Episode 14 24 June 2021
My ayahuasca chronicles - Part 1
Principal lawyer, Geraldine Grace | Host, New Earth lawyer podcast
In this episode, I discuss my experience taking the South American psychedelic brew ayahuasca in Peru in 2017.
This is the first of a multi-part series, where I introduce the basics of ayahuasca, what it is, how it's made, what to consider when choosing how and where to do ayahuasca and what attitude to bring to the ceremonies. I recommend resources and links for anyone interested in pursuing a journey of consuming ayahuasca.
Please remember that, as a psychedelic concoction, ayahuasca is to be treated with caution and respect. It is also illegal in many places in the world.
I am an experienced corporate lawyer, using the law to build purposeful, human-centred, Earth-friendly legal enterprises & ecosystems, for happier humans and a better planet.
I am also the founder and host of the New Earth lawyer podcast.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia, and an expert in enterprise governance, purpose, business & human rights and modern slavery. I established my own law practice Geraldine Grace in 2020, focussing on enterprises seeking purpose, and actors in the impact economy.
I am a legal advisor to not-for-profits with a national reach in impact and purpose. I work with Boards to optimise performance and help enterprises embed purpose and integrate human rights into their business.
I have over 20 years' experience practising law in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and mainland China. I have worked for large global and Australian law firms and was a partner of a top-tier Australian law firm for several years.
I sit on the peak governing body of Australia's largest university.
[1:49] Ayahuasca is becoming more well-known and kind of trendy - amongst creative professionals and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
[3:33] Ayahuasca is both a plant (a vine) and a brew made out of that vine and a shrub. The two plants interact with each other to enable a hallucinogenic effect,
[6:28] I describe my reasons for wanting to experience ayahuasca, specifically curiosity about what is the true nature of reality and a search for personal purpose.
[11:12] A word of caution about ayahuasca, as it is a hallucinogenic concoction, it will make you unable to move without assistance so you must feel safe amongst people who are around you when you take it.
[12:59] Ayahuasca is illegal in many places in the world and although not expressly illegal in Australia, it should be assume and treated as such. This is why I travelled to Peru where there is a legal ayahuasca tourism industry.
[14:58] I recommend a centre near Iquitos, Peru which is called the Temple of the Way of Light, with Western trained facilitators and medical staff as well as indigenous Shipibo male and female shamans, with independent reviews and recommendations I could verify.
[16:47] I travelled from Melbourne, Australia to Iquitos, Peru and made the journey by river and foot into the jungle to the centre. I followed instructions to stay away from the Internet while there and to adhere to a strict diet.
[19:03] Apart from the setting, set is also important in approaching ayahuasca - that is, mindset, For me the three important factors are: respect for ayahuasca; clarity of intention; and a courageous spirit.
Part 2 of My Ayahuasca Chronicles
Part 3 of My Ayahuasca Chronicles
Sting discusses his ayahuasca experience in a 2012 video.
Paul Simon's 1990 song Spirit Voices recounts his experiences with ayahuasca.
A 2017 Guardian interview with Tori Amos where she talks about, amongst other things, her 'penchant for psychedelics'.
A 2016 article from the New Yorker about the increasing 'trendiness' of ayahuasca in the US.
A description from the Ayahuasca Foundation of how the ayahuasca brew is made, from the ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi) and chacruna leaves (psychotria viridis).
A medical explanation of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
DMT: The Spirit Molecule, a book by Dr Rick Strassman, a clinical psychiatrist who conducted US government approved experiments, injecting volunteers with DMT, from 1990 to 1995.
The Temple of the Way of Light, in Iquitos, Peru, a place I recommend and where I experienced ayahuasca
A piece from the Ayahuasca Foundation about the Shipibo people's connection to ayahuasca.
Graham Hancock, author, talking about his ayahuasca experiences on London Real.
Chris Kilham's Medicine Hunter website.
The Ayahuasca Test Pilot's Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying, a book by Chris Kilham
The website of Dr Gabor Mate, Canadian physician and addiction expert.
An article from Double Blind Magazine about the importance of 'set and setting'.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the New Earth lawyer podcast. My name is Geraldine Johns-Putra, and I am your host.
