Account of an ayahuasca ceremony
November 1, 2014 2:59 AM   Subscribe

Thomas Leveritt at Harper's Magazine writes about his experience participating in an ayahuasca ceremony. A pleasingly (and humorously) well-written, detailed account.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (27 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I am a totally square hausfrau, about as far from participating in an ayahuasca ceremony as it is possible to be, and this may be the very favorite article I've read in months! Thanks for posting.
Patrick answered with a belch: a rich, intrepid, baritone thing that went on for seven or eight syllables, generously textured with bubbles and vocal fry. It was practically whalesong, something a ten-year-old boy lies awake under his duvet and dreams one day of producing.

It was answered, like timberwolves gathering for a hunt, by smaller beta and gamma burps.

posted by apparently at 3:57 AM on November 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

I would like to do this.
posted by colie at 4:22 AM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, count me among those for whom this sounds totally appealing.
posted by slkinsey at 5:23 AM on November 1, 2014

This definitely is something I would like to try someday in a really warm and nurturing environment.

Also, probably just the subject matter, but the writer strikes me as a self-aware Hunter Thompson.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:48 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another vomit thread.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:57 AM on November 1, 2014

Another vomit thread.

Heh. One of the highlights of the piece:
TOM’S BODY [puppy dog eyes]:—.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:08 AM on November 1, 2014

I've done a bunch of drugs, including lsd and mushrooms, and that sounds completely terrifying. Though at my age, I kind of can't believe that I did acid as many times as I did.

Honestly, the valuable revelations he seems to have had are similar to the sorts of revelations I had on MDMA, without the vomiting and hallucinations, and with better music and more hugging.
posted by empath at 6:10 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

This article is really smart and full of good observations and funny as fuck.
posted by yoHighness at 6:10 AM on November 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was lucky enough to take ayahuasca in a shaman's thatched hut in the Amazon when I was 16. It was, without exaggeration, the most intense and revelatory night of my life.

Among the notable details: the shaman dosed me with a shot glass-worth of the bright orange, bilious liquid and twenty or thirty minutes later, I still wasn't feeling it. My traveling companions had by this point wandered off into the jungle to marvel at the moon and vomit (everyone was assigned a babysitter who would watch them from a respectful distance, so no danger of getting lost).

So I told a guy in Spanish that I didn't think it was working, and he told the shaman in Achuar the same, and I was presented with another dose. Waited ten more minutes and still didn't feel anything. I stumbled over to my cot, thinking, well, that was a bust. I wonder what time it is?

And I looked down at my watch and hit the indiglo button. And I saw the time... But my wrist/the world was moving at what I would generously describe as 4 frames per second. And then, I shit you not, I heard the opening strains of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, crystal clear as if I were sitting right between two massive floor speakers, and I was off. Twelve hours of insanity and personal insight, with none of the gritty paranoia that can come with an acid trip. Also diarrhea when under the spell of a double dose of ayahuasca is... Not to be taken lightly. The next morning we shared our visions with the shaman, who interpreted them for us. One guy got much needed closure about the recent death of his wife. I was an angstrom and depressed teen, and the way the shaman explained my fluorescent exuberant dreams was that my sadness would level out and I would lead a joyful life. I certainly hadn't explained my emo sadness to him so, even if he was just good at cold reading, his interpretation really comforted me and, sure enough, I never again felt as lonely and depressed as I had in the years before the trip. I don't know if it cured me or just cleaned the doors of perception or if I just wanted someone to tell me that I'd be all right. It didn't really matter in the end.

Anyway! Good times in Ecuador.
posted by andromache at 7:06 AM on November 1, 2014 [22 favorites]

Amazingly well written. Be curious to hear from him a few months or a year later about how much has stuck with him and how, indeed, his family and friends think he has changed, if at all.

