“The three great mysteries: A bird unto air, a fish unto water and man unto himself.” -Hindu Proverb
About two years into my career running retreats in the Amazon we had a large group of Russian guests come through our camp. Most of the group spoke little to no english, so this made it a bit difficult to facilitate as a big part of facilitating is talking things through with the guests, helping them understand what they are going through, etc...
After every ceremony I make a point of checking in with each guest to see how their ceremony went and how they were doing in that moment. I did this for the Russian group after their first ceremony. When I checked in on a guest named “Serge” I asked him if he had gotten “mariado” (if he felt the effects of Ayahuasca), to which he replied “yes”. Then I asked if the ceremony went well for him. Serge said in his broken english, “It was ok....just the normal psychedelic stuff, but nothing really”. This seemed odd to me and I wanted to take the conversation further, but the translator was busy across the room. I thought about it and decided, “Well it is the first ceremony and he did get “mariado”, so I will just see how things go in the next few ceremonies.”
The second ceremony came as did my routine check in with the guests. When I got to Serge he said, “Nothing, I got nothing.” in a somewhat frustrated tone. I was surprised and asked, “Did you get mariado?”. He said, “Yes, but I got nothing!”. I looked at the translator and she shrugged her shoulders. I left it alone.
Essentially the same thing happened after the third ceremony and during the day Serge would just mope around camp not really interacting with anyone else. I went to the translator and asked what was going on. She said, “Yeah, Serge is an interesting case. He says he wants Ayahuasca to allow him to see God.” Then she astutely said, “The problem is that I nor anyone else knows what that means to him....maybe he wants to see a bearded man in the clouds...who knows?” When I heard this, I knew there was nothing I could do. I gave him space and let him continue to mope around camp for the rest of the retreat. I also kept my faith in the medicine, trusting that the process will work itself out.
On the last day of the retreat we rushed around to pack up and got ready to make the trip back to Iquitos via boat. This meant I had little time to check in with guests as we are all quite busy until we got on the boat for the trip. Once we were on the boat I was surprised to see Serge laughing and smiling as he talked with his friend in Russian.
“Hey, Serge. Did you have a good ceremony last night?”
“Really!?.... Did you see God!?”
“Yeah.....God is RIGHT HERE!”, he said pointing to his heart and giggling like a child.
Obviously, Serge’s story ended amazingly well. It is unfortunate that he had to suffer so much due to his preconceived notions about God. That said, it was absolutely necessary for him to go through that suffering. My sense is that he and Ayahuasca spent ceremonies 1-4 cleaning out his ideas of what God was and how God “looked”. This may have been disappointing and difficult for him throughout the week. However, once all the gunk that was blocking him from seeing God was cleaned out, he was able to experience exactly what he travelled half way around the world for.
What would have happened if Serge had dropped his expectations regarding Ayahuasca from the beginning? I can not say for sure that he would have experienced God earlier in the process, but I am fairly sure that he would have had an easier and more enjoyable time of it if he had. I hope that in addition to experiencing God, he saw what kind of suffering expectations can cause if we become too attached to them.
Now, this was a great anecdotal story about Serge’s Ayahuasca experience, which as I said, had a great ending, and with that said, there is an even larger lesson that Serge got to learn through direct experience- in life expectations are never met as expected….they can disappoint greatly creating suffering and at the same they can surpass one’s own imagination, creating great joy. This is just one of Ayahuasca’s great lessons she has to teach us.
Over the past 8 years of facilitating Ayahuasca retreats and working closely with western guests during those retreats, one of the most challenging issues our team regularly encounters has been pre-conceived notions about Ayahuasca. It is only natural that we have our own ideas about how Ayahuasca can help with our issues, with our goals, and how the Ayahuasca experience “should” manifest… However, these preconceptions can often be obstacles in and of themselves.
Overcoming and letting go of pre-conceived expectations can be quite challenging; expectations can be very complex in their origins and tricky in the way they are expressed. To compound the issue, often times expectations are hidden within our subconscious, in the proverbial "shadow”. In these cases is often impossible to communicate expectations, as we may not even be aware of them, or they may be multi-layered and complex beyond communication with words.
