Ayahuasca Emotional Purging
One of the first things people thing of when it comes to Ayahuasca ceremony is the purging: the best friend/worst enemy puke bucket, the toilet paper rolls for inevitable eye and nose faucets, the exact path to be taken to the bathroom if it gets really bad. The physical purging is one of the main reasons people are attracted to the Ayahuasca plant Medicine in the first place; not for the fun of it, but for the efficiency in which trapped emotions and energies can leave the body. It accelerates a personal or spiritual process to levels that many of us need, given how much has built up in our bodies in such an out-of-nature’s-sync society.
One of the common misconceptions is that the purging ends when the ceremony does. This can be true at times, but is often not the case at all. Sometimes physical purging continues into the next day or two, but emotional purges (depending on their nature and severity) can open up a Pandora’s Box and continue on for months (sometimes longer in extreme circumstances.)
What Exactly is an Emotional Purge?
An emotional purge, in its simplest form, it a trapped emotion that never had its day. It got stuffed; compartmentalized; shelved. In a moment of too much vulnerability (especially as children) instead of feeling it (which allows it to release) we deflected and rerouted it elsewhere in the body, then subconsciously created defense systems to keep us from having to feel that pain.
My guess is that this seems familiar, as many societies have basically trained us not to feel our feelings. It’s not always as obtuse as the “boys don’t cry” archaism that’s finally losing steam (my son thanks you, progressive men!) But it’s still in subtleties like the bandaid of “don’t cry, you don’t need to be sad” stunting of the natural process of crying and feeling the emotions. Even more insidious is the snarky invalidation of children “you’re life is soooo hard.”
Bring it into adulthood – women still get turned down for work for being considered “too emotional” (for crying – yet flying off the handle out of anger seems somehow more acceptable?) My point is, our society does not leave a lot of room for the feeling of feelings, and there are consequences to those feelings building in the body slowly over time.
Purging is natural, Medicine or not. We sweat, poop, breathe deep – our body tries to expel what it doesn’t want, including emotions. When these emotional pent-up bubbles get really big, they start looking for a catalyst out (alcohol is a fun one – I’m sure you’ve never seen a good old fashioned drunk emotional purge.) Of course, those come along with a complete loss of control and often embarrassing aftermath, plus only the amount of clarity that the person is willing to recognize (true always.)
Spiritual Development Track
People on a spiritual development track (even without plant Medicine) will already put a bit of acceleration on the body’s purging process by intent alone, plus the ability to recognize what’s going on, release the defenses and allow it to move more quickly. Add Ayahuasca “la Purga” Medicine to the mix, we are all systems go to crazy-purge-town and we need to know what we’re signing up for.
In addition to trapped emotional bubbles, there are larger structures in the psyche that can purge as well (but tend to take much longer). These are belief systems and constructs, handed down by our family or society, or something we just developed on our own to keep us safe from feeling those trapped emotions we stuffed in. “There aren’t enough spiritual men in the world, which is why no one wants me” can be a protective belief system for the deeper core belief of “I’m not good enough, and if I put myself out there and prove that it’s true, everyone will know and no one will one to be with me.” Deep shit, I know.
Belief systems are generally sitting atop of deep wounds, fears, or trapped emotions (unless they’re just society hand-me-downs, which can be just as hard to spot.) The purging process can release what’s underneath them, taking away the blindspot veil/filter that we didn’t know we were looking right through, beginning to bring the false belief into clarity. Once you can start to see it, recognize that it’s false (even though part of you may still believe it) it’s well on it’s way to moving out.
Core beliefs are those at the very bottom of the root system of the psyche – the one that always seems to chase until it’s finally healed. For most people, it’s some version of not good enough, not enough, not deserving, not worthy, not supposed to be here, etc. Most of our ego defense and belief systems have been built around protecting us from these core beliefs, because who can walk around actually feeling the depths of that all the time? Our survival instinct kicks in so we can go on with our day.
Ayahuasca Emotional Purging
So back to Ayahuasca Ceremony, where instead of keeping these things safely at bay in the body like we always have, we dive headfirst into the places that we don’t want to go the most – because that’s where the healing is. Please note – don’t be stupid. If you’re dealing with extreme traumas or circumstances, please make sure you’re in a setting with proper therapeutic support, especially if the nature of what you’re releasing is severe. There’s no reason to re-traumatize yourself in an uncontrolled way. Make sure you’ve set up proper preparation and integration support (sometimes with professional therapists in the Medicine, etc) depending on the circumstances.
