Surprising Ways To Overcome Social Anxiety And Gain Confidence
In this episode Dr. Aziz shares about his experiences with the South American psychoactive tea, Ayahuasca. You will learn more about what this experience is like, and how it helped Dr. Aziz continue to face fear and gain even higher levels of confidence.
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Hey! Welcome to another episode of Shrink for The Shy Guy. I’m Dr. Aziz, and if you would like to go deeper in the show go to shrinkfortheshyguy.com. You can find show notes. You can ask me questions there that I’ll respond to in the Ask The Shrink segments that I do. And also, you can get a copy of my ebook for free, which is Five Steps to Unleash Your Inner Confidence. That is full of specific steps that you can take right now to systematically build your confidence in any area of your life. That’s a great book to get started with that will really guide you. Maybe you downloaded it a long time ago, go back and re-read it. You just might find that there are certain things you’re doing and maybe certain things you forgot about. I had people tell me, “I went back and I never realized this when I read the third step.” So, check it out. That can really help you. Go to shrinkfortheshyguy.com.
Today’s episode is the third in the series called Unusual Cures for Social Anxiety. This is unusual cure for social anxiety number three, and this is all about Ayahuasca. Oh yes. It’s something you might have heard of or something you might not have heard of and I’m excited to share more with you. I am going to put the caveat on this one because it is a controlled substance. In some states it’s legal. In Oregon it happens to be legal. That’s where I live. But in many other states it is illegal and it’s a substance. So I need to put my disclaimer here. Which is that: this is in no way me operating as a psychologist prescribing anything that’s going to be intended to treat any psychological condition. This is purely for educational entertainment purposes only and this is purely about my own experiences and what I’ve seen in others. It is in no way condoning you to do anything illegal or to ingest anything of any kind. That is totally up to you and at your own discretion and you should consult with your own doctor, lawyer, pope, and anyone else who could make decisions for you. There. Having said that, “Go drink Ayahuasca, man!” No. Here’s just some stuff that might open your mind or give you some insight into some experiences that really helped me.
Basically, for those of you who don’t know, Ayahuasca is a tea– I guess you would call it. It’s a brown liquid that is made in places like Hawaii but it originally comes from South America, from the rainforest in Brazil. It is a unique mixture of two plants: some sort of vine and some sort of other leaf-plant. Those of you who are botanists are shaking your head at my lack of clear knowledge. But in any case, it’s a pretty fascinating story.
It was discovered by tribes in the Amazon thousands of years ago. What they would do is they have this really elaborate process where they cook down part of this vine and these leaves and they mix these two plants together. Independently these plants would have no effect if you were to ingest them but if you cook them in this very specific way and you mix them, it has this very powerful psycho-active effect.
Western people asked the shamans who led this ceremony in their tribes, “How did you know to mix these two plants? There are thousands of plants in the jungle here.” Their answer is awesome. They said, “The plants told us to do it.” There you go. They’re probably a lot more tuned-in to nature than we are. We’re living in cities and houses and whatnot but it’s fascinating that this is what emerged. In any case, it is a powerful psycho-active substance in the sense that it affects your mind, your thought process, your consciousness, your awareness, as well as your physical body. People can have, what you might call, hallucinations. It’s not necessarily seeing a pink elephant running through the room or something like that. More like distortions in the visual field with your eyes open and seeing lines of energy. If you’ve ever done any psycho-active substance like psilocybin mushrooms or LSD, it’s something like that. Also a lot of stuff happening with your eyes closed. You see really powerful imagery that’s associated with strong emotional states and feeling.
Now there’s also a lot of physical effects from it, including dehydration, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting. Although they don’t call it vomiting, they call it purging. It’s actually thought to be part of the healing process, to vomit or purge. It doesn’t happen to everyone, it doesn’t happen every time, but it can. That’s why a lot of people that use it will fast the day of, or at least a number of hours ahead of time. So they’re not eating a big roast beef sandwich and then throwing it up later.
So that’s the basic rundown. If you’re curious about the details of it, there’s great research and information on Wikipedia and such. So I’m not going to go too much deeper into that. I’m just going to give you context. The way people do it, is there are shamanic circles and ceremonies. That’s kind of mostly how it’s done.
Those are mostly illegal. It’s unfortunate because this is not that kind of thing. This is not a party drug. You’re not taking this at a rave and going, “Woo!” It’s like a passage through the soul. You’re kind of non-functional during it in a lot of ways. People would get in a circle. It could be anywhere from five people to thirty people. It’s often done at night and there is some sort of singing or music involved. If it’s led by a shaman, then he’s usually making music and sounds. I remember when I did it, which we’ll get more into my stories in just a moment, he’s like waving bird feathers and whistles and all kinds of interesting stuff. Often done in circles and in darkness with singing.
