San Pedro, Ayahuasca, and Plant Medicines in Peru

by Nora on September 18, 2014

Your vision will become clear only when you look inside your heart;

who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.

– C.G.Jung

 

Shortly after I first came to Peru last March, my life has changed. The protagonist? “The ferrari of transformation,” as my friend and teacher refers to it: plant medicine.

The plant medicines I’m specifically referring to are San Pedro and Ayahuasca; two very powerful mind-altering substances that can be the impetus for healing, transformation, and divine connection.

 

The Plant Medicines

I’d known about Ayahuasca for over five years, and had quietly called it into my life since then. But in a similar way to how I called Peru into my life for over 12 years, I knew that it would happen when the time and place was right – and somehow, I also knew that I would be doing it in a shamanistic setting…in Peru.

Despite my burning desire to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony, San Pedro was the first – and main event – in my plant medicine journey.

 

San Pedro

San Pedro is a cactus that grows throughout the Andes, and has been used in shamanic ceremonies in Peru for over 3,000 years. It is known for opening the heart, helping you to connect with yourself (and beyond) through your heart instead of your (monkey) mind. Often this results in a greater sense of self-acceptance, compassion (to yourself and others), and healing of old wounds.

I first drank San Pedro with Miguel during our trek through the Andes; and although it was a lovely journey that fostered a deep connection with nature as we hiked along, it wasn’t nearly the life-altering (or mind-altering) experience I had expected.

“That’s because you didn’t do it with Javier,” was a resounding response from those I spoke to when I returned to Paz y Luz. Anybody who had done a San Pedro ceremony with Javier would say that exact phrase emphatically, often accompanied with a wide-eyed recollection of the bombastic experience they had.

And indeed, when I eventually met Javier (more on him later) and described my first San Pedro experience, he said the same thing. I had approached him to arrange an Ayahuasca ceremony, and ended up doing eight San Pedro ceremonies – and only one Ayahuasca ceremony – with him over the ensuing six weeks.

 

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is known in the Amazon jungle as “la purga” (the purge), and it’s an accurate name at that, since purging (vomiting) is common during an Ayahuasca ceremony. Why would you want to drink a plant medicine and throw up, you might ask? Purging – and the act of embracing Ayahuasca – can cleanse you on all levels; physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. It helps you to let go of things that no longer serve you, and connect with your deepest truth.

One of the active ingredients of Ayahuasca is DMT, which is a psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family, and is naturally produced in the body at birth and death. The process of “life flashing before your eyes” before death is said to be DMT working its magic.

 

The Teacher

In the Sacred Valley of Peru, there is no shortage of plant medicine ceremonies available, held by teachers and shamans with varying techniques and degrees of experience. To my view, Javier stands out in a variety of ways that have both endeared me to him and allowed me to explore some of the deepest corners of my emotional and spiritual being.

“I dislike the term shaman,” was Javier’s response when I told him I’d be writing about my experiences and asked how I should refer to him. On his website, he refers to himself as an Ayahuasquero, but it’s a term that doesn’t roll off my tongue so easily. To somebody unfamiliar with shamanic and plant medicine practices, I still like to call Javier a Shaman. (Sorry, Javier). But everybody here simply knows him as “Javier”.

There are a lot of deeply spiritual people and practices here in Pisac. To meet Javier, you immediately sense his connection and knowledge of all things spiritual, but he also has a playful and practical side that counter-balances the “woo-woo” aspect of it all. As a Spanish national who grew up in Switzerland, he acts as an effective bridge between the mentalities and issues of Westerners, and the spirit of these jungle medicines that are inaccessible or incomprehensible to many of us. And unlike other shamans in the area, he counsels you before and after each ceremony and provides personal guidance throughout the ceremony, to help you set effective intentions and incorporate the information and lessons you learn.

Javier has become not only a teacher of mine who I have immense respect for, but also a very good friend.

Note as of June 2016: after 2.5 years of studying, living, and working with Javier, assisting him with all his ceremonies, and apprenticing under him, he pulled the plug on everything. Every coin has two sides. Here’s what happened

 

Plant Medicine Ceremonies

In preparation for both Ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies, you need to adhere to a special diet. There are a variety of recommendations depending on who you talk to, but Javier suggests that for at least three days before and after each ceremony, participants abstain from caffeine, pork, spicy foods, sex, alcohol, and drugs of any kind. This deepens the experience, and invites the medicine to stay with you afterwards.

