The Ayahuasca Experience

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The following on ayahuasca is excerpted from The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying, just published by Evolver Editions/North Atlantic Books.

Ayahuasca is both a medicine and a visionary aid. You can employ ayahuasca for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual repair, and you can engage with the power of ayahuasca for deeper insight and realization. If you consider attainment of knowledge in the broadest perspective, you can say that at all times, ayahuasca heals.

Here I will describe to you various dimensions of the ayahuasca experience. But I do want to be clear that your experiences will be unique to you. No matter what stories you hear or ideas others convey, you will find your own place with La Medicina. The medicine has an uncanny way of tailoring the experience to your individual personality, strength, and needs. While you may derive helpful insight into the workings of the medicine by reading and learning about the experiences of others, your journeys will unfold according to your own personal needs, personality, and character.

Within less than an hour after drinking the brew, the visual landscape begins to change. Usually people see particles of light and color in the ceremonial space, with eyes open or closed. The air begins to sparkle, as though the darkness of night is finely perforated, and little points of radiance are glowing through. At the same time, you will likely feel a sensation of stirring within you. The body begins to feel fluid, more expansive. There is a sense of imminence, of something on the way to you. By this point the shaman is humming, whistling or singing, and the spirit of the medicine is pouring into the ceremonial space. You may experience a generalized sensation of acceleration. In fact, there is something familiar about this, as though you “know” it, even if you have never drunk before. We recognize the infinite mind and spirit within and without us, and this recognition lies at the heart of the psychedelic experience.

The “getting off” period may be gentle and slow, or somewhat intense and fast, depending on you, the night, and the strength and quantity of the brew. For most people most of the time, the lift-off is gradual. As this occurs, you may possibly feel a sense of apprehension. This is a common experience, and most of the time it dissipates. This is an intermediary experience between your normal waking consciousness and sense of personal self, and the vast, multi-dimensional, non-ordinary reality that you are moving into. You are entering another world.

As you approach inter-dimensional consciousness, you may encounter vivid, challenging or even outright scary sensations or visions. You may even see a guardian figure of some kind, directly in your way. This is fairly common to psychedelic experiences. Any apprehension you may feel is due to a sense of dissolution of the self. The guardian, often referred to as the dweller on the threshold, embodies your fears of the unknown. You cannot remain as you know yourself to be in ordinary waking consciousness and simultaneously merge into non-ordinary reality.

Psychedelics are ego-flattening agents by nature, and the sense of losing yourself, or dissolving or breaking into infinite bits can be scary. If this apprehension occurs, and it likely will at some point, breathe slowly and deeply without force, letting the breath out and fully relaxing as you exhale. This is usually sufficient to move you through this initial period. But you will experience more dissolution of the self as ceremony goes on. That is the nature of the medicine. It dissolves, and it reintegrates.

The flip side of this possible entrance into the realm of non-ordinary reality is that you may from the very beginning be so suffused with a sense of wonder, that your experience throughout your ayahuasca journey may be delightful from beginning to end. That does happen. Ayahuasca journeying is an endeavor with many variations.

As time progresses, both physical sensations and visual experiences typically intensify.

There is a geometry common to the ayahuasca experience, and this geometry is beautifully represented in the textiles and ceramics of the Shipibo and Ashaninka native people of Peru. Many people who journey with ayahuasca see that geometry. What began as sparkles in the air often morphs into geometric patterns of light and color. The specifics of the geometry, how it appears, how it moves, its colors, vary greatly. There is much more to come.

La Purga-the Various Ways to Purge

Because purging is typical and common in the ayahuasca ceremony, ayahuasca is also known as La Purga, the purge. For most people who journey, purging takes place earlier in the ceremony rather than later, but this is not consistent or uniform. Some people save up all their excrescences for a grand finale, heaving their guts out after four hours of hard tripping. You just never know. Forms of purging include vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, exuding an oily residue out the skin, excessive salivation, and the free flow of tears, whether you are crying or not.

