If the buzz of ecstatic dance and kundalini Yoga has finally worn off, you may be interested to hear about a new kick available in the hills of Ubud: completely genuine, straight-outta-South-America ayahuasca ceremonies.
For those of you who’ve heard the word ayahuasca but don’t know much about it, allow us to spell out the nitty-gritty. Ayahuasca is a tea brewed with banisteriopsis caapi vine and the psychotria viridis leaf, often blended with the plant derived molecule, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT or ‘dreamtime’. However it’s mixed, the end result is a psychoactive brown liquid, similar to recipes that have been used traditionally in many parts of South America for hundreds of years in ritualistic religious-based practises for healing and self-introspection.
Unlike party drugs, ayahuasca is not a go-out-dancing, chuckle for hours kind of experience. It’s known to suck its drinkers into a spiritual vacuum of self analysis and other-worldly encounters, with all manner of bodily excretions noted as usual side-effects. In other words, you shouldn’t really experiment with it unless you’re keen on doing 10-years worth of therapy in one setting. With a whole lot of tarot card reading and spewing to go along with it.
Given all this, it’s of no great surprise that Ayahuasca has landed in Bali’s Yoga hub of Ubud, a place where realising an altered state of consciousness is a daily pursuit of the masses.
When a friend of mine (let’s call her Emma for the sake of not seeing her in jail) told me she was going to give it a shot, it took very little encouragement from her to get me involved.
So there we were just a few Saturdays ago. Whipping up to the forests for a session of spa therapy before our session of hallucinogenic therapy. By about 10:30pm our group had united, formed in circle beside our straight-outta-South-America Shaman and his wife; 7-months pregnant and partaking in the ceremony – as a tea drinker, not an observer.
Emma turns to me with wide-eyes and pale skin and repeats “I can’t do this” several times just before we’re about to kick off. I command her to behave and convince her she’ll be fine. She’s come all the way here and she’s GOING TO DO IT. Meanwhile, I’m praying she isn’t one of those select few who isn’t fine, and finds themselves still trapped in a head spin of cartoons and vivid colours 5-years after the first sip. I’d never forgive myself.
We drink our first cup.
It feels equal parts frightening and sacred, and the Shaman talks a lot about Mother Ayahuasca as we descend into our independent voyages. With no clear concept of time, I lurch through a visual excursion of old family photographs and morphing faces. 6-year-old me is sitting on a brick fence in front of a decrepit old house, beside a boy a few years older than me. I am slapped with a realisation that he has been missing since the day I was born. He was supposed to be here, but he isn’t, and this is the piece of my puzzle I’ve been looking for, the thing I’ve been subconsciously longing for my entire life.
He ages to a man of about 30 and then slips away before I get the chance to speak to him. Desperate to get him back I take another cup of Ayahuasca, and plunge myself into a dark valley of snakes and fire without sign of my brother.
At around 5am the Shaman starts to wrap up the ceremony. I try very hard to sit up and pay “respect to Mother Ayahuasca”, but gravity is a battle and I stay connected to the floor, as we each receive a smoky blessing. We’re invited to do whatever feels right for us, and most of the group leaves for one of the nearby bedrooms. I stay curled up and covered by a towel for another 2-hours.
At 7am Emma returns, desperate to escape. I’m still seeing snakes but manage to rustle up the energy to stand and slump into a taxi in the direction of Canggu and my own bed. The day is dusty and emotional but nothing much more than a usual hang over. The next day I feel a clichéd sense of calm, as though I’ve processed some of my excess baggage and had an intense cleansing; a colonic of the mind.
I wouldn’t recommend Ayuhasca to everyone. But if you’re the type that’s inclined to experiment with hallucinogenics, you might as well do the one with the chance of spiritual enlightenment and a trip to Ubud to boot.
Image via veilofreality.com