Okdork.com Podcast with Zach & Noah Kagan
Zach recently sat down with Noah Kagan of okdork.com to do a podcast about Noah’s experience with La Familia Ayahuasca. Noah has done 4 podcasts on the subject and this is one episode. Noah is a podcaster, blogger, entrepreneur and business owner.
Below is a transcript if you prefer reading:
So, part two today is the first half of my conversation with the Shaman who did my Ayahuasca ceremony. I wanted to learn a lot more about him. His name is Zach Poitra, and so he's a guy who quit his career in finance, moved to the jungles of Guatemala, and now takes people on Ayahuasca journeys. He's done over 5,000 of them (actually between 1500-2,000 - correction Zach), and I hope my son turns out like him.
I really do. This guy is awesome, and he's a very introspective person, and I loved hearing his story, and sharing it with you. You're going to learn more about him at Ayahuascafamily.com that's A-Y-A-H-U-A-S-C-A F-A-M--I-L-Y.com, that was a lot of A's. Quick disclaimer, I don't condone Ayahuasca. Don't do drugs, stay in school, do your own research, yada, yada, yada. Just be smart.
I don't encourage to go do this. Be at your own risk. All right. In today's chat we talked about how this guy went from working in finance, so working just in a regular job just like yourself, to giving up everything to do meditation (Ayahuasca) retreats. Number two, what goes into making the Ayahuasca ceremony so powerful? This is something that if you're trying to improve yourself, what are things you can do to make things really impactful?
So, I didn't believe in a lot of this woo-woo stuff before I went, and it was really interesting to hear his perspective, and number three, the downsides of Ayahuasca. You'll learn about those three things, and a bunch more. Enjoy. What's up amigo?
When you're at a bar, and I don't know if you actually go to bars, and someone's like, 'Oh, what do you do?'
We’ll just be pretty coy about it, and say, 'Oh, we run retreats', and then people are like, 'Oh, what kind of retreats?' 'Meditation retreats'. Which is true, because on these longer retreats we do a fair amount of guided meditation, that sort of thing.
So, then we might say, 'Yeah, we actually work with Ayahuasca as well', and get into it that way, but the word “Shaman” is kind of a misnomer anyway. It's a word from Siberia that just kind of is a catchall for anyone who connects in with spirit, or works with plant medicines, and does healing work is a Shaman.
But in Latin America, or in Peru specifically, they would say “curandero”, they even say “medico”, which is like doctor, and they will also say Ayahuasqero, or Palero, which means someone who works with trees. We do a lot of work with trees in addition to Ayahuasca, and so forth.
So, I tend to really approach that question carefully, because otherwise if the response is, they don't know what to say, or sometimes they get a little too excited, I would just say, 'Oh yeah, we run retreats.'
Oh is that what you have in your LinkedIn?
Yeah. Good question. I don't really think I know how to log in the LinkedIn.
Did you think you got into Ayahuasca, cause you had some trauma? 'Cause a lot of the people I met, including myself, had some form of self imposed, or actual trauma in their lives.
So I was curious, did you have something for yourself that triggered you wanting to get to Ayahuasca, or what was your story before becoming a Shaman?
Yeah, so before I was working as an institutional stock broker, and working for a boutique. “Boutique” is a code for small, small investment bank, and was doing fine, and had all of the trappings of that sort of lifestyle making what would be considered very, very good income, living a lifestyle of traveling a lot, going out constantly. I mean, it was my mid 30's, and having very good short term fun, but ultimately dissatisfying.
And there was a point in I would say 2008, where it's just like, 'Man, I don't know why I'm not happy. I have everything that society is telling me that I need to be happy', and it was at that point where I started going to weekend self-help workshops with some limited success.
