Ayahuasca: Is It a Shortcut?
Ayahuasca is a brew made from plants that grow in the rain forest. It has been used in ceremony by indigenous peoples in Central and South America to expand consciousness and connect strongly to the wisdom of the natural world. In the last few decades more North Americans and Europeans have ventured to places where they can have the experiences offered in taking Ayahuasca.
Many who experience it report fantastic results: purification, seeing more clearly, expanded vision, new perspectives, inspiration, profoundly moving connections, and healings. Sounds good. But, is one guaranteed a shortcut to Spiritual Awakening, aka spiritual emergence?
What Those Who Intimately Know Ayahuasca Say
To further my understanding I reached out to people in the know: I spoke in depth to several, qualified individuals (recognized by traditional healers) who lead ceremony with Ayahuasca in Costa Rica and Peru. I watched several video testimonies and feature length films on the benefits of Ayahuasca. I updated my knowledge through two excellent recent books on the value of psychedelic experience, Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” (2019) and “Dismantled: How Love and Psychedelics Broke a Clergyman Apart, and Put Him Back Together” (2018) by Rev. G. Bruce Sanguin.
I also had the opportunity of directly learning from people in my private practice as well as my teaching. I’ve counseled people returning from Ayahuasca ceremony in Peru who have had difficulty integrating their experiences there. And, in training Spiritual Emergence Coaches® I’ve been asked to help counselors understand more fully how to help people who are taking giant steps in their spiritual emergence process through psychedelics and sacred plant medicines.
One of the most moving testimonies on the healing benefits of Ayahuasca came in 2019 from psychiatrist, Gabor Mate. He was invited to be a leader of ceremony for healthcare providers at a retreat in Costa Rica, and was qualified to lead the ceremony and help with integration. However, when he arrived at the center the shamans in charge told him he should take the week to do healing for himself instead. He later sat for a video interview about his experiences that week.
Another favorite video interview of mine is with Dr Mabit (2014), a French MD who founded the healing center, Takiwasi, using plant medicines in the Peruvian Andes in 1986. He makes the point that the most important part of working with sacred plant medicines is not the journey itself, but the integration of that journey. That integration includes giving meaning to the experience which can be a very personal journey in itself and often needs a qualified counselor who has themselves succeeded in integrating such journeys. Finding your true purpose in this life is possible through using Ayahuasca. The other part of integrating is bringing the wisdom back home and making life changes to honor what was learned.
What’s Most Important
One ceremonialist, endorsed by Icaro Shamans, called “Maestros” in this tradition, who has worked for decades leading ceremonies, told me he is drawn to working with people without using plant medicines now. Why? He said, “Because more people are ready for deep work and don’t need the medicine.” He added, “Many psychonauts who use the plant medicines are interested in the “trip” but are not interested or able to make any life changes when they get home to their families. They don’t care to integrate their experiences.”
An example: think of a person who has a very authoritarian, domineering stance towards their partner. They put their partner down and take advantage of that person’s kindnesses. They order them around without consideration. The plant medicine “trip” may reveal that we are all connected, we are in essence “One” with each other. We get an ecstatic view into an expanded consciousness and love. But, here’s where the rubber meets the road. Is the person immersed in that Oneness with the medicine willing to take their insights home and treat their partner with kindness? Can they now treat their partner with the same loving attention they give themselves? Are they willing to bring their recognition of “Oneness” into their everyday connections –respecting all living beings? If so they have evolved. They take giant steps in their own spiritual emergence. If not, what was the value of the experience?
We have discovered a great resource for personal growth in sacred plant medicines. When there is qualified support, in both counseling and ceremonialists, we can use our experiences to make huge gains in personal growth and spiritual growth. But, these are not always short cuts to spiritual emergence unless we bring the gifts back home fully. Without qualified guidance and thoughtful integration, these trips are similar to a day at the amusement park.
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