5 Lessons From Guiding 500 Leaders on Ayahuasca Retreats

Written by Brandon Evans, Chief Elevation Officer of 1heart

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman


Four years ago, we started 1heart to elevate the lives and consciousness of powerful leaders. If our leaders are living fulfilling lives in alignment and integrity, imagine the ripple effect in our world.

Thirteen Journeys later, we have taken over five-hundred amazing souls on a 1heart Journey. Each 1heart Journey brings together over forty high-performing entrepreneurs, executives, creators, and change-makers for an all-inclusive human accelerator designed to elevate your mind, body, and spirit. The Journey includes a one-week immersive retreat in Costa Rica, plus seven weeks of virtual preparation and integration. Each Journey integrates sacred ancient and modern modalities for intense personal growth, deeper life fulfillment, and re-alignment to our highest self. The results have far exceeded anything we could have imagined when we began. And our Journeys have attracted leaders from over twenty countries, and all swaths of industries and communities. All have found us without advertising. Eighty percent of applicants are referrals from 1heart Alumni. The hundreds of reviews and testimonials we’ve received are often hard to believe, even for us. Especially as we consider the types of discerning leaders that we host.

As I look back on the five-hundred people who have joined our Journeys, I wanted to feel into what we have learned. What could support other leaders who are not yet called to join us in Costa Rica or whose time has not yet come? Below are some of my favorite learnings. These are cherry-picked from hundreds if not thousands of powerful lessons we’ve observed on these Journeys.



  1. Leaders Often Suffer Greatest From Lack of Self Love

On our second Journey, one of the most successful and impressive leaders we have ever hosted posed this question for the group after we completed one of our sessions, “Can you raise your hand if you know what it feels like to love yourself.?”. Less than a third of this group of powerful leaders raised their hands. He then replied, “Can you guys stay after and explain to me what that feels like as I have no idea?”

The man who posed this question was around fifty years old and holds Yale and Harvard degrees. He was a #1 NY Times Best Selling Author of two books (and has written several since). He has spent twenty years coaching the C-Suite of our most prestigious companies. He leads leaders for a living and had no idea what it feels like to love himself.

This has proven to be a common theme in our work with high-performing creators and leaders. What has become clear is that our high performance almost always stems from our need for self-love. What we have done and are doing is not enough. So, we continue to make new and bigger goals. Our hope is that at some point, we will have achieved enough to finally allow ourselves to feel our own appreciation and love.

Only, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we create a continual, never-ending struggle for self-acceptance that is dependent on “more”. The value we place on ourselves is based on how we are performing or what we do next. By the very definition of self-love, this renders it impossible. Self-love is full acceptance of who we are now, at this very moment. Most high-performers I have met spend very little time in the now. They spend most of their time visioning and clawing away at their next goal or achievement. When they are fortunate to achieve something on their list, they rarely celebrate or acknowledge themselves. Instead, they set their sights on what’s next. It is never enough.

And when leaders don’t love themselves, they often don’t treat others well. They certainly don’t show them how to love themselves and appreciate the present moment. On Journeys, we have witnessed so many leaders at the moment when they first experienced this love for themselves. And, we’ve seen the butterfly effect this has on the world around them. Few if any lessons can be more powerful.


  1. It is Rare For Our Work To Be In True Alignment and Integrity With Our Highest Self

Somehow we have created a world where few are doing what their soul’s true desire calls for. There is a lot of talk of our “Purpose” thrown around. I define each of our purposes the same, and that is to live in the continual dance of what our soul calls for us to do. Some days (or years) that may be to just play or love. At other times, it is to create and support. Regardless of the how, the what is always the same, “to flow with that which moves us most deeply.”

This may sound pretty woo-woo for a serial tech entrepreneur who spent most of his career in New York City to say. And I get that. I would have felt the same before my journey. Now, the idea that we are meant to know what we want to be when we grow up as kids, choose a college major at eighteen, and do as our mother, father or next-door neighbor did for the rest of our lives is preposterous to me. How did we all collectively buy into this idea?

The answer is safety. We have been conditioned to avoid what we fear and move towards what we perceive as “safe”. The issue is that many are now waking up to the fact that the safe choices are not so safe. It is not safe to attempt to do something you dislike for forty (or even five) years. It is not safe to build a career at a company that has little if any loyalty to you or your struggle along the way. Instead, the “safe” choices often result in burnout, depression, and/or a multitude of perceived physical ailments like cancer or heart disease.

All this comes from “dis-ease”. When our body and mind are not in alignment with our soul, we are not at ease. This lack of ease creates all negative consequences in our lives. In contrast, when we are connected and in integrity with our soul, we feel joy and things flow. Our conditioning; however, tells us not to trust these feelings (our intuition). Rather, we have given over our own intuition to some fear-driven story. This story was written by our parents, schooling, environment, and ultimately the media.

A woman with an MBA from Stanford working as a startup executive in the Bay Area arrived on one of our Journeys at the referral of a friend. On paper, she seemed to have the life and career so many only dream of. And yet, she had a deep sadness and constant struggle with life. She was so smart and talented that she was able to pull it all together and still perform at a high level. Few, if anyone, noticed. When she began her Journey she was lost. The fire and passion within her were barely flickering.

On her Journey, we could all see pieces of herself waking up. One of those pieces was the artist within. During the five-week integration program following our Journey, she shared her first painting in over a decade. The group was blown away. Now, a couple of years later, she is a successful artist and has sold many of her paintings all over the world. She has also connected to the healer within herself and began offering her services to others. She still consults on startup projects that excite her and she now is able to pursue work that is truly fulfilling for her. She has left the Bay Area and bought a dream home in Joshua Tree where she lives with her partner who she also met on her recent path.

Our purpose is to not believe the hype, at least not anyone else’s. Our purpose is to connect to and trust ourselves, to trust our own intuition. It has been amazing to witness what gets created when “high-performing” leaders do just that. When what they do actually aligns with the person they are here to be, magic ensues.


  1. Most People Lack Friends and a Community That Truly Supports Them

It is sad to see how few people these days feel a part of and supported by community. With all the technology that has gone into connecting us, loneliness is rampant. As leaders, we often create companies and cultures, and we go to networking events, even networking cruises and retreats. Yet, something always seems to be missing.

That something is an authentic connection. The problem or I would say opportunity, is that you need to be fully authentic and vulnerable yourself to achieve that. Most of us don’t really have any idea what that truly means. And, we certainly don’t know safe spaces that enable us to strip ourselves down in a way that enables this.

For leaders, it can be even more challenging. We may have employees, investors, customers, or peers looking to us. They expect, or at least we believe they expect, that we have it all figured out, that we are “put together”. The reality is that none of us have it all together. Life is messy and in continual change. Most of us haven’t learned the tools to handle all that is being thrown at us. And, we are all doing our best with the tools we have at this moment.

So many who come on 1heart Journeys are aching for real community. And those who aren’t, usually realize after how much they needed this type of community. For most of us, the people we went to college or high school or met at work make up our friends. A community; however, is something quite different. A community is your soul tribe. This tribe consists of people who come together for a collective purpose. The group provides both inspiration and support to the individual. And the community thrives when each of its members thrive. Four years later, all thirteen of our Journey Tribes are still actively connected, as are our local groups all over the world. Every week there are pictures posted of 1heart meetups or “chance” encounters with people across Journeys, all over the world. When people understand the heart of the person they are spending time with, the bond between them transcends the relationships they had previously known.

The beauty is that deep connection and community can form in an instant when we are all free to shed the stories we are so busy trying to convince the world of. On every Journey we’ve hosted, we arrive as forty-plus strangers. And every group leaves with people they feel closer to than many lifelong friends and even family. And the love and support that ensues when these connections are made is truly medicine.


  1. Joy is An Emotion We Suppress Far Too Often (Along With All the Rest of Them)

Why do you withhold joy from yourself? Yes, you. We all do it, and I am certainly included in that. Why do we deny ourselves some of the most beautiful emotions and experiences provided to us in this beautiful Universe?

For most of us, it is not conscious. It starts with us suppressing many or most of our emotions. Nearly all of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lives, often in our early years. Trauma can be as seemingly small as our parents telling us to be quiet or shut up. From this event, we create a story that our voice isn’t meant to be heard, that we are not enough. We all have our own not enough story.

On one of our Journeys we had a guest who had no memories of his childhood and very little since. He was a high-performing real-estate entrepreneur with a booming portfolio of properties. While he was able to look forward, plan and build, he had little to no ability to look back at the experiences and moments that got him here. He arrived at 1heart having done a lot of “work”. He read tons of books, experimented with many other psychedelics (never ayahuasca), and had done therapy. Despite all this, he was blank as he attempted to reflect on his life.

The morning after our first ceremony there was a huge smile on his face and a light in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. He shared his story in our integration circle the next morning and explained that he was confronted with major trauma from his childhood. As soon as he faced it, he was able to release it and when he did, all his memories returned in vivid detail. In addition to his memories, a flood of creativity came through in the form of poetry. He hadn’t written anything since childhood. And now, his pages were filled with beautiful prose as if he was a published poet.

