Welcome to Part 2 of our story on the Pachamama Sanctuary and Ayahuasca Retreat Center in New Hampshire. Read Part 1 here. Following is the interview with Pachamama’s Founder and Lead Pastor, Derek Januszewski with Head Magazine Editor and Publisher, Charlotte Parker where they talk about the Retreat Center and the Magic of Ayahuasca.
Charlotte Parker: Hi Derek. Thanks so much for joining us.
Derek Januszewski: Thank you for having me. I always like having a good conversation with good people.
Charlotte: Tell me a little about Ayahuasca. What it is, what it does?
Derek: Ayahuasca is a medicine, a plant medicine that they’ve been using down in the Amazon and most of South America for, best guess, somewhere between two and four thousand years. It’s a vine and a leaf. The vine stabilizes the active ingredients in a leaf. The leaf provides the visions. The spirit is in the vine and the Chacruna is where the high concentration of DMT is found.
In nature, it’s one of those plants that has a lot of it. DMT is in most living things. It just happens to be in a few different plants at a very high concentration. Ayahuasca is boiled together, and this has been passed down from generation to generation, mostly with no writing.
There are certain tribes, like the Yawanawa, Huni Kuin, and all these other tribes that go way, way back. They all have story and teaching. This has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.
They believe that this connects them with Grandmother Ayahuasca or a benevolent being which is a direct connection to God and I feel the same way. Creator, higher power, insert whatever your word is there. When I sit with Ayahuasca, I definitely feel something much, much bigger than myself.
Charlotte: What would be the reason for someone to do this, to take the Ayahuasca?
Derek: There’s a lot of different things and I’ll get to that in a second, but the first thing that you need to make sure is that you’re called to come. It’s not some cool thing that you saw on Netflix or the fad that’s going through Hollywood. You have to make sure that deep down in your heart you’re ready for this and you’re called. Anybody who’s called, I would say, would be a good candidate. I personally healed a lot of PTSD with this, which led to addiction. It led to depression, anxiety, insomnia.
Charlotte: Your PTSD led to that?
Derek: Yes. I had all those other things, but you could have– everybody’s different, so you might just feel depressed and you’re not really sure why, and you just need some insight. Maybe you’re pretty far along on your spiritual journey and there’s a little bit more, or you’re just enjoying the journey and you want to open it up in a new way, but it’s a serious decision. Anybody who comes to the medicine should definitely sit with it first and really know that you’re ready before you come.
Charlotte: How is it different from other psychedelic experiences like LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin, and so forth?
Derek: It’s significantly different than LSD because LSD puts a lot of visuals. That’s the star of the show and you go on a linear path for about eight to twelve hours. Psilocybin actually breaks down the DMT. That one’s a four to five-hour journey with the same molecule but, because of all the other compounds, it’s very unpredictable. You might cry it out. You might get some messages.
You might just, oh, look a tree, a bird. I want a color now, and you might just get this interactive experience. There’s no way really to know what you’re going to get with mushrooms, unless you take very high doses, like 20 grams, 30 grams, which I do not suggest. Mescaline and Peyote, I group them in together.
It has the most in common with this one because these can and have been utilized to go into the subconscious mind and learn about who we are and learn about our life for a long time here in America with the Peyote. The San Pedro is like a cousin. That Mescaline molecule does have a grandfather type of energy. These are longer and less intense journeys.
What makes Ayahuasca different is in the San Pedro and Peyote, you can sense that there is something there. In Ayahuasca, it is absolutely undeniable. It consumes you. There is definitely something there. As long as you have a journey, you are to some degree going to feel that connection.
The other thing too is that, like San Pedro, to some degree, Ayahuasca you can set an intention, and almost always, she will give you at least something towards that intention. If you want to work on a behavior pattern that you don’t like, or if you want to work on a relationship with somebody that’s been strained for a lot of years, or if you want to work on your physical situation and you want to figure out what to do about that, just ask, and you can find signposts in your journey along that path. If you try and do that with mushrooms or LSD, it’s just not going to happen with regularity.
Charlotte: Tell me about the Pachamama Sanctuary.