I smoked a lot of pot, drank a lot of booze, I was probably depressed. One thing that was pretty helpful, and I continue to work with today, is I went to Vipassana, 10 day silent meditation retreat, which is super a intense meditation retreat, and came out the other end of that with a meditation practice, which helped, without question it helped. Then I came across the article in the adventure National Geographic where it was somewhat unusual, because the author actually went into an Ayahuasca retreat, and participated in Ayahuasca retreat, which usually most journalists just want to observe, and then write about what they see. They don't actually get involved. So, it was unusual from that standpoint, and she was also going around to hotspots where war was going on, and atrocities were going on, and so I think she probably had some trauma, and maybe even PTSD from that, and it helped her immensely, and upon finishing that article, I was almost immediately like, 'I want to go do that',
In 2009, I went down to Peru for a 10 day retreat where there were five ceremonies, and we did what's called a, tree dieta, a shamanic dieta combined at the same time, and it was absolutely mind blowing. I was able to work through a lot of issues around past relationships, family, and just overall perspective around life.
Noah- For someone who doesn't have any clue about what a ceremony looks like, can we walk through that? For me, if I never had any experience with it, I would be like, 'Okay, you're sitting in a room, and maybe there's a drug, and you got cured?' What happens? And then how'd you have these breakthroughs?
Zach- Those are very logical, intuitive questions that are very hard to answer. There are so many different shamanic lineages that work with Ayahuasca. You have all of these different traditions. Some are totally brand new, and they all do ceremony in a very different way.
So, I wanted to point that out first, but in our ceremony, we have everybody circle up. In our lineage, we always do ceremony at night. This is because in the dark it really facilitates two things: One, it facilitates the visions, and two, it removes distraction from what else is going on in the room with other people, and so forth. So, we gather up around sunset, and everyone's in a circle, and we do a grounding, or somatic, or embodiment meditation. We guide you through this to get you into your body. A lot of the times, particularly that first night, people are a little nervous, and they're a little jittery.
Noah- Super nervous.
Zach- Yeah, particularly first timers, and even people with experience. So we want to get people out of their head into their body, and relaxed as much as possible. Relaxation in this process is absolutely key. The more we can do that, the easier it is. Once we go through that, then we take the medicine, the Ayahuasca, and we sing icaros into the medicine.
An icaro is a medicine song. When we sing into the medicine, we're clearing out any negative energies that may have accumulated there, and we're also infusing that medicine with more medicine that we have charged up as facilitators in our own bodies.
So we're trying to amp up the medicine. Once the icaros have been sung into the medicine, we have everyone come up one, by one, and receive their dose. It's at that point that one will spend some time with the medicine, kind of sit there with the medicine, and maybe say a prayer, and maybe put forth their intention, and then when they're ready, they lift the glass up, and say 'Salud', and then they shoot it back.
When you drink Ayahuasca, you drink it like a shot of Tequila. You don't want to sip Ayahuasca. It doesn't have a consistency, nor flavor that anyone really likes. Once that is done, we turn off the lights, and we run through yet another meditation, and it takes maybe five, 10 minutes, and then from there we start singing.
We are singing essentially all night long. There is an opportunity to drink more medicine about an hour in. If someone wants to wait a little bit longer, from that point on, we say “the bar is open”. You can come up, and have more Ayahuasca throughout the night.
In fact, we have what we call a “nightcap” towards the end of ceremony. People will come up, and say, 'Oh, I just want a little bit more’. Something that is again, not so traditional is we've brought in singing mantras as well.
Jess, my wife, grew up in what's called the Kashmir Shaivism, which is a Hindu path, and focuses on Shiva, and so she grew up learning all of these Hindu mantras. We mix those in as well. Then, towards the end of ceremony we do what we call “ventiadas”. Some other people might call them limpezas.
It's where we call people up to the altar, and we sing an icaro specifically for them. The way we describe it is, were cleaning out anything that may be remaining, and we're also sealing them up energetically. When we sing that icaro, all of our focus, and all of our energy is on the person being sung to, and once everyone has received their ventiada, then we close up ceremony.
We say, 'Hey, thank you very much for coming', and we thank our teachers, and Buddha, Jesus Christ, and all those people, and now the work is closed. As I said before, other people will do things differently.
Noah- The third night where I really got insane visions, and had major breakthroughs, how does it actually work that the music plus medicine click, and then how do you describe it to someone who hasn't done it?
Zach- Yeah, it's ineffable in so many ways. Yes, there can be visions, and sometimes, just a lot of somatic experiences or emotional experiences. I have like well over 1500 ceremonies, and there will be nights where it's not very visual, and it'll be mostly somatic.