The cleansing effects of ayahuasca are well known, and are important components of the ceremony. For most people the purging does not last long, and the ayahuasca experience becomes stronger afterward. That said, some people, especially those who have been on toxic pharmaceuticals or have undergone chemotherapy, may vomit repeatedly and violently again and again throughout ceremony. By this means, chemical toxins are expelled from the body. If you have nasty matter in you, the ayahuasca will root it out. Vomiting is the most common form of purging, and when you vomit on ayahuasca, it is rarely a demure and quiet affair. To the contrary, vomiting on ayahuasca is most often loud and dramatic. Though you have not eaten for many hours prior to ceremony, you will likely heave from deep down inside, doing so very noisily. Sometimes it is unbelievable how loudly people retch. It can reach operatic levels of volume and drama. That said, there are those few who never vomit in ceremony.

You may be sitting in ceremony when you are suddenly overtaken by a profoundly urgent need to puke. As I have mentioned previously, shamans will often sing specific icaros to encourage purging, and this may result in a lavish, multi-person barf festival. Loud and often horrifying eructations take place, as though people are vomiting out their livers and intestines. It’s quite amazing, actually. Rare is the ayahuasca drinker who vomits quietly. When many people in ceremony are vomiting at the same time, it seems like reverse peristaltic chaos.

A common sense when vomiting is that you are simultaneously purging unwanted states of mind and emotions that are toxic and unhealthy. You may even “see” toxic residues from other parts of your life emerging from your mouth with the ayahuasca, saliva and bile that you vomit. I often experience copious salivation, sometimes cups-worth of saliva, running from my mouth as though my salivary glands are open spit taps. Many people report seeing thick black fluid coming out of their mouths, accompanied by a sense of releasing toxic experiences that have caused them harm in their lives.

For most participants, purging is a relief. Sometimes you experience a period of nausea leading up to vomiting. Once the vomiting is done, the nausea most often goes away. This produces a greater sense of ease and comfort. And if you also experience the elimination of toxic experiences, then the relief can be heart-breakingly wonderful, as though a huge burden has been lifted from your life. This in fact may be a major healing experience. Many is the person who has thrown up emotional residues associated with bad experiences including devastating trauma, and has been subsequently emotionally freed from something terrible that previously dogged them for years.

Diarrhea, or the urgent need to move your bowels, may also occur. If you feel as though you need to go to the bathroom, do not tarry. Get up and get yourself to a toilet right then and there, to avoid the possibility of crapping in your pants. You may not wish to get up, and it may be difficult to do so. You may feel woozy or unsteady on your feet. But get up anyway, even if you feel ten feet tall. If you need assistance, ask for it. I have helped many people to the toilet, and they have been grateful for the assistance. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if you need a helping hand.

The Toilet Vortex

Here I must describe to you a not altogether uncommon phenomenon, that of the toilet vortex. This is a cautionary tale. I encourage you to stay vigilant. Let’s say that you are in ceremony, you are feeling the effects of the ayahuasca, and you have to answer a call of nature. You head off to the toilet, with or without assistance, and once you make it in there, you get lost. Yes, lost. You have entered another dimension. A formerly normal bathroom or outhouse becomes a strange, complex, somewhat unfathomable environment. You are having visions and odd sensations, and you are possibly unsure whether you are actually at the toilet or not. Is it a trick of the mind? What is happening? Do you just imagine that you are in the toilet, when perhaps you are really on your mat? Can you manage to perform basic bodily duties in a tidy manner when you are hurtling through an infinity tunnel that looks like a DNA helix on fire? Sure you can.

While most people do in fact manage to get into the bathroom, successfully eliminate, clean up, wash hands and get out, some enter a twilight zone and find themselves lost or trapped in the toilet vortex. A toilet’s basic operation may be impossible to sort out, toilet paper unimaginably complicated to employ. Pants may be wearingly difficult to pull up correctly. Your underwear may be tied in a knot. The walls may provide excellent space for extraordinary visions in shimmering hi-def. You may observe a tableau of alien beings as you reach for the toilet paper. The sink may be laughably hard to use, the water mystifying. The floor may undulate. Waves may lap at your toes. From there, things can go radically downhill.