Today, I want to relate something that is actually a personal experience. It's a personal story of something that is quite an important part of my life. I want to tell you about the time I experienced the psychedelic brew, known as ayahuasca. The reason I decided to do this is because I've been asked by many of my friends who know that I have done ayahuasca, and have asked me about it. And I haven't had the chance to really relate to all of them what actually happened to me what I learned from it, and you know, all the details of this really life changing experience.
I'm going to do this in more than one part, probably three parts. So this first part, I'm going to talk about the basics of ayahuasca, what it is, and the research I did into it. And then the next part I'll do the actual experiences I had when I was under the influence of ayahuasca. And then the third part I will do the integration of my experiences, and really the lessons that I have learned from ayahuasca.
Now, I actually travelled to Peru in 2017, to do ayahuasca. And that was a trip that I had been thinking about for some years, but really finally decided to do it then. Most people have heard of ayahuasca by now, but when I decided to do it in 2017, and told people about what I was going to do, people who were close to me, many of them hadn't heard of it before, or if they had, they'd only heard about it through me. By that time, some celebrities had become well known for for doing it or had talked about their experiences doing it. I'm thinking of Sting, Paul, Simon, Tori Amos, and a few others, but the ones I named, they said that ayahuasca as a psychedelic concoction really helped them creatively. So they produced or wrote songs and albums that drew on their ayahuasca experience. At the time also, when I did it, I was reading reports of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and founders who were travelling from California down to Peru to go and experience ayahuasca because they thought that ayahuasca would help them become more innovative or build up their businesses and give them insights. So it was kind of a trendy thing to do, right? Amongst certain circles.
Ayahuasca, what is it in more detail? Well, it's actually a brew, as I've said. It's also a vine, a plant. The brew ayahuasca is made up of two plants, that vine, which is also known as ayahuasca, and a shrub. Now, the shrub is what contains a hallucinogenic substance that's quite powerful. It's known as dimethyltryptamine. Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. Now, the DMT is actually ineffective if it's taken on its own. What you need with it is the vine because the vine has enzyme inhibitors. And when these enzyme inhibitors work together with the DMT, it actually causes this hallucinogenic effect, which can last for several hours. In Quechua, which is an indigenous language of the Amazon Basin, ayahuasca means vine of the spirits. And shamanic peoples or tribes who have accessed it, shamans in those tribes have used it for healing purposes and, and to divine knowledge for, I don't know, generations, centuries since time immemorial.
Traditionally, ayahuasca is made out of these two plants, the vine and the shrub. And it's boiled together for hours, generally in the morning, and then when the shaman in charge is satisfied that the concoction is ready, then it's bottled, it's cooled and it's bottled, and then it's taken in ceremony later that evening. The ceremonies to drink ayahuasca take place at night. And what it produces is this really kind of thick liquid, is this kind of slurry, muddy-coloured, earthy-tasting, not particularly pleasant, but you know not that bad in my experience, although some people said it was foul, and it gets more and more potent over the days, because what happens is, you know, it's boiled at the start, and then it's added to and added to and added to for, for ceremonies that follow on. So by the time you come to the last couple of ceremonies, it's pretty thick.
Now, why did I decide to do ayahuasca? Okay, so, for me, it started with curiosity. And I wouldn't put it in the category of idle curiosity. I didn't approach ayahuasca, or the intention to take ayahuasca, as if it was, oh a party drug, I just want to see what this drug does. It was actually a curiosity about the deeper reality beyond what we perceive with our five physical senses. I am someone who since I was a child, I was deeply fascinated by stories of the unknown, or, you know, the unexplainable. Ghost stories or stories of mysteries or myths or legends, people who were experiencing things like lost time, or finding themselves crossing dimensions or something like that, right? Also, I was interested in UFO stories. And so anything that that was weird and wonderful, I wanted to know about and I used to wonder why people would accept these tales as interesting, seek them out or read them, and then just carry on with life as if those things didn't really happen, when there were so many anecdotes and stories of those things actually happening to people. And I couldn't understand why we were satisfied with not having a proper explanation for them. And so I thought, if I did ayahuasca I might have a personal experience of of high strangeness. And I wanted to know if I could maybe explain it to myself.
