My ayahuasca trip: Shit happens

This is an intimate, personal account, unlike my other posts. I’ve thought for a long time about whether and how to share it with you. I decided I had to try.

165859_10150825227221583_770700131_nPicture yourself in a large, dark circular chamber, sleeping bags and cushions arranged all around the perimeter of the room, with an interesting looking (often long-haired, colourfully dressed) man or woman seated on each of them. About 25 in all. There’s a fire crackling in the middle of the room, its smoke rising to a chimney hole in the shadows high above. The shaman sits on a stool behind a little table, covered by fabrics and totems of various sorts, somewhere behind the fire. There are candles here and the-cuplthere, but the chamber is mostly dark. An assistant, sitting next to the shaman, prepares the brew, stirring a large flask of brown liquid. The shaman pours a certain amount in a cup, then beckons the next person to come and drink.

One by one, each of us goes forward and sits down on a small stool just in front of the shaman’s table. Now it’s my turn. The silence rushes in. I can barely see the man’s face, shamangivesbut I sense his smile, the twinkle in his eye as he looks directly at me. He hands me an earthenware mug, and I drink the nasty tasting liquid in two gulps. I thank him by touching his hand. Then I sit back down, and the next person takes my place.

By the time the last person is done, the ones who went first are beginning to make noises. Little sighs, or gasps, perhaps a low chuckle…or a fart.  The person I came with (I’ll just say “my companion”) is on the sleeping bag next to mine. Nobody is going home tonight. We will lie down and sleep when the time comes. For now, we look at each other and raise our hands in a “cheers” gesture, smiling. Happy landing.

The wave of sounds makes its way around the chamber until — I feel the changes starting to happen in my own body and in the implicit motion and blending edges that begin to distort my field of vision. It’s been about 40 minutes since my drink. I’m excited, hugely intrigued, and terrified.

Then everything starts to change very rapidly: my perception, my thinking process, and my bodily awareness. The patterns on the prints on the far wall start to extend out into the room. Soon it’s difficult to tell which lines and whorls ayapatternsare painted on fabric and which are insinuating themselves in the air all around me. Tiny noises are magnified; sounds ricochet through an echo chamber.

Magic rushes in from all sides. Visual perception becomes vastly distorted: space fills with interlocking mosaics, people’s faces mutate, shifting identities, growing halos. The candle beams are fiber optic cables fraying like cotton scorched by flame. And so on and so on. I’ve tried to put the psychedelic experience into words several times. See my “Memoirs” for example. It’s not easy, but you can find many attempts at such descriptions on the net. So let’s cut to the chase.

This stuff is coming on very much like LSD. But it’s stronger. It’s happening too fast. I am overwhelmed. I wish I could turn the volume down but it keeps going up. The visual hallucinations are now so thick that I can barely see what’s actual. The wall is an arbitrary layer in a thicket of planes. As to the doors, I simply can’t find them.

This becomes a real problem when I have to go to the toilet. I’m now lying on the floor, on my side, and I can’t get up. I have no sense of balance. And I have to shit. And suddenly I realize that the urgency of the shitting, about which I’ve been warned, is right here, right now, and I have no clue what to do about it. I can’t ask for help, because I can’t find anyone in this fog of patterns. And I don’t think I can speak. I know I can’t stand up. And I don’t know which direction to crawl in.

So here comes the shit. It’s relentless, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Now I’m lying on the floor, somewhere, and there’s shit in my pants. I can’t figure out how much shit, but it feels like a giant mound. I imagine it has already covered the sleeping bag of one of my neighbours, though this turned out not to be true. There’s a very clear voice in my head. It’s my voice, and it’s remarkably sharp, considering my predicament. The voice says: this is an engineering problem. I have all this shit in my pants and I can’t get up or move.

