Meeting Ayahuasca: Ceremony #1

Hello world! I’m back in Iquitos after my 9-day stay at Hummingbird Ayahuasca Retreat. I have some WiFi at a cafe and a getting on a plane in a few hours to come home.

Throughout my stay at Hummingbird I wrote about every ceremony we did and what my experience was. I am going to share those writings now, starting here with Ceremony #1. I hope you enjoy. ❤

February 2, 2018

It’s the day after our first Ayahuasca ceremony at Hummingbird Retreat Center. It’s been a nice relaxing day. A lot of down time, writing, thinking, napping, as well as hanging out with everyone and talking over our experiences. We’re all in fairly good spirits. It is very beautiful and peaceful on this property; I feel relaxed and safe here.

What to say about my first Ayahuasca experience… it really was a mix of things. The ceremony of it was very special, so I think I’ll spend some time going over the details of it, and then I’ll talk about what happened for me.

The Ceremony

Everyone – 7 of us in total right now, plus Jim (the retreat owner) and Manain (the shaman) and other helpers – congregated in the Moloka at 6:45 and found a spot along the perimeter to sit. We each were given a mat, a pillow, a blanket, a bucket, and some tissue. Manain and Jim sat up at the front in chairs at a low table. Their faces were dimly lit by candlelight cast by two candles in front of them, the only light source in the Moloka. Freshly burned sage and tobacco smoke scented the air. 

We started with a little talk, and Jim gave us some last minute reminders about guidelines, rules and key tips. Things like… have everything you need within reach. Don’t shine a bright light inside the Moloka. Try to be sensitive about making too much noise. Don’t leave the Moloka except to go to the toilet, and don’t go beyond that. If you need help, shine your light into your hand and I will come assist you. If things get hard, breathe, and remember you are okay and everything is going to be okay. Try to sit up rather than lie down. Put your attention on the icaros (songs), that is where the healing will come from.

Manain came around to each of us, blew tobacco smoke on our heads, and drew a cross on our foreheads. Then one by one we were invited up to the table. I was first. Jim poured some of the brew into a cup, and I kneeled and drank it, asking it as I did, “please, heal me and teach me.” I returned to my mat and sat cross-legged. After the last person drank, Jim blew out the candles, and darkness set in. Then, the icaros began.

During Ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman is almost continually making music and songs called ‘icaros’. Manain started out whistling – a beautiful, resonant, haunting sound – and over the course of the 4-hour ceremony he whistled, sang, spoke prayers, rattled rattlers, and played the flute. Jim also sang some icaros. There were moments of pause and silence, but that seemed to be an intentional part of the music too, as it just gave an opportunity for the jungle sounds to become more prominent. 

Throughout the night Jim was coming around to check on each of us to make sure we were doing okay. There were a couple helpers sitting outside, to escort us to the toilet as we needed to go. We were well taken care of. After an hour and a half of ceremony, Jim announced that if anyone wanted more medicine they were welcome to come up for some. I declined the offer.

The ceremony lasted 4 hours, after which the icaros stopped, and Jim announced “the ceremony is over.” He checked in with each of us, asked if we were still feeling the medicine strongly, and if not, gave us the go-ahead to leave as we wish. (Though we were also welcome to stay, and even to sleep there if we wanted.) 

My Experience with the Medicine

Leading into this trip I’ve tried to have a series of conversations with myself about why I’m here, what my intentions are, and what I really want to get out of this. It’s been surprisingly difficult for me to put into any concrete terms, which has at times been frustrating for me. But then, being in the Moloka about to start ceremony, something sort of clicked for me. It was like the realness of being there helped me give myself permission to break down a little bit. I started feeling this very deep pain, the combined pain of the pains of my life – my eating disorder and body shame, my being out of touch with my authentic self, all the confusion and placelessness I’ve felt in trying to find my right place in the world, etc… I just felt this deep pain and loss, and I sat there crying while Jim spoke to us, thinking “Here, Ayahuasca, this is the pain I am here to heal.”

Then the ceremony began, and I took the medicine. It surprised me that it didn’t taste horrible. It took kind of a long time for the medicine to truly kick in. I sat and meditated on a mantra, “Heal me and teach me,” listening to the icaros, and waited. I appreciated the music, and the energy of the ceremony. I felt pretty good and grounded at the beginning, and ready for whatever was going to happen. I was both expecting and dreading that it might be challenging and intense. And I was hoping that ‘la purga’ would happen early.

