What is the forbidden fruit "...that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil..."? (Genesis 3:4)
It has been eleven years since I first wrote about ayahuasca after visiting Brazil, where I participated in ceremonies in 2008. It was one of the first texts on this topic in Croatia and the neighboring countries because in those times few people in the region heard about this psychotropic potion. That article has remained the most read text on my website. Though the foundation of my therapeutic and spiritual work consists of entirely different methods, which I still consider far more important for the personal development than using any substance, the wider public still caught the story of ayahuasca as the most striking theme. In the meantime, the interest for ayahuasca multiplied and many people traveled to Brazil, Peru and other countries with shamanistic traditions to try this substance, making the term "ayahuasca" a standard element of the vocabulary of spiritual seekers. From my first encounter with ayahuasca to the present day, I have been through a large number of ceremonies, but I have also tried numerous other psychotropic plants and substances. Since my experience with the plant medicine came after almost thirty years of spiritual practice that did not include any "herbal medicine" or shamanic ceremonies, it was interesting to observe the effects of psychotropic substances on someone whose use of psychedelics was neither the first nor the only form of spiritual work. And for this very reason, I believe that people who engage in such a form of spiritual search could profit from the information I will present here.
PSYCHOTROPIC PLANTS OR MEDITATION?
The attractiveness of the Shamanic path and the ease with which one can gain a profound spiritual experience is appealing to many, so this path is one of the most popular today. After all, why not use psychotropic substances when you only need to drink the potion, and the effects are there, even without any effort or active participation from your side. Compared to other methods, shamanistic ceremonies enable the attendees to reach an expansion of consciousness, significant insights, spiritual experience, and sometimes healing in a far easier way. If we pursue the same goals without the help of substances, our path will be much harder and more difficult. That’s why I understand those who regard psychotropic plants as God's blessing or "manna from heaven". I also tend to view the herbal teachers as extraordinary aids that may greatly facilitate and speed up personal development. When God had already created and planted them on the planet, it would be foolish not to use them. What, though, after a shamanistic ceremony? How will we repeat or renew our experiences without herbal medicine? And what if restrictive social mechanisms completely disallow consumption of psychotropic plants, since it is not improbable that this could happen?
The fact is that I did not experience anything new on psychotropic plants that I didn’t experience before, practicing a direct spiritual path, such as the Enlightenment Intensive or various therapeutic techniques. The psychotropic plants have only confirmed and deepened my old experiences, but they did not enable me to break into any new levels of the universal spirit that I could not reach independently. For this reason, I can only conclude that the use of psychotropic plants is neither necessary nor irreplaceable - all that we can experience on them we can achieve without them. Thus, at least for me, the effect of such substances in comparison to direct spiritual practice is equal to zero. If you're willing to devote yourself to meditation, all the ayahuasca's effects can be achieved independently, by using intent and open heart and mind. But this way is much harder - it requires far more effort and renunciation and is, therefore, less attractive.
Nevertheless, the experience gained through our efforts has a significant advantage over what we do with external helpers, because we reached them alone, without anyone’s help. Also, although psychotropic substances may have a psychotherapeutic effect, they do not provide quality and complete causal therapy. Their maximum range is giving insight into the unconscious mechanisms and limiting patterns that we have, but not their dissolution.
So now what? To quit psychotropic substances or not? To follow a direct path or use herbal medicine only? If I had to make a one-way decision, I would choose the direct path because it provides complete independence. A person who can acquire a spiritual experience by sitting down, opening up, practicing a particular kind of meditation technique, and then slipping into a state of unity with absolute, is in a great advantage to someone who needs outer stimulus to achieve the same. Why depend only on the external forms of fulfillment when the true source is in us, in our original nature, and reachable without any external tool? But why be exclusive? Why not take the best from both?
When it comes to spiritual practice, the aid of psychotropic substances will be a welcome upliftment to the immediate effort of practitioners to reach a spiritual experience and enjoy its accompanying effects. And possibly in this order - first our work and effort, and then external help. After all, shouldn’t a goal of a shamanic ceremony be having an insight into possibilities that we should later accomplish independently, using our internal resources? There is a large number of spiritual paths and schools that do not use any auxiliary means, but only meditation. Most mystics reached enlightenment using only meditation. And they have presented a level of emotional and spiritual maturity that goes far beyond the one shamans have. They have also expressed a high level of independence, as opposed to shaman’s dependence on drinking, smoking, or eating different substances.