I found out later that I had lain on the floor saying “oh fuck, oh fuck” several times a minute. For several hours! But what I experienced subjectively was different. I experienced PURE HELPLESSNESS. Yet there was a calmness in it. This helplessness was the ground floor of an architecture I’d lived in all my life. I can’t give you a clearer sense of what I mean except by repeating these words: paralyzed, shit, can’t see, can’t walk, can’t ask for help…and then I started getting cold. Really really cold. But there was nothing I could do about that either, since any movement (e.g., creeping toward the fire) had become much too challenging.

We were all instructed not to interfere with each other’s “trips” unless we deemed that someone was in great distress or in actual danger. (And in those cases, the assistants always seemed to get there quickly.) It was thought best to let people go through their suffering and learn what they needed to learn from it — without interruption. So, for three or four hours, I lay there and considered what pure helplessness was like. I had not experienced it since (presumably) my infancy. There was a lot to catch up on. I felt the helplessness through every part of my body and mind. I prodded it from every mental angle. I thought about it. I felt it. And I remembered it.

We know (intellectually) that we come from helplessness in infancy and return to it in old age or on our death-beds if we don’t live that long. But how can we actually live with that knowledge? How can we just be here, knowing that we could lose everything at any time? And someday we will? How can we endure this condition? And then…what other condition is there? With the plant soothing and guiding me at the deepest level, I experienced (vividly, like I was there) what it was like for my ancestors, tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago, to not be able to get warm. To be freezing cold, with no fire anywhere. I felt the ultimate fragility of all animate beings. I experienced helplessness as pure reality.

cryingbabyAnd I kept asking myself, and asking the plant who seemed a living presence, who could endure this? And the answer came when I listened to my breathing and asked (as I often still do in meditation) who is doing this breathing? This body. That’s who.

I remembered what it was like to be a small child and depend entirely on someone else to help me out of problems I could not solve. And with that came the most brutal and most enlightening realization: tonight, every time I considered calling out for help, I stopped myself, because I didn’t want to bother anyone, and because I was ashamed. I boardingschoolheard my voice coil into these self-effacing, euphemistic pleas: if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…if you wouldn’t mind… In fact I could not imagine that someone (like a parent) might just want to help me. I could not trust.

Which neatly explained the two years of bullying and despair I’d forced myself to endure at boarding school as a teenager (before I got seriously into drugs). I could have asked my parents to get me the hell out of there. But I didn’t. Now, for the first time, I understood why.

All these insights came with a kind of intense grace or beauty despite their awfulness. The ayahuasca was unsparing, determined, but also somehow generous and loving, like a planetary caregiver.

Help came, finally, when the hallucinations abated enough for me to recognize familiar faces. Like the face of my companion and the shaman — both looking concerned. I called to them. They hoisted me up, gently, pretty much carried me to the washroom, and hosed me down in the shower. There was no warm water. I was colder than I’d ever imagined being. But they got me clean. And I had brought clean clothes. They helped me stagger back to my spot, and before too long I was almost okay. I lay down on my sleeping bag and, once the whispers faded, finally slept.

That recognition of pure helplessness hasn’t gone away completely, and it’s been a few years now. Sometimes it’s distant, sometimes (for example when meditating), it’s right there, a cosmic slap in the face. And at each of these times, during each of these replays of that first dreadful realization, I understand something about myself I’d never understood before that night. Even after ten years of twice-a-week psychotherapy in my thirties. I understand that (until quite recently) I have lived my life in denial of my helplessness — and in denial of the lack of trust that makes it so sad. My thinking skills, my determination, my obsessiveness, my drive to succeed (20+ years as a professor is no picnic) — all were weapons against helplessness. In the service of self-control.

And so was my drug-taking — because drugs are a way to deny helplessness. Drugs allow you to change things, to change how you feel. Drugs were a way to take control of my mood — my anxiety, depression, shame, fear…to vanquish them. If only for a while.

