Ayahuasca, Anxiety & Depression (podcast transcript)
Below is a transcript of our podcast titled Ayahuasca, Anxiety and Depression. If you would rather listen to the podcast, you can click here to listen via Soundcloud, or you can click here to listen on iTunes.
Hi, this is Zach Poitra and I'm sitting here with my lovely wife, Jess Poitra.
We want to first thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast.
This podcast is something ... the subject is something near and dear to my heart. The title is “Anxiety, Depression, and Ayahuasca” and I want to first put forth a disclaimer. In this podcast we're going to talk about anxiety and depression and how Ayahuasca maybe helpful for some people, but it's important for you to know that we're not doctors, we're not therapists, we're not medical professions. This podcast is for informational purposes only, if you're considering Ayahuasca or some sort of other psychedelic therapy, please speak to your doctor or therapist about the subject.
With that said, I'm going to hand this over to Jess. She's going to be the interviewer of sorts and I will be the interviewee, so Jess….
Yeah. Well, it is a subject near and dear to your personal heart so why don't you tell us a little bit about that?
For those of you who have not heard my story pre-Ayahuasca, I worked for many years in finance and business. I was somewhat successful. I wouldn't say I was crazy successful, but certainly doing well by most standards, in United States anyway.
Then in about 2005, 2007 timeframe, really started having a hard time just with happiness.
I didn't know what was going on. I had had checked all those proverbial boxes of externals: nice house or a nice condo, traveling, good income, and that sort of thing.
All that said, I was just really not happy. I had a lot of “not happy”. In addition to that, I had anxiety, social anxiety in particular.
There were moments in my life, and this is, goes pre this job (leading Ayahuasca retreats) early on where, I would be going to a social event or already in a social event and I would start to freak out.
I would arrive to an event, get to the doorstep and I just became overwhelmed. My mind raced with with things like, “Ah! Ah! I can't do this! This is too much!”
This happened on many occasions throughout my early life. I would either just bail on the social event last minute and makeup some excuse later. If I absolutely had to go, I would end up doing a quick in and out.
It was a wave of of anxiety that came over me each time. For a long long time I had not ever really addressed it. I don’t even think I thought of it as a problem. Then I started doing personal work which then led me to discover Ayahuasca. To say Ayahuasca was very helpful is an understatement.
At the same time, in full disclosure, and I think this is really important, the depression and anxiety (post Ayahuasca) was much subdued, much more manageable and yet it still would come up.
Recently, I think some of you have heard the podcast. That is, I have started working with a coach, a life coach. Also because of what I do (as a lead Ayahuasca retreat facilitator), he is my Ayahuasca preparation and integration coach as well.
Working with a life coach has brought forth the realization or understanding that there are some things that Ayahuasca, on its own, just does not address. This is particularly true if there is a lack of awareness around a subject, neurosis etc…
That said, working with a coach in combination with Ayahuasca the results can be quite, quite powerful and helpful.
In my case prior to working with a coach, Ayahuasca helped me immensely. I can not overstate this fact.
At the same time, there were some areas that I lacked awareness around. In addition these areas were not being addressed.
So that’s a quick explanation as to why this is (anxiety and depression)a big subject for me.
The other thing is that we, in this culture and in our work (leading Ayahuasca retreats) we have found that pretty much everyone has a certain level of anxiety and some depression.
We work with a lot of those people (with low levels of anxiety and depression) and of course we also work with people who are working with a little bit more of a serious issue around these two things (anxiety and depression).
Both of us read a book recently and it was one of the inspirations for this podcast, do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Yeah. The book is Lost Connections by Johan Hari. Johan Hari.
I think is best known for his book on addiction, and this is his second book that just came out, I want to say in the last year. I heard him on some other podcasts. I am pretty sure he was on Joe Regan, and listening to him inspired me to in conjunction with my own personal work to read this newer book (“Lost Connections”), it's all about depression and anxiety.
There are a couple of things that were notable themes in this book.
There is a story, an idea in the medical world that depression…. and this is the story that he personally received cause he too was working with depression and so forth. He was on medications.
