One early evening in July, as a heat wave swept across Europe in attempt to kill all intelligent life, I started my summer holidays by travelling to the Dutch countryside to participate in an Ayahuasca workshop. I was both excited and a little bit nervous as I walked through the gate. I did not quite know what I was about to experience but had a feeling I was on the right track.
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic brew made from plants that grow in the Amazon and has been used ritually by indigenous populations since at least 2000 BC. There are various recipes but the brew always contains one plant with a high concentration of DMT (a psychedelic compound which is found in small amounts in both plants and animals, including humans) and one plant with a MAOI inhibitor that makes the DMT orally active (meaning that without it the DMT wouldn’t have any effects when ingested orally). Ayahuasca is traditionally thought to be both beneficiary for body and spirit and shamans use it both as medicine and as a gateway to the spirit world. A relatively recent development is that the shamans of South America have expanded their practices and teachings into Europe. Some have claimed that this is done in an attempt to make Western people reconnect with their spirit and through that stop the destruction of our planet. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t ask about the truth of this, but from the relatively low cost of the workshop and my general impression of the arrangers, I definitely believe it was done for idealistic purposes.
What follows is my highly subjective account of what happened. As anyone that has had any experience with hallucinogens know these kind of experiences are very difficult to convey with words, especially to people not familiar with such drugs, and the experiences tend to vary quite a lot based on who and where you are. Also, since these journeys tend to be very personal I decided I had to share some of the personal issues that went on to be able to properly communicate the experience, even though it made me uncomfortable.
I had heard about the place from a friend who had been there so I knew a bit about what to expect. It was a three day workshop where most of the time was spent under the influence of the brew in sessions that had an atmosphere that was both playful and serious. There were certain rituals that were followed but at the same time one had the freedom to not participate when one wanted to. In practice, you could drink as much ayahuasca as you wanted to during the ceremonies but other drugs (including alcohol and caffeine), meat and sex were all forbidden. Cigarettes were enjoyed but also frowned upon, and we were encouraged to not smoke during the sessions. In other words the setting was much more controlled and directed than what I was used to from recreational use of similar substances and probably closer to a meditation camp than to a psychedelic festival.
Since I was on some diffuse soul searching mission I had intuitively decided to go alone and to go with an open mind, and I do believe that contributed a good deal to the wonderful experience I was about to have. It didn’t begin that great though. I felt kind of out of place when I stepped into the farm where it was held. Everyone was already dressed in white, the default color of cult clothing, and many of them had this kind of smile and glow in their eyes that I associate with overly (and irritatingly) positive religious people. Everyone seemed healthy and I felt a need to chain smoke a bit to kill time during all the waiting. After registering and finding a dorm bed I got my introductory chat with the Brazilian facilitator (a term used for the person who leads the sessions). This is mandatory for all newcomers. I assume it is about getting rid of questions the participants have and for the facilitator to investigate if anyone might not be in the right state of mind for this kind of endeavor. He asked a bit about why I was there and seemed to like that I was a musician. When he asked if I had any questions the only thing I was able to ask about was how long the effects lasted. Afterwards I was hard on myself for having asked such a silly question, but weeks later, still feeling affected, the question seemed a lot more meaningful.
Day 1: A soft start
Dressed in a white t-shirt and light brown shorts I entered the ceremony room with curiosity. It was a large room with 42 mattresses, each equipped with a bucket and paper towels, lined up along the walls as a circle. In the middle of the room there were some candles and ritual objects making up an altar like thing. There were all kinds of people there, a much more varied crowd than I had thought beforehand, with a lot of different nationalities represented. There were some new age/health freak types and some hippies, but most of them seemed quite ordinary and not your typical drug users. Later I found out that creative interests seemed to be a common factor as artists, writers and musicians seemed to be heavily overrepresented. As for the newcomers, someone pointed out that some kind of dissatisfaction with life was what we had in common and I think he was right.
