An Intro to Ayahuasca: The Vine of the Dead

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

On August 6th, 2018, I died.

The culprit? Mother Ayahuasca, “The Vine of the Dead.”

I’m here writing this, so maybe I should clarify what the hell I’m talking about when I say “I died.” After drinking two cups of the foul tasting Ayahuasca tea at a spiritual resort called Rythmia, I lay on my ceremonial mattress while fear and dread began to creep over me. I had researched the tea significantly, so I was aware this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but I was beginning to realize that this was some next level shit that I wasn’t prepared for. Those of you who know me know that I have some experience with psychedelics and have undergone an ego death or two, so this should have been familiar territory. The problem is, it wasn’t. I felt as though I was slowly thirsting to death. Like- real fucking death. This wasn’t a fun psychedelic experiment anymore.

There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t cry out for help. I couldn’t do anything but lie on my mattress and helplessly gasp for air. I don’t know how long it took, but it felt like an eternity. I felt my life force slowly being drained, and my once enthusiastic will to live began to morph, first into a feeble last stand, then to a pathetic plea for death. Fine, just kill me, I thought.

Then it did. I closed my eyes for the final time. I felt the last of the oxygen leave my lungs. My heart slowed to a stop. Not only had I lost my sense of self, but all awareness of anything at all came to an abrupt end. I was nothing. I wasn’t even an “I” to be calling myself “I” or to be aware of nothing. There was no more pain, no more awareness, no more anything.

The next thing I remember was the feeling of the essence of life itself: breath. I suddenly gasped for air as new life filled my lungs. I was reborn.

You might be asking: “why the fuck would anybody do that on purpose?” A very valid question. Stick around, and you’ll see. First, let’s dig in and understand what this Ayahuasca shit even is.

 

Introducing Mother Ayahuasca

Calling to the force of Nature
Calling to the force of Nature’s medicine
Calling to the Cielo Ayahuasca
Calling to the tall mother trunk
Calling to the new budding leaf growth
Calling to the fragrant flowers
Shine, shine pure pure medicine

Excerpt from Katahua Icaro, a song often sung by shamans during the Ayahuasca ceremony.

 

Ayahuasca is a tea that has a rich and ancient history of use in Central and South America by the natives that live there. The brew is made with two primary ingredients: the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine and the Psychotria Viridis leaf. This tea is typically consumed in a ceremonial setting and is regarded as a potent and natural medicine of the Earth. The ceremonies are conducted by shamans who follow traditions that have been passed down orally for generations. It’s hard to know how long these traditions have been taking place, but we know they were in full force when Europeans landed in the America’s for the first time. Some believe that the practice has been around as long as humans have occupied the Amazon Basin. The bottom line is, this shit has been going on for a very long time, primarily as a healing and medicinal practice.

 

So what is so special about this tea that causes such so many people to use it for such an extended period? The pharmacology of Ayahuasca is intriguing. The Psychotria Viridis leaf in the tea contains DMT or Dimethyltryptamine. DMT is the most psychoactive substance that we have found on Earth to date. Here’s the nutty part: DMT isn’t psychoactive when consumed orally. We all have enzymes in our stomach that counteract the effects of DMT. This allows us to eat any of the thousands of plants that contain DMT as food, without tripping balls. However, the other ingredient in the brew, the  Banisteriopsis Caapi vine, contains several alkaloids that act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). In other words, the MAOIs in the vine shut off the enzyme in your stomach, allowing the DMT from the leaf to run its course. The DMT affects the serotonin receptors in the brain, similar to LSD, Mushrooms, and other psychedelics.

Let’s take a second to marvel at this difficult feat of alchemy. These “uneducated” tribesmen in the jungle found the two species of plants out of hundreds of thousands that work perfectly together to create an intense DMT voyage that lasts for hours. When asked how they discovered this, they say the forest told them how to make it. Spooky.

 

Dancing with the Dead

Physically drinking Ayahuasca is no small feat. The shit tastes absolutely horrible. It’s a dark sludgy concoction that belongs with creepy Professor Snape down in the dungeon of Hogwarts. Think of it like this: if some earthy-dirty-fermented licorice where to meet a musky-sweaty-oily sock… and they were to fuck somehow… Ayahuasca would taste like the placenta juices of their first birth. That being said, if you can keep it down, prepare for a spiritual journey for the ages. It takes about 30 minutes before you begin to feel the effects of the brew, with the hallucinogenic effects peaking between 1.5-2 hours into the trip. The trip usually lasts about 4 hours, unless you keep drinking the tea, which generally happens in a traditional ceremony. Some ceremonies continue all through the night.

The first effects you’ll notice are physical. People report feeling a burning sensation in their stomach, tingling sensations, irritated skin, and nausea. You might then begin to see hallucinations. These may include distortion in the visual field, seeing rapidly changing geometric patterns, changes in color or brightness, and seeing visions with eyes open or closed. Auditory changes come in as well with increased sensitivity to sounds. Thinking patterns change significantly, which involves an extremely warped perception of time as well as uncanny memory recall. You might find yourself living memories as if they were just happening for the first time. Most of the changes are related to personal concerns and introspective thoughts, but some of them seem to be straight up random as hell. This is genuinely an inward journey that will drag you through a vast array of your own shit. Emotions change rapidly and can seem more real and intense than normal waking conscious emotions. One of the most frequently experienced effects is removal from one’s body or a detachment from one’s sense of self- hence my death story earlier.

