Ayahuasca this Way Comes by Laurent Weichberger May 2008 AYAWHAT? A Google search for Ayahuasca (pronounced “ayah-wha-scah”) brings up over one million results. Ayahuasca is a vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) native to the Amazon jungle, and is now widely known as the main ingredient in a psychoactive "tea" which is then swallowed by people seeking to learn what it has to offer. FLASHBACK TO THE 60S In the 1960s, LSD was undoubtedly all the rage, a new drug with fantastic promises: a new path to enlightenment, a shortcut to the Truth. Rick Chapman, who lived through that time both experimenting with psychedelic drugs as well as making a journey to India where he met Meher Baba in person, concluded from his own experience that the allure of consciousness-expansion through drugs was hollow. He has worked since the sixties to educate people about the true nature of the spiritual path and the dangers of even well-meaning experimentation with drugs for the purpose of “expanding” one’s consciousness. Concerning the new wave of interest in drugs like Ayahuasca and Salvia, he comments: “It’s not that the ‘sacred plant’ path has not had a role, but the Avatar of the Age has, for this time, stated that it is not helpful, rather, very dangerous. While there may certainly be authentic shamans, healers and spirit guides in every culture, there is a continental divide between the ritual practices in such shamanistic cultures and the great majority of civilization, East and West, as it stands today. The assumption that one can pick esoteric practices out of the context and history of such cultures and use them positively in 21st century America is painfully wrong-headed, as much so as trying to impose ‘modern life’ on traditional Indian cultures has proven to be. Want spiritual insight and real progress? Follow the direction of the greatest Masters of spiritual history.” Those who abuse Ayahuasca will swear it is not a drug, but rather a “spirit plant medicine.” Another major problem is confusion between drug experience as opposed to spiritual experience. There is no difference between drugs and plant medicines from the point of view of toxicology. It is the substance that is dangerous and that is why it must be used under the direct supervision of a qualified physician who can keep close track of the dosages, and effects, as well as any reactions from the patient in question. When I was 17, I was able to become free of drugs when I took Meher Baba’s drug message to heart, "The experiences which drugs induce are as far removed from Reality as is a mirage from water. No matter how much you pursue the mirage you will never quench your thirst, and the search for Truth through drugs must end in disillusionment."1 HONORING THE EXPERIENCE I know that Ayahuasca has been used by Peruvian shamans as a medicine, the taking of which should never be confused with spiritual progress. Allan Cohen wrote eloquently regarding these issues: “(1) The drug experience is always temporary; (2) Even with the best of drug experiences, individuals gain only a distorted perception of the lower levels of the inner life; that is entirely different in nature from the experience of true spiritual advancement; and (3) Long-term nonmedical drug involvement, leading inevitably to psychological imbalance or chemical dependency, is an unnecessary waste of vast human potential.”2
Mr. Kelly McCabe, head of the Temple of the Divine Mother, and a former monk of fifteen years in the Ramakrishna Order, offered this perspective, “When the mind becomes still to some degree it is not unusual to have profound experiences such as visions or deep insights. My teachers say that to the extent these experiences have a lasting positive effect on our life they are real and useful. Sometimes, however, they are just interesting fluctuations of the mind that are of no real importance… The goal of spirituality has nothing to do with having exciting, far-out ‘experiences’, but coming into close, intimate contact with our own true, infinitely beautiful self in the silence of our heart. The goal of spirituality is expanding our heart, expanding our conception of our ‘self’ to include the whole universe. My teachers emphasized that this is best accomplished in a gentle, natural way through regular practice of stilling the mind. In a genuine and sincere desire for real spiritual growth it may be tempting to think that psychedelic drugs or extreme breathing exercises may provide a shortcut to spiritual experience. In this matter, as in most matters relating to spiritual life, I personally think that it is wise to look to the lives of genuine holy men and women who clearly are manifesting the sacred joy and love in their lives that we all seek. These are the people who really know and understand the ins and outs of the inner spiritual journey. In the opinion of all the great Hindu (and Buddhist) teachers I know of drugs are totally unnecessary and can cause genuine harm. They can open up (read: break down) doorways of perception that really should be kept closed until they open in the natural order of things. It is much, much healthier to let these experiences come in a natural organic way. Trust your higher self. You will know what you need to know when you need to know it... What’s the big hurry? There is no hurry. Controlling the mind is a process that requires practice, moderation, gentleness with oneself and patience. There really is nothing but the