Ayahuasca: Should I stay or should I go?

Ayahuasca: Should I stay or should I go?

The first time I heared about Ayahuasca was two years ago. A good friend of mine recommended it to me and I felt that I should trust him, but I was very sceptical at the same time. It all just sounded too weird! A long time had passend when I finally started considering it. I was stuck with a life crisis, which I was more of a spiritual crisis and thus not the type of issue western standard therapy can deal with very well. I finally made the decision to give Ayahuasca a try.

The most obvious thing to do was to participate in a ceremony in my home town in Germany, where it is illegal, but common practice among certain circles. Though I looked into this, fate came into my way and prevented me from taking the medicine on unsafe grounds. Instead, I started to consider a trip to Peru; not just beacause of Ayahuasca, but because I needed an adventure that got me out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t done a lot of oversea trips in my life and it felt right to get on a plane and go to some hidden place all by myself, not knowing what would wait for me there. I finally made the decision a day before my 37th birthday and started to plan the trip immediately. Six weeks later I got on that plane.

When I told my friends about the decision, they all asked me the same question: “Why don’t you just do it around here in Berlin?” 

Well, why would you go to a restaurant if you can cook at home? I don’t want to disregard local ceremonies. For many people going to South America isn’t an option, be it for financial or for heath reasons, and therefore it is good that Ayahuasca has made its way out of the jungle. However, if I had to make the same decision again (under the same circumstances), I’d always go for the jungle. Not only do I prefer to take the medicine in a country where it is officially defined as cultural heritage (Peru) instead of one where it is defined as illegal substance (e.g. Germany). There are also several other reasons:

The outer journey supports the inner one

The trip to Peru was a major adventure that consisted of way more exciting things than only Ayahuasca. Flying to a different continent all by myself was a healing experience in itself. It requires you to leave your comfort zone, leave certainties and securities behind, and deal with the unknown. With all the preparation time involved – the diet, planning the itiniary, getting vaccinations, buying the equipment and finally spending 24 hours on transportation – my mind started to focus on that one event as if it was the biggest thing of my life. (And maybe it was.) All this effort gave the Ayahuasca process a meaning it would have never had if it was just a weekend event in the neighbourhood.

Having a group of peers

When I arrived at the retreat center, I was sourrounded by a handful of people who have had the same experience in their very lives: Everyone had a very serious reason to come to Iquitos, be it depression, addictions or chronical deseases. Everyone went there alone, spent a fortune on the trip, went through the same fears, had the same weird conversations with friends and family beforehand, and had similar hopes that this would give our lives the positive spin we all were hoping for. We came from three different continents and five different countries, and yet we were going through the exact same thing. It was a true bonding experience, as we all knew that everyone of us had very serious reasons to be here and no-one was in it only for the fun. The obstacles of getting to a retreat in Peru served as a filter that kept out all those who were only drawn to Ayahuasca by curiosity.

On the other hand, Ayahuasca is always a very personal and individual process, so in the end it only counts what you make out of it. You can be surrounded by people with more light-weight intentions and still get out something profound for yourself. But a peer-group that you spend time with throughout a longer period of time for me was a very therapeutic component in the whole process. Coming out of a ceremony being completely puzzled, you’re happy to have someone around who went through a similar experience. This supportive peer group you are more likely to find in a retreat where you spend one or two weeks together, than in a short Ayahuasca event at home, where everyone goes home as soon as the medicine has stopped working.

It’s a process, not an event

One of the strongest arguments for me however is that there is a significant difference between having a single Ayahuasca ceremony and a series of ceremonies within a short period of time. Before I went on the trip, I was wondering why people do so many ceremonies in a row. I had the naive idea that one ceremony was enough to turn your whole life around and leave you as a new person, deliberated from all your bad stuff. Boy, was I wrong!

My first ceremony was something like an inventory of the pain that bothered me in my life. No root-causes or solutions were presented, just the status quo. When I woke up the first thing I thought was: “Seriously? Just stating the obvious? Thank you for nothing!” I was upset, disappointed and fell back into a depressed state that kept me feeling bad the whole day after. In the following ceremonies I realised that there was a process unfolding throughout the time in the jungle. It took me from a stage of inventory over stages of rough confrontations with issues going wrong in my life, to a stage of resolution that finally left me with hope, peace and optimism.

It f*cking belongs in the jungle!

The strongest argument for me, however, is a cultural and ethical one: Ayahuasca is a sacred healing tradition from the Amazon rainforest and curanderos get trained over years to master the work with it. Whatever one may believe is happening under Ayahuasca, if it is a connection with spirits or just a weird chemical reaction, alone out of respect for the culture whose traditions we are taking advantage of when drinking the medicine, the cultural context should be taken into consideration. The medicine belongs into the jungle and for me it’s a matter of respect visiting her instead of having her visiting me.


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