Plant Medicine Part 5 of 5: Ayahuasca Upgrades

It took me a while to recover from my first Ayahuasca experience in 2015, but it’s been on my mind ever since. Looking back, I realize that the purging I did was not simply a physical purge, but a release of so much toxicity I was holding in my body. While I had many opportunities for another Aya ceremony while living in Ecuador, the timing simply wasn’t right and so I abstained, but it never left my mind.

I was looking through Facebook one day when I saw that a friend of mine “liked” a page – Soul Quest – an Ayahuasca church in Orlando, Florida. Aya had been on my mind daily for at least a month and I was even looking at flights back to Ecuador for a ceremony. Intrigued, I followed the link and saw there was a ceremony that weekend.

Four months clean from unprocessed foods, all drugs and alcohol, sex, and caffeine, my body was as pure as its ever been. Four months of detoxing from unhealthy relationships, my heart was on its way to purity as well. With my last weekend free before teaching yoga again, the timing was synchronous. I was called and when Aya calls, you go. Two days later, I was driving twelve hours to Orlando.

The retreat was three days and two nights, with an Aya ceremony each night and an optional daytime ceremony on Saturday. There was also a Rapé (rah-pe’) ceremony late Saturday afternoon – another sacred medicine from the Amazon, a powder made from tobacco and other plant leaves, finely ground herbs, seeds, and ashes. Check out my last post for my Rapé experience.

Friday Night
The medicine was mellow. I did throw-up once but it was minor. I cocooned on my mat and slipped in and out of consciousness for hours. At one point, I was held in my grandmother’s bosom while I felt the pain of losing her. I cried as I could feel that at our core, we are all the same and we are all craving connection. I felt the desperate longing for connection within my own soul.

I looked at the fire and saw the volunteers all dressed in white, looking like marshmallow men. They were enjoying each other and I was tapped into their energy as I found myself laughing along with them despite not being in on their jokes. The rest of the night passed quietly.

Saturday Night
It was clear that Friday night was prepping my body for Saturday as the medicine came on strong. I lay cocooned in my blankets, in the fetal position with my eyes closed. With the sound of crystal bowls resonating in the background, a most miraculous show began to unfold. Geometric patterns of the boldest alien-like colors sliding around in my head. I was entranced for a while before I began to demand, What is behind the show? I watched. I waited. I demanded again, Behind the show. Behind the show… I want to see what is behind the show. I’m not here to be entertained. I realized I was whispering this aloud.

A voice emerged and a conversation began. I was told,

     You can have anything you want, Stephanie.

     Anything? I countered.

     Anything.

     Fame and Riches?

     Yes.

     Really?

     Yes. Make it so.

I found it interesting that Fame and Riches were my first ask. I’ve realized that “Fame” and “Riches” are the worldly validation of what I actually want: To be valued and respected as a thinker and a writer. My logical brain knows this is already so, but my heart doubts. It’s so full of fear. Fear and its transcendence was to be the theme for the night.

We had been warned about the music. Our Sound Goddess, Amy, had said she would be playing some tracks that we might find unnerving. To let it take us deeper inside ourselves. There would be dissonant tones and they were meant to break up energies…. Ummm….Yeah. That worked.

I began to feel uneasy. The music was heavy. My organs were shaking. There was too much pressure in my body. I was running my hands through my hair incessantly as if smoothing my hair would smooth out my nerves. Finally, I purged.

It was all black liquid. A mixture of Ayahuasca, Rapé from earlier, and bad energy. I was on all fours in tabletop position, hovering above the bucket and staring down at my vomit. I was asking,

     What just came out of me???

     “Do you really want to know?” I heard. “I’ll show you if you want to see it.”

As I stared down at the liquid an image began to form as if looking into a magic mirror. Then I heard, “You don’t have to look. You can leave the past in the past and be happy it’s out of you.” I pushed the bucket away and laid back down on my mat content to leave the past behind me.

The show began again. The patterns, the colors, they carried on in their glory but I wasn’t here for a show so I repeated… What is behind the show? Then I heard, “Open your eyes and see. Look at all the light beings.”

I opened my eyes to the most incredible sight. Amongst the construct of reality that I had known before drinking the Aya were also the light beings. Thin holographic ribbons of rainbow light streamed through the air in many directions. It looked like a trail that Tinkerbell might have left behind, but these ribbons were entities in their own right. I was told, “These are the light beings. They love you more than you can imagine. You are surrounded by love.” And I felt it, I felt all of the love in the world. And then they told me…

There’s no wrong way to be. There is no wrong way to be. There is no wrong way to be!

