For the last 20 years I have been chasing states of peak performance by investing in methods, best practices and therapies to go deeper within and shed the beliefs and behaviours that were holding me back.
Over time my research surfaced how ancient civilisations used hallucinogens (in the form of plant medicines) to reach altered states of consciousness, but I always considered this a taboo subject as it sounded like drugs, which I have been opposed to in my life.
Then I came across a TED talk by Graham Hancock which ultimately shifted my perspective on this topic, and literally within weeks of that moment I had booked myself on a trip to the Amazon to spend 10 days in a deep retreat with a notable Medicine Doctor (Shaman) – Maestro Panduro, who has been practicing plant medicine for over 40 years.
His story is a blog post in itself as Panduro was called into the jungle at the age of 13 where he lived in solitude for 3 years while he learn’t the craft directly from the plants. I know this is a difficult concept for our western minds to comprehend, but this guy is the real deal. When you find yourself in his presence there is a distinct lack of ego and a feeling of pure love and a sense he is simply there to serve you and help you through your journey.
So a good friend of mine and I set off to Puerto Maldonado, a small town situated in the Amazon of Peru. From Puerto Maldonado we travelled up the Madre De Dios River for 1.5 hours to reach Eco Amazonia Lodge. This is one of the larger eco tourism lodges that have been built along the river to promote eco tourism in Peru. The lodge is very clean and if you were going to experience the Amazon I would highly recommend this as a destination. I shot a small youtube video as a walkthrough if anyone is interested.
We were greeted by Gerard & Tania from Earth Spirit Yoga the organisers of this journey for an opening ceremony. This opening ceremony was about introducing your intent to what you wanted to achieve in this journey by making a sacred commitment in the form of writing these goals on a piece of paper and offering them to the spirits by burning them on an open fire. If you have never really participated in these type of ceremonies you could easily be put off, and write them off as weird – but when in Rome (or the Amazon in this case) do as the Amazonians would do and open yourself up to the possibilities that there is credibility in the process….. For most this would mean check your ego at the door and go with it.
What is Ayahuasca
For those that have not come across this plant medicine, Ayahuasca is simply a vine found in the Amazon. It is combined with Chakruna (another plant) and approximately 35ltrs of Water and cooked until distilled into a concentrated 1ltr of a potent, purple, pungent juice which is drank during ceremony.
Sounds pretty harmless, but I assure you it is much more. I won’t go into detail about the pro’s and con’s of Ayahuasca but there is a great deal of information available on the internet about the plant for those that need detail.
The 1st Ayahuasca Ceremony
We met with Panduro at 5pm on the day of our Ceremony to speak about anything specific we wanted to focus on that evening. He likes to break your intention down into 5 areas;
2/ Love & Family
We don’t have dinner to fast for the ceremony and eat light meals (vegetarian) through the day to improve the effect of the Ayahuasca that evening. I know some very strict guidelines are used by different shamans but Panduro was more flexible and our diets were reasonable.
We started at 8pm. Gathered in a hut, we waited for the Maestro to bring our cup of plant medicine to drink. It smelled and tasted like really off fermented wine…. memories of a winemaking family tradition. It is definitely up there with the worst tasting concoction I have ever had to stomach, and I have worked with Chinese herbs so I have a reasonable benchmark.
Then Panduro comes around with a tonic which is basically pure alcohol infused with some sort of carnation plant. The smell was intense (sweet). We splashed this over our faces, head, neck and arms as a cleansing process. Once we had all completed this exercise he would come around to each of us with his pipe to cleanse us further via the use of Tobacco, which is considered the brother of the Ayahuasca. The Tobacco plant is definitely sacred and considered and looked upon differently to how we look at Tobacco in Western culture.
By this time approximately 30 minutes have passed. The Maestro then commences his prayers and opens the ceremony. We are encouraged to keep the Ayahuasca down for as long as possible to ensure it gets deep into our system. Once in the system you’re guaranteed a freefall into consciousness, although it is only a matter of time till you’re throwing your guts out.
Normally I would agree that throwing-up would be perceived as a pretty crappy experience, but somehow in this altered state, you are acutely aware of the direct link between this purging, and how it relates to all the negative thoughts, fears, and general sickness that is stored in your body over a lifetime of abuse. You find yourself welcoming a good chuck, knowing that it is removing some ancient crap out of your system.
Puking aside!! this journey takes you to a very personal space. Unfolding before you is a perception of reality that would take most dedicated meditation practitioners decades to experience.. and most would never come close to the intensity of the experience that you will find yourself in for upto 5 hours in a sitting. The Ayahuasca won’t take you to places you’re not ready for, it will however give you the kick in the pants you need if you embrace the journey and remain open to seeing things without pre conceived expectations.
After 5 sittings with Ayahuasca I had answered many of my BIG questions. The surreal experience and feeling I was left with, only left me with questions around how I could integrate back into normal life and not lose the magic of the 2 weeks living between this world and the other. I found myself lost in this thought process on the Long Boat back to Puerto Maldonado, the plane back to Cusco and then Lima, the 4 hour flight to Santiago then the 8 hour wait to board the 14 hour flight to Sydney.
This is a question I will continue to answer on follow up Blog Posts but for now, its one day at a time.
The Dark Side of Ayahuasca
Given the growing popularity of white people wanting to experience the magic of Jungle Medicine there has been a new industry evolve. North of where we were staying is one of the largest Peruvian towns – Iquitos, where a strong Ayahuasca industry has been evolving with the emergence of Wellness Retreats, and less than wholesome medicine men who offer the experience in similar formats.
Don’t be fooled into the notion that all Maestro’s are made equally, or that a Westerner has somehow been imparted with all the knowledge needed to facilitate a ceremony. While I am sure there are many competent practitioners, I would never trust such as sacred experience to anyone else who has not lived this all his or her life. The Maestro plays a pivotal role in these ceremonies which is beyond normal comprehension.
There are many negative reports that you can find on the internet, but don’t let these negative reports alone cloud the fact that this is a sacred technology with truly transformational effect. No one has invested more time, money or energy to the personal transformation quest than I. In these two weeks I have accelerated my shift by 10+ years. Both on a personal level it has removed some of my deepest fears and provided a new awareness that I can take into life and move forward with a deeper level of confidence. At a physical level, it has propelled my Martial Arts skills exponentially forward. My knowledge and understanding of concepts that were simply out of reach to me before this journey are now more like a knowing. My experience of the concept of Chi (Qi, Ki) was more intense than I could have ever expected.
Do your own homework as this is not for everyone. If you are on medications then take real caution as Ayahuasca does not play well with many western drugs particularly heart drugs or antidepressants.
I summed up my BIG learnings in this YouTube clip for those interested. Feel free to post any questions and I will do my best to answer them timely, honestly and openly.