If you find yourself losing it in the toilet, try to gather your wits. You have gone to the bathroom many thousands of times in your life, so it should be a manageable situation. You can perform all necessary functions on auto pilot. But if it is simply beyond your capacity to sort out for whatever reason, then call for help. It isn’t any fun at all to spend a lot of time trapped in a bathroom that has transformed into a psychedelic fun-house. Heed this advice. Do not linger in the bathroom. Go in, do your business, and get out, back to the comfort and safety of your mat.

Purging by Other Means

I have mentioned excessive salivation, exuding residue through the skin, and copious tears. Our bodies are very clever, and are capable of eliminating unwanted substances via every orifice and pore. I often experience sticky material expressing out the soles of my feet. You may find that after ceremony you want to shower, to rinse off a sheen of goo that has squeezed out of your pores. Doing so feels fantastic.

One of the most fascinating aspects of purging has to do with tears. Many people cry during ceremony. Often they are letting go of grief and sadness that has been with them for a long time. From very early on in my first few ceremonies, I found myself with a wet face, as steady streams of tears poured down my cheeks. This happens to me often. The crazy thing is, I’m not crying due to sadness. But the tears are pouring.

I was so intrigued by this, I did some research into the composition of tears. There are three types of tears, basal, reflex and emotional. Basal tears keep our eyes lubricated, and reflex tears secrete when our eyes are insulted by smoke or other irritants. On the other hand, emotional tears are rich in stress hormones, notably adrenocorticotropic hormone. When we cry, we eliminate stress hormones, as though we are squeezing stress out of our eyes. Additionally, when we eliminate emotional tears, our brains secrete higher levels of feel-good endorphins, natural endogenous opiates that enhance mood. How clever is ayahuasca that it can cause the free-flow of tears and thus eliminate stress hormones while simultaneously boosting endorphins?

The Heart of Ceremony and Visions

After the first phase of ceremony, with its sparkles, sense of expansion, and possible feelings of apprehension, the ayahuasca comes on more strongly. This is when you enter what is known as the mareacion. Now you are deep into the effects of the ayahuasca. You are mareado, feeling the medicine. The shaman is singing icaros and perhaps shaking a chakapa, and you are moving into a more intensified part of the evening. You are now into the heart of the ayahuasca journey, and anything can happen. I have previously stated that ayahuasca will often take you right to the limits of what you can endure. In this period of ceremony, you may be pushed to the outer edges of intense sensations, visions, and healing.

Visions are a common and remarkable aspect of the ayahuasca journey. You may see visions with your eyes open or closed. And while most people do in fact see unusual or extraordinary things, some do not. I have one friend with whom I have journeyed many times, who experiences strong feelings and deep thoughts but few visions. There is no rule that you must see things.

That said, ayahuasca can be a profoundly visionary agent. The journey may lead you through many scenes. Often people find themselves in wondrous environments, such as verdant forests, splendid magical cities, on ocean-going vessels, or even inside space ships. You may see angels, aliens, sprites, elves, anything at all. The artwork of visionary artists like Alex and Allyson Grey, Pablo Amaringo, Martina Hoffman, Robert Venosa and many others shows some of the utterly fantastic things that people can and do see during ceremony. The landscape can be spellbinding beyond anything you have ever previously experienced.

Some visions may seem completely random, more like head salad than anything else, fanciful scenes and characters that come and go and for which you experience no particular affinity. On occasion I see three small, chubby, elephant-like characters in a row with long pink noses, which they wave cheerfully in unison at me as I travel by. At other times, I see mechanical robotic beings with large metal heads shaped like spinach cans. When I see these, I have no sense of any special connection to what I am witnessing.