My conclusion is simple: Can taking psychedelics help us understand our addictions? Yes, but it might not be an easy ride.

img_4955My four subsequent ayahuasca trips (three in South America) weren’t nearly as difficult as that first one. And I was able to make it to the toilet each time — though sometimes at a run. Why did I ever take it again? Because I wanted to experience other facets of this strange substance and the tradition it came from. And I did. I experienced cohesion, love for those around me, beauty so intense that it made me cry, and something else I’d never felt before: pure, unfettered gratitude, gushing outward into the universe. Gratitude for something I can’t explain. I mention this because I don’t want to loonleave you with the impression that psychedelics can only be valuable for the pain they release. They can also be valuable for connecting us with the goodness inside and outside ourselves.

That might be another important way to help people move beyond their addictions. But more on that another time.

 

27 thoughts on “My ayahuasca trip: Shit happens

  1. Jasmine September 22, 2016 at 4:16 am #

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for your honest account of your sh–ng…I mean sharing! As always, I really appreciate your posts, though I’m wanting to know a bit more about the before parts. That is: where, why, what brought you to this particular ‘place,’ and what were you seeking/exploring in doing so.

    Sounds like you’ve found some positive clarity,
    Jasmine 🙂

    • Terry September 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

      the idea of using psychedelics is not new and aligns with AA’s ideas of a spiritual experience – few experience it as Bill Wilson described his and psychedelics seem to be a possible way of fast tracking this element of change which seems to be essential to cement change. Duhigg describes belief (faith, not necessarily in a god) as being needed in order to change habits and that also aligns with a spiritual experience. it is so very interesting that aside from neurobiology, spirituality has such a big part to play in both drug use and so called recovery. is it no coincidence they call the strongest alcohol “spirits”?

      • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:20 am #

        Yes, spirituality often comes up, and I have no problem with that term. For the groups in S. America who’ve been using ayahuasca for centuries, at least, the idea of “treatment” seems to be deeply connected to the idea of spiritual guidance and unity.

        There were times in my trips in S. America when I felt very much connected to the “spririt world”….though I couldn’t actually conceptualize it. Often the plant itself feels like a spirit (and it is understood that way by the shaman). Also, the gratitude I felt was directed toward the plant, for helping me, for allowing me to experience love and beauty. It felt very personal.

        As to AA….well Bill Wilson was open-minded about psychedelics, but I don’t think most current groups are — not even close. They generally have no conception of the difference between an addictive drug or behaviour and an agent of self-realization.

        • Terry September 25, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

          Yes – I agree re AA – in a way AA addicts do not understand what it is they do in “recovery” but accept a blind faith in a god, who, and this is my personal issue with this notion, a God who in being all powerful is never acknowledged as having any part to play in the downfall. A rejection of willpower as a means to change only denies faith in the power of the self to change direction. I had a spiritual experience most times I got smashed, just couldn’t keep a hold of it for any period of time and by morning was back to searching again. my interest is in any lasting effects of psychedelics. are they capable of enabling a spontaneous remission that is lasting. of course many use drugs just to get smashed and have no interest in anything other than losing inhibitions so they can avoid having to be constrained by their morals for a period of time.

    • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:12 am #

      Hi Jasmine. I can’t get into the details in public, because some of these networks are shadowy and their legality is questionable. In some countries and some conditions, it’s all legal. In others, not.

      What was I seeking? Self-awareness, self-knowledge, a more sure-footed connection between my self and my world, truth, understanding…you know, all that stuff.

  2. Annette September 22, 2016 at 4:59 am #

    Marc, you’re a braver man than I am. And to repeat the experience – whoooooh.

    I simply could not do this, but I do sit with all the painful feelings that keep coming up 9 months after quitting alcohol after a 43 career with it. Or is it in it? 😉

    I recall being bullied before I hit the booze in my teens too. It’s OK, because it made me dig deep and not want to conform – and I never did. Yaaay me! The bitches who did it all ended up pregnant in their late teens: karma 🙂

    Your friend and the shaman helping hose you down reminds me of helping my twin brother to the toilet, three days before he died of cancer. It was a very loving act – not as culture would acknowledge – but one of deep caring. And he was past caring about ‘dignity’ then.

    I think I’ll stick to helping other alcoholics recover, and encouraging those who feel that there simply is NO hope. There ALWAYS is, and the Universe is beautiful when we open ourselves up to our helplessness and vulnerability.

    Coming out of addiction is like coming up for air – a pilgrimage to the very essence of self.

    Take care

    Annette

    • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:25 am #

      Thanks for sharing this, Annette. Yes, it felt brave, perhaps foolish, but I’ve always been a risk-taker. Yet when others ask me about ayahuasca, I advise caution and reflection. It may be one way to see the bigger picture, but there are other ways that aren’t so…the word “brutal” comes to mind.

      I’m glad your bullies got their due. I kind of hate bullies, as a general rule. As for you and your coming up for air….welcome to the wide-open spaces. Sometimes they feel excessively wide and open, but that’s better than living in a cage.

  3. Lew September 22, 2016 at 7:43 am #

    Marc, your description of that experience is so detailed and graphic that I found myself almost feeling and experiencing every word as I read it. I have had many LSD trips in my teen years some pleasant and some turning into absolute nightmares with the feelings of utter helplessness and fear similar to your experience. “Thanks for sharing.” The words bouncing around in my head right now are, “Don’t try this at home.” When I think of the crazy dangerous things I bought off the streets and ingested or injected into my body it scars me today. I am just glad that I lived long enough to see how stupid I was as a teenager. I do thank you for sharing your memories. Now I will spend my day remembering my own experiences decades ago…

    • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:31 am #

      For sure, don’t try this at home. But given that we’ve both spent our youth doing “crazy dangerous things”, I’d always put psychedelics in a really different category than other drugs…especially highly addictive ones…and then especially especially shooting them.

      Psychedelics can teach us, bring pleasure, scare us, and help us break out of habits…all that…but I’ve never known them to be addictive. And in the case of ayahuasca, no one in their right mind would call it a fun drug.

  4. Gary September 22, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Hi Marc…
    Thanks for being courageous enough to share your story it resonated on a deep level with me.

    I have to admit, personally, I’ve never had a “bad-trip” on LSD. Also I never ever felt addicted to LSD. Perhaps because of my “far-out” experiences using LSD I wondered if it might be difficult to stop, it wasn’t! There were, experiences of dimensions’ that seemed so unreal and that continually kept dissolving into a kind of “Nothingness”. This “No-thingness” reminded me of the who of who “I” am. The “somethingness” or the “Me” was in the way of seeing and/or knowing. “I” was afraid of being nothing or “No-thing” but realized in the nothingness of the whole universe houses every single thing that exists. To know is to let-go and to let-go is to know. My “trips” allowed me to “Escape”, ultimately, from everything freedom even from my own conditioned mind. In my opinion, most people suffer from low-grade depression and/or anxiety in order just to exist or survive in this world. Many self-medicate using elicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, spending money, chasing money, watching porn, sex, work, technological devices etc…, just to cope. In nature, which is who we are, there is a cure for this “Dis-Ease” which is not synthetic. However, most drugs in society today are simply a way for many drug companies to make more and more money. A really good news story is about a man called Rick Simpson from Nova Scotia Canada called; “Run From The Cure”…you can check it out on U-Tube.

    • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:37 am #

      I think you’ve covered everything, Gary 🙂 As for the concern about not-being, it’s of course a very deep issue and central in Buddhism. I like the way scholars Varela and Thompson put it: if we are full of self, then there is no room for anything else to come in. If we are empty, or at least (my view) in a process of temporary self states….a sequence of illusions of the centrality of oneself…then there’s room for the universe to be perceived and experienced, or at least to get through the cracks (Leonard Cohen).

  5. Denise September 22, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Marc, Fascinating stuff… both the ayahuasca and your report of your experience with it. I’ve briefly considered going to an ayahuasca retreat myself but as someone who’s always been kind of scared of psychedelics I nixed the idea. (I did have a handful of trips on various hallucinogens back in the day.) Me, I’ve always been drawn to the drugs that are pretty much the opposite of ayahuasca, mainly opiates and other tranquilizers. You know, the ones that make you feel warm, calm and numb. But I can totally see the draw in taking something that can cut away all the shit and leave one with no mental or physical boundaries, and through this, in some oblique way, leave one feeling happier and more secure, knowing their existence is in total agreement with the nature of the universe or Life.

    One question did come up for me regarding what you said about trust. Many of us who are addicts, as well as people who are not, have difficulty trusting. And then there are people who can trust. I believe that when we are infants and in a true state of helplessness, totally reliant on the people around us, usually our parents, how those people respond to us determines how trusting we turn out to be as we grow and develop. Many of us had people who were not very responsive.

    As a parent to my developmentally disabled son, who is now 22, I was always so conscious of responding (to the extent I was able) to his every need. And I see it in him, in fact I so often think “He trusts me so implicitly.” Perhaps this is a feature of his intellectual limitations, but I like to think it had something to do with having parents who were always there for him.

    Anyway thanks for this, and I look forward to your ideas about the use of ayahuasca in treating addictions.

    • Marc September 22, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      Hi Denise. I do agree with you that we LEARN to trust…and a lot of this does indeed have to do with our parenting. I’m hesitant to point a finger at either of my parents, but my mother did suffer with depression, which resulted in some pretty volatile moods…at times in her life as a young woman. Sometimes, my parents just didn’t get it. But then I was a pretty complicated kid.

      I see my hesitation to trust (some people in some circumstances) as an interaction between my intrinsic gullibility (I often trusted way too much in grade school) and some of the losses and hurts I’ve lived through. In fact, overall, I still tend to trust people on sight and I’m still pretty gullible. But the aya experience tapped a different layer. This wasn’t about whether to take a ride in a car or watch a movie. This was about asking to be rescued from what felt like something utterly overwhelming.

      The fact that your kid trusts you implicitly sounds positive in every possible way.

  6. Peter Sheath September 22, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Marc that was amazing. It brought me to tears, I’ve experienced many similar moments of feeling profoundly helpless both in recovery and many years ago whilst using acid. I think I’ve said it to you before I just don’t think my head could handle ayahuasca or indeed any psychedelics these days but what you describe sounds beautiful healing, cathartic and, in many ways, completing. I love the almost evolutionary part where you talk about feeling the helplessness of our ancestors because I believe a lot of the time it’s these transgenerational things, that we are completely oblivious to, that have so much of an impact in the here and now.
    Thank you for sharing and thank you for your candour.

    • Marc September 22, 2016 at 10:58 am #

      Peter, it was indeed cathartic. It resolved issues that had always confused me, but it went further. It gave me a leg-up on how to live with the massive vulnerability that we can’t escape as human beings. Part of this was this completely elusive paradox: how to expend effort to thrive and to have an impact on the world, without having to deny how tiny and weak we are.

      And it continues to guide me when I simply can’t get the world to cooperate with my wishes! (which happens a fair bit)

      No final answers, obviously, but a few grains of wisdom that I might not have found otherwise.

      And I think I mentioned: I’m not likely to ever take this stuff again. Meditation may be slow plodding, but it doesn’t hurl you against the wall and then let you reflect on the pieces.

  7. Janice September 22, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Marc,
    Thank you. The most significant thread I stitch together from your share is this:

    How do we, for ourselves and the people we serve, recognize and integrate the deep survival paradox of our inherent aloneness AND connection? How do we come to know that basic truth, as you state, as a source of our goodness and valuable for connecting us inside and outside ourselves?

    I see the answer to these questions in recovery and healing (for all humans, addicted or not) through relationship. The helplessness of the survival response is met in relationship. Or not, as is true for so many folks who lived through early childhood adverse experiences. Thankfully, those ruptures and losses can be repaired in adulthood. As one of my teachers quotes: “no one can do it for you, and no one does it alone”.

    Thanks again for your insightful and intelligent shares.

    • Marc September 23, 2016 at 4:44 am #

      Very nicely put, Janice. I agree: relationships aren’t just hobbies or transactions for meeting needs. They’re everything. We are certainly born in relationship…and in many ways we are never out of them. We could not survive alone.

      Yet some people FEEL alone — their relationships are hidden, or abstract, or mechanized and rigid….and that feeling is truly awful. Death itself only makes sense when we see ourselves passing the gauntlet to others.

  8. cheryl September 22, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    Bravo!

  9. BobbyG September 25, 2016 at 6:28 am #

    Hi Marc, thank you for your honesty with a truly shitty experience…that became a learning experience. During one of my high school LSD trips, I watched my parents’ faces melt in front of me. Not cool. The only thing I learned was: don’t take LSD anywhere near your parents, and get the hell out of the house…now.
    We say “never too old to learn”, but that experience was more like “too young to learn”!!
    As for my ayahuasca experience, as you know…nothing happened. People were doing that sufi twisting and turning, they were talking with their dead grandmothers, or chanting, or some shit, and puking and shitting, and me, Nothing happened. No physical evacuation, no visions or thoughts, no nothing. I was cold (it was winter) and my back hurt. Fabulous…until the light of a northern European morning.
    A rare non-experience, you said, something like that.
    What am I, a robot? Hah!!
    Best to you!!

    • Marc September 28, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      You’ve told me about your ayahuasca experience. Indeed that sounds like a completely unique reaction — viz, no reaction. Maybe you’re a robot, or else you’ve got a lot more than the average amount of DMT..already floating around in your brain. Tolerance? Do you hallucinate much?

      DMT is thought to be produced naturally in our bodies, in very tiny amounts. Nobody knows why. Some people speculate that its function is to open the gates when it’s our time to die.

      As for doing LSD in the presence of parents, I tried to avoid it whenever possible. The times it wasn’t possible were when they came to pick me up at the police station or jail…twice for being too high to converse, e.g., with police officers. But that’s a long story.

  10. Margot Tesch September 26, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    Wow. This is likely the most powerful piece of writing of yours I’ve ever read. (It competes with the moment when you realised you could so ‘no’ permanently to drugs in MOAIB.) I was gripped from the moment I started reading. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the page. It moved me deeply. I want to go away and think about … meditate … on some of your revelations, that we are truly, really completely helpless.
    Such a journey is not for the feint hearted and I admire your courage for doing it in the first place and then sharing so openly. I can’t help but wonder where you will take us next in your blogging journey!?!?!?!

    • Marc September 27, 2016 at 2:58 am #

      Hi Margot. I wonder too. I really appreciate the good vibes about my writing and your encouragement of my choice to reveal stuff that’s hard to reveal.

      As for helplessness, it feels like….like you’ve been holding yourself up somehow, straining all your muscles for so long that it’s become unconscious, and you’ve fallen part way down, perhaps many times, and each time your muscles tighten or adjust so that you don’t keep falling, and finally something gives and all your muscles release and then you’re on the ground. Just lying there. And you’re still alive, but there’s nothing more you have to do. And it’s rather surprising to find that you’re still breathing in and out..you’re still…here. In fact you still have some kind of strength.

  11. matt September 27, 2016 at 8:22 am #

    Thanks Marc

    Compelling. Beautiful. Real.

    Drugs are tools. They are tools with which we can manipulate the architecture of our mind, our inner world. Just like a hammer can be used skillfully to build the frame of a beautiful home, it can also be used to demolish it, piece by piece. When drugs are used therapeutically and ceremonially, they can be of great benefit. When used as an escape and avoidance of reality, they can do harm.

