The #1 question I get asked about ayahuasca

“Do you throw up?” The answer is yes (sometimes) and it's actually pretty great. Here's why. Also: my Misguided Meditation live show, color palettes, Bukowski, the Velvet Underground, and more.

📰 This is the Rubesletter from Matt Ruby (comedianwriter, and the creator of Vooza). Sign up to get it in your inbox weekly.


The #1 question I get asked about doing ayahuasca: “So do you really throw up?” And the answer is yes, sometimes you do. (Personally, I’ve thrown up around half of the dozen or so times I’ve done it.) “Oh, I could never do it then,” reply some, grossed out by the idea. And I get that. I’m no fan of vomiting either (who is?). But I wouldn’t let that stop you from considering doing ayahuasca. In fact, it can be an integral part of the process.

Some background: Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic tea that comes from the Amazon.

The word “Ayahuasca” refers to a medicinal brew with the main ingredient being the ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi). The vine is cooked, usually in combination with at least one other admixture plant, to produce a brown liquid that is consumed in healing ceremonies led by Amazon healers, called ayahuasqueros.

I wrote about my first experience with it at length here and explained how it was the most significant spiritual experience of my life. Once we get psilocybin and MDMA over the finish line as approved therapeutic treatments, I’m convinced ayahuasca will be next in the psychedelics-go-mainstream pipeline that’s gaining speed thanks to mainstream advocates like Michael Pollan and Tim Ferriss.

Meet the bucket

Let’s go back to the vomiting though. (I know, it’s unpleasant, but stick with me.) First off, it’s not that big of a deal. For me, it’s always been just a small fraction of the ceremony. When it happens, it’s akin to a baby throwing up. It comes up (everyone gets a bucket to use just in case), then you’re over it, and you can move on.

I once mentioned this to a nurse and her response stuck with me: She said, “Any time your body gets rid of something, it’s a good thing.” Your body doesn’t eject things it needs, it only gets rid of what it needs to let go.

That connected with me because when I’ve vomited during ceremonies, it’s been directly tied to a thought, typically something I need to let go from my mind. It’s as if the plant medicine is teaching me a lesson in purging: This is how you process pain, traumatic memories, and assorted internal tempests. You have to acknowledge them, look them in the “eye,” and then let them go. That process can be unpleasant, but afterwards you feel so much lighter.

The word “prosecutor”

For example, during my first time under the influence, I began to think about my father, my childhood, who I’ve become, and how I behave in relationships. I realized I’d been way too judgmental with the women I’ve dated. See, my instinct was always to notice any little flaw and file it away. I’d been like Jerry on Seinfeld with his constant stream of iffy issues with girlfriends (e.g. she’s got man-hands, she really likes that Dockers commercial, etc.). By the end of the series, it’s clear the real problem lies with Jerry. When you’re constantly thinking like a hammer, all you see is nails.

Then, something occurred to me I’d never thought about before: That mindset came largely from my father. He was a prosecutor who was always finding faults, collecting evidence, and building cases. It was his job and he brought that way of thinking home with him. And fathers have a way of handing their mazes down to their sons.

Justice is obviously a great thing, but what works in a court of law frequently fails in the court of the heart. There is no justice in relationships. Even when you “win” a fight with your partner, you wind up losing. Love is a den of thieves who must constantly forgive each other for their thefts. Memories of past relationships flooded my brain. I considered how often I judged when I should have just listened. I was a prosecutor when I should have been a witness.

And as the word “prosecutor” hit my brain, I felt a surge of vomit rise up and I erupted like a volcano. I heaved into my bucket, my brain and body combining to evict every last drop. Finally, I had nothing left to give.

And I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. A word made me vomit!? That’s a helluva exclamation point. It felt like a plant highlighter: If you remember nothing else from tonight, remember this.

The purpose

I now consider the vomiting to be purposeful. My theory: It shows you how to deal with troubling thoughts; our minds need to purge toxic memories/narratives too. Whatever it is, stare it in the eyes and then let it go. You don’t have to hold onto it. That’s what I wrote in my notebook (I always keep one by my side during ceremonies): Let it go. And then I wrote it over and over again. Let it go. Let it go. Let. It. Go.

