Can Ayahuasca Really Make You Happy?

A lot has been written about the therapeutic efficacy and transformative power of the visionary Amazonian brew ayahuasca. I myself have enthusiastically espoused the benefits of the vile tasting drink online and to those I feel able to talk openly with. Ayahuasca has attained cult-like status among those with an interest in entheogens, spirituality and self development.

Its use has been increasing every year and what was once the sole pursuit of shamans and the indigenous peoples of the Amazonian region has now become a large-scale industry, attracting many ‘ayahuasca tourists’ from all over the world to countries such as Peru, Equador, Colombia and Brazil. Use of the brew has also become prevalent far from the land of its origin, through Santo Daime churches around the world and with other groups and individuals practising ayahuasca healing works inside and outside of a traditional framework.

In the summer of 2008 I nervously attended my first ayahuasca ceremony. It was the culmination of an unlikely and remarkable set of circumstances, and my life was never to be the same again. Since then I have partaken of ayahuasca on and off for a number of years, having drunk it a total of about thirty times both in the UK and in Peru. Given the reputation ayahusaca sometimes seems to have—so often being spoken of in revered terms and considered by some to be the ultimate of all self development and healing tools—I think it’s interesting to take a step back and consider as objectively as possible what changes regular use of ayahuasca really can invoke. I am not concerned here with describing the experience itself in detail but rather in discussing the impact that regular participation in the ayahuasca experience can have on an individual’s life.

Of course all my views have been filtered through my own perceptions and interpretations and therefore you could say they might not be more generally representative, though having discussed my experiences with others I’m confident what follows is expressive of the experience for many people. I’m not claiming to be some ayahuasca guru, I’m just a dude who’s drunk ayahuasca a bunch of times reflecting on my experience.

For those unfamiliar with the ingredients or experience of the brew, a brief outline follows; those already familiar are welcome to skip this paragraph. Ayahuasca is most commonly made by slowly brewing in water a combination of the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi with Chacruna leaves until a concentrated putrid brown liquid is achieved. Other ingredients may be also added. The leaves contain DMT (diemthyltriptamine) which is made orally active during the brewing process by the presence of an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) in the vine. This drink is typically consumed in amounts of around 25 to 100 ml, traditionally in a ceremonial setting. The DMT is the primary component responsible for the ‘psychedelic’ nature of the experience, during which the participant might experience strong visions or hallucinations; the experience of travelling to and seeing other worlds, dimensions, times and realms; encounters with entities that might be benevolent or threatening in nature; a strong sense of empathy, fear, love or other emotions; receiving information and teachings regarding their life, relationships, the nature of reality, and much more. I won’t concern myself further with the chemical composition of the brew or the phenomenological details of the experience but instead refer the interested reader to Erowid for more information.

Ayahuasca demands much from those who choose to drink it. It can be an uncomfortable or even terrifying experience and is almost certainly unlike anything an ayahuasca newbie will have experienced before, though experience with LSD, ketamine or psilocybin will provide some helpful reference points. While often invoking challenging experiences, it can also offer glimpses of blissful states of mind far beyond what is normally possible for most people.

One striking feature of the experience per se is that when you are ‘in it’ it often feels inherently and extremely valuable in nature, as though by merely participating you are engaging in something of fundamental importance, perhaps of even more importance than anything else you might ever have done – at least that’s how it can seem. In addition it is also often quite simply the most extraordinary thing you will have ever taken part in, often being ridiculously entertaining, humbling, shocking, completely ‘far out’, aesthetically and philosophically stimulating, profound and pregnant with meaning and value, and potentially overwhelming of the senses.

But what happens in the weeks and months after a ceremony? The unfolding of the experience over time is complex and can be influenced by many factors, but there are some recurrent themes. One of the most valuable of these is that using ayahuasca often bestows upon one an extraordinary ability to heal relationships with others. I know from first hand experience that breakthroughs can be made in relations with parents, lovers and people you have fallen out with, no matter how unlikely this might seem beforehand.

