“If the door of perception were cleansed everything would appear to a man as it is, infinite.” – William Blake
Taking Ayahuasca was one of the most powerful and transformative moments of my life. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into various methods of personal development over the last decade. The entire experience of self-awareness, focused therapy and sheer growth from Ayahuasca can’t be compared to anything I have done previously.
Listening to some high-level achievers on the Tim Ferriss podcast discuss the use and application of psychedelics to improve cognition, mental health and productivity had lead me to research them further. My first experience with psychedelics was in Amsterdam back in February, which ended up being a very positive experience. It gave me a better outlook on life, as well as more focus and clarity with my life’s goals.
Shortly after the Amsterdam trip I attended a presentation by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College on the use of psychedelics and the current state of research. Ayahuasca was mentioned during the presentation and this may have been the slight push that led me to the decision to attend a retreat.
Ayahuasca is a South American brew containing the psychedelic chemical N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The Banisteriopsis caapi (Ayahuasca Vine) is combined with the leaves from the shrub Psychotria viridis to create the solution.
The word ‘ayahuasca’ translates to ‘vine of death’. The Ayahuasca brew induces intense hallucination and introspection. The entire ayahuasca experience lasts for approximately 8 hours, with the strongest effects lasting 1-3 hours.
The effect duration and intensity is similar to that of psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Vomiting (Purging) is regarded as part of the experience. This purging process is considered medically and spiritually beneficial.
I hope this article outlines my experience over the 5-day Ayahuasca retreat with Etnikas (etnikas.com) in Peru. It was a part of a larger 3-week solo trip I took in April. I’d also like to say this up front as a disclaimer — my experience on the retreat and with Ayahuasca was very positive, but that may not be your experience. I urge you to always do your own research and make your own decisions, as negative experiences are very much a possibility.
Etnikas Ayahausca Retreat centre – Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru
Day 0 – Introduction and Briefing
We met at midday on Sunday at a small centre in Cusco. After some basic medical checks and a few release forms to sign, we had to drink 6 cups of ‘volcanic water’ which were around 400ml each. These acted as a powerful laxative and within 30 minutes, we needed to make use of the 6 cubicles lined up next to each other as we began to feel the effects.
Luckily, we had been instructed to fast prior to this, which made the process much smoother and everything returned to normal later in the day.
Day 1 – Monday 2nd April – Meetings and First Ceremony
We were again instructed to be completely fasted (aside from water) from midnight Sunday. I had turned off and put away my phone and laptop, which I would keep out of sight until I was finished with the retreat. I knew this would have a powerful effect in itself. With only a notepad and pen I began to document my experience, thoughts and feelings.
12pm – Arrival
We arrived at the centre around midday, followed by a brief tour of the grounds. The location was set in the mountains, miles away from any cities or towns. There were several dogs roaming around which added a further sense of freedom and calm. We were soon shown to our room — a 3-bed dorm, where I was sharing with two other guys in their 40s.
1:30pm – First Group Meeting
Our meeting detailed a brief introduction on what to expect from the process, and provided a forum to ask any questions before the first ceremony. Ayahuasca will give you what you need but not necessarily what you want, and it’s important to go in with an idea of what you desire from the experience. Personally, I wanted to find more clarity in my life’s purpose and generally improve myself.
2:30pm – Psychologist meeting
After telling my story, the psychologist explained that I needed to work on my relationship with myself. This made a lot of sense — I’m always very hard on myself when making mistakes and put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed.
A meditative focus was recommended during the Ayahuasca trip — deep breathing with an internal focus. This is how I approached my first experience with Truffles (Magic Mushrooms) in Amsterdam and also my experiences with floatation tanks. Self-love and self-forgiveness were a few things I knew I needed to address.
4pm-6:30pm – Free time
The hunger would come and go in waves, but I’d forget I wasn’t eating most of the time. Whenever I drank water, the hunger subsided. I spent most of the time writing and slept prior to the start of the first ceremony.
6:30pm – Pre-ceremony Ritual
This was to be a ritual of protection. The Andean priest had us line up outside on the grass next to the Malook (a wooden building like a hut with straw roof, designed in such a way to allow some moonlight in).
Malook and Retreat Grounds
The sun had set and the moonlight was just strong enough to make out the immediate environment. With our eyes closed while standing, he brushed us, one by one, with various plants while chanting. This practice was to offer protection from negative energies. It lasted around 20 minutes in total.