Another way that it’s done is through these churches and that’s actually how I do it. It’s legal in Oregon. It’s got whatever the exemption that was given to the Native American church that was fought for and won in Oregon to give it to, what’s called the Santo Daime church. This is a church that was started by a rubber tapper in the Amazon in the 1920s, 30s, or 40s. Again, you could probably find all this stuff out on Wikipedia. Anyway, he went there and met up with some Amazonian Shaman dudes and they introduced him to this and he drank it. Of course all the visions and stuff he had were through his own religious background which was Catholic. So he saw Mother Mary coming to him and told him to start a religion with this stuff. So, he did that. He basically got a couple of his friends, I think, and they just sat there and drank for five hours. They just meditated. That’s what their religion was. Then they started doing prayers, and then they started doing hymns and songs and it has evolved and morphed.
Now, what a common ceremony is like in a Santo Daime church would be: you sit in a room with the lights on, so it’s not dark, and you drink the Ayahuasca and then you sing hymns in Portuguese for five to eight hours with multiple services of this drink. And that’s it. Now when I go to ceremonies, I’m usually not singing for five to eight hours because I don’t have that high of a tolerance. These people do it more often. So I sing for a little bit, then I roll around at the back of the room vomiting and then I sit back in my seat and sing a little bit more.
So, let’s have a quick rundown of what this is. Then I’m going to share more about my experience with it and why I believe it’s a powerful cure for anxiety and an amazing source of confidence.
So, why is this stuff helpful and what has it done for me to help relieve anxiety? Well, what’s fascinating and what I’ve noticed the most about it, is it’s a powerful way to face fear. Probably one of the strongest forms of fear that I feel in my life now is preparing to and going to do one of these ceremonies. I don’t do them that often now. I used to go semi-regularly, maybe once every month or two. Now, with little kids, and they’re just totally opposite of my schedule because they start at 6pm, and I go to bed at 8pm, usually, and wake up at three or four. So I basically haven’t done one in a while. I maybe go every four to five months now. That’s what I like to shoot for: twice a year.
The level of fear that I felt beforehand is striking. And I’m not talking anxiety, you know, because we all experience anxiety, “Oh what if that person says this about me?” And, “What if that happens?” And, “What if our garage floods in the rainstorm?” That’s just anxiety, not fear. I’m talking like, fucking strong uncomfortable fear. The kind of fear where I’m driving to a work– they call them works, by the way, in the Santo Daime church, you know, a healing ceremony or a work– part of me is like, “Just turn around and drive home. Drive off a bridge! Don’t go!” And then you get there and you’re set up and you’re all sitting down and they say their prayers to open up the ceremony and then you all line up with men on one side and the women on another to go get your service, your little shot glass of this Ayahuasca. I’m in line and part of me is like, “Run! Run! Run!” I just have to breathe and calm myself. So that in itself is extremely valuable.
To be able to feel that much fear and face it is great. I do a lot of stuff at this point in my life that scares me but it’s not that spike of intense fear. That’s like a, “Go face a wild beast,” kind of fear, and I think that’s just really good for us to do. A question you might have is, “Why are you so scared? What’s going to happen?” It’s something I’ve pondered before and it’s interesting because there is no real threat to me. The reason I think I’m so scared is because it’s like a temporary melting of your ego. A temporary letting go of all control. So, the rational part of me that’s like, “This goes here. A goes to B. One plus one is two. That’s a tree. That’s a chair. I understand everything in this world and nothing is going to surprise me.” That certainty-oriented ego version of us just gets blasted the fuck out of nowhere. You just have this opening.
Aldous Huxley talks about the doors of perception and he talks about how our mind, in a lot of ways, is like a reducing valve. There is so much information coming at us right now and there’s such a depth to everything around us, that it’d be freaking overwhelming if you were taking in all the sounds, all the sights, and not only that, but all of the knowledge behind each of those things. Like what a tree is made of and its life cycle and its roots and how it’s connected to the earth. And if you really go down those rabbit holes, it’s too overwhelming. So our mind is like a reducing valve that just cuts out 98% of it and now you’re just focused on typing something on your computer or making a sandwich and you don’t sit and think about, “Wow, where did this bread come from?” And “What is the quality of it?” And “Wow, look at all the little porous holes on the face of the surface of the bread.” And, “I wonder. The history of bread! How long has it been involved in humanity’s life?” You don’t go down all that. But when you drink this, in some ways you do. You open up that valve. So instead of 98% getting filtered out and only 2% getting in, maybe 10% gets in.
