It’s exactly a week since I arrived home in London from Brazil.

I was over there for 3 weeks to have another bash at Ayahuasca. After my skull-shatteringly amazing experiences last year, I thought it would be churlish not to go back and see what else she had to offer.

I had planned to spend a lascivious week of R&R in Ipanema before heading up North to be spiritual. But when my plane landed in Rio and I trolled into town, I was met with such hilariously horizontal rains and lashing winds that I promptly turned around and took a plane up to Bahia. Rio is possibly the most beautiful cities in the world under a blue sky, but traipsing from bar to bar in the cold, damp rain would have made a travesty of it.

So instead I went – virtuously – up north to the sun-soaked tropical beaches of Ilheus, Bahia. It was wonderful to spend a week acclimatising and getting my head into a suitably receptive state for the seminar.

This year I was teaching alongside the heavenly Sue Minns and Gary Reich. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there, but diligently taught my meditation techniques of mindfulness and concentration to our wildly disparate group.

It was a big group, 27, and as always it was a varied palate of humanity. A tall, long-haired surfer dude from Southern California, lawyers from London, a physician from Florida, a couple from Toronto, a fashion guru who doubled as a medium in her free time, a couple of sexagenarian seekers from Upstate New York, a Scottish women who’d had a restaurant in Barbados.

The group is such a vital part of the whole experience and Silvia and Gary, Sue and I were at great pains to emphasize that. Traditionally it is the Shaman who controls and contains the whole experience. We wanted to try and create a group energy that contained itself without any one dominant controller. Democratic healing.

As I mentioned elsewhere, there’s an enormous amount of anxiety that builds up before the first session. Most people have never done anything like this in their life. And over the 3 or so days before we drink for the first time, the to-ing and fro-ing of stories and expectations, weaves itself into a strait-jacket of dilated terror.

One of the sweetest members of the group was a mild mannered maths teacher from Chicago (who I’ll call Bert.) He was in his 60s and about to retire and he’d spend a lot of his latter years travelling the world looking at sacred sites. He was shy and gentle and I liked him from the start.

As we all lay down for the first session, gulping down the vile-tasting brew and settling down in the dark on our cushions, it was Bert who came to the fore.

People often find the first session disorientating and difficult. Bert was torn apart by it.

After about an hour, when I and most people were quite deep into the early stages of the experience, Bert started vomiting with incredible violence. It was as if he was being possessed and torn apart by some internal demon. For about 7 hours his screams and moans and agonised stumbling out into the fresh air coloured everyone’s trips. And although Gary and Silvia were tending him constantly (and all the other people who began to vomit too), Silvia also started playing incredibly intense drumming and ululating tribal singing to push the energy deeper and darker.

It was a tremendously difficult night for just about everyone. I was trapped in a very grim, reduced place for a very long time. Elements that I recognised from my trips last year came back and completely imprisoned my mind – an impassive male face, sphinx like paws, a complete reduction of possibilities. It left me feeling very grim and profoundly unsure as to why the hell I was doing this.

The next day over breakfast, many people were feeling the same. Why on earth were we putting ourselves through such misery?

I recognised the same blank awefulness from last year. Though it was nowhere near as intense. Gary said that he had had that severely claustrophobic vision of the universe in one his early ayahuasca experiences. He saw, with time, that it was an illusion of the ego wanting to reduce the world to familiar, controllable elements – endlessly repeated. On paper, this sort of made sense. But I went into the second session very clear that I wanted to experience joy not entrapment.

Weirdly, 2 days later, everyone, including Bert, walked back into the candlelit room, lay down and drank another dose. It is a little like childbirth, so traumatic yet worth it.

And this second trip was incredibly intense and I went through that stuck place to exactly the same place of Big Bang awareness that I experienced last year.

When I gave a talk about Ayahuasca a few months ago in London, someone in the audience stood up and accused me of missing the spiritual aspect of the plant. I was frankly astonished because what I experienced was the most profoundly spiritual. This Big Bang sensation was not some wonderful drug rush. It was a sustained knowledge of what I take to be the very essence of the Universe. I know this all sounds a little grandiose – but that is what I experienced. And if we’re honest it’s at the heart of what most human beings want to know: are we going the right way? Is the world benevolent? Can we be really happy?

