For those of you who have not heard of Ayahuasca, it's an ancient medicinal plant with origins in the Amazon, namely Peru. It's a thick brown tea derived from Caapi, a vine that only grows in the rainforest. The Caapi vine is blended with plant leaves that contain hallucinogenic properties to create Ayahuasca.
An Ayahuasca ceremony involves drinking the hallucinatory plant/vine tea blend under the guidance of a respected Shaman, for a long night spent in deep connection to a higher intelligence and an understanding of one's true self. Ayahuasca is indigenous to the Amazon and is legal there, where retreats and ceremonies are held and authorized, but not in the U.S., where the scene is still underground and secretive.
If you are considering partaking in such a journey, prepare to encounter the divine, the infinite, the mystery — whatever you choose to call it — that which is beyond the limited perspective of your mind.
You must also be willing to accept that the divine/infinite/mystery cannot be experienced in a way that will make sense to your brain; the infinite is infinite — duh; while your brain is still finite.
Be wary that you might not necessarily like the information that the divine/infinite/mystery chooses to share with you either.
In the documentary Vine of the Soul: Encounters with Ayahuasca, one user reported that the horror she experienced was truly indescribable and that she thought she was going to die.
But another participant in the ceremony said that Ayahuasca opened her heart in a way it had never been opened before.
Ayahuasca is always referred to in the feminine, because users have said that the voice of higher intelligence that they'll hear while during the ceremony is female. She (meaning the plant) speaks to you directly and tells you what you need to work on in your life.
Returning ceremonial participants should also be aware that each time you experience the divine/infinite/mystery, it will be different — each experience is akin to just a small drop in the ocean.
The experience will be ineffable, beyond language, and you will likely find that trying to put it into words after the ceremony has ended will be daunting if not impossible.
"Ten years of therapy downloaded in a night," seems to be a fairly universal analogy to convey the possible takeaway from a ceremony. A typical Ayahuasca ceremony is a full night — the trip can last up to five hours. You may wish to take this into consideration before you make plans to attend a barbecue or any other form of social activity, the following day.
The icaros, sung by a Shaman, are an integral part of the ceremony. It is through these songs that your mareación (the visionary effects of Ayahuasca) is enhanced. It is also quite likely that you will likely gain a greater appreciation of the power of music through the icaros.
If you do not adhere to the recommended dieta (diet) before the ceremony, then the plants will assist your body in ridding itself of the chemicals — salt, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc., by fleshing out the toxins and impurities that you have crammed into it over the years. This is commonly known as purging, which translates to literally just that. You'll probably vomit profusely but purge buckets will be provided. But fear not, if your body (including the subtle energy body) is clean, then there will be nothing to purge.
Another possible outcome of an Ayahuasca ceremony is that you will realize that everything perceived through your five senses and assimilated by your mind is contrived or false.
It is possible that plant medicine allows one to open The Doors of Perception, as Aldous Huxley described in his detailed account of taking mescaline. The subjective self is temporarily shed and a merging with the infinite "other," is realized. After a ceremonial night of purging, you might find that you gain a fresh new outlook on what was once a seemingly mundane reality.
You should also be quite certain that your Shaman is bonafide, as you will be entrusting him or her with your psychological and emotional well-being. Be prepared to experience your mind deconstruct first-hand, and then reconstruct itself back together.
Once your mind is shattered or "broken open" as the psychedelia author Daniel Pinchbeck calls it, you may encounter what feels like schizophrenia, which can be frightening. Therefore it is imperative to do your research on your Shaman and the ceremony itself — whether it's a retreat center in the middle of the Peruvian jungle or a loft space in Brooklyn — so that you can ensure you are in good hands and feel safe.
It is not a coincidence that seekers interested in yoga and meditation would gravitate towards plant medicine, for yoga and meditation were originally designed to guide practitioners beyond their rational thinking minds and experience the divine/infinite/mystery.
Much like yoga and meditation retreats, the Ayahuasca ceremonial retreat has found a home right here in the wellness world, and even amongst celebrities like Tori Amos, Sting and Paul Simon. Some are even calling it, "the new juice cleanse."