Why You May Want To Drink Ayahuasca Alone

The ayahuasca vine. Via: Paul Hessell


by Julian Palmer

on July 3, 2019

In most countries outside of South America, if you want to drink Ayahuasca, you must pay quite a lot of money to a facilitator/curandero, and then drink in potentially a troublesome group, squished in with a lot of random people. And that is not to say that this experience may not be very well worth the money, it is just that many people may want to go deeper themselves, without the potential distractions and costs.

But there are some who say that you should never drink alone, except only under the auspices of a shaman who has trained for 12 or more years in a South American tradition. I strongly disagree with this, and believe that the only way we are going to catalyze a new culture of plant medicine work in the west, is that people do drink alone to go deeper with the plants and themselves. This is in fact the purest way to drink ayahuasca, and a very effective way to understand these plants, the state of “things” and also oneself.

Nobody is saying that first time ayahuasca drinkers should drink alone or that drinking alone is the way to go if you are a first timer. I had a sitter for my first time and my 2nd time as well, and believe it should be a matter of course in your first few times that someone is there for you, simply to make sure you are safe. I know a guy who ended up needing to talk to his neighbour, (who he had never connected with before) and he felt like calling the ambulance. There is a story on the internet of a man, who after drinking ayahuasca by himself at home, came to consciousness driving their car at high speed at the edge of his city having no recollection of the previous night. And then there are other quite common stories of people who drink by themselves who end up calling the paramedics because they start freaking out. Perhaps after 2-3 times you will be able to drink without a sitter, but that is up to the individual to ascertain.

A major disadvantage in these ayahuasca groups in the west is that they are EXPENSIVE. To actually accumulate decent experience when you are paying for it, is going to cost you a lot of money that may be simply unaffordable to many people. If you are really serious about this, unless you want to go to The Amazon, perhaps you are going to want to go a bit deeper by yourself.

In many respects, the group is a bit of a distraction. People can make noises and the energies and personalities in any given group can be quite distracting. Depending on who and where you drink with, you may be forced to sing songs, sit up all night next to a roaring firing getting burnt to a crisp, your “shaman” shouting at you if you don’t sit up straight or they may sing all night some raspy repetitive songs which are supposed to guide you. You may also find yourself in a group where the “shaman” is there to heal you too, some may be ok with this, but others may not want that kind of interference in their process from a person, only to have an experience and healing with the plants.

When drinking by yourself is where you are really going to be able to focus internally and truly go within, undistracted by a “ceremony”. And besides, the deepest work is quite individual in the first place, it doesn’t matter that all these other people are around you and you do not need them around you in order to go deep into your experience.

My belief is that it is by going into the space, that you are going to learn, and often you are only going to learn by your own mistakes and where you may even get singed. And that is not a bad thing to learn from your mistakes and experience all kind of potential darknesses and issues. This is all part of it too, in life as well of course. If you are unprepared to meet “the wilds”, then maybe you should not drink ayahuasca at all. Or maybe you should only drink only pissweak ayahuasca with a shaman who claims to keep you protected from “the wilds”.

The deal with ayahuasca if you drink a non-pissweak dose, is that it tends to show people their shadow, to reveal the darkness, and to propel people deep into potentially very chaotic and crazy mental and emotional states. Therefore with ayahuasca, it is necessary is to face the darkness and demons, whether within or without, and there is often lot there to be faced. Why should we need someone else to protect us from our own darkness and demons? A lot of people want to coddled form their own negativity (or the negativity of the world), but I’d say one of the primary purposes of ayahuasca is for you to see your own negativity so you can realize it and work through it, so that you can be sober and consider how best to act in the world. That is often really hard work and nobody can do it for you. Only in this raw space are people going to realise what egotistical arseholes they are being in their life, something I find to be a common revelation, the ayahuasca itself working through people’s denial and barriers to realizing their own errant behavior.

So much of how people take ayahuasca in the modern day is just feeding “spiritual bypassing”, which is bypassing that deep investigation which clearly bears the most fruit. And to do that, I believe you need space and not all the obscuring and often quite external factors of “ceremony” and “tradition”, which can often act to block out the personal revelations. Yet, the truth is very confronting, and for many just being aware of their real position within the matrix may be extremely confronting in and of itself.

When drinking with yourself, there is nobody and nothing there to obscure you from yourself, there is only you. There is little chance to practice too much ceremony or tradition, as this only becomes most apparent when there are a group of people are witnessing that. I also highly recommend low dose mushrooms in the float tank, in that case, there is only you. In such a situation, where is the possibility for ceremony or “tradition”? or even technique? You take the low dose of mushrooms, get in the tank, stay as still as you can, and actively surrender into yourself. And so to bypass all this structure and tradition, there is an easy way, just drink by yourself, maybe with some music playing, or just in silence.

