A-Heidy-ho and a hearty Ahoy, amigos!
Tis I, Will I am. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve written a blog post on my own personal travels. But after an incredibly powerful experience, I feel enthused and inspired to share with you.
This is the recounting of my experience journeying to Peru to sit with the shamans of the ancient Shipibo people, for a twelve day Ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon Jungle.
If this blog post encourages and assists one person on their own healing journey, then I have accomplished my goal. I hope that you, dear reader, will be able to ponder my experience with empathy and kindness as I lay bare what was going on inside my head during my six ayahuasca ceremonies.
No doubt, it is different for everybody, but this was my experience…
For two years, I had been planning to go upon this retreat.
My wise and kind counsellor, Nuraan, who I’ve been working with for five years now, suggested it to me and I had originally planned to go to Peru a year ago. I had ended up delaying my retreat as I had been in too complicated a mental state at that time; I was in the grips of a serious addiction, as well as drinking far too much. I felt I did not have the mental capacity to undertake such a challenging and opening experience and so I had delayed it.
I was obsessed by the tumultuous relationship with my beautiful but haunted partner, Carrie, and I was pouring all of my energy and time into trying to build a healthy dynamic between us and to improve our frayed connection. I loved her passionately, but felt unappreciated and unseen.
Over 2023, much has changed for me. I stopped drinking; at the time of writing, I am a bit over 6 months sober, I plan to go 500 days.
In May, I finally ended my three-year relationship with my beloved. Ending this relationship was a hard decision for me as I truly loved her. Trust had been broken, and I did not feel met in trying to repair it. Ultimately, I felt unacknowledged and taken for granted, I had arrived a point where I felt I had no choice but to leave her, even though I really didn’t want to.
I had ended things via text, as I did not feel strong enough to do it face to face.
I had a deep pain, anger and resentment that Carrie had not acted to fight for us, to reassure me of how much she loved me, and had instead meekly accepted my decision and then proceeded to ignore me. I had secretly hoped she would turn up at my door, or engage with the couple’s counsellor I had suggested.
It felt like a rejection and I was heartbroken.
I was well supported during this time, receiving love and comfort from two wonderful lovers in my life (I don’t do monogamous relationship formats), as well as by my long-lost brother.
For several years Alex and I had not spoken, I had held on to the pain of “the why” and my pride had refused to let me reach out. After short and hesitant birthday messages were exchanged earlier this year, a torrent of communication had unfurled between us and now my best friend and right-hand man was very much back in my life. It felt wonderful.
I have done a lot of hard things over 2023, including running a Hyrox fitness race, but ending my relationship with Carrie was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was glad to have the Ayahuasca retreat to focus upon, spending my time focussing on preparation, in the wake of the breakup.
I flew to Peru upon my spiritual quest. My journey, from my homebase in beautiful Bali, was supposed to take a mere 40 hours.
One missed connection, five flights, and 55 hours later saw me landing in the dusty frontier town of Iquitos which sits on a slightly raised plateau of land bordering the mighty Amazon River.
I arrived tired, yet excited to be amongst the vibrating energetic mystery of a new place, a part of the world I have limited experience in.
After dropping my backpack, I headed out to explore the town. I had a couple of days before I was due to head deep into the jungle to find the mystical place where, I hoped, I would heal my wounds and release some heavy pains, both recent and pain I had carried since childhood.
I was also in physical distress… For three years now I have battled a terribly inconvenient skin condition which first appeared during a period of extreme stress (and honestly, I can handle quite a lot of stress) that I was going through.
This condition has come and gone over that time and I have literally flown around the world to see seven different dermatologists. Nothing seemed to work, the angry, itchy and unattractive red welts continued to adorn my skin, taking up residence at especially inconvenient moments. The long journey to Peru had caused a motherfucker of a flare-up and I was suffering. Below are some not-so-sexy photos of this skin condition…
Sitting at a cafe, overlooking the mighty Amazon river snaking off into the distance, I met Gary from Hull. He had a strong Northern accent, a scraggly beard and a much patched shirt. I estimated he was in his late forties.
Gary, it turned out, was an Ayahuasca aficionado and he claimed to have sat with Ayahuasca over two hundred times. I inquired as to if he knew of any jungle medicine to remedy my skin and he replied immediately and confidently that Aya would fix my issues. We chatted about a few other ailments, all of which Gary claimed would be fixed by Ayahuasca.
According to Gary, Ayahuasca would not only enable you to face your internal demons but could also fix basically everything from hair loss to cancer. I was somewhat dubious, but it sure would be great if I could achieve physical, emotional and spiritual healing upon this retreat.
I spent a day exploring the town and, the next day, met at the designated spot and clambered aboard a bus with my fellow retreat guests, there were 24 of us in all.
We drove for an hour and reached a small port, really just a low mud bank with a few boats moored nearby. We hopped aboard a river boat and headed deeper into the jungle, eyes watchful for the fabled pink river dolphins, known as Botos to the locals, that inhabited this part of the Amazon.
After a short ride up the river, we disembarked and hiked for forty minutes along a muddy track until we reached the retreat centre; The Temple of the Way of Light. We were greeted by the three facilitators – these were to be our guides upon this experience, and the bridge between us and the shamans for this journey.
They were joined by the resident yoga instructor; an impossibly good looking lady with sparkling eyes and a delightful laugh, I would find her invading my thoughts on occasion throughout the retreat.
Following a healthy lunch of roasted vegetables, locally caught fish, and fresh fruit (I hurriedly took way more than my fair share of strawberries), I made my way to my wooden tambo, my room in the jungle.
With no power, just a kerosene lamp for light, it is basic but homey. There’s a bed with a mosquito net, a hammock, a desk to journal at, a small bathroom with a sink and a toilet but no shower. Best of all, there’s a handy beam from which I can do pull-ups and hang my TRX suspension system – I’m really grateful for this beam as it means I can train in my room.