But with other visions, the connection you experience is deep and often elicits powerful emotions or realizations. You may see scenes of your family, of places you have lived and things you have experienced. Some or all of these scenes may provide some sort of emotional or mental resolution of some kind, or may lead you to deep insights. I have experienced visions of this type on many occasions. By provoking these types of visions and opening up new channels in the psyche, the ayahuasca engenders far greater self understanding and integration.

People see and experience all kinds of phenomena while on an ayahuasca journey. You may see deceased relatives, spirits of every kind, vast landscapes of natural or manufactured forms, animals, insects, serpents, birds, and various creatures of nature. And as you engage in ceremonies over time, you start to learn to negotiate the spirit landscape, and to enlist the aid of certain spirits for your own healing and spiritual awakening.

In many instances, the spirit of ayahuasca itself appears in any of a variety of forms. For some people, it is a spectacular living vine, sometimes growing right through their nervous system. For me, it is either an overhead, ever-changing mass of waving and undulating electrical currents in a broad array of brilliant colors, or an anaconda. On many occasions, the former precedes the latter. I have never tried in any way to see these things. The visions simply come. My wife Zoe has seen ayahuasca in the form of a jaguar, and she has been enveloped and protected inside its skin.

Sometimes, people see the same things at the same time. I recall one ceremony in which several of us saw the room fill up with snakes all at once. We started to murmur to each other “hey, what’s with all the snakes?” For many minutes the ceremonial space was filled with dozens of snakes, all slithering around in the air, on the floor and the walls. One of my friends wound up riding on a flying carpet of many snakes. On another occasion, a friend and I both saw what we later described as “mosquito people,” with long, thin noses that stuck out several feet. There is no doubt that ayahuasca journeys can be telepathic experiences. This is a surprisingly common occurrence.

Ayahuasca journeys are so named because in the ayahuasca ceremony you go on a journey of body, mind and spirit. Visions of all sorts arise, as do deep feelings. In a manner so thorough it surprises you, the ayahuasca helps to reveal great knowledge and open up access to a vast world of non-ordinary reality. In that spirit landscape, you can undergo healings and experience a deep renewal of your entire self.

Even as visions are occurring, you usually know fully well that you have drunk ayahuasca and are sitting or lying on a mat having visions. Sometimes people are so overtaken that they become completely un-tethered and lose this sense of reality, but that is less common. Most people know that they are on a mat experiencing an ayahuasca journey.

Surrender

Certainly one of the hardest things to do, and yet one of the most valuable, is to surrender to the medicine. This does not mean that you allow yourself to be buffeted about willy-nilly. It does mean that as the ayahuasca presents visions, feelings and realizations, you let go of resistance, as though moving with the current of a stream. Sometimes people try to fight the ayahuasca. This creates tension and anxiety. But if you can surrender, especially in the midst of a grand healing, then you can gain full benefit from the experience.

You know that you have drunk ayahuasca, that the medicine is working in you, that the experience is intense, and that this is a journey that has an end. As various conditions arise, breathe and let go. Allow your muscles to relax, your respiration to mellow, your pulse to slow. Allow yourself to move into the slipstream, of the journey. Accept the process that is taking place, and move with it. Don’t resist the medicine. Ayahuasca is innately wise and healing. It illuminates the body, mind and spirit if you allow that.

The Company You Keep

In an ayahuasca ceremony, the experience is almost always shared among a group. It is rare to sit one-to-one with a shaman. You may be in ceremony with family members, friends, or simply others who have gathered for that event. Whatever the case may be, you are part of a collection of people who have all coalesced for a journey together. The composition of the group in the room makes a significant contribution to the nature of that journey, to the tone and tempo of the night, and to what takes place. Even though each person undergoes their own experience, has their own visions and heals in ways that are peculiar to their needs, the group is also going through it all together.

I have greatly enjoyed sitting in ceremony with friends, with my wife Zoe and with various people we have brought to the Amazon as part of our Ayahuasca Test Pilots missions. Every evening is different, as people work through their own inner tangulations. If someone is having a very hard time in ceremony, that will evoke sympathy from the rest of the group. If someone is in a state of hilarity, that may crack up everyone else. And if somebody goes completely bananas, which occurs only rarely but does on occasion take place, then others in the room may have to pitch in to subdue and assist that person.

When the group is right, the energy in the room is greatly amplified. Each person acts like a power cell, taking in the spirit of the medicine, and contributing electrified juice to the night. In the best and most fluid of circumstances, everybody is a support for everyone else. Just your presence in ceremony is often enough to give courage to others, or to help them get through a challenging time. A kind whispered word of encouragement in the midst of an intense ceremony may be all that is required to make the person next to you feel more safe and connected. And if you possess the capacity to help others in ceremony, that may on occasion become a significant dimension of your night. I have several times needed to abandon my own more self-absorbed journey to assist someone else, even for a long period of time. That has become my journey instead.

Sitting in ceremony with those you know only enhances interpersonal bonds. On many evenings, I have felt an extra closeness and a shared exhilaration with my wife or friends. When a ceremony is intense, there is something lovely about having someone you know on the mat beside you, or in the room. Undergoing transformative experiences in the company of others creates a special bond, a camaraderie. If you are going to journey, do so with people you like and trust. Journey in the company of those with whom you have a good relationship, and know that as a result of the shared experiences, the bonds between you will be strengthened. Undergoing transformative experiences together in an ayahuasca ceremony adds enormous extra depth to any relationship.

Ayahuasca and Healing

True healing puts into order the body, mind and spirit with the past, present and future. According to this broad and all-inclusive definition, there are few agents or methods that qualify as true healers, but ayahuasca certainly does. Thus it is known most nobly as La Medicina, The Medicine.

If you ask the ayahuasca for healing, it will most often deliver what you seek. At this point in time, there are many hundreds of thousands of cases in which people have been healed of physical, mental and emotional disorders, and many curious cases of recovery from grave and even potentially fatal disorders such as late-stage cancers. This is not to say that ayahuasca is a cancer cure. For reasons we do not understand, some cancer patients recover completely, and some die. Thus there is much to investigate about the healing properties of ayahuasca. Without question, the healing benefits of ayahuasca are responsible for much of its popularity. For ayahuasca heals when nothing else works.

A large number of people have been thoroughly cured of addictions through a few ayahuasca ceremonies, and the cases of post-ayahuasca freedom from many forms of dependence are too numerous to ignore. Even more strangely, the addictions have been shed without talking therapies. This substantially defies standard methods. According to the current conventional model, addictions cannot be adequately dealt with unless one undergoes significant psychotherapy. Yet the sheer numbers of cases of former addicts freed by ayahuasca without any such therapy at all suggest otherwise. Ethnobotanist, chemist and psychedelic veteran Dennis McKenna notes that “A biomedical study of one of the churches, the Uñiao do Vegetal (UDV), indicated that ayahuasca may have therapeutic applications for the treatment of alcoholism, substance abuse, and possibly other disorders.” In fact, this is one of the reasons that so many people flock to ceremonies conducted by the two large, ayahuasca-based churches Uñiao do Vegetal and Santo Daime.

Ayahuasca seems to work best with emotional problems, and “idiopathic” health disorders, those of unknown origin. The medicine is effective with anxiety, depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), insomnia, eating disorders, headaches, the effects of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and the many permutations and kinks of being that disable us or inhibit us from living out our highest and best. War veterans, medics, fire-fighters, police, and those who have experienced horrible violence can and do recover from the trauma of those events, retaining the memory of what took place, but being freed from the pain and torment. Rape victims often are able to walk away from the pain, shame, anger and horror associated with that violence. It is no exaggeration to say that ayahuasca can give you a new lease on life. If you have been burdened or troubled by some ongoing or repetitive set of feelings or states of mind that do not serve you, ayahuasca is available to resolve that and to help you to move to a new, more free stage of living.

Other types of disorders that resolve well through ayahuasca ceremonies include various psychosomatic conditions such as general and unresponsive malaise, chronic stomach ache, chronic fatigue, and chronic cough. Autoimmune disorders also respond well. I have personally met someone who recovered from more than a decade of aggressive psoriasis, and there are some instances of the inhibition and even reversal of multiple sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis. Again, not all cases resolve, but many do.

Sometimes healing occurs in a brief instant. When I first went to ayahuasca to be freed from the burden of grief over my mother’s death, all of that grief was wiped out within a few brief minutes in ceremony. And it never ever came back. A vision or a comment from the ayahuasca, occurring at exactly the right moment, may act like a key with handcuffs. Suddenly you are free. And you stay free. It is not uncommon to see doctors or odd beings who “operate” on you, removing toxins, pain, anxiety, and more. At the end of a session with ayahuasca “physicians,” you may be healed of a terrible problem that has dogged you for a very long time. This is why ayahuasca is called The Medicine. Its capacity to resolve disorders is unrivaled. I would say that of all the medicines, therapies, treatments or techniques I know and have encountered, ayahuasca is without question the greatest of them all.

There are many ideas about how ayahuasca works as a medicine. The purely spiritual idea is that the plant spirits of the brew, along with other spirits that get called into ceremony by the shaman, work on us with superior intelligence, establishing balance where there is chaos, harmony where there is disorder, peace where there is great disturbance, joy where there is sorrow. The spirits root out dark matter, open energy channels, heal deep wounds, and fill you with clean, high energy. This explanation works very well for me, and this is how I experience the medicine.

But there are further explanations that may shed light on the healing power of ayahuasca in a manner that medical doctors and scientists can also grasp and appreciate. Investigations of the effects of ayahuasca using electroencephalography show improved serotonin and dopamine activity in the brain. These two neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that help to transmit messages from one neuron to another – are key to positive mood and satisfaction. They are both compromised in cases of addiction, and in cases of depression, trauma and various forms of dependency. By helping to establish healthier levels of both serotonin and dopamine, ayahuasca can produce a happier mental state, and a greater sense of overall fulfillment. Given that happiness and fulfillment are essential to a good life, this is a very big thing.

One theory, developed by Dr. Joe Tafur M.D, is worth describing here. A general practitioner with a degree in Family Medicine from UCLA and post-doctoral work in Psychiatry at UCSD, Joe has a strong working background in psychoneuroimmunology, and has delved deeply into the emerging science of epigenetics. Psychoneuroimmunology explores the relationship between the human psyche and the immune and nervous systems. This interdisciplinary field integrates knowledge from psychology, physiology, immunology, psychiatry, behavioral medicine, pharmacology, endocrinology, and genetics, making it the broadest and most holistic of all medical areas of study. Meanwhile, epigenetics studies how changes in gene expression affect numerous processes in the body and mind, without altering the actual DNA structure of an organism. In the field of epigenetics, there is a working understanding that thousands of factors, from diet to exercise to how we think, can alter gene expression. According to Joe Tafur, ayahuasca does exactly that.

Joe’s theory is that in an ayahuasca ceremony, there is “rapid limbic revision,” which results in profound healing. The limbic system, also known as the paleomammalian brain, is a complex set of brain structures including the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, fornix, column of fornix, mammillary body olfactory bulbs, cingulate gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, limbic cortex, limbic midbrain areas, and other organelles.
 The complex and highly integrated limbic system supports emotion, behavior, sexuality, dreams, social processing, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction. The limbic system is integral to our emotional life, and is involved in memory formation.

According to Joe, ayahuasca ceremonies result in a re-set of the limbic system, in part by modifying gene expression. This has a profound salutary effect on the psyche, the nervous sytem, and immunity. Disorders of the mind, immune and nervous systems are resolved. As a working hypothesis, this approach leaves nothing out. Yet there is much further inquiry to go, to understand the actual mechanisms by which these transformative processes occur. In his work at Nihue Rao, Joe sees hundreds of people with disorders who come for healing. Many come in need and leave healthy. As a chronicler of results, he is expanding his knowledge bank one ceremony at a time.

