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Four more reasons to drink Ayahuasca

February 13, 2014
Nigredo Anselm Kiefer 1984

Nigredo by Anselm Kiefer, 1984

I am writing this post after two ceremonies of a ten-day dieta. In the ten-day dietas that I have been doing, we drink ayahuasca five times, every other day and also a companion plant at least twice on the evenings at the beginning of the dieta when we are not drinking ayahuasca. The companion plant is usually prepared as some kind of tea by using it either as a resin from a tree trunk, boiling it, mixing it or mashing a plant up with water or alcohol.

The basic idea of the dieta is to make contact with the spirit of the plant. La Madre Ayahausca’s role is to facilitate this contact. One of her many talents is to help inter-species communication. The spirit of the plant can then convey healing, visions, knowledge and strength to the person dieting the plant. This can then be further used to cure or to curse people. My mentor PapaM. says it is much easier to hurt than to heal, which may be part of the explanation why the Peruvian indigenous and mestizo ayahuasca world is riddled with witchcraft.

Mandragora Spirit by Johnathon Blackthorn

Mandragora Spirit by Johnathon Blackthorn

In other blog entries, I have written of my experience of contact with these plant spirits. I am increasingly of the belief that this was a mistake.

When I was conversing with a friend recently, she told me that the Achuar, an indigenous people she had been working with in Ecuador, believe that any visions offered by the plant spirits should remain secret until they have come to pass. They are offered as a sacred gift and to tell others is disrespectful of the gift.

It does seem, at least in my case, that making them public leads them to withdraw.

Part of my reason for writing in the past about these experiences was to express my astonishment and delight at them. Typically Western rationalist materialism would dismiss these experiences as delusional caused by a hallucinogenic substance but mine and others experience indicates that these experiences are part of other realities which have been denied and denigrated by our monotheistic culture’s limited worldview.

Actually if you look hard enough in the Western cultural tradition you can find examples of radically different ways of understanding the world. I am thinking particularly of twentieth century writers like C.J. Jung, James Hillman, and Henri Corbin who have mapped out with rigor the world of the soul’s imagination or as Jung called it the ‘objective psyche’.

We could also include Goethe’s work on developing a different scientific method based on participation with  the world rather than its objectification, distancing and consequent alienation. This work was further developed by Rudolf Steiner who I am beginning to realize was an extraordinary and perceptive explorer of what he called “Higher Dimensions of Consciousness”

(Incidentally, there is a wonderful series of three videos on YouTube by two teachers based at the Californian Institute of Integral Studies lecturing on Steiner and Jung.)

In this blog entry, however rather than exploring the philosophic background of the western worldview which I have done before, I want to return to my recent experiences with La Madre Ayahuasca.

In the three ceremonies I have had since returning from seven ayahuasca free weeks in Mexico, I have felt out of personal contact with La Madre Ayahuasca and the plants I have dieted before, visionless, and, in a nutshell, profoundly stuck – physically experiencing nausea that lasts for hours and which I have been unable to shift by purging, mentally re-running the same pattern of thoughts, emotionally feeling bereft and despairing, and spiritually feeling empty.


Towards the end of the second ceremony, the thought came to me that I am in the nigredo. This is an essential and unavoidable part of the cyclical alchemical process in which everything darkens, decomposes, putrefies, slows down to standstill, becomes uniformly flat and depressed.

Te sense is that there is no way out and this will last for ever. Misery is the defining feature. It is Shakespeare’s ‘ghastly night’, St. John of the Cross’ ‘dark night of the soul’ and Jung’s ‘confrontation with the shadow’.

Knowing this is in some ways helpful as it at least offers a wider perspective, but the nature of this alchemical stage is that the lived experience of it, rather than the rational mind’s thoughts about it, is deathlike. We are in the underworld without a map.

Part of my experience of this phase is deep existential doubt. Why I am doing this? Am I deluding myself?  Is this some kind of ground zero reality which I will always return to and never escape from? Is it really leading anywhere? Although I think La Madre Ayahuasca in common with Heidegger and Hillman is trying to break us out of this habitual mental framework that we have to be moving along a developmental, progressive planned path.

artwork by menton3-10

artwork by menton3:

This really brings me to the point of this blog entry. Why drink ayahuasca?

