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Scared Awakenings: An Ayahuasca Retreat in Costa Rica

Experience by Matthew Joesph, an enthusiast of adventure in all forms who seeks to inspire that desire for new experiences in his readers. Whether it’s through travel, music, conversation, or a thought-provoking book, Matthew plans on enjoying everything that life has to offer. Images courtesy Soltara Healing Center.

“Nervous, excited, anxious and every other emotion I have ever felt before,” I told the facilitator, Scott, who was asking about my feelings for my first ceremony.

He whispered back, “Let go of all expectations, let the medicine do its work, and enjoy the process.” I nodded, still feeling quite nervous but prepared.

The room was silent, and two candles were the only things separating us from complete darkness. I sat cross-legged in the center of the ceremonial hut, face to face with the healer Silvia.

I could feel the warmth and compassion in her smile as she blessed the glass of liquid and leaned closer to hand it to me. As I took the cup, I set my intentions for the night, asked the Mother to be gentle, released all expectations, and drank.

The liquid had the consistency of motor oil and tasted (as I can only imagine) just as foul. I thanked Maestra Silvia, stood up, and walked back to my mattress that lay at the edge of the room.

The only prep left to do was to get comfortable, focus on my breath, and express gratitude for the opportunity. The rest was out of my hands. What came next would be determined by the mystical and infinite power of the plant medicine I traveled so far to experience, ayahuasca.

Now, what the heck is ayahuasca, how do you pronounce it, and why would anyone choose to drink something that tastes like a diesel truck smoothie?

Without getting incredibly technical, ayahuasca (I-Uh-Was-Kah) is an Amazonian plant medicine tea made from two or more plants – typically the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the chacruna leaf (Psychotria Viridis), containing the psychoactive chemical dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

Indigenous healers in South America have drunk plant medicine for centuries as a means of spiritual healing, treatment of illness, communication, and much more.

More recently, there has been a surge in popularity among Westerners seeking ayahuasca as an alternative to Western medicine, using it for psychological healing, personal growth and expansion of consciousness. This type of work intrigued me.

I was 24 years old, feeling more lost than ever, questioning the meaning of life at every turn and yearning for a purpose. I wanted to be more connected with family and less concerned with worldly possessions or social media.

But most of all, I wanted to be happy with who I was. Never having partaken in an ayahuasca ceremony before, I desired a space that emphasized the safety of its participants and honored the use of it through indigenous Amazonian healers and their way of working with the medicine.

It was that burning desire for change that ultimately led me across the world to Soltara Healing Center in Costa Rica.

I was one of thirteen individuals who had embarked on this adventure of extreme proportions at Soltara Healing Center, an all-inclusive ayahuasca retreat center in the jungles of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.

Soltara offered a safe and loving environment to experience plant medicine in the traditions of the indigenous Shipibo people of Peru.

Sitting atop a seaside cliff overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya, the retreat center is surrounded by a luscious rainforest where the sounds of diverse wildlife synchronized to form a natural symphony.

The meals were sourced locally, tasting as fresh and delicious as nature intended. The staff was as loving a people I have ever come into contact with and the healer’s songs, also known as icaros, will forever hold a place in my heart.

In combination with modalities such as massage, yoga and breath-work, Soltara created the optimal environment to proceed with confidence in the consumption of ayahuasca.

My four ceremonies were a combination of the most painful yet enlightening moments of my life. Physically the medicine induced an array of effects ranging from weightlessness and euphoria to heavy flu-like nausea.

These feelings pushed my mind into moments of conflict, bringing every negative thought about myself to the surface and forcing me to reframe them.

Ayahuasca brought to life every spec along the emotional spectrum with intense magnification. I was able to feel wretched depression, immeasurable love, and everything in between with full force.

My eyes were filled with arrangements of gorgeous geometric patterns and colorful tapestries. Visions of my past were put on display like a projector screen, and religious deities greeted me with arms wide open.

The impact the medicine had on me spiritually, however, was the most transformative. I was able to comprehend concepts and feel emotions that were previously unfamiliar.

Gratitude for life and the opportunity to experience all that it has to offer became as clear to me as the ground I walk on. Family, friends, nature, and love replaced money, titles, validation and superficial interactions at the forefront of my life’s desires.

The medicine let me see clear that spending time building meaningful relationships and being receptive to a wide range of new experiences is where my values should lie to truly live a fulfilling life.

Drinking ayahuasca was a rollercoaster with some unbelievable highs and insidious lows. However, facilitator Scott’s advice I now see transcends the ayahuasca experience to life itself: enjoy the process.

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