Have no expectations. Whatever impressions you might have in your mind from other peoples' experiences, medicine inspired artwork, and your own imagination; your experience will not be what you are imagining it is going to be. Even if you have drank Ayahuasca many times before, completely new and different experiences are always awaiting. “Let go of your expectations” is one of the best pieces of advice that can be given before a ceremony. The medicine also likes to make us face our fears of the unknown and open our minds to new perspectives we would not have otherwise thought of; so the only thing you might genuinely be able to expect is that, whatever it is you are thinking is going to happen, is not what's going to happen.
Saying that, there are some common experiences which can be useful to know about before drinking, as some understanding of what could be happening can be helpful for navigating through difficult moments, and it can help you to feel more relaxed before and during the ceremony to have some idea of what this medicine is about. This article covers some of those good-to-know things, keeping in mind that it's always a surprise...
Ayahuasca ceremonies usually happen at night, as the absence of light allows for a clearer visual experience, in a ceremonial space called a 'maloka.' Often the ceremony lasts for around five hours, although in some traditions it continues until sunrise and can even go on long into the morning. In the Shipibo tradition, a Curandero (healer) will hold the ceremonial space by singing channelled songs, called icaros, from the plant. Icaros are sung throughout the duration of the ceremony for protection and healing, and each participant also receives a personal icaro and limpieza (cleaning) from the Curandero. Participants are not encouraged to interact with each other during the ceremony, but to remain in their own space and to focus on themselves and their own processes.
Effects of the Medicine
This is one of the biggest surprises for many people. After reading and watching dramatic accounts of life-changing experiences, it can be a shock to drink the medicine and find that nothing really happens. This is actually a very common experience. Sometimes it can take a few ceremonies to really connect with the plant; sometimes the Curandero may keep you 'down' whilst they clean you energetically, so that you have a much more pleasant experience when you do feel it. Marijuana use can also cause some problems, and it may take one or two ceremonies for your Curandero to clear a space for the Ayahuasca to work (which is why it is recommended to stop using Marijuana for several weeks before the ceremony, sometimes the two plants just aren't compatible.) Some people also just do not feel anything from Ayahuasca. They may do several ceremonies and never really feel any effects. This doesn't mean that the Ayahuasca doesn't like you – the plant works differently with everyone. It may be that any other experience just wouldn't serve you right now, or that there is another plant or medicine you will better connect with. The plant is still working, even if it seems like nothing is happening, and you may find that you start to feel better, that something changes, or that symptoms disappear afterwards, without your conscious awareness of anything happening during the ceremony. If you do find yourself in a situation where it feels like nothing is going on, it can be useful to explore your emotions around this: it may be that the medicine is giving you an experience to bring up emotions of anger, frustration, impatience or unworthiness that were already there, to allow you to see, feel accept them; or perhaps it could be challenging a need to always be in control of your experiences and their outcomes. It can also be useful to notice whatever thoughts and feelings are arising for you as you sit there 'sober': you may find yourself thinking about and exploring incredibly relevant or important topics and issues, which could be a sign of the medicine working with you in a more subtle way. The more readily you are able to accept the experience for what it is, the easier of a time you are going to have with it. It is also very common that, if you are drinking soon after a very intense or profound ceremony, the following one may be very mild to allow your system some time to rest and integrate.
Most people, after drinking Ayahuasca, will experience some form of 'purge.' This is often through vomiting, and it is also common to purge by diarrhoea, involuntary body shakes and movements, crying, and yawning. Purging can bring with it a deep feeling of release on every level. During a purge, it is common to experience and even see old trauma, suppressed emotions, unhelpful thought patterns, illnesses and physical toxins leaving the body. Strong purges are often accompanied with a sense of freedom and relief. Whilst unpleasant, purging is an important part of the cleaning and healing process. Often, and especially with vomiting, people worry about if they have/haven't purged, or try to stop it from happening. It is best, and easiest, to relax over purging. The medicine knows what it is doing and your purge will come when the plant is ready. Surrendering to the process will result in a much smoother, more enjoyable, and more liberating experience.
