Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preparing for an Ayahuasca Retreat, Part 1: Preliminary Considerations

I spent twelve days in the Amazon rainforest attending an Ayahuasca retreat where we drank the brew on seven nights. It was both the most difficult and the most therapeutic experience of my life. If you're thinking of trying Ayahuasca, here are some things to consider before taking the plunge. (The video version of this post can be found here.)

Where to do it
I highly recommend the Amazon rainforest (or somewhere equally secluded) because your environment and your state of mind will have a large impact on your experience. Even without Ayahuasca, I found the Amazon to be enchanting and therapeutic, highly conducive to introspection and mental clarity that allowed me to optimize my Ayahuasca experience. Depending on where you are in the world, airfare to the Amazon might be expensive, and simply getting there can be an arduous journey, but if you can afford it, go for it.

Clouds over the Amazon River
Drinking Ayahuasca can be an extremely intense experience, so you want to ensure that you're in good hands. There are many Ayahuasca retreats — some legitimate, some not — so spend a good chunk of time diligently researching beforehand. Read independent reviews and consult sources outside of the retreat's own website. Here is the 12-day retreat that I attended. I was very happy with it. (Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with the retreat, and I receive no compensation for recommending them.)

I feel that drinking Ayahuasca only once or twice would be inadequate, especially after venturing all the way down to the Amazon. I recommend choosing a retreat where you drink on at least three different nights (preferably five to seven), because each Ayahuasca experience will likely be unique. Some nights will be significantly more therapeutic than others, so the more you partake, the more worthwhile the experience becomes.

What to bring
I recommend packing as lightly as possible, not just to make it easy on yourself physically, but also to avoid bringing unnecessary distractions with you.

That being said, I highly recommend bringing a journal. Most of my Ayahuasca visions were vivid and personally profound, yet the details faded from memory soon afterward, much like dreams when you wake up in the morning. After the third night, my recollections of the Ayahuasca visions started to blend together, and I had trouble remembering what happened on what night. Even though I found Ayahuasca's therapeutic value to be long-lasting — potentially even lifelong — many details of my experience probably would be lost forever if I hadn't written them down.

There was no electricity at the retreat that I attended. Complete darkness engulfed the jungle at night, save for a few kerosene lanterns, so the staff recommended bringing a headlamp. Instead of heeding their advice, I figured I could just light the way using my mobile phone, but that did not work out well. For some people (myself included), one of Ayahuasca's side effects is gross lack of coordination, so it would've been helpful to have both hands free when attempting to put on my shoes and stumble back to my hut each night. One of Ayahuasca's other side effects is violent diarrhea, so a headlamp would have been particularly handy during all the time that I spent sitting on the toilet in the pitch black of night.

Regarding insect repellent, I opted for the all-natural, DEET-free variety because I don't like the idea of slathering myself with toxic, man-made chemicals. However, nobody at the retreat had much luck with all-natural repellents, which seemed utterly ineffective against the savage mosquitoes of the Amazon rainforest. So in this particular situation, I think that a low dose of toxic chemicals would actually be preferable over the risk of contracting malaria, and if I had to do it again, I would choose a DEET repellent.

Lastly, I recommend bringing a Ziploc bag or other type of protection for items sensitive to humidity. I brought my laptop to use as a journal, but within just a few hours of arrival, my laptop fell victim to the intense and relentless humidity of the Amazon. (Luckily I also brought a good ol' fashioned paper notebook as a backup.) Laundry took several days to dry — if it dried at all — and by the end of the trip, the humidity had warped my passport into a parabola.

What to wear
Because it's so hot and humid in the jungle, your initial impulse might be to dress as sparingly as possible: sandals, shorts, sleeveless shirts, and so forth. I strongly recommend against that, unless you are the lucky type who never gets bitten by mosquitoes. For those who do get bitten, I recommend lightweight, long-sleeve pajamas (or something similar) with good ventilation. It worked well for me, keeping me cool while providing an additional layer of protection against the ravenous hordes of mosquitoes that attacked in droves. (Mosquito population peaks during the rainy season, generally November through April.)

The Ayahuasca experience usually involves vomiting or diarrhea, or both, perhaps even at the same time. In preparation for my trip, I went to the secondhand thrift store and picked up a few pairs of cheap, long-sleeve pajamas — disposable clothing that I didn't care about. During the Ayahuasca ceremonies, this provided me with peace of mind, knowing that I didn't have to worry about ruining my normal clothes, and that I could puke on myself or crap my pants with impunity.

Continue on to part 2, where I discuss the Ayahuasca diet: what it involves, why it's important, and other restrictions/considerations.

If you're interested in reading an in-depth description of my entire Ayahuasca experience, check out my full-length book Seven Nights with Ayahuasca: A graphic account of heaven and hell, and the bizarre infinity in between, available from Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other retailers.

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