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La Familia Ayahuasca Training Mandala

Welcome to La Familia!


What is the La Familia Ayahuasca Training Mandala?



We decided some time ago that we wouldn’t take on students anymore.  This is because at some point these student-teacher relationships can become very complicated, and sometimes the results can be heartbreaking for us.  


The universe, and the medicine, however, had other ideas.  We kept getting requests from guests to begin studying the medicine with us, and we kept bumping up against obstacles and resistance on our parts as to logistics, what those relationships would look like over time, and just how to eventually incorporate teaching and the apprentices themselves into our processes and our lives.   


We eventually came to the conclusion that we will have students whether we intentionally “take them on” or not. 


And so our answer to this truth was to create a formal program.


This formal program lays out the roles and boundaries clearly between student and teacher.  This is in response to the realization that many (not all) western students lack the cultural and intuitive understanding that exists for people in the jungles of the Amazon as to what an Ayahuasca shamanism apprenticeship looks like.


In addition, the progress in the medicine is measured both by an experiential rubric in combination with our intuition and demonstrations of the student’s capabilities.  (We have had a tendency to rush the process in the past, as we also desire our students to progress!). 


The Ayahuasca Family Training Mandala begins as an intensive personal development program with basic shamanic training in Level 1.  Then, if completed through Level 4, the program will yield a complete apprenticeship and initiation into the Ayahuasca Family shamanic lineage.  This is such that the graduate will be capable of serving and facilitating small Ayahuasca ceremonies and shamanic dietas at a superlative level of mastery.


The program is designed to be completed in 4 to 12 years, with a four year pace most likely requiring at least part time, if not full time residencies with us. Entering this program is much like entering medical school, with the same degree of intensive study and dedication required.  


That said, Level one is not unlike a pre-med program where the student can “test the waters” and deeply examine whether they want to dive in fully, with Level 2 being where the true initiation and shamanic path begins.  Level 3 focuses on developing emergent shamanic capacities and skills, and Level 4 focuses on deepening experience, refining skills, and mastering the art of holding ceremony, as well as learning the logistical components of running the retreats themselves.


So, before we get into the meat of the program, a few words…


DISCLAIMER 1:  Please excuse the tone of parts of this document. The Shamanic path is HARD.  And it requires that you eventually (or sometimes immediately) give up everything else in your life.  So, there will be points within this document that may sound harsh.  


If this is truly your calling and your path, you can handle it… and handle it skillfully.  Remember that the part of your mind that may take offense is simply the ego.  Acknowledge it and blow it off.  Poof.  Done.


DISCLAIMER 2:  We love you.  We love being your friends.  BUT, if you chose this route and you choose to do it with us, the nature of our relationship will change.  At some point, if you are starting to help and interact with the medicine and with guests during ceremonies, we are your teachers, and we call the shots during retreats and ceremonies.  


It’s hard to be friends and have a working relationship like this, because sometimes we’re going to need to tell you things that you don’t want to hear and that you might not even agree with.  


Please remember a few things, should this become the case: 


(1) Zach spent 4 1/2 years in the jungle and close to $100K on his shamanic education.  This included building and running a retreat center as the form of exchange with his teacher.  


He has studied/worked with the medicine for over 10 years and has well over 1300 ceremonies under his belt.

Zach has built up and walked away from four separate successful retreat organizations.  While the walking away from these organizations has been painful in some cases, there has been a huge amount of learning from the experiences.

It is worth noting that for those who enter and complete this program, they will get more than a shamanic education.  We will also be sharing our experience as how to set up retreats and how to run retreats. 

(2)  Together, we (Jess and Zach) have spent the better part of four years building the community that comes together to sit with the medicine, and with us, and we did EVERYTHING. Administration, marketing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, chopping vegetables and washing buckets… it was only much later in the process that we had help from students and “ayudantes”. 

(3)  We do this for the beauty, for the fun, for the satisfaction of watching people transform… and we also do it for a living.  It is the only thing we do for a living.  It is because of this that we are very protective of the container we hold and the name we have built over many years.

Therefore, please keep in mind that when you work with us during retreat and in ceremony you are directly affecting our livelihood and the stability of our family. 

It is because of this that we will say whatever needs to be said and do whatever needs to be done to protect the integrity of our work and the business we have built.  


We don’t enjoy excusing people from our circle, but we have done it before and will do it again with a lot less hesitation.  Historically, these have been individuals studying the medicine that could not/would not take our direction, or got ahead of themselves by inserting their energies into ceremony before they were ready (repeatedly, despite being asked to stop).


DISCLAIMER 3:  Completion of Level 1 of this training mandala is not a guarantee of anything.  It doesn’t guarantee you will develop shamanic capacity, nor does it guarantee an invitation into Level 2.  Please undertake Level 1 of this program as a personal practice for yourself and your personal development only, and as a unique opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see whether the shamanic path is something you really want to pursue.


That said, if one is not progressing adequately we will be honest with you early in the process such that you can make informed decisions each step of the program.  This is why we require an invitation to apply, and your application for each new level of the Mandala.


Even in the case that you are the most gifted student we have ever seen, that doesn’t guarantee that there is a job for you at any point in the process.  