It felt like a revelation about repression too. I was eyeballing the intersection of trauma, time, and the stories we tell ourselves in a way I never had before. Bad things may have happened, but that doesn’t mean they are happening now. Repressing the past requires too much effort: Every day you have to remember to forget. It’s exhausting. More words I downloaded from my brain into my notebook that night:

What happened to you doesn’t matter. It’s just another story you tell yourself. Now is now. Learn to tell a different story. Move on and don’t be imprisoned by your past.

I ask the Peruvian shaman who guided the ceremony about this notion afterwards. He replied, “The past is for learning, not living in. You drive a car by looking ahead, not looking behind you. Otherwise, you will crash.”

During another ceremony, I thought of my deceased grandmother. We had a tense relationship and I always felt distant from her. While under the influence, I contemplated the origins of that tension and realized I needed to forgive her. I whispered to myself “I forgive you, Grandma.” As I said those words, the vomit rose up. I evacuated it along with the resentment I had felt towards her since childhood. I didn’t even realize I’d been carrying that feeling around somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

The next day, I called my sister and learned a bunch about the early years of my grandmother’s life and the notable challenges she faced. I had never considered any of that when I was younger. Instead, I was an adult holding onto a child’s feelings of discomfort. She now holds a different place in my memory.

A healthy eviction

That’s why I prefer the word purging to describe this process. It’s about evicting ideas, feelings, and/or past traumas. You’re letting go of the past so you can create the future. After all, you’ve got to erase the blackboard before you can write a new message on it.

It also revealed to me the chasm between processing painful memories versus merely repressing them. In order to let things go, you have to confront them. Avoiding something isn’t actually dealing with it – and pushing it down isn’t getting rid of it. Those approaches may provide short-term relief, but they also let things fester until they inevitably come out in some other toxic way. Sure, purging is unpleasant, but it’s nothing compared to the pain that results from holding onto something your body no longer wants inside it.

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NYC: Misguided Meditation live show

Wondering why I’ve been writing so much about mindfulness and psychedelics lately? It’s all leading up to my new show that I’ll be performing in November:

Misguided Meditation with Matt Ruby will take place in NYC on 11/11. Things are about to get twisted.

Misguided Meditation is a comedy show about the mindfulness journey – including meditation, therapy, and psychedelics – of comedian Matt Ruby. Along the way, Matt offers some hard-earned wisdom, discusses zen concepts, and cracks jokes about his own failures/successes on the path to wellness. Musician/artist Steve Pestana provides musical accompaniment.

Tickets available now. Limited seating so act fast. And since you’re a Rubesletter subscriber, here’s a coupon code that gets ya $5 off: breathe (If you’re not in NYC but know someone here who might enjoy, please tell them about it.)

Tickets/info for Misguided Meditation

Related: I feel this is how timing for show announcements should go. A month in advance is plenty of time. It gives me agita that I keep getting alerts about tickets on sale for events in summer 2022. I fear I'm gonna be bringing my gf to see "Schitt's Creek Live!" next summer as we're in the middle of a Civil War, surviving whatever climate change nightmare's on deck, and 1/3 of the cast has been cancelled for sending offensive emails.


Quickies

🌀 I used to backpack and noticed Canadian backpackers always had a Canadian flag prominently displayed on their backpacks. I thought they were just very patriotic. It took me years of traveling to realize the truth: They just didn't want people thinking they were Americans.

🌀 This whole the diners go maskless while the servers wear masks is very Korean movie nominated for an Oscar.

🌀 F*ck Freud. I’m forever Jung.

🌀 If I was a therapist, I'd constantly be prescribing exercise. And then my patients would quit.

🌀 "If you're an expert in nothing, it makes sense that you don't trust experts since the mere concept of expertise is foreign to you."
-Some expert probably

🌀 Whenever I walk around the West Village, dudes inevitably go, “I’ve got coke and weed.” To which I reply, “I’m happy for you.”

🌀 Life hack: You can order an espresso and a martini. No need to combine them into some unrecognizable goop.

🌀 Re: freaks, my mom took psychedelics, meditated, and ate organic food when I was growing up. Everyone in the suburbs thought she was a freak. Turns out she was just 30 years ahead of her time. I think about that every time I hear someone getting called a freak.

🌀 Good rule of thumb: Mo' money, mo' unfunny.

🌀 “I’d love to just keep that private and handle it the right way with my team."
-Kyrie Irving, a man who "wants to be a voice for the voiceless"

🌀 "Latchkey kids" sounds so dramatic – we were just DIY indie rock but for childhood.

