It has been more than 6 years since I had the great fortune to drink ayahuasca for the first time. It was in November 2016 in Ibiza, Spain and how much life has changed since then! I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my first experience with any type of sacred medicine. I hope you find the below story useful.
WHERE I WAS IN LIFE
I had my first ayahuasca ceremony in 2016. The key event that set me on the path toward the medicine was my mother’s passing in March 2013, which for me represented the crisis that many of us need to encounter before we radically change our lives.
I had just finished my last exam as part of my undergraduate degree in Politics and Economics in May 2012, and I was waiting for the tube at a station in London with my father. He told me that my mother Elka was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I couldn’t quite grasp what this all meant, but given that my mother was working in the healthcare system as a senior nursing manager, we had access to the best doctors and treatments that Bulgarian healthcare could offer. Hopes were high and even if worry was present, I personally didn’t doubt that anything but complete healing was ahead of us. A few days later we went back to my hometown Plovdiv to be by her side as the process began.
My mother’s therapy started with a laser treatment that aimed to shrink the tumor before the operation to extract it. I accompanied her to the daily procedures and we were getting ready for the operation which was expected to solve the issue at hand. However, it turned out that even if the tumor was removed, operated on by one of the leading surgeons in the country, the laser therapy had done considerable damage to her bladder which required another surgery to fix…and then another one…and then another one…
Over the course of 10 months, she had to go through several surgeries. Our hopes for a miraculous recovery heightened before every operation only to crash once again upon receiving news that it didn’t quite work as expected. During that time I felt it was my duty to my family to not feel or show any emotion. I felt I had to be strong and not add any worry or concern to those that were already present. My sister and I smoked several joints per day over the course of this process which helped to numb what we were feeling. My mother kept deteriorating as time passed, leading to her passing in March 2013. During this whole process, I only allowed myself to cry twice, once with my mother in the hospital and the second time at the funeral.
The next 2-3 years were very difficult. There were a lot of shifts in our family dynamic, with tensions escalating between me and my father, me and my sister, and my sister and my father. We had lost the glue that kept us together. I have since described that the mother’s love feels like an invisible energy field that covers you and gives you love, security, acceptance, and protection. When she passed away, the source of this energy field was gone; and having lost this protective field I discovered that there was much more than my mother’s passing that I had to resolve.
I went through three years of deep depression, waking up daily with a ball of anxiety in my stomach, wondering what the point of it all was given all the suffering, and only finding short respite through smoking marijuana. I eventually managed to get myself to a point where I had managed to suppress all the pain but the price for not feeling it was not feeling anything at all, life had no flavour.
MEETING GRANDMOTHER AYAHUASCA
On my journey of healing, I started with mindfulness meditation to appease the intrusive thoughts that would torture me daily, I also read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now as well as a few books on Jungian Psychology. But it was really my encounter with ayahuasca in November of 2016 that set my life on a whole new trajectory.
During this search for healing and liberation from my suffering I heard about ayahuasca. It seemed terrifying and I had no idea how on Earth I could find it; not to mention that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to ingest the potion made from the vine of death, which is one of the translations of the name of this medicine (as well as the vine of spirit, bitter medicine, etc.). Around a year passed of knowing about the medicine, until one day, my sister called me from Spain. She told me she had participated in an ayahuasca ceremony and invited me to join the next one in a week’s time.
I was at a point in my life where it seemed scarier to keep going the same way I was than to drink the vine of death (I was really impressed by this name). So I got the ticket and off I went to Spain with a thousand expectations, one of which being that this one ceremony will illuminate me and resolve all my life’s problems.
I remember arriving at the property where the ceremony would take place. We entered a big covered space with about 45-50 people inside, everyone on a mat along the periphery of the square-shaped space. Almost everyone was dressed in either very colourful or plain white clothing and I was fascinated by how these people looked, with all their necklaces, bracelets, feathers, etc. There were people lining up to receive rapé by the altar and I could not take my eyes off the person who was sitting right in the middle of it. He must be the shaman, I remember thinking.
