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Ayahuasca Retreats and Transpersonal Psychology

Ayahuasca Retreats and Transpersonal Psychology

Article published on the Sapan Inka website

Cusco, August 2, 2021

By Erik Hendrick Carpio


The integration of ancient wisdom and contemporary science is an inevitable fact. It must be acknowledged that in different places all over the world, little by little a new paradigm is emerging which contemplates the use of ancestral spiritual technologies such as meditation and the use of sacred plants such as Ayahuasca, A new scientific approach is emerging looking for understanding the nature of consciousness and knowing deeply how is the structure of the human psyche, and therefore, more and more attention is paid to the legacy of wisdom of ancient cultures. The wisdom and worldview of the ancient world can be a hope for the modern world. Mystical teachings from diverse cultures can enrich and transform the understanding of human psychology and open a field of inquiry toward understanding the spiritual nature of the human being.


For a long time in various cultures there have been human beings or groups of people interested in a deep understanding of the human soul and in discovering different possibilities for human development. Examples of this are the eastern world and its Buddhist psychology which has developed over 2500 years, spiritual exercises in Christian mysticism, the mystical Sufi practices, the mystical path of the hermetic art and alchemy; and among the most modern practices it is possible to mention the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, the Psychosynthesis of Assagioli, the process of individuation of Jung, or the integral life practice of Ken Wilber. All these ancient and modern schools have had as their fundamental objective the search for human development, inner growth, spiritual knowledge and the evolution of human consciousness.


In the Andean civilization there were also spiritual traditions, practices and techniques that pursued the evolution of the human being, and these traditions strengthened the link of the human being with nature and the cosmos through ritual processes and the use of sacred plants such as San Pedro and Ayahuasca. These rituals and the use of sacred plants permitted have allowed access to expanded states of consciousness, which provide the ability to experience feelings of cosmic unity, a deep understanding of our own nature, surf worlds and paralel dimensions of existence, and mainly, reconnect with the spiritual dimension  and with a path of growth and evolution.


Through the use of sacred plants it is possible to know a part of our nature remaining hidden as a mystery and incomprehensible phenomenas. After an experience with sacred plants, usually we have to ackonowledge that a large part of existence is still unknown to us, that the world and reality is not only of material nature, that there is a level of existence or reality which is more subtle than the one we experience in ordinary states of consciousness, it means, during the habitual state of consciousness, This level is almost impenetrable or imperceptible. The mystics of different times and from different regions of the world throughout human history have been able to access these subtle levels of existence and from their experiences they have acquired knowledge and wisdom to be shared with their contemporaries, and nowadays this wisdom constitute an spiritual legacy. This type of knowledge is immense and science has only just taken the first steps in understanding the spiritual dimension and human nature. A lot of research must be done. And in this sense, science through Psychology and Psychotherapy can become an extraordinary tool to explore the nature of the psyche, our spiritual dimension, amplified states of consciousness and our potential for human development and evolution of consciousness.  Science does not establish absolute truths, it is a tool for the acquisition of new knowledge.


It was in the field of science that modern Psychotherapy was born. It is true that a large sector of Psychotherapy, from its beginnings, either had a clearly materialistic vision of existence, or was only capable of observing the negative side of the human unconscious. However, also since its inception, psychotherapy tried to understand the nature of spiritual phenomena, and psychoanalysts as Herbert Silberer, who was also a member of the Rosicrucian Order, he devoted his efforts to understand the contribution of alchemy and hermetic art to the new psychological science, and in 1914 he wrote a very important and very little known book, called Problems of mysticism and its symbolism (Probleme der Mystik und ihrer Symbolik ). In this extremely interesting and important work, the study of Alchemy and its important influence on the study of human psychology and the development of personality are approached in a very dynamic way. It is very likely that Silberer's studies were a great source of inspiration for CG Jung's theories of deep psychology, especially regarding the conception of archetypes and the individuation process, and also regarding the extensive studies of alchemy, later elaborated by C.G. Jung. He acknowledges Silberer's legacy in his work Mysterium Conunctionis as follows: "Herbert Silberer has the merit of being the first to discover the secret threads that lead from alchemy to the psychology of the unconscious". Unfortunately, Silberer ceased to exist at a young age, it is said due to an act of suicide, however, there is a possibility his death was due to a criminal act that was not properly investigated, and unfortunately not proven. It is possible to assume this, due to the nature of Silberer's studies, his spiritual knowledge and his integrity as a human being.


At the time Silberer was writing about alchemy and its relationship to psychology, C.G. Jung still showed no interest in the study of hermetic art and alchemy. But, as the years passed and he began to have contact with various texts from the Middle Ages and lived deep visionary and mystical experiences, little by little, Jung dedicated all his energy to the study of hermetic art and alchemy, and his latest works are deeply related with the study of alchemy, since Jung saw in it an analogy with the process of individuation or the process of personality development, a process of self-realization. For Jung, individuation was a process of transformation capable of leading the human being to unification with the Self, and for this, the individual had to transcend his diffuse and mysterious psychic life in a kind of journey such as that proposed in certain alchemy texts, a spiritual path that leads to a deep transformation called "transmutation", since the life of the alchemist could be renewed by his inner work initiated in the atanor.


Definitely, C.G. Jung must be considered as one of the main precursors of Transpersonal Psychology, which is a branch of psychology dedicated to the exploration and study of the spiritual dimension of the human being. Transpersonal Psychology has not yet been fully accepted worldwide. There are countries like Peru, where universities do not even teach courses related to this important branch of psychology, and in the professional field there are very few psychotherapists prepared to address therapeutic techniques related to the transpersonal. However, Peru is one of the few countries in the world where the ancestral medical use of ayahuasca has a legal status, since such uses are considered a cultural heritage of the nation in Peru. And it is especially in Peru where the main Ayahuasca retreat centers are located, and in some of these centers there is an integration between the Amazonian ancestral knowledge related to the use of ayahuasca and therapeutic methods related to Humanist and Transpersonal Psychology.


Another psychoanalyst dedicated to study the spiritual dimension was Roberto Assagioli. the father of Psychosynthesis, a method of Psychotherapy, holistic and integrative, whose purpose is to develop the hidden potential of human evolution, the development of the personality in a dynamic way and the progressive establishment of harmony, integration and transformation of the different elements of the personality. Assagioli is considered one of the fathers of Transpersonal Psychology, he was one of the first therapists to write in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Its therapeutic methods have been little spread, and in countries like Peru they are almost totally unknown. Roberto Assagioli's psychospiritual therapy provides very important contributions in psychedelic integration therapy and in Ayahuasca post-ceremony integration therapy.


I hope that in Peru, in the coming years, people will show more interest to study the transpersonal,  and maybe the schools of psychology  of Peruvian universities will begin to include in their study plans the Transpersonal Psychology course as an important part in the training of students as future psychologists. And perhaps in the future some Peruvian university dares to award a master's degree in this important branch of Psychology.

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