That’s So Brazil

Post #11: Mother aya’s embrace

Conoisseurs of ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic herb used by indigenous Amazonians, insist that the plant is not a drug. They say it’s a medicine—one that allows you to meet your own soul and transcend deep hurts, like a parent who molested you—and should only be taken as part of a sacred ritAyahuasca herbual. Some people call the herb “mother aya” and say things like “mother aya will give you not what you want, but what you need” or “mother aya has wide, caring arms and never judges.”

One of my friends here, a regular user, told me that the plant changed her life. Despite living with fibromyalgia and relying on a government pension to survive, she laughs easily and radiates peace of mind. If aya had anything to do with this, I wanted in.

Just one snag: aya induces violent vomiting in many people who take it, and the thought of a group retching session put my hypertrophied sense of revulsion in overdrive. On the other hand, I was here in Floripa to live large, so when my friend invited me to an ayahuasca ceremony, I clutched my stomach and said yes.

I was the only non-Brazilian among the 13 participants at the ceremony, which began at 10 pm in a dim hostel room with floral sheets draped to the ceiling. The leader, Jean, a diminutive man whose dreadlocks roped down his back like the roots of an ancient tree, put a tambor xamânico between his legs and began singing and drumming about Brazilian slaves, about empowerment, about preparing to enter aya’s force field.

Os pretos velhos vão chegando, chegando devagar…

About an hour into the ceremony, Jean called each of us in turn to receive our first dose of ayahuasca tea, then told us to sit or lie down and “begin the work.” As he continued chanting and drumming, I felt the brew seep into my cells. Pleasing geometric shapes danced in front of my eyes, and when Jean spoke of the need to embrace the impermanence of things—not my strong suit at the best of times—the tears started flowing. And then, for a few brieAyahuasca 4f minutes, everything seemed right with the world.

We all had plastic buckets in front of us, and every once in a while someone would lean over to fazer limpeza, or “do a cleansing.” When the nausea hit me—with hardly a second of warning—there was nothing to do but join the fray.

We drank our second dose of aya shortly before sunrise. More geometric shapes, more nausea, another flicker of serenity, and then it was over.

As the rising sun poured through the window, Jean encouraged us to share our experiences. “The work was very strong for me,” many people said, and went on to talk about communing with dusty old relatives and even with people from former lives. I felt a little jealous, as I hadn’t met my mother or my maker or had life’s secrets whispered into my ear.

Before everyone left, another participant took me aside and told me that, even if the earth hadn’t moved for me, traces of the medicine would stay in my body and give me fresh insights for the next week or so. As things turned out, he wasn’t wrong. Thanks, mother aya.


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13 thoughts on “That’s So Brazil

  1. Wow Gabrielle thanks for sharing this experience – and I now have so many questions! Can you write a second piece speaking more about the ‘fresh insights’ experience of the week after?


  2. Wow, sounds pretty intense! I look forward to hearing more next time we see each other.
    Congratulations on jumping in with both feet and thank you for sharing it!


    1. The most intense part was the nausea. When the ceremony was over, I remember thinking, “never again.” Then the next day I thought, “hmmm, maybe one more time.” Sort of like giving birth and then forgetting all about the pain…


    1. You’re definitely saying “yes” to everything, but I would say a big NO!!! to this—at least until I had read the clinical reports backed by years of study and peer-reviewed. However, this is coming from someone who doesn’t do well on most drugs, and even became more anxious on tranquilizers. 🙂

      But good for you for going out of your comfort zone, both geographically and emotionally. Looking forward to your travel tales when you get back.


  3. The vomiting episode reminded me of my first – and only – attempt to drink tea concocted for me by a Chinese herbalist on Gerrard Street back in 1991 to alleviate symptoms of endometriosis. They provided me with several strong mints to take after I drank the tea. Let’s just say I never did get to the mints!

    You are fearless, Gabrielle!


  4. Ahhh minha querida amiga!!!.. estou orgulhosa e feliz por você, quão destemida está se saindo… desbravadora de um caminho ainda obscuro para muitos brasileiros, se despiu do preconceito e foi avante… parabéns mulher de coragem!!!


  5. can’t wait to try it! I hope one day drugs do for you what they seem to do for others, in terms of a total change of outlook on life. but maybe you are not looking for a total outlook change! very cool of you to accept this opportunity life gave you.


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