Old Patterns

Dear Rachel, 

I listened your talk about ayahuasca and the after care. It's really intriguing. I found myself and others been to many ceremonies but after ceremonies still fall into the same pattern but didn't really address the deep deep issues. I feel like I misuse the medicine. Would you please help me with some clarity how can I use medicine in the most effective way to heal myself and help others.

thank you

Dear Quan

I appreciate your concern that you might not be making the best use of your medicine experience, getting to the deep deep issues.

One of the reasons I wrote Listening to Ayahuasca was to help people work with their ayahuasca experiences, giving lots of therapeutic examples from my own life as well as from people I've worked with. So my first suggestion is, read the book - it will give you much more information than a podcast interview. 

Check out Spontaneous Visionary Experiences in this section of website. I give lots of suggestions for how to work with visionary experiences. Same suggestions would apply to ayahuasca visions and give you creative opportunities to express, expand, and share your experiences.

Lastly, consider finding a therapist and I know how difficult this can be in terms of time and money as well as finding one with entheogen experience. But there's no substitute for on-going psychotherapy with periodic ayahuasca ceremonies. That's a very powerful healing combination. 

I hope these suggestions are helpful.

Spontaneous Visionary Experiences

I want to share a recent conversation I had with a friend. She went to a Native American retreat in North Dakota and during that week she had a visionary experience - no drugs. She had climbed up to a plateau where historically the Native Americans had held the Sun Dance ritual. All of a sudden a fountain of light appeared arising from the center of the plateau. She watched it for a few minutes. I asked her about the color and she said, "Red." 

This happened about twelve years ago but her description felt like it was very recent. This is often true of such experiences - they stay alive within us. I asked her what the retreat leaders said when she described this and she said that the leaders just said, "Oh, wow." I was glad they at least acknowledged her experience. But there are ways we can work with such extraordinary experiences:

She could intend to dream about it - enter into the vision as she's falling asleep. Same for meditation. 
She could draw it with oil pastels and meditate on her drawing and take that image back into her inner experience. This allows for movement between inner and outer worlds. 
She could write a poem about it or journal about her vision. 
She could engage in a dialogue with the fountain of light, giving the fountain a voice. See Jung on active imagination. 
She could express gratitude for the experience and ask for guidance about the message. 
She could bring the vision into her body so the fountain rises up through her inner space all the way through the top of her head. And then allow any spontaneous movement that wants to happen. 

When we work with these kinds of experiences in expressive and therapeutic ways, we are integrating the energy into our systems. We may not always have an interpretation and we don't always need one. We can simply trust our process of being with such numinous experiences.


" It was great to hear someone that was focused on the healing effects/aftermath of taking ayahuasca. I have never done it, but am seriously considering it. I traveled throughout South America a few years back but found that I wasn't ready during that stage of my life to focus so deeply inwardly. I've recently started focusing on my own healing journey and I think ayahuasca would be a great addition when I am ready."

     Sarah Kreuz, artoftheunknownpodcast.com

Dear Sarah,

You give us a wonderful example of intuitively knowing when you're ready for an ayahuasca ceremony and when you're not. People often ask me, "Should I?" My usual response is, "Wait until you feel called." Some people start dreaming about Grandmother Ayahuasca or about actually being in a ceremony. Others respond to synchronous opportunities when they arise. There is no 'right' way. Just be sensitive to your own inner sense of when attending a ceremony seems like the right thing to do at the right time. Don't push yourself or do it because friends are going or feel that you 'should.' Trust your inner instincts.

Also, for whatever reasons, this medicine is not right for everyone and that doesn't imply any spiritual judgement. If your intuition tells you that this medicine is not your ally, don't do it. And  trust your decision; don't second-guess yourself. 

I understand these kinds of spiritual decisions are vague and mysterious. How do we know what direction to take? Or when? This is the classic question of discernment. I'm currently reading a book about the St. Ignatius process of discernment: "...good decision making is a combination of faith and reason. You trust your heart, as one Jesuit once said, but use your head, too."



Dealing with Depression

Dear Rachel,

The last time I was in a ceremony, I was still in the experience when everyone else had come down. The shaman left and people were falling asleep. I was sitting up trying to maintain my awareness but I began to worry that I'd never come down. I got more and more anxious and the whole night became about my anxiety.

– Still worried,

Dear Michael:

I want you to know that I have heard this story before, more than once. People metabolize the medicine at different rates and can be on different schedules during the same ceremony. Some have noticed that if they fast for a longer time before the ceremony, they're more likely to take off and land in sync with others.

The thought that I'll never come down, that this will last forever, that I'll go crazy is one of the most common fears with any psychedelic. Be prepared to reassure yourself: this too shall pass. I will come down.

Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” I know that may sound impossible to do in the moment but if you prepare ahead of time to ask this in any difficult situation, you'll be able to do it.

Ask Grandmother Ayahuasca or the plants or the shaman's lineage for help, support and protection.

Don't resist. Accept your fears. Welcome them—they're part of your wiring. This is probably not the first time you've experienced anxiety and this is not a good time to try to change this pattern. 

Resisting anxiety—“I don't want to feel this way. When will this end? Please stop!”—is like adding fuel to a fire. If you find yourself doing this, accept your resistance. Welcome your resistance. Be kind to yourself. This shift will interrupt the gr p of resisting what is.

In the same way, notice and accept any catastrophic thoughts which are usually about the future—“I'm going crazy. This will never end. My brain is fried.” Take a Vipassana approach and label your thoughts to create distance and objectivity. Right now, I am catastrophizing. Remember, you are not your thoughts. This will interrupt the grip of catastrophic thinking.

Embrace all of who you are in this moment. Talk to yourself as you would a frightened child. Be a calm, kind, loving parent to yourself. Tuck yourself into sleeping bag or whatever covers you have. Snuggle in. You don't need to heroically remain upright.

Anxiety can cascade, leading to more anxiety, leading to a panic attack. That's a different question and we can focus on that another time.

But the same techniques can be used in both situations. Breathe slowly, slowly. Distract yourself with thinking exercises that activate and engage a different part of your brain—Some people count by 7s. Others think of categories like types of dogs, sports teams, songs. Think of something you're looking forward to that will be soothing like a bubble bath, a massage, a run on the beach.

And remind yourself, this too shall pass.

A few days after the ceremony, when you feel calm and secure, reflect on the role anxiety plays in your life. How big an issue is this for you? Notice what things you say to yourself that increase your anxiety. Write them all down. Yes, ALL of them. Give yourself a week to keep adding to that list. After you feel the list is complete, read it over to yourself. Search for themes. Make a new list of three to five sentences that capture the major themes.

Then notice whenever your inner critic repeats these themes to you. Recognize them as one of your favorite categories. Develop a gallows humor about the inevitability of your inner critic. Think about the source of the theme—Did someone say this to you? In what situation?

Insights into the source of the theme or how I learned to give this particular message to myself opens up a great opportunity in psychotherapy. These kinds of questions will inevitably lead us back into our childhood and family of origin history. A good therapist can help us clear out this kind of early programming and make peace with our fears.