Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hi ho Ayahuasca!

Yesterday, during my daily afternoon listen to NPR, I heard a report about people undertaking spiritual journeys to the Amazon of Peru.  These were people from all walks of life.  Camera salesmen, computer programmers, housemoms, and the list goes on.  The salesman, a man in his 30s like me, gave this as his reason for undertaking the quest: "I thought something was missing in my life, in walking through the world. I have this job I hate. I feel miserable all the time. Everything is small and just how I related to people, everything was very superficial."
While I don't share his need for a social connection, what he describes is very much the sort of malaise that I find myself confronting.  You have all read me go on ad nauseum about my bloodsucking day job and my seemingly endless cycle of vacuuming, kitchen cleaning, and dog walking.  Therefore, I will spare you another bout.  Suffice to say, I became engrossed with what this spiritual quest entailed (so much so that I nearly missed that nice red, octagonal sign...but we won't go there.)

These people have gone to Peru to have ayahuasca administered to them by a shaman.  "Ayahuasca," as it turns out, is a psychoactive decoction made from "the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, and usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine-containing species of shrubs from the Psychotria genus," or at least that's what Wikipedia has to say (and if you can't trust them, then who can you trust?)  These plants don't do anything on their own, but when boiled in combination, psychedelic affects await the imbiber.  
That and uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea, and prolonged nightmares.  And according to the sound fx of the NPR report, the shaman's patrons were getting it in spades.  Being someone with a recurring stomach disorder, they lost me at diarrhea.  Can get that well enough on my own, thanks (sorry, TMI.) 
Still, perceptions of the mind and altered states of consciousness have become a recent interest of mine.  A close family member confided in me that they recently had a near death experience (perhaps a subject for a later blog entry.)  When you hear that sort of thing coming from someone that you respect and trust, well, it just makes you look at the whole subject a bit differently.

So I was willing to hear more about ayahuasca.  The shaman, an American actually, claimed that once this "great purge" runs its course, many people feel far more awake and alive.  They describe the affect as a great weight lifted from their shoulders (the skeptic in me says it was all lost in the vomiting and diarrhea) and that they want to live again.  "A window has been opened to the soul."  Or so they say.
While I'm certain that indigenous populations could teach the world great things about herbal remedies and holistic treatments, I'm always wary of those concoctions that are said to treat a person spiritually.  How often have such things ended up as being in reality just a form of placebo?  A hallucination or a trick of chemical circuitry in the motherboard of the mind?  I'm not disparaging those who get a lift or benefit from ingesting ayahuasca.  If it works for you, great.  Have at it.  As a veteran of a lifelong battle with depression, I am magnetized by any amelioration that harbors the chance of "lifting a great weight" from me and getting my brain chemicals back into balance.  Plus, there is a part of me that is very curious to experience hallucination, even though the darker side of my imagination might be a bit too much to confront when brought to life.
But it all comes back to diarrhea and vomiting.  Sorry.  Just can't do it.  So I'm afraid there will be no ayahuasca for me, no matter how curious I am about it.  What makes me even more intrigued is the pedigree of the celebrities who have said they've taken ayahuasca.  These include Sting, Tori Amos, Paul Simon (the singer), and David Icke (now that explains everything.)   After a random search on the substance, I came across this amazing find: William Burroughs narrating a film snippet that describes ayahuasca.  Let's face it, nobody knew altered consciousness like Burroughs did.   

If you want to hear the original NPR report, click here.

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