I place my phone and laptop in the safe, there’s no signal or WiFi at the centre and the shamans recommend we use this as a powerful opportunity for a digital detox. I leave my phone in the safe until the last couple of days at which point I break it out to take some photos – please be patient with my terrible and random photos.
Note that some of the photos used throughout this article are not presented linearly. Many were kindly shared by my fellow retreat guests.
In the afternoon, we had our first group meeting in the Maloka. The Maloka is the beating heart of the centre and is an incredibly impressive circular building, raised above the jungle floor with a gorgeous hardwood floor and a soaring roof, it’s kind of like being inside a gigantic hollowed out mushroom.
This is where the ceremonies would be held in the evenings and where we would do our group therapy sessions. Claude, the long-haired, half Peruvian chief-facilitator, referred to these sessions as ‘Ceremony of the Word’. He was an interesting fellow, who was constantly puffing upon a lovingly carved wooden pipe.
I wasn’t sure about Claude at first, but would come to like him and respect his wisdom.
In our first meeting we spoke about who we were, and why we had come to this temple in the jungle. I shared that I like writing, love my dogs, my friends and my fitness and that I have built a career out of my passion for personal development through raw and challenging travel.
I had been led to the retreat centre by my counsellor, Nuraan, as part of my path towards healing childhood trauma and addressing my core wounds around unworthiness.
I shared that I’ve struggled with drugs and alcohol most of my life, being a high-functioning alcoholic for the last decade. Over the last couple of years I’ve combatted this by building healthy habits and routines.
I felt that I couldn’t really trust myself with downtime, so I didn’t have any downtime – my days are strictly planned out on an hour by hour basis from 6am to 10pm every day, months in advance.
I used this time well; spending it on fitness, journaling, running my businesses, creative writing, introspective practices, dating, reading, and playing with my dogs.
If I suddenly find myself with a couple of hours unplanned I am often hit by a strong urge to numb myself through drugs or alcohol. My coping mechanism of building elaborate productive routines stacked with many healthy habits DID work, but I felt I had built myself a cage and wanted to find a healthier balance.
Whilst my consumption of alcohol did vary, there had been several points where I was totally out of control for months at a time; drinking two bottles of wine or half a bottle of vodka by myself, alone in a darkened room, every evening. When I got divorced three years ago, things had been at their worst.
I’ve also had issues with cocaine, on two occasions this got so bad that I found myself unable to be in social situations unless I was able to nip to the bathroom for a bump. I was disgusted by this and my self-talk was terrible; I constantly called myself a loser, a weakling, a pathetic waste of space. I had kicked the cocaine habit about a year ago, with much difficulty and horrible withdrawals, and felt better for it.
I spoke of my porn addiction. Like a lot of men, I had started watching porn at a young age and this had absolutely fucked me up for many years until I was able to kick the habit (with quite a bit of difficulty) some three years ago (If this resonates with you and you’re looking for guidance, I recommend reading ‘Your Brain on Porn’).
I AM addicted to exercise, spending on average 2-3 hours a day doing Crossfit, running or my own fitness practices. This is an addiction I am fine with although I had noted that if I couldn’t train for a day, my mental health and overall mood tended to plummet so probably some work was needed there too.
I shared that I have been successful in my life, building over twenty businesses and being engaged in entrepreneurship since I was twelve years old. I had gone from being the OG broke backpacker to realizing many of my dreams; travelling all over the world, being recognised for my writing, helping my parents financially, building my dream-home, opening Bali’s first co-working hostel (we built it from scratch, come check it out), and working when and where I want.
I KNOW that I can push myself through incredibly difficult things, I’ve cultivated a strong sense of discipline and routines and a big part of my life is working on habits for success and introspecting on what is, and isn’t, working.
I’m able to be brutally honest with myself, but traditionally my self-talk and overall opinion of myself had sucked.
I had fuelled much of my success from a place of feeling deep shame at being unworthy, at being unlovable, and wanting to prove to everybody, myself included, that I deserved to be seen, heard, and appreciated.
I felt I could only gain this by achieving endlessly, by being brave endlessly, by pushing endlessly but I was never satisfied and despite all my wins, I just didn’t feel I was good enough.
This type of fuel can only take you so far and I wanted to find a new way to motivate myself rather than repeating the story that ‘I am not enough’ in order to perform strongly.
I mentioned to the group that I had recently ended a traumatic relationship, which had drained me emotionally, financially and energetically for three years. I shared that I am still in love with my ex and that the love had turned to hate, and anger, and that every day I was finding myself impulsively saying ‘I hate her’ and wishing pain and distress upon her when she flashed across my mind, which was all too often.
I did not like this and I felt that my heart was mortally wounded; I had loved this person so much and now I had intense feelings of hate towards her. It didn’t feel normal or right to me, I’m a lover rather than a hater, I felt sick.
I expressed to the group that I had been sober for a little over 6 months and it was only the newfound clarity and strength this had bought me that had enabled me to end my relationship. I had finally realized I deserved better, but this wasn’t going to happen whilst I was using alcohol to numb how I was feeling.
When it came to drinking and other numbing behaviours, Carrie was my biggest enabler, she really enjoyed drinking and smoking marijuana and it was a huge part of the culture of our relationship. She didn’t respond positively to my suggestions that we get sober and resented any attempts to try and steer us upon a healthier path.
I told the group I was keen to do a heroic dose of the Aya, that I wanted to push myself whilst out here, to prove to myself (for the hundredth time) that I can do hard things, that I am not a coward.
We went round the participants, a dynamic and varied mix for sure, we were then joined by the maestros and maestras, the four Shipibo shamans (an Amazonian indigenous group) who would be leading our ceremonies. The shamans exuded raw power. Claude, the lead facilitator, translated as they explained everything to us.
The shamans explained how the ceremony would work and how each of them (two male, two female) would sing us our own individual ikaros. An ikaro is a traditional healing song, and no two are ever the same.
