Ayahuasca workshop in California

These are our draft accounts. Comments and additions from others who have had experience in similar workshops is welcome.

Nicholas' account

I had heard of Californian workshops involving ayahuasca for some years. Some, I was told, involved importing a genuine shaman from Peru for a session while others simply used shamanistic techniques or invented their own. After my own experience in London some years ago, run by a Californian would-be shaman, I felt a bit cynical. Although this particular group leader was highly recommended, I expected a 'sanitised' version of the Takiwasi ritual we attended in Brazil, and I imagined it could be advertised as "All the wonders of working with a jungle shaman in the comfort of our luxury condominium."
We arrived at the venue at 9am; a house on a hill offering a dramatic view over the San Francisco bay. Our facilitators were a couple of about fifty who were both established and respected bodyworkers and had run many such 'entheogenic' workshops before. They welcomed us warmly and made us some carrot and ginger soup which was not only meant to settle our stomachs, but 'just in case', our vomit would be less offensive for us and our neighbours. We were also offered Ginko tablets which were supposed to help us to remember our experiences and thus make them easier to integrate afterwards.
There were two other couples making six in our group. All three couples had come from afar and had not taken part in such a workshop before although, like us, they had used various psychedelics. I found one couple hard to relate to: they were in their twenties, both hyperactive and kept jigging about. I guessed they were 'in it for kicks' and nervous: perhaps they were rich kids doing it for a dare. I felt comfortable with the other couple who were practitioners in alternative therapy in their late thirties, although in fact I was rather detached and did not relate much.
We sat around a low table which was used as an 'altar' where we could place any personal objects for the session. Then we were given a cup of ayahuasca and a cup of herb tea to wash it down with. I dread the taste, but this was not so bad as it was thick and syrupy like treacle. Then we put on blindfolds and lay back.
Our hosts supplied us with a series of audible delights in the form of recorded music and traditional shamanistic sounds such as rattling leaves, along with didgeridoo, Tibetan bowls and a bell rung by our ears. I felt well looked after and expected a pleasant trip, but felt practically no effect, not even nausea although I could hear the others vomiting, crying and sighing.
Perhaps I was not as open as I convinced myself. Like in the Takiwasi ritual, Anja felt very at home and had impressed the rest of the group (here with her angel cards and later with her dancing); she was the queen bee who everyone looked up to. I felt proud of her, but I also felt afraid that she would look down on me as spiritually inferior as happened at the Takiwasi ritual.
Afterwards we were given a nice meal and shared our experiences. One of the young jiggers had an insight about her movements while her boyfriend said he had many awesome experiences but was unable to describe any. The other woman unexpectedly relived an early trauma that she had kept secret, even to her boyfriend: she needed time to digest it before discussing it. Her partner had an affirmation concerning how to handle an injury.
All of them thought it was well worthwhile although it cost $325, and some had come a long way for it. Perhaps the most comic part was the option to wear adult nappies: one girl said "I came prepared for anything today, but never thought that I would be putting diapers on my boyfriend!"

Anja's account

We arrived, perky on a bright day. I was ready for a journey. Everything was easy going, we first were getting used to the space, which felt calm and safe. It was nice to have a man and a woman to guide us through this journey. All felt very balanced. We got all the information we wanted about the session and were given a lovely bowl of brightly coloured carrot and ginger soup to settle our stomachs. Any objects of power we might want to include (crystals, stones, texts, images, statues, feathers, etc.) we could place on the table in front of us. I drew an angel card (clarity) and most others got inspired to do the same. I used some aura soma quintessence as I usually do before these rituals, but mostly quietly in a corner out of sight . This time I felt anything goes, so I prepared myself in the group and felt at home in the easy Californian almost new age atmosphere. Everyone stated their intent for the session. Mine was letting go of my selfrightiousness and move to unknown spaces where I can learn. Actually I was not able to hold onto this intent very well but other worthwhile things happened.

We were given some Gingko to help our memory bringing things back later, a bowl of matte and the medicine which tasted better than I have ever experienced, sweet and syrupy! Blindfolds were handed out and the room darkened. We were treated throughout to beautiful music starting with didgeridoo which got me right grounded, feeling the vibration in my body. Incense surrounded us. Bells and singing bowls kept our consciousness clear. Rattles dispersed our thought patterns.
It started to work slowly. I felt myself floating up in a world of pretty moving patterns. I felt invited to observe this world. It is not my world. There is something alien about it, but beyond it could be the world of spirits. I see my body as a floppy vessel left behind as I travel on. I feel pity for it; I want to take my body with me. I feel a spectator in this world, but I don't like that. I want to be part of it. I feel motivated to draw spirit down, rather than flying up to it. I ask how I can be a better channel for receiving spirit. For some time music from the Takiwasi Centre curanderos in Peru has been playing. I am transported back to my intense rebirth experience with them in Brazil. This time I have grown up a bit more. I know I have more responsibility than the first time. I have to do more myself. A voice says "You know what to do - empty yourself, become this empty vessel again" I feel slightly nauseous. I start singing softly, with small sounds, a song from elsewhere. I feel connected with my/a/the spirit part. Before I know it, I throw up. I let it out happily, knowing this is just what is needed. I want to get it all out, till the last drop. I am not bothered with tissues or comforting gestures. I want to clear out, fully - become this clear channel to pull spirit down. Ronnie holds my hand. I hear other people throw up and - still blindfold- indicate gently that I am OK., so she can attend to them. She keeps holding my hand. I realise I find it quite hard to accept this full attention. I feel in debt to her. I realise this is how I behave in relationships. I don't want to fully receive, because then I have to fully give back. I like to build up 'credit' first - then I feel OK about receiving. I realise this holds me back from a fully committed relationship. I see how it is to demand 100% attention, like a baby does. I can suddenly appreciate the brilliance in this, where as before this relentless demanding struck me as an enormous burden when I thought about the idea of having a child. I intent to try asking for 100% attention (I warned Nicholas later), but in the knowing that I will return the same. I clearly feel this is an essential part of a committed relationship.

After having thrown up no major surprises or journeyings happen. I am just emptying and calm. I meditate on being clear. My mind feels very clear throughout the whole session; there is hardly any fuzziness at all. I love the incense and the leaf rattles that pass by several times. They too remind me of the aftermath soothing in the Takiwasi ritual. My spirit/mind is playing with the rattle. I feel I am chasing it. When it passes by to Gill, my neighbour I notice I want it back. I feel slightly frustrated and egocentric, but that's how it is. I know it is not coming back even though my mind tries to pull it. I then see Gill's energy, which is very beautiful and full of love in pink/magenta, dark red and gold. I hear the rattle around her and tune into her beauty. I am participating still in the rattling through acknowledging Gill's beauty. This feels very good and it teaches me to appreciate other people's beauty more often, rather than acquiring more for myself. I come back to a gently meditative state. My mind is tranquil. I reach out to connect with spirit. My world is bluish and soft, white/golden funnels of light are coming in. I am reminded of a gesture I have intuitively been doing for a while now after healing sessions or sometimes in gratitude. They are three hand gestures, one in front of my brow; one in front of my heart and one in front of my hara. I can see these gestures connecting to a symbol I focus on clarity and the symbol indeed comes very clear.

It feels a good tool to have. The music changes to Tibetan flute and monks singing. I know it is probably time to take the blindfold off, but this music brings me right home - right in the moment. So I stay with it - just being. Finally I come out. Half the group has gone out - some people are still in it. I dance on the music, allowing my body to just follow the energy. I am swirling for a long time seeing the carpet patterns turning but feeling hooked up by something above my head and not getting in the slightest bit dizzy. I feel well connected with myself - spirit and my surroundings.
Then we have a lovely meal. I make a mandala to record my experiences and we share our journeys.

Some comments of other participants: "I could understand why I do things the way I do"
"It let me meet me - the sadness in my face - feel my energy balancing - I felt my skeleton moving with wings coming out - I need to let go of the silly stuff in my body, I need the space for something else"
"I've got a hip problem. It said don't cling to it - feel it- get into your body, you've been living in your head"
"I heard a song. It reminded me of a song from a curandero in Guatemala. Now when it gets too much for me I know I can sing my song. All else is an illusion."

© 1996 Nicholas Saunders and Anja Dashwood



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