In Soley’s home and ceremony space, a table prepped with tools of the trade, such as Palo Santo, a wood used as a smudge to purify and energetically a space or a person with it’s smoke, tobacco in multiple forms, a sacred medicine referred to by Soley as “Grandfather Tobacco,” assorted crystals and other sacred or energetically imbued elements. / RACHEL FRASER

By Rachel Fraser

It didn’t feel like an epiphany, or a reckoning with my ego, or a journey to “the other side” of anything. I’ve had more cosmic experiences with other hallucinogens at raves. It felt like maybe the dose was a little light. I know it was not, empirically, since my journey buddy found hers to be quite the opposite.

I had tapered off my antidepressant medication in the months before a trip to Costa Rica in order to try ayahuasca – a hallucinogenic plant medicine taken by the shamans of the Shipibo people of Peru. In recent years, it has become trendy with the spiritual wellness set, and due to promising research into the therapeutic usage of psychedelics to treat mental health, even my psychiatrist offered his blessing to the adventure. 

Ayahuasca is often taken in a group ceremony, but today it was just myself, a friend and our shaman host, Solete Guerra of Shakti Healing – “Soley” to friends and clients – in her clean, uncluttered home. Three beds were arranged in front of floor-to-ceiling windows to bring the outside in; almond trees and other tall jungle plants provided a privacy screen between us and the neighbours down the hill. The vibe was spa-like, if spas burned tobacco, palo santo and incense.

We began with Rapé, a shamanic snuff that she blows through a bamboo pipe into each nostril, to clean the energy, clear the mind and induce a meditative state. Then she poured me a cup of ayahuasca, encouraging me to sit with the medicine, speak with it and set my intention, then drink. “Like Tequila!” Soley said, gesturing to shoot it. It wasn’t terrible. Sediment-y, like you’d expect a slurry of decocted plant matter to taste. She would partake with us, at a lower dose, to find and guide us on the other side.

Shaman Solete Guerra massages the author’s “Third Eye” after administering Rapé, snuff tobacco blown through a bamboo pipe into the recipient’s nostril to clear the mind and induce a meditative state prior to drinking Ayahasca. / RACHEL FRASER

Her role is to sing the Icaro – a song she claims to sing intuitively in the Shipibo language through the aid of the plant, despite not speaking the language. She explained that her trance shows her the inside our bodies, minds and souls, and that what she sees there are patterns (like on the woven Peruvian patterned skirt she wore). She follows the lines of these patterns with her intuitive voice like a form of sheet music, using the Icaro to guide our experience and bring us through whatever cleaning is needed. “Ayahuasca is cleaning,” Soley told us. 

It came on very slowly. We chatted for a while after drinking, but when Soley felt things were starting to happen, she had us lay down and blew out the remaining light. 

I lay on that bed for an hour with a bit of tingling, a sensation of waves in my limbs, and I wondered if I was going to experience much more than a body high. Soley was singing her Icaro, my friend was on her way, and I was wondering if I ought to interrupt and ask for more. My friend’s movement on her sheet beside me morphed into disembodied whispers that seemed to come from multiple locations , her heavy breathing  interpreted by my brain as slightly sinister and suddenly, my mind was swirling, slithering kaleidoscopes of spider-leg shapes in greens, blacks, and browns. Soley’s voice swirled with it, a rollercoaster of high-pitched squeaks to guttural belches.

“What the actual **** is this?” Thinking Mind asked, maintaining awareness, and observing that I was now undergoing what, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a bad acid trip without a hint of the spiritual cleansing, enlightenment and healing I’d signed up for. Bringing the room into visual and aural focus with effort, I could reassure myself that the nightmare jungle circus existed in my imagination only. I settled into my mattress to wait it out, coaching myself that I had taken a drug, I was safe, under supervision and it would eventually pass.

Soley’s voice continued its harassment contributing to the overwhelm and anxiety of my altered state. I remembered Soley’s prior admonition not to be afraid, to accept and move toward what came, and I tried, but Thinking Mind resisted and set up camp outside the experience, observing with the utmost skepticism. “Wtf?” I said to myself, over and over. “This is ridiculous! This isn’t communion with the wisdom of the universe, It’s horrible!” 

I wanted to yell for Soley to stop. I felt helpless in my politeness, unwilling to assert myself in this way, and cynical about having subjected myself to the experience altogether. I started to laugh, a bitter chuckle to myself, at the absurdity of this high, and of myself in this place in this moment. Between giggles, I finally asked Soley, if she could please just stop singing.

I don’t know if I hurt her feelings, but I perceived her as insulted and angry. “It’s not me. It’s ayahuasca. But if you want me to stop, I stop.” 

Then it was silent, and I felt relief. But as I waited in the dark, shame came on, shame that I had destroyed the peaceful sisterhood we’d started under by insulting Soley, and then bitterness, that I couldn’t assert a need without causing harm and being rejected. 

Hot tears and silent sobs overwhelmed me. 

I wondered if this wasn’t the wisdom of the ayahuasca after all, forcing a confrontation with my people-pleasing self that suppresses my own needs and avoids conflict, fostering resentment and staying small. An expensive practice opportunity.

I felt solid enough to use the bathroom, and that’s where I began projectile vomiting black bile, which seemed to swim in the bucket I was holding.

“It’s time to clean,” said Soley when I returned.

I laid back down in the quiet and thankfully my friend asked Soley to put on some music. From there, peace and well-being returned, and I reflected on whether I felt anything had actually been accomplished. I’m willing to accept that the process of healing requires discomfort, and if I did purge some of my darkness there, then I got what I came for. 

“Never has anyone asked me to stop singing,” Soley said. She told me that normally she only sings for about 15 minutes but for me it was over an hour because I had a bad spirit, and that this spirit was resistant to being evicted which was where my resistance to the Icaro came from.

“It’s not you. It’s resistance. We did deep work tonight.”

Maybe we did. While I didn’t feel like it lived up to the life-changing experiences others have reported, I feel like I came away with insight, and at least as I sit here, a clearer mind and sense of grounding that is often elusive to me. Whether that was a gift from ayahuasca, or the universe conspiring to provide the lessons I need in the way that I need them (ayahuasca being simply a circumstantial ingredient rather than a catalyst) or the result of an especially clean preparation diet, or just pure coincidence, who knows? 

Not me, but I accept it with thanks.