Ayahuasca – conclusion

Written by Stuart Revnell No Gravatar

It’s three days since the last ceremony took place, and we’re now in Cuzco.  I’ve done a lot of thinking about my experiences this week, and thought I would attempt to sum it all up.  This may be a rather premature conclusion, given that the effects of the medicine apparently continue to work for some time afterwards, but here goes anyway.

First of all, let me say that I consider the retreat to have been beneficial.  At times I felt physically exhausted and depleted, unable to concentrate on anything, and wondering why on earth I came here to seek some kind of enlightenment in the grip of a hallucinogenic plant.  But I left feeling well-nourished, relaxed, healthy and calm, and despite not having had the sort of epiphany some people describe, I’ve certainly finished the week glad that I sought out the experience.

It’s definitely been a journey though, and at times, I’ve been sceptical about its purpose – let me try to explain why.

The day after each ceremony, we had a group discussion about what had happened the previous night.  The guidance seemed to be that, whatever each person’s experience, the medicine had given each of us what we needed.  Throwing up or crying was always referred to as ‘purging’, and was explained as the body expelling negative energy, both physical and mental, and as a necessary part of the healing process.  Jane had extremely shaky legs during one of the ceremonies, and the explanation put forward was that the back of one’s legs hold many memories and energies.

This all jarred with me somewhat – it felt slightly too convenient to attribute any feeling to ‘negative energy’, and for the explanation for everything during the week to be that ‘Madre’ was simply  giving you what you needed.  For the most part, it felt less to me like I was purging negative energy, and more like I had a foul, viscous, unnatural liquid in my body for several hours, which I ended up wanting to get rid of.

As I said before too, I was at times sceptical of some of the views which were espoused during the week regarding certain experiences, opinions and lifestyle practices.  I tend to err on the side of scientific, evidence-based explanation for things where possible, and a lot of these topics felt like they occupied a domain which was the polar opposite of this.  That’s not to say that there isn’t validity in them – I don’t know enough to comment, in truth.  But it felt that there was a bit of a snowball effect going on  – I can well imagine how easy it would be, if you were searching for something in your life, to attend a retreat like this and come away with a whole world of newly-acquired ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’, no matter how much common sense or evidence may steer you otherwise.

Put simply, at times I felt like I was wondering what I was doing there, that my subconscious wasn’t really that tortured after all, and that the whole thing was a bit of a New Age experiment which wasn’t really for me.

So why, given all this, do I feel like I’ve had such a positive experience?  Why have I come away feeling energised, happy and ready to recommend it to others?

A multitude of things have contributed to the feeling.  The first is that I came here seeking an experience.  I came to the jungle, far away from luxuries and the trappings of normal Western life, and put myself in a situation where I took three doses of a strong hallucinogenic plant compound, to seek out a positive experience, along with a small group of people seeking the same.  Even if the effects had been minimal (which apparently they were, based on others’ accounts), the process itself comprised the lion’s share of the experience.

The second was the diet – all we ate during the week was vegetarian food, and on ceremony days, we would have lunch at 12:30, then nothing more for the rest of the day.  No alcohol, no sugar, and plenty of water.  A lot of the time I was hungry, but I still felt better – leaner, nourished, not weighed down with fat and starch, and so on.  It would be a truly abstemious person in regular life who could fail to feel better by the end of the week.

The third factor  is the ayahuasca itself, and specifically the experience of the third night.  This is the most difficult to sum up for me, but I think the main lesson I have learned is the power of symbolic experience.  During the third ceremony, when I started to have the bad visions and feel nauseous, it definitely felt to me that there was something negative in my mind which needed to be removed.  It wasn’t specific – no awful suppressed childhood incident was uncovered and there was no traumatic trigger point to which I could causally relate what I felt – but it felt real.  When I threw up, it felt like the foul substance in my stomach had associated itself with the negative thing in my mind and that the purging of the one (through vomiting) had symbolically also been the purging of the other.

The final, and most important factor for me though, was people’s belief.  Everybody involved – the organisers, the shaman and the participants – had faith both in the process but also in their own  ability to go through it.  There’s no doubt in my mind that this yielded results.  One of our group had a very powerful message on his first night.  Another found that warts on his hand, which had been troubling him for years, had disappeared on the third day.  All this, I think, is because people believed it would work.

So, despite my rational perspective on things, and some initial scepticism, I’ve found myself leaving the retreat thinking that faith is probably the biggest ally a person can have in their life.  Be it UFOs, sungazing, or a hallucinogenic plant compound and the ministrations of a shaman – whatever it may be, if you believe in it, and that belief enhances your life, then that’s all that matters really.  Combine that with a healthy dose of belief in yourself too, and you have a powerful combination for effecting positive change in both your own life and those of others.  And after all, effecting a positive change is what I set out to do in the first place – the scientist in me would consider this experiment a success.

2 Responses to “Ayahuasca – conclusion”

  1. Dave WNo Gravatar says:

    Blimey Stu. While I was reading your accounts I was transported back to 1980 when I took acid – nothing as intense as the ceremonies you went through, but I applaud your willingness to seek out a meaningful new experience at a time of life when most people are carving out a comfortable, cocooned existence for themselves. Far out, literally.

  2. Steve BorgesNo Gravatar says:

    Beautifully written, Stuart. So glad to meet you and Jane and to have had this experience with you!

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