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Is an Ayahuasca retreat for me?

For many, the world feels insane right now and many are desperate to make sense of things, contextualize their narrative in something larger, or are just hoping for a silver bullet.

Indigenous psychedelic medicines are hitting mainstream with force, and not without reason. There are many benefits to mental and emotional health, supported by psychedelic medicines, being studied and proved by Johns Hopkins, MAPS, and other reputable universities and organizations. And many anecdotal reports of positive life changing experiences catalyzed by indigenous psychedelic medicines.

That said, these medicines are a tradition, ritual, and ceremony from what are now marginalized cultures and communities that taken out of their context has risk. To westerners, Ayahuasca is the sexy, en vogue ‘panacea.’ Psychedelic tourism, while purported beneficial, carries risk. Finding shamans of repute and integrity can be challenging. Ultimately, it is a culture best slowly ingratiated into rather than touristed. There is no hurry. And if you feel urgency around this, that is a recipe for concern.

That said, if you are going to be a psychedelic tourist, know you are stepping into and out of a powerful experience and your home life and culture may not have the support and resources to navigate your experience.

How to prepare for the trip (first let us examine this choice of language)

Do you want a trip or a journey? Anyone can trip, not everyone can journey. Both will be an experience. For these purposes, and this culture, a trip or tripping is an experience more akin to just getting the Instagram photo, or collecting bumper stickers from places you tourist, more superficial and somewhat consumer oriented; and when tripping you might land on your face. A journey is an educational experience, a meeting, one approached with some respect and humility for the culture you are visiting and practices you are seeking in which to participate.

From there, whether you are deciding on a trip or a journey—will determine the legitimacy of your retreat. Anyone can ‘take psychedelics’ not everyone learns or heals from them, often quite the opposite. If approached sincerely, coming to meet and know Ayahuasca could be a lifelong journey of deepening with self and community, and profound healing. Or it could just be an encounter you use to fill party conversations in the future.

The legitimacy of your shaman or guide, will likely reflect your due diligence and intentions moving forward. There is often a heavy vetting process before one can proceed with this work, this is a good sign. A supportive container for retreat will have preparation support, education, days in the retreat schedule for downtime before and after ceremonies.

There are reputable, accessible and interested indigenous tribe members who come from lineages where this work of medicine and ceremony has been in their family and tribe for centuries, offering ceremonies to the general public, and to tourists. And there are a wide variety of non-indigenous, white (perhaps American, former yoga teachers or musicians) persons offering an ayahuasca experience; there are also some non-indigenous individuals who have been taken in by the indigenous tribes and trained for years in their ways who serve as an integrous bridge between cultures. How you know if it is legit is a grey area. This is why moving slowly, doing your research, talking to people you know who have done this work, asking them what they wished they knew or had done differently would be a good place to start. Make it known to people and communities you know that you are interested in finding a reputable person. This work is still deeply underground, let it find you. And in the meantime do everything you can to best prepare yourself to meet it. Work with a therapist, clean your diet, the work starts prior to sitting with the shaman and lasts long after.

Once you have done your research and identified a trustworthy guide or shaman

It is wise to engage support from a licensed therapist with experience in working with individuals who explore psychedelic states, prior to engaging in your work. There are many who do both one on one and group work to support individuals integrating altered states and understanding insights, and making meaning of the experience. Do some foundational work before your journey, have someone support you in identifying your intentions, learn how to work with your mind and body, research the medicines and cultures prior to arrival. Having this support in place will set up a solid container for your experience. Having this in place for your return will deepen your journey and make it more respectful, potent, meaningful, and medicinal.

They say, “the ceremony begins the day you commit.” So set yourself up with someone to guide you through the dieta, preparatory phases of diet, so that your body is as detoxed as possible. This way, the purgative effects of the medicine will be minimal. Most dieta are minimal one week, prior to ceremony. Many find it helpful to take a month and slowly titrate the rich, dense, standard American foods out of their system in a tiered way so that it is not a shock to the body. Take just as long reintroducing them, if you choose to at all.

Do not go alone. If you can, bring a trusted friend who has also taken the same commitment to establishing a foundation of mental, physical and emotional health prior to the journey. Even better is a friend who has already done this work and can be a mentor or guide in some way.

How to have the best experience possible while you're there

There is no guarantee it will be a great experience. It will be confrontational at times, blissful at times. The way to have the best experience is to accept that, accept what arises as it arises, and greet it as a teacher. Get curious about how everything links to your intention. Ask each encounter, feeling, moment “what is this teaching me?” And to set yourself up in the larger picture of your life to have integration support leading into and out of this experience.

How to integrate afterward.

Landing back in your normal life after experiencing non-ordinary states can be jarring. And a whiplash like experience can be had, where it all feels like a dream and it begins to fade quickly. Resist the urge to immediately eat all the things that were restricted on dieta. Stay as subtly attuned as possible for as long as possible. Consider yourself an archeologist of yourself, take notes and pay attention. Moving slow is best with lots of down time. Keep a journal. Work with a licensed therapist. Pay attention to your dreams and synchronicities. Keep it precious. Avoid talking about it too much, to too many people, let the journey work on you, continue to reveal and unfurl. If you can, pad your schedule with free days after your journey where you can be with yourself.

There are many ways to initiate your journey towards health, healing, deeper knowing and understanding. Working with psychedelics may or may not be the right path for you. As a licensed clinician who has been in deep relationship with indigenous cultures and their medicine practices for the better part of 20 years, I can say, it is not for everyone. And it is not always the right time. That said, it is for some people, some of the time. Working with someone within your culture to support you in understanding your motives and intentions, to develop tools and supports is a powerful first step in your psychedelic journey. Reach out to explore if we might be a fit for your healing journey.

Ayahuasca retreat

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