"No Experience" Can Be Part of the Ayahuasca Experience
"La medicina es lento pero seguro” translation: “The medicine is slow but sure” - a common Peruvian saying about Ayahuasca and other plant medicines.
“La medicina es lento pero despacio” translation: “The medicine is slow but slow”- a common Peruvian joke about the medicine.
As many of you already know, there is a lot of information available about Ayahuasca that consists of “trip reports” or personal experiences. It is no surprise that the reports that get the most attention are vivid, interesting, entertaining and sometimes pretty self aggrandizing. Those reports often depict amazing visionary experiences and “single ceremony personal transformations”. These reports can be helpful as one is researching Ayahuasca and at same time they can set expectations which can turn into somewhat of a hinderance for the new comer.
Yes, intense visions are quite common. It is also possible that for the first one to three ceremonies (in some cases more) “nothing happens”. In our experience working with participants since 2010, this is the case for about 5-15% of the population. Then there is a very very small percentage of people who will never receive visions by drinking Ayahuasca.
In fact, my very first time drinking Ayahuasca it appeared to be a complete
dud. I did feel “something” and maybe saw some faint tracers, but that was about it. I was very frustrated that first ceremony as I sat there waiting for the medicine to kick in and then it never came. I kept thinking about the $2k I spent on the retreat plus all the travel costs and the travel time only to have nothing happen. I believe my exact thoughts were, %$#@… Really!?!?. Then of course ceremony number two came…and I definitely dropped into the medicine…in a big way, with Hindu Gods and Goddesses boogying down to the icaros like there was no tomorrow.
Like most westerners, I had heard about the crazy visions and that was where my expectations lay. Eventually, further down the Ayahuasca path, I learned that visions are only part of the reason to drink Ayahuasca; Ayahuasca is medicine first and if there is a light show, it’s a bonus. Frankly, if one is just looking for a light show and a good time, it’s much easier and cheaper to drop a few doses of high quality LSD or mushrooms at home.
As I said above, Ayahuasca is medicine first (and a sacrament as well, but that experience is generally later in the process). From our experience we feel that Ayahuasca has some priorities and they are : 1) cleaning 2) healing 3) teaching. She can do all three at the same time or she can focus on one- two areas. It is up to her as to how she approaches each individual and how she prioritizes her work.
If Ayahuasca does not provide visions the first few ceremonies, it’s important to remember a few things. First and foremost, working with Ayahuasca is a process; despite a lack of visions, the medicine is still working. It may also be that Ayahuasca is choosing not to provide visions as a form of protection and an act of compassion for the participant This last scenario is actually a gift from Ayahuasca.
In regards to visions, the variable that seems to be the most significant issue in regards to a person not receiving visions the first few ceremonies is their personal energetic starting point.
What we have found is that if a guest has significant amounts of energetic or physical cleaning to be done, it may take a few ceremonies before they receive visions. These guests tend to have had a history of trauma, drug/alcohol abuse, or an exceptionally poor diet at some point during their lives, which creates constrictions and blockages within the energetic channels. These blockages may be from recent history or it may be something that has already passed on the physical level some time ago. The physical evidence may be long gone, but in the context of Ayahuasca, this does not matter; If there is still an energetic signature of these traumas in the body, it is preventing one from living their life to the fullest and it has to be cleaned out in order to achieve true balance and well being.
When Ayahuasca starts encounters a body that is particularly crossed up or blocked up energetically, she focuses all her energy on removing these blockages. Essentially, these energetic blockages are constricting the individual’s ability to fully experience Ayahuasca through visions. As frustrating as it might be initially, we must remind ourselves in these situations that she is working to widen our energy channels and assist us in chipping away at and dissolving our blockages. Once our energy channels are clear enough, the energy of the medicine can begin to flow freely, and we can start to experience Ayahuasca through visions.
