Ayahuasca and the embodied process

I want to share with you a well-founded reflection about the grounding of the Ayahuasca medicine tradition, from one of its most respected researchers, Steve Beyer.

Steve Beyer is a scholar. He's a guy with a law degree and doctorates in both religious studies and psychology. He's also been a serious student of working ayahuasceros in the Amazon for several years. His recent book, Singing to the Plants, is a deeply thoughtful study on the plant medicine traditions of the Amazon; he has a multi-faceted website also called Singing to the Plants.

We encounter a lot of folks whose concept of the Ayahuasca work would be along the lines of  what John Welwood calls "spiritual bypassing". And perhaps there is a part of each of us that still hopes for such a quick fix. Another promise of a way to "see God". Or a journey or trip into some celestial region, perhaps to find "the solution" to one's personal challenge. And there is a sense, because intention is so central, in which such aspirations may seem to be fulfilled, though I suspect fleetingly.

Ayahuasca does open the vision. Many of the tribes who use it speak Quechua, and some call their ayahuasca shaman a "yachic",  from the Quechua term yachay,  which means vision, or wisdom. The cognitive aspect of the ayahuasca experience is attractive, often charming, even potentially distracting. Certainly knowing what is happening to us is important; it helps us to, in effect, hold space for ourselves, be present to the process of transformation we are undergoing, and to stay the course, which can sometimes be very challenging.  As the "teacher plant", Ayahuasca can help us to understand, guide us in our process.

But Ayahuasca is also "el doctor".  The healing happens at the level of the body, including the subtle or energetic body. Not "and also" the subtle, but "including". The stuff we need to leave behind, whether we call it bad spirits or old patterns or psychological complexes, resides in the body. And the medicine works with the body, even as it may be giving deep information to the mind and spirit.

So here is a bit of Steve Beyer's commentary that's relevant to this, and I think to the journey many of us are sharing:

The shaman undergoes la  dieta, living in solitude in the jungle, without salt or sugar or sex, ingesting the plant, taking the plant into the body, learning its songs and secrets... For the patient as for the  shaman, to drink ayahuasca in ceremony is to be connected to the body in profoundly physical  ways....

First, ayahuasca tastes awful.... Second, ayahuasca is a powerful purgative and emetic; indeed, ayahuasca is often called la purga. Thus, from the first  taste of ayahuasca in ceremony, our relationship with the body is brought into sharp focus.... Ayahuasca shamanism is irreducibly physical. The body is the shaman’s instrument of power and relationship....

Reminders of the darker side of human existence constantly  lurk in the margins of the shamanic performance –  dangerous ambiguity, broken boundaries, ambivalence, transgression, disorder....

All of this makes us Westerners nervous. We distrust our bodies. We find vomiting wretched and miserable; we struggle to maintain our body boundaries; above all, we seek ways to evade the ferocious physicality of the ayahuasca experience. When we drink ayahuasca, we focus on visions, insight, transformative experiences. We seek, in the words of psychologist James Hillman, “an imageless white liberation,” a flight from the reality of human embodiment....

The healing power of ayahuasca lies precisely in its connection with the earth, the body, with suffering, passion, and mess. The healing is not conceptual – an
insight, a realization, an epiphany. Rather it is a visceral impact on the body. We should not think of ayahuasca shamans as spiritual gurus.

To read the full article, click here