It is our pleasure to welcome Alan Waugh, author of Alchemical Ayahuasca: Take the Journey from Depression to the Sweet Spot, as our feature author for January. Alan is a trained plant Shaman with decades of experience working with plant medicines and is an internationally recognised Healer and Ayahuasca Ceremony Leader. His book offers valuable knowledge from his personal experience of sitting in hundreds of Ayahuasca ceremonies. It gives readers the tools to master their emotions and access the power to heal themselves, with or without Ayahuasca.
In his article here, using extracts from the book, Alan gives us insights into his remarkable journey out of depression and explores the innate power the words we use have in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and, ultimately, our life experiences.
Interact with Alan on our AoM forum here.
“Alan Waugh is the best Shaman I have worked with anywhere!”
PART I – My Journey Begins
Chapter 1: THE VOICE – that changed my life!
Life shrinks or expands
In proportion to one’s courage.
~ ANAÏS NIN
I was Suicidal.
I was 28 years old, living in Croydon, a suburb of South London. I had been working in the building industry for the last six years and was the owner of a small construction company that primarily focused on renovating Victorian houses in the area; there are a lot of them in London, and therefore, I was very busy.
As a workaholic, I was working a lot and doing my best to manage a few troublesome employees. Financially, I was doing the best I had done up to that point in my life, but I was feeling desperate. I mistakenly thought that money would be the source of happiness, but having money in the bank made no difference to my challenging mental states.
Day after day, I was plummeting into the depths of hopelessness, with no way out from my negative mind space. Being only 28, I didn’t have the life experience, wisdom, or awareness for figuring out how to be happy. I perceived my world and my future as hopeless. I was not in a relationship; I did not love myself, let alone even like myself. I was masterful in self-criticism and self-shaming, and I was moving on the treadmill of life, believing that happiness would never be a reality for me, only different degrees of unhappiness.
I recognize today, with hindsight, that I had been depressed since ages 10 or 11 and possibly even earlier. I lived in a family where we weren’t encouraged to talk about 3our feelings. Despite having four sisters, I always felt alone, and outside of work, I kept myself fairly isolated. My best friends were a bottle of wine, self-rolled hashish cigarettes, speed pills and a cute little grey cockatiel bird named Beaker. I had suicidal ideation from a young age and can remember thinking I would be dead by sixteen.
I was ready to leave this life — not realizing that I was about to leave this life, but not in the way I expected.
A VOICE IN MY HEAD?
One typically dreary day in London, I found myself sitting on the floor in my apartment where I lived alone, feeling desperately unhappy and with no hope of a brighter future. This, for me, was just the course of my life: a predetermined reality, deigned by God. With waves of depression rolling over and through me, I knew this was the day I would end my life.
From out of nowhere, a Voice spoke to me! It sounded like the Voice was outside of me, but I couldn’t be sure. It was a male Voice, strong and clear.
He said, “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?”
I was taken aback but felt it was a serious question that I needed to respond to. In my despair, there was only one answer to give: ‘I want to die!’
Even though this was a unique experience in my life and far out of my normal frame of reference, I took it in stride because it felt completely natural.
Again, He asked, “Do you want to Live, or do you want to Die?”
This time, I knew He meant business, so I searched deeper inside myself, into the source of my pain — deeper than I had ever given myself permission to go before. Up to that point, I had grown accustomed to wallowing in self-pity and had become resigned to a life of hopelessness. In that moment, I began moving beyond mental reasoning — to a state of being. I began soul searching. I was connecting with a place deep in my core that I had not accessed before. Previously, I was always stuck in my head, trapped in patterns of despair. Not only was the Voice talking to me but the source of that Voice was guiding me in how to look inside myself, literally to the heart of the matter: to the heart of myself.
I took this question: Do you want to Live or do you want to Die, into a new realm of experience — a feeling experience, beyond my egoic patterning and conditioning. I quickly began to experience a gentler, more spacious and open relationship with myself, which was markedly different from my old rigid and fixed views. I was being gently guided to really look beyond the me that I knew.
In the gentleness and expansiveness of that moment, I connected to Love.
Instantly, I knew I had a choice to make: either keep believing that unhappiness was my normal operating system (my old conditioning), or make a different, unfamiliar choice, where I had full sovereignty over my life outcome.
I responded: ‘I want to Live! I want to Live! But how do I Live? I am so unhappy. How can I continue to endure such pain?’
“I’m going to tell you.” The kind Voice responded.
“You have to change the patterns of your life. Actions have consequences, and if you continue to live your life the way you have been living, then nothing will change.”
