Some weeks ago I was writing about my Peru retreat, telling you that all the experiences we had were aimed at preparing us for what was about to come: the journey into the Amazon jungle. If you haven’t read the first part of the story, here it is: Time stopped in Peru.
It is said that Ayahuasca calls people who are ready to experience it some while ago before connecting with it. I felt the call almost one year before going to the Amazon jungle.
At first I heard about it from a colleague, then made some research and felt really drawn by it. Somehow I knew it was something I had to experience. I also heard about Ayahuasca during the Compassionate Inquiry certification program I enrolled since January, being used in treatment of all sorts of ailments, depression, anxiety, PTSD, addictions, and much more. And so, I started receiving more signals who were pointing to that direction. The fact that the Ayahuasca retreat was organized by Anca, who has been my spiritual guide for one year now and soul friend probably throughout many lifetimes, gave me the comfort and trust one needs to enroll in such a journey.
There are a lot of people who are sharing their experience with Ayahuasca. Though it is recommended to read about it, it is important to know that we are different and thus we cannot have the same experiences, nor can they be compared. Otherwise, you may start creating expectations on how your process is going to be like and even be disappointed if you do not experience similar things as other people.
During this article, I will share with you some of the experiences and awareness moments I had, while others, which cannot be truly described in words, I will keep for myself.
Let’s start with the beginning.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca, known as soga del alma (vine of the soul) in Spanish, is a potent and transformative plant medicine originating from the Amazon rainforest, where it has developed a rich legacy of traditions, myths, therapies, rituals and art practices.
Known as almost universally in South America as la purga (the purge) for its ability to cleanse the body not only of illness but of negative energies and emotions built up over the course of one’s life, many have experienced profound emotional and spiritual and indeed miraculous physical healings subsequent to working with Ayahuasca.
The two components of the Ayahuasca brew are the sinuous Ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi) and the broad leafed chacruna plant (psychotria viridis). The psychoactive ingredient of the Ayahuasca brew is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is found within the chacruna. Normally, DMT is inactivated when it encounters enzymes in the stomach. However, compounds within the Ayahuasca plant acts as a MAO inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of DMT in the digestive tract. Combining the ingredients of the Ayahuasca drink allows the DMT to produce its hallucinogenic effect when orally ingested. It is regarded as somewhat of a miracle that these two plants, out of all the millions of plants in the Amazon jungle, could have been brought together to create this powerful medicine.
The reasons why people take Ayahuasca vary from one person to the other: either to heal certain ailments, addictions, traumas, or to find meaning in their lives, connect with their Higher Self or find the cause of their suffering.
Since discovering my mission of working with people, I dedicated all my attention and resources into my self-healing process. So for me, this journey was part of my self-healing process. I don’t know if I had something specific in mind which I wanted to heal, but the truth is that I fully trusted the plant. I trusted that I will receive what I need in this moment of my life. I trusted that it will help me connect more to myself at a soul and spiritual level.
We took the flight from Lima to Pucallpa early in the morning from where we met our 4×4 jeep drivers. After a bumpy 2,5-hour drive, the jeeps left us at a port in small town of Honoria from where we took the boat on the river Pachitea. Another 30 minutes by boat and approximately 1 hour through the jungle, and we finally reached Santuario Huistin.
Santuario Huistin is an authentic Ayahuasca and traditional plant medicine center owned and operated by Maestro vegetalista (plant spirit shaman) Santiago Enrrique Paredes Melendez and family. Santuario is situated in a peaceful enclave of virgin rainforest, across a boiling river.
Just when you set foot there you become very peaceful. Even though we are used to a certain level of comfort, you adapt very quick there and realize that you really don’t need things to be happy. I wasn’t even disturbed by the cockroaches which normally disgusted me if one were to show up in my home back in Romania.
Star and fire flies gazing, flower baths, group meditation sessions near the boiling river, afternoons in the hammock, walk to the waterfall – I carry the memory of these moments deeply in my heart.
This place has a certain magic which I never felt anywhere else.
At noon we met our Shaman (Maestro Enrrique), who told us a bit about the sessions and shared a lot of other things about himself, being very open to teach us what he knows.
Before going to the ceremony, we took a flower bath (baño de florecimiento).
Preparing the flower bath involves immersing the collected plants from the jungle into a large basin of water. Sweet and pungent smelling plants such as fragrant piri piri root, mocura, and ajo sacha (wild garlic), ruda (marigold), and romero (rosemary) are just some of the plants that can be used depending on the needs and desires of the person. The most powerful baths are taken near a river so that the released negative energy can be borne away by the energetic rush of the water.
We took the baths near the boiling river, before the Ayahuasca ceremonies.
After taking the individual baths (pouring clean water from a bowl at first and then flower water on our head and body, in a ceremonial manner), we dressed without wiping our body. This also allowed us to be more receptive to the energies of the plants and Ayahuasca. In India, at Isha Yoga Center, there is also a similar practice of taking a bath in an energy pool before going in the temple.
The ceremonies are held starting 7 p.m. in a traditional round house (maloca) which looks like a round open room with roof made of straws, and last about 4-5 hours. Inside the maloca, mattresses were placed one next to the other, in circle, each having a blanket, pillow, and a bowl which we would use for purging.
