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Why I Quit Ayahuasca Shamanism After 11 Years and 1,000 Ceremonies

I’m alive because of Ayahuasca. I am connected, soulful, expanded, and spilling over with self-love, mostly because of the blessing of attending around 1,000 sacred plant ceremonies. But if my intuition proves correct, I will never drink Ayahuasca or any other plant medicine again.

Why? Because it worked too well.

Let me explain.

The Standard Story: Ayahuasca Saved My Life

When I first found Ayahuasca – or rather, when she first found me – I was deeply depressed, though I pretended to be the happiest chirpy ass blonde LA girl you would ever meet. I had paralyzingly painful migraine headaches at least every 2 weeks. I drank alcohol almost every single day, as much as my body could handle. I did drugs most weekends to escape and to feel better, but increasingly, they were making me feel worse.

I was fake. I was miserable. I was dying inside and out.

In short, I was on a fast-track to total self-destruction, but I appeared as though I had the ultimate dream life. I had a famous boyfriend. I co-owned a video game studio. I was interviewed on national television and a major documentary. It would seem this small town Montana girl had it all figured out.

Life was exploding. And I was imploding.

But then came Ayahuasca. In my first cycle in 2006 in the Amazonian jungle, I woke up to the truth: I hated myself, and I hated my life.

That was the most honest realization I had ever experienced.

She (Ayahuasca) also gave me the courage and resolve to do something about all this darkness. I knew I had to change just about every aspect of my life. And that was OK. Because for the first time, I finally believed I deserved to feel better.

When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna be an Ayahuasca Shaman

The changes started the moment I returned to my LA home. Career, friends, boyfriend, house, drugs, alcohol – every part of my world started experiencing the necessary overhaul.

And in those 2.5 years of massive transformation, I drank in as many ceremonies as I could afford before I was offered the blessing of apprenticing with a couple of different maestros. In the process of ending the old destructive patterns, I thought I had discovered my life’s work: To be an Ayahuasquera. A shaman. A cuarendera. A healer.

I gave my all to this process. Every piece of me was committed. I did a total of 5 intensely restrictive and challenging plant dietas that spanned a sum total of almost 3 years. I became an organizer for a very large national Ayahuasca community, in which I did all the interviews, production, and aftermath assistance in addition to co-leading ceremonies. I sat in hundreds of Ayahuasca ceremonies with the maestros I worked with, guiding thousands of people through preparation, the medicine itself, and integration.

It’s an unspeakably challenging process, working with these plants. Learning to facilitate. The level to which one must be honest, transparent, strong, courageous, trusting, and disciplined is indescribable. My teacher warned me it would only get more difficult, and that was true; but that only made me more dedicated. More willing to give more of myself.

Things are Not What They Seem

Over the course of a year or two, about a decade after I went full throttle, it became abundantly clear to me that my life’s path was different than I imagined. I was not meant to lead ceremonies. My attachment to the process almost killed me, in truth, and maybe I’ll share those details some other time. The circumstances aren’t important right now, however, what I mean to share is this: Shamanism is not for everyone.

The fundamental understanding of anyone committing to a shamanic path is that there are good and bad energies (spirits) all around us, and a shaman aids in protection and clearing. Plants have spirits. Animals. Rocks. Humans, of course. The earth itself. The shaman is the bridgewalker, traveling to other realms to help with soul retrieval and spiritual cleansings that impact the tangible (body) and intangible (soul, mind, emotions, etc.)

I watched people with cancer heal themselves. Diabetes. Depression. Lyme disease. Kidney failure. Heart congestion. PTSD. Intense emotional traumas. You name it, I’ve seen it transformed in this process.

Nothing is Capable of Healing Us. We Have to Do It Ourselves.

Ayahuasca itself, contrary to what others say, is not a healer. She is a consciousness expander, which is far better. She shows us how to heal ourselves, if we’re ready and willing. She can’t force it, she can only show us the portal. If our soul knows it’s time, then magic can unfold.

She opens us up to a different perspective, a more expanded view of ourselves, our tribe, and our world. She gives us the opportunity to understand our true nature, our patterns, our fears, and then provides guidance (through the vessel of a trained and authentic shaman) to choose differently. To heal. To expand.

Ultimately, however, Ayahuasca is what I call “the medicine of duality.” She works by creating deep experiences of contrasts like fear and fearlessness, darkness and light, resistance and surrender.

But the more I worked with her, the more I became more singular in my awareness. By that I mean non-dual. And by that I mean – all contrasts collapsed into the one. I learned through EXPERIENCE (as opposed to thought) that hot and cold are just opposite sides of the same coin. Darkness and light are both made of God-stuff; they are all from source. And so in the highest truth, they are fundamentally the same experience, we just receive them from a filter of preference and feeling and compartmentalization.