Part of the reason for this seems to be the extremely empathetic nature of the experience, enabling you to understand the perspective of the other and to make sense of their experience. In addition the experience provides what I would describe as an energetic release; the negative emotions associated with the relationship are no longer felt so strongly, as though purged from the felt emotional body. In their place can be found a desire for harmony, an ability to forgive and an acceptance of one’s own wrongdoings, alongside a willingness to admit them, at least to yourself. I have benefited profoundly from this aspect of ayahuasca.

Somehow drinking ayahuasca seems to cultivate in the user a greater affinity with nature and a deeper appreciation of our biological identity. As a result we feel both more ‘human’, and more embedded in nature. We become more aware that we are an expression of nature and evolution. The sense of separation from our natural origins dissolves and the natural world is re-experienced as home, sacred, of great importance, and essential to preserve. A distaste for overexposure to technology and hectic urban environments may also develop.

A related extension to this is awakening to a desire to consume more natural food and drink, and to eliminate unnatural products from the diet. I know many people who have transitioned to a vegetarian or raw food diet as a result of drinking ayahuasca. In addition, the preference for consuming alcohol and other drugs is often diminished or disappears. There is a greater perception of the body and mind of the individual as being something to be looked after and nourished.

Ayahuasca may provide the individual with a greater sense of meaning to their life, as though what once may have seemed senseless can now be seen to be part of a teleological path or life-long journey. Often the path involves goals such as healing oneself and relationships, or finding a way to live that has more meaning and makes a positive contribution to the world, or is a positive expression of the individual. Basically, it can turn you into a bit of a hippie.

Ayahuasca work is shadow work par excellence. Psychotherapists recognise the importance of integrating unhealthy, unacknowldged or repressed aspects of the self through bringing them into conscious awareness, and though there are many methods to do this there may be no greater tool than ayahuasca. The uncomfortable or even downright terrifying features of an ayahuasca experience are part of this process and seem to facilitate an acceptance of our darker or previously denied human traits. It is understood that these are equally valid parts of one’s whole being whose presence must be acknowledged and integrated for a healthy and balanced mind.

In my experience, regular ayahuasca use (in my case as in a frequency of approximately once or twice every two to four months) enhances the ability to cope with the visicitudes of life. A greater capacity for handling adversity may be available and it may be possible to detect a sense of peace and that ultimately ‘things are okay’, even amongst the drama of a relationship ending or other upheavals common to the human experience. Perhaps most remarkably, I know of several instances where use of ayahuasca has healed serious long term depression and helped people in the most desperate of predicaments immeasurably. It is anecdotes like this that have lent ayahuasca it’s cult like status and reputation.

Well all this sounds pretty great, hey, what’s not to like? Well maybe, but it’s worth bearing a few things in mind, as, like with most things, it’s not quite that simple. Perhaps most obviously, drinking ayahuasca will not stop crappy things happening. This is life and shit happens. The journey is not smooth; hearts may be broken, dark spells may visit, jobs may be lost, depression may return. While ayahuasca may certainly offer an enhanced ability to deal with difficult times it will not stop them happening. Ayahuasca is not a ”cure all’. While it certainly seems to peel back and heal layers of our selves, new challenges will surface as new layers are encountered.

The development of more holistic values and a desire for a less conventional lifestyle may prompt greater dissatisfaction with one’s social circle, job, home city and the collective values and morals of society and culture at large. Ayahuasca often grants a vision of just how good things could be, if they weren’t so fucked up. Returning home after a ceremony and realising how far from this ideal the world is can be disheartening. A greater sense of alienation may also be experienced, as the ayahuasca initiate joins the small club of those who cannot see the world the way they did before. This could be harnessed as a catalyst for making positive changes but it must be acknowledged that the process is not guaranteed to be easy.

The deeper life journey that ayahuasca use seems to set people on can be said to be richer in some ways, but might still involve painful lessons that have to be endured along the way. At times great pain can seem so senseless, but at other perhaps fleeting or extended moments you can glimpse a purpose or a teaching in the way your heart or sense of self has been cracked so nakedly and wide open. Ayahusaca increases our insight in these areas. On the ayahuasca journey our sense of what is worthwhile engaging with might change, as conventional distractions such as addictions and involvement in popular culture cease to fulfill, and a more essential and authentic vision of oneself is birthed.