present moment anyway!”3 WARNING THE COMMUNITY There are now Ayahuasca groups forming all over, not just in South America. One rather unusual community actually created a new religion by mixing Ayahuasca with a type of South American Catholicism. They are known as the Santo Daime.4 Adam, a friend of mine who is an acupuncturist and healer, was involved with this community in California, as he explained: “I was part of a Brazilian Church community called the Santo Daime, for roughly a two year period. We would drink “Daime” (which means "give me," in Portuguese) in a ceremonial setting within a sacred context approximately every two weeks. This period of my spiritual life opened me up in ways that transformed my perception, of the universe, the Earth, and myself. I received deep insights into the world of possibilities. But, I came to a point where I realized that I no longer needed the brew to experience deeper spiritual teachings, I found the tea inside me, and at that point I let it go. “If I was to give someone advice about drinking this very powerful medicine I would say to them -- Search your soul, ask yourself what are you looking for? Are you being called to drink this tea on a deep level? -- If the answer to these questions is a resounding 'Yes' then by all means go for it. In my experience it is your relationship to the tea that is the most vital. It is my belief that spiritual life and growth as well as healing is completely personal, don’t let anyone tell you what the truth is or where to go to find it, find it for yourself. One word of caution, if you do decide to drink the tea, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure you find a shaman or healer who has integrity and experience. Do the research. Ask around. Above all listen to your heart, and then be ready to die and accept whatever the tea has to offer.” Then last week I was introduced to a young woman named Deana (age 33) who shared that she plans to open an Ayahuasca center in Peru. She self-identifies as an “Eternal Student of the
Earth School” and she spent four months in 2007 in South America. She thinks of Ayahuasca as the “umbilical cord to the universe.” The center she envisions will be, “a healing, trauma release center. This is going to be a forty minute boat ride from a tiny village called named ‘Neuva de Luce’ where about twenty-five native Shaibo and people of Spanish descent currently live. This has the blessing of the people of Nueva de Luce as well as myself and my dear friend Jill.” I asked, “How will your healing center use Ayahuasca?” and her response was spontaneous, “We are going to let the Ayahuasca use us… [it] is going to do the work, and all you can do is go there with an open mind. In terms of logistics, only indigenous people who have been blessed by the plant herself will be performing these ceremonies. This is very important to us. As humans we have 2 choices: to heal or not. My preference is to heal. I was offered a wonderful invitation to work with Ayahuasca, and felt it was right for me. Under the conditions of a positive intent, open mind and where the plant lives and thrives under the direction of an indigenous healer I feel Ayahuasca offered a new contour to my heart, and for that I am eternally grateful and at peace.” While we were speaking at Macy’s coffee shop, a friend of hers walked by and told her he wants to try Ayahuasca. Deana says she is now moving on to Hawaii. HARMFUL EFFECTS As of this writing, Ayahuasca tea is classified as a "Schedule 1" illegal substance the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) because it contains the drug "Dimethyltryptamine" (DMT). Ingesting this tea can be fatal. Some lose control of all their bodily functions, rolling in their own shit and piss oblivious to their state for hours at a time, with possibly days of memory loss, and worse. My research found a case of death linked to DMT (in Ayahuasca), this one in particular involving a "25-year-old white male found dead the morning after consuming herbal extracts containing... DMT.”5 DMT causes intense psychotropic experience for some people. Many report feeling as if they are "about to die" while under this drug's influence, and almost always the toxic nature of this drug causes violent and prolonged vomiting. Further, “the drug also exerts marked autonomic effects elevating blood pressure, heart rate, and rectal temperature, and causes mydriasis (Strassman and Qualls, 1994).”6 SHAMANS BECAME TRENDY To try to put this in perspective, let me say I believe we have on this planet a fresh tidal wave of spiritually minded, yet misguided, brilliant youth (much like the 1960s), who are longing for real deeper experience. In the absence of guidance it is only natural that most have no gauge against which to judge the quick-fix provided by such seductive drugs as Ayahuasca, and Salvia Divinorum. Somewhere along the line, shamans became trendy. Tom Cowan writes, "The full shamanic experience occurs in a trancelike, nonordinary state of consciousness... and it appears to be a unique mode of awareness similar to, but significantly different from, other visionary states such as dreaming, hypnotism, uncontrollable hallucinations, revery, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences."7 My wife, Lilly, who works in this area as well shared, “There are true shamans of every culture. The use of plant spirit medicines, while part of some shamanic traditions, were generally used by a very few individuals (usually the shaman and or his apprentice who was dedicated to years of study, which included spiritual preparation for the experience and plenty of guidance and processing afterward). The first problem with the widespread use of Ayahuasca as a way of accessing altered states, is that it seems that for large majority it's being handed out to people with little or no spiritual preparation, the second and perhaps more concerning issue is that these