I also, as time went on, developed another motivation to do ayahuasca, which was really what became my prime motivation. And that was, in around 2008. I began what I think of now as a spiritual journey, I began to have a sense that I was more than this physical body. I was more than what science was presenting as an explanation for my being. I began to feel that I am a soul inhabiting this physical body. And I began to want to understand why. Why would I, as a soul as a consciousness, decide to be in this body for for a period of time and to have these experiences? I really became driven to understand what my soul purpose was. So in around 2017, I decided right, I am actually really finally going to go and do ayahuasca and find out what my purpose is. So I decided I was going to travel to South America to do it.
Now, why? Because I wanted to experience it in a traditional Amazonian setting. And I'd gone to Peru the year before with a friend and I'd really loved the country. I'd spent a couple of days actually, maybe three days in the Amazon and I just found that sense of being in the jungle with, you know, just the primal environment, so fulfilling and magical, that I was quite comfortable in going back there to do ayahuasca.
I did research it carefully. And I really would encourage anyone who wants to do ayahuasca to look into it in as much detail as you possibly can. So you can listen to me on this episode, and then , I will have some other links of people who have provided other information. But really, you need to satisfy yourself of a few important things.
Because it's a hallucinogenic concoction, it really needs to be treated with a degree of caution, right? Now ayahuasca itself is, as far as I know, not toxic. It's not as toxic, say, as alcohol. It's also not addictive. That's my understanding. So it's not toxic, not addictive. But what happens when you take ayahuasca is that you basically, if you're under the influence of it, you're going to find yourself unable to move without help. You'll take it, you drink it, and then go and lie down. And once it takes a hold of you, you won't be able to get up easily or move around without someone helping you. You'll feel drowsy and dizzy. The dizziness is called mareado. And so what that means is whoever you have around you, when you take ayahuasca, you need to be able to trust them. You need to be able to know that they're not going to take advantage of you when you are suffering mareado. You're also going to be probably purging, vomiting. And you're going to feel, yes, nauseous and sick. This purging or la purga is really supposed to be part of the experience. Energetically, you're supposed to be expelling out toxic energies, but physically, you are actually going to be purging and vomiting, right? So yeah, think very carefully about who you're going to have around you as facilitators.
If you're going to choose to do ayahuasca, another reason for researching ayahuasca carefully: in many countries, it is illegal. DMT is a Schedule One drug under the Convention of Psychotropic Substances. It's illegal in the United States unless there's an exemption that applies and I think that there are some in religious cases. In Australia as far as I know, it's illegal. Now, I think it's unclear under our drug laws. whether ayahuasca is expressly illegal, but I assume it is and I act accordingly. This is the reason why I've travelled to Peru. Now, if you know anything about ayahuasca, you'll know that there's a major tourism industry growing up around it in Peru and pre COVID, it was at its height. I understand that in COVID times, it's not possible to jump on a plane, particularly here for us in Australia and go to Peru and do ayahuasca. But I continue to think that Peru is, particularly in a pre COVID type environment, the safest place to do ayahuasca, particularly if you research it carefully and find a place like I did where you satisfy a few factors.
Now firstly, I wanted a place, for all the reasons that I've mentioned, where I would feel personally, physically, psychologically safe. I wanted a place that would provide shamans, so not just any facilitator, but shamans as well who were Indigenous and therefore had a cultural connection to ayahuasca. And finally, I wanted a place that had a good track record and, you know, one that I could independently verify with reviews that I could check out for myself.
