Experimenting with psychedelics is practically a rite of passage among certain communities and youth subcultures all around the world. But among the colourful blots of acid, earthy mushrooms and truffles, and countless chemical analogues, there is one brew that is considered to be the crowning jewel in natural psychedelia: ayahuasca.
The bitter brew is made from boiling specific vines and roots found far away in the Amazon jungle to create a potent mixture that includes DMT - Dimethyltryptamine, aka The God Particle - as its main active ingredient.
The popular spiritual drink has now made its way to the Maltese islands, where countless groups of Maltese people, as well as tourists, are undergoing three-day spiritual retreats for €450 under the all-encompassing direction and gaze of an experienced Peruvian shaman.
We spoke to one Maltese man who experienced this himself to find out how tripping on ayahuasca for three days changed his life - even though it wasn't easy.
"It had started a few years back when I began to stray from the Catholic Church"
After Edward* began wondering about his faith, he was left with questions that needed answering.
"I found myself hungry for the truth and knowledge, so I delved myself into the study of philosophy, which was really the first time that I’ve exposed myself to such teachings," Edward opened up to Lovin Malta over dinner in Mġarr. "It helped me to further understand my thoughts, life, objectivity, my relationships, self-growth and much much more. After two years of really trying to educate myself further, I always felt that something was missing, or rather I felt disconnected from something I did not know about."
"I realised then that I left behind my spirituality after I abandoned the doctrine and I just had replaced it with a never-ending list of questions," he said. "During my reading and countless hours of podcasts, I found myself browsing about this vine found in the Amazon jungle which, when mixed together with another plant, produced extraordinary visions of understanding."
"From what I encountered about other people recollecting their experiences, it really wasn't a quick sale"
But after some more reading and discovering a lot of influential people had tried it, Edward decided to continue reading.
"I followed through with various articles and references from other people I admired," he said. "It's history and recollections truly had astonished me. Luckily, I had a relative who had actually tried it and, together, we drew up the courage to do it the next time it was coming to our shores."
Soon after, he discovered a Spiritual Shaman was coming to Malta
"I had met with the representative bringing the Shaman to Malta before the ceremony and they gave me a list of "rules" which I had to follow a week prior to the ceremony," Edward recounted.
"I was told what to bring, to make sure to have proper nutrition including; no meats, plenty of hydration, no drugs or even sex prior to the experience, to make sure that before I head there, I had a proper intention for why I was asking the plant to help me understand or uncover," he said.
"I found this to be an important part of it all as it really made delve into what I wanted out of this experience," he continued.
Eventually, the big night was upon them
"At the location, we were situated within a large room and slowly people started arriving - I think we were around 17 people in all," Edward said. "We drew out our sleeping bags on the floor and we waited until it was time. We all met the Shaman before the ceremony commenced, where we expressed our intention for the weekend, then the Shaman expressed to each of us the wisdom and guidance for what we were after."
The ayahuasca was prepared, and poured into a communal brown bowl, which was passed around.
"When it was time to start, we all sat down at our designated place and waited our turn to drink from a brown cup - the taste and texture were not appetising at all," Edward said.
"We were all strangers in this room, for some, like me, it was our first time and for others, they were there seeking more. We all took our turn and something which astonished me is that the Shaman drinks down a shot which each and every one of us. 'Salut' indeed!"
Edward, and the 16 others, had come prepared for three days of spiritual tripping - but the first night didn't go exactly as planned for him
"I honestly did not know what to expect from it all," he begins.
"As soon as I took the brew and sat down and tried to focus on what I was feeling, I realised I wasn't prepared for what everyone else was also going through. I was too focused on my own surroundings rather than on myself. Each and every step of the first night was a lesson in itself."
"Once you're in under the DMT, the active substance of Ayahuasca, you must be aware that everyone in that room with you is going through their own journey, intention, or darkness to deal with. So there was a wild mixture of emotions going round the room," he explained.
Surrounded by shrieks, shouts, and the sounds of ecstasy, Edward was shook for a moment.
