In May 2013, my whole world shifted. At the time, I was living in Amsterdam and I began to feel the call to the Peruvian Amazon to work with the sacred plant medicine ayahuasca.
But I was facing a challenge: I had no experience with psychedelics and was terrified of what would happen during that first ceremony deep in the Amazon jungle, a place that was way outside of my comfort zone. I wanted my first experience to be in a familiar setting where I felt safe and fully supported should anything undesirable happen.
Thankfully, I was living in the Netherlands, a country where some psychedelics are legal, so I rode my bike downtown to the smartshop where I picked up 2 grams of Ecuadorian Psilocybin mushrooms. My partner, also having no experience with psychedelics, offered to “sit” or hold space for me as I went on my first journey. Knowing that his unaltered presence was around the entire time was a source of great comfort as I entered into the realm of the unknown.
I had done enough research to know that an Ayahuasca ceremony is mostly internal; you close your eyes, go inside, and the journey starts from there. So, my intention going into my first mushroom ceremony was to keep it mainly internal, to not get caught up in the visual trip that so many people encounter with mushrooms. I had also learned about the importance of the set and setting; the mental, emotional, and physical environment going into the experience.
I started off my journey by bringing myself into a calm, centered state though yoga, meditation, and a visualization where I focused on the feelings I wanted to experience in the hours ahead. I also set an intention with the mushrooms, holding them in my hand and feeling the spirit behind them that would be my first teacher outside of the physical dimension I’d been living in for the past 23 years. My intention was to be open and receptive to whatever the mushrooms wanted to teach me, while asking them to help me understand anything that was blocking me from connecting with my most authentic self.
After my intentions were set, I ate 1 gram of mushrooms with a few pieces of dark chocolate. An hour and a half later, I wasn’t feeling anything, so I ate another gram. Another hour, still nothing. Then, slowly, I began to notice things looking a bit odd. I looked at my partner and saw his eyes looked really funny. At this I said, “Whoaaaa.. I think I’m starting to trip!”
Shortly after this, my heart started racing and my palms began to sweat. I was starting to panic at the feeling of not being able to control my mind, which is the reason why I’d never tried psychedelics before. We turned off the TV and I laid down on the couch in the dark, focusing on my breath to bring me back to center. “Breathe in calm, breathe out peace,” I kept repeating mentally.
While I was doing this, I looked up at a photograph we had mounted above the couch. It was of a sunset over the ocean, and I was watching the sun repeatedly set again and again. I looked up on the ceiling at the light streaming in from the streetlamp outside to witness a sight I’d never experienced before: the light was no longer light in the form that I usually see it, it was now a series of bright purple, green, and yellow waves traveling across the ceiling. My panic was gone and I was in total awe at the sight.
I sat up to look outside at the park across the street. The streetlamp that was illuminating the living room was shining like a giant star. I could see the bright colors being emitted in every direction. Beyond the light I saw two giant trees, and focused upon their branches. What would normally appear as a random arrangement of branches and leaves was actually a series of intricate patterns. Looking around both inside and outside my apartment, I could see these patterns delicately woven throughout the entire physical world. Again, I was in awe at the beauty of what I normally took for granted.
After what felt like forever of getting lost in the beauty all around me, I was snapped back into my consciousness. I suddenly remembered why I had eaten the mushrooms in the first place and felt guilty for spending so much time focusing on the external world. I sat with this for a moment, feeling the guilt start to consume me, when I had this sense of ease come over me. All of a sudden, I knew that it was ok for me to stay “outside” for awhile, that work was being done here.
I laid back on the couch, enjoying the feelings of compassion I had towards myself, which was a rare emotion for me. I was lying on my back, watching as the sun set in the photograph above me, when my cat, Honey, jumped on the couch and curled up on my chest. As I was watching her movements with fascination— everything from her breathing to the way she moved her tail— her whiskers began to grow outwards and her orange spots began to glow. At the sight and feeling of her presence, my heart exploded with the most gratitude I’d ever felt. It was as though I was seeing beyond the physical, into her spirit. I had an intense sense of knowing that our spirits had chosen each other on some realm beyond the physical. She was a part of my life so I could learn experientially about the healing power unconditional love.