The shamans explained that basically, they call out what is wrong with us as individuals, what needs to be healed, and ‘insult us’ to bring up the pain so it could disperse, and that this would be done in their native language, so we probably wouldn’t understand what was being said.
The lead shaman, who was pretty hilarious in general, said he plans to learn how to insult people in English in the future, so we could understand.
I imagined these traditional healing songs as going something a little like this…
Hey, ho, help this man, he drinks too much from a can
Yo, wey, get on it today, send them evil demons away
Eee, ooo, no more coke, it’s time for him to get more woke
Sha, laa, show him please, how to get up from his knees
Wee, yee, medicine for him, help him defeat an evil whim
Lee, la, when he’s bored, help him reach for his soul sword
The shamans left, shaking some hands as they did, and I felt an immediate bond with the fifty five year old Lara, there was something about her that seemed comfortingly familiar.
The facilitators ran us through the etiquette for the ceremonies. There were to be six ceremonies in total over the twelve days.
We would meet in the maloka in the evenings and find our assigned individual mat, the mats were set out in a circle, like the face of a clock. At 6:30, the resident
goddess yoga teacher Luana would run a group yoga session to help prime the body.
Each mat had a bolster to sit upon or to rest one’s head if you lay back. When it was your turn for an ikaro (roughly every 40 minutes) you would sit at the front of the mat so the shaman could see you easily as it would be pitch black.
Purging is a part of the Ayahuasca experience and this was explained in depth. The medicine induced not only fantastical visions and moments of introspection or realization, but also could induce nausea, anxiety, terror and the need to get the medicine OUT of the body. It was deeper than that though, as I was to discover; it felt that we were vomiting up actual feelings; pain, guilt, loneliness, purging the body of emotions we no longer needed to carry.
If you needed to vomit, you would do so into your assigned bucket. If you needed to shit, you would use the red light on a headtorch (carefully trying to avoid flashing it around too much) and head to the stairs where two attendants waited to light the way and help anybody who was having trouble walking.
The shamans would come in at 8pm and after smoking and sitting in silence for some time, they would start dispensing the Ayahuasca.
Once everybody had drunk their first cup, most people would smoke gigantic hand rolled mapacho (organic jungle tobacco) cigarettes. The tobacco smoke helps to ward off evil spirits and can help stave off some of the nausea that was common after swallowing the bitter tasting, pitch black liquid.
Claude informed us that we must not interfere with the process of another. Some people may cry, scream out, be violently sick or thrash about. He told us we needed to leave people to it, and to focus on ourselves. “Anything can happen, perhaps somebody will see loved ones who have died or face up to actions they are ashamed of, perhaps another person will shit themselves or cry in pain, just focus on yourself”. This was sage advice.
We finished the day tired and headed to bed, tomorrow was the first ceremony.
Ceremony One (Day 2)
The morning began at 5:30am, my tambo was mostly windows and the first rays of sun streamed in early, accompanied by the cries of a thousand parrots and other curious sounds, the forest awakening from its slumber. I started the day with a forty minute workout, followed by an ice cold shower and made my way to the maestro’s house where we had our first steam bath.
Here I sat beneath a plastic tent, perched atop a small stool, stirring a pot of boiling water and herbs that had been sitting on the fire, the steam and herbs combined to create a sweet smelling, DIY steam room. We followed these steam baths with five different elixirs, health tonics provided by the shamans.
During the day, I journalled, explored the area and swam in a pond after a second workout.
At 5pm, we went for flower baths where the shamans poured water infused with flowers and herbs over us.
And then, it was time…
I made my way to the maloka as the sun set, and found I was in the prime position. I would be first to receive the medicine and one of the first four to receive my first ikaro.
After the yoga, the shamans entered. The only light was from six kerosene lamps burning in a circle in the middle. Claude gestured for me to approach and I burpee-popped to my feet, perhaps a little too fast in my excitement. I reverently and somewhat nervously sat down in front of the shaman, it was Lara, the one I felt a bond with.
She smiled at me and poured me half a cup. This was to be a light ceremony, the careful and gentle opening of wounds so that the cleaning out of those wounds could occur over ceremonies’ two to five, with the wound then being stitched closed during the final ceremony.
I held the cup to my lips, and downed it in one. Immediately I was struck that I had drunk this before, although I was sure that in this life I have not. Truly ayahuasca tastes like nothing else except, somehow, it felt familiar… like the warm and comforting embrace of a lover from long ago.
I returned to my seat, and watched as my compatriots each went up for their own dose, this took around half an hour in total. The kerosene lamps were then removed and the maloka plunged into darkness, lit only by the occasional vigorous puffing upon the gigantic jungle cigarettes.
The cigarettes illuminated the maestros and maestras’ ancient features in the darkness in an otherworldly, ethereal glow. It was very atmospheric.
Slowly, surely, the four shamans began to sing as one from their position in the centre of the circle. It was about this time I noticed the medicine starting to take effect.
I felt the Ayahuasca dancing on the peripheries of my vision, but despite me calling to her she would not intensify my visions. I lost my focus and was distracted by the repetitive thought that I would need a much stronger dosage. I thought of my brother and my beloved Audy, my girlfriend and an inspiring force in my life.
I peered through the darkness, trying to catch the musical vibrations on the wind as the first shaman shuffled in front of me and began to sing my personal ikaro. Their voices were hauntingly beautiful. I felt the songs they sang for me were filled with sadness, strength and resilience.
I was distracted, again, knowing I needed a heroic dose. Carrie’s name, a worm in my brain, blazed across my mind; she DID care for me, I suddenly realized, but was unable to show it, I could see she was not able to be in touch with herself, numbing her own pain with endless marijuana and drinking.
She resented me because I got in the way of her numbing. That made it less easy to be angry. I strongly felt again, she could have tried harder to meet me, I started to become angry and so I banished her from my mind.
The ceremony finished at midnight and I walked back to my cabin in the dark, disappointed at having not felt any really strong effects or seen any interesting visions. I journaled a little, and then slept.