In the true spirit of duality, she also helped me to own the truth of our human experience – that is, our divine (perceived but still very real) separateness. That means going deeper into soul, where pain is undeniable. I have experienced fear so wildly intense I sincerely thought I would combust from the realness. In that space, every moment felt like a lifetime. Each millisecond I had to hold on for dear life, thinking something far worse than death was about to consume me.

Despite knowing it’s all an illusion, my emotional experience has hit every corner of the spectrum. And to that part of me, this shit is very, very real. My soul doesn’t give a rat’s patootie if my mind says it’s all just perception. I feel. And to the part of me in separateness, that’s the real deal.

Until it wasn’t. Until I started experiencing it all as oneness. Until I accidentally uncovered a more unified truth.

Experiencing the Darkness as Part of the Light

I still feel the darkness – so intensely at times I think I might lose consciousness. But I never, ever believe it’s anything other than exactly what I need. I know it’s all love. And in that, the duality has fallen away.

This actually made me powerless as an Ayahuasquera.

Why? Because although I see and experience all those spirits, including the demonic ones, I started to deeply understand they are only projections that stem from our current perspective and vibration. They are both real (if we believe in them), and then when we see the bigger picture of reality, they become projections.

Both real and unreal. The ultimate contrast.

The trick of this is, since I don’t believe in their existence as entities, and in our fundamental separateness, the tools fell away. They became ideas rather than tangible tactics. Holograms rather than bona fide methods.

It became like watching a movie. Yes, I would see the dark energies around a given being, especially while they were being doctored and helped. But I personally could not separate that those entities were simply (or not so simply) there not to torture and maim and harm, but to teach and reflect and assist. Darkness is the bad guy that teaches us our most profound lessons. And since we can’t kill the darkness, we might as well turn our curiosity to it and dare to understand.

There’s Nothing Wrong Here. Except that We Think There’s Something Wrong.

I stopped wanting to interfere with the beauty of our journeys. I stopped feeling like something was wrong. I stopped believing in the boogeyman. I stopped knowing how to combat the darkness because I realized that darkness is there to teach us our lessons. Yes, it fucking sucks to have illness and disease and paralyzing fears. Pain and loss and separation and drama and OMG there’s so much suffering in this world!

But none of this is an accident. These are gifts that we must own, integrate, understand, and love before we can transcend them. The only way out is through.

As Ayahuasca would tell me, you can hide kid, but you can’t run. Shadow is part of self. Self is part of all. There is nothing to fix. Only to listen to. Only to understand.

To sum it up, I learned to accept everything as perfect.

And since I saw someone’s (and my own) dis-ease as an aspect of soul, as an opportunity to heal and expand and grow, I no longer felt being a healer was my calling. Outside of duality, there is nothing to heal.

I was out of a job. I had been divinely duped.

Getting Dumped by Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca, in her infinite wisdom, pushed me out of our relationship. She basically dumped me. She dumped me HARD. But as I recovered, I discovered what is always, always true – that was a supreme, ridiculously awesome gift.

It was not done to me, this dismantling of identity – it was done for me.

And so, despite once dedicating my entire life to Ayahuasca and plant medicine, despite giving up everything to do this work, despite tattooing the plants and animal totems all over my body – I am personally done with shamanism.

Or am I ?

Life is always full of contrasts.

In truth, I am done with my old identification with shamanism. I had to do the “let go of something so a bigger vision can materialize” trick.

I once thought that there could be nothing bigger or more rewarding then helping people ease their suffering. As usual, I was wrong.

Understanding Suffering, Not Eradicating It

Now, I am taking all that profound learning, all those nights of terror and breakthrough and bliss and duality, and embarking on two journeys (duality again):

1) Deepening my own relationship to soul. Doing my best to own that I am only a vessel of divinity, that I don’t know shit, that everything I go through (especially my suffering, the part I resist the most) is a gorgeous blessing, and that the intention of learning and expanding is All There Is (because it all leads to love….)

2) Guiding others through the uncharted territory of soul. Helping whomever is called to work with me to know themselves – and thus the entire experience of consciousness – in a more whole and complete way. Whether they are working with Ayahuasca and the master plants or not, I am overjoyed to help people understand their true essence. Their eternal nature. That everything is both real, and not real. That we are both mortal, and immortal.

I am not doing this by leading ceremonies. I have chosen instead to be the before and after guide, as that is where I can stay in my integrity.

