Long read: ayahuasca set me free

Since I started the conversation, I need to follow up on it, I thought after publishing my story about Bessel van der Kolk and Zomergasten. A story that received wonderful responses via email and social media. I wrote: “There are even moments in which I wonder if I have repressed something, or if I don’t know something. That can also be a positive matter. And I’m someone who doesn’t shy away from anything. Instead, I am open to any confrontation that needs to happen.”

To find out if I still had to face something, I decided to schedule an ayahuasca session. I wanted to clean up the last, energetic crumbs of the narcissistic nest of my childhood, if those were still affecting my life. Crumbs, more like droppings actually, the contents of which are not intended for the public debate. Nor is it my intention to use them in a future book.

I wanted to experience an ayahuasca session beyond the limitations and (systematic or financial) interests of the human nature of the practitioners. In my opinion, ayahuasca has only one function, namely impartial and fundamental healing. The secret of ayahuasca is most likely that people gain access to dimensions that are obviously not easily accessible in daily life.

So because I got access to those dimensions, after the session I realized that what I learned about it and what I experienced can be of value to society. Almost as a kind of testimonial, although I have to name every conceivable disclaimer. Because I think that it is certainly not suitable for everyone, that it is my experience and that everyone should make his or her own responsible choices – possibly with the guidance of professionals.

I am not clinical. As they say, that domain is definitely not my lane. Otherwise, I would not have been suitable for ayahuasca. I should not write anything about clinical psychology because I am neither a professional nor an expert by experience. On the other hand, I can write whatever I want about personal growth. And I have a lot to share about that.

Constantly being able and willing to improve yourself

By personal growth I mean knowledge in the form of a large toolbox full of poetry, methodologies, systems, tools and exercises from psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Yes, that is my lane. Yes, to be able to grow out of trauma and loss, but certainly not only with these goals in mind. It is equally suitable for people who have little deep valleys in their lives and want to reach some even more beautiful peaks, especially for people who are gifted and highly sensitive by the way. Deep, free and critical thinking, also known as mind building, is the foundation of my house. That’s what I live by.

The largest collection from that toolbox therefore suits the ability and desire to constantly improve to go through life as gracefully as possible. A bundling that considers body, mind and soul as one integrated whole, beyond evidence-based. Perhaps the most powerful testimonial to this is given by Gabor Maté, both in his life and in the lives of the many people he has helped with his work.

The times we live in make graceful living more than possible for those who not only want to grow, but also awaken. As in daring to be different; authentic – this term only because suitable words fail me. Living gracefully, including a beautiful way of making choices for ourselves and for others. Sensitive yet earthy. Just yet loving. For those who don’t shy away from the full picture beyond the convenience and limitations of the 3D human experience. On the contrary: for those who dare to go through that picture completely and who dare to live through it.

Psychedelic renaissance

For example, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is in phase 3 clinical trials, with the FDA awarding the status of this ground-breaking therapy in America and likely to roll it out by 2023. Or the pioneering work of MAPS and top-notch universities like UCL, John Hopkins and NYU that have opened psychedelic research centers. Psychedelic start-ups and investment funds are also popping up in America. Previously, the first psychedelic ETF hit the stock market and soared up to ten times in value in just a few weeks. Last year, Oregon became the first state in America to legalize psychedelic mushrooms. And so on, and so forth.

Obviously, we could add a whole list of developments in the Netherlands. But for matters like these, I always look at what’s happening across the border first, especially in America.

This psychedelic renaissance includes ayahuasca, a brew made from two different plants, namely the ayahuasca vine and the chacruna bush, which grow in the Amazon and mainly occur in Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

The shamans, also called the masters of plant medicines or plant teachers if we like, so the leaders of the ayahuasca ceremonies, have been doing this for thousands of years, for example to treat all kinds of mental and physical conditions. Interestingly enough, there are an incredible number of female shamans who have done this generation after generation. That is why I consider ayahuasca to be a plant medicine and why I have a lot of difficulty with the classification of ‘drugs’.

Ayahuasca vine and chacruna bush

What continues to fascinate me is how on earth out of the 80,000 plant species found in the Amazon, humans were able to combine the very ayahuasca vine and the chacruna bush for ultimate healing purposes. How did people come up with this centuries ago? At least not by chance. Consumed separately, both plant species are not psychedelic. In short, ayahuasca remains a mystery.

