Ayahuasca: New Traditions and Sacred Values

The ancient practices surrounding Ayahuasca are considered to be sacred as is the medicine itself. I truly respect and appreciate the sacred traditions of Peru where I first drank the medicine. It’s important to have this kind of respect but if we don’t have self respect, it’s difficult to cultivate a healthy respect for other people, cultures and for the environment itself. This is what this teacher plant can offer us – an opportunity to heal, and developing self respect is an integral part of healing. This medicine can heal on a level that will help us to develop qualities that will ultimately benefit all. What I’ve learned through many of these experiences is that what truly serves our highest good, serves all. Another lesson from this medicine is that we are all sacred, and how we feel, live and think are so much more important than the kinds of things we focus on all too often. Perhaps we can consider this aspect of our lens/focus as we delve into the issue of Ayahuasca traditions and the modern expansion of this medicine.

The truth is that Ayahuasca is being practiced in the Amazon in a very different way than it has been for most of its existence.  Ayahuasca is being offered to large numbers of people from all over the world. This comes with its challenges but also with benefits. I think it’s plain to see the challenges. People are using it in many ways that can be at times harmful and disrespectful. The ways and degrees considered to be harmful are debated by many but it’s certainly true that there are harms. This happens because people who have been harmed/wounded have not healed sufficiently and are serving the medicine and working with it in ways that negatively impact the experience for those involved in these spaces/retreats. This harmful impact is true of any area of life. It’s true of any wounded leader, teacher, parent or employer/boss. It’s true of many who are featured prominently in mass media. Those who have influence over others emit an energy that impacts the people surrounding them and especially those subject to their decisions.  I’m sure you can think of many such wounded people who are harmfully impacting many others.

I have come to understand that Ayahuasca has it’s own intentions and purpose. I also believe that despite the difficulties, it’s quite intentional that this medicine is spreading worldwide and it’s understandable that as it spreads, there will be a messy transition. It’s also understandable that there will be some wounded/unhealed people serving the medicine. This isn’t new and has been happening across all cultures for thousands of years. Wounds didn’t begin in the Western world but we certainly have our fair share of them built into our culture. It’s not surprising that new traditions are being born. All traditions were once born and continue to be born. It’s also to be expected, that many people who are just discovering this medicine will use it in ways that are very different than what is considered to be traditional. However, I feel that we can learn a lot from those who are most experienced with it and most importantly, from the medicine itself – a very wise teacher who has been teaching indigenous cultures for ages.

I feel that to honour Ayahuasca is to honour the wisdom and the nature of its healing. The medicine has made its way into other cultures and areas of the world for a reason. It is a medicine and it’s treating illnesses. These illnesses are not only physical. That is simply one way that they manifest. These illnesses appear in many ways, some that might even be considered to be ‘normal’ and they don’t only exist in one area of the world, they exist everywhere. This is why integration is important for all – even though it may be experienced and/or pursued differently for each of us. Integration is a new tradition and I believe it’s a good one. Sometimes, we may be in danger of honouring the traditions more than the values of Ayahuasca. This reminds me of the reason why religion confused me and mostly failed to inspire me – Christianity and Catholicism in particular. It occurred to me very early in life that in many situations, the focus of religion was on tradition and rules rather than living the values at the very core of the religion. They forgot about love – the most sacred of all values.

My own relationship with Ayahuasca has been both of a traditional and non-traditional nature. However, the teachings align very closely with many espoused by the masters.  To honour Ayahuasca, we need to give those who have been learning from these teacher plants for many years and generations a voice in our communities. They carry with them the kinds of teachings that transcend tradition and speak to the very heart of the human experience. This wisdom carries with it the capacity to bring us together and through healing, so many of us can see how harmful divisive social attitudes (or should I say antisocial attitudes?) can be despite the best of intentions. This issue of Ayahuasca spreading into other cultures and how it used and regarded or disregarded etc can be an opportunity for us to heal a wound created long ago – a division that may be ready to heal. If we allow for it, this will be a profound accomplishment that will definitely serve all.

I experienced Ayahuasca in what would be considered by many to be a traditional setting in the jungle with Maestras and Maestros from the Shipibo tradition. Except for the fact that there were people from all over the world receiving the medicine, I believe that these incredibly loving and gifted shamans performed their work in a way that was considered to be traditional. I admired everything about them and it was clear to me that they loved their work, which is very important. All of this work was being done so that we could experience the gift of Ayahuasca. What would be the point of any of it if we didn’t follow the wisdom of this teacher plant? As many people do, I had a dialogue with Ayahuasca from the very beginning. Ayahuasca hinted to me back then the nature of the work that I would do – working with the medicine in some way – and I was so reluctant. I figured that this would entail years of training under the tutelage of Maestras/Maestros and I had a young son that needed me at home. One of the reasons I was there was to heal from depression which had compromised my connection with my son and everyone else but especially, with me. Ayahuasca’s response to my reluctance was “don’t worry, we will stay with you”. And so ‘they’ did.

When I returned home, I began a sort of training that was very unique and directed by this same voice that I heard when I experienced the medicine. It has taken me through a long and arduous journey that has allowed me to build a better relationship with myself while building one with my son. It has taken me through some fascinating and deeply healing experiences that have taught me about my own ability to heal myself and it helped me to understand the origins of certain kinds of emotional and physical pain. It also helped me to be aware of my thoughts and feelings and the connection between the two and how to use tools to address unhealthy thought patterns. It has taught me a great deal and when I interview people on my show who have been through traditional training, I recognize some of the learning I’ve already been through and I understand why I was trained in this way. I needed to be with my son and I needed to train in a new way that was all about integrating this wisdom into my life that is not lived in a jungle or amongst people who understand this medicine. It’s lived here in a world that needs to change.

This higher form of consciousness that expresses itself as Ayahuasca has wisdom to offer that is sometimes beyond our understanding. If we are to honour it, we must trust it. It has made its way around the world intentionally and we have an opportunity to support that. Although many of us have different ideas as to the best way to experience the medicine, let’s try to honour the most sacred of the teachings of Ayahuasca: love.

Ayahuasca is a gift and everyone who receives and offers it is at a different stage of growth. I know that the medicine has changed many lives but everyone is free to choose just how they want to continue this kind of personal work or if they want to continue it at all. Having this freedom is the nature of our existence. I hope that many people choose to use this freedom in a healthy way and I think the medicines are helping people to get there. Many of us are finding that the medicine asks us to take responsibility for our own lives, live them with love and recognize how powerful we are because often, we use that power against ourselves and against others. This is also a choice.

One of the most important aspects of my ongoing training is the focus on self. For the first year after I arrived back from the jungle, Ayahuasca made me aware of how much energy I was expending in my mind on other people, what they thought and what they were doing. I was continually asked to focus on my own reactions to others and to discover why I was having them. This changed everything for me. Instead of expending energy on what I couldn’t change, I was beginning to understand, heal and change myself in some incredible ways. This was powerful. It became such a deeply rooted habit that when it came time to speak about things affecting others, I was again very reluctant. But when I found that there was no longer that edge in my feelings about it, I knew that I was ready.

I think that the best way for us to honour Ayahuasca is to honour ourselves. And the best way to honour ourselves is to heal and love ourselves without judgement wherever we’re at in our lives and this will help us to approach others in the same way. It will also help us to approach other larger issues in healthier ways. Not all of us find ourselves able to do this all the time but if this is our intention, I know that we will be supported in this work. If we keep to honouring Ayahuasca in this way, all of the things that we hope to change will follow from this one most important act of power, the source of which is love.

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