This is part 2 of a two part series. Read part 1 here.
The ayahuasca experience is, for many individuals, a daunting experience. But it is also one that could be of great benefit for those who are deeply suffering. The potential is to do with the most important aspect of it, one that is active long before the person actually consumes the substance, or before the person truly understands its botanical origins, its anthropological significance, or natural qualities.
It is the very choice of taking responsibility for your own healing, your own life, for your own state of awareness and being. That in itself is already a gigantic positive step. Perhaps this is where change is born—when you are willing and prepared to work for your sanity, that is when you can start shapeshifting your suffering, and thus reimagining your destiny.
Based on my personal experience dealing with the emotional carnage caused by war and human violence, I believe that the primary, non-neurological aspect of combat-related trauma (and thus the psychological suffering associated with it) is to do with the toxic and debilitating emotional relationship that is formed between the person and the experience of death during those detrimental life events.
The presence of severe levels of violence forces both the physical and psychological experience of death into an extremely narrow paradigm, a limited sphere where every element of the experience is tainted and influenced by the overwhelmingly hostile audio-visual and emotional stimulation present during the traumatic event.
Death, as a psychological, biological, and metaphysical phenomenon, becomes a synonym for destruction, the total annihilation of life, and an occurrence where pain and anxiety are always the predominant features.
The ending of physical life can indeed be perceived as a natural and peaceful event, one that is part of the non-threatening aspects of our natural human existence. However, when it is experienced, once or during a prolonged period of time, as a malicious and premeditated act, a calculated and deliberate activity that involves the use of extreme force to dominate and control the ‘other,’ it is only natural to expect a multitude of negative emotional and cognitive responses and attitudes towards the phenomenon.
Soldiers, especially those suffering from psychological trauma as a result of experiences endured during their military service, are individuals that ultimately are yearning to be understood; individuals that are longing, on an almost cellular level, to be validated and approved, exonerated and forgiven, ironically and paradoxically, by those who are unfortunately incapable of doing so—the civilian population and, at times, their brothers and sisters in arms, who have had significantly less disruptive emotional responses to the same external events.
My encounters with the Amazonian plant and my experiences with other serotonergic psychedelics revealed to me that I was not able to understand and integrate the experiences and concepts of war, death, and life with my mind alone.
I realized that in order to move forward toward true peace and reconciliation, with both myself and all that surrounds me, I will have to learn to use perhaps the most simple and disregarded instrument we have in our disposal—the human heart.
Time after time during my work with the sacred plants and synthetic substances, this realization, at times nauseating and at others blissful, descended upon me with unrelenting force and uncanny persistence. It does so still.
It was clear that my heart had become a muscle that I had forgotten how to use.
Made redundant by the circumstances of my external and internal reality, this heart was closed, on lock down. But, curiously, at the same time of understanding these aspects regarding my own way of being, unconsciously and almost unwillingly, my heart began to open.
It imploded, with grace and humility. It blossomed and came to life.
These revelations and understandings, accompanied by many other deep insights and precious moments of epiphany, were fundamental to my process of healing and self-discovery. I was able to heal my relationship with death, and that in turn allowed me to heal my relationship with life.
I have come to acknowledge the tremendous positive psychological properties and qualities of both natural and synthetic psychoactive substances such the Amazonian ayahuasca, the Mexican peyote, the African iboga and the psilocybin mushroom among other plants.
I feel that these precious plants and artificial substances (such as LSD or MDMA) possess a potential so vast, so absolutely critically important for the evolution of human consciousness, for the understanding of the very notion of biological life, that it is nothing less than a perfect Aristotelian tragedy that we, as developed and modern societies, criminalize and prohibit their use.
I feel that the predominant psychological and spiritual experience produced by these wonderfully mysterious substances is one of unity―with oneself, the other, and the environment. It is an inclusive experience. They most often promote and inspire an interdependent state of being that is harmonious and peaceful, positive and trusting, innocent and loving.
When one is all, all is for one.
In contrast to the described above, it seems noteworthy to mention that, in many modern nations, the systematic breakdown of the utopian, social society, the welfare state, has led to the now entrenched absence of the very concept of community (in this context, a security net) from the daily lives and collective psyche of their citizens.
Countless individuals find themselves in a mode of being that is most commonly associated with economic segregation and vulnerability, lacking a socially acceptable personal identity and living in a state of physical insecurity and fear of social exclusion.
The post-industrial era is dangerously disconnected from the most natural and fundamental physical and spiritual needs of this planet and its inhabitants, and therefore there is a real and urgent need to reassess and reevaluate our current paradigms of personal, social, and national existence.
Whether the therapeutic or ceremonial ingestion and consumption of these substances takes place in the Amazon rainforest, the hills of Samaria, or in a studio apartment overlooking the Hudson River, they are always celebrated within a group of people.
A community that comes together, occasionally or regularly, knowingly or unknowingly, to practice a way of being that is more aware, more understanding, and most importantly, more compassionate.
They come together to share a peak experience, a mystical one that has a tremendous amount of therapeutic value. They come together, if only for a few moments, in a man-made world where the individual is king and where the illusion of separateness is the ultimate truth, to simply be—to expand their humanity and open their hearts. That in itself is important, that in itself is healing, that in itself is revolutionary in the most unassuming and unpretentious manner.
We are obligated to reconstruct our relationships with our family members and neighbors, with our allies and enemies, and most importantly with ourselves. We must rehabilitate our relationship with our life-enabling oceans and rivers, our forests and deserts, and with this phenomenon that is Life.
These medicines, these mysterious plants and synthesized miracles of chemical engineering as one, can play a crucial role in enabling this process of reconciliation to materialize.
Furthermore, the advent of the scientific revolution and the consequent decline of monotheistic religions in Western societies is forcing many individuals to cope and face the ultimate Life transition without a clear and solidified belief system, without an identifiable spiritual structure or sufficient emotional support mechanism. Left to their own devices, individuals confronted with mortality are chained to an archaic and stereotypical vision of death, one that offers little solace and relief.
Within this desperate existential gap and state of serious personal and global crisis, it is my strong belief that the substances in question have within them the capacity to revolutionize the psycho-emotional experience of Death and thus transform our experience of Life, with all that it entails.
The authentic human conquest is not one that is against death, the environment, or other members of the human family. It is neither a crusade against ignorance, greed, or the overcoming of our needs.
It is a sacred internal pilgrimage towards a vision, an existence of comprehension and surrender, of humility and gratitude and of peace and reconciliation.
For it is only by experiencing our infinite, shapeless, formless, and indeed boundless nature, the real nature of reality, that we can come to terms with, to love and forgive, accept and surrender to our own limited existence and perception as human beings.