As more and more people attune to the powerful healing work that is possible in relationship with the plant medicine Ayahuasca, seekers find themselves scouring the internet trying to determine which center, which facilitator and which format is best for them. There are an increasingly broad number of options available -- but there’s got to be some way to discern.
We spoke with Carlos Tanner of the Ayahuasca Foundation in Peru to gain insight from someone who has lived and organized retreats in Iquitos for over a decade. His suggestions on how to decide make a lot of sense, and we think they will support you to find a retreat that is truly aligned with your intentions.
“My biggest piece of advice I have would be,” says Carlos, “First check out what’s out there, see what you like, what feels like a good fit for you, and if you still don’t feel like you ‘know’ where to go, then contact the ones you like and see what response you get.” Feel into it, Carlos suggests. Feel into it, then reach out with a question and see how the response resonates with you. “If you’re a spiritual person for example and you contact a place where the people there lean more towards entertainment, it’s hard for me to imagine their response to your questions aren’t going to demonstrate very clearly to you that this isn’t the place for you. And while a website can do a lot to convey a message or perspective, direct communication can do a lot more to shed more light on an organization.”
In other words? The most significant indicator that a center is right for you is your own intuitive sense. If you receive a reply that doesn’t feel quite right (or don’t receive a reply at all), then trust your good judgement above all. Sometimes you just know and you don’t need to do anything else but fill out the registration form, but if you are having trouble picking between the two or three that you’ve narrowed it down to, reach out to them to get a better feel for it.
But what about more objective criteria to help narrow the search?
Carlos has some strong suggestions on this, too. Most importantly, he urges a seeker to find a center that truly honors the breadth of the medicine tradition: “It’s a challenge to understand how deep the healing traditions of Ayahuasca are, how many plants are involved in the treatments, because Ayahuasca gets the vast majority of the attention internationally. It’s understandable, because Ayahuasca is so unique and incredible, but there are so many powerful and amazing medicinal plants that are also used in this tradition. They aren’t used in the same ceremonial way and don’t produce visions like Ayahuasca, but they do contribute greatly to healing, in some cases more than Ayahuasca. I think centers should be offering other plant treatments besides Ayahuasca. If they are just serving Ayahuasca, I would wonder why they aren’t working with the whole tradition. Every indigenous tradition uses a multitude of other plants in their treatments.”
There are a few exceptions, Carlos points out, which include very powerful medicines that could be dangerous, especially when administered to people coming from western culture. Tobacco purges are one example he gives as a treatment to be avoided due to the risk of detrimental effects. The ingestion of a toxic plant called Toé is another example. Carlos gives examples he feels are beneficial treatments. “Our retreats include treatments with purgatives, just not tobacco purges, vapor baths with different plants, cold water baths with a variety of plants, poultices, sinus cleanses taken nasally, a wide variety of remedies taken orally, smoke baths, massages with remedies, basically whatever would be used within the tradition to treat a condition or strengthen the benefit of the ceremonies.”
Another aspect of retreats that Carlos feels is important is the level of training the facilitators have. He feels the job of the facilitator is crucial yet often undervalued. “One of the things that I think our center has that’s probably unique to a lot of centers, is that we choose our facilitators by selecting them from our own educational courses. We have an 8-week initiation course that’s offered for anyone who feels called to the medicine and wants to gain a basic understanding of what it would entail to walk that path and from there we get to see who really shines. Who is really cut out for this? What are their interpersonal skills? What are their connections with the tradition? We see the whole spectrum of what it takes to actually do this and then we select from these students. Then we have them do another 2 months of training alongside our staff before they are actually given the responsibility of assisting retreat participants.”
Carlos feels the role of retreat facilitator goes far beyond holding the bucket or making sure each participant can get to the bathroom. They are also interpreters for the curanderos and the tradition, and practitioners as well. Of course, it’s natural to look at the experience and training of the curanderos. Carlos suggests also checking a retreat center’s website for the facilitators’ training. Ultimately, you want to trust the whole team that is welcoming you into this powerful work. They are facilitating the experience and relationship you form with the medicine, so if you are unclear who they are or their qualifications, ask. The center should provide a clear response that leaves you feeling comfortable with their capacities.
Lastly, says Carlos, “I would hope that the website that you’re looking at, that center, provides an understanding and can demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about. You should feel what you read on the site resonating with how you think and feel.” This is a necessity to fully allow yourself to surrender to the process, the medicine, the journey. Allow your intuition and discernment to guide you to a center that feels aligned, and your work with Ayahuasca will be all the more transformative.
Carlos Tanner founded the Ayahuasca Foundation in 2008. The Foundation supports the preservation of indigenous wisdom and culture, supports the preservation of the Amazon rainforest, and strives to raise awareness about environmental relationships and sustainability. Visit the Ayahuasca Foundation's Retreat Guru center page or their website here.