My first and terrifying experience with ayahuasca

by Kim

We are all sitting on the floor in the ceremonial room. One by one we are called up to the Shaman who gives us a cup of the medicine. When it’s my turn I take the cup, drink the content, thank the Shaman and return to my spot. The taste was very bitter, and sour at the same time. It almost tasted “digital” in lack of a better word. After everyone has taken their cup of medicine the Shaman calmly picks up his instrument and starts playing. The rest of us are nervous, none of us have tried this before and we don’t know what to expect. Lights are off and we can barely see each other in the starlight coming through the windows. I close my eyes as instructed and wait.

It is said that Ayahuasca does to you whatever it feels necessary. The indians claim that the “spirit vine” has its own intelligence. You have no control over the experience, you just have to trust the plant’s intentions. Some people won’t feel any effect at all, what a bummer. Honestly, my worst fear was that I had come all this way only to experience nothing. Quite naive in retrospect.

The Shaman plays a soft, very soothing tune. I start feeling a warm sensation in the back of my neck, after what seems like 10 minutes. The effect spreads up into my head which starts feeling very light. Soon the sensation is that my head is actually disconnected from my body. It feels very weird, but not unpleasant. A drunken and relaxed state is the next step. I yawn and giggle at my experience as fractals and patterns in intense blues and greens start to appear in front of my eyes. Spirals, circles and other shapes that resemble sacred geometry are passing in front of me, moving with the music. I feel like a tired, euphoric observer, glimpsing at an amazing creation. I could definitely stay here for a while. My current “world” is dark, but illuminated by very harmonious and pleasant “things”.

When I briefly open my eyes it is very confusing. People are dematerializing and returning, back and forth. Me as well. Whatever is illuminated by the stars is solid matter but what is in the shadows ceases to exist. My shirt is folded in my hands and it squirms like a snake when I move it. I try to put it on but realize it’s too complicated for me. I instead throw it over my head and the space it creates around me becomes my own little universe. Movement and sounds are very distorted at this point. I close my eyes again.

Something is now pulling my head up. It feels like invisible strings attached to my eyes, jerking them rapidly back and forth, out of my skull. Does someone want to show me something? I have no control over it and it appears as if my body is really no longer obeying. At least not obeying me.

I don’t know if it is because the music is changing but all of a sudden everything takes a more serious turn. The patterns become much less harmonious, they are now switching to reds and purples and I can feel that something completely different is coming up next. In an ambivalent anticipation I put my hand on my friend’s knee. I can somehow sense that he is experiencing the same thing as me, and it feels like we could both use some company.

We are leaving this world as we know it and in fear of what’s awaiting we hold hands to tell each other that it will be allright in the end. The music keeps playing, now way more intense. After a while we feel that we are strong enough to experience the next phase, something that we have to deal with completely on our own. We let go of each others hands and give a reassuring pat to one another as we take off… Somewhere.

Nothing could have prepared me mentally for what happened next.

I get sucked down into a dark abyss. I am now completely on my own in an empty universe. A space that feels endless, yet claustrophobic. I have never felt this alone before. The only entity alive in this universe is me, nothing else. I have no sense of a material body at this point. I am only a “conciousness of self” that floats around in a cold, dead, dark void. Whatever this place is, it feels like hell. Not the christian version, that would have felt better. At least then I would have enjoyed some company. The living world from where I came is far gone. Maybe it never existed, there is just this.

I can hear no music, I can feel no body, I can not return to the living world. I am trapped in this hostile universe all by myself. It is extremely frightening and my sense of logic is completely lost.

I experience myself only as a bluish flame of “lifeforce”, I guess you could call it a soul. And just as I believe things can’t get any worse, they do. I am all of a sudden fighting to survive. My flame of life is slowly going out. I panic as I feel the dark void starting to consume me. It is completely indifferent to my survival. It doesn’t care about anything or anyone, it just consumes me. My flame gets smaller, dimmer and weaker. This goes on for a very long time. I never thought I would be this afraid of dying. I am desperately holding on, trying to keep my flame burning, but I feel how I’m starting to lose this struggle. I scream out into the void, begging for it to stop. “Please don’t destroy me!”. With no integrity, pride or self-respect left, I regress to the soul of a little child, crying and begging for its life. But no one hears, no one cares, no one knows. No one will even know I ever existed. This is it… I am dying all alone in this cold, dark place. My conciousness dissolves into nothingness. It is over.

