Embracing the Serpent: An Encounter with Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a powerful psychoactive brew used, for thousands of years, by the indigenous people of the upper Amazon for spiritual and healing purposes. The brew, increasingly popular in western holistic practices, contains the mysterious, psychedelic compound DMT, which is produced endogenously by the brain in large quantities when we undergo birth and death. Flooding the brain with exogenous DMT found in ayahuasca paves the way for deep, powerful, and vivid psychedelic experiences. Here, we report on one of these experiences, which made the writer consider the revolutionary potential of ayahuasca, taking us into a new age of human history, one which fosters holistic, ecological, loving, and respectful living. 

Ayahuasca is a powerful psychoactive brew used by the indigenous people of the upper Amazon. It is obtained by combining the Banisteriosis Caapi vine – which contain MAO inhibitors – with a plant rich in the psychedelic compound DMT, like the shrub Psychotria Viridis (aka Chakruna). These two plants are then boiled together for hours in a carefully conducted ceremony, which leads to the potent psychoactive brew known as Ayahuasca.

As I had a long-standing interest in so-called psychedelic plants and the way they alter consciousness and offer us access to otherwise hidden aspects of reality and the self, I was naturally drawn to ayahuasca – often called by indigenous populations  “the mother of plants” – but was unable to find the proper setting for taking it.

With all due respect to Brazilian syncretic religions such as Santo Daime or União do Vegetal, both of which use ayahuasca as a sacrament, the idea of having to follow a specific set of instructions while in a large group of religious followers did not speak to me at all. I did not want my ayahuasca experience to be fully guided by the rules of these churches.

I happen to live 4,000 kilometers south of the Amazon and have no easy access to the ayahuasca rituals held there, so taking ayahuasca in the jungle did not seem like a viable option. But with a little bit of luck, synchronicity and hard work, I came across a loving, independent group that performed Ayahuasca rituals with a strong focus on spiritual and personal healing. There was no specific affiliation and plenty of space for each individual to follow his or her own processes during the experience. I set up a meeting with the strong, charismatic, and powerful woman who conducted these rituals, and after making sure I was in the right moment for such an intense experience, she organized for me a date with ayahuasca.

When I arrived at her place, the whole scenario was adorned with gipsy motifs. It was Santa Sara Kali’s day, the patron saint of the gypsies, and the ritual was held in her honor.

Gipsy magic is said to possess strong cleansing and protective effects, so it was perfect for my first night with ayahuasca. The main focus of the ritual was to annihilate everything we disliked about ourselves — all those annoying things that manifest in our patterns of behavior and keep us from realizing our full potential as individuals and as a species.

Be it laziness, selfishness, mistrust, envy, greed, we all had a list of negative qualities which we proceeded to write down and burn in the fire before the ritual began.

The brew was then served.

Some say ayahuasca is extremely bitter and nauseating, but I did not find the taste unpleasant at all. To me, its dark brown color and rich earthly taste was exactly what one would expect a vine to taste like if it were cooked and boiled into a brew. I felt as if I were drinking “vine juice.”

We all sat down in a circle, and waited for mother ayahuasca to show itself and take us by the hand in a journey within our spirit. The first effects started to appear with half-an-hour. Beautiful mandalas and intricate color patterns twirled across my visual field.

The reality and vivacity of these images were breathtaking. Unlike hallucinations, they felt like reality itself, as if a veil had been removed from my eyes, and I was finally able to see vibrations and patterns of energy that were always surrounding me. These patterns soon turned into serpents of light, that entered and exited my body through my mouth, one after another. Unbeknownst to me, they were initiating my healing process.

For up until that point, the journey was quite amusing, and I was smiling like a child watching fireworks. But then the real adventure began. Suddenly I was no longer sitting in a circle with a bunch of strangers adorned in gipsy garments. I was deep within myself, threading alone the darkest paths of my psyche.

Everything I had burned in the fire – my fears, insecurities, anxieties — began crawling up my throat again in full force. The mother of plants took me to the deepest and darkest places within my self, forcing me to confront the fears hidden in my subconscious that were dragging me down.

I was terrified. Imagine that Hell is a place where your worst phobias and traumas come back to haunt you with an intensity much greater than when they first occurred. Imagine that and you might get a glimpse of the kind of place I had entered.

But I knew this was my healing process, a mountain I had to conquer myself. The mother of plants would not let me leave my Hell until I faced each of those fears and purged them from my self once and for all. As ayahuasca showed me clearly and unmistakably the source of those fears, I felt their dominance over much of my life and my personal relationships. I could feel the wounds in my spirit burning like bullet holes, the same wounds I tried to hide my entire life with layers of psychological armor and defense mechanisms.

But at the same time that ayahuasca takes us to the depths of our personal Hell, it also gives us light, and it fills us with the strength to overcome it. It first lifts our masks and defense mechanisms so as to show us how deep our wounds really are, and then provides us with the healing tools we need for our spiritual and personal development.

In my case, help came in the form of various spirit animals that manifested in my experience. As I welcomed their strength inside me, I felt as if I were incorporating their qualities, and in that moment I crawled the floor like a snake, flew like a bird, howled like a wolf, and hissed like a cat. And for every spirit animal, it felt as if I were experiencing the world from that animal’s point of view.

When the snake spirit appeared, for example, I immediately fell to the floor and the world became dark and full of shadows. I could feel my tongue forking, and I had to touch it against the floor in order to move around. I felt strong and wise like a snake.

As these spirit animals passed through me, I felt my strength slowly building up, and I started to feel nauseous. My fears were physically manifesting in my body in the form of demons, crawling and gnawing in my stomach, waiting to be expelled.

Calling out the voices of the spirit animals I opened my mouth and shouted all their voices at once. The sound was deafening.

I don’t know what came out of me when I vomited, but I will never forget that sound. It felt, and sounded, like a horde of dying demons letting out their last cry of pain as they enter the light. I vomited, screamed, howled, vomited some more, and, finally, fell to the floor.

I recovered from the purge just in time for a second dose of the brew. As soon as the extra DMT hit my brain, I closed my eyes and felt the entire spatiotemporal structure of the universe breaking down. Space and time were no longer meaningful categories. There was no ego, no self, no separation whatsoever between subject and object. It felt as if I were experiencing the infinity of the cosmos in a single instant — a pure and primitive form of energy where everything connects to everything else. That which we call past and future, life and death, persons, plants, rocks, animals, everything is part of this primordial universal energy that connects everything to everything else.

It felt like I could project my consciousness through ayahuasca to the level of this primordial energy, and this experience was so intense that it gave me a new perspective over my own problems and fears. Things that used to bother me, that left me anxious and insecure, suddenly seemed risible, and I could not help but laugh at “problems” I once thought I had. They were no longer “problems,” except infamous jokes unfolding in the vast cosmic interplay of energy.

As I recovered my strength, I laid on my back and looked at the stars above, and I was filled with infinite love, gratitude, peace, and tranquility. This is what freedom feels like, I thought; to be and act in the world without the burden of trauma, to let our spirit roar without fear, to feel with every breath we take that each atom in our body is connected to every other living organism in the world. And if that is so, then if we harm the environment, we are harming ourselves, and conversely, by harming ourselves – physically or psychologically – we are also harming the net that holds everything together.

I started laughing, loudly, frantically, in a way I had never laughed before. This must be the sound of a newborn spirit leaving its wounded cocoon and embracing the universe. “Thank you! Thank you, mother ayahuasca!” I screamed with my lungs full of gratitude, breathing the new life that was growing inside me.

After this night I woke up a completely different person living in a completely different world. Life feels infinitely lighter and more peaceful, and my relations to my self, my body, and with those around me have taken on a whole different character.

Freely and spontaneously I changed my dietary habits, and after a few tastes of something that would harm my body, I just have to stop. It feels like a sort of embodied and visceral refusal, the outcome of a mended relationship between mind, body, and spirit, where it becomes literally impossible to harm the body in any way. In addition, it also made my behaviors more transparent to me. If I start to get angry or frustrated with something, I can often tell that the problem lies not on others but within myself, and, looking inwards, I am able to diffuse the anger and frustration.

Reflecting back on the experience I still feel amazed at how powerful ayahuasca is as a tool for personal and spiritual healing, both at the individual and collective level. It should be obvious to anyone that we are facing dire problems in both our lifestyle and in our living environment. The earth is showing clear signs that it can no longer support our excessive lifestyle, and the high level of psychological disorders and socially dysfunctional individuals also show that our psychological constitution cannot handle our own excessive lifestyles.

If that is so, then ayahuasca has the potential to take us into a new age, an age that promotes a radically different style of thinking and living. As we experience the world through the lenses of ayahuasca, we feel what it’s like to be an integral part of a living and loving planet, one that we would be crazy to destroy in the way we do. Through ayahuasca we become whole again, ready to love and be loved by the planet and all its inhabitants.

So if we are finding it hard to integrate deep ecology within our psychology and in our society, mother nature has provided us with a very effective way of doing so: A plant medicine which shows us, through our own experiences, what it means to be compassionate and loving beings living in harmony with the planet and with ourselves.


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