What is Ayahuasca?

by Ayahuasca 101

Ayahuasca [eye-ah-wah-ska] is a foul-tasting reddish brown tea made from two naturally-occurring Amazonian plants boiled together in water – from the leaves of the chacruna shrub [Psychotria viridis] and stalks of the ayahuasca vine [Banisteriopsis caapi].

Together, this plant combination produces a potent psychedelic brew that has been used as physical, phycological, and spiritual medicine by the many tribes of the Amazon Rainforest for millennia.

Among these ancient Shamanic cultures, ayahuasca is a sacrament and healing modality that is central to their spirituality and should be approached with great respect and proper intent.

Ayahuasca is non-addictive, non-toxic, and has absolutely nothing to do with recreational drug use.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule

DMT [dimethyltryptamine] is the psychoactive component in ayahuasca, a chemical produced naturally throughout nature, even in the human brain. However, the chacruna leaves contain high quantities of this mysterious compound, aptly named The Spirit Molecule.

dmt the spirit molecule

Taken alone, the DMT in the chacruna leaves will be quickly broken down by enzymes in the stomach and liver, called monoamine oxidases [MAOs], with no effect, so the sacred vine is added.

The ayahuasca vine is an MAO-inhibiter, allowing the DMT to pass into the blood and into the brain, opening the Doors of Perception. What follows is an extraordinary journey into visionary state, self-exploration, deep healing, and even mystical, spiritual realms.

Into the Circle: Ceremonial Space

Traditionally, ayahuasca is taken in a ceremonial setting under the guidance and care of a trained Maestro or Shaman. Participants are expected to prepare for weeks, following a healthy and restrictive diet, abstaining from sexual activity, and setting genuine intention for an encounter with the medicine.

Ayahuasca ceremonies usually begin at twilight, unfolding into the early magic hours of the morning. Beds and blankets are arranged in a communal circle within the ceremony space, called a maloca, alight with dancing candles or a campfire.

The Maestro blesses the space with Mapacho tobacco before inviting each guest to drink in turn. The energy is palpable, full of anticipation, fear, respect, surrender, and hope. Silence is expected – this is a solo journey. For those that have been there, the destination is powerful and sacred.

As the effect takes hold (within 20-60 minutes) and throughout the duration (2-6 hours), the Shaman will sing the Icaros – traditional and enchanting songs – to facilitate the journey inward, call in spirit allies, and protect the ceremonial space.

Within and Beyond: The Aya Journey

The actual experience of Ayahuasca is difficult to explain and impossible to generalize. The strength of the journey spans the full spectrum from no effect, to mild euphoria, all the way to leaving consensus reality behind, entering other mysterious realms of consciousness and perception.

One oft-repeated anecdote about meeting Mother Aya:

“It’s like 10 years of therapy in a single night.”

This remarkable experience offers insight and unvarnished perspective into patterned behavior, complicated histories, important relationships, and individual purpose. The unconscious becomes permeable, allowing to see oneself more clearly, perhaps for the first time.

Repressed memories can surface. Addiction, depression, and other self-destructive behaviors sometimes fall away. Ayahuasca is a mirror. It can be heartbreaking, but necessary, allowing for a more holistic version of oneself to emerge from the broken pieces. This is shadow work – it requires courage.

Ayahuasca will also sometimes open the doors of spiritual perception. It’s not uncommon to experience oneself as far more than the small human character being played in this life, but rather, experiencing the eternal, expansive nature of soul. Spiritual knowledge is imparted or simply known. Merging with the infinite, gazing on the eternal Divine, or encountering other beings and spirit teachers is entirely possible.

Ultimately, this experience, in its most profound, exists beyond explanation. Words cannot contain it. Even the lessons and insights that are brought back are but a small fraction of the whole. The rest is ineffable, resting only in the heart and psyche.

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