But let me make one thing very clear: This is MY personal journey with Ayahuasca. She taught me the secrets of the universe, and then disengaged from our union.

This is not to say that others can’t have the exact same realization and be a stronger shaman for accessing the non-dual state. That just wasn’t my destiny. I wished with all my being that I could have it all. I was so attached and in love with being with her. But she and my soul had other plans, and I am honoring that completely.

Knowing all is perfect does not by default make you a defunct shaman. It just made ME one 🙂

Authentic Shamans and Journeyers are All Spiritual Warriors

I honor with all that I am every brave soul who both facilitates and participates in these sacred, time-honored experiences. It is NOT the easy path. It can be, and often is, the most rewarding experience of one’s existence.

I am humbled and overjoyed to be the cheerleader. To guide the before and after. To help in the unraveling. To the connection to truth. To a deeper understanding of self. And most importantly, to a more complete experience of love – love of self, others, and the whole cosmic multiverse. And that means loving our shadow, which in its most complete form means loving Death.

So thank you, Ayahuasca. With all that I am, and all these tears I cry for you now, I honor you. I adore you. You will be Mamacita to my soul for all of eternity. I will miss our crazy ceremony times together. More than I can express. It seems impossible that one could grow out of and away from you, but such is my truth.

But to watch others experience the unique messages you have for THEM – it’s like being with you myself, repeatedly, in a continuous stream of truth and love.

Go Forth and Find Your Own Truth

If you are called by her, answer. If you are called again, keep answering. It will be the journey of lifetimes. But if it ever feels complete, do not take offense. All we can do is be true to our own soulful awareness. That’s love. And love really is all there is.

About the Author:

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The Afterlife Coach, has worked with Ayahuasca for 11 years, with a decade as a shamanic apprentice. She works as an Ayahuasca Coach, guiding others through the integration and preparation process with all sacred plants and master plant dietas. Additionally, Kat works with people confronting issues around death and shadow. Ever the Gemini, Kat is also the co-founder of RedRoar, a cause-oriented and conscious marketing agency. She’s a transformational junkie with a major love of polarities, and she adores helping others love their darkness too.

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30 Comments

  1. Cassandra says

    I’m going for the ceremony today. My first experience and I feel the calling. Reading your post has given me a deeper and much needed understanding.
    Thank you.

  2. Tom says

    Hi Kat, interesting story. Thanks for sharing and good luck with moving forward. The medicine does work in mysterious ways. After my first week in 2011 I truly thought I was deeply transformed and wouldn’t go back. She called me however and I’ve never really stopped. I guess in the end it’s about feeling fulfillment from our participation, be that serving medicine, helping others integrate or not working with the plants at all…

  3. mixed says

    Great read Kat. Thank you very much for publishing this article as it is yet another confirmation regarding an acceptance of the bad and that we all have our own journeys and yet we are still infants learning lessons. I may have missed something, but it “Sounds” like you’ve reached a zen, yin yang, enlightenment, type of realization that has freed you to a great point so many strive.

  4. Hey there 🙂 Thank you for the beautiful comment. Yes, I realize the heart of these realizations lies in what others call enlightenment et al, but I really have no desire for those monikers. I’m well aware I’m still very, very human, and very very blessed to have had these expansive experiences. That’s enough for me. Truly appreciate your comment!

  5. Completely agree Tom. And hey, I’m the first person to admit that if Aya calls me back, I’m totally hers 🙂

  6. Kotori says

    The mother sent her daughter out on her own because it was time to leave the nest, perhaps? Your integrative insight appears to be “success”, if that’s the right word, at least for that stage. You have a warrior spirit. Thank you for your sharing your testimonial. I think it is important. K

  7. Well said Kotori – I feel that deeply. Although I kicked and screamed about leaving the nest initially, I know understand the notion that mom does know best. Thank you for the beautiful insight. Much love and support to you <3

  8. I am very intrigued by Ayahuasca and have been since i first heard about it around 21 yrs old, 27 now, i find myself reading about it online from time to time, still very much intrigued wishing an hoping that someday i might be lucky enough to be called by her, and have the means to actually get to her, i feel i need to be cleansed of all negativity in my life an have no idea how to get rid of it on my own. i believe in the power she holds and hope to have an experince as half as good as yours. thank you for sharing, i enjoyed reading it from start to finish.

