Ayahuasca leads us through subterranean memories, down into primal dungeons where we’ve locked away parts of ourselves. These are not just personal recollections, but the ancient, rejected secrets of our species (ayahuasca works with the species, not just the individual), which need to come into the light to be released.
It’s not unusual to have ayahuasca visions from another place and time. Sometimes these rise up from the land itself, as in my first ceremony, when I was greeted by a horde of Hawaiian warriors. Sometimes it’s a collective event you’re witnessing: the Holocaust, or American slavery.
Sometimes it’s a strong memory of something you know you haven’t experienced in this lifetime—rape, warfare, being burned at the stake—manifesting as an internal knowing accompanied by waves of intense emotion and images not from the modern world.
So what are these experiences, really? Past lives? Ancestral memories passed down through DNA? Random experiences of other beings who’ve lived on this planet, parts of human history not necessarily connected to us personally? Or maybe psychic cinema releases, beamed out to teach us through allegory?
I wish there was some kind of test we could run these things through, but it seems like it’s up to each one of us to sift through these experiences and draw conclusions that resonate.
Transmuting Ancestral Pain
First, the ancestral option. Through plant medicine, I’ve seen the suffering of my Irish ancestors during the Potato Famine, feeling their terrible grief at not being able to feed their children. And I’ve met a Jewish ancestor hidden generations back in my Austrian Catholic lineage (he chose forcible conversion, to his lasting anguish.)
I’ve had many, many other experiences/visions that don’t appear to be related to my blood lineage (more on these in a moment). But given that 10 generations back, we each have over 1,000 ancestors—and 30 generations back that total is a mind-boggling trillion—it’s not hard to imagine that we’re genetically connected to an abundance of beings from the past, and thus through DNA are potentially linked with their wisdom, as well as their wounds and traumas.
The degree to which trauma can be transmitted through generations is explored by the science of epigenetics, which studies how adverse life experiences modify the way genes are expressed in cells, literally altering our DNA. Epigenetics hasn’t yet geared up to exploring 10 generations back, but the line of transmission from great-grandparents on down is clear.
As well, there may be more subtle, as yet scientifically undiscovered means of transmission that etch important experiences onto our DNA, the coded hereditary material found in virtually every cell of living organisms (Stephen Farmer calls DNA the “original ancestor.”)
Enrique, the curandero with whom I diet, once told me that by working with the plants (he was speaking of dieta, but I imagine it refers as well as ayahuasca), we can heal our DNA, and that this healing can extend back to our ancestors, as well as forward to our descendants.
His words are a beautiful message that heartens me as I’m leaning over the purge bucket, clearing out one more layer of my ancestors’ suffering. How plant medicine does this is a great and subtle mystery, No coincidence, perhaps, that the double-helix ayahuasca vine mirrors the DNA with which it works.
Ayahuasca and Past Lives
What about past lives? I have no trouble accepting multiple incarnations, partly due to my Tibetan Buddhist training, partly to having spontaneously seen at least a half-dozen unpleasant visions of different kinds of death and torture, all in the years before I met plant medicine. It seems that the most intense and painful experiences are what imprint most deeply on our soul, but of course it makes sense that moments of extreme pain would have the greatest impact, just as they manifest in this life in the form of trauma.
When I began to work personally with ayahuasca and dieta, more strange experiences arose in even more vivid detail. Memories of being raped, and of raping. Of death in various ugly forms. Of fighting for my life with my bare hands—all accompanied by emotions so nuanced and powerful that they feel like embodied memories, not abstract visions.
The feelings that arise can be painful, bitter. But there’s also the relief of long-repressed emotions emerging, and the simple truth and dignity of them standing in the light. To have their existence acknowledged feels like a relief. The medicine brings them up from deep within my body, from my past, whether that is genetic or karmic or both somehow. Both the victim and the persecutor live within me. It appears I carry a lineage of suffering that is deeply human, rooted in the mud rather than the stars.
An intriguing question arises: Are past lives really “past?” I’m not so sure history exists in the tidy linear sequence of Dark Ages-Renaissance-Revolution that we were taught. My current intuition, refined by plant medicine, is that time is not linear, and that past lives exist in some alternate present dimension. Time loops in on itself somehow, and we have the power to release or transform old experiences through our present choices.
Healing Across Lifetimes
When you’re presented with what seems like past-life karma, the element of responsibility becomes clear. Towards the end of an early ceremony, I asked ayahuasca why I was born into this life with a structurally flawed body—and the word “Consequence” appeared on a screen before me. I can’t imagine a more direct answer than that. It led straight to a sense of accountability for the transgressions I’d seen earlier that night. And I got to taste the clean, good flavor of responsibility, so different than that of guilt.
In subsequent ceremonies, I felt as if I was returning to heal an aspect of myself (again, ancestor or past incarnation) in this loop of time and dimensionality. The plants support us in healing, but they don’t do it for us—it has to come through us, and in the process, we are redeemed as well.
It’s amazing to me still, this God Game in which we become our own healers, how this process works across space and time to heal the past so completely and fully. The karmic/ancestral repair that can come with dieta involves healing with the support of plants, and the connection to the divine they open up. I’m helping these beings who are somehow linked to me to complete their unfinished business, whether they need to forgive and release, or to finally feel their strength and clarity.
