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It’s common for newbies to be nervous before an ayahuasca ceremony. (You know, the type that allows the Kung Fu masters to break stacks of concrete blocks with a single hand chop.) In the Upper Amazon, Mother Ayahuasca is described as a jealous lover. If you’re seeking a super-duper big-ass experience, try being abstinent for, like, six weeks or longer, if you can manage. Remember, you’re not having a “drug experience” — this is a (something not emphasized enough in descriptions, I feel) and certain things are done that seem odd to a person raised in a non-shamanic culture. In the Amazon, this would be thought of in terms of guarding against evil spirits, dark energies, and so on.

Pity the fool who finds herself backpacking in Peru and decides to drink ayahuasca on a whim after a week of hamburgers and mohitos. Spicy food may not offend the gods so much as your butt and mouth if you vomit or get diarrhea… In Asia they call this preserving one’s — one’s life force — and it’s all about cultivating energy.

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(Now you see why not a lot of young people in South America are apprentice shamans…) Anyway, I practiced abstinence and had powerful visions my first time. I imagine one of the most neglected areas of preparation among people traveling from busy industrial society to ayahuasca retreat centres is the simple act of paying attention, by which I mean noticing () your mood, what’s around you, nature, and so on. You don’t have to think of it in those terms, if you don’t care to.

I’ll never know what would have happened otherwise, but I imagine my experience could have been less. I don’t understand people who finish a work deadline, jump on a plane and drink ayahuasca the next day. Okay, so the big day has arrived and you’re in some ayahuasca retreat having eaten super-healthy vegan food for weeks and weeks, avoided alcohol and had no sex for what seems like forever. I quite like it, but then I like the Lord of the Rings movies, so finding out there really is a spirit world is quite cool in my books.

Sometimes I’ve seen the smoke delivered like a smudge, waved over a person with a large feather.

This is work, and you’ll find out quickly why no one would ever drink ayahuasca as a recreational drug (one reason why it’s so ridiculous that it’s illegal in North America and many other places).

That may sound bat-shit crazy (hey, a lot of this stuff sounds bat-shit crazy) but the medicine takes you to meet universal consciousness and the funny thing about “U. So (big surprise), when you make your decision, she starts communicating with you. But be reassured it’s not “your dad’s tobacco.” Instead, it’s mapacho tobacco that has a rich, sweet smell that’s quite unlike the chemically adulterated stuff in commercial cigarettes.

Tobacco is used to “seal the container” — meaning it’s blown in places around the (sacred meeting place) whether this is a purpose built round building or any kind of space adapted for the purpose. This is sometimes done by the shaman lighting a cigarette made from hand-rolled mapacho tobacco and inhaling it and blowing it on you (e.g., on your head/crown chakra and chest/heart chakra).

You can eat delicious, simple food for a couple of weeks before your big experience, which isn’t much of a sacrifice. While I’m normally libidinous, I got lucky in a different way the month before and just didn’t feel like it for about three weeks before ceremony, and that included self-pleasuring.

At a minimum all these things should be strictly avoided 48 hours before ceremony, but really two weeks is my rule. If there was ever a time in your life to get turned on to good vegetarian or vegan cuisine (ideally raw), this is the time. The first time I drank aya sexual abstinence was easy because I was between relationships; there was no one to disappoint by skipping the wild thing for a couple of weeks.

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