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When Nothing Happens: quiet Ayahuasca ceremonies and transforming disappointment

It can be a huge shock: after reading the books and articles and watching the YouTube testimonials, you're fully prepared for a mind-altering, life-changing, profoundly healing Ayahuasca ceremony... only to find yourself sitting in the dark, completely sober, feeling nothing but perhaps a little nausea and a lot of boredom and frustration. It is actually very common to feel like nothing is happening during the ceremony, but it can be surprising and unexpected: there are not many accounts on the internet detailing the experience of no experience, and it's not a great selling point either.

Ayuahuasca is a diverse medicine with a hugely wide variety of experiences which are possible for you to feel when you drink it. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but it can feel like a big waste of time, energy and money to spend the whole night just sitting there without feeling or perceiving anything. But although it can feel unproductive, there are many reasons why this can happen, and, when approached in the right way, these quiet nights can be just as insightful and healing as a night of intense and vigorous 'tripping', if not more so. This article details some of the reasons you might perceive that nothing is happening in ceremony, and explores some of the things you can do before, during and afterwards to transform this potentially disappointing experience into something useful, healing and insightful.

Reasons for not feeling anything in ceremony

  • Taking Time to Connect Sometimes it can take a few ceremonies to really connect with the medicine. You may not feel very much to begin with, and then gradually find yourself opening up to it more after three or four ceremonies. If you are drinking several times together, this can be a much more pleasant experience than being quickly thrown into something very intense and overwhelming. It gives you time to build a relationship with the medicine and can allow you to work with it much more easily.

  • Purging 'Purging' through vomiting, diarrhoea, shaking, crying or yawning is a powerful and very important part of the healing, as you are cleansed physically, energetically and spiritually. You may find that you spend the whole ceremony purging without getting any visual or other effects: this is great and completely normal, it means that you are getting a good and thorough clean! It is also possible to receive an energetic cleansing without feeling very much physically. The medicine likes you to be clean before you really 'take off', and you will have a much more pleasurable experience without the presence of those toxins. You are also likely to feel noticeably better and healthier following ceremonies which involve a lot of purging.

  • Marijuana Often when there has been heavy Marijuana use the user may have difficulty connecting with the Ayahuasca. This is not always the case, but it happens often enough for it to be mentioned. The two plants are not so compatible, and the Marijuana can get in the way of the Ayahuasca and prevent a strong connection from being made. It is advised to stop using Marijuana for several weeks before drinking Ayahuasca to make some space for the plant to work. Otherwise, it is possible that you may experience two or three uneventful ceremonies whilst the Marijuana clears.

  • 'Feeling Nothing' is the Medicine Sometimes 'not getting anything' is the best and most healing experience for you. In the case of addiction or overuse of mind-altering substances, the experience of being completely sober could be exactly what you need. It is also common for emotions to arise in response to you not feeling anything, such as anger, frustration, unworthiness and rejection, and these can often be deep-set emotions that have long been suppressed or ignored. The medicine is intelligent and knows the best ways to bring these things up for you: it may be that you can more effectively become aware of and understand these emotions through the experience of 'nothing' than if they were presented to you in a more psychedelic way.

  • Subconscious Resistance It is possible to subconsciously resist the medicine through fear of what may happen and sometimes through the fear of physical purging. Healing implies change, and sometimes there is a part of us that is afraid of the unknown, and sometimes we can be afraid of things arising that we just don't want to think about or deal with. It can be a good practice before the ceremony to be clear about your reasons for drinking and to explore any anxieties, fears or concerns you have around the ceremony. Being as open as you can be to whatever happens, knowing that it is for your healing and well-being, can help you to flow with the medicine and not resist it.

  • Not Realising You're Feeling it Sometimes the medicine is working it's just that we don't realise it. It can be very subtle, or it can come on so slowly that you don't notice yourself shifting into an altered state. Or you may find that you feel very normal mentally but suddenly find it more difficult to walk when you go to stand up. It may not be until the following day, or even days later, in retrospect, that you realise there was actually something going on that night.