Ceremony Two Prelude (Day 3 and 4)
The day after our first ceremony was spent in retrospection, and journaling. Most of my peers had not had strong experiences during the first ceremony but some had, one lady reported she felt her third eye opening upon her forehead (Doctor Strange style) and was greeted with visions of writhing serpents and impossible colours.
We had another group talking session, and the facilitators explained to us we could meet with them individually to discuss intentions or pain points. I didn’t feel the need, and mostly kept myself to myself, reading in the small library where it was cooler during the day.
It was a mercilessly hot and sweaty but despite this I was feeling more at peace and was enjoying being off of my phone. I hooked my resistance bands to a bench and hung up my TRX from a handy tree by the lake and got another workout in. Some of my compatriots watched as I went through some pretty nasty circuits of rows, dips, flies, L-sits and burpees whilst the sun blazed down.
One of my new friends nicknamed me ‘The Beast’, a nickname he stuck with throughout the whole trip, something which proved to be the first part of my healing.
As a child, I had a really hard time at school. I was bullied awfully – attacked, tripped, slapped, spat on, ridiculed, the butt of many jokes. I couldn’t cry for over a decade, because I learnt that as a child, if I cried, the bullies had won. So, for a very long time, I didn’t ‘do’ crying. It was only in the last couple of years that I had managed to give myself permission to cry. I had many nicknames during my childhood but all of them were degrading and unkind. To have a cool nickname meant something to me, and I actually shed a couple of tears later when journaling about it.
I was determined to be brave in this next ceremony, and to embrace it to the max, so I decided to skip lunch (there was no dinner on ceremony days) so that the medicinal effects would hit me stronger.
The next day, I journaled about my goals, a regular practice I really enjoy doing. I wrote…
I want; to feel great in my body and in my spirituality. I want to write books, I want a successful podcast; a way to reach my people. I want to do a fitness competition every year; a way to push myself. I want to have a more restrained relationship with food and alcohol. I want to fully let go of the hate, anger and hurt I feel towards Carrie. I want my skin to be healthy and predictable. I want to reach my goal of 500 days with no alcohol. I want to enjoy myself next year in a way I haven’t since before Covid; to travel far and wide in new places…
I want to grow creatively. I want to be more flexible with my planning, to embrace the loosey-goosey serendipity of life. I want to find a travel and fitness balance, something I have always struggled to juggle. I want to go back to my roots. I want to travel to more far flung lands, to meet new people, to have novel experiences. I want to swim with whales, to go to Africa, to see more of the Silk Road, to hike in Patagonia, to go to Burning Man.
I want to continue to explore my sexuality. I want to have more psychedelic experiences, more digital detoxes, more mountain hikes and eventually… a commune, a wife who loves me, children to raise and protect. I want a partner who wants to grow with me, to listen to me, to show me she appreciates me. I want a family.
I then journalled upon my intentions for the evening, knowing that I would take a second dose of the medicine and go hard. I wrote…
Tonight, my intention is to be brave. I’m a warrior. I will not run, or turn away. I’m here to learn, to heal and to find love for myself. I will ask the spirits to teach me. I will use my soul-sword to defeat evil looking spirits if any appear. If Carrie crosses my mind, I will try hard to release the pain and let her go. I’ll make myself 100 feet tall and battle entities if I need to, I will not run. I have my sword, and I am ready. I will, if possible, visit my beloved Audy and my brother and Chimmigi, the lynchpin of my life, my adventure doggo. I pray that the spirit of Aya will make herself known to me.
I repeated some mantras to myself about worthiness and warrior spirit, and then it was time for what was to be a life-changing ceremony…
Ceremony Two (Day 4)
Yoga flashed by, I drank my first dose, a full cup this time, received my first ikaro and then immediately requested (too fast, it would turn out) and received my second cup of the medicine. I choked it down, spat some water into my bucket, puffed on a cigarette to ease my stomach, and lay back as the tunes of the maestros reverberated around the maloka. In the distance, a storm was brewing.
I lay there for perhaps twenty minutes before I felt the medicine hit me… hard. I felt like I had been gut-punched, I took a huge breath and suddenly the blackness of the night was illuminated by tens of thousands of emerald pinpricks, expanding into lines, forming columns, a green cathedral roof stretching away into the darkness.
I could feel the medicine gaining momentum, gaining strength, within me. Suddenly a vision came clearly to my mind; I was on horseback, my brothers in arms at my side, jumping a small stream and plunging headfirst into the enemy, I felt pure unbridled exhilaration, the unimaginable thrill of fighting for one’s life with one’s brothers along for the battle, and I felt this memory was one from a past existence, or a perhaps a future one, depending on how you choose to look at it. Time does not flow linearly.
This glorious vision quickly faded and was replaced by demonic spirits crawling down the cathedral columns and coming straight at me. I said my mantra…
“I am a warrior and a seeker, I come here to heal and to test myself, step aside.”
Still, they came at me. I called forth my soul-sword, a tool I had cultivated with the help of my therapist to help me find strength and confidence when I’m hit by crippling anxiety. I felt the pommel come into my head, cool to the touch, and the blade materialise; heavy, deadly and decorated with flashing runes. Strength coursed through me, I felt I could fight with the ferocity of a hundred men.
I flinched, the demons were all around me, pawing at me, showing me glimpses of horrific visions I would experience if I would let my mind follow… all of the pain in the world, abuse, unkindness, mangled body parts. I gritted my teeth and groaned. The singing increased in volume, as the storm raged around the maloka.
“Come on man, you got this, you are brave, you are a warrior.”
I felt I was battling with my mind; I could not focus and my thoughts pulled me in opposing directions. I strained against the darkness. The second cup was kicking in, and I had not purged, I did not feel the NEED to purge, I could not purge…
“Alright brother, pull your shit together”.
My scattered thoughts, and the gargantuan effort I was making to narrow my focus, began to manifest into a vision. I danced with a demon, my sword drawn. Every time I had my shadowy opponent near defeated, on his back, my sword raised to deliver a decisive blow, he would disappear only to rush me from behind.