substances open doorways to other realms that are not always easily closed again, allowing all sorts of energies, some of which might be quite unsettling, into the individual's life, which can lead to mental disturbances and worse. "A true shaman has the ability to shift states of consciousness at will. The states which they reach are accessible by very natural (read: non-hallucinogenic) means, via use of drumming and trance work, etc. A shaman is someone whose calling it is to keep the balance between the earth and human and spirit realms. It is a path of service, hard work, and dedication. There are no quick fixes, and the use of Ayahuasca as a short cut, over the long term, has the potential to become either a crutch or be psychically, spiritually and physically damaging." We recently met Madrone, leader of "Goddesses of the Cinder Moon," when visiting her first monthly public Goddess circle in Flagstaff. She says about Ayahuasca, "This is the lazy approach to tapping into both the sensual and sentient relationship with the natural world around us. It is important to learn how to listen to nature and take that seriously, and when I say nature I am talking about both the physical and meta-physical. This is not a simple endeavor. It takes time and practice, hence the term -- Wiccan practice. That's why the word practice is there. And by taking a drug, I think you cheat yourself from that re-membering, that experiential knowledge. I have never been a part of any Neo-Pagan ritual that involves drugs of any kind. I have never been involved with anything like that and I have had some of the most transformative experiences during those rituals, and there were no drugs involved." So, our bright, healthy and well meaning generation has not yet found its direction. What is desperately needed is real guidance that brings one closer to the truth of who-you-really-are. Ayahuasca can't do that for you, as Meher Baba said, "One who knows the way, who is the way, cannot approve of the continued pursuance of a method that not only must prove fruitless but leads away from the path that leads to reality. No drug, whatever its great promise, can help one to attain the spiritual goal. There is no short-cut to the goal except through the grace of the Perfect Master, and drugs, LSD more than others, give only a semblance of 'spiritual experience,' a glimpse of a false reality."8 I honor the existence of genuine shamans, the Wildcats of the Way, wherever they may be found. I feel there is wisdom in learning from the suffering of others and their mistakes, because we simply donâ€™t need to experience everything first hand. Such guidance is given freely for the avoidance of unnecessary suffering. Let us celebrate this wondrous natural world together. This article is copyright (c) 2010 by Laurent Weichberger. Laurent is also the author of A Mirage Will Never Quench Your Thirst and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. FOR MORE INFORMATION Ayahuasca: . The self proclaimed Ayahuasca home page at http://www.ayahuasca.com . Ayahuasca-Wasi Transpersonal Shamanism Research Project at http://www.ayahuasca-wasi.com/ . Wikipedia article on Ayahuasca at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayahuasca Spiritual: . Meher Spiritual Center at http://www.mehercenter.org/ . Sacred Rites, Temple of the Divine Mother, 4 N. San Francisco Street, 2nd Floor, Flagstaff (Sunday morning public worship). . Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ at http://www.thecasa.org/ . Goddesses of the Cinder Moon (meeting monthly) at email: email@example.com
FOOTNOTES: 1. From Lord Meher, by V.S. Kalchuri, vol. 19/20, p. 6470 (Myrtle Beach: Manifestation Inc.) 2. From the foreword, A Mirage Will Never Quench Your Thirst (Myrtle Beach: Sheriar Foundation, 2003). 3. Email from Kelly to Laurent on May 8, 2008. 4. For more on Santo Daime see Shamanic Wisdomkeepers, by T. Freke p.p. 92-103 (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1999)\ 5. See the article "A fatal intoxication following the ingestion of 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine in an ayahuasca preparation" at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16356341 6. Mydriasis is extreme pupil dilation. From the article â€œHuman Pharmacology of Ayahuasca: Subjective and Cardiovascular Effects, Monoamine Metabolite Excretion, and Pharmacokineticsâ€? at http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/cgi/reprint/306/1/73.pdf (accessed May 2008) 7. From Fire in the Head, Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, by Tom Cowan p.13 (Harper San Francisco, 1993). 8. From God in a Pill?, p. 2 (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented)
This article on Ayahuasca was published in The Noise (Flagstaff local newspaper) in June 2008, and is a follow up to my book, A Mirage Will...
Published on Jun 2, 2008
This article on Ayahuasca was published in The Noise (Flagstaff local newspaper) in June 2008, and is a follow up to my book, A Mirage Will...