“Ayahuasca is not fugitive pleasure, seedless luck, and adventure… Ayahuasca is a door, not to hear but to enter this and other natures.”
With these sweet and wise words, Peruvian artists Tito la Rosa and Cucha del Águila manages to explain in a profound and symbolic way what can only be understood from the heart and, for those who believe, from the spirit.
Technically, the brew commonly known as ayahuasca or yagé is the perfect combination of two Amazonian plants — the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis (chacruna), Different traditions have different recipes and use other types of plants, but this is the classic formula. Together and cooked for hours(sometimes days), they create a thick and bitter substance that can take us on a long journey through the most diverse and astonishing dimensions of our own being and —from time to time— of existence itself.
A single shot of the preparation can induce a unique experience every single time it’s taken, which —for some— suggests that there is a living spirit behind it all guiding us through hours of endless visions, visuals, and physical symptoms. If the guidance comes from our ego or an actual higher spirit, depends on the culture and/or personal beliefs.
But going back to the initial quote, if there is something I have learned after some years of experiencing “the medicine” in different settings —and from the hand of both indigenous and western teachers—, is that ayahuasca is definitely a door that should be opened with maximum respect, care, humility, and love.
Even when most traditions have very different rituals and beliefs around the preparation and drinking of the brew, almost all of them relate it with a big and colorful anaconda which is said to be the safe keeper of the knowledge and medicine that comes after surrendering to the effects. And this is not easy as they may include heavy purging, drastic temperature changes, continuous yawning and tearing, dizziness, vertigo, and high sensitivity to surrounding sounds, among others.
Imagine that combined with high-speed visuals of stuff we might not even get to grasp before the new set of images shows up… The first hour can be quite challenging before entering a new realm which doesn’t get any easier.
Usually, after ayahuasca makes its grand entrance by turning our world upside down, the next phase of the journey is a gift that
we’re not always ready to take. And here is when I agree with the experience of not being “fugitive pleasure, seedless luck, and adventure.” It can be taken as such, of course, but then the real potential of this elixir is lost, and it can easily be considered just another recreational drug.
I believe that one of the greatest benefits of undergoing one or many sessions under the right guidance is the unique opportunity to look at ourselves and our lives with a completely different pair of eyes. Or, if possible, with an opened third eye. For some, this means observing from a place of compassion, empathy, and self-love. For others, feelings of guilt, shame, and anger may show up. But most commonly, it’s all those feelings mixed up until we find the answers that help us to put them in the right place.
Trying to describe the experience any further would make no sense as it can predispose the reader to something that might not apply to them at all. However, I would like to share some of what I have witnessed when living and working with ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle, to highlight the profound learning process of those who dedicate their lives to serving medicine.
In some indigenous cultures, only those who go through deep and long training guided by their elders will have the blessing to prepare and serve ayahuasca for a purpose higher than themselves. This training implies a complete abandonment of the material realm and a profound symbiosis with the jungle spirits, and with a teacher from the vegetal realm that will gift its magical secrets if the person gets to deserve it. These secrets are passed through visions and dreams, in the form of songs, melodies, and instructions for the apprentice to carry and share when others need it.
So once they become curanderos by developing their unique medicine with the help of the master plants, they will use ayahuasca as the door that helps them enter other dimensions where they can see what is happening to others —or themselves— on energetic and spiritual levels, and what’s the right approach. Experiencing the brew at this level can’t be compared to drinking it in modern western settings, even when the guidance and the music are peaceful and loving.
And I’m not saying that the only way is the ancient way, but I do think we should bare in mind that in a society that gives such importance to formal studies and long-year training for professionals to be taken seriously, the traditional learning process is an admirable and touching ritual that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
So, what is ayahuasca?
That is a question with many answers. It can be the seed of a new beginning, the idyllic end of a long quest, the great challenge that will allow you to face yourself, or just a fun night of adventure, colors, and fireworks that doesn’t really make sense. We all have the possibility to weave our own answers. We can all choose to enter the natures that our hearts are longing to go back to.
About the author: Camila
Camila was born in Colombia, grew up in Ecuador, and has lived in Peru, Mexico, and Spain. She studied Social Communication and spent several years traveling throughout Latin America, where she experimented with different ways of living and approaching alternative healing.
Between 2017 and 2020, she delved into the world of ayahuasca in the Shipibo tradition, working with a curandero of that lineage and, later, with one of his most dedicated apprentices. In 2022, she worked with a Spanish medicine woman who combines traditional healing practices from different parts of the world.
She now lives in the cloud forest of Ecuador.