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What I have learned from my Ayahuasca experiences regarding Spirituality

February 13, 2019

I spent a week in a retreat in the Amazon near Iquitos, Peru. I had three Ayahuasca ceremonies on three consecutive evenings. Each ceremony and experience lasting around 5-6 hours.

I feel I have only begun to scratch the surface at expressing some of the insights gained.

The difficulty is putting into words and conveying the sense of clarity and certitude one experiences in these states.

First Experiences and Lessons

One of my first experiences during the first encounter was a fear of losing attachment to my body and drifting away and not being able to get back to it. This I really feared would happen were I to fall asleep during the experience. So I had to resist falling asleep at all costs.

But the tension of the state of fear could not be maintained. A battle ensued between my controlling ego, wanting to stay attached to its fear and what I can only call the deeper spiritual realm that gradually over probably thirty minutes to an hour began to encourage, persuade and convince me to let go slightly and let it take over, while all the time reassuring me there would be no out of body experience, no drifting away from my body. I guess this was an attachment I was not prepared to let go of, or not ready to let go of at this stage in my spiritual journey.

Other people, scientists and sceptics may call this merely another part of the brain being activated, or different neural connections being allowed to form than usual, creating these experiences. And this is certainly how I can imagine much of it being viewed. But something is lost of the certainty and conviction of the experience in this description. The element of belief in something real is critical to the experience and this can only be captured by speaking of connection with some other realm, call it what you will.

It may be a realm of unconscious or subconscious in the psychological terminology, a realm of an ancient hard wired survival drive in us on the biological level, or merely a realm of differing neural connections on the physical level. However you choose to interpret it, the aspect of the self, assured of itself in its intuition of what is true and what it believes in can only be captured by talk of a real spiritual realm. Anything less takes away truth, takes away belief, takes away intuition and replaces it with something that is merely a shadow of the real experience. A ghost of it almost, ironically. Not tangible, merely an after the fact dismissal by categorising it, storing it, closing it off and forgetting about it.

So I felt a strong urge to remain grounded, while this battle was taking place between my ego and the spiritual realm gradually reassuring me to let some of my defences down. At this time the ceremony was taking place, a group of 8 or 9 of us were lying down in the place and the shaman and musician were alternating singing and playing various instruments to set the right mood for the occasion. My body was experiencing various tingling sensations and at times I felt the urge to curl up into the posture of childhood, almost like a return to the womb. I only knew for sure I did not want to fight against it, because that would only make things more difficult for me. Best was to bow down before the power of the experience and let it do what it must do to my body. At times also I spread out my arms, hands and fingertips on the wooden floor, to feel that grounded connection. I had the sensation of absorbing the grounds calming energy through my fingertips and then through my veins and around my body.

Around this time I had a slight vision when ever I closed my eyes of pulsating vines like in a tree but in the middle a female figure was forming. In the days leading up to it, one person in our group who had took this medicine before talked of mother ayahuasca as who the communication was with, so this probably influenced me in interpreting it as a vision of mother ayahuasca. At first it was this visual vision, but then this faded and it became a more general feeling of the warm spiritual presence of mother ayahuasca all around me.

From this point on I spent a few hours communicating with the mother ayahuasca as she guided me through the experience and through any fears and questions I had of concerns from my own life.

Some of the main concerns that came up were my persistent sense of there being something wrong with me that I have had throughout my life. A persistent feeling that I don’t belong among other people and an attendant sadness, loneliness and shame.

This reaches back into the whole context of why I found myself in this position of taking the Ayahuasca. I have read a lot about it over the years. From some of Aldous Huxley’s writings on mescaline to the work of Terence Mckenna on psychedelics, to the testaments of figures such as Graham Hancock, to other general works on shamanism, fiction and non-fiction by people such as Eliade on the archaic techniques of ectasy and Carlos Castaneda books. I also found a book at my local library over the christmas period. A new book about the latest science of psychedelics, called how to change your mind.

I didn’t come into the experience lightly. I have never taken mind altering drugs before. I have not even taken cannabis or regular tobacco. Though I have drank a lot of alcohol over the years. My frustration with the alcohol experience is the sense that the fleeting feeling of connection and being more normal and real that it provides tends to come at the price of an increasing isolation, self obsession, general selfishness and self centeredness, and an increasing anxiety between periods of drinking, making you more reliant on more alcohol for once again a temporary release from that anxiety in a vicious circle.

