I went on my first Ayahuasca retreat a few months ago, and it was the most magical week of my life. It was not easy, daunting at first, but oh boy, was it rewarding!
I want to share my story with you, as the medicine has a huge opportunity to change and elevate your life forever. Get comfortable, as this is going to be a long read!
Before I jump into it, I have to share a few lines. While Ayahuasca has great potential, as always, there are some caveats to be made.
- Nothing in this article is medical advice. Please consult your doctor before embarking on an Ayahuasca retreat.
- Please read this article with an open mind. What I am going to share might not make any sense, even sound ridiculous. I had similar thoughts before, but Ayahuasca has proven me incorrect on so many levels.
- Ayahuasca became popular in the last years. With an uptick in demand, sneaky actors appear and attempt to profit from the situation. Finding a trusted retreat run by knowledgeable people guiding you through the journey will significantly impact your experience. It is better to pay extra than to compromise on quality.
- Ayahuasca is considered an illegal substance in most parts of the world. I am not advising you to break the law. I will tell my story from pre to post-retreat, and you can then decide for yourself if this is something you would be interested in trying. My goal is to create awareness and reveal how to take your life to the next level potentially.
What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca — also known as the tea, the vine, or la purga — is a brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrub and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. Other plants and ingredients can be added as well(1).
Ayahuasca has been used in the Amazon for thousands of years for spiritual and religious purposes in ceremonies led by shamans or curanderos. It has made its way into the Western world in the last few decades, although because of the DMT, it is still classified as illegal in most countries.
Because the brew is so potent, it is highly recommended to take it in a controlled environment with a person who can safely guide the ceremony and help you to get the most out of this medicine.
What led me to the Ayahuasca retreat?
The image of drugs portrayed in the media is not pretty. Like most of us, I was living with the mentality that all drugs are dangerous and will inescapably destroy our lives. As a kid, I was afraid of ending up in the wrong circles and becoming an addict.
Later on, I kept hearing various stories about spiritual awakenings, healings from trauma, and giant breakthroughs in life after taking psychedelic substances. All of these were stories of people who greatly inspire me and who are quite successful. I got curious, and I started to learn more about this clandestine world.
I wanted to have my first encounter with psychedelics in a safe, controlled environment, as many things can go wrong. One does not know what will find inside their mind and how it will react to the discoveries. It can be scary.
I did not know what to look for, so I tossed the idea aside and kept going on with my life.
I met up with a friend for lunch in Mexico City back in February 2020, and I noticed he ordered vegan food. He told me that he is on a special diet because he is preparing for an Ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica. This sounded exciting, so I immediately started to learn more about Ayahuasca.
After a while, it clicked. A retreat? With psychedelics? In a controlled environment? This seemed exactly what I was looking for!
After a few months of research and planning, I found a place that looked perfect for my first experience. I booked the retreat, and I started getting ready. Little did I know that my life is never going to be the same!
Two weeks before the retreat
Ayahuasca is powerful, and one has to treat it with respect. Lifestyle change is strongly advised starting at least two weeks before drinking the brew. I abstained from drinking alcohol, eating red meat, sex, coffee, citrus fruits, and lactose. Following the diet was relatively easy. I was eating lots of meat before, so the sudden change of flavors felt refreshing.
As the days were flying by, my anxiety was increasing noticeably. I started doubting myself. Was this because the removal of distractions allowed suppressed thoughts to surface? Or was it my fear of what I would see and my brain trying to protect me?
I began exploring these sensations. Most of them led to relationships with people I profoundly care(d) about. I was observing patterns of my behavior that limited me to live my life to the fullest. Fear of rejection, not being good enough, taking everything personally. I thought I was already over these feelings, but surprise, I had a lot of work to do!
Thus my intentions for the retreat have been born. Make peace with the past, release the blockages, and open my heart for what is yet to come.
I left Lisbon around 11:45 am and arrived at Coimbra train station 2 hours later. We got picked up, and after about a one-hour drive, we got to the retreat location. A beautiful Quinta, in the middle of nature. We were shown to our tents, dropped our stuff, and headed back for the introduction.
At this point, I was starving, as I skipped lunch. I asked one of the organizers when are we going to get food. He made all my hopes disappear, though: "Oh, there is no food until tomorrow morning, as we have the tobacco purge tonight." Great, we jump straight into it, I thought, as I kept walking, still hungry.