Noah- Like I'll feel it in my body, I'll feel it working through various blockages, and, or just feeling really good in the body, and sometimes everything will just be crystal clear, which is a vision in itself, right?
Zach- That space of void, or pure awareness, it's this ineffable, holy shit feeling that wow, and I can't describe it other than words like void, and so forth, and then on the other end of the spectrum, I can be just immersed in visions of all these geometric patterns, colors that don't necessarily form anything describable, but it's there.
Then I've been in situations where it's full on visions, like 'There is mother Ayahuasca, and she's talking to me', or 'There is my son Bodhi, and he's smiling at me', and it depends. Night, to night is completely different.
Noah- Do you remember the visions, or stories that you experienced when it first happened?
Zach- Yeah, it was dancing Hindu gods, and it was before we even knew the names of the Hindu God. So in retrospect, I don't think I can remember specifically if it was Ganesh, or Shiva, or what have you, but they were dancing, and they were getting down.
Then I think on that second night I also saw an Egyptian palace, and lots of rainbow colors, and feathers, and very Egyptian-like themes. So, it was totally immersive, and beautiful. It was amazing.
Noah- What were some of the breakthroughs that you've had for your personal life? 'Cause those sound like nice visual images, but I'm also curious from like self improvement, and you weren't happy with work. Like, what things did you see, or realize, or recognize?
Zach- What Ayahuasca does is she goes through, and cleans out one's energetic channels. So, if you look at say, Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine, and what the Yoga philosophies talk about, they talk about all these channels of energy in the body, and they can overlap with some physical channels as well that are recognized by science.
But if any of those channels are blocked up, the contents get putrified, and what she does is she goes and pops 'em open such that they're flowing as they should, and when the energetic channels, nadies , meridians, however you want to call them, are flowing as they should, in those Eastern systems, that is when one feels good, and that is also when one feels more connected, everything and is open. Therefore, I can feel what's going on around me, both with other people, and also the energy in the room is just much more open.
When we have that connection, we feel more connected with everyone, but we also feel more connected with the divine, and that feels good. When we sit in that open, and connected space, we tend to worry less, we tend to be less reactive in a negative way, but we tend to take things slower, and look at things in a very pragmatic, and helpful manner.
After one retreat it may be noticeable, but it's not like this, 'Oh my God, now I'm enlightened after one retreat kind of experience'.
Noah- I was gonna say, speak for yourself. You talked about cleaning out the energies. I think if I never experienced it, I'd be like, 'Okay, I'm gonna hit pause, like, what's the next show coming out? Let me see if there's something about real self improvement.'
When you say energies, it's really that it brings up stuff that you've been harboring, or holding, or has been painful that you haven't thought of in a while. It brought up stuff on my dad, it brought up stuff on my relationship, it brought up stuff around my work, not stuff I was expecting to even be brought up by my mother, but I think it brought up that hard stuff, and the second half of your experience in the night, then it's like, 'Well let me fill my energy back up with positive things.'
And I think what kind of trips me out now as I say it out loud, I journal, I journal, and I have friends, and I've gone to therapy, and you know, I went to Israel, and I had a lot of relatively deep discussions, but this experience goes to the root.
Noah- I don't know how it found it. It found like root stuff, and it was painful, and it brought it right to my face, and I don't know if I would've ever gotten this in any other way.
Zach- Good therapy. Maybe over years, and years, and years, but there's a saying that one night of Ayahuasca is worth 10 years of good therapy.
In the West, we tend to be very much in the head and very intellectual about everything, which is great. This is what we're good at, but what we really don't realize is that all the stuff that's going in our head, also connects to stuff in our body.
You know, you talk about those traumas, those things that have happened in the past that we're holding onto. Not only are we holding onto them in our head, but we're holding on to them in our body, and that's something that is unique to Ayahuasca.
Her (Ayahuasca) approach to the process as she goes through, and you can feel a physical response through this process, and she's opening that up both in the body, and bringing it forth into a visual thing in your mind, and that is very unique.
