Before I talk about the ayahuasca company retreat and ayahuasca experience itself, let's clarify some of the obvious questions first:
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. When used for its medicinal purposes, ayahuasca affects the human consciousness for around six hours.
The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Experienced users of ayahuasca strongly recommend consuming ayahuasca in the presence of a well-trained shaman who is available to guide, intervene if necessary and create a safe space.
The shamans lead the ceremonial consumption of the ayahuasca beverage, in a rite that typically takes place over the entire night. Prior to the ceremony, participants are instructed to abstain from spicy foods, red meat and sex as a mental and physical preparation for the ayahuasca experience. The ceremony is usually accompanied with purging which includes vomiting and sometimes diarrhea, which is believed to release built-up emotions and negative energy.
These are the basics that I read on Wikipedia , and besides a few friends who had told me about their ayahuasca experience before, that was all I knew when I agreed to participate.
"We", the happiness team, are also part of a bigger company with several other websites and projects. Which means that the invitation to the company ayahuasca retreat wasn't for the happiness.com team only but expanded to the whole of Playamedia S.L. employees. Notably, this also meant that it would take place with some people I work closely and others I barely ever met before.
Julius, the founder of happiness.com and general manager of Playamedia S.L., had participated in an ayahuasca retreat before. When he came back, he wanted to share this experience with everyone, family and friends, which also included his employees. So, the initiative came directly from our boss, the emphasis here is on "invited". The retreat was led by Avalon. Avalon’s Ayahuasca retreats in Europe combine the ancient ways of Ayahuasca medicine with the current needs of our society.
This wasn't the first Playamedia retreat. There were two with spiritual teacher and Julius's mentor Nithya Shanti (you can take his course "happiness habits" in the happiness academy). Another one was a organized weekend getaway, where everyone cooked together and added a little workshop or talk to the overall weekend program. All of those retreats and activities were voluntary. Which is an essential factor as respecting all the choices is crucial.
In the article about the bigger picture – “The story of happiness.com, from poppen.de to happiness.com" – I'm talking about the other projects. happiness.com grew as the result of both our personal and the organization's growth and development of values and purpose.
The company's other projects are mostly in the broad area of sex dating – with specialized projects for the LGBTQ community, fetish, escorts – which means that by default no one applies to a job here who is massively homophobic, racist or conservative. However, there is always something to learn and to improve with ourselves. Overall, we are on a continuous path addressing all of this.
Bringing your whole self to the job brings up another important aspect of the transformational process the company, the project and the humans involved are in. It shows in different ways: Julius, the general manager of Playamedia S.L. and founder of happiness.com, is dedicated to transformation on a personal level but also bringing this personal growth into the organization as whole.
We've been working together for over 12 years now. I have witnessed some profound changes in both of us that I never expected. All of this could not have happened with the people we were ten years ago. We transformed into humans that are ready for this kind of honesty and transformation.
“I appreciated that everyone who decided to join the ayahuasca company retreat was apparently ready to take an in-depth and honest look at themselves. Just like me.”
On an organizational level, this resulted in us deeply looking into organization. It started with a reading group with the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux and by now grew into a task force. It is as exciting as it is draining.
All I can say from my perspective is that over the years, my meditation practice has allowed me to deal better with life's uncertainty. It's a valuable skill both in a reorganization process in the company, in a personal transformational process, as well as dealing with the uncertainty living in a world with COVID-19.
Alright, so that's all the theory, the build-up, the bigger picture. Now, let's talk about the actual retreat.
Home office and remote work are technically easy for Playamedia S.L. employees and our kind of work. I work more efficiently and with much more concentration if I am not in the office. However, over time we lose the human connection as video conferences do not allow us to connect as easily. It's better for a team as we talk regularly, but there are little connection points with the other co-workers, and that leaves room for assumptions and interpretations. So, before the retreat, I was feeling a bit of anxiety. Will I be welcome? Will I have to play a role? Will people still like me? Will I be included?
We also had talks with the retreat team weeks before: One on one talks as well as group preparation meetings. In the end, it's everyone's personal decision to participate and how to prepare for it if they want to. I meditate regularly anyway, but two weeks before the retreat I did more mediation, yoga, I adopted the recommended diet to 99% and also did some journaling regarding my questions, motivations and so on.
The moment I arrived I immediately met two dear friends who happen to be my co-workers, and all of those doubts were gone. And with every person who arrived at the bus stop, the community feeling grew stronger. It was relaxed and honest. I also appreciated that everyone who decided to join was apparently ready to take an in-depth and honest look at themselves. Just like me. Given that we are already encouraged to show up as our true selves, it looked like everyone was ready to explore what that true self is.
The setup of the retreat, the people, the atmosphere, their supporting workshops; it all created a soft cushion for us to explore whatever questions we had brought. Nevertheless, before the first night, we all were really nervous as we didn't know what nature's medicine had in mind for us, but we surely knew lots of stories by then, and we knew we didn't want to be that person...
Not everyone who joined the retreat had to participate in the ceremony. We had time right up until the actual ceremony started to make up our minds. And I think while the two groups had different experiences, the connection and openness was present no matter how it took form.
So the ones taking the medicine took their places and were guided through the night by a wonderful shaman who provided a caring, motivating, safe and yet inspiring atmosphere with smells, songs and sound and words and whispers. That alone was amazing. The second night a shamanka joined him. There was a fire outside, the stars were shining bright and the night was warm. The retreat team looked after us in a caring and very subtle way. Not disturbing our thoughts but making sure everyone was fine and safe at all times.
What happened during the two nights is a personal story that unfolded differently for each of us. It was different each night and it also depended on how many cups of the brew each of us took during the night. Again, it was our individual choice.
My ayahuasca experience was gentle. A reaffirming clarity with which I looked at the path I was already on. Nothing new came up for me; no revelations, no hidden horrors, wishes, fears. In hindsight it felt like I had already stirred up enough dust over the last years, faced enough fears, and the ayahuasca experience was reassuring that now it’s time to let it settle – to use the clarity and energy I am given – until a new cycle starts. (I wrote a short poem about the experience which can be read on my personal blog: herrberta.art)
I can't speak for all the individuals. I can only speak for myself, and maybe some of my coworkers will add their viewpoints and experiences to this article too.
For me, again, it was mild. Mild on a psychological as well as physical level. As you have probably read before, purging is an almost inevitable part of the process and the ceremony. I was aware of the purging in the room if I chose to put my attention on witnessing it. Which, for the most part, I decided not to. I thought it would be way worse. I feared that I'd be appalled, sorry, disgusted, ashamed and what not. Which didn’t happen at all. I worried mostly that anybody else would be uncomfortable watching me, and I managed to get to the bathroom each time easily.
“My ayahuasca experience was gentle. A reaffirming clarity with which I looked at the path I was already on. Nothing new came up for me; no revelations, no hidden horrors, wishes, fears.”
This is one of the lessons I learned. The shame around body functions, be it sex, menstruation or purging is only in my mind, and what is mind-made can be mind-unmade.
Or to be more precise after two ceremonies, as we did two nights after each other. If you usually book the retreat it includes four nights which I'm not sure I’d handle that well, but there’s also some curiosity about how the ayahuasca experience evolves.
The biggest surprise for me was that after two nights of being clear and awake, I was neither drained nor tired. I also wasn't unusually pumped. I simply felt as I feel on the best of days: awake, clear, kind, soft, open, warm and with gentle, realistic optimism.
What surprised me was that I was so present and clear and in control during the ayahuasca experience. Losing control was my biggest fear, and I had prepared with mediation and intentions to let go of the need to control and then all the necessary control was granted to me.
So, the company ayahuasca retreat was – as far as I can tell – valuable for all participants on a personal level. But how can it affect the organisation?
Competence, autonomy and relatedness are the three crucial areas that influence our motivation. Both personally and at work (take our motivation at work questionnaire and learn more about self-determination theory). Let's look at how the company ayahuasca retreat may have influenced those areas:
This one is quite straightforward. On the level of connection, it brought the people who went closer together. It created trust, openness, and enabled some bonding over a shared experience. Now that we've spent more time together in person, we can show up at work more fully and with authenticity.
The personal growth experience we had will help us to address our needs, expectations and requirements more clearly. It enabled us to listen to each other with openness and the will to solve a problem rather than the need to be right even more than before.
The lessons we learned for ourselves will affect the people around us. This way, everyone – including the ones who didn't join – will benefit from it. This will also help the whole organization to both ask for autonomy and grant it to others.
Of course, our actual knowledge about our work didn't change. Besides the practical knowledge, there's also the trust you have in your work, the confidence we display when taking on a task. And ironically, the more confident we are with ourselves, the easier it gets to ask for help to see criticism as a chance to improve.
I have seen changes and growth in the humans who participated – myself included – and this experience will have effects – both subtle and profound – benefiting the people who are part of the organization and therefore, the organization itself.
It’s about one month now since we’ve been to the retreat. Some people are still really evolved and different, I am on my path. I am not sure if it’s due to the ayahuasca or due to all the other work I did in the last years that has what today feels like “given me my voice”. Maybe everything plays its little role. As I said before, for me it was less of a revelation much rather a reassurance, so that’s no surprise and I am happy about that. •
Main image: Jr Korpa on Unsplash
Tine is part of the happiness.com team. She's an artist, meditator, media engineer and MBSR teacher. If she's not traveling she's working on turning her village ruin into a garden paradise. Find out more about her on Art & Activism Blog.
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