Time passes, I have no idea how much. I have no perception of time at this point.

A deep sense of guilt and regret is all that remains. Could I have done more in life for those in need of my help? I thought I was a quite generous person… Was I wrong? How much wouldn’t it have meant if someone had reached out to me in my final moments? Was no one helping me because of how I lived my life? Did I simply get what I deserved? I never fully realized that the only thing that really matters is connecting with other life and respecting it, helping it if need be.

At this moment I am crying intensely, for forgiveness and in despair.

Suddenly I think I hear vague traces of music somewhere far away, but I’m not sure. Like a dim light in the darkness a sound of an instrument becomes more and more clear. Is it real? Is it getting closer? Is there still life out there? Am I still alive? It feels like the presence of someone else… How is this possible? Maybe I’m not alone after all. This could really be a sign of existing life and I am getting more and more excited as I somehow move towards the source of the music. The source of life. Hoping. What is going on?

The world explodes into beautiful music, colors and patterns as I finally realize that I’m alive. I am sucked back up from the dark void and my flame starts burning again. I cry and sob in gratitude as I return to the living world. Life isn’t over, I have been given a second chance. This time I promise I will do better. “Thank you, Thank you, I will do better!”. I repeat it like a mantra, I don’t know for how long. I can feel the life energy returning to my body and it is fantastic.

It appears as if the worst ordeal is over and I guess I made it. I am very grateful for being alive but the medicine is not finished with me just yet.

The music is getting more intense again. I’m feeling strengthened by surviving the last place but I have no idea what will happen next. I won’t take any chances. I put on my shirt as a weird kind of “mind armor”, marching on to face whatever lies ahead. The music keeps building up and I can feel an intense nausea washing over me. I am now barely able to navigate in the living world and I grasp for my vomit cup somewhere on the floor. When the music reaches the crescendo I puke my guts out. Something has to leave my system and it does so brutally.

After some time I’m able to open my eyes again. The world around me is distorted but familiar. I lay down to look at the night sky. The stars glow intensely and everything looks very surreal, more bright and colorful than what I’m used to. It is beautiful but I’m still not sure about anything. I am wondering “Who am I, What am I?”. I can’t even figure out what my name is. Did I ever have one? I raise my hand up in front of the sky and watch a silhouette in wonder… “Is this me? Hmmmm… I guess I’m human then?”.

I cry a bit more, happy to be back in this world. Despite all its faults this place is immensely more beautiful, warm and caring than the place I visited. The medicine finally starts wearing off after 5 hours. We wake up on the floor, exhausted and in need to discuss what the hell just happened to us.

To anyone thinking about trying Ayahuasca I would say this: It is an amazing experience, but you have to know what you are getting yourself into. I had read a lot about it and thought I was prepared, I wasn’t. When I was experiencing “death”, nothing could have convinced me otherwise. IT IS REAL in that moment and extremely terrifying. Realize that it might be a very painful thing and that it’s not free of risks. Only do it with an experienced and serious Shaman. Don’t fall for the shallow tourist hype, people have actually died from taking Ayahuasca. All that said, if every human being on the planet had tried it, this world would most likely be a better place. It is a very humbling journey and you will realize a lot about yourself, including things you wish you never knew. The plant can sometimes chew you up, only to spit out what’s left of you. But, you have to trust the medicine…

Finally: The Shaman told me during debriefing (which I seriously needed) that the intense feelings from an Ayahuasca experience will slowly fade away, and they honestly do. What will remain is the memory of your feelings and thoughts during the experience. It is then up to you if you want to learn from that lesson or try to forget.

I hope I’m able to learn from it.