I first traveled to Cusco, Peru, as an architecture student studying the Incan ruins. Most people know only of Machu Picchu, but the site that called to me was Sacsayhuaman, located just a hundred meters from the city’s downtown square. It blew my mind. I fell in love with it, and with Cusco. And in 2003, I moved there permanently.
Within a year I met my future wife. Her birthday was on the summer solstice, December 22. Our daughter was born on the winter solstice, June 21. That can’t be a coincidence, right? Centuries ago, the Incans planned whole cities around the sun’s position on these exact days, and here they were embodied in the two people I loved the most. Things were so close to perfect.
The problem was that my wife and I began fighting. It was an accumulation of little problems that did us in. Diplomatically, I’d say we had different ideas about responsibility. And in 2008, we divorced.
That was probably the hardest time of my life. I felt very alone. I’d left my apartment and lost friends. My family was still in Chile, and my ex-wife’s family turned against me. They blamed me for everything and painted me into a corner as a bad father. They said I was an immigrant, so I should go ahead and go back to Chile. It was only a matter of time before I abandoned my daughter, they said. So go ahead and do it now. It was nasty and traumatic, and it left me spiritually and mentally lost.
A month after the divorce, ayahuasca came to me. I hadn’t been looking for it, but a friend invited me to a ceremony. I’d done it a couple years before—twice, on back-to-back weekends—and I’d slept through both experiences. I’d been expecting grand visions but the plant-based tea, with its naturally occurring dose of the hallucinogen DMT, had other plans for me then.
This time was different. After I drank the tea, I cried for two hours. I couldn’t stop. There were a group of us in a dark room, and everybody could hear my sobbing. I asked the shaman, “What can I do?” He said, “Nothing. You must cry. You’re cleaning out your mind and soul.” So that’s what I did. I cried, and it was wonderful.
For context, when you drink the tea made from ayahuasca, you tend to go through two stages. First, you let go. You purge in some way. This state is personal—you might vomit, laugh, sweat, or do whatever your body needs to do. I have friends who get into hell. It’s this dark moment of pain and vomiting. Crying was my purge. In Quechan, the language of the Andes, ayahuasca basically means “the root of death.” And you do die, in a way. But then you’re re-birthed. Some of my friends have even described seeing themselves like a newborn child.
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The second part of the ayahuasca experience is a sort of personal, inner journey, which is more like a dream. But you’re fully awake. For me, after I cried, I went into something that was not visual, but emotional. I had this big leather jacket with me, and I draped it over my shoulders like a scarf. I felt like it was alive. It was like I had the protection of an animal all around me, but at the same time, it was this mother figure telling me, “Everything is going to be fine.” I remember the sensation of a window coming toward me, and I was trying to look through it. I was convinced there was something wonderful on the other side.
But most importantly, I was shedding the fear and humiliation I’d felt after my divorce. I was overwhelmed with love, and a feeling of oneness with the world. I had this new clarity, and I felt like had permission to say: “I will not allow my ex-wife’s family to attack me. I will show them who I really am.”
A couple days after the ceremony, I called them up to arrange a meeting. I went to their house and told them they had the wrong idea about me. “I’m a good man and a good father,” I said. “And whether or not you see that, I’m not going back to Chile. I’m staying here to take care of my daughter.” My ex-wife’s family heard me. They really did. And they said: “Okay, Andrés. We’re happy to hear that.”
I’ve done ayahuasca basically once every year since then. And I’ve learned many things—the first of which is how to be honest with myself. And the second is how to love. I do everything with love now. Even if you’re angry, be angry with love.
While the ceremonies have healed me, they’ve also connected me with my creative side. As I study the Incan ruins, I feel like I have better insight into the perspectives of the ancient architects. I have these flashes of understanding where I find significance in the placement of each stone, and I see how every site—Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and all the rest—captures one part of the bigger message that the Incans were trying to preserve.
The past three or four years, the ceremonies have been getting more profound for me. I’ve started having more visual experiences. There’s this kaleidoscope around me, and I can go deeper into it if want to. The deeper I go, the more I understand how time is like a spiral that captures moments, and those moments make up an interconnected multiverse. It’s hard to put into words, but I’ve come to think of time like film: It’s built from many images, but when they all run together, they make a movie. The time we live in is one image in the multiverse. If you could run them all together, you’d see the true face of reality. When I’m going through an ayahuasca ceremony, I see this creative explosion of ideas and images that funnel into the artwork that I’m making today.
I am, without a doubt, a different person after my experiences with ayahuasca. I’m able to have better relationships with my friends and my daughter. I’m close with my ex-wife’s family. And I’ve learned to follow my heart. Ayahuasca unlocked a passion and conviction in side of me. Today, if I have a strong feeling about something, that’s the path. And I follow it, no matter what.
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