“Spiritual” is often associated with a belief system surrounding personal growth and realizing human potential through Eastern traditions, esoteric thinking, and psychology with the intention in finding your life’s path. Generally speaking, spirituality is cultivating a higher awareness – both in thought and action. In modern Western society, we talk about belief in spirituality often in lieu of organized religion. Though they are traditionally combined, it more so suggests a belief in something greater than self.
One way to encourage spiritual transformation is through the use of a traditional South American tribal brew called Ayahuasca. The brew possesses powerful psychedelic properties which stimulate the mind, heals, and enhances spiritual awareness; it is often taken in a ceremonial setting. Spiritual awakenings, revelations, life changes and a deeper sense of self are common reports following Ayahuasca ceremonies. Increasing numbers of people in the West are turning to this spiritual medicine, even in Berlin, though it is more prepared using non-traditional plants with similar properties which induce the same effects.
Tobi talks about how Ayahuasca and psychedelics enabled him to cultivate his own spiritual practice:
I had been interested in psychoactive substances for a quite long time but I didn’t try it, not because I thought it was dangerous but because I was afraid it could have lasting effects on my daily life.
My interest developed when some friends told me about their experience with Salvia Divinorum. With the short length of the trip (supposedly 10 to 15 minutes) and the easy accessibility, it seemed worth trying. On top of that, my friends appeared fine afterwards; some even gaining something lasting from it.
From that moment, I began my research – What is this? What are people saying about it? I gathered my courage and tried it. After a few solitary trials I became more and more comfortable with it. But in the end – though it was interesting, I didn’t gain much from it. Nothing particularly significant occurred. But, it being my first psychedelic experience, it changed my view on psychoactive substances in general: my respect rose as fear faded.
The more I researched the more I encountered various mind-altering substances but the next logical step seemed to be mushrooms containing psilocybin as they were easily obtained and natural. From what I had heard and read the experience could be incredible. So, after some experiences with mushrooms something occurred and though I can’t pinpoint exactly what happened there were some tangible changes. I suddenly began being more conscious about what I ingest, previously I was such an unhealthy eater. Fruits and vegetables were not on my daily intake. It was not possible for me to change my whole diet, but that was the beginning: I almost completely stopped drinking soda and I stopped drinking alcohol entirely. It’s complicated to explain why I did that. It simply felt right and it still does. I want to be clear that this was a choice that I made for myself with the understanding that these choices don’t apply to everyone.
I began researching shamanistic approaches and contexts to use psychedelics because I realized from the beginning that, at least for me, it was not something to do just for fun. During this research I read a lot about Ayahuasca. I first came across it about 4 or 5 years ago in a music magazine and believed you had to go to South America to participate in Ayahuasca rituals. Though it was on my list of things I wanted to do, such a journey wasn’t feasible.
Last year, my band was playing a concert in Berlin. A woman came up to me at the end and invited me to a ceremony which involved Ayahuasca. Without a second thought or control I was watching myself suddenly hug her, saying “I’ve been waiting for you.” Something eerie was just starting from then on; something out of my control- synchronistic. The saying “It will come to you when the time is right,” I heard it so many times and at that moment, it came to my mind once again. I accepted her invitation.
Usually you strictly follow a specific diet for seven days before and after the ceremony. I was told only two days before the ceremony that there was space for me so I had been eating a lot of meat and food that wasn’t on the diet. I had the urge to go anyway.
There was a Shaman guiding the ceremony, blowing smoke over the medicine, burning incense and singing icaros (traditional ceremonial songs). Although I was amongst a dozen strangers, this setting allowed me to let go completely. You could just participate without the concern of caring for yourself or have to worry about your roommates or the friends you are with as you would when you take psychedelics at home. There, you could just be yourself and focus solely on yourself. There is a special way this should be taken. I then realized the importance of the context and setting of such an experience. At this point, so many things occurred because of the music they played, or what the shaman sang – something happened within me when she was singing – the energy in and around me, my capacity to let go – it was all happening.
It wasn’t very visual for me – most of the time, it isn’t. It was more of a feeling or thinking without words, so to speak. On this evening, I had a really strong understanding that “I can do whatever or be whoever I want” which showed me how so many barriers or fronts were set by myself, my environment, even by my cultural upbringing and I really can choose who I want to be or what I want to do outside of these restrictions. I felt this sense of “everything is already there” and “you just have to choose the path that you prefer.”