Upon hearing that, I shrunk back into my fears, worrying that I would not be able to move away from the negative beliefs that felt comfortable and familiar. I quickly reviewed my life and asked:
But what about the last 15 years of my life? Am I just going to give that up? If I just move out of depression, then all of those years will have been for nothing? All of those years will be wasted and lost?
The Voice responded, “Who cares – just You?”
It was simple, powerful and life-changing.
I realized in that moment that I had been attached to beliefs I was using to keep myself small. I was afraid of life. I was using my depression as a crutch to support myself on my journey into smallness — to hide myself away and not be seen. I realized I was being given a choice — a choice to break out of my cocoon of misery that allowed me to feel safe.
It’s true, only I cared. Why live the rest of my life in misery just because I didn’t want to let go of the past suffering of fifteen or sixteen years, during which time I believed that I wasn’t lovable? In that moment, I realized that I had become addicted to my depression, and I remained addicted to give myself a distorted purpose for my life.
I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
That laugh was the first big energetic release of density and overwhelm that I let myself feel in over fifteen years. The energy shift of that release has guided me on my path of happiness ever since.
THE POWER OF LAUGHTER
For as long as I could remember, up to that point, I had been the Joker, the Comic. When out with friends, I was always the one with the quickest wit. I wanted people to laugh around me: to validate me as the funny one, the Wise Cracker. I was in competition with my drinking buddies to be the funniest joker. Otherwise, I was introverted, quiet and painfully shy. Making self-disparaging or sarcastic remarks and being the source of humor was my way of relating to the world without giving away my secret —
I am depressed, and I feel terrible about myself.
I was a sad clown who wore a mask and cloak of happiness. My jollity was a form of self-medication, and like so many comics — I was a depressed funny man.
That density-releasing laugh was liberating. It felt good to be real and honest at last. That laugh was a panacea to my inner conflict, my inner delusion, and it quickly became a catalyst for a truer version of myself.
PART II – The Alchemy of Ayahuasca
Chapter 12 – REWIRING THE BRAIN
My brain is only a receiver.
In the Universe there is a core
From which we obtain
Knowledge, strength and inspiration
I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core,
But I know that it exists.
~ Nikola Tesla
I lead annual tours to South America to have my clients experience Peruvian indigenous healers and their medicine ways. One of the tours I lead includes visiting sacred sites of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Andean areas, primarily known as Incan Sacred Sites.
The most famous of these restored ruins in the Sacred Valley of Peru is Macchu Picchu, which is also the most visited tourist attraction in all of South America. I tend to focus on other sites that hold a similar spiritual significance in the Sacred Valley such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. These also transport the visitor back into the rich history of cultures that left us carved monolithic stones of granite, which were often brought from valleys far from their current locations. These stones have been mysteriously hewn with exactitude and precision, interlocking with each other like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, and are usually accredited to the Incan Empire.
The four-ton rocks in the Temple of the Sun located in the powerful fortress known as Ollantaytambo (place to see down) are located at the confluence of three valleys. The sacred site is quietly observed by a massive rock formation in a mountain adjoining the site, representing an upturned face of Wiracocha: The Creator God. The level of craftsmanship required is mind boggling.
I also lead groups to the Amazon Rainforest to experience Ayahuasca plant medicine traditions, primarily with members of the Shipibo tribe. They are renowned for their expertise in Ayahuasca healings and have been deeply steeped in those medicine ways for thousands of years. I generally take groups to Pucallpa, Peru, which is the primary city of Shipibo culture.
Several years ago, the ceremonies on my upcoming retreat were going to be guided by a Shipibo husband and wife team, both in their early eighties – Benjamin and Antonia Maui. I was really excited that they had agreed to lead our group in the retreat center, La Casa de La Madre. The center was owned and run by my good friend Cielo Tierra. She was an Australian woman who had been in this area known as Yarinacocha for more than fifteen years. Sadly, she died this week – at the time of writing. Cielo and I had been co-creating group retreats for several years in Pucallpa. I also participated in many personal retreats at her place over the years with different maestros.
Benjamin had taught many students and had trained many esteemed Ayahuasqueros, spanning a long and arduous career. He is a well-known and highly regarded Shaman and had spent many years of his life living in remote jungle huts, training and doing traditional diets. He once told me that in his 80 years, he had probably spent a quarter of his life in a restrictive solitary dietary practice which enhanced his spiritual and healing gifts. This is a traditional way to apprentice with plants. Despite that time in solitude, he had managed to have eight children with Antonia and they have remained married for over six decades.
