I was asked some time ago to answer some questions about ayahuasca by journalist freelancing for Konbini.com. Below is the original interview, and in this link you can see what they made out of it :
What can you tell me about ayahuasca?
I could tell you a lot and all these are mental concepts that ayahuasca helps to construct but also helps to overcome. To keep it simple, the way my Amazonian teachers do, it is a medicine, and teacher. It is a gate and game changer. It is a shortcut for the brave, but it does get you there if you want to get there, and it can even help you discover what you actually want.
Someone once told me that to get the spiritual effects of ayahuasca you needed to follow some kind of universal path, and right now it was hovering over Peru. Is this a legitimate theory?
Before I ended up in Amazonian shamanism, I went long way through many traditions. However, it was never like “I Was Jehovah Witness Now I Know They Are Liars and Idiots And I am Doing Yoga”,
I see them all as complimentary, and in fact resonating similar themes. It was ayahuasca that helped me understand them better, like Rastafarian “I&I” concept, Buddhist ego death, Sufi metaphor of the ocean.
The spirit – God – whatever you call it – is everywhere, it would be utmost bullshit to claim it chose Amazon because it perhaps got bored with his dry Semitic homeland of Bronze Age. I was actually spending lots of time in deserts of Africa and Asia with
the Sufis, and they have a lot of wisdom which applies to your question – like the words of medieval mystic Ibn Arabi – “there are as many paths to God as human souls on earth”. You must only follow your path, path of the heart, learn how to feel and this way
see beyond the mask, because reason, it sees the mask, the outside, the logic, but heart connects to one reality beyond it.
Could you explain the role of a shaman?
There are multiple roles, depending on cultural context, situation, shaman etc. Main one is a guide, he helps others reach where he has been before, he travels more than them and therefore can see himself, his surrounding and culture from a distance, and because of this he sees better both flaws, and solutions, illness and healing. But he can also be a guide for community, be both healer and destroyer, aid in war, build spiritual protection, behave like a trickster pointing with his behavior to paradoxes in reality, destroying dualism. During ayahuasca ceremony he is a reference point, a beacon or a lighthouse you can sail away from but you know it is there, and because of his experience and strength he may be standing when things fall apart and people fall into panic. This panic will not kill you but may lead you astray, and then something else may bring harm. If you are not yet experienced enough to fully trust medicine, trust your guide, but trust you should.
Besides, shaman is specialist in entertainment and ayahuasca will show that life is a wonderful joke to play whenever you remember about it, so why not trust the joker?
My idea of shamans is very different from the modern shamans you’ve met. How would you say shamans have changed over the last century?
Most of ideas, yours and mine, are very different from reality. We are unable to comprehend what is around us, what and whom we meet so how can we say anything about shamans from last centuries? And why would that matter? I believe in fairy tales and myths, so let us spin them as we please, but do not get attached, they have not much more meaning than “bisha pisha poka pika” erupting from shaman’s mouth in the middle of ceremony. I accept what I see and I do not compare anymore to my preconceptions. Besides, there has never been ( I believe ) any fixed reality, and everything, including things as old as shamanism, all is in flux, constant change, always.
You seem to provide an offbeat Tripadviser review of your many ayahuasca adventures. Can you take me through a typical day at one of these camps/hostels?
I never used Tripadviser, and apart from one or two incidents I don’t work with commercial centres/hostels/camps. The online guide I do is a subjective collection of independent shamans/ curanderos I came across in various ways and had very different kinds of experiences with, so there is nothing typical about them, each story is unique, my time there was unique, I keep on stressing this again and again to make people understand, their experience may be very different. The aim of this project is to enable that experience not to prepare for it, nor design it. It is basically the same with my work as a guide or leader of ceremony – I facilitate something and guide into a direction somehow connected to my preferences, but who am I to judge for others what they need? My description can perhaps ease some nervousness, draw attention to less important things, like color of the sand or toilets on the beach but inevitable – jump into water, that one must do himself, and that is what matters.
Have you ever been any bogus ayahuasca ceremonies or has there ever been any terrible experiences?