The scientific answer to how ayahuasca works is that the combination of the two separate plants delivers the psychedelic DMT that is already naturally in us to our brains, significantly altering our perceptions. The part in our brain that controls the ego then becomes less active. Hallucinations, or images, can arise. And toxins can be released from the body, through vomiting, amongst other things.

The spiritual answer to how ayahuasca works is that the plant teacher scans and brings out whatever needs healing most. This can be through vision, speech, knowing or feeling.

Even though the majority of psychonauts have an intention to focus on during the journey – sometimes big life questions – ayahuasca brings out what is most important to face, whether that is part of the intention or not. Ayahuasca has a bit of a feminine energy, like a primal mother. That is why many speak of the wise lessons and insights of mother ayahuasca.

Give awakening a place at the table

I find it fascinating and extremely frustrating to see how much stigma there still is attached to personal growth, mind building and living with integrity, mostly in business and especially in the case of psychonauts. Although that has changed enormously in recent years, it is still quite persistent and unjustified.

I don’t want to generalize, but that persistence is especially prevalent among the older generations of our society. Let it be precisely the gray hairs and suits that drive business or politics… People from the older generations who are significantly behind in general knowledge of these domains, or completely misunderstand them, but meanwhile are in control. People whose rigidity and arrogance in the form of superiority and condescension towards the awakening can sometimes be alarming and cringe-inducing. Instead of giving the wisdom of awakening a place at the table and listening to it with curiosity, the wisdom is dismissed by them as irrelevant, or as ’60’s whoo-whoo, or as not powerful at all.

Right setting

I chose a ceremony in a beautiful and safe spiritual center and under female guidance. Because, as with everything, things sometimes go wrong with ayahuasca ceremonies. There are cases of women being assaulted by male shamans somewhere in the middle of nowhere in nature. Although this should never happen and it is the sole responsibility of those shamans, it is important to choose the right setting with a little common sense.

This also applies to the conditions to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony. In any case, that means having no mental disorders, not taking certain medication and avoiding certain nutrients before and after the ceremony.

For those who eat generally healthy, a ceremony can be physically quite easy. Unpleasant matters such as throwing up don’t necessarily have to occur. And when it does, it is a good sign and even something to be proud of because it is a sign that someone is doing ‘the work’. Matters that no longer serve in someone’s heart, head and soul are being removed.

Ayahuasca as an immense celebration

Back to the question of whether I really needed to learn anything new about myself and still face something. After all, that was my intention for ayahuasca, as well as wanting to experience love and support. I went into it with the utmost care and a bit of nerves. I knew that one ayahuasca ceremony could equal years of therapy and of course I could not predict exactly how the day would go.

The intention of support and love that I had brought me into a soft world full of insights. A world in which everything I played with in my mind and heart was good. Ninety-five percent of the time, I had a big smile on my face and half the time, I was fluttering through my journey with gratitude and dedication.

Above all, the journey was an immense celebration of all the hard inner work I have done over many years. The two beautiful ladies guiding the session told me about my clean aura. A pink field around me, as if being wrapped in a protective blanket of love. Until then, I didn’t know much about aura and believed in its existence, just as I believed in the existence of karma – doubting. Hearsay, but it probably doesn’t exist. Yet, there was no doubt in the experience of ayahuasca. Aura existed.

During my experience, I was sometimes able to steer on the themes that followed each other. But there was no control. I trusted the information I got without controlling it. I experienced a immense celebration of self-love and the realization that I can be a freethinker, free-doer and freer and at the same time experience more from other dimensions. Beyond religion, I heard in the lyrics of a beautiful song being played. Indeed, that was my experience.

I decided to continue my journey on my own, in a nice front room, a little further from the rest of the group. That way, I tried to keep the focus on myself to stay more in balance with everything I felt from the group, especially from my fellow traveler on the left. The second half of the journey, I felt like a Buddha. I know peace and joy, but never had I experienced so much peace and light as during the ayahuasca session, not even during meditations.

Another thing is that something has changed physically. A certain kind of periodic pain in my lower back has stopped. The way in which this happened during the ceremony is not easily explained through logic – yet not so outstanding that we could talk about impossible miracles. I don’t understand the details about it myself.

Dimensions provide context

What I do understand is that the added value of the information obtained during ayahuasca is immense. The field of psychology could never have given me all those explanations, nor the accompanying peace of mind. Of course, the physical healing is also a pleasant side effect that I had not counted on at all. 