For those few hours, lying twitching wildly on the grass outside the hall, I was experiencing (and I can only speak of my own experience) the ultimate nature of my life: the universal background noise, the baseline of things. And it was a constantly self-creating, roaring, nuclear explosion of positive energy. Every problem, every knot and negativity that my mind came up with was instantly resolved into laughing joy. It was impossible to create problems, impossible to suffer. Gradually I was able just to rest in that incredible time-and-space transcending knowledge.

Writing it down I feel vaguely dipsy and know that I am doing a poor job of conveying what I experienced. But that’s absolutely fine. What is important is that that Nuclear Noise, that white noise of the Universe was supremely good and all powerful. More important still: nothing, nothing in the created universe would make the slightest dent in its energy.

Gradually the intensity of the vision faded and I was able to move around a little under the palms. I lay for a long time spooning with Gary, profoundly delighted with the human contact, vaguely aware that what I just experienced was almost beyond being human.

Just as last year, I walked around for 24 hours afterwards grinning from ear to ear. Everyone had a much more peaceful and powerful session the second time. It was as if Bert’s traumas had exorcised all our demons and the second session was the space were we all moved forward towards something more beautiful. Bert included.

I must point out that no one ayahuasca experience is the same. No one else had an experience like mine. Everyone’s was unique and tailor-made to their psychic temperament and position. Sue, for example, had a wonderful breakthrough after 4 sessions of horrible nausea and not much else, by asking very specifically to be shown some information about the Egyptian mysteries that so absorb her. Which is exactly what the Plant enabled her to do.

I became hyper-sensitive of people’s tendencies to extrapolate their experience into other people’s. That shift from “my” to “our” is impossible in ayahuasca. I cannot say “the Plant told me that we all are xyz”, I can only acknowledge that “I am xyz”. These insights are unique not universal. That much humility I learnt.

I also learnt that the Plant definitely has a role to play. Last year I concluded that Aya was simply a chemical that enabled the human mind to analyse and heal itself. I still think that in the second half of the ayahuasca session that this is what happens, but the first trip taught me that the Plant is a external agent during the first hour or so and one has to submit to its slightly disturbing workings in order to reach those planes of insight.

Those disturbing elements for me always take the same form. Within 20-30 minutes I start to see coloured dots and fairly dramatically they coalesce into swirling, snake/plant-like shapes. These are not natural forms, they are alien and distinctly non-human and although they never actively scare me, they proble and wreathe and swirl in vivid colours and can be very uncomfortable to experience. Eventually (often quite quickly) their measuring and probing is over and I pass into a rather artificial holding space. This is where I can sometimes get horribly stuck (this year I had a sequence with plastic flowers and fishes, Japanese robots and pink perspex landscapes) but eventually this also transforms.

On my third session, although I had had sublime 2nd one, I was full of inchoate fear. I very nearly didn’t drink. But the group energy was strong and thank goodness I did.

The first half of this session – where I’d taken a much smaller dose than previously – I was battling furiously with those swirling alien shapes. I was determined not to let them happen and I fought with a weird desperation for the Plant not to work. Eventually of course, I saw that, in the words of the Borgs, resistance is futile. I also saw that this huge fear was somehow alien too. It didn’t belong to me and I was able to lay it aside like a big black bundle.

Once I’d become adept at laying that fear aside, I entered another familiar place from last year, an incredibly wonderful landscape filled with everyone I’d ever loved. My heart became ecstatically active and I was able to love like never before. My parents and my brother and sister-in-law and my neice and nephew were with me and I was exploding with love for them.

This wasn’t a mystical state at all. They were there and we were chatting and laughing. It was transcendental only in its simplicity.

Last year, I had the Family and the Nuclear experience consecutively in one session. This year, having them rearranged in 2 sessions, I saw how they fitted together. Where the Nuclear experience had left me feeling rather overwhelmed, largely because it seemed so beyond humanity, this session I was aware of how that Nuclear barrage of positive energy was always there in the background – constantly and effortlessly informing that wonderfully human and natural feeling of love.

It became like the best party in the world. Everyone I thought of was suddenly there. My family, my friends, my dead Granmother who I met dancing under the palm trees, laughingly happy at her own skittishness. And everyone was there in their best aspect. I could see no reason why I had ever argued with anyone, ever had problems with people. Through this nuclear heart everyone was so simply perfect.