Ayahuasca can also be seductive, and new initiates may experience a period where the virtues of ayahuasca are elevated to a degree where it is not acknowledged that hard graft remains and life may still be tough. Ayahuasca may be seen as the ‘holy grail’ of self development and not as one of many tools available to us. In addition to this, strong visions or received information may be interpreted too literally, resulting in a distorted notion of reality and a warped sense of self. A lack of critical discrimination might result in the literal belief that beings or entities encountered in a vision are actually real, ignoring the possibility that they may be symbolic representations of aspects of the self or a personal issue. It would be easy to become over-attached to the story of ourselves that we gain so much insight into in ceremony, and talking too openly and evangelically about your literal belief in what you experienced in ceremony can annoy people and make you seem a bit crazy.

In my experience, Ayahuasca is no panacea. Ayahuasca does not automatically make you a nice person. Years of Ayahuasca use will not mean you no longer have to deal with problems or even really heavy, burdensome troubles. Drinking ayahuasca does not stop you making mistakes. Ayahuasca use will make you confront aspects of your self you don’t like. Ayahuasca could force you to make uncomfortable changes to your life. Drinking ayahuasca does not result in an ‘end point’ where everything is miraculously fixed.

And yet, Ayahuasca could also gift a deeply profound and divine experience of life. It may well heal your broken heart, your broken relationships, or the way you hate yourself. It could help you to discover or commit to something you’re passionate about, or imbue life with new meaning. It could heal your sadness. It really could be that new beginning.

The ayahuasca journey is complex; some aspects are of great benefit and other aspects present their own challenges, and what I’ve listed is by no means exhaustive. To conclude, and to try to answer the question posed in the title—can ayahuasca really make you happy?—I really want to say ‘yes’. It’s a yes with a caveat though – there is every chance, but it’s a bumpy road. But does it make life richer, and pave the way for a more profound engagement with our world and experience, whatever that may entail? On this we can emphatically confirm it does.

In my opinion ayahuasca is an incredible tool for assisting with the overcoming of things that make our lives difficult, and for gaining meaning in a world that often makes no sense. There is a reason ayahuasca is known as ‘medicine’ and as a healer. Combined with a regular meditation practice and support from others who know the brew, it is even more effective, and anyone who feels called to explore this world and is ready for and accepting of challenge and change can be sure that there is potentially much to gain.

Advertisements

27 comments

  1. Thanks for this, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and can relate to many of them. In my experience, one of the most powerful ‘teachings’ of the grandmother is the importance of living NOW. However, unless you want to spend your time 24/7 tripping in the jungle, living in the now has to be learned and applied in daily life. An Ayahuasca experience can certainly help with this, but it won’t do the work for you. It can help you to wake up – but you are the one who has to open your eyes!

    Last year I wrote a little book on my experience, it’s available as a free PDF: A CALL FROM THE UNKNOWN @ http://www.experiencing-ayahuasca.com

    1. Thanks very much Claus, I completely agree with what you say. What we make of the experience and how we apply it in our own lives is indeed really down to us. It could be tempting to think ayahuasca will do everything for us, and there is a lot it can do, but our intention and ability to do the work outside of ceremony is crucial too. Thanks for sharing your PDF; I will be checking it out.

  2. I also think it’s important to add that the use of any psychoactive substance in a therapeutic manner, should only be made by individuals with a strong and relatively balanced mind-set. Taken this way it becomes, as you’ve both pointed out, a tool with which to explore and grow. Great post, it certainly makes you think!

    1. I think you’re right, although I also think there are potential benefits for those with less stable minds if the right support is available. The illegality of tools such as the psychedelics make this harder to provide though. It’s certainly not a simple path and it should be carefully navigated. Thanks!

    2. While I agree that this may be true for some people whose minds are extremely disturbed and on a verge of a serious mental breakdown, for most people all ends up well. I’ve seen people with psychosis and paranoia issues who did it and felt much better afterwards. So it depends… Everyone has to decide for themselves whether ayahuasca is for them.