🌀 Ladies and gentlemen, your pandemic color palette winner is...CBDPodPastel!


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5-spotted

1) 95 Charles Bukowski quotes. Cole Schafer, who collected them, writes, “I can’t think of a better craftsman of the single sentence than Bukowski.” I once saw this quote as graffiti on a bathroom stall in a hostel in Europe…

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.

…and 20yo me thought it was the most brilliant thing ever. (And I still think it’s pretty good.) Never knew it was Bukowski until now though. The words of the prophets…

2) Murtaza Hussain, who covers Central Asian affairs for The Intercept, on why memorials matter and the binding power of shared myths/stories.

That’s also why I think it’s important to honour episodes of national history like that memorialized at the cenotaph. It’s the right thing to do on a human level on behalf of those who dedicated or sacrificed their lives (imperfect people, perhaps, but who in the world isn’t?) to establish and preserve the countries that now exist. People need to be bound together by shared myths and stories and no society will survive long without that. Honouring and respecting the good aspects of the past is also a means of smoothing over the socio-political dislocations of globalization, by way ensuring that it preserves what is of value from the existing culture rather than effacing it. No one on earth likes to sense that their identity and culture is fading away. It’s something like the death of the self. Yet this unnerving feeling is experienced by almost everyone today, including people who have left their homes due to economic or political necessity and become immigrant to the West. We should be empathetic and thoughtful about the type of society in which we’d like to live in, and avoid, on all sides, the revolutionary tendency towards blowing everything up and declaring Year Zero. Year Zero also sounds like it would jam-packed with futility as well.

3) Jay Acunzo rants about commodified experts (those who insist on mentioning it in social media bios, on biz cards, etc.).

Commodified experts love to offer prescriptions, quick fixes, and hacks or secrets. The tips and tricks and ultimate guides. The five ways to write a headline guaranteed to generate more clicks. That kinda thing. It's overpromised bullshittery…

What if we stopped acting like experts and started acting like investigators? THAT is the biggest change we can make.

It changes our posture, how we carry ourselves. It changes how we see the world and the work and, in doing so, elevates it.

Experts are everywhere. We ought to become visionaries. Rather than obsess over the right answer, we can ask the right questions. Then, we can launch an investigation.

I like that framing because labels like expert/genius/artist always irk me. Just takes us along on your hunt and let us decide what to label you. Alas, social media incentivizes just the opposite.

4) Music critic Steven Hyden on the new VU doc and how it was different when you had to actually seek out music instead of just click a button.

The Velvet Underground for years was a band you had work hard to seek out. The same is true for the downtown New York that The Velvet Underground & Nico vividly mirrors and romanticizes. In the film, we see how small this world was in the ’60s, with numerous movers and shakers living together in small but cheap quarters as they collectively dreamed up a new future. Haynes’ point is that you couldn’t just access this world from the comfort of your phone or laptop. You had to be brave enough, and canny enough, to find it and see it and smell it and touch it…[Streaming music] is a wonderful convenience, and one I would have killed for at the time that discovered the Velvets. But it also robs this alluringly enigmatic band of their mystery. On Spotify, they really are just another great ’60s rock outfit. Music this exciting and adventurous should require a little more excitement and adventure on the part of the listener to hear it.

Related: I discussed music life before smartphones/streaming here.

5) Last week’s Rubesletter on “heading towards the light” got a bunch of thoughtful feedback, including one reader who sent along this related quote from author/social justice activist L.R. Knost on life.

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living a heartbreaking, soul healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Here’s to an amazing/awful/ordinary life! After all, it’s your unavoidable destiny.

-Matt

P.S. A question: Would you prefer it or dislike it if I spin off these “5-spotted” quotes (above) that typically end the Rubesletter into its own newsletter? Hit reply or leave a comment if you’ve got thoughts.


The end stuff

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About the Rubesletter: Weekly musings from a standup comedian and startup veteran. If you like my comedy or writing, if you dig tech, politics, art, wellness, & pop culture, if you enjoy smart/nuanced takes & hate BS, if you’d like me to turn you on to other people making cool stuff, then subscribe.

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My latest standup special is free on YouTube. And you can stream my standup albums “Feels Like Matt Ruby” and “Hot Flashes” too.