Derek: We started the Pachamama Sanctuary in February of 2019. I was asked to help organize a retreat because a friend of mine who had just gotten back from Peru, studying there, studying to cook, studying to serve. He was ready to serve and he wanted to come back and he wanted me to help him. I told him no like three or four times. I just wasn’t interested in that. Besides he lived in New York.
One thing led to another, he got me to do it and I thought it was a disaster inside me. We had five people, all sleeping on pushed together couch cushions with sheets, stretched over them, and whatever random couch pillow we could use. I left and my head was hanging and the two gentlemen that were connected to it, one with the location and one with the medicine said, “This was great, you’ve got to do it again.”
That’s how the second one happened. Then obviously they kept me on the hook for one more, one more, one more until eventually, it all clicked. I have done a lot of jobs in my life and I’m not a medicine man. I’m not a guru. I’m not a chef, although I do cook for the weekends. My background has built me for this. I received the compassion from my parents’ neglect.
I went to work in the marketing field for 17 years. I found ways to market with integrity that’s very, very minimal that works. It just seems like I make all the right decisions and I don’t know why.
I know why I’ve been through the fire of real estate and all these other things. God just put me here and had me do all this stuff to get here so that I was equipped to be able to do my job so other people can come and get help. Other people like medicine carriers can just do their job and not have to worry about the stuff that I do.
Charlotte: I know you have various different retreats at the sanctuary, but could you describe what a retreat would be like at the sanctuary? Could you take me through it?
Derek: Sure. We have retreats about three times a month so we’ll go three weeks on one week off. Sometimes we skip that pattern. Arrival time is between two and five o’clock. We ask that everybody gets there by five because we want some time for you to settle into the space, we’ll give you a smoke bath and make sure that you’re comfortable and you know your neighbors and all of that.
We start the introductions at six o’clock so everybody introduces themselves, we go over some do’s and don’ts, some ceremony conduct and house rules and stuff like that just so that we can have a wonderful weekend.
Then we start pouring medicine usually at about 8:00 to 8:30. There are some Colombian titeres that don’t like serving until like 11 or 12 at night so that they can play music until the sun comes up but for the most part, we start at eight o’clock. We have between six and ten helpers over the weekend to help everybody through their process, after the process there’s snacks and then breakfast in the morning.
Usually, with breakfast, we have everybody circle up and we do an integration. Integration is the key to this, it is more important than the medicine. Shamans will tell you, and I agree with them, if you don’t plan to integrate don’t drink the medicine and that means you have a plan, not “Oh, yes, I’m going to integrate.” This is the plan, I will be doing this for the next three months, this is my integration plan.
It’s vital because people will come and drink this medicine, have this opening, and then six months later it was just this thing that they did in the woods. After integration there’s a little free time and then we have lunch and then depending on who’s here we try and put together some workshops whether it be sound healing or yoga workshops or several others and then I lead a Shamanic breath work at six o’clock on Saturday.
We roll right into the ceremony after that and then snacks afterwards, breakfast in the morning and integration. After that we do make Kambo available. Kambo is the secretion from a tree frog that gets applied to the skin; it’s a purgative, helps with inflammation, it helps with bad luck, it helps with depression, it helps with pain and it boots all the garbage out of your body. It’s a wonderful medicine to sit with on Sunday and that’s our weekend, that’s what you can expect if you come.
Charlotte: You take the Ayahuasca twice on the first night and then again on the second night?
Derek: That’s correct.
Charlotte: How long does the experience last with the Ayahuasca?
Derek: In the medicine, I’ve had people have very profound journeys in ten minutes and they were super happy. I’ve had people go for ten hours. The normal where it’s going to fall in is between three and six hours usually around four or five.
Charlotte: You or other people are there to help the people through it. How many people generally are there at a weekend that are part of the group?
Derek: In the winter we’ve been doing 25 people and so we have ten people on the team and everybody has their own mat and everything like that. We want to keep it intimate enough but also have enough people for you to connect with. If we had a circle of three people it’s unlikely that there would be two military vets in that circle so 25 plus the eight to ten on the team.