In typical Shipibo style in Ayahuasca ceremonies, Benjamin, being the male, was the energetic driving force with his rhythmic and powerfully sung Icaros. Antonia, being the female, did the energetic sweeping up and offered the nurturing softness that helps to keep you feeling safe in your body and to trust in the work. This is commonly the way in Shipibo ceremonies — a dance of the masculine and the feminine, using the power of opposites known as Yanantin. They had a very beautifully choreographed energy, as you can imagine, after six decades of leading ceremonies together.
Their work with us went very deep, and there was a significant amount of purging within the group during our ten-day retreat. Cielo and I were their assistants, making sure the participants’ physical needs were taken care of — emptying buckets and wiping butts, if necessary. Always a fun job!
In general, the experience with the medicine is directly related to the intention of the ceremony leaders and the style and energy in which they sing and facilitate it. Setting a pure intention for healing is critical for the leaders and the participants in ceremony. Direct communication with the spirits of Ayahuasca and with the ceremonial space has a very profound influence on the healing potential for all participants. Benjamin and Antonia were masterful in holding space, which allowed all the participants to take deep dives into their inner worlds.
One ceremony night, as the group was getting quieter following an intense earlier phase of the ceremony, I laid back to luxuriate in the stillness and peace. I was lying on my mat in the darkness, enjoying the sounds of the cicadas, frogs and bamboo rats who were adding their vibrations to the jungle heartbeat that pulsed through the ceremonial Maloka. Antonia was singing in the high-pitched, raspy way that the Shipibo women typically sing their haunting medicine songs.
All of a sudden, I felt a strange tingling sensation in my head. It was extremely unusual and a bit freaky; it felt as though someone was literally cleaning my brain. I sat up and saw Benjamin looking at me through the darkness and blowing smoke directly at me from his Mapacho cigarette.
He was looking intently towards me, unblinking. I was aware of the single-mindedness of his focus. Incredibly, I felt like my brain was being recalibrated, as though a Rubik’s cube in my head was clicking and rotating to create a reorganization of anything that was out of balance. I sensed that Benjamin was helping me step up my game and my capacity as a healer. He knew the path that I was on and that I was here to be of service to the people on retreat and also back home in the U.S.
It felt like he was doing what was necessary to give me a neurological and energetic upgrade and a re-alignment of my brain’s neural pathways. I focused deeply and expanded my awareness as best I could so I could try to learn how this gifted maestro worked in such an advanced way. This was new to me: I had never experienced this unusual brain activity before, in or out of ceremony. I knew that I was being given not just a healing but a teaching at the highest level — for which I felt incredibly grateful.
This all lasted about ten minutes and then it was over. Benjamin turned and started to work on the person to my right. I laid down again on my mat in the darkness and surrendered to the healing moving through me. I now believe that this recalibration by Benjamin has allowed me to explore to a new depth, the art of working in the subtle realms.
With spiritual healing work of any type, the healer can only help a person to the level of spiritual and conscious awareness that the healer themself possesses. This session with Benjamin helped to deepen my awareness, which in turn supported me in helping my clients to a greater depth. Working in these subtle realms is done through focus, intention, skill and aligning within the energetic flow and The Sweet Spot of healing. One does not need to drink Ayahuasca to receive deep healing; however, learning how to do this work would have been very difficult for me without my Ayahuasca experiences.
In observing Benjamin working on me, I was amazed that these things were even possible. As I have mentioned before, observation of the maestros is how one learns in this tradition. I learnt a great lesson that night that has served me and, subsequently, my clients, in the years following that experience.
Now, let’s explore some of the ways that Ayahuasca ceremonies may unfold for you and how to gain the most from these experiences.
PART III – The Easy Path
Chapter 23 – THE POWER OF WORDS
A session with Ayahuasca
To 10 years of therapy.
The above quote can be seen on a variety of websites that I have come across over the years. I have no idea of its origin and it is a claim that cannot be verified. I do not wish to dispute it. I imagine it is referring to the potential for transformation one might receive from a powerful Ayahuasca session. It does however, beg the question — why would someone continue therapy over many years, with negligible results? Do they go into traditional psychotherapy, not expecting any shift? Are they content to ruminate about their issues with no expectation of a beneficial outcome?
I mean no disrespect to respectable and highly trained therapy professionals, as I know they help many people through crises. I have had many licensed therapists as clients over the years. They have their own views about the efficacy of their profession.
On the other hand, if you go into an Ayahuasca session or a shamanic healing session with the agreed-on goal that you are looking for a powerful transformation — quickly — the energy and the focus of that intentionality will often result in a noticeable shift. I have seen this with myself and with many clients. My healing sessions start with the question: “Are you ready to change”? When I get a clear “Yes”, I follow up with something like: “Great! Let’s get this done”!
I continue by asking about their story and about what might be considered high impact events in their lives. We only talk about this once.
The instructions after that are all focused towards quick, significant transformations using words that support the desired changes. Words such as transformation, potential, hope, light, and exceptional contain power, while words like trauma, wounds, triggers, negativity, PTSD, helplessness or limiting beliefs are energetically diminishing. When both the client and the healer set the target clearly and powerfully, a change is likely to occur. I have a long track record which proves this to be true.
I am not interested in long-term professional relationships with clients — no offense intended! We may become friends – which is a wonderful benefit of my work — but I’m completely focused on helping you heal — quickly!
Many years ago, when I first began offering healing work, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I hadn’t received any formal training; it was just training from my heart, my life experiences and some early teachings from Michael Harner and Ayahuasca.
One of my fellow hospice volunteers, Lise, had been diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer throughout her abdomen, liver and diaphragm. She was told it was a very aggressive form of cancer, and she had started treatments of chemotherapy. Her partner at the time — a medical doctor, was not very positive about her long-term survival, and consequently, she was scared and anxious. As a friend, I offered to go to her house on a regular basis and give her healing sessions and emotional support. The evening of the first session, I looked her in the eyes and said:
“How would you like to completely get rid of this cancer!?”
I saw a flicker in her eyes; the sound of these words offered her a new possibility that she hadn’t considered before — a hope that she certainly wasn’t receiving from the doctors nor her boyfriend. I knew from that spark in her eyes, the potential of this new possibility was being actualized in that split-second. It wasn’t something I had planned. The words were guided by a force outside of myself.
I continued weekly sessions with Lise for a few months, supporting her emotional and spiritual needs with words of positivity and hope. I made sure my language was always powerfully strengthening her well-being.
Fifteen years later, Lise is thriving and cancer-free. She attests that her sessions with me were a significant factor as to why she is still alive. I know that my initial words of hope, along with my care and concern for her well-being, were all part of the healing she received. I learnt from that experience the profound healing power of words supported by the healing power of love.
This exercise shows the power of the words you use and the instant response of your feeling state, which responds to positive and uplifting words as well as to negative, diminishing words. Your body’s nervous system instantly matches the words and the significance that those words have for you, whether you realize it or not. Speak your truth. How can you set clear boundaries if you can’t speak your truth? Similarly, you cannot live your truth if you cannot speak it.
Be vigilant and mindful of the words you use. Words are very powerful; they become manifest. Your words are part of your embodied self. What you say, you become.
Start by talking to yourself. Speak out loud anything positive or loving you wish to say about and to yourself that you haven’t said out loud before. Let positive energy be expressed through your words. Remember, it is you talking to YOU. You being honest with YOU.
Continue speaking with one hand on your heart to focus your intention there. Use these sentences as a guide:
“Something I’ve never told you is …”
“What I am angry about is …”
“When I was young, I felt afraid because of ….”
“My heart closed down because….”
“I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I….”
“I forgive you for….”
As you speak, go into your heart feelings. See if you can soften those feelings. Feel the impact that the words spoken out loud have on your body or feeling state. Take your time. Transformation happens through the whole body, not just the head. The deeper you feel the meaning of the words, the deeper the transformational opportunity. You cannot think your way into a deeper state, you can only surrender into a deeper state. Surrender has a feeling associated with it: can you sense the feeling of surrender?
Words spoken out loud are a portal into deeper feeling and emotional states. The throat chakra tends to be the first chakra I work on with energy release, as it has the most significant and fundamental impact on the client.
An energetically blocked throat chakra causes looping energy patterns and associated negative looping thoughts — which keep you stuck in the head. When the throat chakra is cleared by speaking your truth, the energy can flow down to the heart and then the rest of the body. Thoughts can be more heart centered and embodied.
You will notice how expressing affirming loving words, your body experiences loving affirming feelings. The opposite is also true. Pay attention to the words you say or think to yourself.
Go out there into the world and start speaking your truth to family and friends. Challenge yourself. Be honest. Write a list of everyone you want to have a heart-centred conversation with and work your way through it. The fear of confrontation or truth-talking is just resistance. Talk through it. Talk with feeling. Speak from the heart. Nobody can deny your feelings, but they can resist your thoughts; often, when you speak from your head, it might trigger their own wounds. Encourage them to go into their feelings. That’s where transformation happens.