There is a benefit to that because you start to feel a sense of awe at the vastness of this life and how little we truly deeply understand. It can be overwhelming and it can be scary. I had this experience where it’s like our mind can feel so solid and certain as if it’s made up of angles. Think of a city, the skyscrapers, it’s like sharp hard angles. And then when you’re on this, you’re like, “Wow, life is a lot more like there is nothing to sit on, nothing to hold on to.” I had this experience that’s almost like being in a river where you can’t just quite climb up on to the shore. It’s like muddy banks on either side. You just really have to let go and go with the current and go with the flow.
When you do that, at least for me, I feel a lot more. I end up feeling a ton of emotion. Of pain for the things that hurt me. Of challenge or frustration at the things that might be hard for me or make me angry. Sadness or grief at things in my own life or things that are beyond my control that are going on in the world or the planet. Things I kind of just shut down and don’t think about too much because it’s too painful. I feel all of that. I think that’s another reason why I get so scared. There’s a part of me that’s just afraid of feeling because at the end of the day, all of our fears are just fears of feeling. And here’s a dose of intense feeling that I’m going to experience and that part of me is like, “Ahh, I don’t want to feel that much! I don’t want to feel!” And yet, when you do, and I learned this a lot from these ceremonies, you just have to let go. If you’re trying to figure everything out and you’re trying to control your experience, oh man, you just get anxious and nauseous and vomit and feel terrified.
I remember the very first time I did it. It was in one of those shamanic circles. I’ve done some psychedelics before then so I didn’t think it would be that different but it was way more intense. I remember being all disoriented and freaked out and so I somehow signaled the shaman guy to come over. He came over and, I remember, he held on to my hands and he had these big, thick, like sausage, rough finger hands. Way bigger than mine. I remember holding on to them and they were all warm. He’s like, “Tell me what’s happening.” And I’m like… I don’t even remember what I said, but something like, “I’m really scared right now and I just want it to stop.” He said, “Well, it’s not going to stop for a while. It’s not going to stop for a long time.” I was like, “Damn it! That’s not what I needed to hear.” But it was true.
I didn’t know how to surrender that well then but I’ve learned a lot more now. To just breathe and surrender and let go of thinking and just go with the energy, go with the current. That’s an extremely valuable lesson for life too because much of life comes from our own fighting and resistance and suffering around, “This shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have done that. You shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have done that. This should’ve happened earlier. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with that?” There is just a lack of surrender in those situations of flowing with what’s going to happen.
This experience forces you to do that. It forced me to do that. The suffering is immediate and intense, as opposed to strung out over days or weeks like in our own day-to-day life. It’s kind of like a crash course where you have to surrender. And when you do, things really open up, and you can feel deep senses of peace, love, joy, and awe for this life. There’s this cleansing effect that I find afterwards, after I made it through the gauntlet. I feel so much lighter. It’s like my heart has been scrubbed and all the rough edges of the armoring around the heart has been broken away, and I’m just so deeply connected to how much I love the people in my life. How much I love my family, love my parents, love my kids, love my wife. I feel connected to other people and my mission and what I’m doing here. That’s a place that I go to, to recalibrate, “What am I doing on this planet? What is important? Why is this important? What is my mission here?”
So, what does this have to do with you? That’s probably a great question. Well, you might just be interested in it. I find it fascinating to learn about this thing you might have never heard of. Maybe you’ve heard of it but didn’t really know much about it. Maybe this is something that you’re called to do. I don’t know.
Again, remember, I’m not encouraging or condoning anything. But if you’re of your own volition and you wanted to, you could find out more about opportunities to do it. In most states, as I said, it’s not above ground, so you have to find out. But I believe that if you’re really called to do it, it will come to you and you will find a way to make it happen. There will be opportunities if you just really intend, like, “I want to do this.” You’ll find that something will emerge in your world, in your reality. Start looking around, start seeing and listening to people, interacting with people, and just see what emerges. “If you’re ready, the teacher will appear.” That kind of thing, I think, is true with this.