STYLE AND SETTING
Before I define what the goals of a shamanic ceremony should be, I would first like to talk about the setting and style. So, gains are possible if the ceremony is performed properly, and this, unfortunately, is not so common. Many shamans not only perform their ceremonies badly, but some of them do not even possess true ethics. I estimate that you will find balance and ethics in one out of ten - others consider power very important, usually magical (and often black-magical); some do it only for money, and others use their charms to have sex with ayahuasca tourists. The experience of a ceremony with some shamans can easily turn into a nightmare, so the problem begins already with the selection of a shaman and, consequently, the character of the ceremony.
Allegedly "original," "ancient" or "traditional" shamanistic rites differ from each other very much, although most shamans will argue that their approach is the most original and pristine and that their way is the only right way. Some shamans dress up in the clothing of the tribe in whose tradition they perform a ceremony, some wear ribbons and various jewels, while others consider such tawdriness an unnecessary circus. Some believe that a ceremony should go in full silence; others occasionally sing the icaros, rustle their rattles and play various percussion. Members of the Santo Daime church sing songs, play musical instruments and dance, and reject the participants who expect that they will only lie down and do nothing. I am personally inclined to quiet ceremonies, with occasional rattling and singing in moments when the group needs fresh energy or a push in a certain direction, whether it is stronger purification, getting out of confusion or making a breakthrough from disturbing states of mind into more constructive ones. The effect of psychotropic plants is difficult to predict because the experience is never the way we would like and expect it to be, nor the energy of the ceremony is always the same. Some ceremonies will require occasional intervention by the leader or shaman, while others require total silence because they go so deep that participants perceive every sound interference as pure violence. That is why the Santo Daime style is a restrictive one - what if the ceremony goes deep and requires silence, but the facilitators turn on all the lights in the room and urge you to get up and sing songs about Jesus' love - in Portuguese?
So, how someone conducts a ceremony is very important, because different styles suit different people. Insisting on only one way, or that the ceremony is performed solely in one of the traditions of South American shamanism, can have a profound effect on the person's experience of ayahuasca. Ceremonies can be done without a shaman, and even without anyone's guidance, although I would by no means recommend this immediately, the way many do today because of the increasing availability of psychotropic plants. It is a good idea to go through a series of ceremonies with a quality shaman or facilitator first and then think about making one yourself. I was lucky enough to immediately run into a very good shaman, Colombian Warinei Wanare. His ayahuasca ceremonies were the first I attended, so I had the opportunity to see how a humble and unpretentious person does it. Warinei's ceremonies are typically shamanistic, based on a centuries-old tradition, with singing icaros and occasionally using different percussion instruments. I appreciate his approach because it’s liberal - he allows participants to move away from the group and walk around the property, spending some time on their own, unhindered by the energy of a group, sounds, and other forms of shaman’s work.
After Warinei's I went through many other shamanistic ceremonies, as well as non-shamanistic ones. I had the opportunity to compare and see what different traditions look like and concluded the following - when it comes to the role of a ceremony master, I believe that its most important aspect should be the energetic protection of space where the ceremony happens. The reason for this is in the interference of inorganic entities. Every gathering of a spiritual kind provokes inorganic worlds and entities to interfere with the process and slow it down, make it difficult or even impossible.
The existence of inorganic worlds and entities that feed on human energy is one of the central problems of humanity, although an extremely small number of people are aware of this. Inorganic beings infiltrated themselves into the Earth's energy field and made it a kind of prison, with humans as their energetic food. Such entities will by no means allow any constructive life process to go unpunished, and especially a shamanistic ceremony. Therefore, the master must have the ability to "close the door to the lower astral worlds" and keep the energetic space clean throughout the process. Nothing terrible needs to happen if the leader doesn’t have this ability, except that experiences of the participants are likely to be shallower. But sometimes the group may be under heavy attack of lower-astral entities (and I was present at such a ceremony), and the whole process turns into a psycho-emotional massacre that we probably could have avoided with better protection of energetic space.