It started as a message but soon I was the one whispering it aloud, There is no wrong way to be. So I can be me??? I asked.

     Yes! You are a Stef, Steffing! You’re not doing it wrong. No one can tell you you’re doing it wrong! There is no wrong way for you to be. Be You, Stephanie. Do not worry about what others think. It does not matter.

I was like a child full of wonder. It was hard to believe that I’m allowed to be myself. That I’m allowed to be open and vulnerable, to be strong, talented and successful, to be unapologetically beautiful and sexy and kind and smart. To be a gift in this world.

It feels hard to believe that I can be a gift in this world. But I am. I am a gift. We all are.
Why are so afraid of it? Why have so many of us been made to feel shamed for who we are?

The sights and sounds carried on as I marveled. The messages were firing at me second by second.

     Lay down your “needs”, Stephanie. You don’t need anything but to breathe. You have everything you need. Stop with the neediness. Lay it down.

     Take better care of yourSelf. Your energy. Your spirit.

     Don’t worry about food. Stop counting calories. Start counting blessings.

     Stop digging for skeletons. You already know what’s there. Set down the past. Leave it behind.

     Don’t worry about timelines.

     You’re too controlling. Stop forcing things. When you resist life as it is, you push tension into your unconscious mind. This is why your body hurts.

     You made a mistake with CAYA Yoga. You knew it too. When will you learn? Listen to your gut, Stephanie. You already know everything. Stop doubting yourself.

     Your writing is a beautiful gift in the world. Stop being afraid of it. Don’t worry about what others think. Create from within. Own it. Share it.

     Let your body age. Stop resisting it; it’s inevitable. Let your insides show. You’re beautiful. Be graceful.

     Tell everyone how beautiful they are.

I asked about a former lover. I asked why I couldn’t let him go. She told me to “Be love and then leave.” This was what he had done and it was the lesson for me to learn. I hold on for too long sometimes. Sometimes it’s okay to just go.

I kept asking how to be an open-hearted being in the world. She said simply, “Be open-hearted.” I asked, BUT howww???? She grew tired of it. “It’s simple,” she said. “BE Open-hearted.” And so I’m opening. Poco a poco.

I was in awe of my experience. I was crying while saying “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” to Mother Ayahuasca. I was overcome with a sense of sacredness, sensing the ineffable presence of God. I understood, with all of my being, the sacredness of this plant and that it is not to be abused. She should be treated with absolute respect. And then she said to me…

You, too, are beautiful. YOU are worthy of love.

I felt so vulnerable – so fragile and passing – but at the same time seeing so much beauty in that. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I am incredibly special and that I am worthy of love – all while feeling like I might disintegrate at any moment. It was like being a strand of the highest quality and most delicate golden thread, lingering out in space. I sensed my own value and fragility. I understood the need to protect my self-worth by setting clear boundaries with others.

I’ve never been clear with personal boundaries and I was receiving the message that I need to be. I need to understand my own self-worth and I need to protect my body, heart, mind, and spirit at all costs. I’ve never before considered any part of myself sacred. I was never shown that I am, until now. This was some very deep second chakra healing.

The thing that’s amazing about Ayahausca is the clarity it brings. This has always been a fuzzy area for me. I have moved through the world confident and self-assured, not even realizing that I had no sense of self-worth. They are different things – one is based on merit and the other is based on the inherent value of being. But lacking this esteem has resulted in depression, falling short of my own potential, and tolerating abusive situations and relationships. Aya illuminates the limiting belief systems that we are all carrying around unconsciously.

As I started to come down, I felt the need to expose my belly. Since feeling my IUD with San Pedro and having it removed a couple of weeks later, I was concerned that I had damaged my body. I was told to expose my belly so that the sounds could reach it. My womb needed healing from decades of birth-control.

Eventually the medicine wore off and I fell asleep. I awoke from the most beautiful journey feeling self-assured. Renewed. Upgraded.

We gathered for integration where I heard stories of recovery from addiction, fear, trauma, and pain. I heard people discovering purpose, who had uncovered their next steps, and who were taught how to connect with themselves without the medicine. Stories of how to be. How to heal.

For me, perhaps the greatest message that I received was to stop hiding. To be myself.