So we dive into the space. We vomit and sweat and cry during ceremony. We swear we’re never doing this again. Then we feel like a thousand pounds has been lifted out of our bodies the next day, and we prepare for the next ceremony.
We come home. We’re done. It’s all gone! It really was 10 years of therapy! Amazing!
Then, aftercare and integration period begins, as does often more purging.
Purging at Home
Wait, MORE PURGING?
Sorry to tell ya, at least speaking for myself, there was SO MUCH SHIT IN MY BODY. Like, SO FUCKING MUCH. Granted, I was a “stuffer” to cope (food, alcohol, drugs, sex – which is conducive to more trapped emotions) but still – I was only 27 when I started in the Medicine and it took hundreds of ceremonies to release this sort of “back purge”.
At the same time, I was doing it the hard and fast, ego-y arrogant way, which was making it harder on myself and likely take longer. So try not to do that and you’ll save yourself some time. Quit battling the ego and make friends with it as a protector, just reassign it’s duties a bit;) The entire experience can be changed by actually loving yourself through the process.
Here are a couple of red flags to watch out for to see if you’re emotional purging. And PS – this isn’t only once you get home. You’ve opened the process now and accelerated it, so this can happen whenever (generally in waves, sometimes with catalysts, sometimes for no reason.)
Am I Purging? Red Flags to Look Out For
1. Random Emotional Wreck
It’s like I came back from Ceremony and all was great! And then…bam. Ask yourself why you went to Ayahuasca in the first place. What were you trying to release? Is this current emotion in the way? Really feel it and see what the nature of it, and see if there are layers. How does it tie back in to your intentions in the Medicine? Many common emotions that purge are fear, anger (either can present as anxiety) sadness, overwhelm (either can present as depression), guilt, shame (general core belief of not good enough/deserving/etc) and many more. Look at the big picture of it and ask for help if needed.
2. Confusion and Chaos
Purging is literally the opposite of clarity. It’s almost always confusing and chaotic by nature, until you know what you’re looking at. If things get grey and crazy, red flag – you’re probably purging. Wait for clarity, it will come. Just wait, and keep paying attention. Ask for help if needed.
3. Triggers and Catalysts
The “Divine Set-Up” is a notorious part of purging. I don’t know whether we attract it energetically (that’s my working theory) but somehow, some way, inevitably, some perfect storm shows up as a catalyst to trigger the LIVING SHIT out of our purge to make it move. And because now we’ve got intention and Medicine on it, we’re going to handle it differently this time (right?) Often the catalyst is the only type of person that would be able to trigger it up (high school boy purge anyone? I’ve seen that so many times on so many people.) But fuck, get that shit out of the body. No one wants to walk around with teen angst they can’t even access on a regular day (and even in meditation or ceremony, it’s not like you can just think about teen angst and feel it – we’re adults. We need a physical, real-world trigger!) So don’t be surprised if this happens; see it for what it is and be grateful.
4. Sometimes It’s Still Physical
While less common, some people have more physical tendencies in releasing energetic emotions – aka: they get sick. A cold, flu; maybe caught from outside, maybe from within. Either way, it weakens the emotional defenses and let’s you access areas that you normally can’t, so it sometimes correlates with a purge. Or worst case scenario (if you just caught a bug from the outside) you might as well take advantage and release some shit along with it. But physical symptoms are not uncommon. See if you can get an intuitive read on it.
5. Did You Just Ask for Something?
Did you recently set a new intention, or ask for a level jump? Often whatever is in the way will start to be pushed out of your body as soon as you do that. So don’t be confused if you feel like your tendencies are working against you. If you declare you want to align with better eating habits and health, then fall into a tailspin of sugar addiction, maybe that energy is in your way. Maybe you need to REALLY SEE how serious sugar addiction is (this was mine). Maybe you need to hit a low spike to break through the fog as to what you’re actually dealing with. So note, if you just made a declaration to yourself or the Universe, good. This shit is in your way and is being moved out. To be safe, next time you declare, tell a friend. Forgetting is easier than remembering.
6. Purge or Process?
When it comes to stages of purging, there’s often sort of a “volcano purge” for a day or two at the beginning, where the person purging may be completely irrational and listen to no reason whatsoever. If I’m supporting a friend during a volcano purge (similar to a vent in everyday life) we don’t dig, we don’t process, I sit with them while they feel the feelings, and gently remind them that they’re probably still purging. If they snap back, I just hold space. Don’t try to process or talk through the volcano leg of the purge – it’s pointless and counter-intuitive, as the energies are literally being released. Once that period ends, usually the friend will come back for more discussion/processing/digging. So if you have a purging friend, read the room. Don’t push processing on them until they’re ready. Or you could set up a communication dynamic where you just ask: purge or process?
7. Extra-Sensitive to Energy
Whether your naturally empathic or not, being more sensitive to energy happens both in ceremony and while purging, and can be a sign of what is happening. Often the general defense systems need to be weakened (I’ll get a perfect storm of PMS, stress, sometimes a cold and a catalyst all at the same time). If you notice an energetic sensitivity, be mindful and act accordingly. Some tools that help me are water on the skin (specifically over the face, head, arms and chest – like in ceremony), tobacco, sage, palo santo, grounding foods like root veggies and meats, epsom salt baths, 432 hz meditation music, and a lot of rest and self-care.)
Rules of Thumb for Ayahuasca Emotional Purging
And here are a couple of emotional purging rules of thumb (obviously there’s no purging police, and nothing happens if you don’t follow these. Just suggestions to mull over…)
RULE #1: No Sudden Moves While Purging
Seriously, this is where you can wreck shit. Wait until you have real clarity. In general, no sudden moves until a least a couple weeks out from ceremony. Not the time to divorce your partner, quit your job, run away to an island. Sit on it for at least a month. Look underneath the why you want to do those things, and consider a CLEAR, loving exit strategy that’s in integrity if you still want to proceed. Relationships can be destroyed by unmindful rash decisions. If you don’t trust yourself enough to make the decision once you’re clear, then start focusing on that for awhile. (Note – this does not apply to building courage to leave abusive relationships. For those, what you need to do.)
RULE #2: Purging is Not an Excuse to Be an Ass
I’ve done this more times than I can count, and none of those times were fair. Whether it was someone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or an actual human catalyst that triggered the living shit out of me – still doesn’t mean they deserve the years of pent-up energy vomited all over them. This is my process to deal with on my own. Retreat if needed until emotions are out, then resume communication. Other people’s feelings still count, even though this shit can be hella intense and they likely won’t understand. Still, compassion.
RULE #3: Pay Attention to What’s “Up” for Healing
Why did you go to ceremony in the first place? Are the emotions coming of your body potentially something that was in the way of you reaching your initial intention? Dig under the feelings – keep asking the feelings what they’re afraid of until you gain some insight. Sometimes you have more clarity during a purge than other times. Sometimes you just have to let the volcano part of the purge complete, then in the aftermath you’ll have clarity.
RULE #4: If You Think You Might Be Purging, You Probably Are
Our intuitions are better than we give them credit for. At the very least, you can get some good work out of whatever is happening and release things in the process, so it can become a purge. But usually, once you get to know your body’s purging tendencies it will be easier to spot in the future. Err on the side of assuming you’re purging. It helps you get growth gains either way.
RULE #5: Ask For Help From Someone Who Can Spot a Purge
Have some real-life or online friends around who know specifically what Ayahuasca emotional purging looks like, and can give you an outside set of eyes. Having someone else look at it and have it framed appropriately is half the battle. Jump in our private Facebook group if you want some help in there.
RULE #6: Recognizing You’re Purging is Half the Battle
Seriously, the nature of purging is chaotic confusion. It’s the polar opposite of clarity. That, in itself, is a sign. Once you see that this is not just some shit happening to you (or that you’re doing it to yourself) the framing creates an empowered state where you can shift to gratitude for getting this shit out of your body! As Shrek likes to say, better out than in! No truer words have been spoken.
RULE #7: Self-Care All Damn Day
Whatever this means for you. Eating better makes me feel better. Drinking with friends helps me too (as long as it’s not an avoidance mechanism) – I’m not a new ager and I’m not judging. Reconnecting with people for a minute. Just be mindful of what is actually supportive for you, but try not to stunt the purging process. If you need it less intense, ask your body and the Medicine to slow it down a bit. Do what you need to do. Just let it finish.
RULE #8: Don’t Be Afraid to Feel the Damn Feelings
After years of defending, your mechanisms may try to present again to protect you from feeling this pain and discomfort. Remember, that’s why it build up to the point of needing to purge in the first place. All you have to do it sit and feel that feelings. That’s it. THEY WILL PASS. Like I mentioned earlier, if these are too intense or extreme, seek professional support or at least a friend to sit with you through them. If you don’t feel them, they won’t come out. They are just feelings. It is just discomfort. That’s it. Stay focused on the simple and try not to let the thoughts born from the purge overtake you.
RULE #9: Anger Tends to Burn in a Slow Drip
This is to avoid the potential murder charges you may be facing if you purge all the pent-up anger at once. I literally had a four month anger purge in Peru so bad that Luco (the shaman) was calling me Senora Rabiosa (Mrs Angry – which of course pissed me off even more.) It didn’t show up as violent rage though – just general irritation for no apparent reason – like I was PMS’ing every day for four months. A blast, I know. But that shit’s real, and I’m very glad it did the slow drip. Many of us have a lot of anger under there, so be mindful as to what you’re dealing with.
RULE #10: Be Mindful of Victim/Martyr Ego Defense Presenting
This happens often when someone is purging, but it’s not moving in it’s natural wave cycle – it’s more like a fine line between actual purging and sort of “stewing in your own shit” out of victim/martyr ego defense or self-punishment (aka: wallowing out of self-pity to keep yourself stuck.) This is counter-intuitive, and feeding the defense system. It is not loving, and it slows you down (whether part of you believes you “deserve it” or not.)
I’m serious about the loving yourself thing – if you can’t get there, run on a leap of faith that what I’m telling you is true and that shit is a FALSE BELIEF. Just assume that it’s false belief and approach accordingly, because otherwise you’ll never work through to the other side to see that it really is. Don’t use Ayahuasca or spiritual growth as tool to beat yourself up further. That’s a bunch of bullshit and your higher self knows it. And I love you. 🙂
RULE #11: Don’t Blame the Catalyst (Justified or Not)
Oooh this is the toughest one. Even if, after all is set and done in your clarity, you are right and the catalyst is clearly wrong, your purge is still your responsibility. That catalyst is not responsible for all the years it took to create that massive emotional bubble, even if you’re justifiably angry for present reasons. But a purge is the past. So be grateful for the opportunity to get this shit out (often there’s no other realistic way) and make a clear-minded choice how to (and whether to) interact with them going forward. It’s easy to derail a beautiful purge in justified blame. Hace cuidado.
RULE #12: Forgetting is Easier than Remembering
This is true for all spiritual work, but especially in the Ayahuasca Medicine. We learn such deep shit about ourselves and the Universe that our collective consciousness of society doesn’t really have much space for yet, and it often falls through the cracks. Set up your foundation so you have people to talk to, fail-safes in place, a journal, whatever, so you don’t forget what’s going on. Sometimes, something purges and it disappears so far out of your body you don’t even realize it went until you see it in someone else (real talk.) Figure out systems for yourself to remember what’s going on, even if not everyone understands.
This is What You Said You Wanted
Remember, purging is a good thing. It’s the reason you came into the Ayahuasca Medicine to begin with. It’s much worse to walk around with all that shit than it is to get it out.
I remember during a particularly hard ceremony (several hundred in) I had experienced a particularly rough period in the US and knew I had a lot up for purging. When I got in to ceremony I was ready to go, then began purging oldschool (like I was new in the Medicine.) After writhing around in discomfort for awhile, I heard my higher self say – isn’t this what you said you wanted? Immediately I snapped out of the victim space and remembered – hell yeah it is. Once my internal stance shifted to more of a ‘let’s do this/bring it’ approach, all of a sudden the experience changed completely. I was still purging, but I was able to explore and do other things in ceremony instead of just stewing in my own shit.
The internal approach changes everything. Be loving and gentle, as this work requires enough personal badassery without adding undo extra to the table. You want it to actually work, so set yourself up for your best chance.
This isn’t the Medicine “doing this to you”. It’s you making a choice to get rid of the shit that isn’t really you, and the Medicine is the vehicle you chose. Work with it, as well as with all the aspects inside of yourself that are likely just trying to protect you. Just imagine for a split second what it would feel like once this is out of your body? Eye on the prize guys. Get your team aligned, and move forth. And let’s get this shit done.
Because, we’ve got shit to do in this lifetime:) Big love to everyone on this wild, amazing, deeply important path!
~ Meghan Shannon Elder (@beyond_meghan)
Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Specialist at Beyond the Ceremony
Accelerated Spiritual Development Coach at Beyond the Whirlwind
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