The facilitator must also feel the group and the energy of the ceremony, recognizing when to act and when to retreat. Making a circus out of a ceremony solely for the sake of mystification or egotistic urges makes no sense. I have attended a ceremony where the shaman and his assistant performed a play, embodying scenes from the Way of the Cross. At the stage of nailing Jesus to the cross, the female assistant howled and cried as if Pilate's nails had just stabbed her personally. Hearing something like that was embarrassing, if not for any other reason, then because of the tremendous sensitivity to sound and other people’s energy. As you can assume, I did not attend the other two ceremonies because I didn't need this kind of torture. That is why the leader's alertness, sensitivity, and sense of the energy of the group are necessary prerequisites for me to participate in it at all. The facilitator should also take into account the behavior of the participants because an ayahuasca ceremony is not a party place aimed for the loud and explicit expression of someone’s emotions. Participants should be quiet and as careful to each other as possible, not interfering with the conduct of the ceremony. Speaking loudly, shouting, crying, or any other form of noisy expression of emotions cannot be part of the ceremony, so the leader and assistants have to maintain order in the group.
Pablo Amaringo - Ceremonias de Ayahuasca
Furthermore, the dosage is extremely important. Although it is in the shamanistic tradition that participants are given more or less the same dose, it is my experience that careful dosing is invaluable. The too strong dose can demotivate a person, and I was present when sensitive people collapsed unconscious at the toilet door without anyone paying attention to them, while the reason for this reaction was, of course, the dose. The shaman was said to have "precise intuition" and "always knows precisely how much to give," but there wasn’t even a "p" in his precision - people were fainting, and some were injured because they collapsed on a hard floor. Too small a dose is never a problem because it is always possible to drink more, and since the lethal amount of ayahuasca is considered to be seven liters, so a dose of about half a brandy glass is far from problematic. Compared to alcohol, where the lethal amount is far less (for some, half a liter of hard liquor will be fatal, let alone seven liters), a slight "overdose" on ayahuasca or some other psychotropic plant is still within the normal range of the human physical endurance. Unless we pass out and get hurt. So why not evaluate the dose more precisely by talking to each participant and at least questioning how sensitive they are to various substances? Why give the same dose to someone who gets drunk from a half glass of wine as to a person who doesn’t get drunk from half a liter? Careful dosing is not a problem, but shamans are often negligent and find that their “unprecedented intuition” is more accurate than exact information. And this kind of arrogance will have the corresponding consequences.
THE GOALS OF A SHAMANISTIC CEREMONY
If we meet the prerequisites, then we can expect the ceremony to enable the participants with the deepest possible experiences. So, here are a few words about the potential gains. If we use psychotropic substances as an upgrade to personal and spiritual development based on our efforts and work, the benefits will be even greater. Of course, everyone else might have similar ones, but those who attend ceremonies as the only form of their spiritual practice still have far fewer gains. Therefore, I would classify the basic goals of ayahuasca ceremonies into three groups:
- Purification (detoxification)
- Expansion of consciousness (expanded perception)
- Spiritual experience (direct experience of truth)
Vigorous detoxification is the first and most common effect of shamanistic ceremonies. Ayahuasca is not a "drug" or substance unnatural to the human body, but rather a medicine that will cause all typical effects of the detox process - nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, coughing or runny nose. Thus, in the first phase of the process, which begins as early as fifteen minutes after taking it, the body becomes heavy, and it is not easy to remain in a sitting position. Many people have an aversion to ayahuasca for nausea it causes, and they don’t want to attend ceremonies because of the vomiting. But the very fact that ayahuasca stimulates the body to cleanse itself indicates that it is a remedy, not a poison, so the purification is one of the biggest gains of the ceremony. The cleansing can be both superficial and profound. It is my experience that ayahuasca will purify a person from acute toxins, but also from those that accumulate in the body for a long time, such as antibiotics and residues of other synthetic drugs, heavy metals, the effects of technical radiation, poor nutrition, bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, various narcotics or legal drugs such as alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine. Just having ayahuasca cleanse the remains of antibiotics from the body is enough to gain, let alone from other, even more dangerous, toxins that we may release during purification. But what if nausea lasts too long and won’t stop, and is not strong enough to make you purge? Here’s a tip - you need to drink more. When you’re at your worst, and you can’t get out of the unpleasant state, go for more. It is the best and fastest way to go through this phase.