Introduction, day one
The introduction was held in the maloka(indigenous word for “house” or “cabin"), and we finally met our shaman, master Sanango. He talked about the upcoming days, the rules during the ceremonies and addressed our questions.
We needed to surrender all our electronics, as there was no place for external distractions. This was necessary in order to focus solely on showing up and doing the inner work. The notion of time ceased to exist and got replaced by bongs and approximations.
The silence between us began, and off we went to the tobacco purge.
This served as a preparation to enter the world of Ayahuasca. "It is the act of letting go, defecating and/or vomiting, cleaning ourselves from the unnecessary, from toxins accumulated in our body, from feelings of suffering, beliefs, and ideas that do not serve neither to our physical, mental nor spiritual being." The vomiting symbolizes the release of our armors to be more receptive to the teachings of the master plants.
Each of us received a bucket, lots of water, and a glass with the tobacco brew inside. We were told to finish the pitch of water, drink the tobacco, and continue drinking more water while aiming for the bucket.
I never vomited so much in such a short period of time! But it was worth it! I felt an immense sense of peace, openness and had incredibly vivid dreams later on. I started to feel that this is going to be an incredible journey, and we were just getting started.
Kambo, day two
Around 7:30 am, we got woken up for the first Kambo cleanse, named after the poisonous secretions of the giant monkey frog or Phyllomedusa bicolor. This was optional, but I signed up for it, as I wanted to get the full experience. I did not do a lot of research about it. To be honest, it was just an innocent checkbox during the booking process.
I was the first to be given the medicine, and I quickly became anxious, not knowing what to expect. Based on the bucket near me, I was pretty sure it is going to involve more vomiting. Great way to start your morning, right?
Slowly the medicine started to enter my body through the three dots burned on my skin. My heart started racing, my head pulsing, and I felt extremely nauseous. But I could not throw up.
I started to question myself again. Why can't I rent a car, drive along the coast, and have an ordinary vacation that I enjoy? Why am I torturing myself? What is wrong with me?
After a while, it started to come out. It was painful and lasted for about ten minutes. I was relieved that it was over, and I felt a sense of clarity like never before.
And now finally time for breakfast, after a day of fasting and cleansing. The only catch? I had an extremely sore throat from the Kambo and had a hard time swallowing. Nevertheless, it felt great to recharge my body.
Leading up to the night
The rest of the day went by peacefully and in silence as we prepared for the first ceremony. I had no idea what to expect or how powerful it is going to be.
Have you ever camped in a massive rainfall? It is not the most pleasant experience, and it definitely makes falling asleep harder. Add to this the rising levels of anxiety about what's going to happen, and no good sleep is guaranteed. Probably the worst way to go into an unknown and potentially scary world.
I secretly hoped that the ceremony would be canceled given the rain, and I would not need to do it. But that not how this works, and we eventually got woken up.
Twelve people, all dressed in white, walking quietly at 1:00 am in the rain towards the maloka to do a sacred ceremony involving master plants from the Amazon, a shaman from Peru, and all of us expecting massive revelations? It sounds like a cult from the outside, right?
I asked Ayahuasca to be gentle. I wanted to heal but did not want to get scared right at the beginning. Then Sanango arrived, repeated the rules, and reassured us that we would not go crazy. He wished us a beautiful ceremony and started pouring the brew.
Ayahuasca, trip number one
That's it. I am next in line. Shit starts to get real. My anxiety is through the roof as I am walking down the aisle to get the brew. I went back to my seat, laid down, and closed my eyes. All I wanted was a soft trip.
I did not feel much until getting a second cup. I even fell asleep once. After 20 minutes or so, it started to kick in. I was floating underwater, with random objects hovering around me. There were subtle scary things, but nothing serious.
I got teleported into different situations from the past. I realized those particular events were hurting me and were not allowing me to live up to my full potential. I saw people and how their behaviors, opinions, and words were haunting me subconsciously. I was not angry at all. I felt a sense of relief, peace and I decided it is time to move on.
I got the sign that everything is going to be all right and I should not worry about the future so much. Wanting to live an unconventional life? Having meaningful relationships? Building products? It is all possible, given I focus my energy on the right things.
The night finished with a girl and me swimming upwards, becoming one when meeting on the surface. I woke up calm, full of love, and being grateful for the beautiful experience. And this was just the beginning!
Rest and recover
We had two days to relax and try to process the experience until the next one. While I had a mild trip, there were quite a few people with intense, crazy stories. We are all very different, so it makes a lot of sense.
