How Much is an Ayahuasca Retreat?
The pricing of Ayahuasca retreats has been a topic of great controversy in the medicine world. The vast ray of responses have created much debate on this issue.
Should Ayahuasca be free?
It starts from the beginning that Ayahuasca should be free and that it is a gift that should not be tainted by the influence of money. This blended with the notions that arrived from a kind of hippy influence, that stated that I have no money or little, I cannot afford it so it should be free or close to that figure. And in a perfect world free is always preferable option.
Let's look into where it comes from: the Jungle
But lets get back to the jungle where its free, well first you have to go into the jungle find a vine and chop up some 12 kilos and some chacruna and cook it for three days to get a liter of medicine.
That seems simple enough now, so it seems very easy as we did in many of our colonial enterprises of the past to purchase this product for a cheap cost because the average jungle tribal person does not have a great need of money. We westerners are very well aware that their lifestyle needs fall way below our western costs.
So a tribal person takes the medicine and serves it to his community for money or trade, simple.
Medicine reaches the West
So this one litre of medicine is not available in his part of the world and does not seem to be easily acquired. Coupled with this it is not so easy nor safe to take Ayahuasca as the other psychedelic compounds that West has been use too. Therefore a guide or shaman is required to ensure some degree of duty of care as we put it or to navigate the spirit world.
But let's get in the shoes of Person X doing his research on this topic so we stay away from generic conclusions...
Person X story
Research and confusion begins
"I began to see retreats that were catered by various centers around the world. Of course my first concern was for a retreat with an authentic Shaman one that would tick all the right boxes.
However, I was a little concerned about the boxes... You see my tradition of the Christian church for thousands of years had provided boxes to be ticked but lately all the boxes had faults with them. Who can I trust?
It seems that shamanic world applied the same kind of lucky dip the church had used, personal recommendations of what they thought was good. A little bit subjective I thought, since I rarely got recommended a good coffee using this method.
Considerably more complex than I thought, evaluating my options
How much an ayahuasca retreat should cost began to be a bit more research than I anticipated.
The Ayahuasca forums on Facebook that I joined seemed to flame many of the issues that I looked at. One of the major complaints was the cost of a ceremony by comparing what ayahuasca could be purchased from in South America.
I understood that I could get a shot of Ayahuasca in the jungle for $50 dollars but that did not include a huge range of things, that as a westerner I was used too.
I could go to the Santo Daime church and experience it for next to nothing but really I did not want to take ayahuasca in a neon lit room with a Christian tinge to the ceremony, I guess I wanted something more authentic, or what I perceived as authentic.
And then you have centers like Rythmia, costing 5000$ known as celebrity hangout places...
Wait a minute: how do I verify who is an authentic Shaman?
At this stage my research took a turn, how could I verify who or who was not an authentic Shaman?
Everyone's website celebrated the qualities and authenticity of the shaman.
If I was highly suggestible I would have found one and convinced myself this was the best and self promoted to my friends that I was going to the best.
And what should be included in an Ayahuasca retreat?
Ok this still did not clarify how much a retreat should cost, well it did not also qualify what I wanted from a retreat. Many of the retreats I saw advertised had not only ayahuasca but bufo alvarius, changa, yopo, kambo, mushrooms, flower baths, dietas etc...
It was a bit like a tour of psychedelic Disneyland , I wanted to grow as a being not just to have an exciting psychedelic experience. This I regarded as a bit infantile for my stage in life.
What level of comfort to go for?
To be frank I was looking for some kind of western comfort... Especially if I was going to have an intense inner journey I would like to sleep not just on a yoga mat and be eaten by Amazonian insects. This also varied greatly in price I must say.
Trying to conclude...
Ok I want western comfort to a degree but an authentic healing ceremony, that caters for my western interest in personal and spiritual development.
I wanted to walk away with a spiritual not necessarily religious experience and I would like to get some of my personal weaknesses addressed.
I would also like to rub shoulders with others that were in a similar boat, and not just psychonauts or hippies, I was looking for a group with real life experience and bigger questions.
I looked at yoga retreats as well and found that they were of similar prices as Ayahuasca ones. It would seem that it was a personalized costing that catered for western needs that seemed to be the centre of gravity here.
Of course I could fly from Europe to get my free cup of Ayahuasca somewhere in south America but it seemed a bit chaotic. The investment in a flight seemed to mean I should stay for a bit as well.
I did not want to just arrive and experience a randomness, and my experience with a good coffee had proved this method not worthy of my time.
Ok I was going to spend a bit of money to satisfy my needs as a seeker and a westerner. To be honest I paid good money for restaurants, holidays and my own personal vices, so if I was to do something for my development and spiritual opening and healing it was an investment in self.
I looked for experience in not just an Ayahuasca field but a field of meditation, psychology, spiritual practices and personal and social development. For someone who could answer my questions that applied to the complexity of my society and way of life.
As I researched further, it was clear to see that some were trying to fit in too many different "psychedelics" for the time allocated in a retreat. Whilst this appeared to my value for money mind, it was critiqued by my: I would much rather have quality than quantity
Out of the 75 or so tribes that once used ayahuasca there were only a few that seemed to be actively promoted in the web or Western world. Tribes I discovered online were only shipibo, huni or columbian taitas…. As they had the most marketable styles, the feathers the outfits, the customs that do appeal to us westerners greatly
Male business principles - exploitation of the Ayahuasca field?
I read and found that many sites provide the same style of recommendation and accreditation format. I also noticed that many were run by people who recognized it as a lucrative business. This style caused the most criticism on the net as there was a kind of helping tribal people and exploiting them at the same time.
In much the way as the cult of yoga spread across the world, the cult of ayahuasca was doing the same. The original yoga teacher trainings were 9 months only to get your credentials, now it is 2 weeks.
I also began to read between the lines, many of the sites where run by male business principles that did not nurture the feminine. Many of the retreat centers were simply run by "talented" business men that had very little to do with the medicine field.
Final decision... A dive into unknown
In the end I had to just take a dive into the unknown, I researched as best as I could and this helped greatly, but in the end I was going somewhere to have a something that I had no reference to what the experience would be like or any way of evaluating the credentials of someone who swims in the vastness of a field of eternity.
The rest was simple I just followed my level of comfort and practicality, like I was going on a holiday to India. I avoided the "political" conversations over which tribe or style is more pure or more traditional. The same way that I stay away from who’s god … Christ or Muhammad?
My first retreat
I experienced an amazing first ayahuasca ceremony and whilst I found it hard to orientate myself during the initial process I was grateful for experienced help and the care given.
I was also impressed by the responses to the diverse array of questions asked, and this proved to me that the evolution of a more practical and complex enquiry of life was what I wished to engage in. It also helped me to look at many issues that I had know about over the years and a few others as well that I did not.
I enjoyed the collective week of experiences with people and the sharing and revealing conversations that we engaged in. I was also surprised by the diversity of expression during the ceremonies, these of icaros to mantras and beautiful instruments and voices.
I also respected what a sense of presence was and how the ayahuasca chose its own moment when, what and how much to reveal, keeping in mind what mystery is all about.
Followed by a vast array of Ayahuasca experiences and vast array of pricings
In the end I traveled around South America and paid various amounts for an ayahuasca ceremony and I got varying degrees of satisfaction, some traditional servers of medicine, were good some bad, at the end who was I to evaluate.
Some places I stayed where 5 star retreat centers and they were great, but I chose those for western comfort and other interests. I looked into other retreats, dietas in particular and found varying prices for these as well. Ceremonies varied from $100US per one night ceremony to $5,000 for a 7 day retreat.
They both have their uses and the price is due really to our western needs and demands and to some extent more resources whether they be food, accommodation, popularity or spiritual or knowledge base.
Obviously watch out for the Ayahuasca "business men", and do trust your intuition not just the perfect sales pitches.
Look for organizers experience and knowledgeability in the field, as well as humility and real care. Mistakes can be made, but the gut feeling rarely lies.
Shamballa final recommendation
The conclusion is that price of the retreat varies according to the conditions you want.
The Ayahuasca as a raw product has a rather consistent price in South America. However price of ceremonies and retreats vary greatly.
First, per cost of accommodation style this varies, just look at variations on Airbnb.
The size of the facilitators, the amount of care and aftercare, level of integration etc varies greatly as well.
As for being catered for your healing or spiritual journey do your research.
If you want cheap Ayahuasca, buy a hammock / insect repellant and go to the jungle to drink. But you are faced with the question still, how to find a shaman. If you are not worried about a shaman as some shaman are really just facilitators, baby-sitting the drinker, then all is good.
If you want a proper shaman "spirit world dweller" then it’s going to be a trial and error search more than likely as the shaman needle in a hay stack has grown considerably over the recent years.
And in the end you are I hope going for a healing or spiritual change in your world and life, so clarify your investment in self first and treat yourself accordingly.
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