Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ayahuasca and Intention, Part 1

I think it's natural to ascribe our own motives to other people. Unfortunately, it is also incorrect.

My motives in approaching ayahuasca have been straightforward and clean: to heal trauma, gain direction in my life, and manifest the full potential that God has given to me. To fulfill my Destiny rather than succumb to my Fate. To harm none, and to help as many as possible.

I like to think that they are the motives of the curandero, the healer.

The overwhelming majority of people I encounter on this path are very similarly motivated. In fact, in the medicine community I have consistently met some of the most decent human beings I've had the privilege to know.

With one or two exceptions.

On occasion I have encountered someone in ceremony who just doesn't feel right. It's always a jarring experience: What is he doing here?

I can't really know for sure. However, I have a guess.

There is another path opened up for us by these plant allies: that of the brujo, the witch. It's not a very nice one. It is an amoral path, one which seeks only one thing: power for its own sake, expressed primarily through domination over others.

It is the path my father chose. It is the path often celebrated throughout our society, from boardrooms to battlefields to street corners to cell blocks.

It is the way of the sociopath. On it, our fellow human beings are not other manifestations of the Divine who deserve care, consideration, and love in their own right. Instead, they are objects to be used and discarded as necessary in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement.

I flew to Peru last year with stars in my eyes. I was confident that I was headed to some spiritual Shangri-La, a rainforest Eden filled with light and beauty and devotion to the highest ideals known to our species.

Then I landed in Iquitos. Those who have been there will know what I am talking about. For those who haven't, all I can say is that Iquitos is a cross between a Mexican border town and Telluride, Colorado, but with Rocky Mountain kind bud replaced by the most powerful psychedelics in the world. Untuned motorcycles roar down the streets at all hours of the day and night, unwashed street kids harangue you incessantly with cheap wares, hippies follow their ayahuasca diets at earth-toned cafes, and millennia-old indigenous sacraments are hawked right next to degenerate thrill-seeking.

A friend at the workshop related that he was approached by a dealer on the street with the sales pitch, repeated over and over like a mantra, "Ayahuasca, girls, cocaine......ayahuasca, girls, cocaine....."

Separately, or all at once?

A good friend of mine has worked extensively at one of the ayahuasca centers outside of Iquitos. He describes how, in the Shipibo culture that is the basis of so much of ayahuasca shamanism, becoming a shaman is really just another trade, like becoming a carpenter or plumber. If we carry that analogy through, then ayahuasca itself is not something mystical or unknowable - it is simply another tool, like a saw or wrench or hammer.

I think there's something to this view. I know that, as I have related in earlier posts, I first approached this path of plant medicine with a lot of misconceptions. Probably the biggest one was that ayahuasca would magically lift all of my spiritual sickness from me and suddenly fill me with light.

To again quote my friend, if that were true then all of these Amazonian shamans would be enlightened beings akin to Tibetan Lamas. A review of the literature surrounding ayahuasca tourism disproves that pretty quickly, what with the various allegations of shamanic rape, robbery, black magic, disposal of inconvenient tourist corpses, etc. My friend confirms this in more prosaic form, with his descriptions of the petty, ordinary back-biting and drama that many of the shamans apparently engage in as a matter of course.

It's easy to look at Westerners eager for spiritual awakening through the medicine and scoff at them as naive and foolish. Certainly there's an element of that in this whole pursuit. We must temper our enthusiasm with awareness of reality. But at the same time, I think there's something really beautiful in approaching ayahuasca with idealism and innocence and purity of heart. Let us be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.

I think she responds well to it. The problem is that she seems to respond to darker motives, as well.

I am coming to view ayahuasca as one of the most powerful tools on the planet for manifesting human intention. Which brings me back to the title of my post. What intention are we bringing to our work with this tool, this sacrament, this divine being?

God bless you, whoever you are.

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