So I found all of these things in a place called the Temple of the Way of Light, which is located not far from the town of Iquitos in Peru. Iquitos is really the centre of the ayahuasca tourism industry in Peru. And the Temple was founded by an Englishman, who himself was under the influence in a visionary state of ayahuasca when he was guided to set up this ayahuasca centre which he called the Temple of the Way of Light. And he built it up, and he has Western trained facilitators and medical staff, as well as indigenous shamans from the Shipibo tribe. The Shipibo tribe are well known apparently for working with plant medicines, including ayahuasca. And also this place had independent recommendations. So amongst them were from the alternative author, Graham Hancock, a fellow called, a writer called Chris Kilham, who has written a handbook on ayahuasca for people who are looking to do it, just a really handy guide, which I read and I recommend, and I'll have the link to that in the resources. And Dr. Gabor Mate, who is a Canadian-Hungarian physician who is becoming really well known for his work with addiction, treating addiction and treating trauma, and he takes groups of patients to the Temple of the Way of Light.
Right, so I travelled from Melbourne to Santiago in Chile to Lima in Peru to Iquitos. To this amazing city of Iquitos, which is the largest city in the world that is reachable only by air or by river, that river being the Amazon. It's a frontier town, and really an experience in itself, a colourful place with a lot of history. When I was there, I was met by facilitators from the centre, the Temple of the Way of Light, and I met the group I was going to be doing shamanic ceremonies with, who were strangers to begin with, but really, they became some of my closest friends because of our experiences together. We travelled first by bus and then we got onto a small boat, and then we travelled up a river, a tributary of the Amazon, and then we hiked for an hour into the Amazon jungle. And then we came upon this place in the middle of the jungle that was like a haven, like a magical spot. And they, we, didn't have very good internet connection. And really, we were encouraged not to connect to the Internet, which I complied with and I'm glad I did because I felt so cocooned for the two weeks I was there. We were also instructed to undergo a special diet. This is called dieta. And, really, it's because there are certain foods and drink that that are incompatible with ayahuasca so it's quite important to follow the dietary instructions as well. So that meant for two weeks, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugar, no spices, no pork, and a few other things which I complied with strictly and I'm glad I did.
So I'm talking mainly about the setting in which I did ayahuasca. I would also say in addition to setting, the set, i.e. mind set of a person taking ayahuasca is also vital. Set and setting - two factors that the famous Timothy Leary, the kind of godfather of psychedelic drugs from the 1960s, identified as important for anyone who wants to do psychedelics. So, mindset. If you're going to do ayahuasca, I would identify three things that are important to the attitude of someone who's going to take ayahuasca. The first is respect. I really, now that I've done ayahuasca and know it personally, see it is a plant that deserves utmost respect. I do not call ayahuasca a drug. I do not really enjoy when I hear people refer to it as a drug, I feel it's disrespectful. Why? Because, you know, the the indigenous tribes treat it as a medicine. And I really do see it as a healer. Dr Gabor Mate himself, his patients who he takes there, you know, they have experienced this healing of their past trauma and addictions and mental health issues. Ayahuasca is also a guide, and a teacher, a loving one in my experience, but it can be quite firm, when it's showing you the way or showing you what you asked.
And just on asking ayahuasca, apart from respect, I would say clarity is really important. Clarity of what you want to know. Clarity of your intention. Clarity. When you approach ayahuasca, you can be really super clear. Ayahuasca now I want to know how to heal this issue. Or ayahuasca, I want to know what my purpose is here. Ayahuasca, I want to know why I feel so anxious in these situations. And ayahuasca, the clearer you are, the clearer will be the response provided to you. I experienced this myself directly.
After respect and clarity, I would really say courage is the last thing that you need going into an ayahuasca ceremony. Because if you bring fear or the energy of fear to ayahuasca, well, ayahuasca will return that energy to you probably manifold. Understand that you are coming to ayahuasca with your own intentions. So you have consented to this. There's nothing to fear. It's all you bringing yourself and your intentions and your requests to ayahuasca. Go with the flow. At any point during an ayahuasca ceremony, if you feel fear, let it go. I found this during some of my ceremonies as well one in particular, which I will go into next week. And in breathing through it, really I did not have any particularly bad trips.
So ultimately, I did seven ceremonies over 12 days in the Temple of the Way of Light in Peru. And like I said, next episode, I'll delve a little deeper into what I experienced there. So I hope that this little taste, so to speak, of describing ayahuasca, of what it's about will be interesting to you and maybe you will consider checking in the next episode and hearing what I have to say. So thank you so much for listening. Goodbye.