    Psychedelics may be at the top of this hierarchy for helping people who are in great pain to experience revelations that otherwise might be psychically unavailable to them. But they should be used with intent and purpose and with an expert who understands the gravity and potential of the experience, so they can help be a guide through the experience, to get through the journey safely.

    This is my personal opinion, unproven by any rigorous studies or corroborating evidence. I don’t know that it could be measured, except by the result. The experience will be different for everyone. As far as benefits for addiction treatment, I think the experience bolsters two areas crucial to successful recovery. They are memory and imagination.

    When people recover from habitual drug use, it is important to remember how bad it was so that we can imagine what could potentially happen if we continue to use. The negative painful aspect of this is important to stop us in our tracks when an urge is overpowering. But recovery isn’t just prohibitive, about avoiding pain, about “not doing.” It is also about remembering why we are doing this. Why we want to change, and imagining what it will be like to be free of this, and what we will be able to do with our life with this new found wisdom and freedom. Both pain and potential are necessary for successful recovery, and both can be brought into stark relief by psychedelic drugs when used properly. They can be the wet fish in the face to get people to snap out of it, to understand, as in Buddhist philosophy, that this is all an illusion.

    • Marc September 28, 2016 at 8:49 am #

      Certainly it’s an illusion to imagine that we are in control of our lives and that our perception of reality is simply objective reality. And both these illusions are commonly dashed by the psychedelic experience. As far as memory, that’s an interesting issue.

      I think you’re right, that people often have “revelations” that were previously unavailable…and that can be very relevant to addiction. This can happen when we have suppressed or repressed feelings and interpretations that are too difficult to deal with…for example traumatic experiences (e.g., rape) or less extreme but still damaging experiences like loneliness or parental neglect in childhood or adolescence. (The experience I describe above might not be typical of this kind of buried memory, but…whatever) The anxiety and depression left in the wake of these experiences can erode our sense of belonging in the world or within our own skin, until we find a substance, a drug, that relieves these feelings. When psychedelics bring us face to face with these long-hidden demons, they provide a radical opportunity to deal with them consciously, take them out of the closet….which can indeed dissipate longstanding states of anxiety/depression. In that sense, psychedelics work much like psychotherapy works, at least in theory.

      But it can be a very rough ride. All that “insight,” often uninvited, unexpected…can be like a safe falling on your head, not just a face-slapping fish. Most people can get through these stormy passages intact…a few get seriously messed up…especially if there were already psychotic tendencies.

      So, I always advise people to proceed with caution…all the way to the front door. This often means having an experienced guide or friend….though ayahuasca calls for an additional level of expertise. But it’s also important, once we get to that door, to throw off the caution and proceed like a warrior.

      • matt September 28, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

        I might qualify that last exhortation to “bare our awareness and be ready for anything “… for those of us who like more concrete direction. 🙂

  12. Shelly Hollingshead September 27, 2016 at 9:52 am #

    I’d like to add a cautionary tale to Marc’s article. My cousin – a thoughtful, intelligent, curious 32 year old woman died while participating in a healing ceremony in Peru from ingesting a ‘purge’ tea. It was not ayahuasca but it has been known to be used as a cleansing tea prior to an ayuhuasca ceremony. The Centre Jennifer had been at was far from medical help and when she became ill soon after ingesting the tea the staff were not able to revive her. Her death is a profound loss to her family and friends – and to the world – as she was such a keen and engaged woman.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/jennifer-logan-dies-after-drinking-tobacco-purge-tea-in-peru-1.2945727

  13. Marcus October 16, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    I’ve tried that as well, believing at the time what I was told which was it would re-set my brain back to its “pre-addicted state.” Insanely incorrect & potentially dangerous false premise. I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get and stay clean & most were equally as bad as active addiction itself (neurophysiological adaptation).

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