  3. Mary Chantal · · Reply

    Thank you very much for sharing your work. I too can relate to much of what you say and then some. She has taken me deep into the earths rhythms and soothed me, healed my life, beyond words. There is a profound sacredness to each moment and she brings me into that awareness. Yes I love to forage, yes I love wearing hemp, yes I try and do the work each day everyday. . The limitless joy and clarity is very much like being wrapped in finest sparkling down and an endless flow of blossoming flowers. Endless gratitude to Madre Ayahuasca. She has stayed with me she is rooted in me.
    I have partook in over 20 ceremonies in 4 years. What a blessing!
    I’m in nature I’m doing the work and yes loving those around me widening my family. OM Namah Shivayah!

    1. Hey Mary, thanks very much for reading. I’m so pleased you’ve experienced the benefits of the brew in your own life! Long may they continue…

      1. Mary Chantal DiGuiseppe · ·

        Crushingly beautiful indeed

  4. Elizabeth · · Reply

    Thank you for this article,
    at least I now know I’m not loosing my mind, I have become a hippie (literally) my diet has changed, my attitude changed the most dramatic thing for me was that I had carried a lot of grief, sadness and negativity for most of my life. That disappeared completely, I am now more calm ( zen ) I meditate often but most importantly I have an inner peace/ joy that is so immense.
    I was in Peru for two weeks and took part in seven ceremonies I can assure you it was not easy but for me it was well worth the while. Truly life changing in every aspect.

    1. Hey Elizabeth, thanks very much for reading and commenting. I’m always amazed by how many people seem to have their lives changed for the better by this disgusting tasting drink! It sure isn’t easy, but for those with the courage and will to take the journey there is the potential for so much good. So pleased that you are more zen now, and that you’ve become a hippie. All the best!

    2. Hi Elizabeth, I’m glad you had a positive experience in Peru. Could you please tell me where exactly it was? I had one amazing experience in Miami where I live and would like to explore further and deeper in a more conducive and supportive environment. There are so many retreats available in Peru and being a female, I would like to be selective for safety reasons. Many thanks.

      1. Sandi Powers · ·

        I live in Miami … Could you let me know where.

      2. Elizabeth · ·

        Hi Choi check out the temple of the way of life website they have all the information, they have a very caring environment you’ll definitely feel safe.

  5. Great read, thanks for that. Are you able to disclose details of the ceremony in the south of England. Because of its legal status I’m finding it really difficult to track down any. I feel as if I could benefit greatly from it as I suffer from depression and I’m almost at something of a cross road.

    1. Hi Sam, I’ve sent you an email..

  6. Thanks for this. I’ve been researching Ayahuasca on and off since 2011. I haven’t made the trip yet but the more I learn about it; the more I want to experience it! They say that ‘she’ calls you,.. perhaps because of curiosity or the allure of the unknown?.. All I can say is that I feel a magnetic pull to go to South America and drink the medicine.

    Here is my dilemma. I’m considering going back into education to re-train as something, either a nurse or teacher.. (still undecided) but don’t if I should go before or after starting this period of academia?!… I’d also like to point out that I have lived a somewhat ‘hippyish’ lifestyle in my late teens – early twenties, rebelling and rejecting convention to the point where I have ended up (at 32) with no career or financial stability… I’m at a crossroads and I know I need to retrain/ go back to University but I am anxious that taking Ayahuasca will make me change my mind and become content with,.. having no career or money?

    Any opinions anyone?! :0)

    1. Hi Emma, I’ve sent you an email. Cheers, Secret Shade

  7. All your articles are good, but this one is fantastic. Very balanced view of the medicine. I like that you don’t leave your brain at the door when shamans enter the picture, as so many credulous spiritual seekers seem to do.

    Your writing style is a great combination of casual and compelling. Definitely one of the best introductions to ayahuasca that I’ve read.

    1. Hey thanks very much, I really appreciate those words, and your support in general. My motto is ‘question everything’, even when it’s completely numinous 😉