I have been conservative in what I have shared in the past. I have also made many choices that were not in alignment with who I am, in an attempt for validation. I have pretended to be someone else for too long. And so I will do my best to step out, into the life, and to be unapologetically Me.

We are all rising. This is a promise. We are the bringers of light.

I love you.

Plant Medicine Part 2 of 5: My First Journey

Prologue

This was written in June of 2015 after my first Ayahuasca journey. I originally shared it with a small and select group of friends whom I knew would not judge me or my choices. As you read, please understand that this is *not* a typical experience, and in no way resembles the more modern and Euro-Americanized ceremonies I have experienced since. I share it today with few edits.

June 2015 – My First Journey

Last weekend, I experienced something truly unique and unforgettable – an indigenous Ayahuasca ceremony.

Two days into my Colombian adventure, my Spanish teacher casually mentioned a movie about Ayahuasca that she really enjoyed. I approached her privately to ask about ceremonies and if any were occurring nearby. There was one planned in a distant town that weekend; she knew the organizer and would get me the info. Before going, I needed to follow a “dieta” and abstain from meat, alcohol, sex (including self-love), and other minor requirements. I diligently followed the rules in preparation.

Saturday afternoon and all alone, I took the train across Medellin and transferred to a half-broken down bus which I took to a town called Don Matias. When I arrived a few hours later, I called my new connection Jorge. He spoke very little English, but said he’d call back. I waited anxiously for half an hour before calling him again. He mentioned the name Andres and hung up. It was getting dark and I was in a very small village, nestled in the Andes Mountains with no Spanish and no place to stay. Another 15 minutes later, I received a text saying “call back”. A new person, Andres, answered and in decent English assured me that Jorge would pick me up in 15 minutes at the only church in the village.

When we arrived at the farm, it was clear that what I was about to experience was as authentic as it gets. We walked to a covered area where a fire was burning. I was surrounded by nearly 40 dark skinned Colombians with angular faces, many in traditional garb. I towered above the tallest person, a sore thumb with my white skin, round face, yoga pants and hoodie.

The ceremony didn’t start for another three hours and since I couldn’t speak to anyone with the language barrier, I listened to Radiohead on my phone while laying on my yoga mat 50 feet from the fire. Freezing, I put on everything I had brought: a second pair of pants, hoodie, jacket, blanket, and second blanket offered by Andres. I grossly underestimated how cold it would be in the Andes.

Around 10pm, we gathered by the fire. Many people in America think of Ayahuasca as some trip out drug, but this was clearly not recreational. This was a sacred ceremony. Everyone was there – kids, grandparents, and pets. The children did not drink, but stayed around all night.

One of the shaman’s assistants spoke while Andres provided a loose and confusing translation. All I understood was: you’re going to get very sick. If you think you need the bathroom, don’t give it a second thought – it will be too late.

The men went first, then the women. As I approached I saw a few items on the table with the Aya, most notably was the skull of some small mountain cat. The shaman poured a shot of dark liquid into a glass. He then drank another fluid and breathed it onto the medicine like a mist, while making a sharp sound that I cannot describe in words. A blessing was muttered and he handed me a thick, herbally liquid, somewhere between juice and syrup with an awful, pungent green-tea-esque taste. I chased it with water, given by another man.

I returned to the fire and knew by Andres’s explanation that there would be two hours of silence. Around 30 minutes in, the sound of purging began. People ran to the mountainside to be sick. The sound of retching built and I grew uncomfortable, crawling in my skin. Already intense, the sound of others’ sickness took things to a level beyond words.

I rushed to the bathroom, worried it was “too late”. I had been in Medellin for six days at this point and in a new environment, I hadn’t gone number two regularly. Once in the bathroom, I had a lot of bowel elimination, and quite violently. Believing I was done, I stood but then had to go again. Finished the second time, I got up and then I had to vomit. At first, everything came out in a rush. Having not eaten in over 24 hours that ended quickly but I continued to heave. My stomach was worked so hard that with nothing left in my system, I had clearly defined 6-pack abs for the first time in my life. Looking at my painful abdomen, my right middle ab had seized up and was protruding from my stomach. I was massaging it and back-bending to relax it.

Between the pooping and purging, my body couldn’t decide if it was hot or cold. I compulsively undressed, dressed, undressed, dressed….over and over again. Eventually, my body calmed down and I returned to the fire. Moments later, I was back in the bathroom for the same strange ritual. This went on for what I can only guess was an hour.