Please do not, at any point, ask us for payment or special pricing.  If we find you to be a very strong addition and have skills we can use help with, we may offer you special pricing at some point for some sort of work/energy exchange. Please do not ask for this, and please do not enter into this mandala with that expectation.  


There are no certificates awarded in this work; only the energy, skill and experience that you carry with you.  At each level of the mandala, certain levels of mastery are required for progression, and there are titles associated with those skills which we as teachers may confer under the right circumstances, but entering the mandala is no guarantee of a title inside or outside of our lineage.


That said, if you do complete and graduate all 4 levels of the Mandala, you will be recognized appropriately with support from La Familia Ayahuasca to go forth on a solo path, work within the main La Familia Ayahuasca main organization or a blend of the two.


We do want our students to succeed and we want our students to be as prepared and skillful as possible. At the same time we are not willing to compromise the integrity of our lineage nor our name.


Still wanna do it???  Read on…


The Shamanic Calling:  How do you know this is your path?


This is an easy one.  You will have no doubt.  So, if you are asking the question, then it may not be for you.  That is just fine, perfect in fact.  This is why so many different paths exist. 


At the same time keep in mind that while there may be some trepidation or doubt in this moment as you read this, that may change with time and experience with the medicine.

If there is doubt and yet still interest, the suggestion is to continue working with the medicine, BUT not to enter into this Training Mandala until one is sure.  (Level 1 is partly to help you make the decision, but there are credits for retreats completed within 12 months of committing to the Mandala.  We don’t want you to feel the pressure from us… Only the pressure from the medicine).


For most, the calling is not even a choice or an intention— it’s something that just happens in the course of interacting with Ayahuasca. 


For some, there is even reluctance to set foot on the path— the phone is ringing non-stop and you can’t get the medicine to leave you alone, despite your trying to deny that this is, indeed, happening.  So, you may have reluctance or denial, but in the core of your being, you will not have doubt. 


Now, it is very important to point out that we get about one or two people per retreat who tell us they either (1) want to study the medicine, or (2) Ayahuasca told them to study the medicine.  


Please keep in mind that this kind of pronouncement we cannot take seriously until one has experienced at least 20 ceremonies and several shamanic dietas (i.e., completed Level 1 of the training mandala).  


Also, occasionally there will be someone who announces to everyone during group circle that Ayahuasca has told them they will become a great shaman!  This is the ego looking to self-aggrandize.  We view this as part of a cleaning process, i.e., that the source of this prophecy was the individual’s ego and not the medicine herself.  


If Ayahuasca tells you, or has told you, that you will be doing medicine work, please sit with that invitation and feel the gravity and sacredness of that truth.  If it’s something you want, open yourself and your heart to her invitation and surrender your vessel to her cleaning, healing and teaching; be utterly willing to be dismembered, emotionally shredded to pieces, merged with the void and reassembled many times! The shaman in you will come forth without any need to announce it.  It will show itself in due time, and in such a way that you will never need to tell anyone because it is so obvious.


With all that said, it’s really important to understand why you want to take on the medicine path.  Yes, of course we want to heal the planet and serve the sentient beings… but if you are in it for self-aggrandizement or egoic purposes, this will show through very clearly. 


Power is very seductive, and even if your intentions are pure, you will have to contend with the temptations.  So consider, please, what is your end goal here?  Is there one?  


Please contemplate this decision, because, as we mention above, you will be torn limb from limb, have every crevice of your heart excavated and light shone upon everything you’d never want to look at yourself, let alone have anyone else see.  One doesn’t put him or herself through that for no reason.


So… Are you ready??? 

Tuition General Rules:


  • For 1st level there is a pre-req of 1 retreat with LFA within the last 12 months.  The work done with La Familia Ayahuasca prior to entering the Mandala will go towards the Mandala requirements.

  • Students have 3 years to complete each level. 

  • We encourage students to complete each level in 2 years or less. 

  • As a student enters year three of any given level, LFA will pro rate any price increases- less the tuition already paid for that level.

  • Tuition covers the following number of standard retreats at each level:

    Level 1:  Four 8 day/ 7 night/ 4 ceremony retreats + shamanic dieta as part of the retreat

    Level 2:  Six 8 day/ 7 night/ 4 ceremony retreats + shamanic dieta as part of the retreat

    Level 3 & 4: Seven 8 day/ 7 night/ 4 ceremony retreats + shamanic dieta as part of the retreat


  • Occasionally LFA will offer special retreats such as Sound Healing Certification and Ayahuasca.  For such retreats there may be an additional charge to tuition.  This will be handled on a case by case basis.

  • Tuition is the cost of the retreats plus $1500.00 per level.

  • Tuition includes shamanic dietas as part of a scheduled retreat.  Private shamanic dietas outside of a scheduled retreat are available at an additional cost. 

  • Tuition includes monthly conference calls. 

  • Tuition does not include travel costs, reading materials, coaching sessions outside of LFA, retreats outside of LFA (Vippassana, coaching calls with Dr. John Shealy, etc.). 

  • Example: Student decides to move to Guatemala for 4 months and participate in 3 retreats during that time while on a quarterly payment plan.  The cost of each of those retreats need to be covered. 

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