7pm – First Ayahausca Ceremony
We proceeded into the Malook to prepare to take the Ayahuasca. There were six sleeping bags set up with pillows and blankets. We were briefed once again on the process and given a small amount of dirt and water (the elements of earth and water to protect from negative energies). This was followed by two strong essences to cover ourselves with… most likely to cover the potential smell of vomit in the bucket next you.
The Shaman prepared each individual dose of Ayahuasca with a small ritual involving tobacco smoke. We had to hold the cup and wait for the shaman to say ‘Salut’ and then we all drank.
The Ayahuasca itself was a thick black liquid that had a fairly strong smell (which you grow to dislike quickly if you associate it with vomit). We all sat back and waited for the trip to start, anticipating who would be the first to purge. The first was around 20 minutes in, then one by one everyone else started purging.
After about 30 minutes, everyone had purged while I only felt a slight discomfort in my stomach. We were encouraged to drink plenty of water to make the purging easier. the assistant came to me and I described that I wasn’t feeling any effects just yet. He spoke with the Shaman and said he would offer me some more Ayahuasca. That did the trick! Like a scene from The Exorcist, I threw up violently into the bucket – twice in quick succession, consisting of only water. It was pretty easy and painless and it honestly felt good to get it out of my system.
I laid back and put myself into a meditative state. I immediately saw myself in this open green wilderness with a path in front of me. As I began walking this path, positive highlights from my past arose in chronological order. One notable highlight was one of my first American Football coaches who helped and inspired me. He changed the course of my life for the better and is still someone who I’m really grateful for.
I arrived at my present life and saw around 20 doors in front of me — potential paths for my future? As I opened each one, they were cloudy, mysterious and I couldn’t make out anything. At this moment I really tuned into the Shaman’s chanting, and mentally asked for clarity during my vision. In that moment, I felt the eye of Ayahuasca open on my forehead, immediately illuminating the entire space with a powerful white light, eradicating the entire scenery.
From this light, a later coach of mine emerged who had passed away several years ago. He too had helped me a lot and we spent a lot of time together outside of football. I started talking to him, updating him on my current life. He questioned me about why I had stopped what I had enjoyed so much. He told me to get back on the horse and we talked some more (of which I don’t really remember), then said thank you and goodbye.
Shortly after my inner child emerged — myself when I was around 8-10 years old. I told him that I loved him unconditionally. I said that It was ok to feel all of those emotions and it was OK to make those mistakes… and I forgive you for everything. In that moment I felt so happy, whole, warm and at peace. We played together and had fun in the moment. I truly felt the self-love that I had been searching for and I was overcome with contentment and happiness.
I was pulled out of my trance as the assistant came over and offered me a second dose of Ayahuasca. I had a feeling that I should say ‘No,’ but I wanted to go deeper into the experience. So I took the second dose and laid down again, taking myself back into that meditative state (the Ayahuasca takes about 20-30 minutes to take effect). I had visions of a scene similar to The Maze Runner, where I confronted the spider in the maze.
I fought this spider almost like a character in a video game, and this would continue in various scenes with different environments and opponents — a fun experience. Everything was bliss… and then the 2nd dose hit me. I purged again, this time much harder and painful. I continued to purge as if I was extremely sick.
I was pulled into this environment akin to an American suburb street, which began to descend into hell with fire and brimstone all around me. A nurse from the centre came over to comfort me when she noticed I was distressed. She gave me a hot water bottle and made me comfortable in my sleeping bag (like a mother tucking in her child at night). I was so grateful for this.
The purging still continued intermittently, to the point where I was dry heaving as I had little left in my digestive system. It almost felt like I was dying in that moment. The Shaman came over to me and began chanting, placing his hand on my head and I felt this surge of positive energy through my entire body.
I had no concept of time and space apart from the suffering I was experiencing and I mentally tried to pull myself out of the negative situation. I eventually just assumed the foetal position and then somehow managed to force myself to sleep to escape. I woke up sometime later — maybe around an hour but I have no idea — and I was back in touch with reality and somewhat aware of my surroundings.
Now in a similar condition to before the 2nd dose started to take effect, I returned to that meditative state to see where the next journey would take me. In the next moment, I was in space as this being of pure white energy, and I noticed beings of orange energy all around, observing and studying me.
The next stage was like a flow state, I felt extremely creative and I had a flow of various ideas. I slowly began to come back down to baseline as the effects started to lessen.
We had started at 7pm and one of the assistants told me it was 12am. I choose to stay longer, tuning into the Shaman’s chanting, which was so beautiful and relaxing. I eventually left the Malook around 12:30/1am. I was offered some food but that was the last thing on my mind as I went back to my room.