In between the 2nd and the 3rd sessions Sue Minns had given the most magical workshop where she created a visualized space where all arguments could be resolved and where past pains could be healed. This is in concordance with Jung’s insight that problems cannot be resolved on the level on which they occur. When it came to looking back into ones own past I immediately and effortlessly came to a moment when I was about 8 and I accidentally told an older boy who I had a crush on that I loved him infront of a room of school friends. The ridicule and embarassment I felt then became emblematic of that young Alistair having to come to terms with the fact that being gay was going to be a difficult ride.

In the visualization, Sue had us call that younger you up into the space where we were, and give them the help or love they needed. I was able to visualize my 8-year-old self with a blond puddingbowl hair cut, incredibly easily and just as easily I could let my younger self know that far from being risible, being in love with that older boy was a wonderful thing… indeed I was able to flash forward through all the crushes and loves, requited and unrequited, through my whole life and refigure them afresh. Away from being an apologetic outsider and into being a powerful boy filled with love.

And that sense of coming into power was really potent in my love-a-thon in the 3rd session. Quite unlike last year, where all 4 sessions saw me nailed to the floor for the whole night, this year I was able to get up and move around a little. On this third session, I made it to the toilets and there in the lights I stood and looked at myself and was rather delighted with what I saw. Giggling slightly at the audacity of it, I saw for the first time that I was a big, good guy with a big good heart. In one night I switched from being the weaker brother to being the stronger one. From being the needy partner to being the one who could provide and nurture. Standing there infront of the mirror in that wooden toilet, my hands fluttering with the dizzy energy of the plant, I knew that my purpose in life was to go out and love people. Look after people. Act in love.

Striding outside (rather unsteadily) I started doing some yoga, enjoying the glory of my physical body. I was still able to call people to my side at will, so I lay under the incredible tropical stars with my family, occasionally bringing in ex-boyfriends, dead English teachers, friends from University.

It was a beautiful, beautiful night. The human incarnation of that scary, overwhelming beauty from the night before.

I could have left it there. In fact the seminar officially ended there, but some of the people who have been involved with the project for a long time stayed on and we moved from the lovely pousada on the beach where the session had been held, to the new land that Silvia has bought and is gradually transforming into a permanent centre for the seminars.

It’s a little away from the beach and 45 minutes further up the coast, close to the fashionable surfer town of Itacare. The land itself is part of the Mata Atlantico, a UNESCO world heritage site, and over the last year, Alfredo, a Argentinian like Silvia, has worked in inspired fury to establish what will become an amazing community.

He’s landscaped a colossal lagoon which will function like a swimming pool. There’s a mineral water spa and an octagonal building for drinking the ayahuasca, along with the first handful of 15 bungalows, scattered among the forest.

This is where we did the 4th session. Unlike the first three, this was more freeform. There’s no electricity on the land as yet, so we had only the light of the three-quarter moon and a fire. We had no convenient bucket so we had to dash out into the jungle to purge. There was no music only the deafening collage of the jungle insects, birds and frogs.

I took a small dose again but it had immense effects nonetheless. The swirling alien forms came strong but I welcomed this time with delight. I was lying outside in the full moonlight and quite quickly I found myself able to walk. I made my way unsteadily away from the Octogon and found a spot down by the marsh and stared up at the moon and the jungle.

To tell the truth I was receiving far more information than I could process, but the message I intuited quite clearly was that I should not try to interpret or understand, merely stay with the experience. Which is what I did. I found myself dancing a strange sagging dance by the swamp. I made my way carefully up the hillside to my bungalow and lay shaking for quite some time on the decking there, being filled up with strange knowledge – most of it overwhelming but never unpleasant. I came back down to the group. Sat watching people move around the lagoon in the moonlight. I started to dance in a rather serious pounding way up and down the gravel and decking infront of the Octogon. And then I went back inside to the group of people various scattered around the fire.

I sat on the low wall and one by one people came up to me and I found myself holding them, hugging them while they cried. It was a beautiful sensation to feel that I could hold someone and offer unconditional love and support while they sobbed out some ancient hurt.