The combination and intensity of these effects will never be the same for any two people, as the tea seems to play off of our unique individual psychology. Probably the most surprising aspect of the Ayahuasca experience for me was the power of intention. The shamans stress the importance of setting an intention or plan for the ceremony before drinking the tea, and I completely understand why now. The brew listens.

I went through four different ceremonies, and each night, I received an answer to my intention for each night. This process has given me an entirely new understanding of the term “plant intelligence.” The journey was nothing even close to the realm of what I was expecting, but the end result somehow ended up being exactly what I needed and asked for. This sounds absurd, but Ayahuasca appears to be some kind of link, connecting us to divine intelligence. After four ceremonies, I feel as though Mother Nature had written the perfect prescription for my ailments. A medicine that was wholly tailored to me individually, and much much more intelligent than any human being. I got ten years of therapy in four nights.

 

Fallout

Each time you drink Ayahuasca with the intention of healing or improving yourself, you’re in for a shit storm (literally) and a lot of work. The good news is, the work pays off. Each time I came in with the intention of dropping emotional baggage or processing some forgotten trauma, that’s precisely what happened. The process of parting with your fear, shame, or anger is quite uncomfortable. It involves smelling your own shit and seeing why you are the way you are. Once you are forced to accept the reality of the situation, then the purge happens. Puking, shitting, sweating, crying, laughing, yawning, farting, burping, screaming, are all ways Mother Ayahuasca purges out what is no longer serving us. I even purged a traumatic memory of being bitten by spiders as a five-year-old by sprouting spider bites all over my body. It’s absolutely mind-blowing how this works. I relived my fear, shame, rage, and insecurity as though 26 years of it was all coming out at once. That purge is the most relieving feeling on the planet when it’s finally over. Needless to say, I feel lighter.

Since my Ayahuasca ceremonies, I feel like a new man. I had no idea how much negative emotion and energy I was hanging onto. The first night I confronted my fear of death and the unknown. The second night I released my shame and guilt, along with my fear of lack of control. I also had my third eye (pineal gland) opened. The third night, I released even more fear related to abandonment and insecurity. This was the fear associated with the spiders. When I was bitten, I ran to the house for help, but my mom wasn’t there as I was being babysat at my aunts. Who would have known one event as a five-year-old could shape such a significant portion of your life as your relationship with your mother? The final night, I dropped my trust and intimacy issues that I had been hanging onto since my first breakup. I also underwent hours of physical healing on my joints, muscles, and skin.

After going through 4 of the hardest nights of my life, I felt as light as a feather. Pure peace and tranquility. I fell like an iPhone that just had all of the unnecessary junk storage cleared away. I’ve now got loads of free memory to spare, and I’m ready to go out in life and fill it up with healthy relationships, adventure, and love.

My week of Ayahuasca treatment has been arguably the most transformative and beneficial week of my life. I don’t use those words loosely, as I understand there are plenty of wonderful experiences to partake in. I’ve been blessed to have so many great experiences in my short time on Earth so far, but nothing has been quite like my adventure with Ayahuasca. It’s truly transitioned me into the next chapter of my life.

 

Having had a glimpse into the DMT realm and seen first hand what Ayahuasca is capable of, I am very optimistic about the future. I believe plant medicines like Ayahuasca are a big part of the solution to the issues and potential calamities that humanity faces today. Some of us humans have lost the plot. We are operating entirely out of the seat of the ego with no regard for others or for our precious home- Earth. Keep in mind, it’s the only home we got. After what I’ve experienced, it’s clear to me that nature has come up with a cure to bring it’s children back into balance, and the medicine has been around for ages. Ayahuasca is the Jedi order, here to restore balance to the force. A few sessions with the tea could “Trump” even the largest of egos. We need our leaders and politicians to get on board, but with or without them, the shift is coming.

 

A Fresh Start

I feel as though I was already heading in a new direction in my life, but now I write this post with fresh eyes and renewed purpose. Over the last 8 months or so, I’ve felt more and more connected to the Earth, to my loved ones, and to spirit. I’ve been very insecure about my direction in life, about losing compatibility with my friend group, and a general feeling of not belonging. That insecurity evaporated last week with a few cups of sludgy tea. I was killed and reborn, and now nothing is going to stop me from living my best life.

Part of me wants to celebrate this resurrection of my childhood wonder, and why not? Life should be a celebration after all. However, the primary reason for me sharing this post is to encourage others. If you are feeling stuck in depression, weighed down by anxiety, or in a rut of complacency, you don’t have to settle for that forever. We were all innocent and beautiful children at one point before the world of the ego got to us. No we all carry around countless pounds of emotional, psychological, and physical baggage. I’m not calling Ayahuasca a magic pill that can instantly heal anyone of anything.  However, I am saying that if you are willing to answer the call to adventure and do the work that is required, the payoff is monumental. Let’s re-connect to that damaged little kid in all of us and give them the love and support they desperately need.

The institution that provided the miraculous healing that I went through is called Rythmia. They are the only medically licensed facility in the world that uses plant medicine like Ayahuasca. They are located in beautiful Costa Rica, and I cannot recommend them enough. Here is a great podcast with Gerry, the founder of Rythmia if you want to check it out. The reason I haven’t dived more into my specific experience and review of Rythmia in this post is that there is just too much content to cover. I wanted to provide a solid introduction to Ayahuasca, so readers understood the substance a little better before diving deeper into the particular and personal shit. My next post will pull back all the stops and go deeper into my own experience with the medicine, as well as my wonderful week at Rythmia. It was hands down the craziest week of my life so you won’t want to miss it.

Thank you so much for reading, much love!

 

Art by Alex Grey