by Angela Blueskies
First published through My Area Yoga (DC, Philly, Chicago)
As I sat there in the half-light, nervously holding the cup I had just been handed, I knew that it was too late to back out. I held the cup in front of my heart, silently uttered my prayers, and drank the earthy tea as fast as I could. Indeed, it was as foul-tasting as I had heard. I stood and returned to my seat. After the final person in our circle handed the cup back to our trusted guide, the candles were extinguished, and we were plunged into complete darkness. What have I gotten myself into now, I wondered as I sat there, waiting for my experience to unfold.
Following a profound awakening in 2003, I entered into an accelerated time of personal growth and healing. I journeyed across four continents in the span of five years, and met many amazing people who shared their gifts of insight and kindness. I experienced many incredible things during those years ~ playing the flute at the sacred temple Machu Picchu, witnessing the sunrise on Mt. Everest, traversing Spain on foot along the Camino de Santiago ~ and had recently completed a large volume of writing on the subject of personal transformation, earning my master’s degree in the process. At the end of five years, many things had changed in my life, and my experiences had led me into greater knowledge and self-awareness, yet I had the distinct feeling that something was incomplete. Guided by that feeling, I returned to Peru to bring the journey inward in a wholly new way. As I waited for the experience to commence that night, I could never have anticipated the incredible ways that my life would change.
Ayahuasca has been used for thousands of years by numerous tribes in the Amazon Basin to expand awareness and facilitate healing. Revered as a plant medicine and sacrament, Ayahuasca is also known as la purga – the purge – for its powerful capacity to cleanse participants in mind, body, and spirit. Though the people of the Amazon work with thousands of healing plants and teacher plants, Ayahuasca is considered the master of them all, often called Mother Ayahuasca, or Abuelita, Grandmother.
Ayahuasca is always given in a ceremonial context. Though the ceremonial traditions vary from one culture to another, in mosts cases, Ayahuasca ceremonies take place during the night, guided by a shaman or facilitator who holds space for the healing process through singing healing medicine songs, called icaros. The journey itself can be quite intense, and it is not uncommon for people to experience a total sense of dissolution and even their own death. Through this process, it is possible to release heavy energies that have accumulated through a variety of life experiences, as well as gain insight into one’s habitual patterns of thinking and living that are out of balance. By entering into an expanded state of awareness, participants receive new insight and understanding that can initiate profound shifts in their daily lives, including new ways of thinking, greater emotional awareness, and a deeper sense of self. Physical healing can occur as well, although no definitive results can be guaranteed.
In my first ceremony, I knew that I had met the teacher that I had always longed for, and yet thought didn’t exist. A teacher that knew me intimately, that I couldn’t hide from or resist, that would expose my self-limiting beliefs, and that would demand my surrender, showing me things far beyond my narrow understanding. Through the insights I received in that first ceremony, and many subsequent ones, I now know that it is possible to heal the pain, suffering, and wounds we carry, and awaken to greater awareness, freedom, and creativity. The Medicine expands our consciousness and opens our hearts, gifting us with a broader perspective, and awakening a deep sense of compassion for all that is. In the process, we come face to face with both personal and planetary suffering, and are shown a courageous path forward that embraces healing on all levels.
When we approach Ayahuasca work as responsible seekers, it is possible to discover the roots of the unconscious conditioning that keeps us stuck, and as we heal those things, we step into living much more mindful, authentic lives. Through the process of purging, we can release the habits, patterns, and belief systems that limit us, and make the space for new conscious choices. As we transform ourselves, this world will transform, but the pathway to lasting change is not an easy one, as life tends to pull us back in the direction of our tendencies. And indeed, Ayahuasca doesn’t do the work for us! The Medicine offers profound insight and release, and it is fully the responsibility of each individual to embrace those things and integrate them into their lives.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but for me, the awareness gained through working with Ayahuasca has not been simply momentary, a gift of the Medicine. As I received healing and new understanding, my life was revolutionized, and is now unrecognizable compared to where I stood as I began this journey. By taking responsibility for my desire to live in a new way, the Medicine has continued to guide me to make lasting changes in my life. As ignorance and suffering seem to persist in our world, it is a gift to know that there are ways of truly transforming ourselves. Ayahuasca is definitely not a Medicine for everyone, and there are many beautiful paths of self-knowledge that are available to us. But for those who are ready to dive deep into personal and global healing, Ayahuasca is a potent catalyst that will initiate that process.