He (Johan Hari) was told that the wiring in his brain was broken or miss wired or what have you.
The other story he heard was that his brain had a chemical imbalance.
So the current mainstream view on anxiety and depression is that it's biochemical, simply biochemical.
Through his research (he's not a doctor either nor a therapists or anything like that).
What he is able to do though, is look at the various “silos” in the medical and research world, the science world, combining psychology, and neuro science and comparing their own research to each other.
What came forth was that really the stories or the story that has been told in the mainstream is false to a very large extent.
There is a biochemical thing that goes on, but it's due to external stimuli and conditions that we're exposed to, that creates ... the biochemical response. It is our response to that external stimuli that causes anxiety and depression.
A correct response.
A correct and appropriate response....
Yeah, and that was one of the big like, “Whoa, it's so empowering seeing it (the causes of anxiety and depression) this way!”
This is because it's like, oh, there's not something physically wrong here in this body, this being this vehicle. Rather, through the cultural exposure and conditions both from childhood and also just our general way of life in the western world, it's external stimuli that creates anxiety and depression.
With that understanding, there is no longer a victim. There's nothing wrong with me.
Rather, if it's external stimuli, we can address that and adjust that. That's a big thing in his book, which was a gigantic realization that was actually healing in itself.
If I can just jump in here for a minute…
I think that this is one of the reasons that a lot of people come to plant medicine in the first place.
It is realizing that they're actually not the victim of their physical circumstances.
This actually happened to me as well, but in a completely different medical area (rheumatoid arthritis).
When we come down with some kind of, what's considered by the medical community to be a chronic illness, it's assumed that something is broken in the person (physically) and it needs fixing with some kind of pharmaceutical.
When really, our bodies are just responding the way that they're designed to respond. If we go into the body and work with the body, then we actually have the power to overcome these things on our own, without the help of pharmaceuticals.
I wanted to point out that it's helpful to have the help of medical professionals. At the same time we need to be really careful when we decided to take some sort of medications. Sometimes the use of medications are totally appropriate. Antibiotics save lives, no question.
It is important as we approach pharmaceuticals and choosing whether or not to use them to remember we have choices. We can look (research) at the efficacy and the side effects of the medications and we can keep in mind that the mainstream medical community does not always have all the answers.
This brings to the next big point that he, Johann, went on to research. He was on antidepressants for years and years. He came to realization that these (antidepressants)… particularly long term, they weren't working.
What he did was a huge amount of research on antidepressants.
To do this, he used the pharmaceuticals companies own research. Through that research he found efficacy rates of antidepressants being extremely low, particularly long term.
I hope I'm not misquoting, I think that he points out that it’s (the efficacy rate) is largely a ... what's the word? It's a placebo effect, which is a real thing.
For the record we love the placebo effect.
Self healing however you can get it (placebo effect), it's great.
That was another gigantic thing because sometimes we have come across people who want to work with us and are on antidepressants. We have to tell them that it is dangerous to be on antidepressants with Ayahuasca. It is just a “no go”.
It is a very dangerous thing to mix antidepressants with Ayahuasca. There has to be at least, to be super safe, two weeks between the last, dosage of antidepressants and your first ceremony.
At least that amount of time because you don't want to mix those two together. If one mixes the two together, it can can create serotonin syndrome, which is deadly, or can be deadly.
With all that said, Johan goes further and starts looking at conditions and stimuli that for many people create anxiety and depression.
If I remember correctly, there are nine of them (stimuli/conditions). We have the list that we'll read here in a second.
What we're going to do is go through the nine stimuli or conditions that create anxiety and depression.
We're not going to talk about each one because most of them are pretty self explanatory. If you really want to dive into it, I totally recommend you getting this book.
What we will do is point out where working with Ayahuasca in a group, particularly a group setting might be helpful for this process (of healing anxiety and depression).
We also want to highlight where Ayahuasca won't “hit”. These are areas where you can, on your own personal journey, can do practices or work with professionals (outside of an Ayahuasca retreat).
We're big fans of what is called an “integral approach”, integral meaning that there's no one single answer. There are many ways to go at/ address various issues and it's important to hit on them (issues) from multiple angles.