“Liberación,” Enrique says knowingly, whenever I tell him about one of these dieta experiences of fully feeling mysterious trapped emotions from the past. It could be something awful, but he’s happy to hear it—está bien. You’re clearing out old feelings from your soul, he tells me.
So far I’ve always really liked what and how you write and I can relate very much to this article as well- thank you!
Glad to hear it, thanks!
Brilliant article, as always.
Encourages me to reflect on some of my own unexplained experiences which I find difficult to put into a personal context.
Great food for thought.
Thanks as always.
Yes, it’s something that’s fascinated me from the beginning; I’ve been pondering this for a couple of years now, felt like time to share some possibilities. Love how we are all mapping out this strange territory together!
Amazing article like always. Echoes the cosmic serpent and DNA.
It becomes hard, when I cant identify what is being communicated by the mother, and what is just the old repressed part of the mind coming to light, for resolution.
Kind of, “Is it the ego alluding this trap? or is it being communicated by some thing higher?” Any article on this subject would be highly appreciated.
Yes a bit of intersection with Narby’s book, which I wholeheartedly recommend (The Cosmic Serpent).
Hmmm I’m not quite clear on the difference between the two things you mention—in that ayahuasca can indeed bring up the old repressed parts/patterns of the mind for resolution. Maybe it’s whether we fall into/believe the pattern, or manage to see it clearly as a trap?
I will think about that some more.
Thanks. A question like this always eats up in ceremony:
“Is it a trap or is it a guidance?”
You’re describing a pretty complex situation, highly dependent on specifics.
Generally speaking maybe the only way to tell is to go down that path and see what happens?
Just today I stumbled upon (through duckduckgo search) your website. I am drinking in your wisdom expressed here. Tomorrow evening, I fly to Iquitos from MidWest USA for my first Ayahuasca Retreat. I did download your guide on integration. This is my main concern, having someone with which to process and steady myself through the aftermath. Do you do Skype/video calls, too?
Hi Ron, Yes, I do offer online integration sessions, here’s a link to that page: Integration Sessions. Email me if you’d like to set something up.
I had a similar experience during my retreat where I was experiencing my ancestors’ trauma one after the other as if it was a grocery line. I could physically feel the welts on my back and the lashes from being whipped as a slave. I felt raped and I gave birth only to have my children immediately stolen away from me repeatedly. I experienced working in the fields and being afraid for my life. And this was all in one night that completely drained me. Coming home after all of this has been confusing as it was so real and I know I was releasing my ancestors, which was good. I’m still trying to process what this means to me in today’s world a month later. I feel like my body may still be in shock as I find myself wanting to be still and unmotivated to do much. Is there more info about people who have these ancestral experiences?
Hi Danielle, thank you for sharing your powerful experience, it speaks directly to the way our ancestors’ traumas are encoded in our bodies. Sounds like being quiet and not doing much is perhaps one of the ways your body is integrating this. Also doing things that help you feel safe and protected, feeling pleasure and strength in your current body. I don’t know of any other info on ancestral experiences with ayahuasca or plant medicine, but I do know Systemic Family Constellation Work is an alternative way of working with these things.
I’m finding your blog stimulating, here’s what’s coming to mind. Some different things like trauma, in this or other lifetimes, can be translated into an energetic phenomenon pretty simply as stuck energy. That can reside in the subtle bodies, or in a landform, for example where a brutal battle or any kind of negative experience has occurred. And there are many maps that correlate in a given system – etheric, astral, mental, DNA, endocrine system. And any time you heal something, energetically it’s about getting the energies flowing again. So if
we visit a traumatic moment in a past life, which is a moment where energies froze, and heal it (release it, etc), then it starts moving again. And because things are broadly webbed, things exist in systems – the various subtle bodies in a human or other animal; the various subtle bodies in a discarnate being, who is eligible to have all the subtle bodies humans do; the web of past lives, which may involve a unique soul or groups of souls; energies associated with a particular place or landform, and since even the possible interactions within and between this short list of systems gives rise to an astronomical number of permutations, it’s impossible to identify any point within any of those systems and in the likely many, many other systems in the universe at which releasing trauma – getting stuck energies flowing again – couldn’t ramify. So everything is connected.
Interesting! So, bottom line—releasing trauma/getting stuck energies flowing again benefits many, many beings beyond ourselves. I’m in agreement!
I liked this piece. 2 ceremonies, so far, with Aya and it felt like and looked like I was exercising demons when I went under. I realized it was really wounded child and past life stuff. I am now going to use tapping therapy through EMDR to address this trauma before heading back. I had a full fledged tantrum one night and the next I saw just how embedded trauma is within my cellular highway. I didn’t have THAT much trauma in this lifetime so what showed itself was old and unresolved. It was so hard to go through but now I know.
Sometimes it’s a mystery as to where it comes from—but well worth exploring. Past lives are in there too. Doing some trauma healing work can be a good thing. Thanks for your email—I will get back to you soon.