Emotional and mental purification regularly accompanies the physical, as well as the spiritual one. Cleansing is never one-dimensional, and everyone who has ever had a high fever knows this well - such a condition regularly triggers emotional/mental reactions as well. Here, that process is far more visible through the visions and different emotional moods that go along such cleansing. It is a well-known fact today that all biochemical processes in the body directly reflect on bioenergetic processes and vice versa. A substance like ayahuasca affects the state and flow of bioenergy in our energy bodies. Since all energy processes are simultaneously psychological, or psycho-spiritual, such a strong bioenergetic influence will certainly stimulate an equally strong psycho-spiritual reaction that can take many forms. Ayahuasca is a beverage made up of two plants, one of which contains dimethyltryptamine or DMT - a psychoactive substance that enables visions and spiritual experiences. DMT gives the cleansing that accompanies the first phase of the ceremony a visible visual form - famous geometric shapes, fractals, snakes, insects, and all sorts of surreal visions, often resembling the beings from Hieronymus Bosch's paintings. These visions indicate that we have entered the astral sphere because the purification phase regularly manifests as the cleansing of the so-called “astral mucus” accumulated in both the physical and energy bodies and released as the green or brown secretion, very much like the astral plasma spoken of by esoteric science.
Hieronymus Bosch – The Delights of Hell
I jokingly called this part of the process a "dancing bear" phase, because astral visions can have a strong intensity and change at high speed, trying to capture our attention like a bear forced to dance. It feels almost like being in a disco club with (too) bright light show that, at some point, can become very tiresome. There are more solutions to getting out of this phase; if you don't want to wait for it to pass, then you should either drink more or find "what the universe wants to tell you" by pushing you into the astral plane. I usually ask myself which emotional-mental patterns bind me to such a sphere, which food, what kind of behavior, which relationships, what types of lifestyle. Once I get the right information, psychedelic bursting can stop immediately - until a few seconds ago I couldn't move because my body was too heavy and visions too annoying and stressful, and the next moment I am in a clear and calm state of mind. Although psychedelic lovers like these visions, even considering them as the goal of a psychedelic experience, I wouldn’t give them too much importance. For the astral sphere is not the legitimate level of Creation; it is a transitional sphere, a "world between worlds," a place where everything that will manifest at the material level gets its energy form, including the human body. At the same time, everything that ceases to exist on the material plane - the physical bodies and energy forms of beings that have just died - have their energy forms dissolved here. And that's it. That’s why I consider any over-attachment to astral visions a distraction and neglect of the real thing, which is the expansion of consciousness and spiritual experience. Therefore, often celebrated visions of snakes, fractals or surreal forms and situations on ayahuasca are in fact indicators of the decay of astral structures, not necessarily something to strive for or even glorify as fascinating experience. Astral imagery is mostly interesting to beginners who come across such visions for the first time.
Purification of the accumulated astral matter, or as new-agers popularly call it - "negative energies" - must occur so that we can make a breakthrough into the higher levels of Creation, in what is popularly called "paradise spheres." What prevents us from doing so is precisely the astral level with its garbage, because nowadays the astral realm is extremely polluted. If we connect the current state of the astral sphere with Yuga cycles, then we now live in the "Kali Yuga" or "Iron Age," when evil rules and the "soul of the world is black," as the Mahabharata states. The term "soul of the world" can be associated with the collective unconscious (psychological expression), and the collective unconscious with the astral sphere (esoteric expression). So it is precisely the astral dirt that separates the earthly sphere from being equal with the paradise spheres. To merge the "Kingdom of Heaven" with the "Kingdom of Earth," one must pass through the astral realm.
