Ayahuasca In The Amazon: Learning To Love Myself (Part 1)

The day I’d been waiting for finally arrived. I had been looking forward to working with the sacred plant, Ayahuasca, ever since I applied for this retreat, 6 months prior. I had just spent the past few days in Lima, preparing myself and creating my intentions for what was to come. You can read about this, here.

I would be spending the next 15 days in the Amazon Rainforest working with Ayahuasca and Huachuma (San Pedro Cactus) at Spirit Quest Sanctuary. When I landed in Iquitos and met the group of people, whom I would be sharing this journey with, I was feeling a mix of both excitement and nervousness.

We were met by the owner and founder of Spirit Quest, Don Howard. He welcomed us all with a big smile and even bigger hugs. Then, before I knew it, we were loaded into boats and on our way down the river, towards the Spirit Quest lodge.

Iquitos Ayahuasca Retreat

On our way to Spirit Quest Sanctuary

Spirit Quest Ayahuasca Retreat Centre

Spirit Quest Sanctuary


Spirit Quest Sanctuary In Rainy Season

There was no Ayahuasca ceremony the first evening, so we had the day free to get settled in. My roommate was a Canadian, named Steve and we had one big thing in common. He was at the very beginning of a one year backpacking trip around the world. We had a lot to talk about and I really enjoyed getting to know him.

The following day, we took a short walk through the jungle to where the Ayahuasca was being prepared by the shamans. There was a massive pot, over a fire, where the medicine was being cooked. We all had the chance to step up to the fire and add a hand full of the plant to the pot, along with our intention.

My intention was…

To live my life with an open heart, as the most loving, caring, open, honest and courageous man I can be and to love and accept myself for who I am. To step up and share my gifts with world and make a positive difference on this planet.

The Ayahuasca Kitchen

Ayahuasca Kitchen


Ayahuasca A’Brewing – Photo Credit to Luke Danton

Now, before I continue on and talk about my first Ayahuasca ceremony, I would like to say a couple of things…

First, it is very hard to put my Ayahuasca experiences into words. I will do my best to share what I went through and what I learned, but understand that what I write here, really just touches the surface. What I experienced goes much deeper than I will possible be able to write about here, and honestly, I still do not fully understand everything, myself.

Second, what I am about to share are just my experiences. They do not reflect what an Ayahuasca experience “should” be like. There were about 30 people at the retreat and each of us had very different experiences, even though we were all working with the same medicine.

If you do plan on working with Ayahuasca in the future, I highly recommend dropping all of your expectations. Don’t expect that your experience will be the same as mine or like anything else you read online. Expectations that I brought into my retreat ended up being a hindrance to my learning. The medicine gives us what we need, not what we want or expect.

Ceremony #1

The first ceremony didn’t take place until about 30 hours after we arrived, so I was feeling a bit antsy to get started. I found myself feeling a bit nervous and anxious because of the long wait and build up. I changed my focus to gratitude and felt much better.

I was so grateful to be where I was at that moment. Ever since I heard about Ayahuasca, I felt a strong calling to it. And now I was just hours away from working with the sacred plant for the first time. I had heard that working with the medicine can be very difficult and that it was not necessarily a fun experience.

However, I was willing to face the challenge, head on, in order to receive the benefits that I’d heard Ayahuasca can provide. Here are some of the main benefits I was hoping to get from the medicine…

1) Opening my heart

2) Clarity

3) Releasing negative energies, emotions, programs and beliefs

As soon as lunch ended that day, I went to my room to meditate and quiet my mind. I focused on my intention. I made sure I didn’t have any contact with anyone or anything that could possibly add clutter to my mind.


The Spirit Quest Maloca – Photo credit to Luke Danton

When it was finally time to enter the maloca, I took a seat on my mat and prepared my area. This is where I would be spending the next 4 hours or so. Beside me, there was a purge bucket. One common effect of working with Ayahuasca, is to puke, or “purge.” Therefore, the purge bucket a quite important part of the ceremony.

We waited quietly in the candle lit room, as the shamans prepared us for the ceremony. I watched as people started walking up, one by one, to drink Ayahuasca.  The suspense, I was feeling, continued to grow as I had to wait for my turn.

When my turn finally came, I stood and approached the front of the room, where the Shamans were waiting with the medicine. I watched as the liquid was poured. I took the wooden bowl in my hands, raised it up in front of me and closed my eyes. It was now time to state an intention in my mind, but I completely froze.

I could no longer remember the intention that I had been memorizing all day. My mind went completely blank and the harder I tried to remember, the further away the intention seemed to escape me. I became self conscious of how long I was taking and forced myself to state an incomplete version of my intention, before drinking the medicine. Although, I heard the intention in my mind, it was rushed and weak and I did not feel it in my heart.

I made my way back to my mat and recalled the instructions we had been given earlier. Clear the mind, open the heart, listen and then choose.  Clearing my mind was quite easy, but when I tried to open my heart, I realized that I didn’t know how. I basically changed the way I was sitting slightly, to a more open posture.

I waited and listened. Once the last person had drank and the candles had been blown out, the Shamans started singing their beautiful Icaros (healing songs) and I could hear people around me start to purge. I still felt nothing, but i continued to wait patiently.

All of the sudden, I was overcome with a wave of extreme nausea. There was no gradual lead up to it before it arrived. I thought that I was going to purge for sure, but just before it got to that point, the nausea subsided. Over the next few hours, I proceeded to visualize different images, most of which I was unable to make any sense of.

At one point I started to feel discomfort in my side. I started to focus on the discomfort, which was beginning to consume my thoughts. Then I heard a voice speak to me in my mind. It told me to smile.

My response was to ask, “why?” The same voice responded by saying, “why not?”

I believed it was Mother Ayahuasca speaking to me, so I trusted the advice and I smiled. All of the sudden my entire state shifted. I was now enjoying myself and having fun. The discomfort was still there, but it no longer bothered me. I continued to use this technique for the remainder of the ceremony.

When the person sitting beside me fell asleep and started snoring loudly, I smiled. Whenever I felt nauseous, I smiled. The purge buckets were all filled with quite a bit of water, which I spilled all over myself. I smiled at this as well. I was going to be soaking wet for the next couple hours, but I was grateful that I had not purged in the bucket and that I was covered in water, instead of puke.

I believe the medicine was teaching me a lesson. It was telling me to stop trying so hard and to stop taking things so seriously. It was teaching me to just be myself, chill out, stop caring, have fun and smile at any challenges that life throws at me.

Leading up to the ceremony, I made sure I avoided all distractions to make sure my mind was perfectly clear. I tried so hard to create the perfect intention and memorize it. I was taking everything so seriously and putting so much pressure on myself that I couldn’t even remember my intention when it was time to drink the Ayahuasca.

Then once I sat back down, I was putting so much conscious effort into quieting my mind and open my heart that I wasn’t enjoying myself. As soon as I began smiling and relaxing, I started feeling the medicine more and started having fun.

How we do anything is how we do everything and I was able to relate this experience to so many areas of my life. I realized that my need to try so hard to impress people was the main cause of my social anxiety and awkwardness growing up.

In Psycho Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz says, “The reason some people are self conscious and awkward in social situations is simply that they are too consciously concerned, too anxious, to do the right thing.”

He says, “If these people could “let go,” stop trying, not care, and give no thought to the matter of their behaviour, they could act creatively, spontaneously, and “be themselves.”

Overall, my first ceremony was quite mild. I did not end up purging and I did not have an overly difficult experience. I think the first ceremony was intentionally a bit mild, in order to build our trust. I was extremely impressed by how professional everything was run and how safe I felt the entire time. I believe that the shamans wanted to gain our trust and make us comfortable, before pushing our limits too far.

This ceremony did not provide the deep, internal battle, that I was looking for, but I was still content. I trusted that Ayahuasca knew what was best for me. That is, until the next morning, when I heard the stories of other people. I heard people talk about all of their vivid visions. I also found out that other people did have extremely difficult experiences and faced intense internal battles the previous night. I started to get quite frustrated that other people had the kind of experiences that I had hoped for.

Many people would have been overjoyed with a mild, somewhat fun experience, like mine. However, I wanted a difficult one. I wanted to face my darkness and relive the most painful times of my life, so that I could finally let go of them.

I got so frustrated, hearing other peoples stories and comparing my own experience to theirs, that I left the breakfast table and went to lie down in a hammock. After spending some time alone, I realized how crazy I was being. I had been fully content with my experience until I started comparing it to the experiences of others.

The last thing I wrote in my journal that day was, “Stop comparing myself to others. My experience is my own. My life is my own.”

Part 2 is coming soon… Follow my blog so you don’t miss it. Enter your e-mail in the side bar now and never miss another post!

Creating Clarity In Lima
Ayahuasca In The Amazon: Learning To Love Myself (Part 2)

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