I writhed and broke into a cold sweat with the effort to focus upon and defeat my scattered and deceptive foe. Suddenly, he got the best of me, I felt the medicine surge again, hitting me like a freight train. I writhed on my mat, reaching for my bucket but I could only dry-gag and spit up some nasty tasting bile. The visions of pain, suffering, everything I had ever done that was wrong slammed into me once more.
I lay rocking in the fetal position, but it was no good. I sat, tried the fetal position on the other side of the mat, threw up my arms in all directions, I felt like the wacky waving-arm inflatable tube man, on a bad trip. My body suddenly informed me I could puke or shit, or both, if I wanted to, but I opted not to… I wanted to wrestle back control of my mind on my own, and keep every drop of precious medicine within me so that it could do its thing. My body spoke to me “No worries boss, we got it”.
And then, it was time for my third ikaro. I manoeuvred myself into a seated position while the third shaman, Bendito, shuffled towards me through the darkness. He began to sing, and I found myself swaying rhythmically to the music. I was in physical pain, I felt black goop travelling up my spine and exiting the top of my head, being drawn towards the maestro and absorbed into a brilliant white evaporation.
The goop was so heavy, I felt as if I had a 20kg weight around my neck, I stooped forwards, the maestro reached for me, held my cheek, and took a swig from a bottle of perfume, sweet smelling water with a high alcohol content, he blew the perfume across my head and face, casting off the last of the goop. It felt incredibly intimate, as if I was a newborn child being cared for.
I felt the pain leave my heart. And then, I felt suddenly immense clarity come to me on difficulties I had been wrestling with, or running from, for decades. It felt like this one single ikaro, lasting perhaps six minutes all in, was equivalent to one hundred hours of counselling.
Around me, my beloved fellow humans, churned and turned, I could hear the occasional murmur of crying, of words whispered upon the wind. I felt the presence of some people and the connection to others, and wondered if I could project telepathically to the impossibly hot yoga teacher across the room. I allowed myself a cheeky smile at the thought, before dragging my mind back to the task at hand; forgiveness.
I took in each palm a talisman, one from my brother, and another from my beloved Audy, my dearest love and a being whose kindness, wisdom and emotional intelligence stretches as wide as the ancient seas. I asked her to arm me with kindness, with empathy, to complete the hard tasks I now set my mind upon. I started with the easier one and cast my mind out to my brother, I saw him clearly in my mind. I told him that I loved him, that all is forgiven and that I am sorry for the years we had missed together. We would need to make up for that, and I promised we would.
Next, I visited with Audy, for I had jerked as if struck by an electric shock upon trying to send my mind to Carrie, whom I wished to forgive. Audy came to be clearly as a divine being, and I felt beyond grateful and joyful that our paths, etched into the fabric of space itself, had come to be entwined. I asked Audy once more to arm me with empathy. Feeling strengthened, I tried again…
I cast my mind back out to try and visit Carrie. The pain hit me like a tidal wave. I felt my resolve wash away, and again I wanted to run. The demons swirled around the edges of my vision, whispering not-so-sweet nothings in my ear – “She never loved you, she never saw you, she never appreciated you, and why would she… you are a failure, you are unworthy”.
I called forth my soul-sword once more and swept the cackling demons from my mind.
But still the thoughts persisted, I felt my brain go into overdrive and rapid-fire processing began. Did Carrie not see that I loved her? That I cared for her above even myself, had wanted nothing more than for us to grow in love and partnership together? I wept, deep, heartfelt sobs, as I mourned the death of the partnership I had spent three years, and so much of my energy and heart, trying to build.
I mourned the loss of the home we would never share, the children we would never have. For three years, I had poured the best of myself into this relationship and I had felt so unloved, so unwanted in return. I sat with my pain, allowing myself to truly feel its depth and breadth.
My childhood insecurities rushed at me like a pack of dog sized locusts, they circled me, nipping and snapping at me; “You are fat and unlovable. You are not tall enough. You are not interesting. You express yourself too much, just shut the fuck up. Nobody wants your love. It would be better to end it and shoot yourself. You are weak. Leave the maloka now, there has to be some alcohol here somewhere, it will take the pain away…”
Was I unworthy? I gritted my teeth, “No.”, and again I reached for my soul-sword. I felt the hilt come into my hand. I reached once more for Audy and tapped into her unimaginably deep well of compassion, I asked her to grant me strength, to grant me the kindness to move past my pain.
A third time, I projected my mind to Carrie, and I saw her clearly. I had the sensation that I was a gecko, looking down upon her in her villa back in Bali. She looked lovely, and lonely. I saw tendrils of sadness and grief hanging over her. I realized I had wanted her to feel this grief, I wanted her to feel ashamed for how she had shown up, I wanted her to know some of the pain that I had felt.
The storm outside roiled and rumbled, jagged lightning split the sky, thunder crashing. In that second, a brief flash of brilliant white illumination within the maloka and a flash of illumination within my mind occurred simultaneously, I knew clearly what I had to do.
I sent my voice to her, in spirit.
“Beloved. I am sorry that you are hurting. I forgive you. I have nothing but love and compassion for you” – and in that moment, amazingly, it became true.
“You are not a bad person. All is forgiven. I want you to be OK, and I will cease sending negative energy towards you”.
I knew then that I would offer to pave a way for Carrie’s own spiritual pilgrimage into the jungle in search of forgiveness, healing and growth and that I wanted to check in with her upon my return to Bali, to help ease any pain she was feeling and to offer some words of encouragement and love that would help her with her own healing.
I embraced her in this strange astral world, blurry around the edges, and I told her again that I loved her. I felt lighter, free, my heart felt healed and full. Over the last few months, I had found myself saying often and impulsively that I hated her, this feeling now faded and then ceased to be altogether.
At this realization, the very last ikaro of the evening came to its end.
