PV: To me, Ayahuasca is a very sacred medicine with ancient healing powers that was first given to tribes by a greater wisdom. They were guided on which plants to find, where, how to boil them down (which must be done for 72 hours), and how much to drink.

When creating Ayahuasca, you must mix the vines and the leaves together and brew them tenderly. The vine allows the stomach to absorb the medicine from the leaves. Without it, your body would instantly purge the tea. You need those two plants combined in a specific way.

I believe this is a very sacred medicine that this tribe, these holders of this wisdom (their lineage goes back a thousand years), use to help us heal and do the work we need to do.

PV: I’ve participated in close to a hundred ceremonies.

PV: My background as an elite athlete always made me very aware and careful of what I consumed. It was important that whatever I put in my body was very clean. Before I began taking Ayahuasca, I was hesitant to participate in something that so many in the West thought of as drugs; “anything that alters your mind is a drug, and drugs are bad” was how I saw it. And so I kept hearing about Ayahuasca and being invited into it, but I was always scared, so I always stayed away.

Eventually, I met this group of friends with whom I had great conversations, and we had the same perspective on how we think about life. They ended up arranging a private circle and invited me to go.

In my first experience, I was very nervous about what to expect and cautious about who was leading it and who the shaman was. I think people who do Ayahuasca need to be very careful about that, whether it’s your first time or your 100th time.

As I sat down, ready to receive my first taste of Ayahuasca, the shaman approached me and explained that Ayahuasca holds the ‘Grandmother spirit’, that she looks after you and guides you through the session. “Let the grandmother of Ayahuasca get to know you,” the shaman said, and I finally relaxed my body.

As I relaxed, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of familiarity, like I already knew this energy, which was really interesting. From there, I went on this incredible journey.
It was so special because I was in the company of a shaman I trusted and some of my best friends, who were also all experiencing it for the first time. My body was doing contortions; I unknowingly began dancing for the entire group and using hand signals I had never used. I remember my body shaking and contorting, but I had the biggest smile on my face.

Amidst the dancing and contortions, I began to have an overwhelming sense of relief. More relieved than I ever felt in my life. I had this crazy experience where I could hear the music from the tribe (they play instruments while we’re on the medicine), and I felt like I was traveling along the sound waves of the music. I felt I was traveling around the room. I even started making noises (I didn’t know about this, they told me later). At one point, I remember thinking, “I better let my friends know I’m okay because I must look terrible!”. I thought I probably looked like I was having a horrible experience, although it was the most freedom and joy I had ever felt in my life.

Feeling such joy was life-changing. I didn’t realize how much of that was lacking in my life before.

To answer your question, Ayahuasca did change me, I believe, in a profound way. And I think it can do that, but it’s not guaranteed. You go through this experience with a tribe in a forest, but the next day life is right there, just the way you left it.

After opening yourself up to something like Ayahuasca, it’s easy and even common to fall right back into your old patterns and routines in the following days after the ceremony. It’s far easier to want to change than it is to change, and so some look back on their ceremony as just an interesting and possibly profound time without bringing with you the effect it had.

And so, knowing all of this, I was able to start observing myself.

I had already been meditating for years and had great experiences but never achieved that complete separation from the ego (or identity).

After my first Ayahuasca ceremony, I was able to sort of sit back from where my mind was and observe the filters I saw the world through.
Before I did Ayahuasca, I thought that who I was was this voice I heard in my head, this mind, these thoughts I had. After, I realized that this is not true: that is just part of what I am projecting into the world, but it’s not actually who I am.

That was a really profound shift for me.

Photo by River Callaway

PV: I was lucky to have had a great childhood even in difficult family and financial situations. I know and work with people who have had horrific experiences and unbelievable traumas as children. Still, at the end of the day, there are traumas we’ve had and traumas we’ve created (some through interpretations made up in our mind). Both are worthy of being understood and worked on.

When I entered adulthood, I realized that I came away with as much trauma as most children. I had some experiences which, of course, would be difficult for any child. Yet, it was my interpretation of those experiences that affected my life and my thoughts about my life.

I remember this one time when my mom dropped me at school, and I started thinking, “What have I done? Why is she dropping me at school? I better be a better-behaved child, or else she will abandon me.” For me, thoughts of abandonment were one of my biggest fears as a child. Although my mother was doing something completely normal, I had interpreted that situation very differently in my head.

There would be many other times and experiences where from a young age, I interpreted things very differently from how they actually were.

Being the youngest of four siblings, I would regularly compare myself to my brother and sisters on more than one occasion. It was nothing abnormal, but its effect on me — specifically as I compared my smaller, younger self to my elder brother, who is eight years my senior — began to make me feel as though I would never match him. He was always faster and stronger than me, so I began to live with the crushing feeling that I was weak.

For this reason, as I got older, I went around life subconsciously, trying to prove that I wasn’t weak. No one had outright told me I was weak, but that little seed had been planted in me from such a young age. I had grown up desperate to prove the opposite.

When I was in my 20s, I went into adventure racing, 500–1.000 mile races in rough, impossible terrain through jungles and deserts worldwide. It was the toughest racing in the world, and I was excited and eager to prove myself by doing it. You’re on a team, and the four of you are entirely self-sufficient, even carrying your own food and water and navigating in unfamiliar areas for up to ten days.