  9. Tina says

    Dear Tina,

    Your words are so synchronous – I am a psychotherapist, just finishing my PhD work on resonance and other closely linked concepts, but, what I cannot write about because of a lack of space ….is the non-dual. To relate to other from a non-dual perspective is an invitation to enter a healing space, a whole other dimension of relationship …where that which was lost/returns …it is an altered consciousness oppositional to trauma relationships! When we most profoundly realise (as you have) that everything that manifests we create, it is a massive shift in insight and perspective. Whilst in non-dual states as a psychotherapist I have been able to see into non-ordinary dimensions and witness their trauma (dissociated) but to write about this has been tough, its new for psychotherapy. Therefore, to personally heal, I have had to cross over to shamanism and other means. Yet, as a therapist, I feel I am almost done with it. I find joy in the creative …new old joys are flooding back…restorative pursuits etc. I wanted to share with you what an old psychotherapy trainer said many years ago….when you are healed you will no longer have the desire to be a therapist, I think this may resonate with you and part of what you express here. Thank you for your writing. I am a Tina too, so a nice little coincidence ?!?! 🙂

  10. Hi Jamie! Thank you so much for reading, and for feeling the calling. I trust Aya has amazing insights and healing in store for you too, and if there’s anything I can do to help your journey, please reach out. I adore supporting others in this complex but rewarding path 🙂 http://afterlife.coach

    Much love!
    Kat

  11. Tina – I feel like you’re my non-dual shamanistic psychotherapy loving soul-sister! Your comment made my heart so happy. It’s a crazy place to realize the path you devoted your life to no longer fits your paradigm of spiritual experience. But the great thing about the non-dual space is we realize everything is sacred to the All, so we can’t get it wrong. Whether you continue on and own you PhD or change direction (or create a hybrid of your skillset, knowledge, and perspective), it’s all good! I’m honored to be on the path with you. Stay in touch if you feel called to connect more – kat@afterlife.coach 🙂

  12. Fate says

    My first experience was Divine, I was shown behind the veil I was taken by the arms and told about the whys and hows. I was told it is “all love” and after seeing the mechanics of the universe I didn’t have any fear and just wanted to thank the Universe (if it is only one truth, then you know what I speak of when I speak of the Universe and it’s love for all).

    I had a 3 night journey with the next two nights just finishing up the conversations I started on the first night.

    Then I went back (5 in under a month).
    It seemed very much like I was shown the truth and didn’t need to go back, that the lessons I was getting were all silly and petty compared to the “knowledge of the divine in whole”. I was going back to give support to those that I thought needed the healing but never experienced anything great with psychedelics.

    I was seeking God the first night as one of my children came down with a life threatening problem. I went with a desire and fought her until she told me what I came for.

    Since then I let everything go and really don’t have many “asks” but I did ask for one thing. To get back to “chopping wood and carrying water”. It is very difficult to go back to your life (even if it is a good one to begin with) when you have a divine experience with her.

    When I asked for strength to return to my “day job and life” I had 2 bad experiences, both helped me but it was more like a Hoasca feel, where it was just a strong DMT trip rather than anything to do with the spirit. The first of the bad was me talking to my higher self (rather than her) and my subconscious laid into me and I went home and cleaned out my house of anything legally troubling. The second time I had a blood pressure spike (though I think it was a 1/2 cup of coffee 6 hours before). It made me realize that I didn’t need it again just now. I was on a “pass out dose the first and last night, but the last night I couldn’t go over because my higher self was concerned with the speed my heart was racing and when I went all zen and let go.. it didn’t help at all.

    I realizes I was putting myself in medical danger and really didn’t need the healing right then.

    I liked your story. It felt a little too comfortable, I can understand how it could become that way with even just 20 ceremonies.

    I learned the hard way that people are supposed to get lessons to grow. I can’t fix things for others. But I can support them if they get weak fighting their own battles and learning is taking a toll.

  13. Thank you for your beautiful share – I feel you so deeply. It’s really divine that you came to realize so quickly the benefits and crutches of the path, and trusted your own space of empowerment as the ultimate compass. It’s really all we can ask of ourselves on the journey; to trust the we know best where to go next. I send you so much love and support 🙂

  14. I just read your article which I enjoyed so much for its authenticity, it resonnated a lot. I am glad you have find your own true way through this journey of yours which seems intense. Thank you for sharing. I know I will soon meet Her, the calling after many years is there, your voice makes it very clear now <3
    Love & magic upon you

  15. Thank you so much Fiona! Love your beautiful energy. I’m sure when you meet Her it will be true love <3 So much support and gratitude to you!

