I've been pondering about this topic for some time. Writing the title -- "Ayahuasca" -- felt already like some sort of charge was dispersed. Why so much hesitation? Probably because I'm a professional yoga teacher and work in the spaces of spiritual transformation through the modalities of breath, movement and meditation. What role or place does plant medicine have in this? And does writing a blog post with the big loud title Ayahuasca on my personal website bring unnecessary attention to my work? What if it turns people away...?
These are all thoughts I've had leading up to the choice to just open up the can of worms and write freely on this topic. I have always found that great gems can come through when I just let go of my beliefs/ideas and open up to my authentic voice and what wants to be shared.
Aaanyways... back to the topic at-hand. Why all the huff-and-puff anyways?!
Ayahuasca, for those of you who do not know, is a very unique concoction of most commonly two different types of plants found in South America, brewed carefully in a specific and purposeful way over many hours, to produce a thick syrupy liquid which is then imbibed to facilitate a "journey" which includes inner visions and spiritual healing. This word Ayahuasca comes from the South American traditions which have been reportedly brewing and consuming this "plant medicine" for over 5000 years, and it comes from the two words aya meaning spirit and huasca meaning vine. Thus, ayahuasca is the "spirit vine".
The interesting and fascinating thing that I find worthy of mentioning here is that Ayahuasca is actually the combination of two completely different types of plants -- one is a long, twisty and rugged vine that grows up trees and the other is a shrubby bush with tender leaves. When you combine the two in a specific way and cook them for long enough they release a cocktail of chemicals that provides the experience of the Ayahuasca journey. These two plants do not necessarily grow close to each other, as due to their make-up as plants they require slightly different environments to thrive. However, somehow, more than 5000 years ago humans discovered their combination could prove to be supremely useful for their evolution as tribal societies. Indeed, there are still traditions alive today in the Amazon jungle which are centralized around the use of Ayahuasca as a tool for spiritual healing, harmony and unity both within and without. And yet these humans live in primitive settings and have for generations. Science is only just now catching up to the profound healing effects of Ayahuasca, but this is a topic for a different time....
What I feel like sharing here is a little bit of what I've picked up over the years of my studying and exploration with this "plant medicine". I put "plant medicine" in quotations here as this is the sub-topic under which I speak. Substances such as Ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, Huachuma (San Pedro), Peyote, Cannabis, and more all fall under this category. I must state that this label does not automatically make them 100% "safe", necessarily, however it is important to acknowledge that these are not "drugs". At least not in the Western sense of the word. To categorize them as "drugs" is to put them in the same family as substances such as cocaine and heroin, which is simply not the case, and we must be clear about this. The Western "drug scare" and the incredibly misleading propaganda of the government has brainwashed people into being afraid of nearly any type of intoxicating substance, even if these substances and the type of "intoxication" they provide can be healing or enlightening. I have my own opinions as to why this may be and why our society/ culture has arrived to a collective where even helpful tools such as plant medicine are demonized, but I will not get into that here. Where I'd like to go is within the umbrella of plant medicine, with as real, authentic and grounded of an "opinion" as I can state, including my own personal anecdotes and forays into the magic and mystical realms that Ayahuasca can lead.
I'll start by speaking to that opening idea of "plant medicine" just so that we are on the same page about what I mean when I say that, and why not to lump Ayahuasca (or marijuana, or mushrooms, etc) into the category with "drugs" .
What is Plant Medicine?
If we look up the etymology of the word medicine, we can see that from around the 14th century, this word was used to mean "a substance used in treatment of a disease". It is also the sense of "practice, theory, or study of curing, alleviating, or preventing disease in humans". Plants, well, that word is self-explanatory, hopefully :)
What I think we must presence to now is the fact that, by-and-large, the Western world is -- sadly -- a diseased population. Living at a time where we have access to so much abundance it is a shame that many of our people are falling into the throes of depression, addiction, anxiety, etc. I do not need to name any statistics here. There are too many variables to go into detail on why this may be, but the simple truth is that many people are suffering, and to go one step further, the "treatments" of these diseases are failing. People end up on prescription drugs from the rest of their life from one diagnosis, altering the chemistry of their brain, body and blood forever. And the government doesn't think twice about this... all while banning and making illegal substances that have a very similar function, albeit as more natural and healthy alternatives. It is very interesting. I'm glad there is science emerging today around the treatment of depression using substances like psilocybin. This feels like a powerful step in a very good direction for the realm of plant medicine.
So, we live in a dis-eased society. It just is what it is. More people are taking more drugs than ever before, and yet obesity and other health ailments are higher than they've ever been. We are at an interesting time! To make things even more interesting, the use of plant medicine and awareness around these ancient technologies is increasing evermore. What once was incredibly taboo just 10, 15 years ago is now finding the front page of New York Times and other major publications. Yeah, things have become... interesting!