Both celestial and terrestrial are two identical kingdoms, two legitimate levels of Creation (that which was created by God or universal consciousness). They reside in two different dimensions, or "densities," and are separated from each other by a transit zone called the astral sphere. A direct and complete reflection of the original structure of Creation from a heavenly to earthly level would constitute a mode of existence known as the "Golden Age" or "Heaven on Earth." However, such distorted reflection as we have today, precisely because of the heavy pollution of the astral sphere, is an important reason why things on this planet are the way they are. To have a direct experience of truth, or to equate our existence with the authentic design, as seen in the original structure of Creation, it is necessary to enter the astral realm, but then we need to go through it. We have to purify ourselves both from the individual and the collective astral influences to reach the unity with our primordial nature, as well as the original nature of the world around us. For this reason, I consider any superfluous stay in the astral plane, or amusement with its seductive visions, an aberration.
In Zen, the astral phenomena are called "the devil's cave." In such a cave, the inorganic entities will try to distract the seekers of truth, thereby temporarily or permanently disabling them in their original endeavor. That is why astral visions should be recognized and left behind. We need to penetrate through them, one way or another, and not become seduced by them. The astral visions will certainly go away in time, as the influence of ayahuasca decreases. But if we understand the reason for their presence, we will significantly speed up the breakthrough process. I repeat, astral visions are various visual marvels that are constantly changing - often geometric shapes, strange beings, odd machines and other mechanical forms, entities from the lower astral worlds (demonic or surreal beings), and so on. Sometimes these visions are adorned by fuzzy light, the impression of dirtiness, emotional and mental confusion resulting from the unresolved life patterns, which are actually the ones that bind us to the astral sphere.
Visions of snakes, fractals, geometrical shapes – faithful companions of the purification stage.
The Expansion of Consciousness
When it comes to the other essential goal of ayahuasca ceremonies - the expansion of consciousness - it certainly concerns all stages of the experience and is thus directly related to purifying processes and spiritual experience. However, there is also specific information, very concrete and practical, that we can obtain during a ceremony. In this sense, ayahuasca as a teacher plant will certainly strive to show us the things they should become aware of. The common reason for our unawareness is the overlook the obvious. The most difficult thing is to be objective and critical of oneself. Usually, it is the purpose of the so-called "spiritual teacher" to push the students into the crisis of confronting themselves and de-identifying from the negative aspects of their personality and character. The role of a teacher is not to comfort the students telling them that everything is okay, but to encourage them to change internally and externally. That is precisely the hardest thing for someone to take. But if a teacher is a human being, then he or she can be wrong unless he is one of the five perfect people in the world, and so far I have not been fortunate enough to meet one of them. The plant, however, cannot be wrong. South American shamans claim that plants are the most conscious beings on the planet, far from any "vegetation" just because they lack the brain and nervous system. I would agree, so I think it's not a bad idea to choose them for teachers. I do not have a living teacher, and I never had one - I had various mentors from whom I learned a lot, but as I didn’t perceive these people as teachers, I didn’t allow them to criticize me (at least not too much...). But I will always allow the plant to do so because I know plants can be trusted.
Scholars who study shamanism also claim that plants are well able to communicate. In cells of a plant, there is a network of tubes called "microtubules" which, among other things, serve as transmitters of information. Therefore, plants possess a function similar to the nervous system, only of a much higher and more sophisticated type. Prof. Dr. Ede Frecska, psychiatrist and psycho-pharmacologist, director of the “National Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology” in Budapest, argues that information is transmitted directly through microtubules - not perceptually-cognitive or rationally, but intuitively, through so-called "visions." Thus a plant can communicate undisturbedly with the universal spirit, with spiritual beings, as well as with the spirits of nature. Plants can also perceive people and read in what condition someone is, so they will know very well what instruction we need or what we have to focus our attention on. So, the only teachers I acknowledge as such and allow them to teach me, advise me, and reveal the truth about me “in my face”, are plants. I still have mentors, but I focus my relationship with them strictly on exchanging specific knowledge that I don’t currently have.
I respect many spiritual people as well, but I do not allow them any greater influence on my life than I would allow, for instance, a university professor. I also do not consider myself to be a "teacher," although some people gave me this label in public, for others to conclude that I self-importantly think of me as a "spiritual teacher." No, I don’t, and I never did. However, I certainly experience plants as teachers, and I am intimate with them. Plants do not have perceptual filters and censors like the brain and nervous system and cannot be programmed with limiting patterns, so I believe they can be trusted. And we all need someone to tell us things we don't want to hear. For people who intensively work on their spiritual development, there will always be things they overlook, neglect or do not want to see, because the human ego is like Phoenix and is eternally born again from its ashes. The ego aspires to comfort and control, as Dr. Frecska argues, so there is always the temptation for us to inadvertently and unknowingly slip into the comfort and control zone. That's why it's good to consult the plants from time to time to see where we are and whether we're just as good, positive or even perfect as we would like to think we are, or we need to make some additional changes.