I was struggling with this before. Music what I want to do – it fulfills me, but I believed that I couldn‘t earn a living from it so I would have to do something else. I realized that all of these barriers are self-imposed. If you have a passion, you have to do the things that fulfill you, and do it with your highest pleasure. Then everything else will just come to you. If you really want to do one thing, it will work. You just have to do it.
I went into a state where I could feel a creative presence around me – had I had paper and a pen, I could have written so many songs. But I then felt that this was not the time, I had other things to work on and learn in this moment. So I thought, let’s not get stuck with this- let’s move on.
I was in a thought-spiral where everything was so easy. I could hear all the noises the others were making, but everything around me was just happening – it wasn’t disturbing. It reminded me of this depiction/figure of the laughing Buddha and I felt like I understood why he looked like that. That was really strong. I could have stayed there but I still had to go on. I remembered what I read in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying in the days before the ceremony and I said to myself, “I have to go on. I’m holding that joyous feeling. I have to go on.”
Then I entered a difficult phase. I was feverish – I was struggling, hitting the floor. The Shaman, a young woman, came by and held my hand. I looked into her eyes and her face appeared so old, so wise. There was this strong presence that was shown to me through her body. I felt better after that but I began feeling nauseous. I started throwing up really hard in my bucket and I had to go to the bathroom. I was quite weak and unable to walk so I asked the woman who had initially invited me to the ceremony for help. She took me under the arm and guided me to the bathroom and sat outside its door with water and soothing words to help me through this intense cleansing experience.
This is where I had to stay until the ceremony was over. I went home with a taxi and finally found some sleep.
I felt better the next day though still weak. I called a friend to help me cook some healthy food because I had no idea what to eat. I just knew that I can‘t continue with my strange eating habits.
I turned vegetarian overnight, which seems unbelievable had you known me previously. I was that guy who would order a döner with just bread and meat. Pasta or pizza margarita was a standard evening meal, but by all means were no vegetables involved. I began to reading into nutrition and different approaches to food like Ayurvedic cooking, for example. I started experiencing more of a connection to my body – I feel what I eat more and I enjoy food differently. I enjoy food more.
Four weeks later, I went to my second ceremony. I had been adhering to the given diet and this ceremony affirmed that I had needed to change my eating habits. I threw up briefly but otherwise, I surpassed the illness I had previously experienced. It was clear to me that it was not just the given diet, but my overall shift in nutrition that was the right change.
Apart from that, this experience was the opposite of before. The first one was something I would call a “spiritual experience.” However, here, it was an almost comical vibe. It started with me choking on the medicine which provoked some laughter. Later the dog was barking, the phone was ringing but apparently I seemed to be the only one disturbed by the chaos.
Nothing else seemed to be happening. The others were all in other realms as I lay there bored. Things came to my mind such as: “This is all bullshit, why am I doing this? Maybe I just made up everything I experienced before…” I thought nothing was happening for me but looking back I needed that because though I take these things very seriously, I have realized that I don’t want to devote my life to these practices. But that doesn‘t mean that I wouldn‘t do another ceremony in the future.
Since these experiences I have found clarity. There was a long phase after these two Ayahuasca ceremonies where writing (music) was more difficult than before due to my belief that everything had to be significant to humanity in a way. Wishing for significance is a good thing but the problem was my discontent with it. Only recently, I have learned that it must be meaningful for me and consequently others will eventually find meaning as well. I learned how to allow the right words to come to me rather than force myself to write which is resulted in me getting more joy from the process.
Some weeks after these events, a friend told me about a Vedic meditation course she wanted to visit. I decided to go too, which was one of the best decisions I ever made.
There are higher states of consciousness (sometimes achieved with psychedelics) and the so-called “normal” state. I have the feeling that through meditation; these two states of being are coming closer together – eventually becoming one someday.
I have a hunger to learn more and I want to feed this hunger but I am learning to practice patience. Sometimes I take the shortcut to these higher states through psychedelics but not without bringing these extraordinary experiences more in line with my day to day life through sober meditation.
I think due to these two contrasting Ayahuasca experiences, I have found a balance between a ceremonial setting and the fun/recreational approach. Conducting rituals at home lead to the most meaningful experiences to my life.
In conclusion I’d like to repeat that all this applies for me and not for everybody, but I’d say some sort of meditation is probably worth a shot for all.