I recently drank ayahuasca in the Amazon basin of Peru.
Drinking this ancient shamanic brew from the Amazon jungle has become an integral part of a growing, spiritually-oriented subculture.
Ayahuasca is a sacred visionary tea that has been used by indigenous Amazonian shamans in healing ceremonies for at least 4,000 years.
Although this peaceful subculture is spreading around the world, the hub of this expanding community lies in the Amazon jungles of South America, where it first began.
Just a few decades ago, outside of a small circle of anthropologists, ethnobotanists, and courageous writers, virtually no one in the Western world even knew what ayahuasca was.
Only a handful of people in the West knew that deep in the Amazon rain forests, for thousands of years, the indigenous people there have been performing ceremonies with this mysterious plant-based beverage, using it as a medicine for healing, and as a potent sacrament for spiritual purposes.
No one knows how the indigenous people of the Amazon discovered this effective combination of two plants, which are inactive on their own, but create a powerful psychedelic synergy when combined together.
Western anthropologists say that this synergistic combination was found by “trial and error,” but the natives provide a more compelling explanation. They say that the plants told them.
Over the past 15 years or so, ayahuasca-based churches have been quietly spreading all over the world.
Additionally, many people are making pilgrimages to the Amazon jungle, to do ayahuasca in its traditional setting--where it’s revered by the indigenous people there, as a living conscious being, a powerful spiritual intelligence, that one interacts with during the ceremony.
With an exception from the Supreme Court for members of the Santo Daime Church, in the United States, and much of the world, ayahuasca is illegal because it contains the psychedelic compound DMT.
Although naturally found in the brain, as well as in numerous plant species, DMT, or “dimethyltryptamine,” is illegal in many places due to its psychedelic properties.
However, the plants necessary to brew ayahuasca, as well as San Pedro cacti, are completely legal in Peru.
As a result, “ayahuasca retreats”--where anyone can sample the psychedelic beverage--have become popular tourist destinations in Peru.
Although I had tried ayahuasca-like brews before, made from plants that contained the same primary chemical components as the traditionally-used plants--up until just a few weeks ago--I craved an experience with the indigenous jungle plants, in the traditional setting of the Amazon rain forest.
I’m happy to report that I just returned a few weeks ago from a trip to Iquitos, Peru--the worldwide center of ayahuasca culture--where I spoke at the 9th International Amazonian Shamanism Conference.
Iquitos is located in the basin of the Amazon jungle in Peru, and it is the largest city in the world with no roads leading to it. The only way to get there is by boat or by plane.
There is little Western influence in Iquitos. There are few cars, no McDonalds, and almost no violence.
The Markets in Iquitos have remained unchanged for thousands of years.
Botanical wonders from the jungle, piles of animal bodies and parts, strange potions with magical properties, colorful woven tapestries, and stacks of grinning monkey skulls, overflow from the crowded, labyrinthian marketplace stalls--alongside large chunks of hallucinogenic cacti and the sacred plants necessary to brew ayahuasca.
Talk about trippy. Ayahuasca journeys aside, just being in Iquitos is a psychedelic experience!
Iquitos contains a vibrant community of transplanted Westerners--spiritual seekers, aspiring shamans, artists, and writers, largely--who have come to partake in the ancient ceremonial rituals and to commune with the psychedelic plant spirits of the Amazon.
Tourism in Iquitos is largely based around the abundant ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus ceremonies that are readily available there.
Many of the restaurants have a special section on their menus for people on “ayahuasca diets,” as it is necessary to refrain from eating certain foods before doing ayahuasca for health reasons.
While I was visiting Iquitos, I had the opportunity to drink traditional ayahuasca brews in private ceremonies, something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Nearly universal among ayahuasca drinkers is the conviction that the sacred brew allows one to communicate with an intelligent entity--the spirit of the Amazon jungle or the universal life force--who many people refer to simply as “la madre.”
In other words--using animated images, memories, feelings, and language--the ayahuasca spirit communicates directly with you in a very personal way.
She will even speak to you in your native language!
As with many others, after drinking ayahuasca, and encountering this spirit for myself, the experience was simply and profoundly undeniable.
Under the influence of ayahuasca, it appeared that I was being scanned by an alien intelligence, who showed me previously unrecognized patterns in my life, and taught me much about how to make myself into a better and healthier person.
It became increasingly clear during my ayahuasca experiences that this ancient spirit knew more about me than I knew myself.
Ayahuasca is a potent psychedelic, generally orders of magnitude more intense than many people in the West experience with LSD or magic mushrooms, and doing this ancient hallucinogenic brew in the Amazon is certainly no pleasure cruise.
Although I never felt particularly nauseous on my ayahuasca journeys, many people vomit and purge during the experience.
The visions can be extremely powerful, sometimes amazingly beautiful, and other times utterly terrifying.
However, most significantly, many people report improved health and near-miraculous healings, both physical and psychological, after participating in ayahuasca sessions.
Many people also report a heightened sense of ecological and spiritual connectivity, as well as a greater sense of sensitivity and overall awareness.
I would say that going down to Iquitos, and doing ayahuasca there, was among the most profound and important experiences of my life.
I look forward to the day, in the not very distant future, when this sacred gift from the jungle can be scientifically studied more carefully, and we can learn more about its valuable medical and spiritual potential.
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Please share any thoughts that you may have about ayahuasca.