Questions someone asked me relating to ayahuasca.
Responses are from Peter Gorman—August 20, 2014
1. There are a lot of Ayahuasca retreat centers in Peru now popping up with a strong online presence. What should readers be looking for in a retreat center when researching online?
I think your best bet as a newcomer to ayahuasca in Peru, particularly if you are going to choose a retreat based on looking at their websites, is to contact the center and ask for maybe 10 contacts—email or phone—of prior guests. Then contact those guests and find out what their experiences were like at the retreat.
I also think people should take note of the places that hold ceremonies for 30 people rather than a max of 10. That’s a personal choice, of course, but I’ve met many people who said that being part of a large group was disappointing and that they would have preferred a smaller group. So find out before you sign up.
2. Would you advise for readers interested in Ayahuasca to come to Peru without making plans, and just follow their intuition?
If someone has several weeks, I think it’s a good thing to go without too much planning. But I wouldn’t recommend going on immediate tuition or they’re liable to wind up drinking sludge with their motokar’s driver’s uncle. Rather, if you have the time, find people who have had ayahuasca and talk to them about their experiences with different curanderos, settings and such and once you’ve collected information from a couple of dozen people, then let your informed intuition kick in and go with that.
I have to add that at a lot of lodges you have to pay full freight before starting. If you quit, you lose your money. That’s understandable because the lodge owner has a lot of people he/she’s committed to paying, projects that need funding and so forth.
But you can sometimes get around that partially. If you’re dreaming of a three-week stay, see if you can pay for one week, commit to one week, and then, if you choose, you’ll commit for more time afterward.
On the other hand, if you wind up with a curandero who does not have a lodge run by gringos, or a curandero who works out of his home or his own ceremonial space, do not pay for a week or two weeks’ of ceremony ahead of time. Not everyone in that part of the world understands a Westerner’s idea of a contract. If, for instance, you give a local $1,000 for two weeks worth of ceremony and he loses the money that night, his contract with you is over. He owes you nothing once the money is gone, no matter how it is gone. In those cases it’s better to pay for three ceremonies, maybe $150, and then pay for the next three after you’ve done the first three.
3. There are some out there who posit that curanderos and icaros are not necessary for drinking Ayahuasca, what are your thoughts on this?
Ayahuasca will work on you whether you have a curandero around or not. Butttt….a curandero will coax much more of the medicine’s spirit out of her than the average person can. That’s one: The medicine has to give up her chemicals when cooked, but the chemicals have very little, in the long run, with the spirit of the medicine. And a curandero who had a good relationship with the spirit of the medicine will do a considerably better job at getting the spirit to dance than a non-curandero will.
Two: A good curandero, when singing his/her icaros, sees where each of the people taking the medicine are. He or she can see someone stuck in circular thinking and pull them out of it. He can see someone indulging in pointless thinking and re-center them with his/her shacapa (bundle-leaf rattle) and icaros.
Three: A good curandero is firstly a healer. Some heal with hands on, some are hands off, but all the good ones can see if someone needs some particular attention to a problem and then work on that. You miss that kind of healing when you are on your own.
So you don’t have to have a curandero during ayahuasca ceremony, but a good curandero will certainly bring a great deal to the ceremony that can add to it immensely.
4. What are you thoughts in drinking Ayahuasca in other countries, away from the Amazonian jungle?
It is far too late to put the genie back in the bottle, and far too few people can afford a trip to the Amazon. Moreover, if everyone who wanted to drink ayahuasca came to Peru the country would stop being Peru and the jungle would disappear with all the tree cutting necessary to make a thousand new centers.
So while I love doing the ceremony in the jungle, I have learned to love doing it anywhere there is privacy, nature and a good curandero around. Lots of curanderos travel the world on tours these days, and then there are hundreds of US and European people who have learned enough to hold good ceremonies and hold good space. Drinking ayahuasca with a good curandero in a quiet back yard in Texas or California with a good curandero might not be traditional but it certainly would be better than drinking ayahuasca with a phony curandero in Peru.
5. Other there any particular 'dangers' about Ayahuasca readers should be aware about?
There are a couple of physical dangers due to blood pressure issues. Don’t drink ayahuasca if you are on any SSRI medications. These are mostly mood elevators, but SSRI’s are found in other drugs as well, so check with your doctor to see if what you are taking has an SSRI component.
Then remember not to eat nuts or any cheeses—other than fresh farmer type cheeses—for a couple of days prior to ceremony. Again, possible problems related to spiking blood pressure.
There is also the issue of not eating after noon the day you are going to drink ayahuasca. In most instances, a light meal and then a fast—with even water restricted to just enough to get you through (suffering from dehydration while in ceremony is not going to get you extra points; neither is a stomach full of orange juice)—will let your stomach clean out and finish digesting before an 8 or 9 PM ceremony start.
The reason for that is because ayahuasca is going to afford you the change to eliminate—through vomiting—some of the bile of your life, some of the pain you carry around needlessly, or some of the guilt you no longer have use for. If you eat Chinese food or three apples an hour before ayahuasca you will squander that chance and simply vomit apples or Chinese food. Hell, you can do that any time. You can’t eliminate long-buried pain just any time. So make the most of your ayahuasca stomach cleansing.
One other danger people should be aware of is that drinking alone, particularly for the uninitiated, can be very disorienting. What if you wound up on your back and began to vomit? If you are alone and disoriented you risk choking to death. Or if you fall on the way to the bathroom because your legs don’t work properly and maybe get a bad cut. My recommendation is that you always have a sitter with you at least, so that should something go wrong, there is someone there not under the influence who can handle the emergency.