Where does that leave us? Well, if you're anything like me, you'd be curious. What really is happening here? And why has Ayahuasca survived for more than 5000 years as a useful ally for human spiritual evolution? If it wasn't useful it surely would have died off and been replaced by something else over that time, wouldn't it? Such is the way of life... innovation ensures that things which are no longer useful are replaced by more useful and newer versions of something similar. And yet Ayahuasca remains as it has for the past five plus millennia, perhaps longer. What's the deal here?
I can't go into too much academic detail as I am not a professional researcher or a scholar, but I am a curious human and I do live an interesting life filled with experiences that I could write at for length. Some of those experiences find their way onto pages like this, some remain forever in the celestial archives where they are hidden from public scrutiny. Perhaps they remain hidden only because it would be impossible to put words to some of these experiences. Anyways ... Ayahuasca!
Since moving to Costa Rica in 2020 I was suddenly surrounded by the sacred use of this substance. I say "sacred use" and what I mean by that is people aren't just casually drinking Ayahuasca -- they are attending well-tended and curated "ceremonies" where people gather for the intentional and purposeful use of Ayahuasca in order to create healing in themselves and their communities. As the journey with this plant can last 4, 5, 6+ hours, and can at times be incredibly disorienting, including a loss of motor skills, vomiting (purging), and other debilitating circumstances, it is important that the people who choose to go on this journey are well cared for. This plant medicine opens up the psychic dimension more so than almost any other substance that I know of (at least in my experience) . What this means is that what is hidden underneath the surface of the conscious mind is now available to be "interacted" with. This is where the visions and other healing takes place -- the journeyer is able to go deep into their sub- and un-conscious parts, where normal everyday reality does not allow, and they are able to "see" -- whether through visions, clairaudient messages, "downloads", etc -- what is in the way of their spiritual evolution. It could be said that Ayahuasca facilitates the process of "doing the work", where "the work" refers to the inner "stuff" that is blocking our greatest joy and happiness. On a physiological level, this has to do with obstructions in the nervous system which can come from traumas and unresolved wounding.
Now, keep in mind that "traumas and unresolved wounding" does not necessarily need to mean something horrific, although it can, and there ARE cases of people in Ayahuasca ceremonies healing from serious atrocities (I just met someone in a recent ceremony who was processing the ancestral trauma of the Holocaust, for example). This can also look like things that we've done or that have happened to us in our life that just left a sort of sticky residue or bad taste in our mouth. Could be familial, could be ancestral, could be our own actions, could be an old relationship. You name it. ANYTHING that is unresolved and has not found peace that is still bouncing around our system can be robbing us of peace in this here-now moment. Frozen loops of energy in the past can be robbing us of joy in the present. This, I believe, is the basis for all dis-ease. Stress, which is contraction, is a form of what I am talking about. Unless and until we are able to look inside of ourselves and fully process and resolve the past, and not only come to terms with it but be at peace with it ... unless and until this happens, the past will have its grip on us, one way or another, ane prevent us from living free and clear to create a new future. Because if we do not process and resolve the past, then it will cling to us (physiologically!) and influence our behavior in the here-now moment. We cannot call the future "the future" if the past is repeating itself.
This is what makes this sort of "work" so valuable to every human. Understanding that what we are talking about -- the repeating of the past -- is actually a physiological, biological phenomenon , and that our cells and DNA carry the genetic memory of past (this is called karma), allows us to take a new look at the path of spiritual healing. There is a reason forgiveness, compassion, patience, and prayer find their way into every spiritual path. These are the tools which allows us to let go and move on. However, truly truly letting go and moving on is not an intellectual thing. There is a somatic process of feeling, allowing, and then releasing. Ayahuasca helps facilitate this process (as do other plant medicines, as well as technologies such as yoga and meditation, etc) which then allows us to shape our future from a new, invigorated, refreshed, and inspired place.
In conclusion, I think it is wise that we look at what tools we have available to us to assist us in becoming happier, healthier and wiser human beings. I think there is value is studying ancient traditions while also taking them with a grain of salt. The same can be said for modern science. We must have discerning eye towards everything. And with our discernment we must look inside of ourselves and see "what is actually holding me back from experiencing more joy, freedom, inspiration and happiness?". If I can honestly and sincerely ask myself this question, and not be afraid to do the homework that my spirit assigns me, then I am well on my way to living that life of greater joy, freedom, inspiration and happiness!
And, I don't know about you, but if there are goals in my life, I think those things -- joy, happiness, freedom, etc -- hold more weight than making more money, or having more things. I'd rather be dis-ease free and happy than stuck in my mind thinking that I need more stuff, wouldn't you?
I may write more at a later time on the topic of Ayahuasca but for now I'll just say this -- THANK YOU. Thank you plants. Thank you plant teachers. Thank you to the intelligence of Nature that is constantly helping us find balance in ourselves. Thank you to these great traditions which have and are keeping the sacred use of these medicines alive and thriving in a world that so desperately needs it.
Now more than ever we need to wake up to our true essence and step outside the illusion that society puts around us. I think plant medicine can help with that. I know yoga, breathwork, meditation can and does help with that. The combination of the two create a powerful affect that is undeniable.
Here's to paving a New Way forward.