We sat in the darkness, in silence for twenty minutes or so before the ceremony came to its end and folks started to shuffle with some difficulty to their feet and back to their tambos.
It was around 11:30pm. The ceremony had lasted a little over three hours, but it felt both longer and shorter. I slowly gathered my belongings and got to my feet. I walked outside, my head torch lighting the way with a weak red light.
I felt unsteady on my feet, almost as if I was drunk but I could think with crystal clarity. I weaved through the trees, following the path back to my tambo. After a little while I realized that, shit, I was going the wrong way. It was at that moment that my headtorch flickered and died…
I couldn’t help but laugh, my father always told me to have two head torches, he’s a bit of a preparation nut. I felt a sudden wave of warmth spread from my heart as I thought of him.
I stumbled onwards. And then, suddenly, my body informed me of a change…
“Erm, boss, we ain’t got this”.
The unavoidable urge to purge hit me…
I was going to be vomiting, and shitting, within the next minute. I was lost, the sounds of the jungle all around me, and it was fucking dark. Luckily, the moon overhead provided some illumination and I was able to make it to my tambo just in-time.
After a few moments of double-dragon-ing I felt better, good even… almost like an MDMA bomb had just hit me. I felt loved up, creative, clear headed. I journaled by candle-light, writing late into the night, writing letters to some of the most important people in my life, Carrie included. I knew that we would not renew our partnership, but still I had things to say – there was healing to do and I felt compassion enough to want to initiate it.
I no longer wanted to be responsible for somebody else. I had supported Carrie financially so she could focus on her personal development, but she had spent too much of her time numbing, procrastinating on things she told me she would do, and blazing weed. I was feeling enthused for my own future, without the burden of loving somebody who didn’t appreciate me and couldn’t keep their word. I felt a sudden and tremendous sense of freedom, of ‘anything can happen’, and I loved it.
I hoped that me and Carrie would meet in the future though, achieve some closure, and perhaps set a foundation for a future friendship. As I sat journaling, I realized I will always love her but that I will stick with my choice to choose myself, my growth, my happiness, over somebody else or some entity – in this case, Teamster, the not-so-successful duo that was me and Carrie. I felt at peace, and proud of myself for prioritising myself and releasing my obsession with trying to make our relationship work.
Ceremony 3 (Day 5)
The next day, I spent time around the small lake with my fellow guests and had some really interesting conversations. It was beautiful how everybody opened up to each other and held space for each other. The vibe was of extreme vulnerability, and it felt good to share so openly.
Ceremony 3 was, for me, almost all about my fairly complicated childhood and I haven’t finished processing it yet, because of that I am opting to not go into details into what came up for me during my third ceremony. Suffice to say though; I uncovered some memories I did not know I had, and re-lived some traumatic events. I was able to find more love and understanding towards myself by re-living the things I had survived. I believe this will be a powerful step on my healing journey.
One thing I wrote in my journal which I am willing to share, below…
‘I want my Mum’ – I called out suddenly and involuntarily in my mind. I realized this is a phrase I think or say often and impulsively. It is the little boy within me who feels unheard, minimised, and unsafe. I realized that now it was MY job to nurture and hear William, to help my inner child heal, and not minimise his pain. It is not enough to point to my awesome current life and say –
“See, it all worked out” – I need to acknowledge the pain he went through, to not bury the fear and utterly desolate loneliness my inner child went through. It is my job to protect this child, to help him feel safe, loved, and appreciated for all his wonderful weirdness. To let him know that I will fucking murder anybody who tries to hurt him. He will never be held down again, he will never be humiliated again. I need to let him know that it’s OK, he can come out, I got him.
The next day, I awoke after just two hours of sleep, and did a fairly slow workout. After ceremonies, we observed silence until midday so the steam baths and breakfasts were a relaxed affair. During lunch, I caught up with my fellow humans and learnt of some of their experiences… One man, a polite and jovial American gentleman, who was in his seventies and had never tried any substances in his life, told me how he had given birth too and then turned into a cobra, feasting upon the energy within the room.
Another young man had merged with time, space, sound, smell, sight and become part of the primordial soup of the universe, he said it was the most meaningful experience of his life.
One experience that I think really illustrates the power of Ayahuasca to heal and to strengthen one’s empathy was this; one fellow told me how he had seen a very traumatic event that had happened to his father. He had vaguely known about this event, but during his ceremony he had SEEN it, and felt it, clearly from his father’s perspective. This enabled him to have great empathy for his father, who was clearly traumatised, and to forgive his father for some poor behaviour that had, in turn, traumatised him. He looked forward to reconnecting and having more kindness and understanding towards his Dad. I thought this was beautiful.
Some others in the group had been very, very sick, and one unfortunate person had spent most of the trip thinking he was dying. Another fellow, an experienced psychonaut, had been buried for billions of years, connected only to his breath and being unable to move, deep beneath the earth.
Several people had experienced nothing.
During our group chats, we shared what we were feeling, surmising what our visions may mean. Some people were elated, others frustrated. On day 7 and 8, we would do ceremonies on back to back nights, and on these days we would fast – eating only breakfast. I was excited to go deeper.
Day 7 and 8
I wrote in my travel journal:
Today, mighty Ayahuasca, I hope to speak with you… I wish to be gifted a guardian, to meet with my spirit guide. I wish to delve into my past, to feel true love, to be granted wisdom. I come ready to receive, and to give. I am brave, capable, and strong. I am Will fucking Hatton.
I was really enjoying my time at the retreat centre, falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle and awakening at 6am with the first rays of dawn. Every morning, I did some pull-ups in my tambo and then hit a 40 minute strength workout using my TRX and some resistance bands. It felt good to move and whilst my cardio was certainly taking a dip – it is just too hot to do burpees or skipping – I felt that I wasn’t losing any strength, which had been my main concern coming on the retreat.