I mean LSD can have somatic, or physical stuff going on, mushrooms a bit more, but Ayahuasca is just like full on, we're going to the root which is held in the body, and let's release it.
And that's the tough part. Then once that stuff is all cleared out, then you can have a direct relationship with Ayahuasca, and it's like, 'Oh my God, this is unconditional love', get that gunk out of the way, and then you get to start experiencing unconditional love, and that's just a beautiful thing.
Noah- Well I paid, you know, let's just say $1,000, and we did three nights with you, and it was like $300 a therapy session. You know, that's a pretty good deal for life teaching therapy, I got a good deal, it was like a Groupon.
Zach- Yeah, the “value prop" if one is willing to go through the entire process is significant. I don't know a better deal out there.
Noah- I thought it would be easy. I thought it would be like, 'Okay, go in there. Maybe I'll puke in the bucket, and maybe have a little bit of like some trip like acid, and then I'll be cured'. But it kind of made me remember that your growth comes through hard times.
It is hard. It made me wonder, in your opinion, who do you think should go in it, and use that medicine, and then what kind of stories, or results have you seen?
Zach- I think those who are sincere in wanting to work with the medicine, and wanting to do some personal work, that's definitely something that we look for.
We do our best to kind of vet out people who are just in it for the experience, because that can go and, well, they can be surprised, and in those cases it can also go sideways pretty easily, because they can be surprised about how much work it is.
(We look for)Those people who are sincere, and feel the desire to go do this work. I would really encourage people who have done it not to try to talk other people into it. Rather, share the experience, share some of the benefits that one sees through the experience, or post the experience, as the realizations continue for some time, at least a week after (an Ayahuasca retreat).
Those who are working with traumas, PTSD, depression, those are all areas that this can be helpful with the understanding that it is not a magic bullet, and that it is not a take your aspirin, and come see us in the morning kind of thing.
It involves at least 50 % of the work is done by the individual, and 50 % by the medicine, and I would argue it's a higher percentage of that work done by the individual.
We refer out to other people who are either specialists in addiction, and, or work with Ibogaine for addiction.
Ibogaine's a much better medicine for addiction, but Ayahuasca can be helpful. In order for it to be helpful, you need a lot more time.
You had asked about some transformations that we've seen. I worked with this guy from Finland, young guy, 19 years old.
We were in Peru at my camp, which at that time was La Familia Medicina, and he came for two months, and he shows up, and he's this frail, looks like a wind would blow them over kind of thing, and he was essentially shooting up everything he can get his hands on, amphetamines, MDMA, anything that you could put into your vein, he was doing it.
He had already gone through the detox process, but he showed up, and he was just super pale, and he wasn't taking care of himself, and weak, and a fair amount of fear going on there, and we worked very intensively for two months, and one of the best “patients”, or “students” we've ever worked with, because he would do everything we told him to do.
He would listen. He may have bitched, and moaned the whole time, but he would do it.
If we told him to stand on his head for 20 minutes every morning he would do it. We didn't do that, but he paid really good attention, and he did follow the instructions.
By the end of the second month, he came out of the bathroom one morning, and he had shaved, and cleaned up, and everything, and he looked so bright, and strong that I didn't recognize him.
I was like, ‘What!? Who is that!?’ I thought he was someone else completely. He never got back into drugs. He went home, and became a kindergarten teacher. He got very involved his own spiritual path, and became a standup, useful member of society.
Mr. Clark on Stranger Things. Randy Havens, he came down to Peru back in, I want to say 2012, or something like that, and he was doing some bit acting in Atlanta, and he went back to Atlanta after the retreat, started getting more famous.
He came to us several times, both in Peru, and other locations, and every time he'd get more, and more famous, and you know, obviously got to the level that he's at now with Stranger Things.
We talked about it, and he said that what he felt was going on was that Ayahuasca was allowing him to be more authentic.
That's kind of a trap that actors, and people do in life, is that they start to put on some sort of facade, a mask, if you will. That hides their authenticity, but they think that's what people want to see. That can work in some contexts, but not for very long.