My experience with psychedelic insights— took a ton of acid and mushrooms in high school— is that it's very hard to maintain them. I certainly think it's possible to do so (and I do think the experience can be valuable, in the right set and setting), but I also think it's very hard and the problem is that while insight can spur psychological change, it is only maintained via repeated action.
posted by Maias at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ayahuasca meetup?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

I did an ayahuasca ceremony in the last 90s. As is common with me and psychedelics, I got fairly out but didn't break through. The rest of the circle - a very deluxe bunch of Harvard professors and artists and the like - were seriously out there. I discussed it with the shaman at the time and later, who believed I wasn't "blocking" - our best theory was that it had something to do with my mathematics training, that whenever I see something that isn't there I want to analyze it...

It was a very interesting drug - you could ask yourself questions and get answers. However, I didn't learn anything - I was wanting some sort of direction, and instead I got the answer, "You're doing well, keep it up."

The vomiting was, well, cosmically terrible. But I kept my sense of humor at least.

Some people had terrifying trips. At one point, someone announced, "Time has stopped." Later, we talked to him and he couldn't see anything in the room, just rushing colors, and he couldn't remember anything before being in the room, so he believed his whole life was just rushing colors...

We had good sitters. Don't do this without a sitter!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:11 AM on November 1, 2014 [10 favorites]

> I was an angstrom and depressed teen ...

My favorite auto-correct fail in quite a while. "I was overwhelmed with sexual ergs, we had moved to a newton so I missed my old friends, and I didn't know watt to do with my life."
posted by benito.strauss at 8:31 AM on November 1, 2014 [13 favorites]

The world needs more articles like this. Thank you for posting it.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:22 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like the "drugs rewire your brain" commercials from the 80s, aya definitely does rewire your brain - and that's the point.

The most beneficial thing I've ever done in my life it participate in ayahuasca ceremonies. I'm not sure I would be alive at this moment, were it not for ayahuasca. It might be terrifying, it might be blissful. It will be taxing, but it's like a reverse hangover where you deal with the heavy stuff up front, then feel reborn the next day.

Anyone looking to do it, I'd recommend a trip to Peru to take it in the traditional setting with traditional healers. PM if you want any recommendations, etc.
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 11:15 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

That and the whole topic has become so jammed up with ..... New Agers whose use of abstract nouns parks clean across agreed meanings (energy is an established concept, fellas, that you cannot just have).

oh god this so much this
posted by lalochezia at 12:01 PM on November 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

This was a delight to read! I loved his self-awareness, and I loved how well he communicated what ayahuasca did for him even though he had no real demons to exorcise. I also really loved his point about poems:

For all its hokeyness the poem was a major comfort. Poems are spells, of course. That’s not even a metaphor, that’s literally what they are—a string of words that when arranged into their ancient sequences unleash invisible magics. The effect is not the same as the content. Prufrock is a seduction. Mending Wall an apology. September 1, 1939 a curse so powerful it should not be spoken aloud. And If— with its invocation of England in all its quotidian middle-class, reasonableness and decency, a ward against darkness.

Because yes, that's absolutely right: poems are spells.
posted by yasaman at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

In this story: the fear of death,[1] William S. Burroughs,[2] hallucinogens (ayahuasca, LSD, etc),[3] transcendental botany,[4] whale sounds,[5] Gravity’s Rainbow,[6] feats of human endurance,[7] and Jedi mind tricks.[8]

So, pretty much everything that's good.
posted by Perko at 5:09 PM on November 1, 2014

Well, wasn't that fucking brilliant.

I actually quite like vomiting.
No really, not like nudge nudge wink wink Rule 34 "like".
Just the feeling of physical catharsis as if my body is looking after itself and just getting stuff done.

Except on acid. Throwing up on acid is not recommended.
posted by fullerine at 5:12 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to my first ayahuasca healing ceremony later this month.

It sounds terrifying. I've prepared for years, after first making a pact with myself never to do ayahuasca. It sounded like too much for me back then, as a teenage user of psychedelics.

The more I read, the more it does sound like too much. A couple of days ago I finished Fishers of Men: The Gospel of An Ayahuasca Vision Quest. The intensity of the descriptions will haunt me. Eight hours of vomiting... and I'm emetophobic after a childhood experience with a sickness that literally almost killed me.

