The Ultimate First-Timers Guide to Ayahuasca

There are hundreds of articles all over the internet claiming to be ‘beginner guides’ to Ayahuasca with catchphrase titles like ’10 things you should know before doing Ayahuasca’ and ‘What to Expect from your First Ayahuasca Experience’. These articles are often descriptive first-hand accounts of journalist, celebrities and bloggers’ own experiences and, as such, tend to be limited to one personal perspective. Any experienced Ayahuasca journeyer will tell you, however, that no single journey or ceremony is remotely the same as another, so, at best, these guides only give you a template for someone else’s experience. Even the documentaries that we see on Netflix and other channels often reflect the most sensational and dramatic accounts of only certain types of ceremonies. There are now so many powerful versions of Ayhuasca medicines and ceremonies run all over the world by highly proficient energetic facilitators or shamans using various techniques and styles. It is important not to limit your potential experience by following someone else’s outdated footsteps. While first hand accounts of people’s ceremonies are interesting they should not be taken as guides. 

Dont copy someone else’s experience, have your own unique adventure into the sacred.

This guide consists of an amalgamation of essential conversations that we, as facilitators in Wake Circle, typically have with first-timers to prepare for their initiatory Ayahuasca journey. As facilitators, one of our main challenges when guiding first-timers is dealing with the overload of contradictory information,  romanticised beliefs and fearful notions that have been accumulated from their online ‘research’, which more often than not tends to get in the way of their experience. The instinctual reflex for many people is to spend hours online, combing through Google results for assurance and guidance. This is, of course, completely understandable; you want to know what you are getting yourself into and you want to feel that you are in control in some way. The common belief of the research paradigm is that the more information you have, the more you know, the better prepared you will be and the more powerful and deep the journey will be. This however simply does not apply here.

Google does not have the answers you are looking for

The irony is that everything you are truly wanting from this experience is beyond the realm of your control and current knowledge. The limiting boxes that we typically live our lives in is designed by our need to control and also how we unconsciously allow ourselves to be controlled and led by the overload of information that we receive daily. However, there is something else now calling you to step out of your limited box to experience the the vast and infinite mystery on the other side; call it your deeper intuition or innate Knowing which wishes to be awakened. This is why you are here.

Consider that on the spectrum of human awareness there are three fundamental domains of all potential knowledge:

What you know you know

What you know you don’t know

What you don’t know you don’t know

These first two domains form the tiniest portion of the pie of all potential knowledge, and it is in these domains of certainty that most people comfortably live out their entire existence. These two domains literally govern our lives and form the matrix of our reality.

The rest of the pie is the vast and mysterious domain of ‘What you dont know you dont know’. It is the potential of awareness and understanding of ourselves and the universe we live in that we are not even aware of, and which we are not even conscious about not being aware of. We may have an inkling that there is so much more out there, but it dwells in the blindspot of our existence. We would not even know where to look because we would not know what we are looking for. So many things that trip us up in life all exist in this existential blindspot – why the same certain things keep happening to us, the seemingly unsolvable or incurable things like misfortune, addiction or certain illness. This includes the nature of our disconnection from something truly greater and divine that we all deeply yearn for. It is this domain of knowledge that Ayahuasca offers us a direct keyhole through which to see and experience.

Open your Heart, Open your Mind

When we say we feel ‘called’ by the medicine of Ayahuasca, what we are really referring to is this absolutely vast intelligent mystery that is calling us to see what we dont know that we don’t know.  In the lore of plant medicine, it is said that Mother Nature, in her intelligence and complexity, has created naturally occurring medicines for every single illness and ailment that exists. We say then that Ayahuasca and her close plant spirit relatives are nature’s medicine for re-activating our innate capacity for direct spiritual connection. It is the medicine of truly opening our hearts and our minds. In the Western context, Ayahuasca has even been described as the most definitive cure for Atheism, this statement alone should give anyone pause.

As a physical experience Ayahuasca can best be described as the temporary ignition and illumination of all our chakra centres, activating the entire miraculous biological machine that we are, like switching on all the lights of our souls’ vast inner temple. This state of full activation facilitates one of the most profound meetings of Self and Universe simultaneously, and it is in this expanded state of self-discovery that we can discover our greater capacity for healing, primal power, personal insight and divine existential truth.

What it simply comes down to is that no amount of research can truly prepare you or allow you to anticipate the experience that is Ayahuasca. If anything, your current ‘knowledge’ is more likely to be an impediment to your adventure of discovery. To get the most out of your Ayahuasca experience, the most optimal thing you can do is to clear the way and open yourself to what could be one of the most profound life-changing experiences you might ever have. This is not something the mind can comprehend and so it requires that we allow ourselves to surrender to something greater.