It's kind of a temporary fix, and people find out that, 'Oh, there's something going on behind this mask, that it just doesn't feel congruent with the mask'. So, the work with Ayahuasca, it tears that mask down, sometimes easily, and sometimes with a fight, but once that mask is removed, or as it becomes more, and more transparent, and less prevalent, the authenticity of the person comes through, and I think it really helps in acting and in business.
It helps in relationships obviously, and everybody is looking for authenticity.
It's such a rare commodity (authenticity) that people when they see it, they're like, 'Oh my God, I want that.' They're just drawn to it like moths to a flame.
We see people come into retreat with a mask, and we watch that mask come off, and it's not pretty sometimes, and then we watch them walk out with a totally bright, shiny new, authentic face.
Noah- Yeah. I was pretty startled. Those are great stories. I was startled when we did the day after like circle where we talked about what we experienced, but there's people who hated their job, because they were killing animals, and they didn't want to do it.
There was a person who was molested, the person who had a trauma at five years old, because of their parents, and I was surprised how much brave of them to face it, 'cause that's what they experience does, it throws it right in your face, I'm like, 'Hey, this was hard for you', and then it helps you think about how you're going to work, and make life better for yourself.
Noah- My friend was joking that Elon Musk goes (to Ayahuasca), and he's like, 'What's the next thing I could do for human civilization?' Obviously you can come with stuff like that, but you know, one of the guys I was with, he wanted to understand what consciousness was. So in his experience, he lost his body, his soul left his body, and he went, and found out what consciousness is, and now he believes in God.
He wanted to find out what love was, and he wanted some connection with his parents, and his upbringing.
I wasn't a believer. I even wrote in my journal about like, 'This is a drug, and all those Shamans are addicts', and the final night towards the end I'm like, 'It is medicine, and you guys are guides'.
It's a crazy responsibility, and I'm curious from your perspective, you're seeing people literally they're out of their minds, number one, but two, they're also at their most vulnerable. Like, if you came over to me and said, 'Noah, you must eat bananas twice a day, otherwise you're never gonna be happy again.' Like, there is a chance that like I'd be eating a lot of bananas.
Zach- Yeah. It's no joke. If you're looking at drinking Ayahuasca, be really careful who you choose to do it with, and there are some people in this work who don't have the best intentions. They are in it for the big pitfalls in pretty much any type of spiritual work.
Sex, money, and power. These are the pitfalls that come up all the time, whether it be with plant medicine, or without.
So yeah, it's important to be careful who you're working with, because you are as a participant, in a vulnerable space.
I would talk to the person who you're going to be drinking with if you can, and talk to particularly their other experienced participants.
After they (experienced participants) work with this person . Are they more independent, or are they more reliant on the person they were drinking with?
If they're more independent, then that's a good thing. Conversely, if they feel like, 'Oh my God, I've got to follow what this person says, and I don't know what's going on, so I'm going to ask them', then that is a “no, no, no, no”.
Is there a guide teaching them (the participants) how to work through their stuff on their own, and do their quote, unquote healing on their own, that being personal, emotional, and psychological, and spiritual stuff on their own, and if that attitude is there, then great, that's a huge thumbs up.
It is a big responsibility, and we do our very best to not try to interpret people's experience as they share them. They're sharing them in this space, and they're pouring their hearts out as to what happened, and also what's going on in their lives, and some Shamans will try to say, 'Oh, this is what's going on. You need to do X, Y, and Z.' We don't do that, because people oftentimes don't like to be told what to do. If they do like to be told what to do, that's not a healthy place to be coming from anyway.
It's always much more powerful if they come to their own conclusions, as to how to look at things. So, we'd be like, 'Hey, you might look at it this way. You might look at it this way', 'This is what this famous teacher has said about this similar situation, or this perspective', but yeah, that's a very good point about the responsibility.
It's big, and it's scary, and we do our best to keep ourselves in check, and we do take it very seriously.
Noah- Literally, it's life changing. The amount of breakthroughs that I had in three days. It's literally unimaginable. Two specific things experience-wise was number one, and just to highlight your point, you're on a mat by yourself, and I think a lot of times we're looking for drugs, or we're running away from things like myself, like I'm avoiding it, and it's like you are looking at the most honest mirror you're going to ever see, and you'll see it visually, or your mind will come up with it.