„Where you at? Remember not to eat anything today – the ceremony will take place tonight :)“ Too late. I was already eating breakfast in the bed of a messy hotel room when I read the message from my dear old friend Dani. I was out of town visiting the Goa Project conference and together with a bunch of attendees from Mumbai, I had celebrated a heavy after party the night before. But when I read Dani´s message, the dizziness in my head immediately gave way for an anxious excitement. I was about to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony for the first time in my life and I did not really know what to expect.

People who had done it before told me that they have had spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe as well as deep insight into how to become a better person. This sounded all promising to me. However, these spiritual revelations happen to come along with strong hallucinations and a series of heavy vomiting; a purging process considered by shamans to represent the release of negative energy. Apparently, the cleansing of mind, body and soul comes with a price – but Dani and I were determined to pay it.

A welcoming energy level

The ceremony took place in a lavish colonial house located outside of Arambol, Goa. Candles guided the way upstairs into the ceremony room below a majestic gable roof. Except for the mattresses around the walls and the purging buckets in front of them, the room was completely empty. The scent of incense sticks was in the air. There were about 30 persons that participated in the ceremony, mostly young white-dress-wearing-angel-like-Hippie-women but also a hand full of musicians who had brought along their instruments.

The energy level in the room was more than welcoming and Dani and I had to exchange big smiles as we looked at each other and asked ourselves: How the fuck did we end up here? After everyone had made himself comfortable on the mattresses, the shaman, an approximately 40 year old Peruvian, gracefully entered the room. His family ancestors had worked with the knowledge of the Amazonian medicines for generations and had passed the wisdom on to him.

In touch with pacha mama

The ayahuasquero introduced the only rule of the ceremony; no verbal or physical interruptions (because this could affect the other participants´ journeys). He explained that we are about to be connected with pacha mama, mother earth, and that this connection requires an appropriate amount of humbleness. His attitude during this introduction made me feel relaxed and comfortable. It was the right place and the right time to let this magical plant do its work on me.

Interview to Herbert Quinteros, shaman and musician from Mariana Tschudi on Vimeo.

The shaman started the ritual by playing his flute as we drank the first shot of the ayahuasca-brew. It was organic and bitter in taste. 25 minutes later I noticed something strange happening to my visual apparatus; the structure of the shadows on the walls became very vivid, all of a sudden the room looked like a very harmonic black and white oil painting. I was still wondering about the visual effects when I felt the need to empty my stomach. My body was rejecting the brew. I decided to use the toilet instead of the bucket because I didn´t want the omelet that I had for breakfast to smell in the bucket for the rest of the night. As soon as I returned from the toilet, things got really intense. Apparently, enough time had passed for my stomach to absorb the ayahuasca into my system; the journey started.

Hello ancestors

I closed my eyes and I saw a hurricane of colorful indigenous patterns turning in circles. The physicality of the mundane room around me seemed to open up completely and I felt the presence of many different spirits joining our circle. I didn´t recognize them in a personalized manner but I felt that some of my ancestors where there too. It is hard to describe this experience with words but somehow I got connected to the entire vitality of this universe. It was a very beautiful experience.

Then some kind of power entered my body that lifted me up. Before that I had been sitting, leaning with my back to the wall. But the force pulled me up and made me sit on my knees and move my spine in waves like a snake. I could sense the jungle inside myself. I had the impression that this spirit had chosen me on purpose and I felt somewhat special about it. I felt an impulse to stand up and dance in the middle of the room but I consciously resisted because I didn´t know where it would take me and because I didn´t want to disturb the ceremony and the other participants. Soon the spirit who possessed my body seemed to get bored and left again. I didn´t really take notice from what happened around me but I heard beautiful music from far away (at this point some of the more experienced participants started to play their instruments).

Choking and retching

Then the cleansing process started in the form of strong nausea. Although I had emptied my stomach already I was choking and retching my guts out into the bucket. I started to sweat and I could feel my heart beat faster. The bottom of the bucket seemed to be very deep. Almost like an endless well. Usually it is uncomfortable for me to vomit but this time I took it as a challenge. I wanted to spit out all the dirt, the negativity and the demons from the bottom of my stomach. This process went on for a while. When I felt that there is nothing bad left inside of me, a very warm, relaxing and comforting feeling trickled down my back.

Ayahuasca: The sacred plant. Picture: Paul Hussell (18. Mai 2015) CC BY 2.0

I laid down on the mattress and started to breathe very deeply and consciously. The air refreshed my whole body as I started to listen more closely to the music. The shaman, quite an accomplished guitar and flute player, started singing an extraordinarily warm melody. It must have been some kind of Peruvian folk song. Whatsoever, it made me feel extremely happy. I guess I haven´t been smiling so much in quite a while.

Losing the fear of death

Listening to the music, I started to think about the concepts of life and death. All of a sudden I realized that there is a space behind the borders of our perception where the energy of the dead continues to flow. This energy visualized itself in front of me in the form of an endless stream of fire, it seemed to me that a waterfall of lava came down in the middle of the room. Wondering about this transcendental experience, I completely lost the fear of death.

I understood that my ego, influenced by the Western cultural narrative, had been looking at life and death as a duality, as a division. You´re either alive or dead. However, in this very moment I realized that existence is indivisible. Existing is a process and as such it can not be demarked. Life is a process of no beginning and no ending. We are involved in eternity. Until today, this rather puzzling insight gives me a lot of food for thought. It was a very empowering experience that vaporized my worries which were based on my ego´s fear of death.

Deconstructing the thought patterns

Completely dis-attached from my ego, I was able to recognize the wholeness of life. The perspective from which I used to analyze the world completely vanished and I was able to look at certain issues from a place above my ego. It was an extraordinarily revealing experience. I started to deconstruct the thought patterns that I usually applied subconsciously. From there on the trip took an epistemological turn. I lost the connection to my body. The borders between my mind, my body and my environment started to blur and they disappeared eventually. I experienced the wholeness of this universe. Not sure if I was dreaming or awake I must have fallen asleep at that point.

When I woke up the next morning the effects of the plant had vanished. However, the traces that they left behind have probably changed my understanding of the world and the life within it forever – and for the better.