Wardyworks – Plant Teachers
During ayahuasca ceremonies, many people received messages that changed their worldview and lifestyles radically, which they couldn't get by any other means. For example, I was present when one person received the message that her father was not her real father, and “Madre ayahuasca” told who her birth father was. Her parents were already deceased at the time, as was her birth father, so there was hardly any other way she could get this information. Except, perhaps, for consulting a powerful psychic, because I know of a case where a psychic told a person to tell his son that a pregnant girl he wanted to marry was not carrying his child. As the girl confessed later, the information was confirmed to be correct. However, in the first case, it was not possible to ask the parents, or at least the mother, whether it was true that the birth father was someone else. So that person spoke with their dead parents during the ceremony, and they told her that the message was true. And then the additional confirmation came through the positive changes she made because the source of subtle and chronic confusion had disappeared, both in her life and the lives of her children, and she was able to reach some goals she thought she never would.
And I also heard the story of a Peruvian shaman who had a love affair that he, of course, kept secret from his wife. However, the wife attended one of his ceremonies, and the plant told her that the husband was having an affair. She asked her husband about that immediately after the ceremony ended, and he made such a face that she instantly knew the information was true. It was a good lesson for the shaman, who preached others about the ayahuasca's ability to “face you with truth, no matter how hard it is,” but thought such an encounter would bypass his wife and him.
Becoming aware during a shamanistic ceremony of something that we were not aware of until then can concern absolutely anything. Whatever problem we face, we can get advice. Whichever area of creative expression we are dedicated to, it is possible to get directions or tips for further work. We often receive messages that we have not sought at all; sometimes we experience visions of spheres, environments, or beings that we need to get to know for some reason. There are situations in which such beings perform direct interventions on us, as is the case with healing events done by astral surgeons, angels, or enlightened beings. New forms of consciousness will also reflect on the physical body, so the stages of purification and expansion of consciousness are sometimes accompanied by the rewiring of neural networks in the brain. The rewiring may result in reprogramming of automatic reactions and withdrawal from bad habits, addictions, unwanted unconscious urges, and programs of thinking and feeling. And the latest findings prove that ayahuasca contributes to the creation of new brain cells, precisely in the part of the brain that has a function of learning and memory. Consciousness expansion, in my opinion, is also one of the three main aspects of causal therapy, so it is well represented here, in a way that goes beyond standard therapy methods. The reprogramming of neurological responses or the formation of new brain cells can also be achieved through meditation or certain types of therapeutic interventions, but for those who criticize shamanistic ceremonies or even consider them harmful, this is another confirmation that ayahuasca is a medicine, not a poison.
Here, however, is one warning concerning the very technical aspect of the process called "expansion of consciousness." With a sudden change in perception, which regularly occurs under the influence of psychotropic substances, the position of the so-called "assemblage point" changes. First mentioned by Carlos Castaneda in his book The Eagle’s Gift, the assemblage point is an energy pellet the size of a tennis ball that is the anatomical element of the light body. What we perceive, how we feel, and what our general psycho-physical state is like, depends on its position. As psychotropic substances move the assemblage point into positions typical for the perception of the abstract realities, it sometimes remains displaced after the ayahuasca ceremony. How do we get it back to its optimal position for everyday functioning? I noticed that my assemblage point remained uncentered after each ceremony, so I had to return it to the optimal position every time. And I have also noticed symptoms of severe spaciness and ungroundedness of people who frequently attend shamanistic ceremonies. They think they're doing great, but over time, some of them tend to become dissociated, absent, and less interested in everyday reality. I understand them - the everyday reality can be so boring, stupid, and exhausting that it is certainly a burden for the awakened human soul. But we have to be able to function in the practical material world, not only fly, so the flyers have to know how to land on the ground. Instead of going from one ceremony to another, attempting to escape reality, they have to work on their relationships, often non-existent or catastrophic, and find the right direction and purpose in life. Therefore, after each ceremony, we should pay serious attention to centering and grounding. The methodology I use, not only in this case but otherwise, can be learned in my courses.