If you're listening to this and you are working through anxiety and depression, some of these things you can address on your own before even considering Ayahuasca.
We have no problem with that, we are here to help, we're not here to sell Ayahuasca retreats. We do love it when people would come visit us. We love working with them and helping them. That said, we want to be clear that this is totally informational for you to help you.
We also have some really interesting tips for preparing for a group Ayahuasca retreat, too that will also help work through depression and anxiety or at least bring some of the issues to the forefront before beginning the process.
Before we start, there’s this really beautiful quote by Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”
Johan in his book really brought this up within the framework of the nine conditions that give rise to ... the nine stimuli that give rise to depression. Our society really creates an environment for us all to be depressed or anxious on some level or other ... can you, can you speak to some of those stimuli?
Do you want to go through the list?
Okay, let's do that.
Here is the list of stimuli or cause of anxiety and depression according to Johann Hari's research…
First is a disconnection from meaningful work.
We all have had those jobs that (are BS jobs) ... well most of us, some of us have figured it out early to listen to your heart.
I think you and I have both had experiences with work that wasn't meaningful to us and I know that I really hit a wall with mine.
I used to practice law and while it was intellectually stimulating, there was nothing that resonated with me, there was nothing meaningful. For me and to spend so many hours of your waking life doing a job that means nothing to you just for money is ...
Yeah, it's really hard.
This is one that Ayahuasca can help. Well, help one ...
To come to the realization that that's a dead end.
It may be a situation where financially someone has to do what they have to do and at same time, there are other things that they can do to offset that lack of meaning in their work. That's the first one is disconnection from meeting for work.
The next one (on the list) is disconnection from other people.
Daily life has us doing that all the time too. We're working all the time and then when you come home from work, you're too tired to have any kind of interaction and then you're just sitting in front of the TV or maybe just even interacting with just a couple of other people.
We've lost that connection to tribe to community and it's a missing nutrient in our daily lives even.
Yeah, absolutely. Particularly in the United States, there's a pervasive idea of individualism, which is great. To a certain extent.
It (individualism) has gotten our country to develop to where it has become developed thus far. At the same time as it's gotten to… I wanna say neuroses levels.
50 years ago people knew their neighbors, people interacted out in the world.
Now neighborhoods and say apartment buildings ... I don't remember the last time I knew my neighbor well or went and hung out with my neighbor. It's happened a few times in my life, but…
Not until we moved here to Guatemala. We never knew our neighbors in Austin.
That's a big deal and I think a lot of people don't realize that is an issue.
This is one where a group, Ayahuasca retreat, maybe helpful. This is because people who come on retreat, they're in this shared container doing very powerful work.
I like to say that people come in, lovely people, so please don't get us wrong, and we all have this, we all have “masks”.
And throughout the retreat as people go through their processes (with Ayahuasca), releasing and acknowledging and looking at various traumas or events in their past or ways of being.
During this process those “masks” start to dissolve.
Not only is that an experiential thing for the person going through the process, they get to see other people going through the process as well.
Everyone starts to get more and more open, more and more vulnerable through the retreat process.
This is, I think why so many people post-Ayahuasca retreats are like, “Yeah, my interactions with my family, with my friends, people out in public, they're different.”
Other people respond to the mask coming off. As the mask comes off, there's an authenticity that comes forth and…
There's nothing more beautiful than that.
There's nothing more beautiful than that.
It's very shiny.
Yeah, very shiny.
That's one of the conditions (connection with other people) that ... or stimuli that Ayahuasca may be quite helpful.
The other part of addressing that condition is post-retreat integration. We do our best to help guide people to get more involved with their community or…
Practices, and that is because with practice they can go and become part of a meditation group or yoga group or ... go have fun with other people. Not just sitting in front of the proverbial “screen”. The screens are okay to a certain extent, they're part of our lives, that's for sure.
Well, the other thing about the group retreat and the interaction and connection with people is that, really besides becoming quite intimate, the medicine really does this magical thing where she curates the groups that come so that watching the other people in your group going through their processes is extra healing for you because it was like a group that became designed for you through the beautiful synchronicity that Ayahuasca allows.