The facilitator started the ceremony by saying a few words about what was about to happen and how to deal with it. We then sat down on our mattresses and introduced ourselves to the group by sharing our motivation to be there. This I hadn’t quite prepared for, perhaps even repressed from my friend’s account of his workshop, as I’ve always been afraid of speaking in large groups. So this was scary, but I shared this fear with the group and then I felt better. After that first time I grew to quite like the sharing circle. It was actually good to share what was on my mind and interesting to listen to what the others said, and it did create unity in the group by showing us how we as human beings are very similar when a lot of unimportant layers are removed. After sharing we danced a bit and did some warm-up exercises. We then sang what I came to think of as “the Ayahuasca song” as each one stepped up to the facilitator to receive a glass of the brown brew. It didn’t taste as bad as I expected but had a rather nausea inducing consistency that made it hard to drink. We had been told that this was a mild dose to test people’s tolerance and to integrate the group, and for me it was, but many other people had very intense experiences, some seemed very painful, I thought, as I listened to the vomiting and crying that was drifting in and out of the music surrounding me. The guys next to me on both sides seemed to be having particularly rough times with crying and other signs of suffering. Afterwards they were thoughtful. I was watching the wooden patterns in the ceiling move for a while and then I started thinking about music. There were some people there who worked as assistants and/or musicians and they took turns playing this beautiful music that seemed to have an influence on my whole being. It was so positive and uplifting that it made me feel that way too and so I started thinking about my relationship to music. A lot of the music that I make and listen to communicates negative feelings like alienation, hate, depression and so on, and I had not reflected much on what effect that had on me and the listeners. I thought about how music isn’t only sound.
The ceremony was closed by holding hands in a circle and then it was time for the daily vegan meal, surprisingly delicious, and afterwards I sat in the garden getting to know the other smokers.
Day 2: Bliss control
On the second day we were supposed to go deep and we certainly did. There was no breakfast and when we met in the ceremony room that morning it was with an air of expectation. The first thing I remember was lying on my mattress with my eyes closed and feeling like I was lying inside the body of a huge snake that was moving around in a way I can only call snakelike. I am extremely scared of snakes but there was nothing scary about this scene. To the contrary, I felt incredibly safe. I was in a warm and dark and moist place, that I only much later recognized (?) as being in a womb. And I enjoyed the movements; it reminded me about being half asleep in a moving boat or a snow sled like I had often been in my childhood. I was in the process of getting ready to be born again, this time from a snake. At least that is what I think of it now, especially since it seems to go nicely together with what was to happen the following day. After that I think it started to get a little heavy. I got nauseous but even though there were several times I thought I was about to vomit I was never able to. I was also fighting the heat. It was a sunny summer day with 30 degrees outside and probably more inside the ceremony room. There were flies around me that I hadn’t befriended yet. At some point it was the incense that made me move. I wasn’t able to breathe properly, it wasn’t working with my system, so I took my bucket and went out in the kitchen where the sun couldn’t reach and I sat there staring into the bucket not knowing what to do. It was then that the voice first appeared; the voice that gives you insights about yourself and the world. Some call it Mother Ayahuasca and some even envision her in a physical form. For me it was just a voice inside my head and I have no way of knowing whether it belongs to me (my subconscious) or something else (like a spirit or some other mysterious force unknown to conventional science) – and at the time it didn’t matter to me as I was more interested in the message than the messenger.
The voice told me that for me the hard part had been getting there and now that I was here there was no reason to go through more suffering. I should just relax and enjoy the ride. I wasn’t used to travelling alone, I wasn’t used to being in a group (as opposed to being a somewhat distanced individual temporarily trapped in a group), I wasn’t used to hanging out with new-age people and I was skeptical towards any kind of religion or metaphysical philosophy. I had been fighting my whole life to not be a part of the group, of any group, and even though it was such an obvious and deeply rooted fear I had never consciously recognized it before. Then, as I finally puked (after provoking it), I remembered the traditional view of the purging (to get rid of undesired elements in ourselves) and I saw my vomit as a symbol of the rest of my resistance against fully joining the group. After that everything was fine. The universe reminded me that I was a happy person and told me to stop being a very old teenager and instead be a mix between adult and child (responsible and playful at the same time). In the here and now I should just do what I wanted to do and not think that there was a right or wrong way to behave at the workshop.