At one point a girl, maybe five years old, stepped in front of me while I was waiting. I said “ocupado”, but she didn’t understand me. I was too tired and confused to try again. I looked at her, hoping to express desperation with my eyes. She used her hands to express frustration with me. A woman nearby shooed her away and I was so grateful. When finished I returned to the fire, feeling peculiar and weak as I sat in a haze.

Once your body is “clean”, the grandmother spirit of Ayahuasca is supposed to enter. As I waited for this, I was in awe of my environment. I had stepped into a world only glimpsed in movies. The medicine became secondary to my experience of this ceremony. I looked and listened while etching every last sound and image into my mind. Unfortunately, this is not what you’re supposed to do, you are to stay focused inside yourself. I couldn’t.

The sound of purging down the hillside echoed throughout the valley and was overlaid by icaros, hypnotic medicine songs, chanted by the shaman. At first, I thought I was imagining the chants because they seemed to come from inside of me. The medicine had me suspended in a surreal state, but when I looked I could see the shaman’s lips moving. An occasional harmonica chimed in with an eerie tune. I was half-drunken and uncomfortable as the sounds and space overwhelmed me.

Throughout the night, a man would attend to the fire with an old Chivas Regal tin on a wire. He’d use a half-burning stick to push coals into the tin then disappear. I’m still not sure where he was going or what he was doing with the coals, but he must have made twenty trips. When he’d leave, another man would tend to the fire, keeping it steady.  There were heads buried in arms with subtle movements, and occasional mumbles as thunder cracked loudly and lightning flashed dramatically in the valley below.

Andres checked on me. When I told him I had no visions or sounds, he suggested a second dose and I returned to the shaman. Sickness returned but was more mild with nothing left in my system. The nausea lingered.

Another hour or so and still nothing. From all I’d heard, I expected spirit to enter and speak to me. I wanted to know, “What am I meant to do here?”, the mantra to which I returned over and over throughout the evening. By “here” I meant, what am I meant to do with my life? I have suspicions, but was hoping for guidance.

Since moving to Miami, much of my circle is South American, and some have filled me in on their experiences with Aya which have ranged from recalling memories of their ancestors, buried memories of their own, travel to other geographic locations and times, speaking with spirit, visions, and sounds. Aya takes you on your own journey, which will look different from mine.

Andres checked on me a second time. Surprised and seemingly disappointed that I wasn’t feeling anything, he suggested a third dose. The truth is that I was feeling something, just not what I expected. I wanted to know more, but instead I got the feeling that everything was perfect. Some things are not meant to be known intellectually but are to be experienced through intuition.

Andres said to me, “after all you came to experience this.” But it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. In my mind, I heard, “God already speaks to you”. And in my body, I heard, “Slow down… you can’t take anymore.”

Something I don’t often share because many wouldn’t understand it is that God does talk to me. I don’t hear his voice; I feel it. It’s a deep intuition that emerges when I recognize signs the Universe is sending me. It started about 7 years ago, and has gotten stronger through time. 2 years ago, I unknowingly began a journey guided by these signs.

If you’ve known me a while, you know that my breakup with David indirectly brought me to my job with Homejoy. Homejoy brought me to Miami, which is where I am meant to be for now. Included in these events were many directional signs that have come through people I’ve known and some I had just met. They’ve come through circumstances aligning to create unique opportunities; they’ve come through dreams, and they’ve come through energy flows that gain momentum and possess me.

The most recent flow began last October 2014 in Costa Rica during a yoga retreat. Stress at work brought me back to yoga and yoga brought me to my studio in Miami. This studio brought me to my teacher, Joaquin. Joaquin told me about Ayahuasca and said it would find me when it was my time. He also mentioned traveling to Medellin, a city I’d never heard of.

One day, I went to sleep stressed out, lost, and defeated at work. I woke from my nap, overcome with the feeling that I should learn Spanish and leave my job. Medellin popped into my head and I googled “Medellin Spanish School”. The first result was “Toucan Spanish School”.

I had encountered a Toucan in Costa Rica eight months ago, which I believed was sending me a message. Toucan came into my life twice more. As a spirit animal, he brings messages about communication, which validated the need to learn Spanish. Overcome with a deep and affirming intuition, I purchased my flight to Colombia. I resigned from my job the next day. I thought I was coming to Colombia for Spanish lessons, but Aya found me on Day 2.