The notion that it is a short cut to spiritual enlightenment is laughable. Even the flurry of recent articles on the growth of ayahausca in the Western world and its popularization by increasing celebrity endorsement point out that making you shit and vomit does not predispose its use as a recreational drug.

In an earlier blog, I laid out seven reasons to drink ayahuasca. I believe these still hold. They are, though, very general and my recent experience is giving me other more specific ideas.

So here are four more reasons to drink ayahausca which help me answer the question posed in the paragraph above about why am I still doing this.

1. It helps with  problem solving.

After one ceremony I was walking around the ugly, dusty city of Pucallpa musing about what to do with two cameras that I had bought which had parts missing. Suddenly I saw other options to deal with this. This is a deliberately tiny and mundane example of a wider process in that it seems to me that La Madre Ayahuasca widens our perspectives about everything not just our deep rooted emotional and/or spiritual problems but how to fix the everyday details and challenges of life.

In his book, Intelligence in Nature’, Jeremy Narby talks of an experiment he helped conduct when three molecular biologists drank ayahuasca and were asked to focus on current particularly thorny research quandaries they were experiencing. Two of them received significantly new ideas on how to proceed.

Another way of framing this is in terms of creativity. La Madre loves creativity, loves helping us overcome our creative blocks. Having written relatively little recently, I suddenly found the words for this blog appearing late at night when really I had been planning to sleep.

2. It helps us appreciate the subtlety and sophistication of the plant world.

medicinaI certainly was educated in the conventional belief that the plant world was vastly inferior to the human world.

La Madre Ayahuasca shows us that there is an extraordinary intelligence at work in the plant world. Interestingly science does seem to be catching up with this as shown by a good recent article in the New Yorker by Michael Pollan.

Again to make this very specific and everyday, I really like the comment made somewhere by Jeremy Narby that drinking ayahuasca made him more careful and aware when he was walking on grass.

God knows that on the larger scale the world needs this increased understanding of the importance of the ecological web in all our lives and the damage we are doing to it. La Madre Ayahausca is doing her best to teach us this on every level.

3. It helps balance and integrate thinking, feeling and action.

I wrote once before that I thought it was a mistake to continue to work and be engaged in the social world during a dieta. Traditionally dietas were done alone in the deep jungle with the sole human contact, if any, being with the dietero’s Maestro. This isolation helps facilitate contact with the plant spirits. They are unlikely to appear in the midst of a difficult meeting or when traveling on a motortaxi in Pucallpa.

However, after writing before that I felt it was mistake to have to work during dieta, I subsequently realized that the dieta had helped me see things vividly that I had only been subconsciously aware of beforehand and had helped give me the clarity, resolve and conviction to take two important difficult decisions that had wide consequences for my working and personal life.

On this dieta, alongside the experiences in ceremony of feeling stuck, and with very little sleep, I have been able to gain insights into work and other relationally-based situations that has enabled me to take important action.

Overall, I find La Madre Ayahuasca helps shorten the time between intuitive understanding, the processing of that into a more conscious awareness, and then taking action. For other people, not suffering the doubt and hesitation that I sometimes do, I could imagine her helping them rein in their impulsiveness.

4. It makes difficult conversations easier.

Again through having to work in this dieta, (but at least not every day), I have been in situations where I have needed to engage in what management text books like to call “the art of difficult conversations”.  These have been much easier. I have not felt the anxiety and hesitation that I would typically feel and find myself to be much clearer in my thinking and articulate with my words.

  1. Jonas permalink

    Irake PapaPablito 🙂 Enjoy the rest of dieta witch I’m sure will give you some more reasons to dance with Juan Augustin and Maria Manunka…

  2. susybee bumbling... permalink

    “How needful it is for me to enter into the darkness, and to admit the coincidence of opposites, beyond all the grasp of reason, and there to seek the truth where impossibility meeteth me.” Nicholas of Cusa (Fifteenth century). Quoted by Christian de Quincey in his book RADICAL NATURE; THE SOUL OF MATTER, Park Street Press, 2002/2012. You might be interested in his chapter on Whitehead’s postmodern cosmology…

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