San Pedro

Javier holds San Pedro ceremonies during the day. The ceremony opens at 8am with a variety of shamanic rituals before drinking the medicine, and the ceremony closes around 5pm, followed by dinner in Javier’s home. (He holds relatively small ceremonies so as to give participants the personal attention they need for a deep experience).

The journey can be anything from pleasurable to painful, gentle to intense – and usually a combination of everything. As a very cognitive and rational person (almost to a fault), I appreciate San Pedro for its ability to “get me out of my head” and to viscerally experience healing and receive insights. I’ve tapped into emotional parts and needs of my being and cleared a lot of “luggage” that was holding me back – in ways that I can’t fully or intellectually explain, but know it – in my body and being.

San Pedro is generally known to be a gentle plant teacher, so throughout the day you have your faculties about you; you can walk and talk and function. But because this is an inner journey, participants don’t speak or interact during the ceremony.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca ceremonies are generally held at night. After fasting through the day from breakfast, the ceremony begins at 6pm and finishes around 10:30pm. Again there is no interaction between participants during this personal journey, which can be considerably more intense than San Pedro – physically, emotionally, and otherwise. In comparing the two, I would say Ayahuasca is for exploration of the self and the world (seen and unseen) outside ourselves, and San Pedro is about coming home to yourself.

It’s difficult to describe what happens in an Ayahuasca ceremony, since every ceremony is different (the same can be said for San Pedro). I’ve had some ceremonies where nothing perceptible happened, and others where I felt like I traveled to other dimensions. Ayahuasca can produce very intense visions, and for some people can be scary. It really depends on your state of mind/emotion/spirituality, as well as your level of resistance to flowing with the experience.

 

Plant Medicine Isn’t For Everybody

“Work with these medicines is not for everyone as it entails a strong willingness and readiness to surrender and embrace whatever experience and emotion the medicines may bring up to one’s conscious awareness,” writes Javier on his website. He goes on to say that if you try to control a plant medicine experience, it can be downright painful.

You have to come with a very open mind, a willingness to work on yourself, and the ability to face whatever comes up in ceremony. I’ve faced some ugly aspects of myself and my fears in ceremonies, but it is in facing those dark sides that I saw them for what they were, and either accepted them or got rid of unnecessary preconceptions or judgements.

 

What I’ve Learned

In my initial weeks of San Pedro and Ayahuasca ceremonies, I learned and accepted a number of things about myself, and my life – past, present, and future – that are significant life lessons. Among other things:

  • I now understand patterns in my life that haven’t served me.
  • I went through numerous emotions with regards to the head-on collision I was in last year, from anger at the unfairness of it all, to eventual gratitude for what it was and where it led me.
  • I reconnected with a traumatic time in my childhood, and realized that the tragedies of that time no longer need to be a part of my identity or a story that I hang on to.
  • I understand why I travel and live in the way that I do.
  • I’m falling in love with myself, instead of falling in love with other people to fill a need that can never be filled by others.
  • I’ve humbly embraced parts of myself that I’m not proud of.
  • I’ve let go of or reframed certain qualities and characteristics of mine to foster much healthier relationships with people in my life.
  • I have a greater sense of work-life balance.
  • I learned to be kind to myself. Truly kind.
  • I let go of many of my fears.
  • I released dark energy of past traumas that had manifested themselves physically in my body.
  • I reinforced my fundamental trust in the universe – as well as myself.
  • I reconnected with the enduring love of my parents, who, like most parents, didn’t get everything right, but never faltered in their unconditional love for me. (I love you Mum and Dad).
  • And in a most exciting way, I gained direction for my future, ultimately leading me to the the decision to return Peru to live for a while.

 

After these intense periods of San Pedro and Ayahuasca ceremonies last April and May, I spent the remaining weeks I had in Peru integrating what I learned, before heading back to Canada for the “ultimate reality check” (as Javier refers to it) of facing old patterns and relationships while integrating new life lessons. My family and friends all delighted in seeing a “new Nora”; saying I am much lighter, happier, able to deal with life’s frustrating moments gracefully, and with a deeper connection to both myself and the world around me.

For these gifts, I am immensely grateful to San Pedro, Ayahuasca, and of course to Javier for their instrumental role in my life.

 

Ayahuasca: Soul Medicine of the Amazon Jungle – a Comprehensive and Practical Guide

Javier wrote a book about Ayahuasca, detailing his personal journey and lessons learned as an Ayahuasquero. It’s an enjoyable read, especially if you’re interested in learning more about this healing plant medicine originating from deep in the Amazon Jungle.

