On a dark November night, in a ceremony hall somewhere in the hills near Manresa, Spain, I sat down in a circle with seventeen other participants. Each of us had our own mattress, our personal bucket, and a roll of toilet paper.
In front of us, behind a ceremonial table sat our shaman, Ness, and her facilitator team. At that point, I was wondering what the hell I’d gotten into. What I’d heard of Ayahuasca was that you are faced with the good and bad in yourself, that it gets really scary at some point, and that you vomit and get diarrhea. For this reason, I'd brought three pairs of sweatpants. You know, just in case. We shared our intentions for attending the Ayahuasca retreat, and the shaman asked a few clarifying questions.
To ease our journeys, two of the facilitators administered rapé by blowing it into our nostrils.
Rapé (also known as hapé) is a sacred snuff-like medicine used by South American shamans. It’s made of tobacco mixed with medicinal plants that are burned into ash. Rapé is commonly used before an Ayahuasca or Kambo ceremony to help grounding and to intensify the connection with the spirit world.
Hello Mama Ayahuasca!
Once everyone had received the rape, it was finally time to meet Mother Ayahuasca. Two by two, we approached the shamans Ness and Daniel. I went to Daniel, who chanted a blessing over the tiny cup of pant medicine before he handed it to me. I had heard that Ayahuasca tasted horrible, but after fasting for almost 24 hours, it actually tasted quite good.
I lay down on my mattress and waited. And waited.
They had said it would take a while before the Ayahuasca kicked in, and not to ask for another cup before the shamans announces it was time. It felt like several hours before anything happened, and I kept thinking the Ayahuasca wasn’t working. I really wanted to feel something. I kept glancing up and around the dark room, but apart from people vomiting here and there, nothing was going on.
Then it started. Slowly. Almost unnoticeably.
I felt the presence of aliens touching me, working on my physical body.
They began with my hands and moved along my limbs, rearranging things. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were aliens. Then geometrical patterns emerged in my inner vision: colorful shapes merging into each other, constantly changing, like the old Microsoft Office screen savers, and then they turned black and white. I saw lots of rainbows and prisms. Suddenly, I found myself in space, traveling through the cosmos, visiting other planets and strange worlds.
But I wanted more! This was not what I had spent half a fortune for.
I just couldn’t stay present and enjoy the trip. Because even though I was experiencing something, I was also wide awake. The visions were not anything I couldn’t see during a deep meditation. I kept fighting nausea and thinking about other irrelevant things, like what I would say afterward when sharing the experience with the group. I needed more.
The visions dissipated, and for a long while, I just lay there and wondered if I had missed the second shot. What was everyone else doing? Had they really meant they would advise us when it was time or had I misunderstood? The female facilitators were dancing and chanting, and someone was drumming. Here and there people cried or moaned or chattered to themselves. And I was just really, really disappointed.
After laying like that for a loooooong time, quite pissed off and thinking how I really should go and do Ayahuasca in Peru with a real shaman, I decided to let go and relax. And THEN they called for the second shot.
Surely, the second shot should make the visions more vivid. Stronger. Right? But… no, nothing happened.
Again, I started thinking how stupid of me to come here. What was I thinking, doing Ayahuasca in Spain?
Then I realized I was getting messages
This is what Mama Ayahuasca taught me:
Stay present. Don’t dwell on the past or on the future
Don’t be so judgmental. Things are not black or white
Stop comparing things and people, i.e. This X is better than that X. Try to see the positive in all situations and people, if you expect more you will always be disappointed
Quiet the “talk track,” i.e., don’t think about what you’re going to say to people later
Focus on yourself and your own well-being instead of always making sure others are doing OK. “You deserve to be happy and at peace.”
You don’t have to know everything. Stop looking everything up.
All the while, the music played in the background, and series of images appeared in themes. My husband in different variations—even as Superman; ugly faces—including Donald Trump’s; images of Joe Biden and Donald Trump; Roadways and bridges in cartoon-style; Pornographic pictures; Balloons; Sharks… And many more.
I started to feel desperately queasy and realized I had to purge. Not to vomit out the bad plant medicine, but as a tool to get rid of the blockages that kept me from completely opening my spiritual channel (this was my intention with the Ayahuasca ceremony).
When one of the assistants sang, “Abre tu corazon” (open your heart), I knew I had to throw up.
I stood on all fours leaning over my bucket. It came out like a waterfall. I filled half a bucket in one go. Afterward, I still felt sick, so I sat for a while. But as soon as lay down, I desperately had to go to the bathroom. Whatever was in me had to come out.
Oh, But the Stars!
Like a drunk person, I staggered to the bathroom and let it all out. I was weak. Tired. Hungry. On my way back to the ceremony hall, I was so dizzy and had to lie down on a bench outside. Even though it was extremely cold, I felt warm enough. I lay there for a while, eyes closed, until the nausea dissipated. When I opened my eyes, the sky above was immensely clear and the stars vibrant. Each star had a striped, circular pattern around it, similar to an i-Ching pattern
After purging, the visions became clearer, and I could finally let go of wanting more. The plant medicine had shown me my flaws, and that’s what Ayahuasca is supposed to do: show you the good and bad in yourself.
We had started close to midnight, and by now I hadn’t eaten for almost 36 hours, so all I could think of was food. I was happy when the night came to an end, and I could indulge in the fantastic spread they had served up in the kitchen.