I have been to ceremonies I liked, and those I did not, but all were a lesson. Even if the bullshit is easy to spot, like I get weak/adulterated brew in package with “praise Jesus” or “the medicine works in mysterious ways”, it is also to teach me something. Ceremonies are not for fun – even if fun can be healing too, they are to teach, so the more I learn from reality, the more I stretch the concept of ceremony, some people advanced in medicine say the ceremony never ends, and I agree. Each move we do, each act of kindness or each so called mistake are valuable. Likewise, there are experiences of awe and terror but they are not terrible, they are wonderful. Shamanism transcends dualism, it teaches greatness in suffering and even death. It dissolves fear, I fear less and less, focus on solutions and always improvise, but to worry? to fear? You really have so much spare time in this life?
Have you noticed any Western intervention on ayahuasca ceremonies?
Of course, Western, Eastern, from the mountains and from Jerusalem, all is circulating, nothing is disconnected. There is a serious anthropological theory that domination of healing aspect over hunting/war/protective magic is quite recent in ayahuasca shamanism of the Amazon and related to the need of healing wounds, again and again inflicted by colonialism and neocolonialism. In the form of ceremony, many tribes have embraced Christian gadgets, names, symbols. Colombian shaman with whom I had my initiation, in his home in Putumayo has giant Virgin Mary surrounded by flashing Christmas lights and stroboscopic lasers in place where he runs ceremonies. There some who talk about Jesus and others who talk about chakras. They wear in the ceremony head torches from China, second-hand tiger decorated shirts from Bangladesh, play African drums and Mongolian jew harps, whatever. Shamanism is very practical, makes use of what is around, what works, nothing is useless, everything can be medicine, I was in ceremony where Shipibo shaman sang “gasolina-medicina”, I know about some who even invoke power of the spirit of antibiotics. Shamanism is art of contacting the Other and drawing strength from that encounter, and that strength is a base of shamanic healing. So many tribal, “real” shamans just keep on doing this for generations, apprenticing with other tribes, incorporating language and cultural artifacts of the Other, be it language of the spirits, language of other tribe, language or religion of other land, other continent. This is one world, one reality, we are shape-shifters, we are drifters and scavengers, nomads of virtual and astral realities, learn from wherever and whenever.
Finally, how would you explain an ayahuasca experience?
Think about your mother, giving you nourishing milk and chanting you into another world – another state consciousness – into dreams, with her soft lullabies. You will come out of it strengthened, refreshed and saturated with love. Or, seemingly on the other end, think about catharsis – violent encounter with something you fear most, shaking your soul the way it was never shaken, scaring shit out of you , also sometimes literally, think of feces, vomit, sweat, think horror, and at the same time try to believe me that it will be the best experience of your life, you will be for ever – not just in the morning – grateful for being alive, and will know the meaning of life. Sounds too great to be true? Well then don’t beg me for spare words, take my hand and just let me show you for yourself, talking is cheap, how about adventure and proving me I am wrong?
In your opinion, what would you say the healing properties of ayahuasca are? and does it aid in any creative processes?
Healing happens on many levels and ultimately you realize they are one, physical, mental, spiritual… There is physical purge which many people fear a lot, vomiting, cleansing, you feel the medicine cruising through your veins, cells, you are regenerated. But most important is the way it hits at the roots of illness, something western medicine is very weak at, despite all the material gadgets it possess, they are good enough for material symptoms of a problem but do not solve it or often even can’t help you understand what are its reasons. I can give you example of my kidneys – I had sand in them, trouble and pain not only while urinating, and despite being connected with top doctors and specialists in urology, and their expensive machines, they could tell me nothing about roots of the problem, how can I avoid it, how can I get rid of it, and it is one of most common urological problems they are supposed to deal with.
Ayahuasca made me realize it all, it took it away at physical level and at the same time taught me about meaning of flow, letting go, releasing, not holding anything. The problem never came back.
I know perfectly, when you are ready to understand that, you will come to the medicine and see for yourself. When you are not ready and prefer to continue suffering, you will see all these words as New Age mambo-jambo, look at this option and keep chanting it down as false. My opinion is that Western mind, despite its claims, is deeply irrational, and afraid of true scientific experiment, on the contrary, it is sectarian and religious, and its religion is rationalist dogma. But if we want to avoid the same mistake always made by religions, we should not push nor even pull too strong. We should sweep our place, adorn it and sing the most beautiful song we are given by the spirit. Eventually, who is to come, will come attracted. The song will be ever more beautiful because by removing obstacles, making you understand you are responsible, that everything is possible, creativity flourishes, entire life becomes a game of options, there is no fear of mistake, so you grow like the vine, wherever there is place, opportunity. And like the vine you connect every place you pass through and all of them co-create and support you.