  • Not Every Ceremony is Intense Not every ceremony is a huge life-altering, inter-dimensional journey. Some people never experience visions, even after years of drinking it, but still receive the healing benefits, and often experience communication and insights in other ways. It is also very normal to have one or more quiet ceremonies following a very intense or profound one, to give your system some time to rest and to integrate the experience.

  • Not the Right Thing for You Right Now It might also be that a psychedelic experience with Ayahuasca may not be the most beneficial thing for you right now. Many people, after feeling that they did not connect as strongly as they wanted to, go on to discover another plant or healing modality that works wonders for them. It is not that the Ayahuasca doesn't like them, just that we all have the medicines that align with and work best for us.

Before You Drink

  • Know why you are doing it Having a clear understanding of why you have chosen to drink Ayahuasca will help you to keep your focus, and can also help you to see the bigger picture around the ceremony. If you are just looking for an intense psychedelic experience, or for the visual effects, be aware that it is very possible that this may not happen. Knowing why you doing it can give you a greater sense of purpose and can help you to feel committed to the process even if it feels frustrating and disappointing.

  • Let go of Control and Expectations It is pointless to try and control the experience or the benefits you expect to get from it. One of the main reasons these psychedelic medicines are so useful and powerful is because they can show us new perspectives and ways of thinking that are outside of our ordinary thoughts and perceptions, so one of the best things you can do is to be open to whatever experience you receive and to trust in the intelligence of the medicine to bring you the healing that you are most in need of. If you are someone who tends to like to be in control of things, this need for control is likely to be challenged. And if you are very set on things happening a certain way, or on a particular outcome, the healing you need may be found in the relaxing out of this stress. It is a valuable life lesson and skill to be able to approach any situation with an open mind, without expectation or attachment to the outcome, and using your ceremony as an opportunity to practice this can make the experience much more useful and enjoyable.

  • Journalling Questions

Why do I want to drink Ayahuasca?

What do I hope will happen?

What healing am I hoping for?

What am I most worried or afraid of?

What would be the best thing that could happen?

What would be the worst thing that could happen?

What will I have lost if nothing happens in the ceremony?

During the Ceremony

  • It's still a ceremony If you find that you are not feeling many effects during the ceremony, remember that you are still a part of the ceremony. Just like when you are really feeling the medicine, it can be useful to observe and welcome your thoughts and emotions; exactly the same process can apply when you are not feeling it. Notice your thoughts and feelings and allow yourself to really feel each emotion that arises, especially if you begin to feel intensely emotional about your situation. Be attentive to your environment and become as present to your experience as possible. Know that you are still receiving the healing benefits of the ceremony even if you are not perceiving it.

  • Be aware of the bigger picture Especially if you are drinking more than once in a short period of time, it is very common to find that the medicine works over the several ceremonies, and that the whole process makes more sense at the end. Much of the work can also take place outside of ceremony, so be aware of your thoughts, emotions and any insights that occur between the ceremonies. Remember that you are in the middle of a process and it may make a lot more sense in retrospect.

  • Journaling If you are journaling about an uneventful ceremony, include the details just as you would if you had been feeling the medicine intensely. You may find that, when you look back at a future date, more was happening than you thought.

What happened?

How were you feeling?

What were you thinking about?

What was your highlight of the night?

What were your low points?

After the Ceremony

  • Notice what changes Even if you experience one or several ceremonies which felt uneventful and feel like you didn't connect at all, you may notice that a lot changes in the following months. And it is certainly very possible for more improvements to occur following some quiet ceremonies and dedication to healing than after some mind-blowing trips which, whilst fun at the time, provided little incentive or inspiration to make changes in your ordinary life afterwards. Notice how you feel after the ceremony and any changes in your health or outlook, and continue to observe your health, feelings and overall life after one month, three months, six months and a year. You may be surprised at how much has shifted.

  • Journalling Especially if you had a particular reason for drinking or very specific things that you wanted to work on, continuing to journal afterwards can be a useful way to track internal or external changes you may not be aware of during your everyday life. You may look back and be surprised at how your thoughts and feelings have changed, how your health has improved, or at the changes that have occurred in your life overall. You may also find that when you look back on the ceremony or retreat, you perceive it very differently, and are able to better understand how it has influenced you and your life moving forwards.

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