"At a point I was actually saying to myself: 'What the fuck am I doing here? Everyone here is crazy!'," he laughs."So I spent the night sober, I even did the purging (vomiting the brew back up) as part of the ritual, but my mind was too distracted."
Unable to zone out from his surroundings, Edward was also unable to access his third eye and truly delve deeper
"One of the main ways to have a unique experience is to literally let yourself go," he said. "Let yourself go from your expectations, emotions, intelligence, understanding and most of all fear. Because the more you fight her (the ayahuasca is often referred to as she), the more aggressive your journey will be."
The next morning, everyone got together, sat around and discussed what they just went through.
"I was just overwhelmed by all the teachings each and every person went through. Even though some had a very rough night - they looked relieved and had a truly different look on their face - there was a personal understanding of why they had to go through what they did. This gave me the courage to be more prepared for the next night - and boy was I in for a surprise."
"My experience in a few words was 'a gradual uncovering of reality'."
"Each and every ceremony was completely different," he said of the following two days. "Something that was truly magical was the incredible connection and energy there is between everyone in the room," he said.
"I felt other people's emotions, fears and even happiness."
"The bond after such a shared experience was just amazing really," he said, trying to put the experience into words. "I felt things or saw things I just really can't understand how I did. It wasn't like any other high I've experienced for sure either. The level of personal understanding and universal awareness has its own significant meaning more than anything else. You really feel that we're all connected and coming from the same source - even though you do not know how - you know that it doesn't matter because we're all frankly, brothers and sisters."
"I was left with an incredible love for the world around me and nature - reconnecting with everything and everyone. It made me humble and more empathetic, for sure."
"We all have our own demons inside, if it's ego, desire, envy or actual traumas - it really comes in many forms and this experience really made me more aware of my ways," he continued. "The way I live, breathe, think and also my impact on nature, the one truly honest source of life we have in our reality."
"In an experience like this, you keep unfolding truths for days or even weeks after the ceremony, and through constant reflection I have a complete sensation of oneness - it made me feel absolutely whole. Our mind and even nature has a true power of its own and we are just starting in understanding its true potential: our potential."
It's not easy for Edward to explain what it was like getting to the base level of his personality
"There aren't enough adjectives to purely express what we felt or even saw," he points out. "And if I even tried to put it down in words, you will think that it is nonsense. But this is a personal journey - and your journey, as is life, will be different from mine."
"The beauty of it all this is that you are conscious and aware of your experiences during the journey, and that is how it works," he said.
"What could possibly take months or even years to understand something about yourself - you get to truly experience it overnight, only if you truly let yourself go. Fear of letting go, of trusting and believing the medicine to do its work. The mind often gets in the way, as so in our daily lives. The plant teaches us to learn through the heart and through spirit. Healing knowledge has been largely lost and this knowledge is difficult to articulate well."
Edward has some advice for anyone who might be interested in taking this deeper step into their consciousness
"I would say to do the homework," he said immediately.
"You really must understand what you are getting yourself into," he continued. "Educate yourself and do your own objective reasoning. I would also suggest to teach yourself on how to calm your mind through being more mindful of your everyday routine and even practice meditation. A new path can unfold, if the willingness and courage can be found for sure!"
And for anyone thinking this would be a chill, fun trip, Edward says otherwise.
"This is not something to do for fun - it is definitely not fun!
"If you just want an easier trip, just consider taking shrooms or cannabis! This will be something that you've never experienced, and both your mind and body need to be prepared for it. And if you decide to experience this, one of my most vital suggestions is to be more mindful of your breathing. And most of all, to finish the ceremony. Do the whole weekend. I promise you that whatever you'll be going through - it will all make sense in the very end!"
Edward wanted to share a quote which he felt perfectly encapsulated his experience
"In the course of our life, and in everything that we do, all of our purposes, it's convenient in some instances to stop for a moment and look at ourselves in relation to our environment, to feel where the heart is, the feeling, the fundamental purpose that brings us to do things. At that point, we can cleanse and correct and reorientate where we are going, because we are children of the same mother, the same earth, the same life."
- Kajuyali Tsamani, Nabi Nuhue, Pasto, Colombia
*Names have been changed