You can get a copy (paperback, hard cover, or e-book) on Amazon here:

Ayahuasca: Soul Medicine of the Amazon Jungle – a Comprehensive and Practical Guide

 

 

 

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Erin Verginia September 18, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Thank you Nora! I’ve been on the fence about Ayahuasca for two years now, and your post really helped drive it home for me – with the promise to myself to do it in Peru (hopefully with Javier if possible!).

2016 will be very interesting 🙂

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2 Nora Dunn September 20, 2014 at 11:45 am

Great, Erin! It’s an amazing experience, and I’m honoured that I could tip the scales for you! Maybe I’ll even meet you at Javier’s place on day…. 😉

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3 Maria Falvey September 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Nora, “facing old patterns and relationships while integrating new life lessons” is not easy but kudos for meeting that challenge head-on.

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4 Nora Dunn September 20, 2014 at 11:52 am

Thanks, Maria – you’re right, it’s not easy, but it’s some of the most rewarding personal work I’ve ever done. I’m a new woman! 🙂

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5 Sam Teller January 19, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Nora I am pleased to learn about your experience with both ayahuasca and San Pedro. My husband recently experienced San Pedro for the second time and is having a hard time re Integrating to reality. What do you suggest can be helpful to ease him in the process? Anything you can suggest would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time in advance.

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6 Nora Dunn January 19, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Hi Sam,
It’s hard to advise you based on your description; how long has it been since the ceremony? Also, did he adhere to any special diets before/after the ceremony? Depending on the depth of what your husband dealt with in the ceremony and the nature of the matters to be integrated, this can indeed take some time. My best advice to both of you at this moment is to be patient with yourselves and each other, and to contact the shaman who led the ceremony for some more specific advice.

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7 Sam Teller January 23, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Nora I appreciate your response. We’ve had a hard time even getting a response from anyone who is experienced with San Pedro. So you can imagine how thankful I am to hear from you. It’s been about a month now since he had San pedro and there was no prior preparation for it other than an empty stomach. However after, he did have a dieta like the one you would have while on ayahuasca that he decided to do on his own because he was sensitive to most foods and His visions preceded for a week after the day he took the San pedro. Is there anyone perhaps you can direct us to who you recommend? I feel if he can talk to someone about what he experienced, they may be able to help him gain clarity and reintegration. I’m being as supportive as I possibly can with what I know, I know of how impactful ayahuasca and San Pedro can be which is why I’ve been seeking help. Once again, I appreciate your response

8 Alfredo A. Lopez September 19, 2014 at 11:14 am

I really liked this piece. I think it highlights the real essence of the Ayahuasca experience, without seeming wishy-washy. I appreciate that. For readers of this, you might be interested in this blog I wrote that details my firsthand experience of being on Ayahuasca with a shaman in California.

Find it here: http://modernhipgnosis.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/glimpses-of-the-other-world-a-desert-trip-with-ayahuasca/

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9 Nora Dunn September 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Hi Alfredo,
Seems like you had a very intense experience! Would you try Ayahuasca again?

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10 Alfredo A. Lopez September 22, 2014 at 11:23 am

Yes, I would

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11 Laird Beevor September 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Nora

As usual,great article about an experience I too have on my list. Ever since discovering the work of another fellow Canadian…Gabor Mate. An addiction specialist in Vancouver. Thank you for the enlightening first hand account.

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12 Nora Dunn September 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Thank you, Laird! I have heard of plant medicines being used for addiction therapy…an interesting way to get down to the bottom of addictive behaviour. Indeed, I’ve managed to conquer a few (small) addictions of my own, by realizing that I no longer need the “coping mechanisms” I used to rely on.

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13 Seti Gershberg September 24, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Well written. Enjoyable to read. Accurate and realistic. I would only add that it is the ayahuasca brew that contains DMT. The vine that is used to make ayahausca, that is called ayahuasca itself, does not contain DMT and is not a hallucinogen. It is only when ayahuasca the vine is mixed with another plant like chacruna that contains DMT that in combination will work together to create the experience. Thank you for sharing!

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14 Nora Dunn September 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

Thank you for the clarification, Seti – and for your feedback!

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15 Evie January 7, 2015 at 5:25 pm

I’ve done Ayahuasca and San Pedro years ago but these things don’t seem to affect me. Except for the purging, I didn’t have the mind blowing experience most people undergo. I spent a week at an Ayahuasca retreat center with the Blue Morpho tours for the Ayahuasca experience and a few years later went to Northern Peru for the San Pedro retreat.run by biopark.org.