Yeah, it's quite amazing. Maybe even a podcast unto itself on that.
The next one on the list is a disconnection from meaningful values, that is materialism, extreme materialism.
What Johan did was he started, through his studying the research, he found a longterm study showing that as one focuses on external or extrinsic things which is the definition of “materialism”, it creates a situation where the person is considerably less happy compared to those who focus on internal or intrinsic things.
Internal motivations, what have you, that can equals or destroy happiness.
So many teachers in various spiritual paths are like, “look within”.
Jesus said it, “The Kingdom of heaven is within”, or “The kingdom of God's within”, I'm sorry if I quoted you wrong, Jesus.
Buddhism, Hinduism, I don't know much about Judaism or Islam, but I would guess that's what they talk about as well.
Our society and particularly our media continually tells us that we need to go to the external, if we just have this car, we'll be complete, if we have this body, we'll be complete and happy. We're literally chasing our tails because it just doesn't work.
You can never have enough.
You can never have enough, and it's all temporary.
I used to practice ... myself I used to practice “retail therapy” when I'd go out and be like, “oh, I'm not feeling so good. Okay, I'm going to go buy some bad as shoes”. I'm a ... or was a….
I'm a shoe guy, a clothes horse if you will.
There's that little pop I get when I buy something of , “oh yeah, now I have this people going to think I'm cool”. In reality, no, they didn't really care. Which is fine and a lesson I, I had to learn.
I still like to wear nice shoes though. LOL
In Guatemala. LOL
On the other side, internal is really going in and, and finding what really makes you ... maybe you can take this, explain the internal work. I'm having a hard time articulating, so please….
Thinking about what brings you joy and satisfaction, it's a matter of what are you doing with your free hours. Are you out shopping, are you getting things or are you practicing some kind of craft or doing some kind of project where you actually feel fulfilled after having done it? Something that brings you joy.
Then also looking to the inside for stillness, that's something we talk about so much in the practice of Ayahuasca is finding and cultivating stillness.
This is because if we're extrinsically focused, then we're always looking at getting things.
Whereas if you go inward and you find this stillness, then you find the internal satisfaction and peace that you were looking for.
This leads to how ... this is another one where an Ayahuasca retreat might be helpful in working with anxiety and depression.
It is that one of the things we do when you come at Ayahuasca retreat, you don't worry about any transactions.
Once the retreat starts, there's no need for money really, everything is taken care of for that entire week.
It's funny because I was on a podcast recently with Noah Kagan, who's ... he's an entrepreneur and he was like, “Hey man,” (entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to make money, which is totally cool, it's their gig and it's appropriate in some contexts).
He said, “Hey man, on your retreat I kept waiting for the “upsell”, when was the up sell going to come?” And I'm like, “What!!?”
It (the question) kind of surprised me.
At the same time, by design, we're removing as much as we can, that transactional mode that we often deal without in the world.
Everybody’s trying to get something from everybody else.
An Ayahuasca retreat is a rest time to get away from that extrinsic stuff, which includes transactions, money transactions specifically.
In addition to that, Ayahuasca can help one re prioritize where their focus is and the re-prioritization as often towards the intrinsic.
There's a lot of recognition on this point from guests.
We consistently hear things like, “Oh my God, all these “things” just don't matter anymore.”
Of course there are some things that are necessary to continue in life- continue working and so forth. That said, all this anxiety and fear about these various extrinsic things are just no longer so important.
That's a big one, we hear quite a lot and we've also experienced it ourselves.
We were in the medicine or Ayahuasca very deeply for many years and we've gone through a process of simplify, simplify, simplify.
As we've done that, happier, happier, happier, lighter, lighter, lighter. That's our choice, it's through our personal experience, our own decisions, that we've come to this and we're by no means prescribing that for everyone.
And, Ayahuasca may help one experiment a little bit there on this point.
Right. I just want to say that we ... we actually had a ceremony, a little ceremony last night and this is a great example.