Rainbow dragons squeezing the toxins out of you. Vomiting up black vipers. Spiders crawling into your skin. Facing every fear in vivid, inescapable visual and tactile hallucinations that numb your body and take you far away from your physical location. Facing nightmares in the spirit world. Screaming and shouting and begging your shaman to make it stop. Puking every few minutes while time slows for you. Feeling your body burning, on fire.

For eight hours objectively.

After you face a fear, you puke violently. Then you feel cleansed and better. Then the process repeats again and again and again. You will shout and scream and beg for mercy and you will survive.

There's a quote I remember from the book: "You're in the middle of the jungle talking to Jesus and vomiting. How could anyone possibly be ready for that?"

I'm taking painkillers for fibromyalgia and I can't discontinue them for the cleansing period before the ceremony. If there's a drug interaction, I might die. I've come to terms with it.

Because if ayahuasca doesn't kill me, PTSD certainly will. I'm tired of the constant fear, the irrational triggers, the irrational anger, lashing out at people, trapped in my own psychology for the rest of my life. I can't even use the internet without being triggered (because of a long history of stalking and internet mobbing).

I don't know what to expect. Ayahausca medicine is about facing your fears. There are so many situations I've survived in almost three decades. How can I possibly reset my brain in one ceremony? It might take fifty ceremonies, and even then, I'm told that it's very easy to relapse into my old habits after a few weeks. A permanent lifestyle change to prevent relapse after the ceremonies is very necessary and requires lots of self-discipline. That is, if there isn't a dangerous or fatal interaction between the vine and my prescription painkillers.

I need to heal. I need to at least try. Either I'll emerge from that dark tunnel stronger, or I won't emerge at all. Go to Aya if you truly need to heal, but know that no internet articles or books can truly prepare you for the intensity of the experience.

I want to vomit in a demon's face. Fuck fear.
posted by quiet earth at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

quiet earth, I hope you have a positive experience and find the peace you seek.

If you are comfortable with the idea, could you come back and share how it went? I want to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony someday for similar reasons and have the same apprehensions and would really appreciate a firsthand account. I'm sure others in the thread would as well.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:17 PM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm curious about this, but between my gag reflex and oh yeah, all that vomit, maybe it is not for me. On the other hand, there's magic mushrooms?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:16 PM on November 1, 2014

I'm kind of poor so I'm amazed that people find the time and money to go to South America to do this...I'm reading that right, right? You have to go there for this? Or is it a friend of a friend know how to make the stuff here at home?

Anyway, I would like to try this but given my current responsibilities (in addition to time and money), I couldn't get a reprieve even for 12 hours. Acid I did a number of times, and it's amazing stuff, but the risk of a bad trip is always there. And bad acid trips are the worst. I'm not a religious believer, but I might make an exception when it comes to magic mushrooms...they have got to be from The Divine Screenwriter or something. Really happy times, just warm and trippy and connected to everything. Even ugly urban landscapes are somehow beautiful, and mushroom trips while camping out in nature--that's just about the pinnacle of bliss right there.

One psychedelic I have not tried is DMT, which seems perhaps similar to ayahuasca but much more short-lived. And won't necessitate a trip to the jungle to experience it.
posted by zardoz at 2:25 AM on November 2, 2014

From TFA, ayahuasca isn't similar to DMT, itis DMT, with another agent added to prevent metabolization in the stomach, thus extending the trip.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:15 AM on November 2, 2014

that sounds completely terrifying.

It sounds terrifying./em>

When you purge (mentally and physically), the thing being purged is pulled to the surface before it exits. This might or might not be unpleasant. Participating in ceremony is a skill that you get better at. You don't have to have your consciousness focusing on the darkness being purged.

That said, your first big purge will likely include you forgetting all that and getting sucked right into it. If you do go into a ceremony, remember these four words: Focus on the icaros.

posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 7:17 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can absolutely report back about my experience (if I can afford the $200 fee). The ceremony is on the 14th. We shall see... thanks for your kind words and advice.
posted by quiet earth at 8:20 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I have been discussing taking Ayahuasca for the past few months. I am cautiously open to the idea, but felt a little held back. After reading this I feel reassured that I definitely want to meet Abuela. Great article! Thanks to the author and to the poster.
posted by mateus at 9:55 AM on November 3, 2014

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