When I began learning and experiencing Ayahuasca, it led me to unpack things like this and really understand why I was doing the things I was doing. Some were easier than others: I had an older brother who seemingly was developing faster than me, so I thought of myself as weak. When I became an adult, I did things to prove to myself and others that I was strong, cause and effect.

I think Ayahuasca has this incredible ability to make you face your limiting beliefs, think about your past differently, and see things from a different perspective. Yet, it’s not just the ceremony that makes the change. It’s really what you do after the ceremony that changes your life. Ayahuasca guides you and gives you the tools, but you have to actually use them.

Photo by Amir Leron

PV: Ayahuasca should be prepared and practiced by the people who carry the wisdom. I don’t think it should be available in coffee shops or clubs for everyone to drink it.
This doesn’t mean that westerners can’t do it, but they need to learn from the people who carry this medicine about the spiritual power it has and how it is sacred to the indigenous communities it has been a part of for thousands of years. As I said before, it’s crucial to know who you do it with and how you do it. If you feel called to it, you should do it.

We also must look at this Ayahuasca “tourism” coming up, thinking about how it affects these tribes. We don’t want to show up with another few thousand people in their villages and overrun them. They have about a hundred people living there, and that’s it. A thousand of us would go there and destroy it even if we didn’t mean to. We have to be more conscious of what we’re doing there and why. The search for self-transformation can’t come at the price of destruction.

Ayahuasca is a great tool. It takes you very quickly to a place where you see the world through different lenses, and I believe that’s very, very important for anyone and everyone to experience.

However, it’s not the only tool, and it’s not required. It is possible to have a breakthroughs without it, but sometimes it takes longer. I think it would be a great experience for most people, but do your homework, be conscious about where the medicine is coming from — is it just the vine and the leaf brewed in the traditional way? I’ve heard that sometimes people put other things in the medicine because they want to create this effect (because you’re paying for this service and want to get an experience from it). You have to be really careful.

You shouldn’t fear Ayahuasca. Yet, it should be something you take seriously and view as a journey that will be a profound shift in your life, even if that shift is just being open to learning and trying ancient medicine from ancient people. I believe it could be good for many people, but you should really sit with it and think about how you feel about it without being forced into it.

Don’t do it just to try, don’t do it to party — I don’t think that’s the way to use it.

Photo by Amir Leron

PV: I think we live on a planet where humans are doing what humans do, and we never really stopped to look at why we are doing this human stuff.
We are humans having a human experience, but we are controlled by what’s called biogenic traits. These are traits in our DNA that lead us to the behaviors that keep our species safe — like the desire for high caloric food, the desire to reproduce, the desire to bond — all these things that kept us strong as a species.

What controls or guides us are the feelings of pleasure or discomfort. All animals have this. Now, what we did as humans was that we started liking the feelings of pleasure and not so much the feelings of discomfort. For this reason, we started manipulating the world to give us more pleasure and avoid discomfort at all costs.

To me, our cities and governments are just emotional reactions. All civilization is an emotional reaction, a domestication plan. A type of domestication that took us away from our primitive selves.

When I found myself in the jungle, I realized that these tribes are not controlled by their emotions. They do what they need to do for humans to live. They wake up in the morning, hunt if they need to hunt, and spend time with their loved ones. They sit and play music, make their jewelry, and play soccer in the afternoon. I couldn’t even tell which kid belonged to which family because they were all a group, and all the adults were guiding the kids.

This is how they live their life.

When I returned to my life in Los Angeles, I came back to a life where the primary focus is about success — financial, career, relationships, etc. And there are all these rules and parameters I have to follow. When I first met the tribes people, I remember being taught that they are the primitive ones and we are advanced, even civilized. But then I asked myself — “who got it right here?” We’ve put a price on everything we need to survive: shelter, food, community, but they just live their lives.

It was so profound to me that we don’t have all the answers we think we do. We believe we are all powerful in our modern westernized society because we manipulate things and our environment. We make everyday tasks as easy as possible. The speed at which our day-to-day life is would be unbelievable to many in that community. Not to say we don’t achieve things and create incredible things, I was just astounded to realize that we don’t have all the wisdom.

When I met with these tribes, I was able to brush off all my preconceived notions about them and their way of life and learned from them as a student with humility. I’ve learned so much and still have so much to learn.

When comparing us to them, it was just mind-blowing to see the differences in their purpose for life. One of us is here living as a human is designed to live, caring about the earth and doing what they can to protect it; and the other one (us) is here to take care of their emotions, going through life as fast as they can to get these “things” that make them feel better.

If you look at a person living in a society like ours, their lives are the range they are comfortable living. In other words, this is someone who thinks, “I’m comfortable doing this or doing that, anything I’m not comfortable with, I should be avoiding.”

Living life doesn’t always mean living in comfort, joy, and peace. Life is also going through these hurdles and challenges. But, as I go through them, I get to shift what’s blocking me, what’s holding me back. It’s actually a good thing to go through these hurdles and challenges because as you do, you change your limitations, which means the parameters or limits of life become expanded. They’re greater. So now you’re not living trying to control parameters, but to expand them.

If there’s something to challenge me, I will go through it and do it with joy because I know it peels off this control mechanism that is limiting my life. And then I get to the other side, and I can experience joy. I live fulfilled even in darkness.

And that’s what life is really about.

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