Eventually, I lay down and drifted off to sleep. It was cold and damp now. And the moon had set. There was no real beds and I was quite uncomfortable but finally I found a spot and curled up till the dawn.

Having got through those 4 gruelling and exhausting sessions is a feat in itself and I and almost everyone there felt elated to have finished. To not have to go through it all again.

After almost a month of no sugar and no salt (one of the dietary requirements) we all piled off to Itacare in the car for ham rolls and chocolate milk in the morning sunshine. It felt heavenly to be so normal again. I felt lung-stretchingly happy to be there in Brazil, in all that vivid green vegetation, among all those stunning dark-skinned Brazilians, full of those delicious, guiltless calories.

Unfortunately we were pretty much straight back to London after that. Sue Minns and I had a massive 36 hour journey home, which acted as a long integration limbo, where we started to fit all the insight of the sessions back into waking, walking, talking life. And that integration carries on apace.

I think the most interesting thing was how so many of the experience on Ayahuasca were the same as last year, but how that intervening year’s growth put me in a completely different space to recieve them all. I’m all excitement as to how they will filter into my life in the coming months.


  1. Fiona M.

    October 24, 2005 at 4:24 am

    “I stood and looked at myself and was rather delighted with what I saw. Giggling slightly at the audacity of it, I saw for the first time that I was a big, good guy with a big good heart. In one night I switched from being the weaker brother to being the stronger one. From being the needy partner to being the one who could provide and nurture.”

    Well, that’s what I was trying to tell you I saw about you during the very first journey…I saw your valiance, your constancy, like some kind of shining knight and eternal companion in the ordeal/journey/glory of it all….

  2. Corey

    October 24, 2005 at 4:04 pm

    This sounds like a really fantastic experience. I was in France last year as an english assistant and had every intention of going to plum village to experience a week of mindfulness w/T.N.H. but alas was unable to do so. I haven’t done much with meditation and mindfulness over the past year and feel a bit ashamed really. It the happiest time of my life, channeling energy and having such an awareness of who I am and an insomniac mind being able to fall asleep at will to peaceful meditation. I’m 34 and gay and vividly remember the pains of youth. I was raised in a fundamentalist mormon family in Idaho, usa and in a community like that being gay is not an option, it’s an illness. I never had a gay role model to mentor me through it all and coming out at 25, felt my adolesence was stunted and I was 25 going on 16. Thank you for being out and sharing your spiritual experiences with the world. It’s nice to see some spirituality and sincerity in the midst of all the fluff that’s pounded into our brains. Sincerest thanks to you and keep up the good work!

  3. Mike

    October 25, 2005 at 3:28 am

    “When it came to looking back into ones own past I immediately and effortlessly
    came to a moment when I was about 8 and I accidentally told an older boy who
    I had a crush on that I loved him in front of a room of school friends. The ridicule
    and embarassment I felt then became emblematic of that young Alistair having
    to come to terms with the fact that being gay was going to be a difficult ride.”

    This is called an “initiating experience.” We have many of them, but there are
    three that are most affecting in our lives. The first is usually between the ages of 4-12,
    the second is between 13-18 and the third between 19-25. Each is called an initiating
    experience because what they initiate is a “story” we make up from the experience
    that we constantly put into our futures and our “prediction machines” (our brains)
    continuously put the experience into the future whenever a perception enters into

    My first intitial experience happened when I was four. My father promised to take me
    someplace (I always said it was the zoo.) Instead, he took me to a tavern. He tried to
    bribe me with red pistachios (which I will not eat to this day) but would not listen
    to me that he promised. The story I made up was that he, and consequently no one,
    listens to me. So, why should I bother. Of course, I also qualified it with he doesn’t
    care about me, no one loves me, and a myriad of other self-defeating things. However,
    what happened, and it is the only thing that happened, is that he took me to a bar
    for whatever reason he had. It had nothing to do with me.

    My entire life, until I realized the story I made up, had been completely seen through
    the filter that no one listens to me! My behaviour was designed around this. I wouldn’t
    say anything. I wouldn’t stand up for myself. I would hesitate in everything. Hell, I
    wouldn’t even let anyone know what I was capable of doing. All because I made up
    the story around my father taking me to a bar! I was a spoiled brat to put it mildly.

    Now, I don’t care if anyone listens to me. I say what I believe is necessary and what I
    want. If they listen, fine. If they don’t listen, fine. I have to be accepting and happy
    with whatever choice they make.

    Consequently, what we have to do is take the past out of our future and put it back
    in the past. With the past gone from the future, nothing exists in the future and the
    possibilities are boundless and endless because out of nothing we can make anything.

  4. Duane

    October 27, 2005 at 12:42 am

    These words, your words:

    “I knew that my purpose in life was to go out and love people. Look after people. Act in love.”
    “It was a beautiful sensation to feel that I could hold someone and offer unconditional love and support while they sobbed out some ancient hurt.” –

    capture the essence of what I think an admirer finds intriguing and satisfying about you and following your experiences, shared in words and images. Though distant, the words and images transport a sense of having been there, numbing, pleasing, understood. Reassurance – lessening the sense of loss or missed opportunity. Sharing the experience, radiating love and support, resulting in that warmth, much anticipated, much appreciated. I’ve prospered today from having looked in. I eagerly await the journey to continue, for curiosities found, to abound, and be shared.

    I knew that my purpose in life was to go out and love people. Look after people. Act in love.
    It was a beautiful sensation to feel that I could hold someone and offer unconditional love and support while they sobbed out some ancient hurt.

  5. hassan

    October 27, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    hi aliestair

    i really like you alot . am so happy that you are on line .
    am thirty one year old pakistani guy . love your sweet smile

    lots of love

  6. Chris Paisano

    October 28, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Ya’ateeh! Guwatzi! Greetings!

    Having discussed your experiences before, my thought
    is how can you fold your lessons into daily life? I know how
    I, as a Navajo should conduct my life but life does challenge one.
    You experienced a true beginning that you describe well, but with
    that much “power” as truth and true essence, how to see through
    the illusion that takes up our lives and come out as a true being?
    That would be my challenge. Do you find that this plant and its
    strength pushed you through illusion to being a truely present person?

    For us, in our ceremonies, we travel back to the beginning time
    (but not with this kind of plant) through song and prayer and the
    hataali (medicine man) guides us there and back again so we can
    rid ourselves of illness, as well as making sure we make it back
    without bringing back any sickness. I would think that by your
    touching these powerful known or unknown spirits (English doesn’t
    describe well what I’m trying to describe) that you may lead a path
    back to you. Do you go through a “cleaning” to make sure that
    nothing follows you? Or is what you experience is much different
    on a whole deeper level?

    Do your experiences deepen your understanding of Buddhism?

    I hope you are well.



  7. John McD

    October 29, 2005 at 9:18 pm

    I’ve been looking forward to the next chapter in your aya experience since I read you’d be doing it again this year. You have described the process–the terrors, the pain, the ‘rebirth’ and enlightenment with such simplicity and fearless honesty that it brings the experience to life for me–in the limited way I can understand it. I’d love to see the film you did of your initial experience, but haven’t found it available anywhere.

    Why I decided to look up information about you to begin with (aside from your delightfully kind and handsome visage on television) I can’t really say, but I’m so glad I decided to ‘google’ you. Your photos, writings, and the honesty and heart you bring to them is inspiring. I feel encouraged to continue the journey I began more than 15 years ago. So much of the deep understanding I experienced and incorporated into my life after going through a series of mindfulness/personal growth sessions was left to atrophy like some underused spiritual muscle. I put aside the discipline of developing and encouraging that inner growth during the intervening years of ‘career building’. In its place grew the flabbiness of cynicism, doubt and separation.

    Well, it’s clearly time to get back into spiritual and physical shape if I want the strength to give more of my love and support to myself, my partner, and the community we all share.

    Thank you again and much love to you,
    John M

  8. Stewart

    October 31, 2005 at 2:59 am

    Hey Alistair!!
    This essay was a great read. I’m somewhat frightened of things that I cant control with my mind so I’ve never experianced that sort of trip. I can get very dark when ive had a few drinks so I’ve always been scared to try drugs ( plus my Mum used to be a drug addict and I saw what it did to her) It seems facinating though and would love to try what you did.

    Last year I was diagnosed with H.I.V, and that totally changed my perspective of my life. I’ve calmed down a lot and find sollace and comfort in music. I can totally immerse my self in a song and it helps as therapy to me.