Charlotte: Approximately 25 people taking the Ayahuasca and then other people facilitating?
Derek: Right. Some of the people that are helping also drink Ayahuasca in the ceremony, it helps us tap into the energy
Charlotte: Do people have physical responses to it or is it generally just an internal response that you witness?
Derek: It’s all over the board really. Definitely I would expect some heavy body, some vibration, and stuff like that. Some people need to get up and do yoga – I do, I need to get up and do yoga in the middle of the ceremony. It definitely affects your body. There’s pretty colors in all of that too but those two things are distractions and you need to dive into what’s going on in your mind rather than what you’re seeing with your visions and the fear that you might have because your body feels weird.
Charlotte: We’re going to talk about the profound things that you’ve seen. Have you seen profound changes in people?
Derek: Definitely. It really helps change people in a big way and there are three reasons for that. Number one, the DMT gets released. Theoretically, DMT gets released when you die so it’s like tricking your mind into thinking that you’re dying. When you come back with so much gratitude that you can do it all over again tomorrow – that’s part of it. Two, It helps us change behavior patterns because we see how that affects other people.
The third and the most unusual one is it changes little micro-decisions that we don’t even notice, we don’t even see them. That ends up changing things in our lives that we needed to change anyway, stuff like not hanging around with this particular friend anymore or moving on to a different type of career or maybe taking a class that they had been putting off for a long time. It’s really, really interesting and I hate to focus on the things that are apparently bad but they’re really good for these people they’ll end up leaving their job or leaving their spouse.
Their job will fire them or their spouse and then it will just blow up but either case, the medicine removes things from your life that aren’t for you anymore with or without your will. I thought it was a coincidence in the beginning, but I’ve seen this happen so many times. Somebody will come and say, “I really want to work things out with my wife.” Then they come here, he’s doing really good with the conversation, and then all of a sudden he goes “something’s not right,” does a little snooping, which he never would’ve done had he not come, and now they’re getting a divorce.
Charlotte: The intention could be of more than one thing I assume because you can have other things that are more general in your life. Maybe your direction or things that maybe you’re not doing that are optimally healthy for you.
Is there such a thing as – could you have a bad trip? One wouldn’t want that but is that a possibility?
Derek: I don’t believe in bad trips I think that they are made up and this is my take on them. Some people took some mushrooms or some LSD wanting to have a happy time and what happened? They went out into public or they looked at their bank statement or something it got ahold of them, then they have this lesson that the medicine and that molecule wants to teach them.
They spend the next six or seven hours resisting it. Is it uncomfortable? Yes, but you can’t resist when a psychedelic wants to show you something, you can but it’s just going to make it more painful and go slower. I firmly believe that this medicine puts pressure on our most important weak point and if it doesn’t break it loose applies more pressure, and applies more pressure because sooner or later if you sit with this medicine enough eventually it will win. The medicine will shift that thing that she has been putting pressure on.
Charlotte: Tell me about age. What about seniors and what about young people? I assume you could be too young, you can’t be a child but I mean, can you be too old? Is it okay for seniors?
Derek: Anybody that’s in solid health, good health, you don’t have to be in great health. Most of us have things but if you’re in good health, then you’re okay to go through a ceremony. I personally won’t serve anybody younger than 16. I just don’t want to open a can of worms. Some women when they go into labor, they drink. Then they have the baby and then they latch it, but they put Ayahuasca on the nipple. They start drinking doses around three or four down in the jungle.
Charlotte: Do you have all ages at your retreats, or are they mostly a certain age, there or do you see everybody?
Derek: I’ve served a couple of 16-year-olds. I’ve served a few people in their 70s. I don’t remember, but I don’t think I’ve served anybody in their 80s. I have to check on one person,, but the majority of the people are between 28 and 53. In that range. I would say 80% are in that range for first-time drinkers. A lot of people come to drink for the first time here. A lot.
Charlotte: I saw on your website that you have different leaders that come, that are guests. What do the different guest leaders do?
