The Jungle is Calling
- Ayahuasca is an ancient psychotropic plant medicine used by the Amzonian shamans for hundreds of years as a way of communicating with the Bigger Aspects of the Universe. Recently it’s been used by Western psychologists to explore new ways of healing alcoholics and addicts. I went to Brazil last year to do a documentary The Man Who Drank The Universe, about Ayahuasca and the effects it can have on ordinary people, ie. me. It was a profound and disturbing experience – but one with extraordinary benefits.
- The 10 day seminar takes place in a beautiful coastal resort in the North East of Brazil, in the state of Bahia, near to the town of Itacaré. The jungle surrounding Itacaré is a UNESCO world heritage site. The setting, food, and ambience is very supportive although the sessions with the tea can be quite disturbing.
- Participants take the brew 3 times over 6 nights (one day off in between each session). The dark brown, foul-tasting tea is drunk in the evening and induces an 8 hour trance in which participants can expect to experience very intense visions and psychological journeying. Many people also vomit profusely.
- Silvia Polivoy, the Argentinian psychologist who runs the seminars, is resolute that the session take place without any external coercion. The visions are allowed to unfold and work on people as they need, unlike traditional Shamanic practice where a Shaman will guide the trip with drums and singing. There is music but it acts mainly as a common thread to unite the group.
- The sessions take place communally in a hall by the sea. There are people to tend you through the session and the group dynamic is very important in the experience.
- Many people experience frightening and distressing visions. An equal number have incredibly blissful sessions. Regardless of the content of the 8 hour trips, almost all find that afterwards the visions acted as important keys, unlocking a whole expanse of mental landscape that had previously remained uncovered. My first trip was awful and sad. My second was spectacularly euphoric.
- The true benefit of Ayahuasca, I believe, comes in the psychological liberation is seems to enable after the visions are over. As a practising Buddhist, with deep ambivalence to the use of external drugs to achieve liberation, I found that a vast amount of anxiety and self-consciousness melted away after my experiences in the Jungle and that those benefits have lasted and integrated totally into my daily life.
I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND AYAHUASCA FOR EVERYONE – although I’m sure its benefits are universal, the process can be very frightening and distubing . But I am aware that my writings about the trip last year generated quite a lot of interest and those who feel drawn to the extreme experiences I went through can follow their own noses.
Ayahuasca is used by several Christian churches rooted in Brazilian culture – Santo Daimé being the most famous – but I should point out that its use is criminalised in all countries apart from Brazil, where its spiritual properties have been honoured. Silvia’s course in Bahia is a wonderfully supportive and genuine framework for exploring the tea’s use and the seminars offer a fortnight’s holiday that will tear the roof off your normal life.
As I mentioned, I’m over there this autumn teaching some basic meditation which I think helps navigate the intensity of the Ayahuasca experience. The course begins on the October 4th and finishes on the 12th