I went back to my mattress and had another glass of the magic brew and thought about how strange it was that I had only arrived yesterday when it already felt like I had been there for weeks. I didn’t feel anymore nausea that day. Instead I felt full of energy and happiness and love. When I went outside to the garden everything became even better. I was Allen Ginsberg walking around bare-chested with a huge grin pinned to my face. I needed nothing. My ego was dead. I was in harmony with everything and felt the sun touching me in new ways. This was it, I thought, this is the bliss at the end of the road. What some people meditate for years to achieve. This is bliss and you must remember it, said the voice. You can go there whenever you need to as long as you know the way, it’s a place within yourself and it’s always there. I’ve never felt such complete happiness before and I didn’t even believe it was possible. It was a wonderful feeling of peace and the absence of missing anything. That morning the facilitator had been talking about how we must see that we have no problems, and I realized that it was true. I really had no problems. The few problems in my life weren’t really mine, like death or the (illusion of?) linearity of time, they were problems shared by humanity and that was comforting. I was not alone anymore. I learned to love myself and the universe and the feeling of bliss lasted all day. I realized I didn’t need anything. Spending three days without other drugs, alcohol, sex, meat, and eating only once a day, was no problem for me at all.
That day felt like it lasted for weeks and when evening came we had become a family and it was nice to sit with different people and share our thoughts in such a direct and non-distanced manner. I used to be the king of irony, yet I had no ironic distance to anything while I was there. I didn’t need it anymore. It was the happiest day of my life.
A blissful view
Day 3: Farewell philosophical materialism
The next day I felt a bit tired and a little bit ambivalent. I definitely wanted to drink more but I felt like the day before had given me all that I came there for and so much more, and that drinking more could somehow backfire on me. Everyone says that each experience is always different so I knew I might be in for a darker journey this time. After all, the day before someone had the horrible experience of dying, not just once, but twice.
After the first glass I didn’t really feel much though. I tried to lie down with my eyes closed and go for a more meditative experience but I didn’t really go anywhere. Then I got another glass, one that someone else had been given but then decided not to drink, and soon I was higher than I’ve ever been before. My mind was like a stream, so much was happening at once and thoughts were coming and going before they could be properly grasped. I had a rather painful physical sensation that my spirit was trapped in my body and there wasn’t enough room for it. It was also so hot that I feared dehydration. In my mind we were all wild animals resting next to an oasis in a desert (earlier we had pretended to be animals during the warm-up yoga) and there were so many nice and funny animal sounds all around me. The sound of vomiting is perhaps an acquired taste, but it can be quite beautiful. At this point it’s hard to describe what was going on. I was just so high, there were energies going round and round in the room, and I was incredibly thirsty but I could not move.
This lasted for quite some time but then suddenly I felt energized and I got up and went to the bathroom. I sat there by the sink pouring water over my face and upper body. I was in moist heaven. Outside it was hot but with a lovely breeze. I was at a place I call the Café at the end of the world. It lies beyond time and space and I‘ve visited it before in my dreams. For a while I just laid there on my back unable to do anything and not feeling that great, but then I started twisting with laughter and the bliss came back and my body was feeling good again. I went over in the shade and lay on a bench. I remember thinking that I was hanging out with pure existence. The universe was one and all perceptions of separateness are illusions. My body and the tree I was looking at were not separate, it was impossible to tell subject from object. Everything was different reflections of the same whole. I thought it was funny. I laughed at the illusion. It was me and the universe, which apparently was the same thing, and nothing else. In the middle of this one of the assistants who must have been keeping an eye on me asked me if I was ok and I remember being certain that he knew that I was about to break through to some other world unknown to me. In reality, I guess he thought: but is he really ok? For a brief moment I saw that the physical world consists of several layers (like a Photoshop project), or different universes if you’d like, and they appeared and disappeared in flashes before my eyes. Later I connected what I saw to the multiverse theory in physics. Although there were all these universes they weren’t that important, since they all were part of the same oneness as me and “my” universe.