Derek: They have been trained to serve the medicine in their own way. They have their own lives and their own affairs. I rotate them through but Taita Hector Ortiz. It’s just on there as Taita. He’d studied in Colombia as well as Taita Pedro and Arcala. They’re all Colombian so they bring a certain way of serving. We have other people that serve in different ways. They basically serve the medicine, protect the space from spiritual issues. They keep it very safe. They provide the music.
They drink a pretty solid amount of medicine to be able to get into the medicine so they can see what’s going on with another person, and then they have a whole bag of tools that they can use to help somebody who’s having a difficult experience.
Charlotte: Do you always have a guest helper there or is it not always the case?
Derek: It’s always the case as of right now.
Charlotte: You yourself are generally there every time?
Charlotte: Who should not do it? Are there people that should not do it?
Charlotte: Who would those kind of people be?
Derek: Anybody who has a diagnosis of bipolar or schizophrenia, do not take this medicine unless you consult with a doctor. Even if you consult with a doctor, you’ve got to know that it’s going to cause some wild reactions for you, okay?
If you’re on antidepressants do not sit with this medicine, it can be very dangerous. You need to come off of the antidepressants for, depending on the half-life, a varying amount of time for every psych med. You have to go to your doctor and find out or call the center that you’re interested in and ask them how long to be off of that medication.
People with heart disease, heart attack, stroke, anything like that, and a history of seizures, don’t take it. Do us a favor, if you’re an alcoholic and you drink a ton of alcohol, taper down because we don’t want you detoxing from alcohol here. It’ll make it miserable for you. Just slow it down. If you’re a daily heavy drinker, this is not the medicine for you right now. It can help, but you’ve got to do something about that first, just not completely, just back off enough to be able to come.
Charlotte: Yes, because I saw that there’s a whole lot of preparation for the retreat. Can you speak a little bit about that?
Derek: Sure. I’ve taken the position that I’m going to give them the most strict dieta as possible because everybody cheats, and if they cheat, they’ll cheat to a really good place. Whereas if I gave them, say, the Colombian dieta, it’s meant to be followed exactly. They’re going to cheat on that too.
The main thing is that you want to eat clean, more vegetables, less meats, and no garbage. What I mean by garbage is 90% of the stuff in the aisles in the grocery store. Shop on the perimeter. You should definitely stay away from heavy meats for a month before and a month after the best you can.
That’s going to be beef, pork, for sure. Pork is a very low vibe meat. You can eat chicken, you can eat fish on the Colombian dieta, but we want to make sure that people were very strict with it because they do receive benefits. This dieta, the preparation is important. This is something that 2,000 years of elders espouse — am I going to argue with that?
Charlotte: Is there anything else that you want to say about the profound changes or Ayahuasca itself before we conclude?
Derek: Yes. People come here week in and week out and they have all kinds of different issues. Every single retreat ends up taking a path to this beautiful Sunday where everybody is happy and everybody’s moving on a good path in their life or at least feels that way. They got some messages. There’s really too many to count.
I get unbelievable, profound lessons through people every single week to the point where I feel like I just started asking people if they want to do a three-minute or five-minute breakdown of what their weekend was.
I don’t really have an individual story that I can give you that would encapsulate it because that sensational giant story is, sure, somebody’s story, but the story is for you. You live your story. If I tell a bunch of stories, I don’t know that it would help. I can tell you though that people that come here that are experiencing symptoms of depression, they go home and they don’t have it for three weeks to a couple of months, at least. Anxiety, people leave here and they can go be around people more. Agoraphobia goes away. There’s so many. I stepped back and it’s hard to pick one. It really is.
Charlotte: This is just so helpful and wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us today. I really appreciate it.
Derek: Thank you.
Derek Januszewski is the founder and Lead Pastor at Pachamama Sanctuary.
Pachamama Sanctuary, an Ayahuasca Center, located in Southern New Hampshire, was founded in 2019. Since its inception, their mission is to raise collective consciousness through the sacrament, Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a tea derived from plants from the Amazon rainforest and has helped people gain insight and provide clarity into past traumas and provides a chance to find peace resulting from addiction, PTSD or negative cycles.