Lesson from Ayahuasca in the Amazon Jungle
Josh here. In January 2023 my wife and I traveled to the Colombian Amazon Jungle with a couple of our close friends to partake in a week-long healing medicine retreat. I thought I would share a couple of the main lessons here in a blog. I wont be discussing much about CBD or music festivals supplements in this one but what is written is all about healing and my intention is to highlight another way we can do it.
As some of you already know, I struggled with substance abuse throughout my 20's and into my 30's. When I wasn't getting high or intoxicated, I spent much of my time searching for solutions to help me break free from the various issues I found myself trapped in. These struggles are what led me to discover the holistic healing space and why Henotic exists.
At one of my worst points, I was severely addicted to heroin and was using it daily. I had overdosed a dozen times and was desperately searching for something to help when a friend told me about CBD. I tried it, and for me, it was the magic bullet. But I still had a long way to go. I continued searching for other modalities that could help me, and that is where this story begins.
Nature contains many tools which can be used for health and healing. The cannabis plant has become very popular over the last decade because of all its medicinal benefits, but beyond cannabis are other plants that are gaining recognition as highly beneficial therapeutics. Plant medicines like psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ayahuasca (DMT), peyote (mescaline) and various cactus species, and even a special toad excretion (bufo), are helping people overcome trauma, loss, addiction, depression, and more, in profound ways that modern western medicine hasn't been able to solve yet.
My recent journey was with the plant medicine ayahuasca, or Yagé, as it's called in the indigenous Cofán tradition. The Cofán lineage goes back thousands of years and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, traditions working with ayahuasca. To become a Taita (shaman) within the tribe, one must be born male and be the direct descendant of another Taita. No outsiders have ever been granted permission to serve their sacred medicine. The this particular Cofán tribe built a brand new retreat center (maloca) out in the Amazon Jungle, and this is where my friends, my wife, and I were heading.---------------------------------------------------
Ayahuasca retreats are typically held over multiple days that, on average, include 2-4 separate ayahuasca ceremonies. These are traditionally done at night in darkness, in a group, where all participants drink the medicine together. Music and singing are almost always a part of the experience, and the whole thing is led by one or more shamans, who work to keep the container a safe and healing environment.
The effects of this medicine are unlike any other, and it is commonly referred to as "Grandmother" and is considered the Master Plant Teacher. The two main ingredients used to make ayahuasca are the ayahuasca vine which contains an MAOI inhibitor, and the chacruna leaf which contains DMT. Both plants are native to the Amazon Jungle and don't do much on their own, but when combined and drunk, they produce an intense psychedelic trip that can last up to 8 hours.
While in the jungle, we did four separate ceremonies, drinking up to 4 cups in one night, and here is where I'll share a few of the lessons I learned. I should mention that during an ayahuasca experience, it is very common to get intense visions and "downloads" from the cosmos and beyond. These visions and downloads come through like water out of a fire hose, and during the experience, one does their best to grab onto the important stuff so that one might integrate them into their life later on.
This is some of what I learned.---------------------------------------------------
The first lesson I learned was in connecting to my body and the value of creating space to do it more.
On the second night, after my 2nd cup, I found myself feeling into my physical body like never before. My awareness went deep into all my muscles and tissues and all the places I had never paid much attention to. And a magical thing started to happen. My body started to open up and let go of stuff I didn't even know I was holding on to. Small knots and bound-up tendons slowly started to release as I gave my physical being my whole attention. 'When was the last time you were fully present with your body?' I thought. And in an instant, I understood the importance of creating that sacred space more often. (I believe this is why yoga is so popular, lol)
If you're like me, you've hardly ever been fully present with your physical body and get mad at it when it doesn't perform the way you want it to. Most of the time, we are stuck up in our heads, constantly thinking and worrying, and planning for things to come. But when I was on the medicine and fully present, I created a space where my body could feel safe and finally let go of what it needed to. My body, which is its own intelligence I realized, could trust me for the first time in a long time.
Now have I done yoga once since I got home? No. But I plan to :) The experience of witnessing my body in full awareness showed me what can happen when you create the safety within to let go, and that is a beautiful start. And in the mean time I've found a renewed connection to my meat suit thats deeper than ever before.
The second lesson I learned touches on humility and how important it truly is.
I have struggled with humility a lot in my life. Broken promises to myself and living out of integrity have more than once driven me into deep insecurity. And I don't know about you, but when I am insecure, humility is usually nowhere to be found. Not genuine humility, at least. I forget my place within nature and become the center of my own universe. No one can tell me anything, and my fate is up to me–which is not a great way to live.
Ayahuasca is unique in the way it reminds you of your place within reality. I mentioned above that it's referred to as "Grandmother." From what I've gathered so far, it gets this name because of the way it seems to support you through the experiences. While in the medicine, there is a strong sense of connection to the Divine, Nature, and the plant itself. This felt connection is what guides, or even holds you, through the most challenging moments, just like a good grandma would do. Hence the nickname.
It's through the most challenging experiences that I have found the most humility. But in Colombia, I recognized another side to the medicine I hadn't seen before. Beyond the difficult mental experiences that can happen, the physical effects of ayahuasca can feel like being drunk and having the flu simultaneously. It's hard to walk, vision can get blurry, and throwing up (purging) or using the bathroom multiple times in a ceremony is very common. What this combination equates to for me is a recognition of my vulnerability and the importance of being present in my actions.
You simply can't move fast on ayahuasca. It forces you to slow down, allowing for the space to think carefully and be mindful before taking an action. Taking a sip of water, smoking some tobacco (ayahuasca and tobacco are commonly used together in ceremony), or even sitting down on a log takes on a sort of sacred element. Before doing any of these things, I find myself asking permission to do so. To who or what doesn't matter, but in the act of asking permission, I slow down my reactive, autopilot self and gain a much greater appreciation for the moment.
Practicing being present and mindful of my actions before I act brings a richness to the most mundane of moments. Moments that otherwise mean absolutely nothing become important and considered. That is what ayahuasca showed me.
The third lesson I learned is one of purpose and meaning and the significance of my life (and your life) in our world.
When preparing to sit with ayahuasca, coming to the medicine with specific intentions you would like to work on is always recommended. Intentions can be things like seeking answers to big questions, healing from past traumas, dealing with addiction or mental illness, gaining clarity, or even receiving physical healing. Ultimately though, it's advised to go with the flow of the medicine. Ayahuasca has a way of giving what is needed whether we ask for it or not, but still, it's good to have goals in mind.
On the third night of the retreat after my second cup, I was sitting in my hammock, pen and journal in hand. I had written down all of my intentions on a notecard and was looking over it when I came to my intention of [figuring out my "why" and what the significance of my life was.] The second half of 2022 was one of the most challenging times of my life. I was in and out of some pretty bad depression and dealt with a lot of pain and sadness leading up to 2023. If you have ever been depressed, you know it can take you to some dark places where one's own life can almost seem like a nuisance. I experienced quite a bit of that, and I wanted to know why my life actually mattered.
What came through as I sat in my hammock was so simple yet so profound. "I am here to assist the light in overcoming the darkness of the world. By simply existing as Josh, I am fulfilling my unique purpose here on earth." Talk about a weight being lifted. I AM ENOUGH BY SIMPLY WALKING MY OWN PATH. And you are too, and so is everyone else. Yes, it's still our duty to feed the light and starve the darkness and do our best to do what's right. But what I understood showed me that I don't have to worry about becoming significant; I am significant, just the way I am.
Not everyone is here to perpetuate good. But I am. And this was the gnosis I was looking for.
If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read this. This trip to the jungle was the second of many encounters I plan to have with Mother Aya, as I feel a deep calling to her and to the holistic healing space as a whole. The lessons and insights available from this sacred medicine and others like it are true and real and should be approached with careful reverence. They are not for everyone.
To recap the lessons I talked about here:
- Make time for stillness within your physical being. Recognize your body as its own intelligence and create the space for it to trust, open up, and let go of what no longer serves. Stretch it out!
- Humility is everything. Slow down, ask permission, and move forward mindfully in all things, big and small.
- You are enough by simply walking your own unique path, but remember to feed the light because not everyone does.
So much love and gratitude to you all.
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Henotic Hemp (now Henotic) is a Michigan CBD supplement brand made for those who value health, healing, and having a great time. Our formulas are specially designed to support and enhance the music festival experience, along with the day-to-day hustle of full-potential living.