The ceremony began. I drank my first cup and I remember lying there ready for the illumination to come. My mind was racing with thoughts and questions. When is it going to start? Am I doing it right? How do I know it has begun? These were some of the questions I was asking myself in the first moments with the medicine. The questions and thoughts only multiplied when several people started purging. I began thinking – I am doing it wrong! I am going to miss it! I am not going to get the life transformation that people talk about. I am failing…
After the ceremony, I heard someone describing the mental space I was in with a metaphor. It is as if you open an internet browser and you have 1,000 tabs open… How could you possibly focus with so much going on? There I was, thinking with the speed of light, with those 1,000 thoughts and questions running wild in my head. Until I eventually accepted that it won’t happen for me. I felt sad and desperate as the morning approached, and could not get my head around how this supposedly all-powerful potion did nothing to me; it felt like my suffering had no solution, I was stuck in it and it wasn’t going to shift any time soon.
THE MORNING INTEGRATION CIRCLE
The morning came. People started moving around and talking to each other about how the night before had gone. There was a group of helpers who started organising the space and preparing breakfast. After having breakfast and a bit of a moment to chat between ourselves, we sat down in a circle to do an integration circle – to talk about the night before. Most people had left at this point and we were probably around 15 sitting together.
This was by far the most powerful moment for me, and what made this mini-retreat a turning point in my life. I shared with the group, my voice and body shaking, that I had gone to the ceremony feeling a lot of anger towards my father and that I was feeling very sad that this anger was preventing me from connecting with him. I felt under constant criticism from him, that my most genuine efforts in any area were never enough. I explained how I felt that if I did 9 things right, he would focus on the 1 thing I did wrong and criticise me for it. And that hurt a lot as I felt I was really trying. I began telling a story about a particular moment when the main facilitator and person who led the ceremony the night before stopped me and said:
Wait, wait, wait…You may want your father to be like this (he raised one hand) but he is like this, (he raised his other hand). The only thing we can do for our parents is fully accept them, and be grateful for being alive. And when you tell your father I love you, you don’t say it to hear back from him I love you too, but you say it because just telling him you love him makes you happy just by itself. What I would give to be able to say to my father I love you one more time, you have no idea. But it is not possible. So take this time to tell your father that you love him while you still can. There are these four phrases – I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you, thank you. You should go and say this to your father when you go back to London.
It was a very emotional moment that resonated with many people in the group. Several of the older men in the group shared their experiences with their fathers and sons and I felt they gave me a lot of fatherly love and blessing that I so very much craved. It was very cathartic and this is when I realised that even if I didn’t feel the ayahuasca the night before, the medicine gave me a lot through being in that space with these people. I felt there was something about them. I couldn’t quite tell what it was but they felt different and the things they were saying were qualitatively different from anything I had experienced before. I felt inspired to do better, to understand my father, and reassured that I was a good son. I wanted to come back and meet them again.
GOING BACK HOME
After the morning integration circle I packed my bag and went straight to the airport. I couldn’t wait to go see my father and speak to him. I saw him two days later and I used the words I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you, thank you, adding more from myself around them, and they worked like magic. There were things and hurts that no longer needed to be expressed. By going to my father and saying what I did, I removed a certain energetic barrier on his end too. We no longer had to fight as to who was right, it did not matter. What mattered was that we get to enjoy each other’s company while we still can. And what a precious gift that is.
Since that moment onwards my relationship with my father has been fantastic. Of course, we have had moments of confrontation and disagreement as in any healthy relationship but we have not lost any precious time closing ourselves off to each other, trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. Very quickly the reminder comes – enjoy each other’s company while you still can. This energy has helped both of us be tolerant and accepting of our differences and appreciate all the positives that connect us.
The power of that morning sharing circle taught me that it is not only the medicine of ayahuasca that helps us to heal. It is also the medicine of the word, the medicine of community, and the medicine of love and consideration that we share in these spaces. This experience is one of the moments that has inspired me to create something similar around the ceremonies we facilitate at Colibri Garden. In addition to working with respected medicine elders, we hold pre- and post-ceremony integration circles where we come together as a family to share and learn from each other. Come join us for a ceremony or retreat if this is something you’d like to participate in.
To all my relations,
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin