The Jungle is Calling

In September this year, I’m going to be returning to Brazil to help with another seminar on Ayahuasca , the Shamanic tea that I tried last year with profound effects. (See AYAHUASCA and JANUARY THOUGHTS ABOUT AYAHUASCA in my Blog Archive). I’ve had loads of people ask about the seminar and its benefits. So I’ll summarise as follows.

  1. Ayahuasca is an ancient psychotropic plant medicine used by the Amzonian shamans for hundreds of years as a way of communicating with the Bigger Aspects of the Universe. Recently it’s been used by Western psychologists to explore new ways of healing alcoholics and addicts. I went to Brazil last year to do a documentary The Man Who Drank The Universe, about Ayahuasca and the effects it can have on ordinary people, ie. me. It was a profound and disturbing experience – but one with extraordinary benefits.
  2. The 10 day seminar takes place in a beautiful coastal resort in the North East of Brazil, in the state of Bahia, near to the town of Itacaré. The jungle surrounding Itacaré is a UNESCO world heritage site. The setting, food, and ambience is very supportive although the sessions with the tea can be quite disturbing.
  3. Participants take the brew 3 times over 6 nights (one day off in between each session). The dark brown, foul-tasting tea is drunk in the evening and induces an 8 hour trance in which participants can expect to experience very intense visions and psychological journeying. Many people also vomit profusely.
  4. Silvia Polivoy, the Argentinian psychologist who runs the seminars, is resolute that the session take place without any external coercion. The visions are allowed to unfold and work on people as they need, unlike traditional Shamanic practice where a Shaman will guide the trip with drums and singing. There is music but it acts mainly as a common thread to unite the group.
  5. The sessions take place communally in a hall by the sea. There are people to tend you through the session and the group dynamic is very important in the experience.
  6. Many people experience frightening and distressing visions. An equal number have incredibly blissful sessions. Regardless of the content of the 8 hour trips, almost all find that afterwards the visions acted as important keys, unlocking a whole expanse of mental landscape that had previously remained uncovered. My first trip was awful and sad. My second was spectacularly euphoric.
  7. The true benefit of Ayahuasca, I believe, comes in the psychological liberation is seems to enable after the visions are over. As a practising Buddhist, with deep ambivalence to the use of external drugs to achieve liberation, I found that a vast amount of anxiety and self-consciousness melted away after my experiences in the Jungle and that those benefits have lasted and integrated totally into my daily life.

I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND AYAHUASCA FOR EVERYONE – although I’m sure its benefits are universal, the process can be very frightening and distubing . But I am aware that my writings about the trip last year generated quite a lot of interest and those who feel drawn to the extreme experiences I went through can follow their own noses.

Ayahuasca is used by several Christian churches rooted in Brazilian culture – Santo Daimé being the most famous – but I should point out that its use is criminalised in all countries apart from Brazil, where its spiritual properties have been honoured. Silvia’s course in Bahia is a wonderfully supportive and genuine framework for exploring the tea’s use and the seminars offer a fortnight’s holiday that will tear the roof off your normal life.

As I mentioned, I’m over there this autumn teaching some basic meditation which I think helps navigate the intensity of the Ayahuasca experience. The course begins on the October 4th and finishes on the 12th


  1. Helen

    August 20, 2005 at 4:26 am

    Just curious about your experience.

    1)Is this really safe, have you really come back a changed person or have you just killed off all those brain cells that hold the memories of the things you fear?
    2)Have you had any flash backs since your return home?
    3)Why did you want to do this? I am curious as to why people want to enter altered states of mind (gosh my life is daunting enough without drugs…)

  2. Matthew

    August 25, 2005 at 6:30 am

    Greetings to a fellow Buddhist. I have been curious about Ayahuasca and looked into it on the internet and came across your blog. I’ve been to Brasil before, but not in the same sense as you have been 🙂 I was just wondering if you had anything to suggest personally about the experience. I think it’s something that would be beneficial for me, but I guess letting yourself go to the experience is quite frightening.

  3. John Gianoli

    September 4, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    Dear Alistair,
    I read your Ayahuasca postings, and I was engrossed. I am going in October to Ilheus and I look forward to seeing you. I want to make the most out of the ceremonies and I figure that your meditation tips will help. I am a native of New Orleans and am looking forward to our spiritual retreat. Also how can I see The Man Who Drank The Universe? I live in Florida currently. Yours, John

  4. Kelly

    September 6, 2005 at 4:43 am

    yikes! is it just me or does that whole trance/trip/drug induced vomitting coma in the jungle thing scare the crap out of anyone else? being someone who finds driving on the interstate frightening, calling up the recesses of my feeble brain seems like a totally un-fun thing to do. I buried that stuff back there for a reason! but hey, more power to you, for giving it a shot. i was a bit shocked at reading such deep musings by my favorite, light hearted British TV presenter! so wow. i have to think on this for a while. hmmmmmmmmm.

  5. timothy

    November 12, 2005 at 3:55 am

    I would also like to see your documentary, “the man who drank the universe”
    Is it available on DVD?
    i look forward to your reply.

  6. kristy

    January 17, 2006 at 12:35 am


  7. Flo

    February 9, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    I am also interested in finding a copy of your documentary.
    I find this fascinating… Thank you!

  8. Simon

    February 13, 2006 at 7:47 am


    I’m going to brazil next month for the first time. mainly to play capoeira angola, so i’ll be living in salvador, bahia. i’m also a long-time buddhist (vipassana for nearly 10 years) as well as a full-time practitioner of chinese “internal” martial arts, and chinese medicine.
    also a long time mushroom hunter in the forests of australia!

    basically i’d like to get any info/contacts possible on ayahuasca in brazil, especially bahia.

    do you still check this blog?

  9. Allan Mussehl

    May 15, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    Am looking for a copy of your documentary — is it out yet?
    Also interested in the seminar in September — am not sure
    of the age of the postings, are we talking September 2006?
    If so, can you send particulars.

  10. Daren Jacobs

    December 6, 2006 at 11:01 am


    Hope you are well. I was chatting to Jez the other night and he was telling me about your Brazil experiences. I’ve lost your phone number, but would love to pick your brains about the Ayahuasca thing. I’m off to Brazil for a couple of months on Saturday with a few friends and we’ve been looking to book a place to do this.

    If you’re still living in Kensal, maybe I could pop round or meet up for a drink one evening.

    My number is 07976 852 164

    All the best


  11. Sheryl

    September 24, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you soooo very much sharing your amazing experiences.
    Ayahuasca has completely transformed my life…nothing seems
    to cut through the layers and show you the truth like this
    amazing plant. It’s so important that the words spreads
    about this! It seems to be such a key to opening doorways.

    Here is an article that I wrote.

    Lots of love,

  12. thoma

    November 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    To follow, without halt, one aim: There’s the secret of success.

Leave a Reply