The feeling of accessing a deeper reality that is essential or fundamental to life unites different ayahuasca experiences. But the spiritual experiences of ayahuasca may vary across individuals and cultures. Many things can influence an ayahuasca experience.

It’s a great challenge writing about ayahuasca experiences and spiritual awakening in general terms. This is because the story of ayahuasca is diverse. “Ayahuasca takes on the tradition of the person who drinks her”, people will often say. There certainly are common elements of ayahuasca spiritual awakenings across individuals and cultures. Yet, there is an important diversity that shouldn’t be minimized too.

Indigenous Amazonian people are the original stewards of ayahuasca. Their spiritual experiences of ayahuasca tend to involve animal, plant, and meteorological spirits (such as jaguar, plant or river spirits) and also extra-terrestrial spirits (such as sky spirits). The ability to sing sacred songs and transform into nature spirits is core to most forms of Amazonian shamanism.

Ayahuasca often creates a powerful visionary experience (due to the ingredient DMT) and music is the fundamental map that guides the journey. The slow building of an indigenous sacred “icaro” song often starts with soft whistling for 15 minutes or more. The whistling becomes louder and then develops into song, building more and more as the ayahuasca takes effect. Indigenous “curanderos” combine voice, rattles and other instruments to call in spirits for healing and protection.

Ayahuasca shaman

As the music builds and softens in rhythmic intervals over hours, often so does everyones visions and purging. While the purge is a very physical experience, it is also very much a spiritual releasing of blocked emotional energies. Heightened emotional experiences are common to ayahuasca spiritual awakenings. People often find themselves regaining “lost” feelings while experiencing powerful spiritual visions.

Change the music and often the “channel” of the experience changes. There is an incredibly wide variety of spiritual encounters that have been described by ayahuasca drinkers from different cultures across the planet. Visions may include spiritual encounters with family members, friends, nature spirits, gods from all major religions, extra-terrestrials, and even technological universes. Even the experience of time itself may be turned inside-out during an ayahuasca journey. Visions and feelings of being part of a deep evolution of the planet that goes back thousands or even millions of years, is not uncommon.

The spiritual practices people have cultivated during their lives can influence their ayahuasca journeys, whether meditation, mindfulness, visualisation techniques, poetry, shamanism or other paths. For instance, the Kahpi teacher and healer Celina De Leon has been apprenticing in indigenous ayahuasca shamanism since 2009 and she also has a rich background studying in yoga in India. In this video, she describes similarities between ayahuasca and yogic traditions:

The spiritual experiences of ayahuasca often involve very personal encounters with the self. Ayahuasca activates parts of the brain (in the hippocampus) that have been associated with recalling biographical memories. The visions people see during their ayahuasca journeys often combine uniquely personal elements with deeply universal feelings. Psychologist and ayahuasca drinker Dr. Benny Shanon describes the profoundly personal aspects of ayahuasca experiences:

What is one’s merit? It is the sum total of what one is, of everything about one – one’s personality, disposition, and attitudes, and, in fact, the entire biographical history that one carries… Thus, just as the way one’s body now moves, the way one’s face smiles, the way one’s hands gesture – are all perfect embodiments of who one is, that is – expressions of the entire path one has traversed in the course of time that is one’s entire life, so too is it the case with regard to what is experienced with ayahuasca.

The experiences often present spiritual insights that are unique to the individual’s life. Dr. Shanon adds: “It is very common for drinkers to feel that they suddenly understand why things are the way they are, to find deep, heretofore hidden, meanings in verbal expressions and in texts, to discover the true sense of their own lives.” This also means it’s difficult to talk in general terms about ayahuasca spiritual awakenings given the personal and cultural elements of the inner journey.

The mystical heights of ayahuasca may radically transform how someone understands ordinary life. The world may become more open and meaningful after drinking ayahuasca and this often results in positive transformations in everyday life. Yet drinking ayahuasca can also, in some rarer circumstances, result in a problematic strengthening of the ego and self-centredness. In this video, Kahpi teacher and psychologist Dr. Clancy Cavnar describes the potential double psychological effect of ayahuasca spiritual awakening:

There are many things that can influence the spiritual awakening process that ayahuasca inspires. While the music is fundamental, it’s certainly not everything. The individual’s personal history, cultural background and set of expectations all mix together with the profound visionary realms of ayahuasca ceremonies. The ayahuasca path is formed by the spiritual stride of the walker, their social environment, and the broader cosmic environment we all inhabit. There are important risks and benefits that have been associated with drinking ayahuasca. The preparation of the individual and how her or she relate to the experiences afterwards play a major role in the positive outcomes many people report.

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Alex K. Gearin, PhD

Alex K. Gearin, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist who researchers ayahuasca in Australia and other places. He is the founder of Kahpi.
Alex K. Gearin, PhD