Submitted by Ayahuasca Healing
January 8, 2006 From THE SUNDAY TIMES
Hallucinogens and healing? Indigenous tribes have used shamanic rituals and plants for centuries. Victoria Gill heads to Brazil and discovers the trip of a lifetime.
Blame it on a difficult childhood, on overindulgence, or call it the outcome of a disastrous love affair six months previously — I’d lost myself of late. The lights were on, but my fire had been extinguished. At 27, I was uneasy with the person I had become.
Ayahuasca Healing isn’t about recreational drug use. It’s a holistic process and a daunting undertaking that promises to change you. Without exception, everyone in my group wanted to improve. Ayahuasca Healing was established by Silvia Polivoy, a clinical psychologist and registered shamanic healer, in 1997. At the time, just eight companies offered courses of this nature. Over the past two years, that number has soared, with an estimated 30 to 40 running throughout the Amazon.
According to Dr Rick Strassman, professor of psychiatry at the New Mexico School of Medicine, there are no known cases of psychological or physical fallout, although anyone on SSRI antidepressants is advised not to take ayahuasca, and those with high blood pressure should consult their GP first. Strassman also says that numerous tests have shown ayahuasca’s toxicology levels to humans to be zero. Most commonly prepared by boiling (or soaking), then straining and blessing the stems of the Banisteriopsis caapi plant with the leaves of the DMT-rich Psychotria viridis, ayahuasca has been used for centuries by the indigenous tribes of the rainforest for healing under the guidance of shamans.
With considerable interest in ayahuasca among those in the psychological and neurological fields, it is legal in Brazil when used for spiritual healing, and the course I was about to start comes fully sanctioned by the government.
The journey to the idyllic tropical garden took 23 hours from London. My bedroom was a spacious, polished wooden bungalow on stilts, complete with hammock and veranda. The first two days were spent sussing out the lipstick hippies from the boardroom bohemians between sunbathing sessions, deep tissue massage, swimming in the warm sea, canopy-walking in the jungle and transcendental workshops. The daily Buddhist meditation sessions were focused and balancing, the past-life regression seminars bonding and enlightening. As Dr Mike Isaac, a psychiatrist at Maudsley Hospital confirms, “you need to be supervised by people who know what they are doing”, and we definitely were. By day four, my chakras were wide open and my mind was fully primed.
Ayahuasca is both the most beautiful drug I have experienced and the most putrid-tasting potion I’ve ever imbibed. Blue and gloopy in texture, it’s a flirtatious entity in many ways, inducing profound feelings of love for your contemporaries. For this reason, sex is banned, and I welcomed an environment that allowed me to be intimate with strangers without fear of exploitation.
It’s not kind to everyone: those with a controlling character or a particularly ordered, logical mind may run into difficulties. Vengeful monsters, venomous snakes and constricting boxes weren’t uncommon visitors for my fellow participants. However, the outcome for them (discovering the pleasures of a more carefree existence) was worth it. I am young, playful, creative, open-minded and quite sexual. Experienced users confirm that these are perhaps ideal prerequisites for compatibility with the plant.
Experts have equated a single trip — lasting between four and eight hours — with five years of psychotherapy or 20 years of meditation. The sessions took place on evenings three, five and seven of the seminar, opening with a ritual in which intentions were stated and cups of ayahuasca downed before we took to makeshift beds that lined the beach house. Twenty minutes later, my vision distorted and I became oblivious to all save the living dream inside my mind.
With each trip, I entered a different universe: the first one bright and primary-coloured; the second a dark and carnal underground, flecked with jewels; the third a 30th-century heaven, gleaming white with neon features. Some users report the drug appearing to them as a female spirit. This was how ayahuasca introduced itself to me — as an invisible femme fatale who showed me which habits to discard and how I could improve. Divine clarity via epiphanic beauty: my creative life was thrown into context, my place in the world revealed and my history explained.
My internal baggage manifested as leeches on my skin that I flicked away with ease. I discovered a black, insect-infested chancre that had been growing in my chest for the 20 years since my father left, and spent three hours cleaning it until it was replaced, fertile and green. When I danced, my body became possessed with a raw synchronicity that I have only ever dreamt of attaining, a part of which has stayed with me to this day. I told the drug that I wanted to suffer, that this all seemed too easy, and it said that I had suffered enough, then turned me into an angel and suffused me with sparkling white light. It put blocks in my spine for power, wisdom and stability, and I felt so grateful that I had to keep feeling my lips to check that I was smiling.
On the morning after each trip, each member of the group recounts the experiences of the night before. The mood is one of complete acceptance: by day seven, the men are crying, the make-up is off and we embrace upon greeting.
Due to its global presence, ayahuasca’s case has been argued in courts the world over, but whether it is legal in other countries remains a grey area. In the United States, the battle has been taken to the Supreme Court, after prosecutors found it hard to assert that it is detrimental, with no proven benefits to human health (the requirements for scheduling a class A) drug. Here in the UK, it remains unclassified.
Ayahuasca has none of the after-effects of the recreational drugs used on the party circuit. There is no mental or physical discomfort; instead, the elation, energy and purification continue. My friends noticed the difference in me. Everyone did.
I no longer feel damaged. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I take such pleasure in life and partying that people who don’t know me imagine I’m high, but I’m near teetotal now. And at last I’m happily single. I’ve relinquished outdated friendships and had conversations I’d been putting off for years. I’m in emotional remission. You can’t put a price on a balanced mind, but you can pay to balance it.
This is an ancient healing practice based on the belief that every malady has a spiritual dimension. Rituals such as deep meditation and the ingestion of hallucinogenic plants aim to aid contact with the spirits of ancestors in order to undo past ills. Shamanism is prevalent among the world’s indigenous tribes, and there has been huge Western interest in recent years. There were elements of shamanism in the rave scene; and, these days, you can go on shamanic courses anywhere from Wales to Hawaii, and have shamanic therapy at luxury spas such as Post Ranch Inn, in Big Sur, California. Modern healers often combine clinical and shamanic psychology. Essentially, though, it’s all about reconnecting with nature.
Ayahuasca Healing www.Ayahuasca-Healing.net offers an all-inclusive 7 or 11-day seminar.