There are many ways of meeting the divine. And though they are absolutely not part of Movement Medicine practice or the practices I am offering you in this book, it would be remiss of me to write a book about shamanism and not say a word about entheogens.
Entheogens are plant medicines known for their capacity to take us over the edge of surrender and into a direct experience of the divine. Despite the fact that they are usually illegal in the modern world (apparently we’re not able to make informed decisions for ourselves), they are everywhere. And if you’re interested enough in shamanism to have read this far, you’re likely to meet them somewhere along the road. They are usually offered in a shamanic context, although they are just one form of shamanic practice. Since there’s no doubt that at the right time, in the right place, with the right intention, in an impeccably held space, they can be helpful for people, here’s my view on them.
First and foremost, though it’s likely you’ll meet people who’ll tell you all kinds of things about how plant medicines have helped them, never let anyone persuade you to do something against your will or your better judgement. If you feel any fear, pay attention to it. Fear isn’t a disease, it’s a call to pay attention in the face of something that may appear to be a threat to your wellbeing. There is no medicine that’s good for everyone and discovering who YOU are is the intention of shamanic practice. In my experience, though plant medicines can reveal the inner and outer work that we need to do for that, they can’t do the work for us. Hanging out in ecstatic states can be deeply resourcing, but when we return, our ego and unconscious will still be waiting for us. There’s no way to bypass the biographical work we need to do if we wish to know who we are and be as effective as we can be in all areas of our life.
Having said that, humans have always sought the change of state that entheogens bring, and they always will. So, it would be sensible to learn from our indigenous friends how to integrate these kinds of experiences into society. Making them illegal just leads to more unsafe spaces and resultant casualties. Just like all the things the industrial culture embraces, plant medicines are often over-consumed by people who mistake the medicine for the destination rather than the path. And often, people take them without any awareness of their original context.
Ayahuasca, for instance, is part of a tradition that is at least 5,000 years old, originating in the Amazon. Many Amazon tribes have now concluded that they need to share their medicine with us so that we can experience what is part of their everyday knowledge: that the Earth is alive. That the forests are sacred temples of biodiversity. And that to go on destroying them is sacrilege on a grand scale. The indigenous peoples are sharing their medicine with the intention that these rituals will wake us up to the work we need to do together to preserve the lungs of the Earth for future generations. If you or anyone you know is working with this medicine and is unaware of this implicit request for support, please remind them about the law of reciprocity that is woven into ancient traditions. At the moment, in keeping with our consumer culture, we are taking way more than we are giving back.
Ayahuasca is said to be the vehicle through which the living intelligence or the spirit of the forest can communicate with us. Traditionally, it is used as part of an initiatory journey that helps people discover more about their role in life. In Achuar or Sápara territory, if not training to be a shaman, people normally only participate in three to five ceremonies during their entire lives. Once a vision has been received, the work begins. Our indigenous friends have told us that they don’t seek out more visions until they have manifested the ones they’ve been given. Beware of the tendency to become vision junkies. Our underlying story of ’not enough-ness’ supports our addictions, not our freedom, and we can easily apply those addictions to plant medicine.
As well as ayahuasca, there are many other entheogens on offer, some of them offered by people who have been trained in a living tradition, some by people who believe they’ve been ’called’ to do so. Please be careful. Fear of the unknown is natural and respectful. It will help to keep you alert. Get recommendations. Don’t throw away your critical thinking. Use it before and after any ceremony or ritual. Make sure you are safe. And then, if it’s your informed choice to do so, take a running leap and enjoy the ride. Afterwards, make sure that you find a way to give back to whatever culture or tradition you have been working in; make full use of your experiences and find ways to integrate them into every area of your life.