This idea of losing or rather surrendering  control can leave us feeling like we are about to jump off a cliff into the unknown. That feeling, whilst being very uncomfortable, if not terrifying, is actually very healthy. The process of  preparing for that ‘jump’ is simply learning how to put our practical mind at ease and to hold space for any and all feelings that may arise. To do that we fundamentally need to establish a context of safety, and it is the intention of this guide to assist you in that process as you approach your first Ayahuasca ceremony. The mind is essentially a protective mechanism and when it knows everything will truly be safe it will find ease and calm of its own. 

There are only two essential questions that you will really need to answer before attending your first Ayahuasca ceremony:

Is Ayahuasca for me? Do I have the right facilitator/ organisation holding space for my journey? Everything else is really just clutter.

Is Ayahuasca for me?

The fact that you are reading this already means that you have ‘been called’ by the medicine in some or other way. If Ayahuasca was not for you at all, it would probably not even be on your radar of awareness. The majority of people in the world do not even know what Ayahuasca is and probably never will which is perfect.

There are of course be some very practical reason why certain people should not do Ayhuasca. We discourage people with chronic psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia from taking Ayahuasca as it can inflame their psychiatric symptoms which can result in mania. If you already have a fragile grip on reality this is probably not the path for you and there are other less intrusive healing modalities available. People who are dependant on psychiatric medicine for their daily functional  whether it be for mood disorders or epilepsy are, likewise, not suitable candidates for Ayahuasca.

That being said, as experienced facilitators, we have navigated many people with depressive disorders like bi-polar, PTSD and addictions through very powerful spaces of personal breakthrough. It really depends on the sophistication of the process that you partake in.

There are, of course, very common fears that most people have when approaching this experience for the first time. A typical question we are asked is ‘will I lose my mind?’ The playful but relatively accurate answer is ‘yes, you probably will, but don’t worry, you will get it back again.’  There is a big difference between hallucinating and having visions. It is extremely unlikely that you could ever have a psychotic break in Ayahuasca if you are not already psychotic.  The notion of completely losing touch with reality and never coming back is simply not true of this experience; you will always know where the ground is and how to go to the toilet. The journey itself will at some point be over and you will be back to normal. The real risk of Ayahuasca is that you may never view life the same way again.


For most people, the Ayahuasca experience is best described as a highly activated meditation of deep feelings, memories, physical sensations and, of course, visions, which can be navigated and powerfully worked through. There will most likely be parts of the journey that might be difficult and even dark, but this is why people come to do Ayahausca, to bring light, peace and healing to their wounded and suppressed inner spaces. If you are seeking to just have a pleasure trip and a light show then Ayahuasca is definitely not for you. If you are certain, content and settled with the version of reality that you have right now, then Ayahuasca is probably not for you either. You have to be willing to come turn yourself inside-out and surrender to the flow of the ‘Universe’ and a greater intelligence. You may have to be willing to face your worst darkness in order to discover your brightest light as this is not the path of disassociation but rather assimilation. You will likely need to deal with the things you have avoided and suppressed, and this could even mean facing your inner ‘demons’. Ayahuasca healing can be hard work for it is the process of purging all aspects we hold on to, the fears, resentments and unresolved emotions that block our inner light and clog our inner flow.

As much as Ayahuasca is about ‘work’, it is also about discovering how supported and loved we are by the aspects of the greater consciousness that walks with us – be it our guides, angels or ancestors. The boundaries of separation melt away and we can experience our intrinsic connection to all that is around us. As we become adept at navigating our journey, the possibilities become endless; we can journey to the realms and dimensions beyond comprehension and imagination. There are no words or even poetry that can describe the utterly magnificent spectacles that can be perceived and felt on this journey. At the end of the day, this medicine path ultimately leads to the attainment of high levels of ecstasy, bliss, inner peace, Oneness and pure presence.

If any of these possibilities stirs excitement in you, then consider that Ayahuasca might be for you.

Do I have the right facilitator / organisation holding space for my journey?

This is undoubtedly the most important question you will need to answer. In fact, it’s the only question that is truly relevant. If you have the right person or group holding this very crucial space and moment in your life, you will not need to be concerned about any aspect of the experience; you can just focus on being fully present for your own journey.

