What To Expect During An Ayahuasca Ceremony
Ayahuasca is an ancient medicinal plant brew with origins in the Amazon, namely Peru. The thick brown tea is made using Caapi, a vine that only grows in the rainforest, and plant leaves that contain hallucinogenic properties.
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. A typical Ayahuasca ceremony is a full night—the trip can last up to five hours. 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 largely underground and secretive.
What it's like to do Ayahuasca and what to expect during a ceremony.
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, while your brain is still finite.
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 gain a greater appreciation of the power of music through the icaros.
Be wary that you might not necessarily like the information that the divine/infinite/mystery chooses to share with you. 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 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.
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 take-away from a ceremony. 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.
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.
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.
It is possible that plant medicine allows the subjective self to temporarily shed and merge with the infinite "other." After a ceremonial night of purging, you might find that you gain a fresh new outlook on what was once a seemingly mundane reality.
What to look for when choosing a ceremony.
You should 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 firsthand 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 so that you can ensure you are in good hands and feel safe.
Ira Israel is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Licensed Professional Counselor from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. He received his BA degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, then took a Master of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Connecticut where he concentrated on philosophy of mind and aesthetics. He also has a Master of Arts degree in religious studies from UCSB where he studied Buddhist psychology and Hindu philosophy. He received a Master of Arts degree in psychology from Antioch University.
Ira teaches workshops at the Esalen Institute and throughout the United States and is the author of How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening.