This article is a submission for the Ayahuasca Awareness Program, an initiative by the Spirit Vine Center in Brazil. The program aims to help increase awareness of the potential of ayahuasca by sponsoring free ayahuasca retreats every month for people who feel the call for spiritual development with ayahuasca and other methods.

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Lessons from Humpback Singing

Last week, I traveled in a small motorboat off the coast of Bahia alongside a group of marine biologists and whale aficionados, all of us eagerly scanning the horizon for telltale plumes of steam. My one previous trip had been an exercise in futile searching, and those hours of empty horizon had left me hungry for any movement of life amid fantastically turbulent waves. When the grey-blue skin of a humpback finally emerged from the water, and an enormous dorsal flipped above the surface, I experienced the jolt in my stomach familiar to anyone who has seen something incredibly huge that also happens to be very alive. It was, as many before me have described, a stunning moment of proximity and awe, and I have since been reflecting on the lessons in health, humility, and spirituality that humpback whales have to offer.

Judging from the countless articles and podcast episodes that recount similar moments of communion, it seems common knowledge that whales are extremely empathetic, intelligent, and communicative animals. Although I had read many astonishing stories, by the time that I glimpsed a whale in person, the vast majority of them had escaped me. So I decided this week to return to the internet, to my journal, and to the soothing voice of David Attenborough to collect and reflect on some factual tidbits that could help me better understand the communication of humpback whales and the strong interest they inspire in me.

Humpbacks have no shortage of mindblowing characteristics. They are physically huge—measuring up to 60 feet—and every year of their human-length lifespans, they travel immense distances, sometimes as far as 16,000 miles. Despite these remarkable traits, it is their breathtaking songs that continue to astound me the most. 

In general, whale vocalization is incredibly emotionally complex. Because other senses are less useful in an watery environment that scatters light and suppresses smell, the ability to emit and decipher sound—which travels an average of four times faster underwater—is critically important for whale survival. To communicate with each other, whales emit a series of regular and repeating sounds. Researchers have found the songs of humpback whales, in particular, to be “strikingly similar” to human musical composition, and a single session of humpback singing can last longer than 24 hours.

In a remarkable example of cultural exchange, male humpback whales will begin their mating season by singing the same tune but, over time, the musical structure of that tune will occasionally change—always moving west to east across the ocean—until the catchiest versions prevail. The songs of humpbacks are distinct for mating rituals and feeding periods, and different still from those sung to mourn the loss of a loved one or to express feelings of loneliness.

Whales, throughout material and literary history, have been perhaps as easily harvested for their symbolic meaning, and I, here, will provide no exception. After watching the humpback flip above the water, a quick internal scan identified some of my own symbolic attachments to the whale now slipping below the surface. Because deep water has always preoccupied and, occasionally, terrified me, I find myself drawn to creatures at ease within the deep. Watching another being live and play within a seemingly infinite expanse of space feels something like good psychic practice. These creatures, for me, represent freedom from anxiety, the ability to move within one’s consciousness and, increasingly, a healthy and unquantifiable world. Their songs offer us countless poetic lessons for a healthier spiritual life: the importance of listening to each other, of honoring the creativity in our communication, of respecting the remarkable existence of creatures quite different from ourselves and, more simply, of frequent singing.

While these teachings are readily apparent, the lessons offered by a humpback whale became more obvious to me after learning that some economists, over the last few years, have attempted to quantify a whale’s monetary value. One great whale, according to economists at the IMF, is worth $2 million, due to its value for ecotourism and its ability to store atmospheric carbon in its body. While this number was ostensibly offered as a way to promote whale conservation, it seems to me, and to others, that quantifying whales simply makes their bodies more easily traded on the stock market and their territory more easily privatized.

Perhaps one of the most important spiritual lessons that can be learned from humpback singing is simply that we should not attempt to understand our most important things, including our remarkable natural world, as commodities with numeric value. Instead, the more we can listen to the intrinsic, highly musical value of our surroundings, the more easily we will, perhaps, be able to find that quality within ourselves.

Written by Sara Margaret for the Ayahuasca Awareness Program
Sara Margaret is a writer, teacher, and amateur whalewatcher from New York City.

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Spirit Vine COVID-19 Update

Last Updated: 9th August 2022

We have established guidelines to ensure that we provide the maximum amount of safety to all participants who attend the retreats.

We are following the guidelines provided by the Brazilian government which you can find below and have added some necessary precautions suitable for the retreats.

In the Itacare area, where we are located, there are very low number of COVID cases.

We will update this section when new information is available.
Content listed here is subject to change.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Brazilian Government Recommendations for COVID-19

The current guidelines from the Brazilian government state that anyone who wants to enter Brazil must present a Covid vaccine certificate. You do not need to take any other vaccines to enter Brazil. These guidelines may change in the future. 

Travelers must also fill out an affidavit 24 hours before departure acknowledging the health measures that must be complied with during the period that they will remain in the country. 

Prior to leaving Brazil, depending on the requirements of your destination country, you may be required to present an RT-PCR or Antigen test. If you need a PCR test we recommend you to budget the required time of 6 hours to take the test and get the results at Sao Paulo Guarulhos airport. Antigen test can be taken in the town of Itacare near our center before you go to the airport or at the airport in Sao Paulo.

Please note that Itacare and Ilheus do not have RT-PCR testing centers.

Spirit Vine Guidelines for COVID-19

We require that vaccination must be done at least 2 months prior to drinking ayahuasca. This is for the safety of participants to make sure the vaccine doesn’t have any reaction with the ingestion of ayahuasca. 

We also require all visitors to provide a valid Covid-19 test prior to entering the Center. The Antigen test is only valid for 24 hours and PCR test is only valid for 72 hours. A valid negative test result must be sent by email prior to entering the Center.