There are many moments we go through in life where things tend to stagnate, and sometimes it seems impossible to break the cycle. For many years; I felt as if I were going through a quarter life crisis, lacking direction and sufficient ambition to really make a go of things. Because of this I decided to do something far outside my comfort zone, and resigned myself to working with ayahuasca.
Above: PsychoTravels Retreat Center, 40 minutes outside Medellin
Plant medicines have a subtle way of calling; often times it’s rather indirect and requires an extra push on your behalf to go through with it. I knew that things weren’t working out for me in the US; I had a terrible track record at work, a limited friend base, and an abundance of destructive habits I wasn’t addressing. I’d vaguely heard about ayahuasca from a neuroscientist who described it as a “fascinating, but significantly distressing experience” that involved vomiting, heavy psycho-spiritual experiences, and an intermittent break from reality. Her description gave me the idea that this wasn’t something to mess with, and that making the decision to take it wouldn’t come without ramifications. Because of this, I wanted to ensure that I didn’t go into things blindly and took all possible precautions. After ample research; I came across a promising looking retreat center called PsychoTravels, and arranged to have an info session with the owner when I arrived in Medellin.
Above: PsychoTravels owner Orion Gomez in deep contemplation before a ceremony
Upon arriving at a cafe near my hotel the night before the experience was to take place, I inundated the owner with questions. “What happens if you don’t come out of it?” “Is there such thing as a bad trip?” These were a couple of my paranoid inquires. While I’d had experience with plenty of drugs during my time in college in the US; I heard that there was nothing that could quite prepare you for the intensity of the Ayahuasca experience. Aside from the acute bouts of vomiting (known as “The Purge”), users are known to have life altering visions that can sometimes be difficult to process. Given my rough past; I figured it made sense to take heed of some of these precautionary tales.
Above: Ayahuasca users lay deeply entranced
When the time came around to take the medicine; I felt an ever too familiar jitteriness in my stomach. “What if I can’t handle it?” Paranoid thoughts began to surface that I struggled to brush off. Orion simply gave me a reassuring smile, and said it was natural to feel such things. So I sucked it up, and down the hatch went the first dose.
Above: Bathrooms where users are often found purging
It didn’t take very long for the medicine to come back up; a putrid yellow bile that reminded me of the unhealthy foods I had the day before. Being a novice; I neglected to heed the diet instructions very carefully, something I later had to rectify. But once the bile came up, I was promptly thrust into a trance, and could feel myself clinging to my fragile ego as it began to dissipate.
Above: My view of the forest during the trance
Ayahuasca is often called the mother of all medicines, and with good reason. When you’re in the grips of it, there’s a profound relinquishment of control, something that certain users find very difficult to handle. The surrendering of your faculties means addressing the skeletons in your closet head on; and for those who fight it, the effect becomes exacerbated. As was expected; I began having intense flashbacks of horrors from my past almost right away. Ominous figures loomed overhead; psychiatrists, police, and other individuals that had contributed to my hospitalizations for an unsubstantiated bipolar diagnosis. One particularly haunting experience surfaced where I received a haloperidol injection over Christmas and New Years, all under the instruction of my abusive father. Things began to shift and I saw visions of IDF soldiers gassing Palestinian children, large swaths of the Amazon being cut down, indigenous peoples being butchered, and other horrible recollections of abuse. The harsh reality of the human experience washed over me like a vortex, and I submitted myself entirely to the darkness that the medicine was portraying. Afterwards, more questions about myself surfaced and I began feeling profound remorse for the selfish and self degrading behavior that I’d subjected countless people to. Sadness and discomfort overwhelmed me, and I worried that I lacked the foresight to properly integrate the insights I was receiving.
Above: Me attempting to process a wide array of emotions
But after the first hour or so, the effects of the medicine seemed to shift. I began to see that addressing these things was the necessary first step in attaining the light; and I felt a nurturing energy as the medicine gave me the insight to move forward. I realized that my intentions were seldom malicious but rather misguided, and that my engagement in the experience was a significant first step in making things right. I saw all the people who had at one point or another cared for me in my life, and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that was unprecedented. The warm ambience that staff emitted gave me the notion that everything was going to be alright, and were happy to talk me through the difficult things I was processing. This was integral in helping me making sense of the experience and kept everything flowing smoothly.
Above: Me and Solangel, a particularly photogenic resident
Over the course of the weekend I delved even deeper, and had some intriguing visions regarding extraterrestrials. I thought about Erich Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods,” and how little we really know about our past. The weekend ended with a fantastic talk on this subject with retreat staff, and I ended up leaving with more questions than when I started. But the goods news is that now I feel more equipped to tackle these questions, rather than sticking my head in the sand. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience.
PsychoTravels official website: https://psychotravels.co
Reed Sligard. 2019 july. EU.
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