Ayahuasca can bring up suppressed trauma and emotions which may have been forgotten or that you were previously unaware of. This is so that they can be fully processed and released from your system. It is common for suppressed memories and deep-set fear, anger and other challenging emotions to arise very intensely: so strongly that you can no longer ignore that they are there. Whilst unpleasant, the medicine is giving you the opportunity to release these aspects of the past that you no longer need. A common obstacle we can encounter is that, when a challenging emotion does come up, we often resist it and try to push it away again. This results in a very unpleasant ceremony as we battle with the will of the medicine, which is only trying to help us. Accepting and feeling the emotions as they arise, however unpleasant, teaches us to accept life exactly as it is, and allows a smooth passageway for their release. It can be helpful to remember that your experience and your emotions are your own, even if it feels as if they are connected to something exterior. If you don't like the singing, or if someone in the ceremony is annoying you, those are your feelings of dislike and annoyance. Instead of trying to change them or push them away, sitting with them and accepting them as they are can have powerful and long-lasting effects. With this approach, it is possible to have a hugely productive ceremony, whereas resisting your feelings and trying to stop them can result in a long and torturous night.
Learning and Understanding
Ayahuasca likes to teach us things: things about ourselves, spiritual lessons... and all kinds of interesting, cosmic, and wonderful things These teachings are often delivered through challenges, journeys or sometimes in fun and amusing ways. Again, your ceremony is your own, and the way the plant works with you will be unique to your personality and your needs. The intelligence of the medicine can bring you understanding, learning or new perspectives, that can improve the quality and meaningfulness of your life, in the most appropriate way for you to receive it. There are no rules around what can happen, but being open to seeing things differently, and to learning and understanding new things, can certainly help to make the process smoother.
Connecting with spiritual entitites is another very common experience as Ayahuasca connects us to the spirit world and helps us to heal spiritually. It is possible to see spirits in the maloka, or to meet spirits in different dimensions. It is also common to experience communication with one or more spirtual being(s) through feelings of telepathy, hearing their voices, or through a sense of just knowing, without the visual aspect. You may experience a communication with Mother Ayahuasca, or with other plant spirits, ancestral spirits, animal spirits, deceased loved ones, or otherworldy entities. Part of the role of the Curandero is to ensure that the cermony space is spiritually protected, so that only those spirits who have come for your highest good and healing can enter, for your safety and wellbeing.
Colourful shapes and patterns, beautiful images and fully immersive visual expereinces in alternate realities are all common visual effects. Surrounding colours can become brighter and a visual perception of subtle energy is also possible. Whilst the visions are not essential for healing, and it is a also very common not to see visions, if you do get them, they can often contain messages or be a source of creativity and inspiration. It is said that many of the shapes and patterns contain information for the subconscious and can bring healing to the deeper parts of our minds.
The medicine encourages us to see beyond our limited everyday beliefs and to view things from new perspectives. It is possible to receive insights and perspectives on yourself, your life, your problems, and your spirituality, that you would never otherwise have thought of. It is also common to find deeper levels of understanding of your life path and purpose, and to receive creative insight and inspiration.
After the Ceremony
The medicine continues to work after the ceremony has finished, and you may experience further insight and understading in the following weeks or even months. As you return to your day-to-day life, you might feel greater levels of clarity, an improvement in your relationships with other people or with your life overall, greater focus, increased energy levels, and a sense of physical and energetic cleanliness. If you have released some very old or deep-set emotions, habits or trauma, it is also possible to feel a sense of spaciousness: that something is missing where that old thing used to be. This can feel strange to begin with, but be assured that you have created a space for new, more positive things to enter into. It is advisable to wait a few months before making big life-changing decisions after the ceremony. Sometimes insights are very straightforward, but at other times they can be more symbolic and a clearer level of understanding may come in the months following. It is also common to feel that you never want to drink Ayahuasca again, even if your experience was extremely positive. This usually doesn't last for long and may be a sign that your next ceremony is approaching sooner than you think.