by Diego Palma
This is a summary of the book “AYAHUASCA – La medicina del alma” (Ayahuasca – The medicine of the soul) published in the internet in July 2002.
Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a vine of the jungle, which grows in the entire Amazonia, from Columbia to Peru, Bolivia, Brasil and Guyana. It is known to and respected by all indigenous peoples as a healing plant or master “teacher plant” and represents the basis of their traditional medicines.
Ayahuasca is boiled together with the leaves of a shrub called “Chacruna” (Psychotria viridis), giving a brew or sacred drink of psychoactive character that is consumed in a ritual ceremony leading to reflection and cleansing. This brew, named also Ayahuasca, has been used for more than 5,000 years by the shamans of the Amazon as a way to reach amplified states of consciousness.
The psychoactive effects of Ayahuasca can be attributed to Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a substance that is produced by our own body and is responsible for our nocturnal dreams. According to the healers Chacruna is in charge of “painting the visions” whereas the Ayahuasca plant is the one teaching beyond those visions.
The term Ayahuasca is derived from the Quechua words “aya ” meaning soul or spirit and “huasca” meaning rope or vine. This is translated as the cord of the dead or the vine of the soul and is considered to be a drink used by the initiated ones to communicate with the world of the spirits. This brew is considered to be the foundation of the magical-spiritual connection of more than 75 ethnic groups of the Upper and Lower Amazonia.
In the tradition of the Shipibo shamans of the Amazon jungle, Ayahuasca is consumed – among other things – to diagnose and treat illnesses and malfunctions in general, to take important decisions, to ask the Gods for advice, to solve personal conflicts – between families and between tribes-, to communicate with the spirits of nature, to exercise one’s divine capacities and to elucidate mysteries, thefts, disappearances, to know if we have enemies, to know the infidelity of our spouse, to reinforce our sexual activity, etc.
A series of scientific investigations have been carried out in the last years, which have contributed some important conclusions. Based on these diverse investigations we can affirm the following about the physiological effect of Ayahuasca on the human body: the lack of any hepato-toxicity of this vegetable compound.
The consumption of Ayahuasca within a controlled context shows no side-effects, it is not addictive and it does not produce any withdrawal syndrome, that is to say that people do not show any symptom of abstinence when they stop consuming it.
As Josep Ma Fericgla, Spanish expert in therapies with entheogens, affirms “…after thousands of years of its consumption in Amazonia there does not exist even a single record of undue use, of poisonings or accidents as a consequence of its use. There have not been cases of abuse or addiction to this substance, it is not poisonous, it does not generate dependency and there is not one case of crime associated with its consumption. ” (“Breve informe sobre la Ayahuasca”, Dr. Josep Ma. Fericgla. Article published in the internet.
Although it contains a psychoactive component, Ayahuasca cannot be considered and condemned as a classic drug of addictive and negative effects. On the contrary, we must ensure that its consumption never happens within a recreational or playful context. The norm of its use places it within a ritual controlled context of sacred, spiritual and therapeutic characteristics that lead us to a process of deep introspection revealing both agreeable and suppressed experiences, for which the use within a recreational, playful or compulsive context is inadmissible.
The vast majority of persons who consume it, indigenous settlers, shamans, healers, psychologists, therapists, drug-addicted patients, spiritual searchers, religious people and interested ones in general, do not consider this plant to be a drug, but a tool for introspection, meditation, therapy, inner cleansing, auto-exploration or a sacrament.
THE RITUAL SESSION
It is recommended that participants do not eat anything after lunch until the beginning of the session in order to facilitate the “mareación” (the condition under the effects) and to reduce the nausea.
The session generally begins around 9 p.m. The participants sit down on cushions on the ground and lean against the wall of the room. The first effects are perceived after a varying period of time depending on the person and session, but they generally appear after approximately 20 to 40 minutes and last an average of 3 hours.
During the ritual session of Ayahuasca, the participants must respect a certain code of behavior to guarantee the undisturbed development of the ceremony. If possible they should stay seated. The physical position reflects up to certain degree the spiritual attitude with which we receive the medicine. A leaning over or lying position implies a not very firm attitude. On the other hand, a sitting position with elevated head implies a good attitude. In oriental meditation techniques the same is reflected at the time of practicing sitting meditation. Moreover, it is easier to control the effects when sitting rather than lying, where we can sometimes feel great confusion.
It is important to observe the noble silence during the entire session and to avoid speaking, as the experience is to a great extent individual and interior, going so far as to disturb enormously other participants if we start speaking. We must equally avoid producing sounds with our hands or feet since our senses are sensitized up to very powerful levels under the effects of Ayahuasca, leading to the disturbance of others if we make annoying or repetitive sounds.
The visions during the experience of Ayahuasca are of the same nature as the visions during our dreams. Therefore, we need to keep our eyes closed or be in a dark place to be able to have visions. It is important to emphasize that experiencing visions is not necessarily the intention of the experience nor a way of measuring its effectiveness. Often we have no vision at all during a session, even though it is possible to nonetheless experience revealing amplified states of consciousness.
The psychoactive effects induce a modified state of consciousness, which is experienced as expanding and allows us to observe deep-rooted problems and open the censoring of the human unconscious mind. “The conscious mind discovers auto-observation, in the sense of the interior witness, which the main oriental religions speak of”. (“El peyote y la ayahuasca en las nuevas religiones mistéricas americanas”, Dr. Josep Ma. Fericgla. Article published in the internet.)
The Ayahuasca experience can lead to different results, such as the surprising and ecstatic meeting with one’s “Self”, the identification of a true “Me”, not recognized and seemingly rediscovered.
This “transpersonal” experience naturally gives us security regarding ourselves and others. In the long run clear changes manifest in our rhythm of life and in the quality of our relations with others. It increases the security with regard to our intuition, flexibility and openness to changes, as well as visibly heightened capacity of our affective expression. All this is part of the result of a process of reconnection with our deep being, nature and the feeling of transcendency.