Ayahuasca – a Tool for Mediating Health Issues in the Amazon
Bruce, a resident of the Triad, had had an arthritic hip that was negatively impacting his ability to play tennis. He tried a variety of options to lessen the pain – ibuprofen, cortisone, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments and myofascial release. These approaches didn’t help so he turned to a shamanic healer in Winston Salem, Sandy Phocas. He had two intents for his session with Sandy – pain relief and guidance on how to experience a broader reality. He had been studying a variety of consciousness subjects such as near-death experiences and altered states of awareness such as holotropic breath work and was interested in further exploration. Sandy’s shamanic session didn’t help his hip but a word arose during the session – ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is a combination of two plants found in the Amazon Forest in South America. After a lengthy brewing process, a distasteful thick soup remains that, when ingested, produces a multi-hour visionary state. Side effects often include nausea and diarrhea. It has been used for centuries, perhaps millennia, as a means of addressing a variety of mental and physical ills experienced in indigenous, Amazonian cultures. Don Jose Campos is an Amazonian shaman who wrote a book titled The Shaman and Ayahuasca. He reports that by drinking the plants, he steps into the world of shamanic forces allowing him to call on plant and animal spirits for the benefit of people seeking his assistance.
How could plants have a spirit? Some might think the claims of Amazonian curanderos-vegitalistas are driven by hallucinations associated with the psycho active compound in ayahuasca, DMT. However, consider some research that seems to indicate there is such a thing as plant consciousness. The opening chapter of The Secret Life of Plants references the work of Cleve Backster, a man considered to be a preeminent lie-detector examiner. Backster found that he could measure plant reactions using a galvanometer. In one experiment 6 volunteers drew folded slips of paper from a hat. One of the slips contained instructions to pull up one of two plants in Backster’s lab and thoroughly destroy the plant in the presence of the second plant. None of the participants drawing blank slips nor Backster knew who had drawn the destroyer slip. Only the surviving plant would potentially be aware of the culprit. After the deed had been done, the remaining plant was attached to a polygraph. One by one the 6 volunteers entered the room and walked by the remaining plant. There was no reaction by the plant to 5 of the 6 but when the actual “killer” entered the room, the plant had a strong reaction to his presence. While this isn’t definitive proof that plants have consciousness, it may be some evidence that plants have perceptual abilities we don’t understand.
Bruce had never heard the word ayahuasca prior to his session with Sandy. He began researching the subject and was initially intimidated by the notion of ingesting such a powerful mixture. As he read books and watched videos, his reticence about pursuing an experience diminished. He investigated alternative ayahuasca retreats in Peru and settled on a 2 week trip to a Peruvian jungle village managed by the Ayahuasca Foundation.
Bruce and 9 other individuals from a variety of countries made the trek to the Mishana reserve along the Nanay River in Peru. The first day each participant individually met with a Shipibo curandero to describe the physical ailment each wished to address. That night in the first ayahuasca ceremony, the curandero used her skills to evaluate each participant’s condition. The next day the curandero gave a prescription unique to each person’s need. In Bruce’s case he was given two bottles of a liquid called chuchuhuasi and instructed to drink three glasses each day. By the end of the two weeks the hip pain had significantly diminished giving Bruce a range of movement he had not had in many months. When he returned home, Bruce did some internet research on chuchuhuasi and learned that the word is the name of a tree that exists in the Amazon. Its bark contains many anti-inflammatory compounds which get released when boiled in water. These compounds probably account for his pain relief.
Kira Salik wrote an excellent article for National Geographic about her assignment to experience ayahuasca in Peru. She reports that she was able to shed her severe depression. At her web site www.kirasalak.com you can find her article Peru: “Hell and Back”. Readers can get a detailed description of her experience.
Carlos Tanner is the founder of the Ayahuasca Foundation and was asked to provide some thoughts on the ayahuasca experience. Here are some excerpts of his comments:
Ayahuasca serves to amplify the senses, expanding the spectrums of perception beyond the normal biological limitations, meaning that the eyes can see beyond the visible spectrum, hear beyond the audible spectrum, feel beyond the spectrums of more subtle senses, etc. However, the reality of spirits is paramount to understanding plant consciousness.
If we are only to look at the physical reality of plants, i.e. the stems, leaves, chemistry, etc. then I don’t think we would be able to truly comprehend the experience of communication, because the spirits of plants (and animals, humans, mountains, forests, etc.) are not bound by their physical presence. They are able to move around freely as energetic bodies existing in what we would call alternate dimensions, which I feel is a reference to energies that are beyond our perceptual ability.
I do feel that plant communication with humans through the use of ayahuasca is validated by the efficacy of such a wide range of remedies, some of which are quite interesting and strange, like using the gall bladder of the rodent, Mahas, to treat diabetes, for example. But, whenever any discussion of consciousness takes place, it quickly resembles an attempt to swim across an ocean, in that the depth and size of the topic is just so far beyond our comprehension that no matter how nice our ideas are, the mystery of what we cannot know reduces them to mere specs that can disappear with a single wave.
The materialistic view of consciousness is that it is somehow created by chemical and electrical activities in our brain. However, over the past century much evidence has been accumulated that indicate consciousness exists independently of the brain. Perhaps there are other, non-human forms of consciousness that should be recognized.