  8. Hi There. First Of all thanks so much for this beautiful and well written testimonial. I had read a lot so far but nothing so impacting as your accounts in this blog. I am going in Peru’ and already scheduled one retreat with Rak Razam in centrodas. It will be my first time with the medicine and for that matter with any other DMT substance. I am a Yoga Therapist and Expressive Arts therapist that is now coming to term with the fact that I need a huge amount of healing and support myself. I am preparing myself with the dietas and I am bit concerned of what will be. I know deep inside what I need and want, my intentions, but I am skeptical: Can I really change? But I am putting too much on stake to meet the mother and I I am prepared to do some work. My issue is that I have three full months in Peru’ and also that I am fully committing my finance (loans and credit cards) to so much needed changes. I have also applied for a retreat in the Takiwasi Centre and awaiting for their approval. I would really appreciate any referrals of serious and supportive and also inexpensive (or less lucrative) centers in Iquito and the Sacred valley or Peru’ in general. I don’t want waist time as at 46 I feel I have already waisted to much time. My commitment is that I could share my honest testimonial when my experience in those three months will be over. I hope that this make sense. Thanks again for the great piece of writing.

  9. Hi, Thanks so much for writing this. I have found it hard to find much information about how people apply what they have experienced to their lives. All the talk seems to be of the experience itself.

    I’m very much interested in experiencing ayahuasca as I have inexplicably experienced depression throughout my life – for no obvious reason. I am often unable to see ‘the point’ in it all.

    It almost feels like fate that I have learnt of ayahuasca and discovered this article – especially seeing as alot of the changes (giving up alcohol, becoming vegan) are things I have respected in others and wanted to do for many years but never really found the time/inclination to even attempt properly. It seems like in addition to all the other benefits it offers, ayahuasca could give me the impetus I need to do so.

    I can see that you were asked this before earlier in the year and I’m sure you don’t want to be bombarded with requests like these but could you possibly give me some more information about the experience you had in the South of England (if you would recommend it!) as I live in the south-east and and feel it would be beneficial to have my first experience here rather than in Peru in what would be -for me- an intimidating setting.

    Any help you could offer would be much appreciated.

    Oliver

    1. Hi Oliver

      I’m sending you an email.. Cheers!

      1. Hi secretshade,

        I’ve left a comment but thought I’d leave a reply here too in case you get a notification this way. Long story short I’d also be very interested in these details for similar reasons to Oliver and would really appreciate if you could drop me an email too. If you are able to answer my comment/questions below that would also be greatly appreciated.

        Hope to hear from you soon.

      2. SayYesToStrangers · ·

        Hi

        Thanks for the great article. I found it beautifully balanced and insightful. I’m currently at a crossroads and believe ayahuasca may be a positive life step. My soul is definatly giving me signals I need something more. I am in the south of England and was wondering if you may be able to share any advice on how I may be able to locate a ceremony here. I am keen to visit Peru, but would like to know if there are any other options. Again thanks for the article.

  10. I really want to try this medicine after doing a lot of web surfing. However, I’m worried about the cost. How can I find plane tickets for cheap prices? But more so, I’m worried it won’t have any effects on me. I heard that some people aren’t effected by it at all. What is an experience like? Do you meet any higher intelligences?

    Sorry for the questions, just wanted to ask them.

  11. Hi secretshade,

    Interesting article, I’ve read and followed lots of information about Ayahuasca ever since I had troubles with depression and anxiety but wasn’t sure I had the time, money or courage to do it at that time. Fortunately I’m in a better state now than I was back then but I’m still fascinated by the information I’ve read about it and I’m still keen to try it as I’m still pretty lost in life with not knowing what to do, my purpose (not really wanting to conform to society with a 9-5 reasonable paid job but unsure of my passion to pursue it). I also probably have personal problems to heal which I’m sure the Ayahuasca would identify but do you think it would help me identify a passion and give me guidance on what to do next? (I know the experiences are very personal and subjective, but do you think in an overall sense the substance has the ability to tackle this subject or provide this kind of answer?)

    I’m currently stalling with a part-time job and going to Peru would be a huge investment financially for me as well as putting my job at risk if I were to request the time off so early on as I did not state I had planned holidays before being offered the job. Therefore I’m very curious about your South England experience and after reading the comments I’d also really appreciate if you were able to email me these details.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

  12. Thanks for the great article. I found it beautifully balanced and insightful. I’m currently at a crossroads and believe ayahuasca may be a positive life step. My soul is definatly giving me signals I need something more. I am in the south of England and was wondering if you may be able to share any advice on how I may be able to locate a ceremony here. I am keen to visit Peru, but would like to know if there are any other options. Again thanks for the article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: