Citation: sugoi. "Peru Retreat: An Experience with Ayahuasca (exp29388)". Erowid.org. Dec 21, 2003. erowid.org/exp/29388
Where I live, it is easy to get the materials to make ayahuasca, the potent plant based brew used by indigenous people in the amazon for millenia for healing and spirit journeys. However, I wanted to go closer to the source for my introduction to this plant teacher, so recently I travelled with two close friends to attend an ayahuasca retreat in Peru.
The retreat took place at the Corto Maltés Amazonia Lodge, on the banks of the Madre de Dios river. We were surrounded by the amazon rain forest, with its amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Being away from the stress and distractions of modern life was healing in itself and definitely enhanced the experience. There were no media available during the retreat, and not knowing what was happening in the outside world helped me to realize that everything important was happening right there – it was the inner work we were doing that really mattered.
The ayahuasca experience itself is hard to describe. It felt something like dreaming or dying. The ayahuasca session is a crucible in which psychological and spiritual processes occur at a much greater level of intensity than is typical in everyday life, enabling one to learn rapidly and deeply about life, mind, relationships and spirit.
Members of the group reported a wide variety of experiences. Some people had visions, for others the trip mostly involved their thought processes or emotions. One person felt she was dying, surrounded by white light, her body dissolving into nothingness. Another reported feeling enlightened in the present moment, for the first time – after years of serious Zen meditation. A few people battled inner demons in one way or another. One person felt that ayahuasca was essentially an artificial alteration of his perceptions, though most people felt that ayahuasca revealed deeper truths about life. Each person had a unique experience, in fact each session for each person was unique.
We did three sessions altogether. Each time we would gather in the dining area of the retreat center, with a pillow, blanket, water, and whatever else we would need for the overnight session, then we would walk together down a dark path into the forest, lit by small torches about every two to three meters. We gathered in a special building used only for ayahuasca sessions. Diego, the leader of the group, would say some prayers, and then one by one we would go to him to receive the medicine. When the ayahuasca started to take effect, Diego would begin to chant and play his guitar. His beautiful chanting was very soothing and centering, and was valuable and helpful part of the sessions.
For me ayahuasca brought up whatever I needed to experience in the present moment. I found it to be a very harsh teacher. Whenever I tried to resist what was being shown to me, the experience would become more intense and unpleasant – one of the central lessons for me is that it is better to let go, to surrender to the experience.
Some concepts that I had understood in an abstract way I experienced at a much deeper level. One of these concepts is impermanence. I had grasped that concept on a superficial intellectual level, but didn’t really understand it. During my first and third ayahuasca sessions, I entered into states of intense suffering that I was absolutely convinced would never end – even death would not release me. Yet those states did pass.
At another point I found myself spontaneously breathing out love into the world. It was a subtle experience but very distinct. This is something I had practiced in the past, but which I hadn’t really felt before. What had been an intellectual exercise before became an experiential reality during the ayahuasca session. Since then I’ve occasionally been able to practice this technique and genuinely feel it.
Ayahuasca also helped me to see that a great deal of what I experience is a projection of my mind, which interferes with my ability to see the world – inner or outer - as it is. I had read and thought about being centered and experiencing the moment as it is, without trying to grasp or resist. Under the influence of ayahuasca, this quality of mind is very important, and I believe I am a little better at being that way now.
In the second session one of my friends was having a very intense, difficult time, and at one point all of us gathered around her and were chanting to her. It felt wonderful to be part of a circle of caring, giving love and attention to a friend in need. During the first session I had a difficult time, and others helped me; now I found myself on the other side of that equation and it felt wonderful to take that role for her.
During the third experience, when I was suffering intensely regarding karma from past actions - basically feeling emotions I needed to feel but had always avoided - I believe I was 'burning karma' at that time, doing some of the suffering I needed to do. I feel a bit clearer now, as if my karmic load has lightened a bit.
No matter how difficult the session was, when the effects started to wear off – when I was no longer tripping – I felt happy and centered. So glad to be alive, to breathe, to be in this space with people I love. This, for me, is one of the most wonderful aspects of the ayahuasca experience. First I go through the difficult part, then I feel wonderful – it’s the exact opposite of taking a drug, feeling good for a while, followed by some sort of hangover.
It seems to me that the best way to do ayahuasca is in this sort of ritual setting. The medicine can teach a lot about relationships, and how to give and receive love. Sharing the experience with my fellow travelers afterwards was a very important part of the process. The chanting and singing was an important part of it and the opening and closing of the ceremony helped to put the experience in context.
I believe that ayahuasca, used properly, can be a catalyst to accelerate personal and spiritual growth. You still have to go through your process, but this medicine can speed things up. It shows you what you need to work on and puts you in a state where you can do some intense learning. Ayahuasca, I feel, works very well in the context of an ongoing spiritual practice such as meditation.
I would recommend the ayahuasca experience to anyone who is seriously interested in spiritual or psychological work and is attracted to altered states.
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