In South America Ayahuasca is referred to as medicina (natural medicine)and not a drug. Out of respect to the Ayahuasca, and the culture that I have been submersed in, I will refer to her as medicine as well. To be quite honest, words do an injustice to the relationship that I have formed with Ayahuasca, but they can give you an idea. Perhaps the impact that Ayahuasca has had on my life is partly due to my upbringing and the events that led up to me coming down to South America. I grew up in Miami, FL and came from Latin descent. In August 2010, after graduating high school I chased my childhood dream of moving to New York City. I was pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at a rather expensive art school which I’ll leave unnamed. It kept me busy for a while but I gradually realized that I felt incredibly unfulfilled, was paying way too much money for my education and was craving something more.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a spiritually inclined individual. Although, the first two years of living in New York I was completely ignoring that side of my being altogether. I was overwhelmed by it all and wasn’t dealing with my dissatisfaction and disappointment with the society that I had been living in. I realized that the art world (specifically that of NYC) was incredibly vapid and everything I was doing served no real purpose. I began to drink heavily and was using any opportunity that I could to get high off drugs in order to cope with not knowing my place in the world. I didn’t love or value my own existence and was using sex as a method of dealing with my insecurities. I was beginning to feel emptier than I had ever felt in my entire life and was looking for solace in all of the wrong places. I was so detached from my reality that I was unaware of how my actions were affecting those that cared about me. My grades plummeted, my relationships were suffering and I felt like I had dug myself into a hole that was impossible to get out of. I began to ask myself “Why am I here on Earth?” and “What is my place in this Universe?” Deep down I knew that I wanted to do something with my life in which I was making a contribution to this planet instead of just taking whatever I could from it.
My spirit was telling me that it was time to go explore the world, but my mind was getting in my way. You’re already halfway through Daniel… Are you really going to quit now? I felt lost and confused, but still believed that something beautiful was waiting for me elsewhere. After a long and difficult battle with myself I made the decision of dropping out of college. Would I take any of that back? No. I realize now that everything happens for a reason. I met beautiful people during my studies there and some great professors as well but I knew that it was time for me to go travel. Where exactly? I wasn’t so sure. I took up three jobs, two working at coffee shops and one in a restaurant behind a computer taking orders once every few hours. My social life shrivelled to non-existent. While working a shift at one of the coffee shops a man came in and started talking to me about how amazing Peru was, and somehow, at that moment, I felt that I was supposed to go there. I looked at a map, felt a tug on my soul and that night I bought a one way ticket to Lima. I still hadn’t heard of Iquitos, Peru until one of my friends from New York casually brought up that she had taken Ayahuasca while she had been there. Ayahuasca? What the hell is that? Although I had heard the name before, I was still rather ignorant about the subject. I had experimented with psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, but something was telling me that Ayahuasca would play a pivotal role in my life. She was calling out to me, and I knew I had to meet her.
On September 7th, 2013 I boarded a plane from Miami to Lima anxious for the adventure that was awaiting me. For the first three months, I volunteered at an NGO in Trujillo, northern Peru, and from there I found my way to Iquitos. Within the first week of being there I had met the owners of a hostel called La Casa Chacruna. There I met a couple who were holding ceremonies with a local shaman by the name of Roman. Something was telling me that the events that were about to transpire would change the course of my life forever. The next day we took a 45 minute hike out to a beautiful house sitting at the top of a hill overlooking the Amazon Jungle. Right away I knew that it wasn’t going to be the last time I saw this place.
I remember the fear and anxiety leading up to the moment in which I drank my very first cup. It was thick, dark and sludgy and was unlike anything I had ever tasted before. I sat down on my mat and waiting in anticipation for the medicine to kick in. The ceremony started off horribly as I had been pushing a lot of things under the rug. I’d been drinking heavily, my diet was awful and I wasn’t the most spiritually healthy person on this planet either. I spent the whole time yacking away not only the chemical toxins in my body, but also all the negative energy that had been festering inside of me all of those years. The Ayahuasca was forcing me to deal with all of darker aspects of my personality. The partying, the promiscuous sex, the self doubt and the self-destructive aspects of my being were all ominously surfacing. There was so much love that I had been bottling up inside of me, because up until then it had been very difficult for me to express my genuine feelings to the people I cared for the most. When the ceremony got too dark for me to handle, I would focus on the shaman’s icaros (songs sang during ceremony) and it would soothe and comfort me. Suddenly, spirits of indigenous men were entering the ceremony room and surrounding each of us. They embraced me, they assured me that I was indeed a beautiful human being and that life had big plans for me. During my limpieza (cleansing) the shaman spoke words to me that I will never forget. He saw that I was leaving behind a dark past but that there was a lot of light that was guiding my life. That I had a big purpose and would one day work for social and humanitarian causes. He told me that there were people who would never close their doors on me, to never feel alone in this world and he ended it with the words “Daniel, Te Amo” (I love you) I had never felt that someone had looked into my soul in the way that this man had looked into mine that night. I knew that this was the beginning of a long relationship with the medicine. Within a week the couple were telling me that they needed a translator for their ceremonies and being one of the few bilingual people around at the time, they offered me the spot. Was this all real? I’m suddenly working at an Ayahuasca center and getting paid to do it? Did I manifest this?