    Anyway good to see you online, and you look a lot younger than your look good.

    All the best and loads of love


  9. Valerie

    October 31, 2005 at 10:57 pm

    How many times a year do people do the seminar. Is there
    a limit? Does everyone drink the tea or are some people
    just caretakers? Will you be partaking everytime you teach
    meditation? Did meditation techniques help with the
    transition of drinking the tea?
    Perhaps now you are seeing the man we see when we watch you.
    A confident,pleasant, curious, funny, kind and in general
    nice guy.
    That’s a great picture of you just sitting calm and relaxed
    with just a little mischief in your eye. Or are you bowing?
    Hard to tell if your sitting on something.
    Glad the trip was positive.

  10. Matt

    November 1, 2005 at 3:38 am

    Your description of this plant has further deepened my curiosity towards it. To be able to explore into your past and see things as vividly as you describe seems truly amazing. I gather it should allow you to see things in a different light. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that everyone at the seminar’s under the effect of the plant. Was my impression wrong? Else it’s a bit dangerous, no? Other then that though, to me personally anyhow, it seems like an extremely worthwhile experience. To be able to explore past memories, be it good or bad, and to relive them must offer great insight. Hopefully one day I will be able to try this plant and perhaps it will help me find answers to questions I otherwise would not ask. And thank you for sharing your experience! It’s refreshing to see people on television are real too.

  11. Beach Party

    November 1, 2005 at 8:45 am

    Vituously To The Beach

    I’ve never heard of anyone going to a beach virtuously….

  12. Lucien

    November 4, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    And one who quotes so aptly. Tis not too late to seek a newer world…smite the sounding furrows!

  13. Bruno

    January 26, 2006 at 1:01 am

    hello there… really felt impressed about what u’ve written!
    Fantastic! so… i’m from South Bahia, and i think i’ve already
    seen u over here, maybe in Itacare, maybe in Ilhéus or Porto.
    I don’t know… i’m coming back to Europe next month! I’d love to
    meet more from u! see ya!

    Bruno from Brazil

  14. Maria

    February 12, 2006 at 3:10 am

    Alistair, darling, where are you? Let us know, won’t you?

    I’ve had a silly crush on you for a bit now. To see that you are on this inner journey is really cool. Now I have this crush coupled with admiration. No worries, I realize it will never be. But I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt to lose this fantasy. ;D

    Be well, luv. (And start posting, will you?)

    Maria – California

  15. hahaha

    February 28, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    this bullshit…
    there is no buddha, no dharma, no training and no
    what are you so hotly chasing?
    putting a head on top of your head, you blind fools
    your head is right where it should be
    no need to ingest any shit
    such ‘spiritual practice’ is not much
    different from monkey whores mimicking each other’s
    that is why your so-called spiritual pursuits have
    no meaning
    there is no question of your seeing things as they are
    you can’t see things as they are
    you never leave any experience or feeling you have alone
    you have to capture and interpret that feeling within
    the framework of the known
    you are happy or unhappy only as you have knowledge
    about and experience of happiness and unhappiness
    so everything has to be brought within the framework
    of the known before you can experience it
    the movement of the known is gathering momentum within you
    tts only interest is to continue
    there is no entity, no self there to give itself
    it is just the movement of thought
    the self-perpetuating separation
    it is mechanical
    anything you try to do about it only adds momentum to it

  16. Np2nbb

    March 28, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Can someone tell me if it was indeed, Jung, who said that problems cannot be resolved on the level on which they were created. I thought it was Einstein or someone but not Jung. Please correct me if you can!

  17. Duane

    December 22, 2006 at 1:32 am

    On this DBWT? archive revisited I see I commented in October last year. I don’t remember, or missed the first photo; was it added later? – 3 happy guys tanning on lawn/or 2 tanned – 1 tanning happy guys on lawn/or 1 very relaxed, elated tanned guy on lawn flanked by 1 tanned and one tanning happy guys/or relaxed, elated, tanned guy flanked by double happiness/or, 3 happy tanned and tanning amigos/or just happy tanned and tanning guys on grass.

  18. Body Waxing blog

    March 4, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Laser Body Waxing…

    Information on Body Waxing…

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