’s where the herb sage, or something similar, is burnt and waved around your body, to “clean” your energy (or something to that effect).
  • We were asked to dress in white, or as close to it as possible. Black and red clothes are not permitted. I believe part of the rationale is that white is associated with “good” and black/red is associated with “bad”.
  • We brought in extra clothes for later in the night when the temperature might dip. A water bottle. Optional notepad. Some of us also brought pillows 🙂
  • Inside the yurt were mattresses laid out for each of us, with blankets to put on if we got cold.
Ceremonial yurt – when not in use

Once we had all been smudged, we entered the yurt and took our places on the mats. Men were clustered on one side, women on the other. Each mattress had a blanket, a box of tissues, and a sick bucket.

Opposite the entrance to the yurt sat Veronica, who would lead the ceremony, and the musicians on either side of her.

Veronica and some of her support staff wore beautiful feathers on their head. Similar to how you might imagine native american tribe leaders would. Also adjacent was where the Rape was administered from.

We were invited to begin by taking Rapé (pronounced ha-peh) from the person serving it, and we would go up one by one. Rapé is a mixture of ground tobacco and a couple of other herbs, that is blown directly into the nose, and produces a strong, intense, almost Europhic rush.

Example of rapé being administered (not my pic, source unknown)

The method of administration induces the tearing up of the eyes, and for some people, lots of throat mucus and occasionally wretching.

I’m personally a big fan of nicotine, but can’t consume it without getting addicted. However, for these two ceremonies I gave myself a free pass to enjoy the Rapé, and I’m glad I did!

After some time, once everyone was settled and had taken Rapé if they wanted to, the ceremony was opened by the lady running it, called Veronica.

At this point, I believe, the fire had been lit and was burning.

I forget exactly how Veronica opened the ceremony, but I think it was by reading some words, of which we repeated some.

Then she began serving the Ayahuasca. It was a thick brown liquid stored in a glass bottle, that was then decanted into small shot glasses.

She served the quantities intuitively, based on our physical size, experience and whatever else came into her mind as important.

We would go up one by one, collect our glass, drink it by the fire, and then return it empty. Veronica explained that the process of creating Ayahuasca is hard, both in terms of effort and time taken. Therefore she encouraged us to lick the glass clean so that we didn’t waste a drop.

Example Aya glass, ours looked similar, but was a darker liquid – source

After everyone had been up, they then took to their mat, and there was a lull.

It takes a while for the Aya to be digested and start having psychotropic effects.

Some time in, the music would then begin. First led by Veronica, and then her supporting musicians.

The typical way in which people acted, was to initially relax on their mats whilst they wait for the Aya effects to take place.

Then, for many, they would close their eyes and engage in the trip.

After some time lying, they might then “come to” and feel like they want to participate in dancing to the music around the fire.

On the first night, there were not a lot of people participating in the dancing.

However, by the second night, more people got up and started dancing – likely because they knew more about what to expect with everything and felt less scared and more confident.

Dancing around the fire at another ceremony – source

In terms of what happened next in the ceremony, it went roughly as so:

  • Music throughout the night with occasional short pauses
  • Re-opening of the Rape circle a couple further times
  • Offering a second serving of Ayahuasca
  • The offering of sananga, which is administered through the eye, and stings a little
A creative illustration of the sananga plant being administered via the eye – source unknown

Then, at some point, when Veronica (who runs the ceremony) believes it’s an appropriate time, we all close the ceremony together.

Personally, on my first night, it wasn’t until the second dose of Aya that I really felt the medicine. The first dose was mild, but the second really allowed me to connect with the medicine.

In terms of purging, prior to the trip, I thought this was a standard part of an Ayahuasca ceremony. I was really dreading this, as I don’t like throwing up.

Now I know this part is optional. Some people process it in such a way that they get an upset stomach and then vomit. Others, like myself, do not, apparently.