One of our guests was telling us in recounting his experience that Ayahuasca kept showing him how he was very busy and very focused on his work and extrinsically just focused on work and was reminding him again and again, be attentive, be attentive, be attentive, to his fiancee.
You can take that even farther, be attentive to what's going on internally, be attentive to the people that are around you and really change the focus of the extrinsic to the intrinsic and the nurturing of yourself and your relationships.
Yeah, it was beautiful, beautiful. The next one on the list is disconnection from childhood trauma.
This one hits home for me.
Again, until I started working with a therapist, I had always looked back at my childhood has been pretty good, nothing gigantic that I could point to was a problem per se.
Then when I started working with a therapist, he started pulling stuff out of me and I'm like, “Oh, oh, okay. Yeah, there is stuff there.”
One thing is that Ayahuasca ... Ayahuasca can bring forth things that we're not aware of, she does a really good job of that, and at the same time she can only do so much.
This is one where, I think particularly if one is working with anxiety and depression, a therapist or a coach in conjunction with Ayahuasca can be a very powerful.
This is because the coach or therapist will pull stuff forward to the forefront.
One might be, “Oh, isn't that normal?” It's like, “No, that's not normal,” or not ideal.
Then with that understanding we can go into Ayahuasca and she can really allow one to experientially work through it.
I think that this one ... even good therapy on its own is a huge, huge help for this. The key is good therapy because not all therapists are equal based on my understanding.
I got lucky, my first shot, I seemed to get super lucky. Anyway, do you have any commentary on that?
Well, yeah. Not only can Ayahuasca bring some of these memories up to the surface, but a lot of times, not a lot of times, just about all the time, Ayahuasca is vibrating these patterns out of the body.
You may have memories that are pre-verbal that are still held in your body tissues and Ayahuasca being a very somatic medicine helps bring those energies to the surface to be released. A lot of times you can't even work through some of these childhood or pre-verbal traumas without actually knowing exactly what they are, but it's really powerful work as well.
Interesting on that point of not knowing exactly what they are.
Last night again, powerful night for me, this was a private ceremony amongst friends and about halfway through the ceremony I got a vision and a message, we're going to do some deep work, we're going to do some purification right now.
I was like, “what? Is this a good time?”
Because we have these other people here in ceremony.
It (the entitity) was like, “no, now is the time”, and I went through ... because usually when we are in a space with friends who helped hold the space for me as I went through this powerful process.
Once I realized that this work of deep purification was going to happen, I turned to Jess as it was about to start I said, “Jess, I'm going through it, I'm going to go through a deep process right now. Hang in there, everything's fine, it's cool, let me go through it.”
As I was releasing, there was content that I recognized and then it was a lot of content that was, I don't know where this is coming from 'cause it's ineffable, but it was a release.
I went through several stages and each stage it's like lighter, cleaner, significantly lighter, cleaner and I was like, “wow, wow, wow!”.
This is what Ayahuasca can do. Quite a bit, and again having awareness will kind of put some fuel on the proverbial sacred fire.
I would say you do look particularly glowy today.
The next one is disconnection from status and respect.
He says that, again through his research, particularly around the media and we talked about the media before, that the immediate puts forth all these images of billionaires, perfect physical specimens and this idea that your socioeconomic status is constantly at risk, constantly.
We're constantly trying to scramble to be the top guy, trying to optimize, trying to ... all this stuff and it makes us ... there's this constant state of insecurity.
Climbing a million ladders at once.
Again, this is very much media driven, which as a side note, if one is going through anxiety and depression, one might consider taking a week long media break, no news, no social media, stay away from your computer, unless you ... obviously everyone works on a computer, so emails and so forth, but using the screen as an entertainment source.
Take a week off and see what happens, see how you feel, that's something that worth giving a shot. It might be interesting to see how hard that might be.
Bring up some addiction issues to look at.
Exactly, yeah, which is something else to address.
Then he (Johan Hari) went on… to be clear, we are not socialists or communist or anything like that… but he does point out that based on the studies, unequal societies where there's a big gap between wealthy and not wealthy, depression rate is much higher compared to those who have more of a gigantic middle class.
