Ayahuasca: The Healing Vine
An experience with the ancient, medicinal psychedelic
By Nichole Richards
Part II of III
I was one of over 30 participants who travelled across the country to take part in the famed Ayahuasca Ceremony at Soul-quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth in Orlando. We represented various ages, nationalities, careers, and experiences.
“It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving.” added a facilitator, “You know, family.”
The church employed a staff of nearly 10 who provided support throughout the weekend, particularly during the ceremonies. They were the soothers, keeping participants grounded during their journeys, and de facto therapists. I would watch them provide listening ears to those bewildered with their experience and having difficulty decoding the messages of the medicine. They treated their jobs and responsibilities with sacredness, embodying the adage “it isn’t what you do, it’s how you do it.”
Anxious afternoon conversations traded stories of previous psychedelic journeys and revelations, setting an atmosphere of anticipation. Because it is said no journey is the same, even the most experienced among us seemed nervous.
As a remedy, we were offered rapé, a sacred medicine used by shamanic healers in the Amazon basin to help settle the nerves and focus the mind. A potent blend of tobacco and the ashes of psychoactive plants, rapé is administered by blowing up both nostrils through a pipe made of bamboo or bone. The blow is intense, but the bodily reaction is worth it. A calming, tingling wave radiates from head to toe, immediately ceasing the chattering of the mind and easing anxiety. My first night I watched the knee jerk, gagging reaction from others and decided to pass. The second night I welcomed the soothing light-headness that lulled me into the most gentle, well deserved slumber.
We gathered around the bonfire, introduced ourselves, where we were from, why we were here. Despite being so different, we were all connected by a singular thread. Listening to each person quickly explain their intentions, I was thoroughly impressed. Sitting in this circle were bodies carrying painful memories, trauma, negativity and fear, all ready and willing to face uncertainty to become better, loving people. Our collective hurt was just un-bearable enough to seek healing together.
It was my turn to state my intention.
As the only Black American in the group, my intention was particularly heavy. Guided by social worker and mental health expert, Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart’s work on the psychological and emotional trauma passed on through generations within the Lakota Sioux community, I hoped to address the scars of slavery, Jim Crow, and sharecropping that had manifested in me through my bloodline. Like the materially impoverished Lakota Sioux, the Black community shows signs of collective trauma demonstrated through self-hatred, poverty, addiction, and unaddressed mental illness. I sought healing and expected an inner journey accompanied by djembe drums and songs in African languages.
After a deeply calming breathing exercise, we each received “smoke baths”, an essential part of any shamanic ritual. Smoke baths are said to deter bad spirits throughout and around the space and to cleanse negative energies from the individual. One by one we kneeled over burning sage, shrouded in a blanket, and were blessed.
Back on our mats we received sananga, a burning eye-drop made from the root and bark of the Tabernaemontana undulata shrub said to increase visualizations and cleanse blocked energies. We were then given the Ayahuasca brew and were instructed to place the tea to our hearts, restate our intention, pray, and drink.
The taste of the tea was unlike anything I had ever tasted, a gritty mixture of black licorice, tree bark, and earth. Despite my iron clad stomach, it was a challenge keeping it down as my stomach began to churn and a wave of nausea almost forced me to purge. We were encouraged to take deep breaths, close our eyes, and focus.
After thirty minutes, the purging began all around me. Purging, or vomiting, is considered one of the most important parts of the Ayahuasca experience despite it being the most feared and misunderstood. It is mentally and physically cleansing. When one purges, toxins and trapped negativity are released and the experience is heightened as your mind and body are clearer, cleaner, and more receptive to the medicine’s messages.
“Many try to fight the purge because they don’t like vomiting,” Chris explained the next day, “But it is so essential and beneficial to the healing process. The sacrament can’t do what it does if you are focused on being nauseous, which goes away almost immediately after purging.”
I must admit, he was correct. Until I purged, I was completely distracted by what was going on around me. Despite being a large group, the experience is intensely individual. On their mats, participants lay with their eyes closed in a sort of trance-like state. Some stared in awe at the sky, which, I later found out, produced a brilliant show of flickering stars too numerous to count. Although we were encouraged to be silent and listen, some visualizations and insights were too spectacular to keep in and exclamations of awe, and fear, echoed throughout the backyard. Ego deaths rocked bodies and emotional releases produced quaking sobs.
“I’ve transcended!” a woman exclaimed as she was being led back into the warmth of the building. I later found her wrapped in a blanket, talking in circles about love, the oneness of humanity, and other insightful things. I may not have understood her, but she was at peace.
At this point, I was doubting my ability to have such an experience and my expectations were dashed.
“The medicine gives you what you need, not what you want.” A male participant told me the following morning, as I recounted my disappointment. Although I did have visualizations and came to some realizations, particularly about motherhood, I did not release like I hoped to.
That intense cleansing came the next day.