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16 Nora Dunn January 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Hi Evie,
Indeed, not everybody’s experiences are the same, and in fact I had a couple of ayahuasca experiences that were “nothing” – but which I later came to realize were very healing in other ways. It affects people differently, and every experience can be different too.
It also depends on who you drink the plant medicine with, how they read your energy (and what dose they give you accordingly), and how well they help you along with songs etc throughout your journey. Sorry you had a non-plussing experience with these plant medicines; the more I work with them, the more profound a love I have for the amazing transformations they can inspire.

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17 karen @ Trans-Americas Journey January 21, 2015 at 7:08 pm

Good for you, Nora! I really admire your ability to wait for the time, place and person that felt right for you.

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18 Nora Dunn January 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

Hi Karen,
I am too! When it comes to working with plant medicine, I think this aspect is crucial, and I’ve been rewarded accordingly!

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19 Ann May 21, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Do you feel it’s helpful to go through multiple San Pedro ceremonies? It seems many people do it as a somewhat touristic activity while visiting Peru, so it’s often a one-time thing. However, based on your experiences, is it more of a process? Should it be viewed more as a tool for self-discovery?

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20 Nora Dunn May 22, 2015 at 11:15 am

Hi Ann,
Regardless of whether you experience san pedro once or many times, I believe it’s a tool of self-discovery, for sure.
But I would also suggest that for many people, more than one ceremony can be very beneficial, as it allows you to deeper explore the process of healing and inner exploration. For some people, it takes many ceremonies to let go enough to do the serious and deep work that is possible.
Hope this answers your question!

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21 Lawrence July 29, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Dear Nora,
48 yr old single male at crossroads in life.Basically lost frustrated with th serious poor sleep hygene so head constantly feels foggy and body exhausted. Two failed marriages now living in a rented room. Epilepsy was my turning point lost certain jobs because lost drivers licence. Had motorbike accident nine weeks ago. Fractured two lumbar vertebrae. Healed nowhere just some aches. Basically just existing, this is a cry for help! Back at work week after next light duties till training! I cant do this existing anymore. I made an Ayahuasca analogue yrs ago and foolish as i was not having a shaman present it was a terrifying and most beautiful journey. How do get to meet Javier or any other reputable shaman where i can find my spiritual self again with a knowledgeable person like yourself. Thank you.

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22 Nora July 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Hi Lawrence,
I’m sorry to hear you’re at a crossroads….and yet, a crossroad is a great opportunity to change your life!
Unfortunately I’m no longer in Peru and working with Javier. However he is a very reputable and capable shaman….or rather, he used to be. I can’t speak for how he is now, as it seems that he changed, which is part of the reason I’m no longer in his life.
But there are also many others out there….in your search, reach out to people who resonate with you and see what comes. Just make sure you do your due diligence! Not all shamans are created equal.

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23 Lawrence July 29, 2016 at 2:20 pm

I did try Salvia x40 once……had done the lesser strengths first to get a sense of what would happen, but the x 40 was totally different well for me anyways. After three large inhalations i waited for the sensation to take effect slowly from the back of my head moving forwards followed by the visuals geometric shapes bright colours, but then this journey differed from previous ones. I was in another reality, one were i could see white balls of light hundreds of them, i could interact with them speak with them. I remember the feeling of incredible overwhelming love coming from them, they were balls of light but I knew they were people, i remember feeling so welcome, so loved. It lasted apparently according to my friends who said i was just laughing chukling to myself throughout about 20 mins. I was so distraught and felt so dissapointed when i remember seen my friends living room carpet again asi knew then the experience had finished.

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24 Nora July 29, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Lawrence,
Ah yes, that feeling of disappointment on “landing”. The trick is to integrate the lessons you learned and felt in that magical place, into your daily life and way of being. They say the real ceremony begins when the ceremony ends….that’s when the real life-changing work can begin. (And it ain’t easy, let me tell you!) 🙂

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25 Christine Breese June 5, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Thank you for your most insightful musings and explanations of the medicines, you really make it accessible for people to understand with the way you explain it and speak about it. I agree that the real ceremony begins when the ceremony ends because it’s one thing to get the insights in life that the medicines show us, but a whole other thing to apply the things we learn in those ceremonies, as I’ve learned recently. It’s so important we put into action what we learn with the medicines. They show us much, but then the real work begins when we have to put it into action, which is so much harder to do than just getting the insights. The discipline that comes after the ceremony is the real teaching.

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26 Nora June 5, 2017 at 9:28 pm

Hi Christine,
So true! It’s why I like to take breaks from working with the medicine, in order to see where I’m at and put some lessons into practice! Hard as it may be, it’s the true rite of passage.

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