At this point, my partner came over to check on me and I took this as a signal that it was time to move inwards. I asked him to put on some meditation music for me, since the iPad screen was melting every time I looked at it and I couldn’t quite understand how it worked. I initially felt embarrassed that something so basic was so difficult for me, but instead of feeling the shame that usually came with embarrassment, I was able to laugh at myself and the silliness of the whole situation.
I went into the bedroom and tucked myself into bed with the iPad on the night stand next to me. I was listening to music from a YouTube video that had a slideshow of photos from nature. Flowers, waterfalls, insects. I was, again, mesmerized by the visuals and the feelings I was experiencing. I kept repeating, “Oh wow! It’s so beautiful! Oh my God, it’s all so amazing.” I had never before felt so intimately connected with nature as I did while watching those photos scroll. I could feel the interconnectedness of it all and my place within the web of life. I had believed for a while that everything happens for a reason and that it is all connected in a way that is challenging for the human mind to even conceive. In that moment, all that I had intuitively believed to be true about the reasoning behind seemingly good and bad events became clear; I now knew that nothing is inherently good or bad. The universe has no judgement, everything just is, and it’s all perfect.
When I realized that I’d been watching the slideshow for over an hour, I turned onto my back and closed my eyes. What happened from there is hard to put into words. I remember feeling like my consciousness was being pulled out of the “me” that I normally associate as myself, the body and the mind. I was being pulled into a vast darkness. I was a bit shocked at first, but I slowly surrendered and let myself be brought into that space. Then the visuals started. It felt almost as though I was on a roller coaster being shot through time and space while watching fiery red dragons swirl around me. I don’t remember feeling particularly scared, just curious about what they represented.
That’s when the deep soul lessons began to appear. I could feel my energy being thrown around, from one extreme to the other. I was watching how my life was full of contradictions and what that was doing to my spirit. I wanted to be in a relationship, yet I wanted to travel the world solo. I encouraged people to live lives of freedom, passion, and love, yet I often experienced feelings of depression, insecurity, and loneliness. I advocated love and peace yet was all too quick to judge another. All these contradictions were fragmenting my energy, leaving me feeling disconnected and out of place.
After what felt like forever of bouncing back and forth between my internal contradictions, the pressure had built up and I found myself screaming in my head, “ENOUGH! I get it! Now what do I do about it?!” Everything began to calm down and I felt like I was floating on a feather back down to the ground. Everything was light and airy again. The guidance I received from then on felt like it was coming from a place of gentleness and compassion.
I was being shown that to achieve true inner peace, I needed to learn to live in alignment. I had heard of this idea of living in alignment before and understood it intellectually, but was now learning it experientially. I was being brought through different parts of my life that weren’t congruent with my truth. I was feeling what it was energetically to be out of alignment. To be in alignment was to feel connected, to sense the universal life force energy flowing through me; being out of alignment stopped that flow. I was being taught how to energetically feel what is true for me and what isn’t, and to learn to make my decisions from that place.
I was also taught the value of being present in my life. Instead of worrying about the future or stressing about the past, I needed to be more aware of each moment as I am in it. This is the way we begin to tap into the spirit realm without the use of psychedelics. By being present to our life, we invite this universal energy source to guide our every move. In this way, we know that we are always living in alignment with the highest intention of everyone involved.
When the trip finally ended, I felt emotionally like I’d been hit by a bus. It was about four in the morning by then and I was exhausted. I got up to drink some water and went straight to sleep. The next morning when I awoke, I was so confused. I had no idea how to make sense of what had just happened, let alone what to do with it. Thankfully, I had some great friends to support me in processing and integrating my first experience with psychedelics.
It’s been over a year since I took that first journey, and in that time I’ve sat in two more mushroom ceremonies as well as 25 Ayahuasca ceremonies. My life has transformed dramatically since then and is rapidly evolving every day. I’ve come to understand that psychedelics can be a powerful tool for our personal growth and spiritual development when used with the intention of healing and understanding. When we’re ready to do the work, psychedelics can be a great asset to helping us step more fully into who we really are.
My one bit of advice as you enter the world of psychedelics, is to always make clear your intention for entering into that space; are you looking to run, hide, and contract, or to learn, grow, and expand?
Arianna Joy is a holistic explorer who is using plant medicines to heal from Chronic Lyme Disease. Check out her blog to read more about her knowledge of wellness and freedom.