My other problem with alcohol, is that it was not helping me address my core self’s spiritual malaise, it was leaving that untouched and in fact only further reinforcing the bad habits of that self. I had tried many times through meditation, through working in various types of work, around various types of people, through Cognitive behavioural therapy, assertiveness courses, hypnotherapy. All of it did little to get to my core self that seemed recalcitrant in its bad habits, in its patterns that always led me down a path of self hatred, disgust at myself and the world and the inevitable need to escape my circumstances and begin all over again.

So this was one last avenue for me to explore to address the problems at the core of my self. To get to grips with them and gain some certainty and clarity on what is going on there.

This was the background then for my conversation with the figure I believed to be mother ayahuasca at the time. She did not disappoint in our conversation. It was close to being overwhelming, but thankfully it was not too much. It was just enough for what I needed. This element of trust in the whole process is one of the first things you must have for anything constructive to take place. The fact I had found out about this retreat from a good and trustworthy friend who assured me of it being a good and safe place. The fact it was in the Peruvian amazon with a proper shaman with respect for the proper rituals and practices. The fact that our whole group seemed to be all there for good reasons, most of us all experiencing it for the first time. All of this helped to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence.

The week I spent there in the Amazon, despite my prior concerns, was very relaxing and it was the best I have slept in a long time. I had concerns about being able to keep the diet during the time there and getting too hungry. But the food was so nutritious and we were mostly taking it so easy, with so little stress, like you would normally have, so we were not burning off loads of nervous energy from sheer tension. The end result was that I found myself not going hungry through most of it. In fact I sometimes ended up eating less than the available meals.

First Insights

The insights began by taking me back to a childhood experience that I had largely forgotten. It was something I never shared with anyone. So it was a pure memory of my own experience, not one I later created or invented from others repeating a story back to me from my childhood. I had remembered this experience intermittently in my life. But only now did it seem to take on an extra significance. What I had experienced when I was maybe six, seven or eight years old, was a visceral awareness of a field of pulsating energy surrounding me. Like a network of green tubes where all of the regular solid physical objects should be. It seemed to be all converging on me and I remember jumping up on to the sofa to escape it. The sofa was still physical but it was placed in a void of these networks of green tubes and wires. There was no floor. It reminds me, looking back now, of that movie the langoliers based on the Stephen King story where the creatures eat away the past time, and they have to escape from it in a plane as all of reality surrounding them is eaten away.

So this had been my experience when young. It was not an experience of evil or anything bad, but it had certainly scared me at the time. It clearly effected me deeply for it was this experience, the mother ayahuasca was telling me that led to my not being very attached to regular human ways ever since.

For much of my adult life, living in a state of amnesia regarding this, I had been drifting along fearing some abuse in my childhood was the root of my problems. I was sure something must have gone wrong somewhere. Why else would I feel a continually returning sense of self hatred, why else would I isolate myself from others so much? But, instead, something had gone right. I had been given a special gift of spiritual awareness. The sense of being wrong, this was only me reflecting the emotional projections of those around me. When they don’t have that same insight as me, they cannot help at times but project their negative emotions on to me. And there was me, feeling bad I could not give them the same awareness as myself, when it is impossible to give such a thing, it is something that has to be given to you.

So this led to the first key practical insight for me in my life from now on. I need to better distinguish my true self and its source, its intuition, from the emotional projections of those around me. Regular cleansing rituals, regular calm meditation. Surround yourself with people not projecting on to you their negativity. These were my first lessons to learn.

I cannot take on the burdens of others. I cannot be an altruist. It may be a cliché, but unless you get your own house in order first, you can be of no good value to others. It is not that I should not care for others at all. Far from it, it is that I should learn to care and love from my true center, as only then am I being true to myself and to those others in my intentions and beliefs.

It was a great relief to discover there was no major abuse in my childhood. Or at least not a level of abuse that is my main problem now as an adult. It allows me to start to heal and let go of some of anger and hatred towards other family members for how they treated me at times when I was young. I can see now that for all they did, it was only a projection of their own negativity and insecurity on to me. It came from a place of vulnerability on their part, not from a place of evil or power over me that they had. So I don’t need to cling to that sense of being wronged and the attendant sense of injustice and entitlement this breeds. These are all cyclical bad habits of thought that do me no good and refer to something that in fact doesn’t exist and didn’t even happen in the first place.

