I wanted ayahuasca to teach me how to love the world despite its violence, destruction, and greed

When used therapeutically, plant medicines have the potential to help us explore new ways of thinking, while at the same time helping us to rediscover positive perspectives on life and love.

Based on my experiences, I would say that ayahuasca doesn’t just suggest affirmations to you—the medicine makes you live the lessons themselves. When you imbibe ayahuasca, you are in it. You are living it. It is real. But what exactly is “it”? Well, much like insights gained during meditation or yoga practices, the ayahuasca experience is a personal journey for each individual. With this in mind, I invite you to hear of my personal journey—a journey that culminates in growth, gratitude, and a love for life.

 

My First Ayahuasca Experience

After weaning off of a decades-long dependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals, I found myself feeling open to alternative, natural therapies. As a result of this openness, I decided to fly from my Caribbean home in Panama to an ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica, where I would undergo the first of two significant ceremonies.

The experience began in the late afternoon with a “spiritual flower bath,” during which we received a bucket of perfumed water and a pile of flowers. We were told to rip the flowers and put them into a bucket of water. As we placed each flower into the water, we set an intention centered around whatever it may be that we wanted to get out of the experience. Most of my intentions seemed to revolve around forgiveness of myself and others. I set an intention to make peace with traumas in my life.

As I ripped each flower, tears welled up. And then, once all of the flowers had been placed into the bucket, we scrubbed our bodies with the mixture, then poured it over our heads, surrounded by the mountains above us and the valley below. As a result of being in such a safe, comforting environment, I was able to tap into long-forgotten memories, and heal myself, all while exploring levels of consciousness that I didn’t even know existed within me.

Once I began to feel the medicine take effect, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is cute. This is very mild. This reminds me of being a teenager.”

I thought of Sarah Powers, the girl I used to do LSD with regularly, who had since passed away. No one knew exactly how she died, though some speculated it was a result of a drug overdose. Moments later, I thought of another former classmate, Rob Swan, who’d also died of a suspected drug overdose. I remembered both Rob and Sarah fondly. And even though I hadn’t thought of them in decades, they were suddenly with me, and it felt so sweet. The experience wasn’t macabre. I knew they were with me. And I say this sincerely, even as someone who does not believe in heaven nor hell nor reincarnation.

Approximately 30 minutes after my first dose of ayahuasca, Jeanae came to me and asked if I was feeling the effects, and if I wanted to take more. I responded with a resolute “Yes!”, knowing that although the experience may not be for the faint of heart, I was there to go all the way.

After the second dose, I laid down with my eyes closed as Matt, a man who had also drank the medicine, began playing a large gong. The sounds reminded me of the gong therapy I’d experienced in Kundalini Yoga classes with my since-deceased friend, Carrie Stover. As the vibrational waves of the gong washed over me, I felt as though I had been transported back to the Tucson yoga studio, Anjali Yoga, with Carrie right there by my side. Carrie and I had gone through our first Yoga Teacher Training together, and our Friday night Kundalini class was our way to destress. And even though those Kundalini Yoga classes happened years prior to my ayahuasca experience, I felt that, in that moment, Carrie was with me on that mountain top in Costa Rica.

When I say that my dead friends were “with” me, I don’t mean that I was having a supernatural experience. I believe I was experiencing a new level of consciousness, and pathways in the brain being opened up. In the past, these neural pathways may have been blocked. But now, my synapses felt like all of the cannons of every war ever fought on this earth firing all at once. And the result was not death nor destruction. The result was love; a feeling of interconnectedness with nature.

At the beginning of the trip, I had whispered to the sky, “Please teach me how to love this world.” I wanted the medicine to teach me how to love the world despite all of the violence, destruction, and greed. But in order to receive the full teaching, I had to first let go of the resentments, anger, and guilt that I had so stubbornly worn as armor for such a long time. Eventually, I was able to let go and grant myself permission to feel soft and humbled. And in this moment of voluntary weakness, I allowed myself to vomit, briefly, in an act of self-healing.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy sessions that rely upon a multitude of questions and puzzles assembled piece by piece, my ayahuasca experience put all of the truth on the table at once. It felt as though the plant was speaking to me, saying, “This is you! Deal with it! And you know what? You are a good person despite what you’ve been telling yourself all these decades.”

When dealing with ayahuasca, there is no way to tip-toe around any issues. You are made bare and vulnerable. You experience a deep humbleness that reduces you to nothingness, a grounded place in which the only available course of action is to move upwards.

Four hours after my first sip of the medicine—after lots of sobbing and laughter—an hour-long fire ceremony began. As I looked back on the experience, I felt the sense that I had gone on a good trip. My mother was very present throughout the ceremony, and I remember staring up at the stars, saying to myself, “I just don’t want to cause my mom anymore pain. She doesn’t deserve it. And I’m sorry, Mom. I have always loved you.”

 

 

 

My Second Ayahuasca Experience

Two nights later, I had my second ayahuasca experience. And although I would not characterize the second experience as a “bad” trip, I will say that it forced me to explore all of the issues I had glossed over during the first. My first trip felt profound, while my second trip felt marked by a sense of terror—terror that helped me to map and understand my mentally ill behavior. I could clearly see the roots of my self-destructive behaviors. I felt I had the power to break these patterns; that I was not a slave to the root cause. And in those moments, I chose to change. I chose love.

Ayahuasca helped me to realize that I didn’t deserve to experience the terrible things I’d endured throughout my life, and that I am a creature of love and goodness and light and deserve to be treated as such, especially by myself. In addition to finding the space in my heart to forgive the abusers in my life, I have also allowed myself to forgive myself for constantly beating myself up. And I feel content knowing that I am whole; knowing that regardless of whether or not love and companionship appears in my life, I will be fine.

Another beneficial outcome of my ayahuasca experiences involved me making peace with my father. I had rebelled against him vigorously throughout the course of my life. I would go years without speaking to him, stewing in anger. But during this second trip, I found peace with him, as well as with myself. And as a result, he and I have made plans for him to come visit me in Panama. This is a truly monumental development for us both. I am nearly 50 years old, after all. And he is pushing 80. So I figure that it’s about time we make peace before it’s too late to do so.

I know now that I am on the path of healing and recovery, and if that path is not honored by others in my life, I will show them to the door. I know that I am not damaged. I know that I am worthy of compassion. And I know that there is no more penance to pay for simply being me. Because of this, I stand bare before the world and want the same in return.