Both illustrations are borrowed from Jon Whale’s website.
The assemblage point should be positioned at the center of the oscillations between the two energy balloons that make up the human light body. If not, here are the consequences that various shifts may cause.
And finally, here are a few words about the third essential aspect of shamanistic ceremonies - the spiritual experience. These ceremonies can have an ecstatic happy-end, and the most ecstatic one is usually associated with direct experience of the truth. Of course, if we know how to reach it because it is not always possible to get the best experiences on ayahuasca without our involvement. This is especially true of genuine spiritual experience. To have a direct experience characterized by oneness between the subject of perception (the person perceiving) and the object of perception (that which is perceived), one must intend to achieve it. There are numerous subtle inner experiences that someone would tend to call “spiritual,” but they are not. Spiritual experience (enlightenment, mystical experience) is only the one in which there is a complete merging of object and subject, with no process between the one who meditates and what one is meditating on. That’s why we call it a “direct experience” of something or someone. An important aspect of reaching a spiritual experience is the intention. Without intention, nothing is likely to happen, and this is why this goal requires an active approach from the participants, which is not always easy to do during a ceremony. For this reason, it is a good idea to go through at least one of the Enlightenment Intensives to gain knowledge of the methodology of direct meditation and have several direct experiences on the Intensive itself, so that we can apply the same methodology during the ceremony.
People who strive for spiritual sensations, or "heavenly joys" (as St. John of the Cross puts it), will consider various visions as the spiritual experience. Some mistake a direct experience for an important insight about the existence of universal cosmic love, a principle of light or unlimited consciousness, as well as bodily ecstasy that can accompany such experiences. Although I do not personally consider insights an irrelevant aspect of ayahuasca ceremonies because I have nothing against "heavenly joys," I know very well what a spiritual experience is and what it is not. So, my goal is to get direct experience in addition to the other benefits of the ayahuasca ceremony. To do this, I use the adequate meditation technique in moments when my mind is clear and stable enough. And sometimes I’m lucky. When I do have it, it is usually the simplest and most natural possible state, in which there is no special fireworks or visual/auditory sensations. What it does have, however, is a deep inner fulfillment and a liberating awareness. As one Zen saying goes:
"Before I sought enlightenment, the mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers.
While I sought enlightenment, the mountains were not mountains and the rivers were not rivers.
After I reached satori, the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers."
The simplest and most direct expression of enlightenment…
… which does not mean that it cannot look like this, especially with the help of psychotropic plants.
Direct experience will calm our mind because it abolishes all processes, including those unpleasant or burdensome that we often go through on ayahuasca. That’s why I always strive to solve the "dancing bear phase" with direct experience. Usually, I am not able to do this immediately after drinking the potion. But after some time, when the ceremony takes off, I try to focus my mind on the intention to experience the selected object directly. If my intention is strong enough, such an experience will happen. If this sounds too easy or simple, remember that it is the ayahuasca that helps us to attain direct experience extremely quickly, and that’s why I consider this plant a true blessing. As soon as I center my consciousness in Oneness, where all processes and duality disappear, the tension, nausea, and the visual/auditory circus usually disappear in a matter of minutes. And with the openness of the mind, heart, and energy body (made possible by ayahuasca), direct experience can be truly ecstatic. Although ”the mountains are mountains, and rivers are rivers again,” nothing is the same.
Since the direct experience usually brings unity of all levels of Creation, the merging of all manifestations of the original structure of Creation into one, so will mountains and rivers visibly radiate their essence - most often through love, consciousness, peace, and fulfilling ecstasy. Thus, all the truly significant experiences that I had on ayahuasca and other psychotropic substances were direct experiences, with the most common object of meditation being the original nature of my true Self, and also the original nature of the omnipresent Spirit.
Paradise is the same in "heaven" and "earth", and its essence is universal love, whose radiation on psychotropic plants can be experienced visually ...
