First Time Ayahuasca Drinkers: A Primer

If you’re thinking of trying Ayahuasca for the first time, you probably have some of the same questions as most of our retreat participants. What does it taste like? Is the purge as horrible as I imagine it being? How long does the experience last? Do I drink one cup, or how do I know how much to have?

It’s normal to feel anxious. In this article we’ll try to address some of the most common concerns that we’ve come across at the Eagle Condor Alliance with the hope that after reading, first time participants will feel a bit more confident and relaxed as they get ready for ceremony. We addressed how to choose a safe place to experience the sacred medicines in this article and how to decide between going to one ceremony or a full retreat here.

Once you’ve chosen a trustworthy location and healer, the best way to approach an Ayahuasca ceremony is in a positive, trusting, and stress-free state of mind.
It’s tough to get there if your head is spinning with questions, so let’s try to quell some of those doubts.

If you’re going to your first ceremony, understand that Ayahuasca is an ancient spirit; it is not a beverage, drug, commodity or inanimate thing. It is as alive as we are. Imbibing the ancestral remedy of the Amazon marks the beginning of your relationship with one of the wisest and most demanding teachers on the planet. In order for that relationship to blossom, most people must shift from a consumer mentality to one geared towards communing with and honoring Ayahuasca and the Earth as living beings.

This teacher has a voice and a personality. If the Ayahuasca you drink was harvested wild in the jungle, it has gathered knowledge and wisdom from the land where it lived. It contains the energy and information of the rivers that flowed past it, the rain storms that fell on and around it, the spirits and wisdoms of the animals that lived with it in that area, the information stored in the other plants that grew around it, and the other subtle and not-so-subtle energetic forces of this Earth and Universe.

If that sounds like a bunch of vague, new-age lingo to you, I don’t blame you. It would to me too if I didn’t know it was true. There’s no way to grasp the living nature, spirit, or voice of Ayahuasca until you’ve tried it. Step out of your own way, clear your mind, and go to (a safe and ancestral) ceremony.

During a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony with a dedicated healer, the medicine has the capacity to condense its infinite wisdom into digestible, customized lessons that are specifically tailored to each drinker. There is no explanation – religious, scientific, theological, philosophical, or mystical – that can sufficiently describe how this process takes place. In my experience, Ayahuasca teaches me directly while simultaneously awakening the dormant wisdoms that I already carry.

In the words of our healers at the Eagle Condor Alliance, we reconnect with the great mystery of this universe in each ceremony with the sacred medicines of the Americas. It’s called a reconnection because that unity with and understanding of the Earth and the divine is immutable, eternal, and inherent in all living beings. Sadly, in our pursuit of security, convenience, and comfort, we humans have forgotten or significantly distanced ourselves from that truth.

Without knowing it, most people come to Ayahuasca and the sacred medicines to remember and revive a connection that they’ve always had. Often they thank the plant for its guidance and teachings, but be grateful to yourself and recognize that you carry profound wisdom. You are performing the sacred act of remembering what so many have forgotten, and that recollection has powerful positive consequences for you, your community, your family, and far beyond your scope of vision.

Ayahuasca shows us what we need to see, makes us feel what we need to feel, and explains what needs to be explained; nothing less and nothing more. During an Ayahuasca ceremony you may feel like you are being taken somewhere that you wouldn’t choose to visit. You may feel scared or uncomfortable. At those times, remember that you are ignorant compared to these ancient sacred medicines. Observe the emotions and sensations that are arising and give thanks, knowing that they are instructive and healing. Discomfort and occasional fear is part of the price of admission into the master class on existence that you’re attending.

Your willingness and desire to work with and listen to Ayahuasca matters, and the most beneficial attitude of the student towards this teacher is one of love, trust, deference, humility, and gratitude. Our healers at the ECA teach that the healer does 10% of the work, the medicine 40%, and the participant or patient 50%. Your role is not passive, so be prepared for a night of engaged, attentive study.

Regarding what to expect in terms of the design of the ceremony, after everyone is settled in we are called up to the altar by the healer to drink. The medicine tastes earthy but the flavor is usually not as intolerable as most people imagine it being. The healer determines the correct amount of Ayahuasca to give us. Trust him or her and recognize your own ignorance on the matter.