My skin condition was terrible, incredibly itchy and angry despite five cold showers a day… The shamans slathered me in a balm made up of twenty different plants and it got a bit better, but it was honestly still awful and uncomfortable. I decided to see it as a meditation exercise, to try and avoid scratching it or getting pissed off at it, and to try and visualise it leaving me during the next few ceremonies.
Ceremony 4 (Day 7)
This evening, the aya hit hard. The ikaros pulled forth black sludge from me once more, and I sprouted feathers upon my arms, turning into a crow, and flew over the mythical island of Japan.
I knew my moon goddess was somewhere below, hitchhiking and trekking her way across the land of the Rising Sun. I held onto the talisman she had given me, feeling it radiate warmth into my hand, and I ducked and dived through tendrils of cloud, searching for her below. I found her sitting by a river, and I poured love out to her, hoping she would realize that the crow was me.
On my second Ikaro, something different happened. I suddenly felt that I could understand what the shaman was singing. I was hit with the overwhelming urge to vomit out the guilt, shame, pain I was carrying and I purged long and hard before lying back exhausted on my mat.
Staring at the intricate wooden roof, I realized in that moment that I simply LOVE to love… I am a loving and giving person, and I felt that love swell and rise within me, extending out towards all of my fellow humans within the maloka, and further, to all of Peru, all of South America, all of the world…
A brilliant white bubble beginning from my chest, enveloping all in a soft and gentle energy. It felt good. I wiggled my toes, coming back to my body, lying peacefully upon my mat, not thrashing wildly today. Beautiful colours danced behind my eyelids, everything fractalized, like acid vision but softer, more mysterious; shapes swirling in the darkness.
I did, indeed, meet with my spirit guide. A snow leopard. We sat atop a rock, overlooking the Karakoram mountains stretching away on all sides. We spoke a little, and he offered guidance. I will have him tattooed upon my hand so that I can remember clearly what he said to me.
When my mind stumbled into visions I did not like, I blew a concentrated jet of air from pursed lips, a technique I had read about, and the visions dissipated, like changing a TV channel.
I shuffled to a seated position, sensing the third shaman approaching from the darkness. The second cup of medicine was coming at me strong. The shaman swayed like a cobra dancing, head on one side, and then the other, I followed the rhythmic movements. My head felt heavy, held in place by energetic tethers, so the shaman could extract the black goop moving from my stomach, my liver, my heart, and up my spine to the top of my head, drawn towards the shaman’s. He spat, dispelling the toxic sludge coming out of me. The singing increased in power, depth, simply more… I purged. Hard. I vomited again and again. I sensed I was vomiting my desire to numb myself with alcohol and drugs, to not feel the pain I was carrying, I was sure of it.
Later, back in my tambo, I revelled in the soothing romance of writing by kerosene lamp, and I wrote out this section to share with you, dear friend. Alas, as I write, the light begins to sputter. I need more oil, but it is 3am and I should sleep, for there is another ceremony tomorrow.
Ceremony 5 (Day 8)
Intention: Why do I have addictions? Aya, help me find peace…
I was flung back in time 25 years. I felt fat, and remembered my childhood in deep and dreadful detail. I suddenly had more understanding around my current exercise addiction, I normally train at least 2-3 hours a day. I processed more elements of my relationship with Carrie; not feeling held, appreciated or safe in the connection. I felt much less angry and hurt than before, the last of my pain and anger melting away with some further realizations.
Suddenly, ENDLESS waves of yawning wracked my body, I felt like my brain was going to pop, it was unpleasant. I was struggling with my body and could not even sit up… I lay there, tossing and turning. I could hear one of my fellow humans crying out in sadness again and again. I tried to project myself to him, to embrace him in the astral realm, to offer love and comfort.
Realizations continued to come thick and fast throughout the ceremony…
I realized I worry a lot about things that haven’t happened – e.g. disasters, and that I tend to catastrophize so I can plan my way out, make plans I do not need.
I realized I need to practise gratitude for what I have, e.g. good eyesight, rather than fear that I may lose things.
I realized that one of my gifts is introspection, and that I’ve been coding myself for improvement my entire life.
I realized how I often lose the thread, lose the present moment, and that breathing is the key. I had tried meditation before. Ive acheived a 100 day streak at one point, but found it challenging, boring, and it often left me feeling annoyed, I was plagued by the feeling I just wasn’t “doing it right”. It is however a practice I wish to bring back into my life – 10 minutes a day for 30 days is my plan… It will allow me go deeper during future medicine journeys, of that I am sure, allow me to pause, to calm, and to strengthen my hold on the thread.
I wanted to go home. It was hot, I was fucking itchy and covered in red welts, my hands were wrecked, and I felt moody and drained. I wanted to go to Carrie, to make her understand how she had made me feel, but I knew it would pass and I tried to take it easy. The last couple of ceremonies had left me feeling tired and anxious. Whilst the ceremonies were incredibly healing and powerful, they opened a lot of doors I had nailed shut in the past and it was a lot to process.
I arranged to meet with Claude for a 1:1 chat. He told me that leaving early was dangerous and not recommended, the wound was open and still being cleaned, it would only be closed on the 6th ceremony.
We spoke about the why of many of my actions, Claude counselled me that seeking validation against a belief that’s not true (I’m not brave enough, not strong enough, not worthy enough) is no way to live a life.
Claude shared with me that the reason I was in the first position in the circle was that he had sensed I was dependable. Being first, and being closest to the door where people were coming and going, was challenging and required strength. The shamans had seen it in me and placed me there on purpose. I felt honoured. I felt that my fire, my raw and boundless energy, my unshakable stability, was visible to the healers and I felt proud of myself.
In my journal I wrote:
I am the warrior that was, and shall be again. I am worthy, strong, deserving of love. My childhood beliefs that I am not worthy, and that I must prove myself, have acted as fuel and pushed me to great success in entrepreneurship and in life. But I already am worthy and I must find some fuel that burns less hot, and gives off less smoke. I need to find different ways to motivate myself rather than telling myself the story that I am nothing, nobody.