I then walked into this grassy field that felt like the Garden of Eden and I wondered if I and the girl that was sitting further into the field were in fact the first human beings. I lay down on the grass and touched the soil I was now one with. I felt deeply connected to nature and did not mind the insects that walked upon me. Later I would think back on it as a mystical experience, a revelation of the nature of all things, and I’m pretty sure that a religious person would describe it simply as being with God. In this state I finally gave in and started believing in something. It happened very suddenly, in my ego less existence what “I” believed in wasn’t relevant, but now that I was coming down a bit I reacted to what I had just experienced. I even laughed about how ignorant I had been in so stubbornly rejecting that anything metaphysical could ever exist. In addition to the oneness thing what I discovered was some kind of force that consists of love and this is what connects us all together and is in everything. To put it simply, it’s it. You just have to tune in to feel it and I realized I had been unknowingly blocking this force for the most of my life.
I now wore my bucket as a hat. I had conquered it and became bucket boy, an advocate of happiness and joy. Feeling great I came down lying mostly outside and chatting a little with different people. When offered a last cup I turned it down. It felt like I had gotten as far as I should go at that point in time and now it was time to start another process, that of integrating it all in my daily life.
At the final sharing we all sat outside in the grass in this warm summer night and most people seemed so happy. We were like a family that we hadn’t known existed. I felt at peace and somewhat wiser. I used to be at war with both myself and the universe but now I’m friends with both. The second day had seemed like the end of one part of my life and this last day felt like the start of another one. For several weeks afterwards I felt strongly affected and had a new and fresh appetite for life. I also had several experiences where it felt like my new and old self were discussing in my mind. For example, if I did something unusual my new self would make fun of my old self for not allowing such behavior previously. Or when I noticed I started behaving in my old destructive ways, my new self would come in and turn my attention towards this and then I would stop. I understood myself better than ever. Then gradually it wore off a bit but now, 10 months later, I’m still a very different person from the one I was before the workshop.
The next day I was a bit sad about going back to the rest of the world. There were so many people I had felt some kind of connection with and were going to miss, and even though it had only been three days it had felt more like several weeks. I continued my holiday by taking a train to Berlin. Once when we stopped I went outside and had a cigarette. Some guy came up to me and asked: are you tripping around Europe? It made me laugh. Then later on the air condition in our train broke down and we had to wait forever for a new train to arrive. Hot, hungry and pissed off I tried to imagine being back on the farm and staring out into the fields. To my surprise it wasn’t hard to exercise bliss control and bring back that blissful feeling, and once again life was great.
The strategy of spreading shamanistic knowledge from the Amazon to the Western World in an attempt to save our planet, centered around the ideas of breaking down the ego of the post-industrialized man and reconnecting him to his spirit, might seem a far-fetched one but at the moment it’s the best one I am aware of when it comes to saving the planet from its profit hungry destroyers. In my opinion there is a certain type of ego behavior that is at the core of humanity’s problems and ayahuasca seems to make it less powerful. I’m thinking about that part of the ego that always wants more for itself but never gets enough (yet still fools itself into believing that satisfaction is around the corner if it only gets a little more of whatever it’s craving). If the world is run by people without such egos, choosing for the common good of all things living instead of for themselves, then the world will be a good world. It’s maybe not so strange then that Ayahuasca is illegal in most countries. In addition to the effects on the egos of mankind, it does seem to promote love and reduce fear, which is exactly the opposite of what our civilization do (and what our corrupt elites survive upon).
Besides philosophical thoughts about ego-death the workshop has led to several lasting changes in my being and thinking. First of all I’m a happier person than before. I think I reconnected to some things I lost touch with during puberty. It made me able to love myself, feel true happiness and to feel as part of the human race. Also, I’m less fearful and more open to new experiences and ideas.
Since this I have been to one more workshop. It was a much rougher ride than this one but in the end it was very rewarding. If anyone who reads this end up trying it for themselves, I would recommend some of the things I did; go alone (makes it easier to get into), go with an open mind (try to have few expectations and go with whatever happens) and do it seriously (it’s not recreational drug use, it’s more like a life-changing journey so dedication helps).
by Martin Furan.