Ayahuasca, an archaic medicine derived from crude plant materials, made in a simple pot in a rustic setting and administered in a somewhat odd traditional native ceremony, proves more broadly effective for more health disorders than any modern remedy or therapy. It heals what conventional and modern methods often cannot, and occasionally does so in a perplexingly rapid manner. In the ayahuasca ceremony, your intentions to heal, the ayahuasca brew itself, the skill level of the shaman, the power of the icaros, and the spirits in the room, all conspire to effect healing and transformation.

Working with the Medicine

When you are in ceremony, you will derive the best results if you work with the medicine. What does this mean? Stay conscious, pay attention to what is occurring, listen to the icaros, and learn to navigate your way through the night. If a thought or feeling comes up that involves something you need or want to resolve or better understand in your life, then pull that string and go where it goes. An idea may lead to a memory, which may open up a set of feelings, which may lead you to a realization, which may result in relief from something that has hurt or inhibited you. Or, by following a vision and staying attentive to it, some juicy and highly valuable piece of knowledge may be revealed to you. It may have to do with your own nature, your relationship with members of family or friends, your work, or other important maters.

Here is a guiding principle to keep in mind. As you encounter entities of any kind, you can determine whether or not to allow them close to you. At the beginning of ceremony, you can decide to allow any entity that is wise, kind and has your very best interests at heart to come close. But any entity that is not wise, kind, or has your best interests at heart must stay away. Establish this at the onset of ceremony as a clear and well defined rule. This is the equivalent of setting up invisible fencing. As you travel in the world of non-ordinary reality, if you have made this declaration, then many characters will approach and then glide away, as though skimming the perimeter of your space. But those entities with clear and high intent will come right into your space. This directs your journey in a way that enhances healing opportunities, and minimizes interaction with time-wasters, or spirits that mean to cause mischief or do you harm.

Part of working with the medicine involves sheer stamina. Ayahuasca can be very intense and demanding. You need a lot of energy and focus to stay with it, to journey well, to move into greater understanding. The medicine will not take you beyond your limits of endurance, but you may be surprised just how much you will get stretched. Paying attention, bringing your focus back to the icaros, staying attuned to insights and opportunities to heal as they arise, all of this comprises working with the medicine. This is your journey. The medicine is taking you on a ride of body, mind and spirit.

I personally have found that ayahuasca has the capacity to rip my heart wide open and fill me entirely with pure love, beyond anything I have ever previously imagined or felt. On many evenings, I have sat saturated with love, beaming that out to all other beings, to my wife Zoe, to friends, to family members far away, to work mates, to others I barely know, for hours. This has been the ultimate experience for me, the highest and best. Ayahuasca has shown me again and again that love is the only worthy thing, and that all else in life is just flotsam and jetsam. Living with love is the only worthy life. It is absolutely staggering to me that ayahuasca can deliver this complete, thorough experience of love, with nothing left behind. When this occurs, I work with the medicine by staying totally focused on that experience, letting go of absolutely everything else, surrendering to the staggering immensity of love. Sometimes when I am bathed in love, the ayahuasca asks me if I want to meet my spirit allies, or some other thing. I always laugh and say no. Why trade diamonds for pebbles? Love is the single cohesive force in the universe, from which all else arises, the only worthy condition, the essential that trumps all, the highest truth.

The Long Slide Down

After a few hours of journeying, you will recognize that you are on the back side of the experience, and that you are coming down. This is a highly pleasurable period. The peak intensity of the ceremony is diminishing, but the mareacion goes on, maybe for many more hours. At a certain point, perhaps five or six hours after you initially drank, the ceremony will be officially concluded. Yet you may have several more hours of feeling very high. This is a wonderful chance to hang with friends, share your mat with others and talk about the night, or just fall together like a pile of gerbils and laugh and sigh at the grandeur of what the ayahuasca has taken you through. Some of my happiest moments related to ayahuasca have been after ceremony has concluded, but when everybody is still very much in the medicine, laughing, talking, joking, sharing. You will likely come to savor this sweet time.

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