I invented a fiction of a bad childhood to allow myself to be a victim, to allow myself an easy excuse to be lazy and not put in a good effort. But not just for these morally bad reasons, it was also purely out of ignorance of the fact that I didn’t have such a bad childhood. I really believed I did because I had been internalising the negative projections of emotions and energy from those around me, and taking on those burdens as if they were my own burdens. This is the kind of futile, powerless altruism I need to avoid. I have known instinctively that I must avoid this for many years, but I have never been able to quite express it correctly and it has always been tied up with a needless sense of hatred and anger at what I saw as moralising people, unjustly burdening me with things. It came from a desire to right a wrong, when really it is just plain rightness prior to anything that is wrong. It is not a reaction to others, it is the internal source of what is good and right, reaching and projecting outward from my true center.

So I need to focus on what I can do, not what others can do. This message was repeated to me many times during that first, and as it turns out only, direct conversation I had with the mother ayahuasca, though I did have two other trips differing greatly from this first experience.

Focus on what I can do, not on what others can do. Do not always wait for someone to lead the way for you, do not always follow and wait to react to some other persons judgment on something. Believe in your own judgment and act on it immediately. No delay, no waiting for approval, just act.

This was the second practical lesson for me to focus on, that I took from this ayahuasca experience. In the days since then I have begun attempts at this. It all has to happen quite subtly though. It cannot be forced, it cannot be a delusion of immediate conversion to a different way of life. At least it was not going to be that way for me. It will have to be a gradual process. One where I learn to act from my true center, so that I can be coming from a place of love and not from some tactical angle of deception or manipulation.

Of course, we all must use these tactics at times to protect ourselves from those who we are not friends with. Those who may be trying to project negativity on to us, or who may just simply have something wrong with them, or be full of hatred, or whatever. But still you have to be able to let that guard down in your own sacred places, lets call them. In your average language, people would talk of private space, of their home, of community, family, friends. And for those who can own this language and believe it can work that is fine, but for me all these terms have too much negative baggage, and so I must focus more on the notion of a sacred place or space.

I don’t feel a need to be attached to a particular physical place or social network. I don’t need to belong in this way. But still I need some space in which I can belong, and for me this works better as a purely spiritual place of sacredness. It is not something wrong in me that I am not very attached to human ways and as long as I make this clear to other people I meet then there will be no misunderstanding. It will of course make life difficult for me at times potentially on the material level. But if I can connect better on the spiritual level with others by being centered on my true self then I think I will be provided for and supported much better.

The first ceremony progressed along, some others were going through some serious emotions and some were purging a lot. I felt totally happy and at peace myself, enjoying my communication and communion with the mother ayahuasca. I started also to feel spiritual connections with some of the other people there and with the shaman. Alongside this I felt a very visceral connection with my body and my digestive system. I started to communicate with it, and it bemoaned me that I ask it to digest such a substance. But I communicated to it to just digest slowly. My stomach grumbled immediately after I communicated that, so I said to it, maybe a bit slower than that please!

Around this time the facilitator came around asking us if we wanted to take a second cup of the ayahuasca. It had never entered my head that we would be taking it twice in the one night. I also felt sure were I to take more I would just puke it up and it would be wasted. Alongside this, given the experiences and insights I was having anyway, and my stomachs complaints, I refused the second cup. Most others took it, and this is when for one of us things started to get very difficult. That person had fallen asleep only taking half a cup, awoken by the facilitator they took another three quarters of a cup and this turned out to be a bad idea. For this person then proceeded to puke viciously many times over the next few hours.

I was enjoying my experience still peacefully. At one point I decided to go out to the toilet mainly to get away from the noise of all the puking. Then I headed back to my tambo, imagining somehow that the ceremony was over. I had got this idea because I thought I saw some other empty places already in the building where we were having the ceremony, and that some others had already left. It turns out I had left quite early. In my head I imagined much more time had passed than in fact had. In my head it seemed it must be around two in the morning. But it was only around ten thirty or eleven. Three or four hours had passed, but it had felt more like six or seven hours to me. The facilitator came to the hut and explained the ceremony was still going on and that the shaman does a final blessing or something of this kind over each of us. So I made my way back, unsteadily, still feeling the physical dizziness that the ayahuasca causes.

The connection I had felt with a spiritual realm was fading away by this time. I was more back just in my regular self connection I would say. I was more aware of regular things again, and it was mainly a case of waiting for the dizziness to wear off so I could head back comfortably to my tambo to go to bed. At this time, right at the end of the ceremony, a huge thunderstorm had broken out with very heavy rain. So when I did go back I found myself running to get out of the rain and to shake off the mosquitoes that had come out strangely, as I had thought the heavy rain would keep the mosquitoes away.

