In the Amazon Rainforest there are so many healing elements and medicines that science is still way behind on studying and learning about. Some of these fall into the holotropic or psychotropic category.  Holo means whole and tropic means moving toward so holotropic is moving toward wholeness. In modern materialist science, psyche is defined as mind but to the ancient Greeks psyche means spirit so psychotropic really means moving in the direction of spirit.

Some of these plant medicines fall into the category commonly known as psychoactive or psychedelic. Delos means to manifest so psychedelic really means spirit (or mind) manifesting.  The word psychedelic commonly brings up images of the wild sixties drug use, hippies and Timothy Leary. In the 60’s and 70’s there was a great deal of wreckless, recreational use of these substances with wild abandon. A lot of dangerous and harmful personal experimentation occurred mixing these with alcohol and or other dangerous drugs like uppers and downers, cocaine and opiates.  People died in overdoses, including a number of well known rock stars.

Psychedelics were banned and scientific studies halted for decades. Then about twenty years ago governmental authorization was granted by the FDA for studies to resume into the healing properties of some of these psychedelics. Prestigious institutions such as John Hopkins, NYU and Imperial College in London, have been analyzing these substances in the healing and relief of things such as depression, anxiety, addictions and PTSD. Used wisely and properly by people who are skilled in their use in these studies has lead to large bodies of scientific evidence of their effectiveness.

In the past few years, major news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Time and Newsweek have been reporting the results in a big way. Yet the indigenous medicine men and women (shamans) have been doing healing ceremonies with some of these substances as medicines for hundreds and even thousands of years.  Science is just now trying to catch up in some small way with what indigenous knowledge has long known.

In a number of South and Central American countries, it is not illegal to partake in these rituals.  Being the explorer and adventurer that I am, I jump right in. 😊  My last few days in Ecuador, I sign up with a husband and wife team who have a retreat center in Vilcabamba specifically for this kind of work. Due to the deeply personal nature of this work, there are no photos or recordings of the actual ceremony.  Also trying to document the process during the ceremony pulls the person out of full immersion in the process.  Only some before and after photos are allowed. And to respect the privacy of other participants I will not share the stories or experience of others in the ceremony. But I can share my experience though words are quite insufficient to relay the impact of this journey.

The first ceremony I did was with the medicine called Ayahuasca.  The active element here is a triptamine called DMT. This is a natural element we all have in our bodies particularly related to the pineal gland.  Done with the husband and wife team Santiago and Ximena from the Casa Del Sol Vilcabamba Retreat Center.

It required days of a certain “dieta” or diet. No red meat, reduce all meats, no caffeine, minimize sugar, salt, spices. Eat mostly veggies, fruit and eat bland.  The evening of the ceremony we gather in their house to discuss our intentions for this work.  Ximena very expertly asks questions to help bring out the deeper issues that each person is going to be working with. There are eleven of us as participants and the whole meeting takes the better part of two hours.

At 10 pm, we walk quietly down to the Maloka, or ceremony structure.  It is an open air building with lattice work walls next to a fast moving river that is roaring down the mountain.  There are various masks, icons and artwork on the wall.  An assistant to the ceremony is gently tending the ceremonial fire.  There are mats, pillows and wool blankets laid out on both sides of the space. After a bit of ceremony we each come forward one at a time to imbibe a small cup of brown brew. The taste is like prune juice with a strong bite to it. Back in our places there is a long reflective silence as the fire casts big shadows of objects on the wall or hanging from the ceiling. Then comes some prayers followed by songs and drumming.

Slowly a deeper contemplative mood sets in as I move from sitting to lying down, snuggled in under under the blanket.  In a sort of half dream state, visions start rolling in.  Beautiful colors, shapes and patterns become increasingly vivid as the night progresses. Some aspects of my life come into view for reflection.  There is so much light everywhere! Things in my vision and even the things around me. I can see an inner glow in things.  If matter is just solidified energy and the highest form of energy is light, well then from some vantage point things are made of light!  I make a pact with myself to begin to look for the light in things after this experience, when I am back in my ordinary state of consciousness.

Amazing emotions and feelings arise and sway with me with the icaros (chants and songs of the medicine work) they sing. I soar with the music. At 3:30 am the ceremony ends.  At 4 am I fall asleep in the Maloka.  Even though there are no screens, I don’t get a single mosquito bite.  I have a joyous breakfast and head home to have some “integration time” for my new experiences.

Two days after this is a San Pedro ceremony at the same place so I sign up. San Pedro is mescaline from a cactus similar to peyote. It is considered as masculine to the feminine experience of the Ayahuasca. It is done during the day and often involves rigorous hiking high into the mountains.  This one however is done in a circular Maloka  around a campfire high up the hill above the resort.

Again there is singing, drumming and prayers.  It seems a rather mild psychoactive experience compared to a few nights ago, yet very heart opening.  Deep in the medicine the subject of anger comes up for me. I don’t consider myself an angry person, but there is one anger I have harbored for eight years.  I decide that is just eight years too long and it is time to be done with it.  My anger is really generated by my own non-acceptance of a person over a certain ethical situation and my judgement about it.

I realize had I really found at that time the courage and the words to calmly express my feelings and needs in the matter, I could likely have created a different outcome. I sobbed and sobbed as I expressed my feelings to this group, my witnesses.  A huge weight lifted and evaporated up with the smoke from the fire.  The day turned bright and joyous again. We ended the ceremony with the low, late afternoon sun flooding into the Maloka. We have some food and celebration.

Later is dinner and conversation in the resort over some very yummy food.  I leave early because my friends that I am staying with made me a good bye dinner since this is my last night in Ecuador! So I double dip and eat again! A little gentle conversation and good night hugs because I am arising at 4:15 am. on my way to my next destination ….Costa Rica!

Addendum: I want to take this moment to express a very deep and heartfelt gratitude to Santiago and Ximena for the amazing skill and loving care with which they work.  For such a young couple they are wise way beyond their years.  In my view, they gently coach people onto the path of the heart. Much appreciation!

Much Love,

Steve Bollinger




Literally ‘becoming divine within’ was derived from an obsolete Greek word describing religious communion with visionary drugs, prophetic seizures and erotic passion, and is cognate with the common word enthusiasm. We noted that, besides being pejorative outside of the counterculture, psychedelic was “so invested with connotations of the popculture of the 1960s that it is incongruous to speak of a shaman’s taking a ‘psychedelic’ drug.” ~ Carl Ruck (1973)


Integration refers to the process by which the material accessed and insights gained in an entheogenic experience are incorporated over time into one’s life in a way that benefits the individual and their community.


A purpose, aim, desire, motivation, direction, or function stated before engaging in an entheogenic experience.

Set & Setting:

A phrase coined by Timothy Leary,  “set” refers to the physical, mental, and emotional state, or mindset, that an individual enters an entheogenic experience with.  Setting is the physical, social, and cultural setting of the experience.  A safe and comfortable set and setting significantly influence the outcome of an entheogenic experience.


An individual who plays an active role in facilitating the preparation, unfolding, and post care of the entheogenic experience. Guides have a significant history of entheogenic use, and have undergone some form of training to facilitate entheogenic experiences.


A sober individual present during an entheogenic experience who is available in case of emergency, and ensures the safety of the individual partaking in the experience.  Similar to guides, sitters have experience with entheogens, however have not necessarily had formal training in facilitation of experiences, and play a more passive role of holding space for the experience.

Cosmological Container:

A particular lived belief system on the origins and structure of the universe, within which the entheogenic experience is held.


Alternate name for an entheogenic experience.

Spiritual Practice:

Discipline or system of exercises and actions undertaken for the purpose of furthering spiritual development.

Integration Practices:

Specific actions performed on a regular basis that support the integration of the insights gained during the entheogenic experience into daily life.

Ayahuasca Ceremony

Ayahuasca Ceremony