I was just about to make up my electrolyte drink when my roommate took his electrolytes and threw up immediately… I decided to wait until morning to take mine. I quickly went to sleep after taking some important notes in my journal.
Personal learnings and takeaways from the first trip
- Very happy to have dealt with the self-love issue with my inner child so soon into the experience
- I felt a need to coach and give back to the American Football community which has helped and given me so much
- Speaking to my deceased coach gave me a new-found life perspective
- Lastly, reflecting on the 2nd dose leading to the pain and suffering — I interpreted it as the negative effects of over-consumption
Day 2 – Tuesday 3rd April – Reflections and Second Ceremony
8am – Wake & Breakfast
I had slept well, with no feeling of any kind of comedown/hangover upon waking. If anything, I felt much better than normal. I had my electrolytes and went to eat breakfast. A simple mini-buffet — mainly fruits and vegetables. I had a protein shake alongside, probably around 500-600 calories total.
9:30am – Group Meeting
We had a meeting with our group of six, along with the Shaman, main assistant, psychologist and doctor. We each shared our story, with the assistant translating to the shaman in Spanish. The shaman and the psychologist then gave us advice on how to interpret the lessons, what to take from them and what to work on.
The main advice was to just follow the messages and lessons that Ayahuasca was giving to you. I knew personally what to interpret from my first visions that night. They told me they were increasing my dose for the second trip and that it would be the biggest of the group. Lastly, they gave us a reminder to maintain a positive mindset throughout the experience.
10:30-3:30pm – Sleep
I slept for five hours, which was much needed after a couple of night buses and very early mornings for hikes the week before. When fasting for the whole day after breakfast, sleep is a great way to take food off your mind.
3:30pm – Yoga & Kundalini Kirtan Kriya Meditation
The hour of yoga was very welcome mobility and movement practice after being sedentary for much of the first day. To end the session, we mediated to music for around 10-20 minutes with a continuous chant of SA-TA-NA-MA which really helped put us all in a positive mindset. The meditation is a combination of chanting a mantra while moving the hands through mudras (moving the thumb from finger to finger with each chant).
SA is birth, the beginning and infinity.
TA is life, existence, and creativity.
NA is death, change, and the transformation of consciousness.
MA is rebirth, regeneration, and resurrection.
6:30pm – Second Ayahuasca Ceremony
The way the operation is structured meant that new groups typically come in every two days. You have your first ceremony with your group alone, then two groups are combined for your second ceremony. We joined another group’s third and final ceremony (most people sign up for three ceremonies over five days). There were 12 of us in total, which made it quite cosy in the Malook.
There was no pre-ceremony ritual this time, that’s only for your first day, and we set up straight away in the Malook. I was extremely calm, relaxed and excited going into this ceremony. We were asked to meditate, processing all our positive life experiences and to put ourselves in the best mental state in preparation for the Ayahuasca. During my meditation, I experienced a lot of clarity and my purpose came to me — I was so happy to have found what I had travelled for so soon.
Despite consuming a few hundred calories for the day and being completely fasted the 36 hours before that meal, I had an abundance of energy. As I saw the Shaman pouring out the doses, mine was the largest of the group. As before, once we all had our doses, the Shaman said ‘Salut’ and we drank.
This truly felt like a psychedelic trip as the Ayahuasca hit me much harder than the day before, taking me into a deep trip. I purged a few times fairly cleanly and I saw many different colours and geometric patterns with my eyes closed.
As I opened my eyes I saw the same thing, just with the environment around me as a background. I couldn’t escape these patterns, feeling quite uncomfortable at first. Once I let go, I began to enjoy the experience. I immediately took off into space and was in a large space shuttle with a blue hue.
I saw Mother Ayahausca (Described as pacha mama, or mother nature, she is the entity or power who guides the entire experience, according to the shamanic beliefs) and spoke to her. She said,
“You’ve done the work, you have found what you were looking for, now celebrate and enjoy.”
The scene in this shuttle became a party and celebration. In that moment it began to rain heavily onto the Malook. As the rain hit the roof, it sounded like electronic music and it combined with the Shaman’s chanting as I was peaking. Such an incredible and beautiful experience.
I had complete control of my trip and experienced what could described as pure bliss. I was moving through ever-changing environments of which I had control. This peak was fairly short, but so powerful. Once I started to come back down, I felt extremely creative and began having a lot of business and life ideas (more so than the night previously). Ideas and strategies flowed easily, I was hoping I could remember everything in the moment.