Our expectations about what we need to heal and the lessons we need to learn are based on our own interpretations, perspectives, conditioning, filters and opinions; we see our reality through the lens of our personal story. All of these concepts we spin from raw experience are therefore flawed to a certain extent because we, as humans, have a very difficult time stepping back and looking at our larger context rather than being consumed by our content. In other words, we have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. We tend to be very good at recognizing the symptoms of our issues, but we have a very difficult time identifying the core issue underlying those symptoms. This is, perhaps, the core challenge of the human experience.
When approaching Ayahuasca or any other healing/transformational modality it may be helpful to remember that we may be able to tell that something is “off “and we actually might be able to see some of the symptoms manifest in our lives, but in most cases the real reasons WHY we are out of balance, why we are depressed, why we feel disconnected or anxious, are deeply buried in our subconscious and well beyond the purview of our conceptual/“thinking” minds.
When we enter into a healing container it is helpful to loosen or ideally let go of what we “think” is wrong with us, and especially the narratives that surround our self-diagnosis. If we remain firmly attached to our traumas via identification with the narratives that contain them, it is like putting glue in the gas tank. Therefore, the more we can dissolve our expectations, and surrender even the story we have been telling ourselves about our dis-ease, the easier the healing process is. In this way we can see that the story itself is a design of the ego, and a subtle form of resistance. In fact, this applies to life across the board, and not just our experience in ceremony. In letting go of the narrative, in letting go of the expectations, we arrive in a state of openness to the true nature of reality.
When we start an Ayahuasca ceremony, at the moment just before drinking, there is an opportunity to silently ask Ayahuasca a question or to silently state an intention for that ceremony. Setting an intention for ceremony is recommended and can be useful. At the same time, in much the same way that surrendering our stories facilitates healing, it is helpful to keep any attachment to our intentions in check. That is, expecting to get exactly what is asked for, i.e. creating an expectation.
Ayahuasca will receive your question/intention, and very often will address it clearly and directly. On the other hand, Ayahuasca may also identify that while the intention you put forth is valid, the underpinning issue is something else completely (… perhaps something unexpected?). She may determine that the core issue is something deeper, something hidden in your shadow, or something beyond the realm of mental concepts.
If this is case, Ayahuasca will focus on cleaning or healing the core issue rather than the symptom or its preconceived origin. This in turn will create a domino effect that will eventually heal/clean the symptom surrounding the original question/intention.
Keep in mind, the result of asking the question/intention may not become clear until a later ceremony or even after the retreat is finished, while at home in every day life. You will hear from us and from other practitioners that trusting and surrendering to the medicine and her process is the best way to receive her deepest guidance. She loves us unconditionally and knows how to address our core issues.
Sometimes we can receive clear and direct spoken messages or visions from Ayahuasca, and sometimes the experience or part of the experience can come as geometric patterns or cartoonish visions that seem to have no relevance. When these seemingly nonsensical experiences arise, remember that Ayahuasca teaches and communicates with our consciousness on multiple levels, from multiple angles and multiple dimensions all at the same time. She can teach and heal both on the linear logical level and at a much deeper non-linear, non-logical, subconscious level.
In fact, it is our view that when we receive visions or mental activity that make absolutely no sense, these are teachings that are being worked on at the subconscious or shadow level. We feel that these are much more powerful or significant than the messages that are crystal clear. This is because, she is speaking to our subconscious mind. It is worth noting that our mind consists of 3-5% conscious mind and 95-97% subconscious mind. One could argue that because 97% of our mind is subconscious, this is where most of our issues/problems lie. We have a hard time working with these issues because we simply cannot see them and therefore cannot address them. By working with our subconscious mind, Ayahuasca is accelerating our healing process in quantum leaps. This is the origin of the often quoted idea that “one night of Ayahuasca is like 7 years of therapy.” Who knows where the exact time period of 7 years came from… but you get the idea!
You will hear us say over and over again: We view Ayahuasca is a manifestation of Unconditional Love. We have seen through direct experience that she knows how to identify what needs to be cleaned and what needs to be healed, and that she knows how to prioritize the order of which areas need healing first, second, third, etc… Since so much of Ayahuasca’s work is done in our subconscious minds, it is by its very nature beyond our comprehension, and we can know little to nothing about the particulars of her process. So by the subtle resistance of holding expectations, we are just slowing everything down. Our solution for ourselves and for all those who sit with us is:
Trust Ayahuasca. Trust the process. Accept unconditionally the gifts that Ayahuasca gives, and keep in mind that they many not be the gifts you originally expected.