When the shadow person first appears I am apprehensive. It keeps kneeling down in front of me, and I’m trying to push it away, what does it want? Then it comes around behind me and puts its hand on my shoulder, and I know that it means no harm, it was there to protect me.
This is my first time trying ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drug found in the jungles of Peru, used in healing ceremonies with shamans. I can tell this particular shaman is in it for the money; the ceremony, that was supposed to last several hours only lasted a little over an hour, the visions mainly consisted of shadow people guiding me through the ceremony, accompanied by an annoying buzzing sound over my head, and I was ill, which is common, vomiting and diarrhea is to be expected, but it just didn’t seem worth it. I couldn’t really blame him, a lot of foreigners that try out ayahuasca are not doing it for healing or spiritual purposes, but are curious or just want to trip. After the lights are abruptly turned on, I am still in a daze and very unsure about what I had just experienced.
My reasons for wanting to try ayahuasca were a mix of curiosity and a secret hope that it could help me with some uncertainties in my life. Having heard many positive stories, such as healing depression and curing addictions, I set out to try it again, this time, instead of going on a recommendation from one of our guides (not advised, they are often only doing this in hopes of getting a tip), I found a shaman online, that had references from previous visitors.
I arrive at the shaman’s massive house, and am guided to the room where the ceremony will take place. I wait anxiously, sometimes getting up to wander around, looking at the pictures of his daughter’s prom or jungle art; a jaguar in the shadows. Different members of his seemingly never ending family keep coming in and out, setting up the room. The shaman and the participants begin to arrive, there’s a mix of locals and foreigners, the shaman blends in, with his worn jeans and typical dad sweater. There’s a fellow Canadian, from Calgary, who guides me through the ceremony. She explains how after drinking the ayahuasca the shaman sings Icaros, which are songs for healing, communicating with the spirits and warding off evil ones, each guest is then brought to the shaman, where a personal Icaro is sung, if you request it can be focused on a particular problem you’re having, while he’s doing this he hits you continually with a chakapa, (looks like a grass duster) to ward off evil spirits.
After casual greetings we drink the ayahausca in turn, it had fermented, having been kept outside in the heat, so the vile concoction had a fizz to it. There’s light chit chat as we wait for the drug to take its affect.
I will try my best to describe what I experienced, but as anyone who’s tried hallucinogenic drugs know, it can be difficult to convey what’s witnessed. At first the shadow people make a reappearance, but this time they are less distinct, also there’s colour, something that was missing from my first experience. There are rows of people, as if they are standing alongside a river, and a couple at my side, offering me something. These shadow people don’t last for long, my vision evolves into something that is indescribable, I am lost in it, I no longer have any self reference, which was a little frightening, but I was aware that is was temporary. I begin seeing different patterns of colours and shapes, and when the shaman starts singing they begin to move along with the music, and I feel a deep happiness, I’m dancing to the music in my chair and looking all around me as my vision dances for me. Then I start thinking about different things that are weighing on my life, family issues, past relationships, lack of direction, fear of death, I am able to see each problem from a new perspective, and realize that in order to feel this deep happiness in my day to day life I have to resolve these things that were burdening me, I can no longer ignore them either, they need to be dealt with in their own way. I go through emotions of sadness, at one point tears are streaming down my face, relief and elation as I’m able to see these problems in a different light.
It comes time for me to have my personal icaro from the shaman, as I am guided to the table in front of him. This is actually quite difficult, since I am so lost in the vision I even have trouble seeing the room around me. I am sung an icaro, which I later learn is for temptation, addiction or protection. He asks several questions in Spanish, I giggle nervously, only understanding, “good?” “Yes, it was good.” After several hours the ceremony is over, no harsh light to end it, I am guided to the room they have provided for me, my head still reeling from the experience. I want to take advantage of this special insight, I begin thinking of everyone I know, analyzing who I am, my experiences and how they define me, but the drug is slowly fading, and it’s time for me to drift to sleep, with the stormy jungle rain pelting the roof.
I awake the next morning and make my way back to the hostel, reflecting on what I had been through; was it a life changing experience? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly not something that I’ll soon forget, and I’m grateful for the perspective it provided me. People travel from all over the world to the jungles of Peru, just to participate in these ceremonies, whether it’s a last ditch resort, they deeply believe in it’s healing powers, or they were curious and hopeful, just like me. If you are open to the experience it can truly be beneficial, everyone has something that is weighing on their lives, and the only way they can have true happiness is to free themselves from these burdens, because happiness comes from the inside, you’re never going to get it from anything or anyone, I know it sounds cliche, but hey, it’s cliche for a reason.