The amount of medicine does not necessarily dictate the intensity of one’s experience. A 100 pound woman and a 250 pound man will often be given the same amount of medicine and it’s not uncommon for the man to have an extremely intense experience while the woman reports the first cup to have been quite mild. She might drink again later in the night while he feels like one cup is sufficient for his study. If you want to drink more medicine, you can request another cup and the healer will determine if that’s a good idea or not.

Don’t wait for anything to happen. Don’t wait for a vision. Sit or lie down, try to stay still, breathe well, and welcome the plant into your body, heart, mind and spirit. Learning how to get out of your own way and let things flow is one of the great teachings of the medicines.

After inviting this being into our bodies, it will begin to scan us. The sensation can feel like a water snake swimming through us, and it is often accompanied by nausea. Nausea should not be mistaken for the need to purge. When it is time to purge, you will know; do not fall into the trap of letting physical discomfort dominate your mind and your experience. Study those physical sensations and understand that the medicine is showing you where you are holding unhealthy energies. Re-open yourself to the other level of teachings by breathing calmly into where those sensations are occurring. Trust the plant.

The medicine scans our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bodies. If it encounters physical toxins, energy blockages, signs of disease, unhealthy thought patterns, or spiritual imbalances or baggage that is weighing us down, it will cause us to purge. The purge is not like other forms of vomiting which we have experienced; it is a mechanism of relieving illness and making space for health and clarity to come into our lives. After we purge it is a very helpful practice to give thanks to the medicine for the relief that it brings.

The immediate effects of a cup of Ayahuasca typically last for 3 to 6 hours, and you will be conscious throughout the experience. At a responsible retreat center and ceremony, there should always be at least one person there in the role of caretaker in addition to the healer. This person will accompany you outside of the maloka if you need to purge, and will assist in other ways as needed.

No matter how demanding or difficult the process is, it will end. It may seem overwhelming if we’re being shown the crudest, most graphic versions of our fears, but we are always better off for having gone through the experience. Human beings benefit from exploring their internal light and darkness and from facing their fears. We are either willfully or subconsciously blind to our own insecurities and fears, or we are ignorant of our own divinity. Ayahuasca teaches us that we have nothing to fear and that God lives within us. Moreover, it does so through personalized lessons which are delivered in a style customized for each of us.

It’s not uncommon for the first-time-drinker to leave ceremony feeling lighter, clearer, and inspired to live a life of love, health and purpose. It’s also common for the same person to not be able to decipher and articulate all of the information he or she received. The plant is not concerned with your ability tell yourself a linear, comprehensive summary of your night in hindsight.

Your ego, on the other hand, is very concerned with this ordering of events because in our daily lives, we view events and happenings through a lens of causality. We tend to convince ourselves that we understand the causes of our behaviors and emotions, and we exclude all of the other types of influences and energies that are beyond our scope of perception and comprehension from that understanding. We don’t trust the Earth or the Universe; most of us don’t believe in a greater power or pray, and so we attempt to control life in order to protect ourselves. We rely on illusory causal connections and sensory input to form our ephemeral and biased perceptions. The lens of causality that we filter reality through and base our opinions and actions on is often customized to promote acceptance from our families, friends, and colleagues.

If you find yourself in the position, after ceremony, where you can’t recall exactly what happened or articulate the teachings that you received, stay calm and give thanks. It is in these situations that our trust of Ayahuasca and the other sacred medicines is tested. Clarity will come in time.

Ayahuasca is not a guaranteed, life changing, miracle in a cup. If it shows you the roots of the fears that lead you to unhealthy life decisions, that’s wonderful. What a gift! But are you willing to make a shift towards a different lifestyle, profession, romantic partner, hobby, mindset or routine based on those revelations? Are you willing to uproot fear, suspicion, and insecurity and replace them with trust and love?

Be honest with yourself and know that this path of consciousness is more challenging than the path of willful or subconscious ignorance, criticism, judgement and scorn. The path of beauty, truth, creativity, leadership, passion, generosity, vulnerability, and love is more demanding than the path of stagnation, comfort, arrogance, and partial giving, but the path of love is the path that makes life worth living. If you choose to go to an ancestral Ayahuasca ceremony, you are choosing to reconnect to red path of the heart, and you won’t be sorry for having done so.