Once everyone finds its place and settles, Maestro Enrrique opens the ceremony with setting the intention. Then, he invites each person, one by one, to take the Ayahuasca brew, which he pours in a small goblet. After that, there is a moment of complete silence, waiting for the activation of the medicine.
While waiting for my turn to take the brew, I felt a bit nervous, feeling my heart pounding. I took only half the goblet as I felt that this would be enough for me. Then I went back to my place and waited with my eyes closed to experience the plant.
After a while (I think it must have passed 30-40 minutes), Maestro started singing icaros. Icaros are songs of the plant spirits, which the curanderos (healers) generally sing in a dialect that is a mixture of their native language (i.e. Quechua, Shipibo-Conibo, Asháninka, etc.). It is believed that every living thing has its own song or icaro and that these icaros can be learned. The singing of icaros is sometimes accompanied by the chakapa, a rattle of bundled leaves or a maraka, that is used to carry the rhythm of the ceremony.
There were some cartoons I watched when I was little with a snake charmer (the charmer sang to a basket and a snake popped out moving in the rhythm of the music). This is how I experienced my body moving and shaking in the rhythm of the icaros.
I felt a lot of other sensations, from numbness, to strong vibrations as the plant was cleaning my body. It was like scanning my body from toes all the way up and stopping where healing needed to be done. As I was shaking and moving my body and hands, I felt an intense feeling of release. I was shaking on the outside but on the inside I felt very calm. This is what my first session was all about: cleaning, releasing and getting me more in touch with my body. It was more of a bodily experience which also came with some awareness moments: How much respect do I really show to my body? How much do I love my body?
At some point we were taken, one by one, in front of Maestro Enrique, as he sang and blew tobacco smoke over our body. Hegner, Maestro’s brother, was the one that helped us get up and lead the way for us in the darkness.
Throughout the ceremony I felt the support of both of them as they were constantly checking to see how we were doing. I felt a deep sense of trust without having any moment of panic. And a deep sense of love for all that is.
There was no ceremony the next day, and so we had time to relax, enjoy the place, the nature and connect with each other.
I took on two more ceremonies during the following two days, each of them being totally different one from the other.
During the second ceremony I truly experienced the quote from A.H. Almaas:
Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life, are not chance or haphazard. This isn’t just bad luck. They are actually yours; they are specifically yours, designed specifically for you, by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself; it will go to extreme measures to wake you up. It will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen; what else can it do? That’s its purpose. You can look at problems from the perspective from the issues themselves, or as difficulties to get rid of as fast as possible with the least struggle, or you can look at them from the perspective of them guiding you, the part of you that is guiding you to yourself. The most difficult things that happen to you on the deepest level are the most compassionate things – A.H. Almaas
It is like everyone has its own Universe on which he chooses to sprinkle clouds, and other stuff, which are experienced as obstacles and sometimes as desperate situations which seem to not have any solve. And I saw myself in all those situations of grief, of despair, and all the roadblocks I created for myself. But at the same time, I understood why I have placed them there and how they were guiding me.
While I was looking for guidance and instructions on how to deal with things going on in my life, the plant showed me that love is all that matters. If you do everything with love, it is not only for your highest good, but for the highest good of others.
If we can allow ourselves to experience the pain, we don’t need to run away from it, to seek oblivion in the temporary release substances or behaviors can grant us. And, of course, if we touch the core of love, we see there is nothing to run from anymore. There never was, had we but known that.
The bodily sensations were still there and it was also the session where visions started to come up.
The last session was more spiritual for me and so I cannot really describe it. But if I were to sum it all up, would be the realization of the fact that God (in whatever form are we looking for), cannot be experienced on the outside, as it lies within us.
Each session was different, bringing me more close to my true self, showing me pain, grief, and also deep love and bliss. The plant is really a wise teacher as I experienced it.
During the last two sessions, Maestro’s wife, Ayme, who joined us, also sang beautiful icaros. While the plant cleans you on the inside, the icaros cleans you on the outside.
While being there I was thinking that I would do daily Ayahuasca ceremonies, but now I realize how important the integration part is and allowing yourself some time to let all sink in. Because without integration, one cannot fully benefit of the experience.
The plant teaches what we need to learn to heal, but not always in a language immediately accessible to us. Often the visions it brings to people can be magnificent, inspiring, and engendering of the purest joy and gratitude; they can also be threatening, incomprehensible to the mind, and capable of rousing terror. The emotions it evokes can be gentle, soothing, and suffused with peace and happiness; they can also be excruciatingly painful and frightful, and capable of inducing despair and a sense of profound loss. The felt sense can be of ineffable freedom or of dark imprisonment. People can see and be their divine selves or be identified with the most diabolical elements of their personalities. Without preparation, processing, and integration, the Ayahuasca experience can be confusing and, for many, incomplete.
And so, my journey ends, leaving me more aware, more grateful, more full of love. I am still integrating the transformational process I went through with full compassion for myself and others and deep gratitude, dreaming of my return to that place I fell in love with.