That said, both nights, I did take a number two part way through. Which I’d never normally do at night. That said, it wasn’t unpleasant, just a regular number two. Clearly, the Aya got the stomach moving, but it was fine. I’d rather that instead of vomit!

The Actual Ayahuasca Experience

So far I’ve talked about everything except for the Ayahuasca experience itself.

For me, the medicine worked at its deepest after the second serving on the first night.

I remember lying down, with my eyes closed, and saying to myself, but also the medicine, “ok, now show me what you’ve got or who you are”.

I’ll now go on to share what I felt like I was experiencing, and I’ll caveat it by saying that my “felt reality” does not necessarily equal “actual reality”. However, I’d rather share the experience openly, than self-censor.

As the Ayahuasca set in, I embarked on a most wonderful display of geometric shapes, and bright, neon colors, rotating and moving in clever patterns. I also tended to see insect-like shapes, which I’ve seen (similarly) before on mushrooms. It’s perhaps no coincidence in the waking world that I find their shapes fascinating.

Over time, the views would automatically shift from scene to scene, with no interaction on my part.

Psychedelic artwork is probably the closest proxy to what I saw – source

Perhaps the more peculiar part was a sense of entities watching me and being present in the experience. Sometimes they presented as insects, other times as a snake or more blurry shapes.

They seemed playful and in search of entertainment.

It felt like I was observing a world that exists beyond my normal experience.

More Aya artwork – source

This led me to the idea that what I see and experience in waking reality is not all there is.

Other thoughts that came out of it:

  • If there is another “world”, in addition to what I’m experiencing now, perhaps I don’t need to worry or stress so much in my current “finite” life.
  • Similarly, if this life isn’t “serious”, then everything I choose to do is a game. Such that I can pick and choose which games I want to play. This is not to say that life can’t have painful consequences. It can and does. But when I embark upon things of my choosing, why not approach them playfully.
  • If the entities I was experiencing were more than just figments of my imagination, they seemed playful and would enjoy entertainment. This gave me an odd sense of companionship, particularly when I may be alone physically in the future. It also makes me curious to entertain the entities. (Yes, I do appreciate that sounds a bit out there).
  • I remember wondering if the entities were indeed other, or if I am one of these entities that is temporarily inhabiting a human body. Shifting the identification of “I am a human” to “I am playing a human”.
  • I remember being afraid to get up and dance during the first ceremony. Then thinking, hmm, I don’t actually know what good dancing looks like! I can’t even visualize it. So I realized that it’s important for me to try and visualize something prior to achieving it. E.g. with the dance, if I can’t visualize it, how can I ever expect to achieve it. I guess one could outsource the thinking to a teacher, that’s one option. However, visualization and then working towards it is another. This felt important, and I wanted to remember this for future endeavors, beyond simply dancing.

Roundup

So, the above covers my first steps into the world of Ayahuasca.

For now, it feels like there are plenty of lessons to integrate.

However, I would enjoy experiencing Aya again in the future at some point.

What might I change?

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t think of ways to customize or optimize the experience. For me personally, I found the timings to be quite extreme, such as going to bed at 5am (best case), but typically later.

After the first night, when I took the second shot, I was still very much under the influence of the medicine at 6am in the morning. Every compound has a half-life.

Then in terms of getting to bed late, it made it hard to sleep in. Particularly as the sun rises early and gradually warms the rooms we were sleeping in, such that by 10 or 11am they’re hot!

If I could optimize the process I’d do two things:

  1. Shift the ceremony start time 2 hours earlier. So meeting closer to 5pm. This may require moving the last meal of the day earlier, to about midday.
  2. Taking a larger first dose, and then not having a second one. I believe I was served slightly over 1/2 a glass, but the glasses taper at the bottom. At a guess, 1 whole glass, or maybe 1 and a quarter would probably do it.

    I was lucky that my stomach handled the substance fine, no purging. So taking more to begin would mean I could experience the medicine deeper at the start, but then have come down properly by the time the ceremony ends, and go straight into bed!

If you’ve any questions on the above, let me know in the comments below.

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