  16. Donna says

    Tina, what a great read, I enjoyed every single word. Everything is absolutely perfect. You found the truth. It is so simple and we are responsible for making it difficult. I will be experiencing her for the first time this coming Saturday as a solitary drinker so to speak. I plan on taking 1/2 the recommended dosage. I do no drugs, take no prescribed prescriptions, and am pure in body. I look forward to this experience, Hugs……

  17. Donna – Aw, thank you so much. Makes my heart happy to feel your words. Good luck with the first journey with Mother, and I am happy that you’re taking it slow. I send you love and support on your journey my friend – thank you for reaching out! <3

  18. Noni Ethielle says

    Thank you. I was feeling with my heart while reading. Still have my 18″ long spiral of my Banisteriopsis. It’s been almost 21 years since we visited deeply together…..
    I had to laugh when you said,”I am personally done with Shamanism, or Am I?”
    Ethnobotony is, all of a sudden, back in my life.
    Earth’s saying “C’mon, it’s time, Let’s Go!!”
    The surprise of my life!! The funny thing is, I just finished clearing the table again, and I Am Ready to Go!
    Noni
    She’ll be back, maybe in different clothing, but in some way, she’ll be back.♾

  19. Noni, I feel you so deeply! And I laughed when I read your comment because I can feel HER laughing too. The laugh says “Hahaha, they always come back.” 🙂

  20. A deeply moving account. Thank you.

    Yes, the only journey is from the known to the unknown, otherwise we can’t know freedom from the mind.

    Your words about darkness remind me of the suchness (Tatata in Buddhist Pali), which is also course also present there. I see I have more to encounter in this regard, and Aya will facilitate this.

    On #16 with Aya as my current spiritual guide, to have done over 1000 is both mind-blowing and to be expected. Your path away from her assures me that she is indeed a let-go plant par excellence.

    I have noted your name and we will find each other…….
    Namaste

  21. Mo,

    With all my heart, thank you for the wonderful share and the tangible support. I have done the same with your name. One tribe, my friend, I will see you soon <3
    Kat

  22. DigitalWolf says

    I am feeling theoretically enlighted by your great words…Thanks for this beautiful experience sharing. Appears like you have given trust to my Intuitions…. My fuzzy imaginations and intuitions about the universe, light and dark…. have got life. This is probably the best article I ever came across and something I needed in this time of my life. Love and peace to you.

  23. Dearest Wolf, that’s about the kindest comment imaginable. Thank you for receiving both lightness and dark 🙂 So honored to have your support. Much love to you in your journey my friend.
    Kat

  24. Dave says

    Hi Kat,
    I have been wanting to do a weekend ceremony in Fla. and it is driving my mind crazy thinking about it. I have been a regular type person my whole life and ran into a friend thru my business that was very “out there” and he gave me his “library”. I am a person that loves reading books and read all of his books..very esoteric. It has fundamentally changed my life and I am not even close to the person I was 4 years ago. I have been thinking and searching for many things in life that are true or as close as possible. In my younger years I experimented with drugs, inadvertantly with lsd and others so i’m not a babe in the woods.
    I guess what i’m asking is will Mother ayahuasca take me under her arm and help or tell me im a dumnass? I think she will laugh at me and say… ” hear we go again”..

  25. Hi Dave! Hah, well, I can’t possibly predict what Mother Aya will have to say to you, as her bag of tricks is infinite, but it really comes down to this: Do you feel called to meet with her, to hear what wisdom she wants to share? I can tell you it feels like you are called from what I’m dialing in to via your energies and message, but only you can know for sure. If you want to talk about the process, I’m here – I do free consults for people curious about the medicine. Just reach out to kat@afterlife.coach and we can chat 🙂

  26. norscape says

    The relationship between non-duality and plant medicine is an intriguing one. Having been involved in both worlds I’m not sure how the dialogue should unfold. In the meditative traditions of Buddhism for example there has been the view that meditation is the answer to everything. However, Ken Wilber and others have suggested that the West has much to offer in psychotherapeutic terms when it comes to shadow work, which is not directly addressed in the oriental traditions. We all know about certain ‘enlightened masters’ who had serious shadow issues. Perhaps that’s where Aya can be of most value, to prepare the pyschological ground for potential non-dual recogntion down the road.

  27. I deeply resonate with what you shared – it feels to me like the core of what Aya offers in supporting the path to the nondual experience lies directly in the understanding and integration of shadow. How can we return to the one if we have not fully embodied the illusion of duality? And the shadow holds the key 🙂

    Thank you so much for the comment!

  28. I am in the process of doing guided meditations but feel more and more strongly I need more help to uncover, heal, flower than those sessions will afford. This article rings like a bell. Thank you.

  29. Beautiful Catherine, glad it resonated! Knowing the space of meditation is the single most advantageous practice to have before sitting with the medicine, so you already have a head start 🙂 If I can be of service as you find your way to the perfect circle, please let me know. MUCH love.

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