It is vitally important to understand that, when choosing your first Ayahuasca facilitator or group, you are not just choosing a ‘practitioner’ but also, to some degree, a belief system, a cosmology and a path. Your first breakthrough experience of Ayahuasca can be an absolutely defining one, much like your first experience of falling in love. The majority of Ayahuasca journeyers will experience some form of loyalty, even devotion, to their first facilitator, shaman, group or tribe for no other reason than it being their initiatory or birthing experience. There is often a deep, energetic imprinting that happens, especially if this is your first spiritual awakening with this person or group who holds that space for you. It can be such a tender and vulnerable space, which requires that you find a facilitator who is deeply integrated themselves and conscious of this energetic phenomenon – someone who can hold that space with a high level of responsibility and integrity. Simply said, you need to find someone you can trust on an energetic level and who embodies the kind of spiritual ethics that you want to pursue in your own life.

While the narrative of travelling deep into the Amazon jungle and drinking Ayahuasca with an authentic shaman of the forest may seem romantically appealing, it is also important to consider that many of these tribal lineages whilst having very beautiful and earth-centred beliefs also often have limiting and fear-based superstitions weaved into their cosmologies. These are notions that will be invariably be inserted into your experience. There are now also very few tribal ceremonies that have not in some way become commercialised and affected by Western spiritual tourism.  It’s always good to be mindful of what story or paradigm you are being sold when it comes to Ayahuasca. Even the most esteemed and evocatively dressed shamans are still imperfect human beings.

Unless you are specifically seeking out a particular well-established Ayahuasca tribal lineage or church, of which there are many, the most empowering and ideal situation for the first-time contemporary seeker is to find a group/facilitator who, as a policy and practice, endeavours to hold a space of sacred neutrality and does not seek to insert any doctrine into your space. If anyone is telling you, for instance, that you may have entities, bad spirits or curses on or around you, which star race you belong to, what happened to you in your past life or even delivering messages to you on behalf of your guides or ancestors, you would be wise to be very cautious. The true role of the contemporary shamanic facilitator is to rather empower you to access your own healing, to hold space for you to speak to your own guides and ancestors, to discover your own answers and make up your own mind. What a wondrous possibility that is, that you can be your own shaman, your own oracle, healer, custodian and weaver.

Again, it is not doing tons of online research that will help you make the right choice. It’s not just about finding a person or organisation with the most impressive list of credentials, or the shaman with the longest lineage. While there are some checklists that will help you ask relevant questions and establish a track record of integrity, you are going to have to trust your own gut and allow yourself to be guided to the right place and person. At the end of the day, the best rule of thumb for finding your first Ayahuasca facilitator is via referrals, preferably from people you know and who share their experience. Listen to their stories and see if this activates a feeling of alignment within you. On top of that, there is nothing that beats a direct meeting or call with the person who may potentially hold this space for you to establish a direct connection. Facilitators represent their medicines in who they are and how they are being.  What essentially makes a great facilitator is someone who engenders a profound and sacred sense of safety, someone with whom you feel wisely and consciously guided, supported and held.

And finally, one of the most important yet least spoken about considerations is the integration process offered. After you have been thrown in the deep-end of a profound Ayahuasca experience you want to know that a support structure and process exists around your practical integration back into reality and practical life. As Westerners, we do not have the intrinsic support structure of a tribe or community with a richly embodied social system that can hold space for our difficult feelings, initiations and transformations. This often can leave people feeling confused and isolated after their journey.  The most effective Ayahuasca experiences tend to be the ones that have some form of ongoing program of integrative support and a powerful structured sense of community or tribe around them. 

At the end of the day, it is your choice and a choice which you would do well to exercise powerfully – this is after all your spiritual journey. You will know that you have found the right person or organisation when you experience a natural sense of assurance, peace and a sense of safety in their presence. You will know when you are truly being held.

From that point, when you have found the right facilitator or group, every other question, concern or story you have about yourself or what happens in an Ayahuasca ceremony, from preparation all the way to integration, should be covered by the facilitation process itself. You will know you are on the right path to your first Ayahuasca journey when the need for an online guide is no longer relevant.

May you journey well, may you journey deep, may you be held, guided and protected, and may you discover all that you seek.


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One Circle, Four Shamanic Directions, Twelve Sacred Agreements

We are contemporary shamanic facilitators practicing the powerful transformational modality of holding space, container work and altered state navigation. Our sessions are neither psychological in nature nor are they a substitute for any kind of medical diagnosis, therapy or treatment. Please seek the advice of your doctor or qualified health practitioner if you have any medical or psychological concerns or conditions before attending our sessions.