Not everyone who does this work is lucky/unfortunate enough to have a “master” to guide them in the process. Actually, only very few people I’ve found ever find such a fabled “master ayahuascaro” in the first instance. It is also true that many, if not most of the “masters” are self taught or learnt from a teacher who was self taught and/or taught by the plants and spirits, not some tradition passed on from father to son for many generations, like a lot of people mistakenly believe.

One thing I am having to continually point out to people, which is that there is no singular South American “tradition” in South America. You have many indigenous tribes, whose ways are quite relaxed and down to earth when it comes to taking ayahuasca. They generally just drink the medicine and typically don’t make such a structure around it. But westerners have these ideas of a singular shamanic craft which exists throughout the Amazon. The closest that comes to this, is a largely Peruvian mestizo model, which is a newish model designed to suit a post-conquered, mixed race Amazonian peoples, often with elements of christianity, witchcraft and sorcery typically taken out for the tourists.

One other thing I like to keep reminding people of, is that Terence McKenna and Jonathon Ott when they went to Iquitos in the early 1980’s were not able to find psychoactive ayahuasca. Strongly visual ayahuasca is just not a tradition, except for the shamans who largely use the ayahuasca to psychically fight each other. The form of mestizo shamanism whereby ayahuasca is given to gringos at a high DMT dose is largely only a new tradition which has existed for a few decades. I personally don’t see this tradition as necessarily being most suited to helping westerners perform the healing and deep work they clearly need to do with the medicine.

Perhaps the real meat of mestizo shamanism, is to learn and listen and work with the plants, through singing icaros. I myself do not sing icaros, although there are several styles of singing and vocal techniques that come through me at times. I find icaros too distracting, and I don’t think are the best aural soundtrack to deep self inquiry.

Western people have this idea that compels them, the “mystique of shamanism”, a great illusion, like a mirage, the reality of it which never truly seems to come into view. But shamanism in its essence, is actually very simple, it is the communication with spirits, good and bad, and that is what people who have worked past their own shit will start doing naturally after perhaps a few dozen sessions.

My view is that the primary teacher is the plants, and the spirits we can meet in the space, who we can look to as teachers and healers. The primary wisdom and learning really is inbuilt into the medicine itself. It doesn’t come from “the master ayahuascaro” in his powerpoint slides, youtube videos or even in his songs, or in any kind of transmission. People are so desiring a human father figure, teacher, like they would have been seeking a guru in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the fact of the matter is that most of these gurus were fake and scamsters. The same is unfortunately true in the amazon today.

To my mind Ayahuasca is very powerful as a healer of the human body and psyche, and that is its niche. But also, Syrian rue and a DMT containing plant admixture will often give people what they are looking for in terms of visions and insight just as much as ayahuasca, if not moreso. Terence McKenna never recommended to people that they take ayahuasca, he recommended 5+ dried grams alone in a dark room. And to myself and many other people who are deep into psychedelics, mushrooms are just as much a valid medium as ayahausca. The visions, experiences, wisdom and communications, are just as potent and meaningful than with ayahuasca. It is just that the mushrooms do not have so much of an obvious tradition in any culture, and that may be because the mushrooms do not easily lend themselves to forms of structure and control.

Every individual who drinks ayahuasca has a different intention of course, some individuals will be absorbing the lessons from the plants and other beings showing them the nature of the universe and their own patterns and psychology. And this requires just as much work in the days and weeks after drinking ayahuasca, by looking and inquiring into what is not working, and letting it go. Ayahuasca is in some sense, a medicine of letting go of what is not working. It will show you what is not working, and you will feel and experience that, and have the potential to purge out of you, rather than hold onto it.

Left to their own processes, and assuming the individual has some sort of connection to their own wisdom, the wisdom of the plants or other beings, then learning can proceed. Perhaps human beings are too addicted to being taught something by other human beings. Many people want to learn a “craft”, and Peruvian mestizo shamanism appears to be some sort of default to many westerners.

Yet, after a time working with the medicine you start to carry out a spiritual sort of work, effectively a kind of shamanism if you like, whereby you are called to communicate with different beings and spirits, and that is literally the dictionary definition of shaman. There are many beings and contexts in the spiritual worlds, and through communication and work with these spirits, presumably the physical 3D world is effected.

Another issue with drinking under the auspices of a shaman or facilitator, is that you are often placed under their guidance. In that case, you may not even begin to get a chance to find your own guidance and develop your own way. You will likely remain under their “protection” and “guidance” and you may never really get a chance to grow beyond that. This often becomes a relationship of power, and many “curanderos” may want you to remain under them, and be dependent on them. Certainly it isn’t good for business if a whole bunch of people decide that brewing ayahuasca is easy, and that they prefer to drink alone. And that is not to say, that simply drinking with their preferred maestro is not right for them, or may not be the most beneficial way of drinking ayahuasca for them.