How else does this relate to you? Well, even if you’re never going to do this, you can take the lessons of this and apply it in your life. One of them is what I was starting to touch on there before the break, which is that this is a fast shortcut way to get in much more connection with the spiritual side of life and of yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve been alluding to in this episode when I talk about letting go of control, surrendering to something bigger, getting in touch with awe, cleansing our hearts so we can feel more love. These are reasons why people go to church or the mosque or the temple. These are reasons why people chant in the morning or why they pray. It’s to feel more of these things in your life and to get more of that guidance from your intuition. Or if you have developed a spiritual side where you do communicate or have conversations with God, with Jesus, with whatever figure or construct helps you connect, then this is a way to strengthen that. And so if that’s something you’re drawn to, that might be a reason. It’s a direct mainline to that. It’s not some, “Well, you got to go to some church and kind of really strain to sort of feel it.” It’s like, “Holy shit, you can’t ignore it.”
Another thing that really happens when I’m there is: I feel humbled. I really just get put in my place. I don’t think of myself as an arrogant person but there is sort of an arrogance, I think, in humanity. In a way we don’t really know our place, right? It’s like, “The planet is mine. It’s ours to do what we want with it. We’ll fucking drill for the oil that we want. We’ll cut down a forest that we want.” I’m not pointing at any specific groups. We’re all part of that. If you look at what humanity is doing, we’re land-grabbing, we’re going for everything we can as a collective specie. Even if some of us are morally opposed to that or something, we’re all part of it. I own fucking iPhone gadgets and stuff that has minerals in it that’s mined from Africa. Or I buy some peanut butter that’s got palm oil that was grown in a fucking rainforest in Indonesia, right? So, we’re all part of this.
I just get humbled by knowing my place after one of these experiences. Being on my hands and knees and vomiting into a bucket and crying and just feeling fear. There’s just this sense of like, “Wow. I don’t know that much about this existence. I really don’t. I’m not in as much control as I like to think I am during the day.” There is this element of, “I’m going to do this. I have to do this all on my own.” And there is a humbleness of like, “You know, I’m not doing this all on my own. I’m receiving a ton of guidance and support. Who knows? Am I actually doing all the things I think I’m doing? Or is it happening through me?” So I leave humbled and much more connected to that guidance.
You can think about that in your own life. Are you connected to something greater than yourself? Do you feel that way? Actually, it first happened when I was spending time with a mentor in Santa Barbara and I did mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms, and it was a very different experience. It was like a ritual. We set an intention beforehand through his guidance. It wasn’t like when I did it before with some college buddies and I was eating mushrooms and walking on the beach– which was amazing– but it didn’t have this spiritual guidance to it that I got from one of my teachers, Marcelino. That shifted me from being an atheist to being, I guess, agnostic. Up until that point, I was like, “People that believe in God are stupid.” I had a chip on my shoulder probably because I felt hurt and abandoned by God. But at that moment, I was like, “Holy shit, this world is bigger and there is so much going on that I don’t even comprehend right now.” It popped my arrogance. And we can get connected to that through these substances.
There are many other ways to do it but this is a powerful way especially if you’re entrenched in your mind and you’re up in your head like I am a lot. Then this really helps you shift that. This is a powerful life-changing experience. It’s not for everybody. I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody. For some people it’s valuable and for some people, I would say, certainly don’t do that, you don’t need that because it can be destabilizing if you’re not fully solid in yourself. Obviously different people could benefit in different ways from it and some people should not do it at all. That’s ultimately up for your choice, and that leads us to our action step for today.
Your action step for today has actually nothing to do with doing Ayahuasca. We’re not doing Ayahuasca. That’s… whatever. Whatever you want to decide around that.
Your action step is actually for you to do a little quick mini-spiritual assessment or inventory. How connected do you feel to something bigger than yourself, a creative force? Does it seem like it’s benevolent or has any sort of care for you? Do you feel guided in any way? Do you feel like an isolated fragment in an uncaring and cold universe? Do you feel like there is a purpose or a mission for you here on this planet that you can tap into? Are you living it? Do you feel like there is a loving and forgiving energy that’s accessible to you? Can you communicate with this force? Do you? These are interesting things to think about. I think there is extremely valuable benefits to cultivating this side of yourself, whatever form it takes. Whether you want to… I’ve done sweat lodges for years… or whether you want to pray to different elements, or you want to drink South American psycho-active tea, or you want to go sit in a church, or you want to meditate and find your own path to connect. Whatever it is, if there is something you can do to strengthen that, I would highly recommend that because it’s one of the most protective factors against fear and anxiety and stress too; and in getting you back into self-love and finding your way in the world without being so anxious and stressed all the time. There are extremely protective and healthy factors there. It’s definitely worth cultivating and finding your way to that.
Thank you for being with me on this meandering journey into the world of Ayahuasca. Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are, and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome! I’ll talk to you soon.