In October last year, I took part in an Ayahuasca ceremony which was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It’s something I looked into a few years back during a particularly turbulent time of my life when I was suffering from depression, was medicated and was generally desperate to get my life back on track. I’m glad now looking back that I didn’t actually do it then as feel like there was too much groundwork to do before I could fully appreciate the impact of such a ceremony.
If you’re unsure of what Ayahuasca is, it is a tea made from the vine of an Amazonian tree and brewed and served by Shaman. Under their care, they then guide you through an evening of being in an altered state in which many people experience quite vivid visions and realisations. Some people have very positive experiences but others have been known to have very troubling experiences. It’s because of that I’d like to stress that this isn’t an endorsement or recommendation.
It was somewhat of a coincidence how the ceremony came about. Having not particularly thought about Ayahuasca for a couple of years, my best friend out of the blue decided he wanted to go the Amazon in October to drink the tea and asked if I’d join him. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time over the dates he mentioned to be away for two weeks so I declined and just agreed to help him with his preparations. October rolled around he was almost ready to go when I received a phone call from another friend (who didn’t know about my best friend’s upcoming journey) who explained he had been invited on an Ayahuasca retreat by a UK based Shaman at the end of October, it was only two days and would I like to come. The coincidence caught my attention and was even more interesting when I realised the day of the ceremony would coincide with my friend’s first session in the Amazon. It felt as if I was being told to do it. I agreed and began my own preparation.
I arrived at the ceremony and was met by the Shaman. My natural cynicism was calmed the moment I met him. He was incredibly warm and open the moment we begun to talk and any nerves about the ceremony wilted away. He led us through some guided meditation as the sun set and he prepped us for what we might experience. One line stuck with me which he kept reiterating “the medicine will give you what you need, not what you want”. He then invited us to drink and then more meditation and once the effects became noticeable was when he really went to work.
Over the course of the night I was inundated with visions from my past. Often quite troubling memories that I’d clearly suppressed. Each time as they came over me, I was overcome with emotion and there was the shaman next to me guiding me through it. There were four of us going through this experience around the fireplace but he managed to be with us all individually when we needed him to be. Throughout the night I remember having lucid moments and realising he had been singing for some time. Others he was gently circling the fire attending to us with his selection of incenses, accoutrements or just a kind word if necessary.
As the effects wore off and we came back to some sense of ‘normal’ he was waiting to hear all about our journey. He made us tea and sat as we shared with each other what we had seen or experienced. We would tell our stories and he would then give us his sagely take on it. I knew that the message I’d received was that these things I’d suppressed are still there but I’d ignored them. To fully let them go you have to realise they can’t hurt you. Ultimately they are just a memory of a time that no longer exists. It seems like a simple thing to learn but I needed to go through this to realise it.
In the morning when we woke, there was a fun chat about going back to ‘the real world’. I gave my eternal thanks to the shaman for his help and went on my way. I’ve not forgotten the lessons from that night and don’t think I ever will.
About the author: Carl Donnelly is a comedian and writer, he performs The Nutter On The Bus at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at The Blunda Bus from 3rd -27th Aug at 7:30pm. More info and tickets are available at his website.