Ayahuasca Is Not For Shits & Giggles. But It Probably Will Give You Shits & Giggles.

"You gotta interview someone from the retreat center," I said to Jason.

Jason Havey, the creator and host of The Spinning Logic Podcast, has become a very close friend as of late. Our connection is due to ayahuasca and Blue Morpho. While we've never met in person, Jason's kind nature and ability to give all humans the benefit of the doubt makes him likable. Everyone who connects with him thinks he is awesome.

Because he is.

But this isn't a post about how awesome everyone finds Jason to be. This is a post about an interview I hoped he would do, and he did. It is an interview with one of the founders of the new ayahusca retreat center in Washington State, Ayahuasca Healings.

It's a church. It's part of the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC); establish itself as a legal independent branch. And while it isn't clear - from the site - that the affiliation with the ONAC is the reason they are able to legally import ayahuasca, it is what I suspect.

Ayahuasca, which when  combined with other plants native to South America to make a brew creates DMT.  DMT is a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. Which is why ayahuasca ceremonies are not common here.

Not proper ones, anyway.

Yes. I am a snob about ayahuasca. And for good reasons. (I know I am digressing, but it's relevant)...
Participating in an ayahuasca ceremony is a wonderful, therapeutic, nourishing experience. For me, it's a conversation with the Self that is at the core, stripping out my Ego and the clutter of other's energies. My awareness of how interconnected everything is, and how beautiful energy is comes together in a way that makes sense.  I am able to purge the Ego and the other energies... But it is hard work and exhausting.  And the key to making the ayahuasca brew work it's talent on a person is through the experienced shamans who have studied the plants and worked with the maestro shamans who have themselves been immersed in the plants and ceremonies for years. And, of course, the icaros (medicine songs).

The reason the experience of the shamans and their training matters a whole big fucking much is because ayahuasca is not something you just take for shits and giggles. Though, chances are, it's purging effects ("la purga") will make you experience the "lower body" purge of dire defecation and random moments of laughter.  "Aya" takes you on a journey that chances are you ready to tackle yourself, and need an experienced shaman to guide you through.

Again... To elaborate... In my opinion, an "experienced ayahuasca shaman" (also called a "maestro ayahuasquero") means:

  • They've trained in-depth with other maestro ayahuasqueros. They apprentice for many, many years.
  • They've done the dietas (the restricted diet) with the various plants that can go into the ayahuasca brew, and understand how the various plants help the DMT to emerge in the brew.
  • They understand how various Western medicines and foods (sugar, fruits, pork, alcohol, game meats) interact with the medicine, and give guidance on how and when to integrate things back in safely.
  • They've studied the historical icaros and know how to use them - as well as know how to create and use new icaros which help the medicine to work within a person.
  • They've participated in thousands of ayahuasca ceremonies themselves.  Okay. So I'm not sure how many they have to participate in... But I know it's a great number. And if you have taken or ever do take ayahuasca, you will know that just one ceremony is a lot of work for a person. So imagine at least hundreds of ceremonies...Maestro ayahuasqueros do at least that. So they work very hard connect to the plant to understand it.
This is just a start. I am sure there is much more that should be added to this list. But bottom line, if you are a shaman leading an ayahuasca ceremony, you need to know a shit-tonne (yes, used the "metric version of the word" because it's bigger than "ton") about how the plant works and how to hold the space in ceremony. 

Shit... Holding the space is a whole other thing. Teaching a hot yoga class (which is a purging experience itself) is a test of one's ability to hold the energy in space: Keep people working...  Motivated to challenge themselves... But knowing when to dial it back... In an ayahuasca ceremony, the ability to keep a room working, sing the icaros, move energy through people when they need it, ensure everyone's safety so that no one freaks out when they are dealing with their emotions and deeply seeded issues... THAT SHIT AIN'T EASY! And you want someone at the helm of the ceremony who can lock it down. 

And that ability takes years of training. Period. 

So back to Jason's interview with Marc Shackman, one of the founders of the Ayahuasca Healings Church...

I had urged Jason to reach out too the retreat because I'd had a number of friends message me the link about the place when it was announced a few weeks ago. 

"Ohmigosh! It's in my state! Maybe I can just go there instead of to Peru?"

I wanted to say, "Um... If you really want to do aya that badly, I know of a half dozen places that also have the ability to import it for religious purposes that you could go to. But I wouldn't recommend them. Not for ayahuasca."

And after having listened to Marc's interview with Jason, I am skeptical of the ayahuasca experience they are offering.  And here's why...
  • When Marc was asked by Jason how much experience he had with ayahuasca, he evaded providing a direct answer. Instead, he countered with essentially, "it's not about quantity, it's about quality." And I call FUCKING BULLSHIT on that answer.  Sure the quality of the ceremony training matters... But you want someone who has gone through it enough times to conduct them without a maestro ayahuasquero present. And that takes time to achieve.
  • When I initially researched the retreat center, one of the other founders featured in the video talked about his experience with the medicine. So I decided to Google him. He actually seemed pretty cool and legit. And I still think he is. However, the red flag for me in my research was that I found a reference that his first ayahuasca experience was in 2013.  Three years ago. Even if he had been doing ayahuasca for three years straight, that is not enough time with the medicine. Yes - again - I am very biased. But, as I elaborated earlier in this post, it's for good reason.
So it comes down to experience with the plant. Because unlike other plant medicines, ayahuasca is not something you take lightly. 

That said, listening to the interview with Marc, I can say that he is very passionate about helping people understand the power to heal is within us all. "We are all shamans" he says at one point. And he is absolutely correct on that. And I think he would be very, very good at helping teach people that.

Just not with ayahuasca.

"Teach them through yoga, meditation... All of the other things you know well, Marc. But ayahuasca?

My personal opinion... You're leveraging the hype around the medicine to move your overall agenda of healing forward. You're jumping on a 'trend' that really shouldn't be a trend. It should be about educating people in different ways of self-healing. And if you were truly ready to guide people on this path, you'd start by apprenticing directly with the ayahuasca plant for a lengthy stay before jumping in and thinking you're ready to guide them on the journey."