An experience with the ancient, medicinal psychedelic
By Nichole Richards
Part III of III
“Some of my most intense ceremonies were during the daytime,” said Chris the following morning before integration.
I was dreading it. A group exercise where participants share their experiences and insights from the night before, integration required a level of openness I had not yet reached. Despite being assured an ayahuasca ceremony would draw us all closer, I still felt among strangers. Plus, I was profoundly disappointed I was not catapulted into a spiritual kaleidoscope and emerged transformed. I shamefully felt the same.
“I felt nothing.” I told the group during the exercise. I was asked to expound upon nothing. Did I truly feel nothing? Why?
“Although the ceremony is conducted in a group setting it is an intensely individual experience,” Chris explained, “For the medicine to do its job, you have to focus on you.”
Focus on me? As a single pa-rent, this was a difficult thing to do and the very thought of it sent me into an internal panic. My mind raced with thoughts of my three year old daughter and all the tasks that needed to be accomplished. Then, Nischala, the priestess, the blesser, and resident yogi said something to me I continue to mull over weeks later.
“In order for you to be the best parent you can be, you have to think about your emotional wellbeing,” she said, “Take this time for your emotional cleansing so you can be there fully for your child.”
That charge rang in my head as I sat on my mat under a tree, preparing my heart and mind for the daytime ceremony. A smaller group than the night before, we sparsely occupied a forest clearing adjacent to the building, picking shaded parts to lay our mats, hiding our nervousness and anxiety. We were given the brew and encouraged to sit up in mediation for at least 20 minutes.
I drank and waited.
The atmosphere was dramatically different than the nighttime ceremony and as someone scared of the dark, I welcomed it. You are immersed in the sights, smells, and sounds of nature. Tiny singing birds, an occasional soft breeze, and the warmth of the sun had a direct impact on my ability to be fully present. It relaxed me.
Unfortunately, nearly two hours later, I found myself in the same predicament as the night before, nauseous and unmoved. All around me, participants were having their own experiences, purging, releasing, and swaying, while I lay on my mat, sweating from the sun and distracted. I started to feel a profound heaviness sweep over my body and became rocked by disappointment and, for some odd reason, shame. At this point, I was overwhelmed with anger, vowing to distance myself from the group as a means to isolate the negativity I felt was hindering me. I didn’t want to infect others.
I started to cry uncontrollably.
Throughout the weekend, I kept hearing the medicine gives you what you need, not what you want. Prior to attending the ceremony, I researched, watched Youtube videos, and read articles detailing experiences that all seemed deeply moving, psychedelic, and trippy. That was my first mistake. Instead of being open to the myriad of possibilities that can arise from this ancient ritual, my expectations were set and shaped by these sources. As a result, it took nearly two days to strip me of my hopes and the second I gave up trying, everything I needed happened.
What was absolutely correct is the experience is not very pleasant. Imagine every painful memory, every shameful thing, every hurt, every fear, and every loss bubbling up to the surface for you to deal with. The medicine surpasses the symptoms of hurt (addiction, depression, etc.) and digs to the root causes of it (abandonment, abuse, etc). Before I could finish with one memory, another one quickly replaced it. Negative emotions piled one on top of the other leaving me nearly breathless. Despite how terrible it sounds, there is a presence, a higher power, guiding you through it, comforting you, providing insight and empowering you until you reach an emotional breakthrough.
“I didn’t believe in a higher power until I drank ayahuasca.” Chris admitted later that evening. Other participants agreed. Despite, representing a wide variety of practices and beliefs, the group could not deny the single anchor that kept each one of us grounded in the throes of our experiences.
As a pastor’s daughter, I was concerned my participation in this ceremony countered everything I had been taught, but it did quite the opposite. As I purged and cleansed, I felt more spiritual than I had every felt before. With every comforting breeze, I felt God’s love intensify around me and fill the forest clearing. This was what I needed.
Allow me to emphasize that experiences vary. That is one of the most amazing aspects of the ayahuasca brew. It brings you to your edge. It confronts you, not your titles, your career, affiliations, or money.
Afterward, I took the best shower I had ever taken in my life. Looking in the mirror, I noticed my face looked more youthful, fuller, and serene.
“The transformation we get to see in people just within a couple days encourages us to continue this work,” a facilitator told us, “Just in their faces you can see a major difference.”
Although I did partake in the following evening ceremony, I did not reach the level of intensity I had reached during the daytime ceremony. I was ok with that. My soul was still reeling from it and I assumed I did not need another internal earthquake. I simply watched the stars appear, disappear, and twinkle until nearly 5am.
On my ride home from Orlando, I desperately searched the airwaves for Gospel music, something I had never done before. I heard the songs much more deeply. I really felt them. Three hours later, when I saw my dimpled daughter I picked her up and squeezed her tight. She gazed into my face.
“Mommy, you look different.” She said.
I felt different.
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