After the sharing circle was over, we were allowed to break the silence and get to know each other. There were no barriers between us at that time. Going through hell and heaven together definitely helped them dismantle.
Ayahuasca, the second trip
The day looked pretty much the same. Kambo in the morning, preparing for the night and rest before taking off.
I knew it is going to be more powerful this time. After having a good first encounter, I told Mother Ayahuasca that I feel ready for the full experience.
I began by alternating between multiple dimensions, and random objects were floating around again. Scary figures were hanging out in the bottom dimensions, with the joyous ones being higher up. I tried to ignore the uncomfortable beings and wanted to get to the fun ones. I was being pushed down over and over though.
I realized that I have to face them. They were limiting me! I became inviting, curious and wanted them to show me more. But they never did! As soon as I have embraced them, I was able to move around as I wished. I faced my fears, and I got liberated.
That was when Sanango invited us for a second cup, and I wanted more. I wanted to go deeper. Going there was a challenge as everything was revolving around me.
I looked back to see what "others" were thinking, but no one cared! Everyone was immersed in their own world. So I decided to fly. One thing led to another, I put my hands into my pants, and I formed a triangle. I suddenly felt strongly connected to my masculine side. And oh boy! I got transported to an unreal place.
I saw myself as a white beam of light, flying in the universe at a crazy speed. I was able to see inside my brain and experience firsthand how it was interpreting and reacting to the music. I could not believe what was going on!
I observed limiting concepts dissolving in space; comparison, judgment, material things. Nothing mattered. It was just me and the neverending universe. I did not want to wake up. It was unprecedented. I kept telling myself: “What is this?”, “This is unreal”, “This is magic”, “Am I alive?”.
Suddenly, a feeling of empathy washed over me. I saw people, all in their own bubbles, fighting their own fights, showing up in numerous ways. Then it clicked! We all see the world through very distinct lenses, expressing ourselves in different ways and bringing our own emotional baggage into the process of doing so. Most of us have good intentions with our actions, even though the ideas we put across might look flawed.
I remember another significant conversation with her. I told her that I do not want to be sick. She simply said, "then don't be." I never purged that night. Often, sickness comes out of our minds because of too much stress and anxiety.
All good things come to an end, right? At that point, it did not feel like that is accurate, and I started to freak out. I wanted to wake up! It felt too good to be true. I genuinely believed that I've gone crazy. I started doing math and writing code in my head, trying to help others, opening my eyes. Anything to get back to "reality." It worked up to an extent, but the visions did not want to end for a long time.
When they eventually did, I was the first to leave the maloka. I wanted to feel the "real" world. I could not grasp what the heck has just happened. I felt that I had enough, I got the full experience, my spirit woke up, and my work here is done! I was ready to go home and apply the learnings. But Mother Ayahuasca had a different plan for me.
The final trip
Before embarking on the last Ayahuasca ceremony, we had a chance to talk privately with Sanango. I wanted to use this opportunity to understand where the resistance at the end of the last session came from. He had a straightforward answer: "A lot of the times, we fail to accept the good things life grants us." I then decided to surrender to the medicine completely later that night.
I slept relatively well, spending a quiet evening around my tent in the hammock. I felt connected with nature and let the autumn breeze sweep through my body. I was ready.
My anxiety started to kick in as soon as Sanango arrived, and I saw the bottles. I felt disgusted by thinking about the taste of the brew. It gets worse the more you drink it. When my turn was up, I got the end of the bottle, full of particles, tasting like earth.
I started out wandering in nature, surrounded by subtle scary silhouettes. I was more gentle with them this time, inviting them to come along the ride. But they refused, disappearing as soon as I faced them!
I was walking in a stunning forest, arriving at a camp with beautiful flowers shortly after. There was a girl with me. We felt childish and were running barefoot in nature. We ended up having sex, and that was the most amazing feeling ever! I felt that we became one, two souls united together. I again felt like a white beam of lights, but this time I was not alone.
Sanango invited us for a second cup. However, I saw a clear NO coming from somewhere, that I should stay put and enjoy the ride. I did not need more. I felt cozy, with my hands on my heart and my soul dancing to the music.
It was time to lay down and fully surrender. An abundance of emotions washed over me. Love, euphoria, satisfaction, empathy, serenity, just to name a few. I felt the medicine flowing through my body and healing my wounds I was not even aware of. My heart finally opened!