But if you are drinking in the west, it is not uncommon to pay $150-400 a night, and so to actually have the money to get proficient then costs quite a lot of money. I would say it takes at least 10 to a few dozen sessions to work through the most obvious crap on your plate and only then do you have some space to go forward and truly learn.

Drinking with a facilitator as long term model, that you will be able to do for decades, may not be sustainable for many. Tim Ferris in his recent book “Tools of Titans” writes of people drinking in small groups of 3-4 people every 3 months for psychic and emotional health. And realistically, a group of friends can organise to meet to share a brew. Indeed, I’ve noticed this sort of model is increasingly popular, and that more and more people are drinking alone or with a few friends. Not that this it is without its perils of course.

For people who are starting out brewing, going to drink with someone with many years of brewing experience, should result in a superior drink. It is similar to wanting to eat out at a restaurant, rather than cook yourself. You want to experience new flavors and dimensions in food, that you may not have the time, skill or inclination to forage for and put into the food you are cooking. Another reason to drink with other people in a group, is to participate in the community and culture of this gathering form, and to share and connect with others on a similar wavelength. One strange thing I have been hearing recently is of groups where people are not even allowed to communicate or talk to other participants in the group, when I have found a big part of the group experience is the communion and communication between participants which for many people is a highlight.

A big impediment for many when it comes to brewing for themselves, is obtaining the plant materials in the first place. In Europe it should not be a major problem ordering plants from the internet, and North America may not present too much difficulty in obtaining the plants either as the vine grows in Hawaii and Florida for example, with online companies which cater to Americans.

However, in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, countries in Asia and the rest of the world, obtaining ingredients may be a bit trickier. It is also possible to order various plants from overseas vendors who carefully disguise the plant products which will clear customs in most countries no problems.

In Australia, there are acacia species which contain DMT which are very viable DMT containing admixtures. However, most people do not know how to find and harvest these plants and the learning curve of identification and correct harvesting is quite steep. If you live on the east coast, the situation is quite tricky, with no common species being a reliable and sustainable source which everyone can easily access. If you live in Western Australia, the quite common Acacia Acuminata will be your go to. I recently had occasion to drive from Kalgoorlie to Perth and the narrow phyllode variant and also broad phyllode variant were pretty much lining the side of the road over the 600 kilometer stretch. The phyllodes or leaves from this species are I believe the most sustainable source in Australia. I have been trying to encourage some individuals to start an online business selling these phyllodes, as possession of acacia phyllodes is legal within Australia as far as I understand.

People are often scared to brew themselves for legal reasons. I would suggest such people are better off not brewing, until they work through their fear and paranoia. Law enforcement in Australia does not appear to have any priority whatsoever to charge people for brewing up an acacia tea in their own home, and since when was the last time Mr Plod came into your kitchen and asked what is that tea you are cooking on your stovetop? When was the last time you heard someone being arrested for ayahuasca? Maybe in Scandinavia the situation is somewhat different, but even there, police are not actively going out of their way to bust down people’s doors for brewing ayahuasca.

In terms of actually making the tea, it is not even worthwhile me giving instructions here. This is an art that you must learn that takes time. People who are really serious about this will make sure to read what they need to know. I know a woman who spent 100 hours reading everything she could before even making her first tea and was largely successful in her first few attempts. It is not hard to find information about how to make the tea on the internet and as usual, the human mind tries to make things more complicated than they really are.

On the ayahuasca.com forums, it has been generally recommended that people drink the vine by itself, without any DMT containing admixture, and only then proceeding to brew up with the DMT containing plants. Taking a high vine, and low DMT dosage, is very effective medicine, not taken so much for the visions.

At the end of the day, the issue is not about whether people drink ayahuasca alone, but whether people can safely take psychedelics alone. Actually, not THAT many people will be inclined to do this, but pretty much all of those who decide to, are capable and have initiative. I would suggest that ayahuasca, especially Banisteriopsis Caapi and Psychotria Viridis are just one part of a healthy diet of psychoactive plants. I myself like to regularly utilise cactus, mushrooms and various DMT sources, for their different teachings and perspectives on reality.

Taking psychedelics alone can be very tricky, it is not easy to do and presents many dramatic internal and external states. We can be exposed to much data and obstructions, malevolence, all of which must be worked through. Yet, with persistence, what is presented can be worked through, and in working through all this data, the individual learns and hopefully better understands themselves and the world around them, so that they can hopefully become truly effective human beings.

This article was originally published on Julian Palmer’s blog.