Chris Isner was a regular guy until an ayahuasca trip gave him clear instructions on creating a trippy style of bas relief wood sculptures.
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“I came home reeking of vomit and sage and looking like I’d come from hell,” Vaughn Bergen, a twenty-seven-year-old who works at an art gallery in Chelsea, said of one ayahuasca trip. “Everyone was trying to talk me out of doing it again. My girlfriend at the time was, like, ‘Is this some kind of sick game?’ I was, like, ‘No. I’m growing.’ ” His next experience was blissful: “I got transported to a higher dimension, where I lived the whole ceremony as my higher self. Anything I thought came to be.” Bergen allows that, of the nine ceremonies he’s attended, eight have been “unpleasant experiences.” But he intends to continue using ayahuasca for the rest of his life. He believes that it will heal not only him but civilization at large.
The process of making ayahuasca is beyond artisanal: it is nearly Druidical. “We pick the chacruna leaf at sunrise in this very specific way: you say a prayer and just pick the lower ones from each tree,” a lithe ayahuasquera in her early forties—British accent, long blond hair, a background in Reiki—told me about her harvests, in Hawaii. “You clean the vine with wooden spoons, meticulously, all the mulch away from the roots—they look so beautiful, like a human heart—and you pound these beautiful pieces of vine with wooden mallets until it’s fibre,” she said. “Then it’s this amazing, sophisticated process of one pot here and one pot there, and you’re stirring and you’re singing songs.”
She and her boyfriend serve the ayahuasca—“divine consciousness in liquid form”—at ceremonies in New York, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Bali.
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Chris Hunter, co-founder of the company behind the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko, signed on in hopes that it would help him navigate some sticky professional relationships. Jesse Krieger, publisher of Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press, wished for insight into growth strategies. Other participants included the founder of a financial technology company, the scion of a footwear empire, and a firearms executive looking for a pivot. Under the guidance of Costuros and a local shaman, they would participate in a San Pedro ceremony — San Pedro is another powerful plant-based psychedelic — followed by two separate ayahuasca ceremonies....
The participants — all men this year — spent their first day traveling to the retreat center, getting situated, and enjoying massages. At 8 a.m. the next day, they assembled in a small, open-air structure. Following an initial cleansing ceremony, they drank their first batch of medicine (fermented wheatgrass and dirt is how Krieger described the taste) and lay down on thin mats under a thatched roof. There they’d remain for ten hours.
The first 60 minutes of the ayahuasca ceremony felt like two weeks for (AirHelp CEO Henrik) Zillmer. Uncontrollable vomiting and feverish shivering aside, he was unable to move and watched helplessly as his mind departed his body and descended into a vast black hole.