Nothing that is no longer mine is still carried by me, for example that belongs to relatives and has nothing to do with me, but is crushing me, or that comes from other dimensions. The dimensions assessed by ayahuasca have provided context, not just based on rational and/or cognitive, social, or psychological components.

For those who think: I don’t believe in all of this, I didn’t believe it either before I was introduced to ayahuasca. How comfortable that jacket of the actual corporate world of back then was for me to wear, precisely because that world was tangible. In addition, there is something incredibly powerful about standing with both feet on the ground and living according to, for example, the Stoic philosophy.

Moreover, these kinds of experiences may well be tricks of the human brain. Tricks that allow us to view and explore our themes differently. But after the experiences with ayahuasca, it is damn hard to see it that way. Its impact is beyond what you would believe.

The added value for society is therefore not in saying that everyone should suddenly start doing ayahuasca. Or that things always go well. Or spout other nonsense. It is all about underlining that there are things that ayahuasca is capable of, beyond the zoomed-in parts of the domain of psychology. That has to do with the insights that can be obtained and the experiences of the other dimensions that are accessed.

Nine dimensions

From what I understand, according to this way of thinking, there are nine dimensions. The physical world has four dimensions, namely the 3D human experience and fourth, namely linear time. The fifth dimension is the world of dreams and visions and in such a way that those are not controlled by humans. This is the dimension that provides access to something greater than ourselves. 

The fifth dimension is connected to the collective consciousness of humanity. It is the dimension of the archetypes and the experiences of all who have lived before and who will be born. For example, I remember that during the previous ayahuasca ceremony in 2016, I was amazed by how old the world is, how many lives or stories there have been and how old I am as a soul myself.

The sixth dimension is described as the world of spirits and the home of Pachamama, in other words, Mother Earth. A place where spirit guides or totem animals can be met and where deceased relatives, ancestors and so on can be contacted.

The seventh dimension is described as an energetic dimension, where encounters with large and non-personal entities are possible. The eighth dimension is where I ended up, which is a dimension of pure potential and the ability to drive change in all dimensions below the eighth. Nine would be the ultimate top, but I have no idea what that would be like.

On the other side of ayahuasca

Typically, it takes twenty-eight days for psychonauts to integrate what they experienced during a session. We are eighteen days after ayahuasca as I write this piece and mostly, I feel that I have to give myself what the heart wants. I need to take that to the next level. Who knows what it will look like in six months. The clarity of my experience can never be taken from me, even if I could never return to that dimension. That experience might be enough to be grateful for.

See you on the other side, I said jokingly to some friends before entering the ayahuasca session. On the other side turns out to be true – even over the hill. Zooming in on pieces of light and using them for the greater good is certainly my intention. But as said, I’m not quite sure what will come out of it yet and that’s OK, although as an impatient soul, it irritates me from moment to moment. Although, the peace and pleasure of being in the smallest and most everyday matters has increased sustainably since then.

I don’t know yet whether I will do ayahuasca again. I always take these sorts of decisions with extreme precision. Likewise, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do party drugs, or anything sensational. On the other hand, I did ayahuasca for various higher goals. In my view, this plant medicine is the real deal.

Spiritual language

I suspect that the next phase of the psychedelic renaissance will be legalized sessions under the guidance of professionals from the psychological domain. But if these practitioners don’t have spiritual knowledge and skills, things might get messy.

Don’t get me wrong because I think it would be excellent to provide solid support to the psychedelic renaissance in the Netherlands. But practitioners must be proficient in the ‘spiritual language’ associated with psychedelic experiences, to provide the right context and support integration and positive consequences appropriately.

Since 2012, I’ve been preparing autonomously to be proficient in that language, using everything from the toolbox I talked about earlier. And perhaps I should give some credit to my father here – for his various philosophical and spiritual transmissions and for the way that I am genetically able to receive them.

Not that I will ever become a shaman, but through my thorough spiritual preparation, I knew that whatever would happen during ayahuasca, it would not be more than I could handle. And I was convinced that I could properly interpret the provided information. Again, how on earth are professionals in the domain of psychology supposed to manage all of this without knowing the spiritual language? To me, that seems to be a valid and socially engaged question.

We are going to witness the further advancement of the psychedelic renaissance, which is extremely fascinating. And as I saw hanging on the wall during my journey, the vital message is ultimately: Love the life you live and live the life you love. That seems like a good goal to me.

The Dutch version of this article was published by BNNVARA, Joop.