Getting back to my tambo, I did purge a bit for the first and only time during the whole week there. It was the first time I had been sick in many years. It felt good to get something out, and after this I spent a few hours in bed still going over all the insights I had been given by the ayahuasca till eventually I fell off to sleep.

During the first experience with ayahuasca I had conversed about if I needed to even take it again. I reached a compromise of taking half a cup the next day. I think this was a combination of my ego wanting to have a bit more control this time so I could be more aware of the whole ceremonial process, much of which had passed me by like a dream the first time, and a desire to play it a bit safer after the almost overwhelming insights of the first night. The ayahuasca had communicated to me that I should take one more full cup, so on the third night I was to do this.

Reflections

The second ayahuasca ceremony was not such a memorable affair for me. I took in events more quietly. I felt no real connection with a spiritual realm of any kind. Mostly I just had a conversation with my inner self, going over various concerns and trying to piece together some solutions to recurring problems in my life. I acquired the insight that my focus for this whole travelling experience is to heal my interactions with other people. This is where things have been going wrong for me.

I have certainly done a lot of this kind of healing the past few weeks, in Lima, Peru, in the Amazon with the other people at the retreat. And now, since then, in Bogota, Colombia. I have probably expressed more positive feeling to others these past few weeks than I had done for many months proceeding it, if not for many years. Still, the same return to my baseline tends to be a return to a state of assuming the worst of others and a slight paranoia of others motivations. There is survival value in this for sure, but it is mostly redundant and overly constricting to me in my life. Each morning it seems I wake up with this sense of suspiciousness of others that can only be broken by a real and friendly interaction with another person. Until that happens I find myself going around in a state almost of panic, due to anxiety. It’s like I need that basic sense of validation of my existence from others before I can settle down to the tasks of the day.

The lesson of the second ayahuasca experience was on how to go about this healing of my interactions with others. I had got it wrong thinking I needed to ingratiate myself to others, totally wrong. What is needed is not for me to take more account of other people. But paradoxically, in many areas, to take less account of them. Only in that way can you present your true self to others, and your true feelings as they are now. This is what people require fundamentally, not your attention or your ingratiation, just a statement of who you are, what you like, what you are doing, so they can know where they stand with you. And for me to show this, I need to not get so caught up in what others are thinking about me, or in trying to please them by falling into line with their expectations of me.

All of this was coming to me on a purely reasoning kind of level. It was not coming with the sense of certainty as the previous day. It was more kind of a reflection of that first experience. As that night progressed, I felt a sense of discomfort in my heart. Not a physical, but emotional discomfort. I think my heart ached for a more veridical experience, like on the previous night. So at this time, I certainly acquired the determination to drink a full cup again tomorrow for my final ayahuasca experience during this particular retreat.

Final Insights and Lessons

The third night completed my lessons to be learned nicely. Where the first ceremony had been a communication with a feminine spiritual entity, mother ayahuasca, and the second had been solely a communication with my self, this last one was to be a communication with the masculine aspect of spirituality, the term I would use for this aspect is the Atman concept of Hinduism.

Atman, (Sanskrit: “self,” “breath”) one of the most basic concepts in Hinduism, the universal self, identical with the eternal core of the personality that after death either transmigrates to a new life or attains release (moksha) from the bonds of existence. Atman is that which makes the other organs and faculties function and for which indeed they function; it also underlies all the activities of a person.. (From Britannica.com)

This Atman, the eternal “I”, I felt and experienced. I felt my close alignment with it. It guided me on how to keep in alignment by flicking away questioning thoughts and worries. Do not reject them Forcefully with anger or judgment, and do not submit to them, simply flick them away, like the transient passing sparks that they are.

The third ceremony started as the others with more supportive messages. Also I spent a good part of the first hour reflecting on my gratitude for the whole experience I had been given at this retreat. Thankful for the safe environment provided, for the other people I am sharing this experience with, and for their good and pure intentions for the process also.

It went on to give me a sense of the outline of the metaphysical and ontological reality underlying the spiritual realm. Via this notion of the Atman, I learned of alignment with it. How it works, what it is, and what can go wrong. It can go wrong if you identify too completely with the Atman, for we still have the expression of our spirituality through a physical body. So we can align with, but not identify with it. Another way it can go wrong is for those who are out of alignment with the Atman.

I spent some time, as on the first night, in a debate with the spiritual realm. But where it had been more of a persuasive, playful force with mother ayahuasca, the Atman was more of a dominating force, not asking for my compliance, but simply demanding it, on the grounds that the Atman is the source of being, not me or my ego. I challenged it a bit with a few what if scenarios. What if I rebelled from it, what if I refused to trust it? The answer was clear, I would only be making things needlessly more difficult for myself. And eventually, sooner or later, I would have to seek to align with the Atman again, so you may as well just align now, and save yourself a futile and pointless strife.