Some trauma stories are heartbreaking to even hear told, let alone experience. And all trauma stories shut down pieces of ourselves, cutting us off from our own essence. Joy is often an emotion associated with kids. It is almost accepted that we lose some or all our ability to experience it as we age. This is not true.

When we shut down pieces of ourselves and attempt to lock them away, we lock away far more with them. Joy is often collateral damage in this process. As is sadness, anger, and many other feelings that we shut off until at some point they burst or show up as illness or addiction. The work that we do is not the work of the mind. It is the work of the heart. When we awaken, it is our emotions, our intuition and our soul’s knowing that awakens. And when we allow our emotions to flow freely as intended, joy is one that radiates with few if any exceptions.


  1. The #1 Fear is Neither Death nor Failure, It is Success

This lesson is one that I still struggle to integrate into my own life. It is easy to look back (or forward) and see where my fear of failure gets in the way. It is far easier to feel and see. It took me some time on my path to realize that a fear of success is often a much bigger culprit holding me and most back. For those new to this concept, you may need to give it a moment to breathe. In our work with five-hundred leaders, often with great “success” already achieved, this fear is clearly behind what blocks them from what their soul truly calls for.

Another leader who joined an early Journey had already built and sold a large influential media company for well into the eight figures. Despite all his success and the big New York life he was leading, he didn’t feel “successful”. Coming out of a transformative experience on his Journey, he began to see the areas in his life where he played small. In other words, the places where he was showing up as someone other than his most true self. He was able to see clearly who he was and how he was showing up in relationships, in business, and in all areas of his life. With this new awareness, he was able to transmute the areas of self-doubt stemming from a lack of self-love into a deep understanding of the greatness of his power. He could feel himself as God with deep reverence for the responsibility and enormity of the power each of us can harness as a result.

As he awoke all the greatness within himself, he was able to channel this into his new mission of helping other leaders awaken to their own greatness. Now, he speaks all over the globe and runs masterminds with other eight-figure leaders. He also attracted his soul partner and they recently gave birth to their first child. So many leaders play it small, following a playbook or path of others that did it before them. True success is when we awaken to our true calling and have the courage to pursue it. We often must overcome imposter syndrome or the belief that who are we to lead this new path. For many, taking on this new path triggers our greatest fears.

We are afraid of our own power. If we can truly do anything we desire, then what? Then we are responsible for ourselves. We must be ready to take on all the responsibility that comes with living in our power. We no longer have anyone or anything to blame when we aren’t living our best life.

Most of the world is in victim mode. They are blaming other people, political parties, countries, or events for their place in life. It feels far easier to do this than to believe that you have the power to create the life (and world) you imagine. Even the most powerful leaders often fall into this trap and fail to believe they can succeed in creating what is truly in their hearts. And, when we don’t create from the heart, we live with dis-ease.

On our retreats, we have hosted people from their early twenties into their seventies. No matter the age, the moment when they recognize and begin to accept the enormity of their power to create is quite special to witness.


1heart Co-Founders From left to right: Tim, Brandon, Barry


I have personally experienced and witnessed so much beauty occur because of this sacred plant medicine and I am in no way recommending it nor do I believe it is for everyone in this time. The Medicine is very much a calling and something that each individual needs to feel into. Ultimately it is a choice if they feel ready to take on the work required to make transformational life changes. For those ready, research is beginning to report some powerful results. Recently a European research paper reported that 24 of 31 people diagnosed with depression no longer met the criteria for depression six months after attending an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru. Only two still were classified with severe symptoms of depression.

The set and setting of the experience are also extremely critical. This is why we dedicate so much energy to creating and keeping a safe and sacred container. Our Journeys are actually eight-week programs that begin with virtual preparation in the weeks prior and conclude with a five-week virtual integration program after our time together in Costa Rica.

While big breakthroughs and insights are often experienced in the week together, true life change happens in the integration. It is how we take the sacred knowledge and experiences back into our real life and live into the new commitments we set for ourselves. For us, a big piece of this is the closeness of the Tribe that you go through this experience with. Being supported by those who have gone into the trenches provides us the remembrance and courage to continue when we forget. And, feeling your heart soar as you see another living fully in theirs is a powerful force in the collective transformation.

If you are curious to learn more about my personal journey and the story behind 1heart, you can read my initial Medium post here titled Lost on Purpose. If interested in learning more about applying to join a 1heart Journey, you can do so at 1heart.com.


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