Ceremony 6 (Day 10)
The last ceremony was softer. There was to be no second cup of medicine tonight. The ikaros were gentler, more like a lullaby than some of the truly strong and powerful chanting that had accompanied the middle ceremonies. Skillfully, with much love and dexterity, the shamans each sang their last ikaro to each of us. I felt the wound close. It felt good.
Wrapping Up (Day 11 and 12)
On day 11, we were taken on a hike over a hill to the Temple’s other projects; reforestation and permaculture. We were treated to a bountiful harvest and I discovered starfruit, a fucking highlight of my life, below is a photo of me revelling in the sheer orgasmic deliciousness that is starfruit. If, like me, you’ve never tried one; you need to change that.
We spent the day hanging out, having our final group therapy session and then enjoyed a final dinner with plentiful chicken, salad and strawberries in which we were joined by the shamans.
A few guests performed songs or poems, my buddy Keith serenading us with a trumpet, and I stood up and gave a short speech of gratitude to the shamans. Looking them each in the eye, I said…
I want to thank you for guiding us through such an amazing and life-changing experience.
I want to thank you for the drinks of questionable flavours (the morning elixirs).
For the Japanese lessons (one of the shamans had a smattering of Japanese which he used often for comic effect).
For turning me into a bird and giving me the best ride of my life.
For comforting me in the darkness when I was scared.
You have a knowledge, a power, which we don’t have and I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing it with us and helping us to heal.
The final day, the shipibos set up their market and we bought some colourful and skillfully made handicrafts to help support them.
After the market, and a final breakfast, we made our way out of the jungle and back to Iquitos. I spent two nights there, before beginning a very long journey back to Bali.
I felt I had gained a lot from my experience. Sitting with Ayahuasca is the best thing I’ve ever done for engaging introspection and creativity. I had a lot of realizations, and knowledge is power. Knowledge enables one to change. I plan to do a digital detox, plant-medicine retreat every year from now on and have already booked myself into a 10 day San Pedro retreat in Ecuador in May.
Practicalities of doing an Ayahuasca retreat
Something I didn’t cover during the post above is the dieta. For two weeks before sitting with Ayahuasca, one must cut out alcohol, all sexual activity, all drugs including marijuana and mushrooms, pork, salt, sugar, caffeine. There are various other things to follow but the essentials are above, this meant my food in the runup to the retreat tended to be eggs, some chicken, some fish, some vegetables, not much else. On ceremony days, it’s best to only eat breakfast. For two weeks after the retreat, one must also abstain from most of the above. Exactly what is included in the dieta varies on the recommendations of the shamans and retreat centre so do your research but know that you will likely have to make some changes to your life and diet before and after an Ayahuasca retreat. The preparation requires dedication, but it’s worth it.
Books to read
Here’s some books I read before going, or whilst at the retreat centre, which I found armed me with some useful information…
Choosing a retreat centre
There are thousands of places one can do Ayahuasca. I recommend doing your research carefully, and opting for a retreat centre in the jungle, rather than at a posh hotel type scenario.
I recommend opting for a longer retreat rather than just a few days (3,5,7 day retreats are all common) as it’s an overwhelming experience and it’s best to do multiple ceremonies over a long period of time to allow for optimum reflection and integration.
Finally, I would suggest that many more than the 24 people who were on my retreat would have been too many people. And this goes without saying; find a real shaman, not some dreadlocked white dude who life-coaches in his spare time.
Final thoughts on the experience
Visiting the Temple of the Way of Light was an amazing experience and not only do I feel that it helped me heal but I also feel I have a stronger connection with my creative mojo after the digital detox element of the trip.
I filled a journal and a half, that’s four hundred pages, whilst on the retreat, and that in itself was incredibly powerful and useful for me. I journaled on a LOT of things, finally feeling ready to write out my life story so far; the good, the bad, the ugly, the incredible.
I had tried this several times and always failed, unable to figure out how to write about some of the shittier things that happened to me. Finally, at 2am, after one of my ceremonies, I wrote it all out, as it had happened. I felt a huge weight come off of me upon doing this, and I look forward to continue working on this project.
Within the Amazon jungle, I am leaving behind my tendency to minimise my pain, allowing myself and my inner child to be held, seen, felt and healed. I have released a lot of hate, a lot of hurt, resentment and anger. I feel changed. I feel inspired to be healthier, to continue to work on my healthy habits. I no longer want to numb. I want to be intentional in all that I do. I have more love and patience for myself.
I had been challenged, but I was coming out with a greater understanding of my core wounds, and more love and acceptance towards myself. I had pushed myself hard, peering into places that were deeply hard for me, and had my ass kicked a couple of times.
I had healed my broken heart.
I had seen beautiful, and terrifying, visions. I had new information about myself, my triggers, and my relationships which I could now incorporate to my personal healing and growth. I had a clear plan for what I wanted to do over the coming twelve months. I felt alive, rejuvenated and filled with love for myself and the people in my life. I felt good.
I met some incredible people on the retreat, and am looking forward to seeing some of them around the world again in the future.
I feel humorous, energetic, cheeky and confident. I also feel ready to be home. I’ve done good work here, engaged my warrior spirit. I can now work on my healing. I want to heal fast, I do not want to wallow… I wanna get this done. I feel fit, strong, healthy. I want to continue to eat less sugar as a coping mechanism. I feel I’ve identified triggers with my parents, which I did not want to cover in this blog post, but with whom I can now improve my connection with.
I feel at peace with Carrie, having organised my thoughts into a letter I will send her. I wish her well and I truly want her to find happiness, health and peace. She will always have a place in my heart and I will always care about her.
I am very grateful for the many wonderful people who have bought me joy over the last year; Alex, Audy, Ria, Clair, Mark, Trevor, Wells, Max, Aiden, Tomas, Livia, Syzzle, Rachel, my entire team… I have many amazing people in my corner and I feel ready to take on the next chapter.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading my story and if you choose to embark on your own Ayahuasca retreat… I wish you luck, friend!