I saw myself caring for everyone in the room, working on their problems. I realized that this is not OK. I should not fight other people’s battles. I am carrying way too much weight on my shoulders, which interferes with my way of being and living.
I was able to control my body in unreal ways. Whenever an urge to vomit or go to the bathroom arose, I calmed my mind down and stayed with the feeling. After a while, they went away. I’ve realized that what we put into our minds and bodies directly correlates with how we feel and behave. I saw sad animals staring at me, got clear signs to connect more with nature and to take care of my body and the planet.
An unconventional thought popped into my head suddenly. I wanted to turn upside down and see the experience from a different angle. After changing direction, I was reborn and a child again, moving my whole body to the songs, singing along silently, laughing, and feeling exuberant.
The night turned into morning, and we started waking up. I felt happy, healed, and a radically different person—a man at peace.
It's been a few months since the bliss at Sinchi Runa ended. The retreat is only the awakening. It will not solve all problems magically. The process of integration, nurture, and awareness is equally important. I wanted to take the lessons and apply them to my day-to-day life.
Top five learnings
Most of my takeaways are not that special, and you might have heard of them already. I definitely did before. However, I never fully internalized them. Now it got down to the cellular level.
These are only a few of what I discovered during the ceremonies, there is much more, and I did not even process everything yet. The amount of information you get while working with Ayahuasca is incomprehensible.
- Surrender, experience life as it is, and let go of things that don't serve you anymore. By attaching myself to the past, I set expectations of how I should feel and behave in the present moment. Life is a neverending evolution, and we need to adapt to it. I want to experience as it unfolds and change accordingly.
- Stop worrying so much about the future. You are on the right path. I tend to get stressed out in my day-to-day life and forget about the power of compound interest. I can get anything I want, given that I take steps towards it every day, set my mind up for growth, and surround myself with the right people. Worry less, be more present.
- You carry other people's problems on your shoulders. This one struck me! I am always in problem-solving mode, and I especially loved solving other people's challenges. Solving your problems for you would be unfair and probably not even possible. What worked for me might not work for you. I can not fight your battles. You have to show up and do the work yourself. I will be your biggest supporter for sure, but I will stay out of the arena.
- Focus on the beauty and grit of each individual. People show up in their own ways, and chances are, no one has an agenda to hurt me. What I am taking personally is probably only a result of ignorance, fear, misunderstanding, or a combination of all.
- Magic awaits once you can overcome the limiting beliefs. After I faced my fears, I got transported into whole new dimensions, ones that were far more intense, thought-provoking, and beautiful than what I was used to.
How my life changed?
- I feel calmer. Thanks to, or because of this, I can meditate much longer. I regularly do 30 minutes sessions, while before, I could barely sit for 10 minutes. And the sessions became more rewarding as well.
- I eat mostly a vegetarian diet. I will not put labels on myself, and I will eat meat for sure, but it will not be so at the center of my intake as before.
- I stopped watching porn.
- I am more present. I want to focus on the people and experiences around me without worrying much about the future or past. I want to live life to the fullest.
- I feel more confident, ready for standing up for myself and the world.
- I try to live with an open heart, inviting the world around me into my life. We miss out on so many opportunities and meaningful connections just because we like hanging out in our own little bubbles.
- I feel more conscious and self-aware. What I put into my mind and body, separating myself from my thoughts, recognizing other people’s efforts, to name a few.
- I stopped agonizing over my day-to-day life and shifted my focus on the long term. As long as I live according to my values and take daily steps in the right direction, I am alright.
Taking the medicine is only the first step; the real work starts after. It can open our eyes, but its effects are not going to last long without continuous nurturing.
Ayahuasca will take you on a journey that you will never forget. The amount of information you will receive will take months, if not years, to process and integrate. You will bump into obstacles along the ride, but do not worry. That is normal, and you will be fine.
Ayahuasca is powerful, so one has to treat her with respect. Follow the diet, find a safe space to take the medicine, and open your mind. Without respect, it can easily backfire.
Ayahuasca changed my life for the better, and I will continue to work with the medicine moving forward as well. If you are interested, want to hear more about my experience, or share yours, please reach out to me!
Are you ready for the journey of a lifetime?
Robert helps companies with their product development, specializing in writing code. He loves to inspire people, explore new places, read great books, take inspiring pictures, and learn new stuff all the time.