As I began to come back down to baseline, I noticed the nurse that had comforted me yesterday during my bad trip walking slowly around the Malook. She was wearing a 3/4 length thick white coat, looking and moving like an angel with a white glow and aura. The Shaman’s chanting was even more mesmerising and enjoyable after such a positive and fun trip.
During the end of the trip I was on a full aeroplane. Everyone around me had a neutral energy and, as I communicated and connected with each person, they began to illuminate and glow and this quickly spread throughout the entire aircraft. I asked the Mother if there was anything else to learn. She said,
“You have done enough for now, my son.”
She blessed me with a green energy, and I felt a green aura surround me. She then said,
“It’s time to rest now.”
I fell into a deep and restful sleep. I was awoken around 1am and decided to head back to my room, again without eating.
Personal learnings from the 2nd ceremony
– I had found everything that I came for in just two days
– The trip was a celebration of this
– During the second half of the trip, I was extremely relaxed and creative, having some great ideas to take away.
Day 3 – Wednesday 4th April – Reflection and Exploration
8am – Breakfast
With no Ayahuasca ceremony for us today, breakfast, lunch and dinner were available. One of the girls commented on just how happy and calm I was looking. I felt incredible.
9:30am – Group Meeting
The group drove up to a mountain in the sacred valley near the retreat centre. We took part in a coca leaf ceremony, lead by the Andean priest. Each of us made a personal wish. It may have been the afterglow from the previous two Ayahuasca ceremonies, but I felt a strong presence of calm, strength and clarity around me.
In Peru they refer to the mountains as Apu’s as they are considered sacred protectors. The view was breathtaking. While visiting the local town, we found some artwork inspired by Ayahuasca — one piece represented exactly what I had saw in one of my visions. If it had been less than $800 and I had an easy method to transport it home, I would have purchased it.
That evening we had another yoga session, along with meditation. This session was a lot slower and focused more on breathing and meditation over movement. I felt the green aura and energy I discovered during my second trip around me. It gathered stronger as I meditated. I would describe it as the feminine energy of a mother, nurturing and grounding.
Day 4 – Thursday 5th April – Final Ayahuasca Ceremony
8am – Wake & Breakfast
I had a dream about American Football and I felt a calling to return to the sport — to play again — or at least to coach and give back to the community that had given me so much. Breakfast was much of the same, a small serving of fruits and vegetables alongside my protein shake.
10:30am – Social Responsibility
Social responsibility consists of giving back to the environment or community. There were a rotation of different experiences to undertake. Our group visited the elderly care home, San Francisco De Asis in Cusco. I’ve heard and read that if you’re feeling down or lost in life, spend time with kids or elderly people. It was great to connect and help give back to the community, even for a short period of time and communicating in broken Spanish.
3pm Massage – more reflection and rest
I had one the best massages of my life — I wanted to hire this therapist for the rest of my time in Peru.
Another nap in the afternoon (something I did a lot of during this retreat). When there isn’t much to do, and you’re tired from fasting, it’s a great method process your thoughts. I recently listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Matthew Walker — an English sleep researcher.
Walker explains the process of your brain’s problem-solving, its learning and the increased speed of this while you sleep (between 10-50 times the regular speed), thus the idea of ‘sleeping on a problem’ being so common. (Look up Joe Rogan Ep 1109 if you’re interested — great podcast on the science and need for sleep.)
I hadn’t touched my phone, nor had any contact with the outside world for days and I felt so much better for it. From this point I knew I would use social media much less and have my phone on airplane mode for the majority of the time whilst working.
7pm – Third and Final Ayahuasca Ceremony
There were eight people in total for the final ceremony: only two of us from our original group and six who were partaking in their second ceremony. My dose was increased again and was significantly larger than anyone else in the group. A nice ego boost (even though I should no longer have ego, right?).
Having such positive experiences in my first two trips and finding everything I came here looking for, I didn’t know what to expect from this last trip or what I even desired.
After taking the Ayahuasca a third time, the purge was very clean and easy. I asked why I purged so little when the assistant came over, she said Ayahuasca had given me most of what I’d needed, thus not purging much at all. I got up and walked around outside, feeling great. I had a heightened awareness and generally felt more dialled in to everything around me.
For some reason I didn’t expect to go into a deep trip, but the assistant encouraged me to go back and lay down. Once I was back in my sleeping back, the Ayahuasca hit me like a freight train and I had the trippiest experience of my life. The world around me began to dissolve, yet I became hyper-sensitive to even the smallest stimuli that remained. I could feel every follicle of hair in my nose as I inhaled and anything I could interpret within my vision was in extreme slow-motion.
