Ayahuasca for Anxiety

For many years I had adopted a fairly typical western level of cynicism and predominantly atheist beliefs towards most religions and spiritual practices. I had always tried to be open minded, but the negative media, the worldwide suffering and exposure to the overwhelming apathy from most humans towards protecting our planet had left me cold. I looked towards ancient civilisations and traditions as interesting but rather irrelevant ideals in today’s scientific stance and found myself in a life that was gradually becoming less meaningful. 

With a flared up autoimmune disorder that also evoked anxiety, it’s safe to say I wasn’t my aspiring, energetic self. I felt scraped raw of the person I used to be; so optimistic and full of life. My relationships were nowhere near as meaningful as I craved and life was turning out to be a little disappointing. I struggled to express gratitude and became the master of amplifying my own perceived flaws and failings, living in a place of constant judgement. 

I originally heard of Ayahuasca from a comedian I admired who suffered from depression. After years of psychotherapy, antidepressants and lifestyle adaptations, he was losing hope of ever rediscovering happiness so he went to the jungle to try Ayahuasca. It changed his life and mindset entirely (and provided me with much comical entertainment in the last chapter of his book ‘Help’ by Simon Amstall). I started to meet people who had drunk Ayahuasca and could see their eyes light up when they spoke about their experiences. They were all people who seemed comfortable in their own skin, openly talking about how transformative and life changing Ayahuasca had been.

The moment I arrived at Gaia Sagrada, I knew it was a special place. I had this strange feeling of deja vu (something lots of guests tend to feel here). During my retreat, each ceremony offered overwhelming insights, healing and wisdom. The shamans and their medicine blew me away. It was an intimidating situation, which very quickly turned into the most nurturing, life changing experience I’ve ever had.

The shamans refer to the plant medicine as ‘Grandmother Ayahuasca’ whose spirit is much like the anaconda and I completely understood why once I felt her powerful feminine serpent like presence weave through me, as though vines were threading around my veins and lacing every cell with love. She showed me how beautiful life is. She healed moments of trauma from my past and showed me moments when I was alone in nature in a way that said ‘I was there’. She showed me that we are all a part of one mind, one collective consciousness. Everything is consciousness and therefore the dreams and thoughts we live through are just as real as the physical world we perceive. She showed me many realms of consciousness, beyond the limits of time and space. It was honestly magical.

Every experience is different, and for some the messages can take a few ceremonies to surface. They say that ayahuasca does not give you what you want, but what you need. As a group, we all had to surrender to these ancient traditions and trust the medicine, learning to trust ourselves and those around us in the process. 

Ultimately, when we drink ayahuasca we are meeting our true selves. We have abundant wisdom within us that we have somehow learnt to suppress through conditioning, self limiting stories and through disconnecting with nature and each other. Christine Breese, the founder of Gaia Sagrada, refers to these negative beliefs about ourselves and the world as ‘bad programming’. The plant medicines show us the truth and it is then up to us to integrate our learnings and continue to explore ways to maintain broader perspective and live consciously – to ‘reprogram’. 

‘Focus on the beauty and you will amplify it. Focus on the bad, and you’ll certainly amplify that. Find your assignments, look for the things you can do to amplify the beauty. You can change the world. You ARE changing the world.’ This was some of Christine’s advice to me as I sat in front of the sacred fire mid ceremony (a powerful eagle made of the burning coals starred back at me) and suddenly found myself in tears thinking about a dear friend of mine who died from cancer, aged 24. We’d shared the same disease in different forms and travelled the U.K. together with some other friends performing music, fundraising for a charity that supported us. I hadn’t realised how much his death had triggered my anxiety; my desperation for an extraordinary life and my need for authentic connection. 

During this San Pedro ceremony (the cactus plant medicine that is also referred to as Grandfather Wachuma), I hadn’t predicted my friend’s death would come up. And having believed, rather existentially, that after death there is perhaps nothing, I felt immense guilt that my beautifully positive and upbeat friend had died and I had not – as I carried on living miserably much of the time. I hated myself for not cherishing each moment. My unhappiness itself caused most of my unhappiness! I knew it was a matter of mindset and a selfish paradox but I couldn’t shake this pressure I constantly inflicted upon myself. 

Since then, I had begun my spiritual and self nourishing journey for nearly a year and was doing well but suddenly, having drunk Ayahuasca and San Pedro, I felt complete clarity. I could recognise the moments in my life that had lead me down the hole and I felt overwhelmingly grateful. Grateful for everything and everyone. I truly saw the beauty in life and in myself again. 

As anecdotal as all of the information is about Ayahuasca, I have found immense faith and growth through having an open mind to traditions that have survived thousands of years. As ‘alternative’ as plant medicines may be, it seems contradictory to claim that the most ancient and natural healing of all is under the ‘altered to nature’ box in society. 

Having arrived at Gaia Sagrada as a guest, I decided to stay on for a further six months, as a part of the team helping others heal and transform their lives. I strongly advocate the plant medicines and have witnessed profoundly positive changes in everyone who comes here. The stories and wisdom shared from person to person is also immensely healing and enticing. Everyday at Gaia, we are shown so much, we learn so much and I feel us all, as a family, grow and live in a constant vibration of love. 

Life has become more meaningful and magical than I had ever imagined it would in ‘adult life’. Once you start living consciously, in humble gratitude and treat every interaction and moment as a precious lesson and experience, the universe (or cosmic consciousness) starts conspiring to give you a good life. I know it sounds pretty whacky, but I’ve felt it, seen it and am filled to the brim with excitement as doors open and I continue to open my mind and heart to the collective consciousness; the great spirit. 

Perhaps one day the history books will call this era we are entering ‘The Great Awakening’. A time when humans choose to end living in a numbed state and instead expand their consciousness and reconnect to the One Mind, enabling us to change the world harmoniously. We, as Homo Sapiens, hold immense power to achieve all manners of things. We can choose to live in love and amplify the beauty, or we can choose to live miserably. Having felt both, I am so relieved to discover that there truly IS more to this life. We are collectors of experiences and dreams and have the divine power to create. 

We share a lot of laughter here. I used to work in a special needs school with five year olds where we had a quote on the wall that said ‘If no one has cried or thrown up, then it has been a GOOD day’. I remember thinking how our standards were pretty low! Little did I know then that I’d spend a chapter of my life at a healing centre in the Andes where those standards wouldn’t cut it here; Purging and crying are very much a part of the process and that’s OK. Humility and connection are what we seriously lack in our modern lives. 

So it’s safe to say that I love it here at Gaia Sagrada. I love teaching yoga, leading creative workshops, helping in ceremonies and meeting incredibly inspiring, fascinating people from all over the world. Everyday I hear how excited people are to go back and change their lives, or to simply love their family more, living in appreciation for what they already have.

We hold the power to change ourselves and to change this world. It takes humility and bravery, and perhaps the odd ‘ego death’, but I believe in us.

Post plant medicine, I feel my mind work in entirely new ways, grounding me in every moment and expanding my imagination. I want everyone to have the chance to experience these gifts from nature… so we can all wholeheartedly live a beautiful dream.

This article was written by Veronica Stanwell, a much loved former guest and later staff member.

Gaia Sagrada is founded by Christine Breese