It's always talked about that the northern European countries have of the happiest populations ... they are some of the happiest countries in the world.
They are quite equal in terms of their socioeconomic status across the board. I don't think we're qualified to ... we could try to be arm chair economists and sociologists and so forth, but this is based on his research, quantified research. Not our opinions.
I'm just going to tie this back into that “meaningful work” point as well because when you're in a job where you don't have any power ... there's a book out there called Bullshit Jobs that I haven't read, but I've heard about frequently, it's the situations where you're stuck at work and your boss is going to give you, like you sort these tax by color just to take up your time. It's a form of humiliation really, because that's what my time is worth, that's what I'm doing? You feel like you don't have any power when you say so in the position that you're in, and that's a form of daily humiliation.
The proverbial, “if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean”. UGH!!
The next one is disconnection from the natural world.
Again, in our society, most of us are living in cities and a lot of times we just don't get out into nature.
I'm going to skip ahead a bit and we'll probably circle back on this, he talked about how he met this woman who was working with people with ... I think she was working with people with anxiety and depression, that's why he went to see her.
What she would do is she would take, and she did this with him, she took him to the top of a mountain, out in nature and there was this 180-degree, I think actually 360-degree view of the natural landscape.
The point of doing that is to when one experiences that, there's a reduction of ego with a feeling that there is this big universe and oh, I'm just relatively small.
For many people, it's enjoyable because it's a remembrance.
For him (Johan Hari), he was actually saying he didn't like it. He later thought this was because he did later discover that it was the ego fighting that.
He didn't say this, but my sense is it's particularly as one is looking at say psychedelics or Ayahuasca, it's a good way to prepare because if you don't like it, by all means come off the mountain. But then go up again and again so that you can get comfortable with that ego reduction or loss.
Disillusion is a strong word, but it's along those lines because that's what Ayahuasca and psychedelics do.
Ayahuasca is really good at is really de deconstructing the ego and if one is fighting, it, it makes it challenging, more challenging.
That can be a great preparation thing and I think I'll come back to that.
Kind of calls you out on the mask that you're wearing because it's like looking out over and feeling so small doesn't match with the identity you've created for yourself so that disparity gets highlighted.
It sounds like when one gets that feeling, the reaction can be, “I don't want to feel small!”
But, actually when one surrenders to it, there can be a realization of, “it’s oh, I'm small and I'm part of this gigantic thing. At the same time, I'm small and big at the time. Gigantic, I mean, infinite!!”
Getting back to the natural world point as it relates to Ayahuasca, particularly the way we do our retreats, we are on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, which is this amazing, beautiful, natural setting that you're essentially in all the time during the retreat.
This is because the space for ceremonies, meetings and so forth is covered but it's outdoors. The weather is almost a perfect southern California weather, maybe a little bit chillier at night, and so it's very conducive spending time outside and connecting with nature, and there are places to go hiking.
Also, you are around the indigenous Mayan people in the village because this is ... Tzununa.
Where we do retreats is a traditional Mayan village and so watching how these people ... I mean, you see the women in the creek washing their clothes, you see people working in their fields, you see them hiking.
They're in their traditional dress which is so cool-
Yeah, it's really cool.
It's this direct experience of the nature itself and in our retreats, and then also seeing this indigenous group of people who are fully in the natural world. That's how I think, group Tzununa retreats with us, walk with us.
There are a lot of places that are offering their retreats out in the natural world and, and so I think it can be quite helpful.
Also, from this perspective and from many other perspectives that disconnecting from the natural world is almost like cutting part of your body off.
It's like an amputation because, I say this so often but I think it's an important point, we are literally part of our environment.
We are co-breathing with the trees, they're inhaling what we're exhaling and we are inhaling what they're exhaling.
The food that we eat is a product of the earth and a boundary dissolution in itself and to return to just even contemplating that connection is really, really powerful.
When you're here in Lake Atitlan and we're eating food that comes directly from the land that's around us and we're just saturated in the nature here, it's just a really beautiful way to be immersed again in that and remember what it is like to be connected.