Another possibility is that Ayahuasca is protecting the participant from having to see visions associated with all the negative energies that are getting cleaned out. In our experience, Ayahuasca knows what each person can handle within their journey. If she feels that the person drinking has had so much trauma and has accumulated so much negative energy that they will not be able to handle the visions associated with that negativity, she can choose to obscure those visions. In these cases, Ayahuasca is being very compassionate and protective. She wants people to heal. If she sees that someone cannot face those dark or negative energies head on, she will block the visions until they are cleaned out and/or at a more manageable level for the participant to deal with.
Finally, in a very few cases the mind can simply get in the way of accepting visions or the participant has a misunderstanding of what a vision is. Many visions do not have a recognizable form. Swirling geometric patterns and fractals are true visions; they are spirit energies or sometimes peeks into the scaffolding and fabric of the universe. Simply because they do not come in a conceptual form like a flaming dragon or a dancing elephant, does not mean they are not visions. Also, “emptiness" or experiencing a “void” space is very much a visionary state in spite of there not being any visual content.
The mind and ego can be a very powerful in shaping our perceptions. We have even seen a few cases where a guest will simply deny, or refuse to accept that they are having any type of Ayahuasca experience at all, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
An example of one of these cases was a young Norwegian guy who claimed he had done all sorts of preparations for his retreat- avoiding salt, practicing meditation on a daily basis etc... According to him, he had avoided salt, sugar, oil, etc.. for two months straight prior to the retreat. This was well above and beyond the suggested preparation put forth by us. Needless to say, he came in with a lot of excitement and expectations.
At first we were impressed with his preparation, and then we was surprised to hear his claims that he was not getting any effects from the Ayahuasca for the first two ceremonies. He was definitely purging during those first two ceremonies, so we knew that the medicine was working and chalked it up to just needing some more cleaning before the visions showed up.
At the end of his third ceremony we checked in with him and asked how he was doing and whether he had received any visions. He gave an adamant “no”. The odd thing was that his verbalization was slow and even as he was propping himself up off of his mat he was clearly wavering and wobbling. We continued to ask about his experience and it came out that earlier in the evening he looked up at the shamanic team and saw that they were all very large and fat. Keep in mind that none of the Peruvians were over 5’ 5” tall and none could be considered fat by any means. Even after this conversation, he claimed that he never had visions of any kind. His claims continued throughout the retreat despite external evidence and commentary by him that he was indeed experiencing Ayahuasca, visions and all.
What we think happened was that his ego came into play and decided that Ayahuasca had no effect on him. Perhaps it was some sort of badge of honor: “I am so strong that even Ayahuasca has no effect on me”. Another thing that was interesting in this case was that his friend had signed up for the retreat and bowed out at the last minute due to fear of what he might have to face/experience through Ayahuasca. It may have been that by claiming that Ayahuasca had no effect on him, he was trying, consciously or unconsciously, to establish some sort of dominance over his friend who bowed out.
This hypothesis was somewhat supported by his comments that he had learned through the teachings of Eckart Tolle to be completely present in every moment. This sounded good and his comments would have indicated a very high level of consciousness, indeed. Perhaps he was so fully present in each moment that he really did not see a difference between every day reality and the Ayahuasca reality; this would be akin to stories we have heard about enlightened masters taking large amounts of LSD and commenting that they experienced no shift in their perspective. If this was the case, however, this higher consciousness was not necessarily shining through in his everyday behavior. But anything is possible. And, really… who knows?
The point is that the mind is a powerful thing and it can get in the way of letting Ayahuasca in.
The OTHER point is that, when planning to drink Ayahuasca, it makes sense to plan on three to five ceremonies instead of just one or two. Another alternative is to plan a plant or tree dieta before drinking Ayahasca at all. The plant or tree dieta will work on cleaning out or removing those blockages ahead of the Ayahuasca ceremonies.
For us as facilitators, the key has always been to fully trust Ayahuasca’s approach to each individual. Ayahuasca is unconditional love. She wants us to heal, and knows best how to deal with energetic blockages and energetic accumulations or stagnation. She will remove these blockages in a manner that is aligned with the greatest and highest good for the individual she is working on. For both participants and facilitators, it is in our best interest to remember this and trust that she is the expert!