When I started feeling the medicine, it was something energetic, visual and mental. In the darkness of the space it was hard to tell at first what was the medicine and what was just my anticipation of it. But I started having scattered vision-esque experiences. Mostly my eyes were closed. It was like I was seeing very shadowy and colorless images in my eyelids, but even more like I was having shadows of disjointed experiences in my mind. Very hard to put into words. It got confusing and emotionally turbulent, as if it was a simulation of the feeling of life going too fast, in psychedelic form. The first emotionally intense thing that happened was that I had a spontaneous moment of ego breakdown, like all my feelings of not being where I want to be in my life collided together and I realized I don’t know at all what I’m doing. I started actually sobbing, big fat tears falling out of my eyes and into my lap. I felt like a baby crying to my momma, like “Mom, I messed up, I’m not doing okay, I was wrong, I don’t know what I’m doing after all.” There’s a part of me that wants to project that I have it all together all the time, and that part of me collapsed in that moment. I enjoyed that; there’s nothing like a good cry.

After the sobbing the intensity of the psychedelia went up, but things took a turn for the uncomfortable. It’s hard to put into words exactly what happened, but one way or another I found myself feeling things that were just extremely unpleasant for me. There was nausea and weakness, helplessness, confusion… I started feeling la purga coming on, but it took a very very long time to actualize. Nausea hit me in waves, and I was gripping the bucket wanting it to end. Jim told me I was wimpering for a little while, and I don’t have a strong memory of doing that. I started getting physically tired, and the nausea would temporarily release, so I let myself lie down, only to be seized my nausea again and sit up and grab the bucket. Throughout this time I was not enjoying myself at all, and I was truly hating the medicine. But at the same time I knew that what was happening was good for me in a deep way. As I surrendered to this part of the experience, I found myself feeling awe for this ceremony, gratitude for the people taking care of me, and gratitude and compassion for all the people in my life. I found some real refuge in thinking about people I love. I felt deep, deep gratitude, and a desire to make the people I love feel happy.

When things got hard, I would remember to breathe, and surprisingly often I found that I had been holding my breath. Taking deep breaths in those moments always helped me feel better. 

The icaros were a beautiful part of the night, like a kind of anchor for me. At times it was very intense, and the music became other strange sounds and I didn’t know it was happening. But Manain’s prayers and songs also felt deep and real and sacred to me, and I really appreciated having something external to put my focus on, especially as it reminded me that healing was happening and to trust the experience.

At one point I started feeling my body open up energetically, like I wanted to move my fingers and toes and stretch out. I found myself bobbing back and forth to the music. I took some joy in that feeling – it is very affirming to me when I feel body energy like that. I feel connected to myself when I want to move my body. I thought about that part of me, about my small tentative feeling that it is significant somehow, and about my fears of figuring out how to express it in the world.

It was past the peak of the intensity of the night when a surge of nausea hit me and I finally purged. It wasn’t a lot, but it sure was a relief. Once again I felt like a baby, begging for release. After that I was pretty much able to lie down. A feeling of relief and gratitude grew in me as the intensity left me. 

I felt very safe in the Moloka, very taken care of. I stayed in there for a little while after ceremony ended, and contemplated staying there for the night. But my energy returned to me bit by bit, and I decided to leave. My body felt good, and walking out into the night felt absolutely magical to me. The moon lit up the sky, and the property was bathed in this beautiful moonlight and surrounded by the song of the jungle. I felt lightened and light-hearted. I sat out with others, talking and laughing into the night until I felt tired enough to go to sleep around 1:30 in the morning.


So, I had this intense experience, and that was only the beginning. In fact, that was a little under half a normal dose, ha ha. So honestly, part of me is pretty nervous about going into ceremony again tonight. At the same time, though, I’m totally okay. I know it’s going to be okay. There is a very good chance that it only gets better from here. I have heard many many stories of people having beautiful breakthroughs here, and it’s always a multi-step process. Even if I have more muck to go through and I hate it, I will still be okay. I’m here to heal. I’ll do what it takes.

So, I’ll leave it at that for now! I’ll have more to report on tomorrow. Thanks, and many blessings to each of you!

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