In my conversation with the Atman I asked and addressed my own concerns regarding mental illnesses, such as Schizophrenia. My dad and brother both suffering from this illness, it had been a worry of mine that I may have this in me also. But here as before, I had been internalising others burdens. The Atman assured me of this and also explained to me that schizophrenia is a kind of misalignment with the Atman. A kind that many people have. It also explained that most people are out of alignment with the Atman in some way, only a few are properly aligned with it.

The next major lesson I learned from this occasion besides techniques for staying in alignment with the Atman, was the realisation that other embodied humans also in many cases are in alignment independently from myself with the Atman, and so we can commune in these cases not just as humans but as kindred spirits. I had spent a long time in my life only seeing others on the human level, and as no more than this. Seeing myself as a lonely spiritual being lost among a realm of purely physical beings.

But it is important to not presume other humans are “just” human and purely attached to the human realm. For sure, many are, but many are not, and can be related to and communicated with in trust insofar as you can recognise and identify this.

Only by seeing and believing the ontological reality of a spiritual domain can you appreciate people on this level. If you reduce always to the physical level, material level, biological level, or whatever, you are left with no means of seeing others as anything more than meat suits, means to your ends, except by strictly following and adhering blindly to certain moral codes of conduct handed to you by others. Over time such codes always lose their persuasive force, when they are not supported by an appreciation of an ontological reality underlying things. Like Kant said, we must see others as ends in themselves. But not in order to blindly follow moral rules in relation to them. Once we can recognise others as ends in themselves we can act accordingly in line with this reality based on our intuition, we don’t need to follow moral codes and strictures. These codes are only needed for those with no ability to appreciate others as ends in themselves.

The standard left wing, liberal, atheist stance of today desperately needs moral codes to follow, because it has sacrificed and denied the possibility of any ontological or spiritual reality to other people as anything beyond physical matter. Such an approach is not sustainable, it always lives off the reflection of other peoples real spiritual connections of the past, codified into morals for them to follow. While we in the current generation must also rejuvenate the real spiritual connections as well. It is our task as aware beings. Denying your own awareness, one of the latest themes of this group of people, leads you down a road of pretending to be something you are not, and down a very unhealthy road of dissatisfaction with yourself and life, expressed in materialistic consumerism.

The third major insight of this last experience of the ayahuasca was quite an interesting one regarding planet earth. I had a vision of the whole earth as only a small part of nature, with a very big ego about itself. Such that it tries to get us to confuse it with all of nature. But this is a deception and a false attachment to the earth based on a materialistic connection, not a spiritual one. The spirit is not dependent on the earth, the spirit is an expression of universal nature, and the earth is only one little expression of this spirit. So the idea is that you should not let your spirit feel confined to expression as a product of the earth. The nature from which the spirit comes is the universal nature, not the nature of planet earth. Once again this is something that your standard left wing atheist will make an error with. In their reversal of the causal chain, and their attachment to the earths ego, they sacrifice their own spiritual awareness for the sake of some ideal of a human nature that produces them. An ideal to some day be decisively discovered and compartmentalised by science.

All of this creates a whole culture in misalignment with the spiritual reality of the Atman, and unsurprisingly gives it all sorts of spiritual problems and maladies it cannot deal with. And, no surprise the western people stuck in this culture either get severe depressions or need to find regular ways to escape it to rejuvenate themselves. There is no material solution to this problem, only a spiritual solution of improving our alignment with the Atman, and accepting the reality of a spiritual level to existence in which belief and intuition and our own judgments come to the fore, and not other peoples, even experts, prescriptions of what is best for us.

Coda

A final vision I had was of a woman looking at me intently with red eyes. Though I don’t really know if it was a vision or if there was someone sitting in the other room where I saw her gazing at me. Maybe there was a woman there but not gazing with bright red eyes, maybe this was added on or hallucinated. I was not quite sure how to interpret this part of the experience, there was a sense of foreboding, a sense of being known and seen to my core by this woman. Did this indicate the feminine distanced from me, calling me to it, did it represent a feminine presence watching over me? Maybe it was the anima, that Carl Jung speaks of. Whatever it may have been, it felt like the fitting conclusion to my experience that I be watched by this being or woman. Maybe it is something I still need to connect with spiritually, for I feel I am still only a beginner on this spiritual voyage through life.

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