And where, in my opinion, would be the place and role of psychotropic plants in systems of personal and spiritual development? Let me summarize what the advantages of psychotropic substances could be if we look at them in the context of the basic aspects of human development. There are three of those aspects:
- expansion of consciousness,
- creative self-realization.
As the primary effect of psychotropic plants on humans is to bring in new information - biochemical, energetic, and spiritual - so their most significant influence will be the expansion of consciousness. A psychotropic substance will, therefore, allow a kind of initiation into a new level of understanding and a new degree of openness, sometimes without any special effort on the part of the practitioner. But now that we have new information, what are we going to do with it? With some information, we usually know immediately what to do, but it is difficult to deal with some forms of awareness unless we have the right methodology. What if a new level of consciousness also requires a series of therapeutic interventions to stabilize the new condition fully? And who is the one that will do the therapy, and what techniques are we going to use? The information given to us by psychotropic plants is sometimes like a diagnosis of a health problem that requires surgery, but there is no surgeon to perform it. That’s why the shamanistic path generally leaves us empty-handed in the therapeutic sense, except for some forms of symptomatic therapy. However, if the methodology for practical application does not exist within the shamanistic practice, it can be found elsewhere, especially when it comes to causal therapy. For that reason, it is good that psychotropic substances came to the West and became available for members of civilizations and cultures other than South American, African or Asian because there are knowledge systems here that perfectly complement the shamanistic approach. Since the effects of psychotropic plants are minimal when it comes to treating the true causes of human problems, it is necessary to supplement it with adequate methods that work on the causal level.
When it comes to creative self-realization, psychotropic substances can certainly contribute to the emergence of creative ideas. But that doesn’t mean that we are automatically going to realize ourselves creatively. True creative actualization is one of the most difficult types of human endeavors. Whatever someone says and whatever the various new-age systems of creative development and goal accomplishment (the popular term today is "manifesting") try to convince you, my experience is that all other things in life are easy compared to being creative. In this sense, psychotropic plants are relatively powerless because they can’t do for us what we have to do ourselves. Since the obstacles to the creative realization (both internal and external) are the most stubborn of all, their dissolving will require lots of deep causal therapy sessions.
The problem with creative self-realization begins already with the character of creative activity. There are so many creative people in the world, but what is it that they create at all, and what is the cost of their achievement? True creative fulfillment is not the same as realizing yourself as an artist or a scientist. Such a realization must be in harmony with one's life's mission or dharma, so it must be ethical and in line with the universal law of karma. If we put things like this, then many artists and scientists, as well as practitioners of other kinds of creative skills, misuse their talents by creating nothing truly constructive. We have to be careful with formulating our creative goals, and we also need an adequate methodology for putting our creative ideas in motion, as well as for dissolving obstacles to the realization of the original idea. And that is something an ayahuasca ceremony won’t give us – we have to look for it outside shamanic traditions.
And finally, the fact is that people like attending shamanistic ceremonies because they can retain a passive position, at least compared to active methods of meditation aimed at reaching spiritual experience, such as Zen Sesshin, Vipassana, and especially the Enlightenment Intensive. As I already stressed, an ayahuasca ceremony is easy compared to the Intensive, where it takes days of hard work to achieve direct experience, while on ayahuasca ceremonies the same goal can be realized in a few hours of almost inactive work (meaning - light rest on a lounger). Beginners think it is pointless to waste time on spiritual techniques that do not involve the aid of substances, so they rush to shamanistic ceremonies seeking instant enlightenment, instant healing, and instant self-realization. However, this rarely happens because the plant is a signpost, not a path. We should thank the plant for showing us the way, but then we need to walk the path on our own, with our effort and merit. And for such a journey, one must have a good map and a suitable means of transport, which in this case is an adequate methodology. So far, I have not encountered any methods within the various shamanistic schools that can be used to perform true causal therapy, stabilize the spiritual experience, or become creative. So, if we want to develop properly, we need to use additional resources and means. After all, why not - who says that one school can give all a traveler needs? And who says a combination of different systems should necessarily be bad? So dear traveler, good luck, with the recommendation that it is far better and more useful to travel in-depth than just as a tourist.
© Tomislav Budak, July 2016.