No two ceremonies are ever alike. You can have seven people in a room with each of them having a completely different journey. I have learned that a persons experience is ultimately determined by the intention one has going into ceremony. An intention is the motivation or question that you have at the moment that you drink your cup. During one ceremony, my intention was “only let love and light into my heart.” Interestingly enough, that night we all decided to make that our intention. It was one of the most spiritually profound experiences of my entire life. I completely left my body and visited all of my loved ones. I could not see them, but I could feel them. Everything was pure bliss and I felt this endless love and compassion for all of the people that had influenced me in some kind of way. My soul was flying through a spectrum of bright colors flowing through a tunnel. At that moment the shaman began to rub some kind of perfume on my scalp, it was a very calming sensation that felt as if it were coming from the distance. There was something anchoring my spirit down to my body and at the perfect moment I was yanked back into the room. I felt disoriented and wasn’t exactly sure of what had happened or how long I had been out of my body for. Within moments it was time for me to translate the limpiezas. During, I channelled all of the shaman’s words to the person being cleansed. The shaman was their leader; He would look into their soul and speak a profound message that was in tune with their own personal journey. It was as if the words were pouring out of his mouth, into my body and coming out of mine. I could feel a deep connection to the person being cleansed, their pain and suffering but that all of it was being washed away by the shamans icaros. I remember the awe and wonder that I felt at that moment. If magic was real, this was it.
There are many contrasting reports coming from people who have taken Ayahuasca. Some report sheer terror while others report pure bliss. Just because one person has a dark experience while under the medicine does not mean that it is the case for everyone. First, the medicine works to cleanse your body of its toxins. Now she is working on providing me with the knowledge and wisdom that I need in order to fulfil my purpose in life. Whatever the Ayahuasca is purging you of will present itself to you as it leaving. That is why in your first few ceremonies (depending on how spiritually healthy you go into it) your experience can be a bit darker. Once you are clean both spiritually and physically you are open to the wonder and euphoria Ayahuasca has to offer.
There’s a lot of negative propaganda surrounding Ayahuasca; but it can be very difficult to understand unless you work intimately with the medicine. It is important that you trust your shaman, as the shaman is there to navigate the space and protect you from evil spirits. Unfortunately, corrupt shamans do exist and there have been horrific stories of the past. Some so called “shamans” will put women so under the medicine that they will have no idea what is happening any more. They will violate them and make them believe that it is all apart of the ritual. Although this does occur, it is fairly easy to avoid such an event from happening. You need to make sure that you have references for wherever you are going. Ayahuasca is not a joke or an excuse to go out and “get high.” It is definitely not something that one should go into blindly either. Make sure that you sense a good vibration from the person that you are looking to have your ceremony with. It is important to know that there are brujos, or ‘bad shamans’ out there, people who are out to steal your energy and money. If your intuition is telling you that something isn’t right you must not second guess this and leave the situation immediately. You must always be aware of brujos – you’d be surprised at how many westerners fit the bill. Just because someone has worked with the medicine previously, does not mean that they are necessarily a good person. As with everything in this life, some will taint it and use their new-found knowledge for personal gain and not for the well-being of the Earth.
If you want an authentic experience I would suggest avoiding some of the bigger centers. Many of these places will charge an obscene amount of money to conduct ceremonies with over twenty people. Personally, I’d never participate in a ceremony with a large number of people. I have actually found that the smaller the ceremony is, the more the spirits can work on each participant. The best ceremony I’ve ever had was one where only three people were partaking, not including the shaman. If there is too much energy, the atmosphere can become a bit chaotic. There is also more of a connection within the participants when the groups are more intimate and your questions are more likely to get answered. Be smart about it, do your research, not so much about individual experiences (as like I said, everyone’s is unique), but more so on the precautions that one should take and the ethics of Ayahuasca centers. Many of these centers will lose sight of the reason that they started in the first place and become corrupted by greed. Their work will no longer be about healing any more and will only be about the money they can make off of you. Another thing that I will stress is that it is very important that you aren’t on any kind of synthetic drugs, especially anti-depressants. Ayahuasca does not like being mixed with man made drugs and if you are on anti-depressants you can go into what is called serotonin syndrome, resulting in death. It is also important that you go into the ceremony with a good period abstaining from sex, unhealthy eating or drug use. This will make your first experience with the medicine a lot more pleasant than my own! The people who tend to have the most horrifying experiences are those who aren’t exactly living the healthiest lifestyle or do not respect the medicine, because in the end, that is what it is.
Ayahuasca has been a very powerful guide for me, and I know that once I stop taking the medicine, she will always be with me. For the first time in my entire life I can say that I am genuinely happy. I have mental focus and concentration that I never had prior. I no longer feel numb to the world and have empathy towards all living beings. We are conditioned to be afraid of these experiences, to fear the unknown, to believe either that we are simply God’s creations or that no divine power exists, but ultimately you will not find truth unless you find the courage to enter into the unknown. The western world is now returning to the indigenous cultures that we have oppressed for so long because as we’ve “evolved” the human race has moved farther and farther away from being one with nature. We speak of it as something separate from us, instead of acknowledging that we are apart of it. Ayahuasca is a voice for the Earth to communicate with humans. She is here to teach and help us evolve as a species. She knows why each of us are here on Earth and can provide you with everything that you need to fulfil your purpose in life. Why do I call Ayahuasca a she? Because she is the embodiment of mother Earth, our Pachamama. She is here to teach us that the true nature of being is to love and in the end that is all that matters. Everything else is just noise.