I was thrown into a scene like the Wild West, entering a town in the desert with a blue hue about it. I tried to leave and ascend, but something was holding me back. I kept hearing the words ‘let go’ from male and female voices all around me. I kept purging and for some reason I was resisting and couldn’t surrender to the experience. The cycle of purging continued and the same voices telling me ‘let go’ intensified.
In the moment I finally let go, I became engulfed by white space. As the white space subsided and uncovered the environment, I found myself locked in a cupboard and began feeling enormous amounts of pain and suffering. I was living a family member’s childhood experience.
I knew they had experienced childhood trauma, but I now experienced their pain in full. The strength and intensity had me crying. This continued and intensified and I eventually manifested into the scene as myself, physically there with them. I comforted and consoled them and told them I loved them unconditionally. I felt so much sadness and empathy in that moment.
I then shifted back into their persona as they grew up and I continued to live their various traumatic experiences. It was extremely emotional and powerful. I was then with them in the present day and apologised for all the pain they had experienced. I was taken on a journey. One by one, I experienced the pain and suffering of each of my family members, truly realising how much my parents had sacrificed for me, how they had supported me and how strong their love was for me. (I made sure to empathise with the individuals and their entire experience in person, as soon as I arrived back in the UK.)
This carried on with all of my friends, along with people who had bullied me in school, and ex girlfriends. One by one, I experienced their suffering, their desires and understood the motivation behind their actions. After each and every personal experience, I felt stronger.
Each single interaction was unique — I went on journeys with some, and completely transcended with others. These events transpired over what felt like a long period of time and this alone was a completely transformative experience in itself.
I forgave all those who had hurt me in my past, and apologised to all those I had hurt.(Again, I have made sure to make amends with these important people in my life since returning to the UK). Much of this was trauma I was almost completely unaware of, but clearly it had been dwelling deep in my subconscious. It was something I needed to confront and process.
Following this, I went through various warrior and tribal-like trips. This last portion of the trip had a very masculine, red energy — leadership, sacrifice and competition in different forms.
A wristband I have been wearing for over 8 years has the words ‘Passio Bellator’ which roughly translates from Latin to Suffering Warrior in English. I was given this wristband at a quarterback academy in Florida, run by Darin Slack (of which I highly recommend – Google his name for more information). This wristband was glowing while I was experiencing everyone’s suffering, and I could feel the energy radiate from it. Now this has become an important reminder for myself and has an even greater meaning. This has become like a totem for the experience.
At the end of the trip, I was confronted with a statue of myself — a superficial boy, who was insecure, afraid and caring so much of what the world thought of him. This statue began to crumble and disintegrate.
A man slowly arose in place of this statue. Calm. Centred. Confident. I felt in that moment that I had entered this experience as a boy and was preparing to leave as a man. This was the beginning of a journey to be the best man I could be, and help raise the life-experience of those around me. As cliche as it was, it was the perfect end to this experience and I am so grateful.
The assistant came to me, signalling it was near the end of the ceremony. The time was 1am. After the first two trips, I had no energy. After this one, I had an abundance of energy.
While eating a meal with the group, the nurse took my HR and it was showing around 105+ which worried her. It was typically around 50-60 following the previous trips. Everyone had gone to bed by 2am and I was still in the dining room writing with clarity and energy until 3am when finally, I retired to my room.
Day 5 – Friday 6th April – Final Reflections
I was still processing everything from the week — how much my life had changed in this short time. I shared my experience as normal in our group meeting and was extremely grateful for everyone’s help and support through the journey.
Before we left, we had one more ceremony where we made our final wishes, goodbyes and showed gratitude. The ceremony ended with a fire in the forest and various blessings from the Andean priest. We were then taken back to Cusco in the early afternoon concluding the experience.
In reflection, this is only the beginning of my journey. Now I can get to work everyday to improve myself and help those around me who have the desire to do the same. Hopefully through sharing my experience, some of you can take something from this.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Below I’ve shared some resources if you want to learn more.
I will write a follow-up article in the future, reflecting on what lessons I have worked into my life, and how I feel following the experience.
Tim Ferriss Podcast
- Ep 66 James Fadiman
Joe Rogan Podcast (Rogan is a big advocate of psychedelics, so you will hear them at least mentioned in most episodes)
- 470 Amber Lyon
The Psychedelic explorer’s guide – James Fadiman
DMT the spirit molecule – Rick Strassman
The Last Shaman – Netflix