Energy Flow: David > Homejoy > Miami > Stress > Costa Rica + Yoga > My new yoga studio > Joaquin > Medellin > My Spanish teacher > Ayahuasca

I didn’t take the third dose – I didn’t need it. It’s bizarre because it was like nothing and everything happened all at once. Instead, I laid on a bench by the fire and watched my surroundings. Eventually, I wandered back to my mat for sleep. I was freezing but so exhausted that it didn’t matter. I listened as they played guitar and sang by the fire. It was beautiful.

At 4:30am, Andres woke me and asked me to come back to the fire for a “clearing”. I walked back and saw a group organized by the fire. We went in waves – I was in the second.

First, we were asked to remove our shirts. The women kept bras on, but it was important for our skin to be exposed. My front half was okay turned towards the fire, but my back was freezing. Three men passed behind us performing different rites.

First a man circled behind us, clearing the space with a fan of tobacco leaves. The second man rubbed oil on our hair, foreheads, shoulders, chest, upper back, and forearms. Third, the shaman misted some type of alcohol onto our heads and backs. I felt it evaporate from my skin. The first man returned and tapped our heads, backs, and arms with the tobacco leaves. The second came through again with another oil.

Lastly the shaman chanted blessings on each of my different body parts, while pressing deeply into my temples, onto my chest, and my upper back. He then took the middle three fingers from his right hand and pushed deeply into the space beneath my sternum. Now I realize he was pulling negative energy out from my heart chakra. This was extremely painful.

The clearing took about 15 minutes. We put our shirts back on and made space for the next group. I returned to my mat and tried to stay warm. Around 7am the others headed into a sweat lodge for three hours. I was invited to participate, but Andres was leaving and offered me a ride back to Medellin. The thought of a bus and metro ride back was too much given my exhausted state, so I skipped the sweat lodge and took the ride.

They say that sometimes the first time “nothing happens” because the medicine has to work inside you, clearing negative energy from the past. Andres told me that if I stay open, the medicine will stay with me for a couple of weeks and I will come to see what spirit wants me to know. I believe him. I also believe Aya will call me back again during this lifelong journey. Last weekend my body was cleansed and my connection to God was affirmed. In the future, I look forward to whatever guidance spirit has for me.

This is not a recreational drug. It is not fun nor is it to be taken lightly. It is work, but I’m in. I’ve been told that in some areas there are “brujos”, who masquerade as shamans and entice tourists to drink Ayahuasca in their presence. They do this to steal one’s energy and/or power, of which every person has a stockpile. If you encounter this and are tempted, please think twice. This is powerful medicine and should not be taken lightly.

If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. I only emailed a few of you, who I believe are open-minded. If you’re on this list, it’s because I love you and I trust you. I wish there was a way for me to better communicate the intensity of this experience. This essay is like a picture of the most beautiful scene you’ll never be able to share because a photo can’t quite capture the essence, but I’m changed in a way, for the better.

Epilogue

This experience took place nearly 2.5 years ago now.

In the week that followed, I was spending time with a friend in Medellin when what seemed to be a compulsive lie slipped out of my mouth. I told him that my mother was dying. Later that night, I was very disturbed by my statement. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in five years at that point and I had no reason to believe she was dying. I’m not a compulsive liar and I was extremely bothered by what I had said.

A month later, my mother died. Clairvoyance is a reported effect of Ayahuasca.

In recalling my mother’s passing, I see how necessary this experience had been as a precursor to my witnessing her death. From the depth of my soul, I believe that I would not have been the forgiving or loving daughter that I was able to be with her, as she lay dying in front of me. I’m not sure that I would have even traveled to be there at the end of her life. To read about the experience, please see my post, “Letting Family Go”.

When this was originally written, I didn’t understand that my purging was not a simple physical purge of the food I had eaten that week. It was the purging of a lifetime of unhealthy processed foods, alcohol, and drugs, as well as the toxic emotions that had been energetically stored in my body. I left Colombia changed on so many levels: physically, energetically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I was born into a completely new existence. Today, God’s voice is as real to me as my own. 

This is part 2 of a 4-part series on plant medicines. My next post will be about an experience last year in Ecuador with a different medicine, San Pedro. And Part 4 will be a write-up of my last, and profoundly beautiful, experience with Ayahuasca at Soul Quest in Orlando, Florida.

As always, I love you.