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Ayahuasca medicine: Psychotherapeutic importance

Ayahuasca medicine: Psychotherapeutic importance

Published on Sapan Inka website

Cusco, May 24, 2021.

Erik Hendrick Carpio


There are various aspects of ayahuasca medicine that can be explored or investigated and comment on it; however, it is not my intention to address biochemical or botanical aspects of ayahuasca, nor legal aspects. My intention is to draw the readers' attention to the profound historical and psychotherapeutic importance of this mysterious concoction from the Amazon rainforest and to present some hypotheses about its use in the psychotherapeutic field.


The ancient inhabitants of Peru possessed a lot of knowledge that even today constitutes an unsolved mystery, for example, medical knowledge that includes surgical interventions, as in the case of cranial trepanations, or the use of different medicinal plants to treat various conditions. Obviously, for them, the approach to medical practice was very different from the contemporary positivist and materialistic approach, medicine was intertwined with spirituality and mysticism, and it was sought not only to heal the body, but essentially to heal the soul, an integral cure, of body, mind and spirit.


At the pick of the Andean culture, that is, during the time of the Incas, the territory that the Incas administered was considerably extensive, including territories of six present-day South American countries (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Chile). In addition, their territories included the coast, the Andean mountain range and part of the Amazon jungle. And the knowledge of the Incas came from the different regions that they administered, rescuing and integrating their own worldview, including knowledge that went back thousands of years.


When the Andean civilization suffered the invasion of the Europeans, approximately 500 years ago, the Andean world entered a deep social and spiritual crisis, which finally meant the fall of the Andean civilization and the emergence of a dark era of barbarism, accompanied of an epidemic that wiped out most of the population, in addition, many aspects of the Inca culture were systematically destroyed for centuries. Still, the legacy of this noble civilization could not be completely erased, and neither could the ancient wisdom and knowledge be entirely exterminated. In the Andean world, the essence of ancestral philosophy and the link and harmony with the forces of nature were preserved.


On the other hand, the original peoples of the Amazon have a millenary medicinal system that has withstood the passage of centuries, despite not having written records. Today, the medicinal plants of the jungle are not only used by the inhabitants of the jungle peoples, but also by many people who live in cities in Peru and in distant countries, on other continents. Throughout Peru the knowledge of medicinal plants is still alive, there are many mestizo healers who use various medicinal plants, although in many cases the use of plants is intertwined with esoteric and spiritualist beliefs. It should be mentioned that the use of medicinal plants has become rooted in the customs of the inhabitants of all regions of Peru, with special emphasis on the Amazon jungle, where even today there are peoples who for centuries have had very little contact with contemporary civilization, and these peoples have preserved customs and a deep respect for nature and the cosmos.


In the Amazon jungle, the knowledge of ayahuasca, a powerful drink capable of giving access to alternate realities of the mind, was kept protected and sheltered for centuries. Ayahuasca is a key that opens the doors to other dimensions, facilitates a perception of reality different from the ordinary perception of reality, that is, it allows experiencing amplified states of consciousness and exploring the spiritual world, the depths of the psyche, the transpersonal dimension.


When ayahuasca is used with commitment and responsibility, respecting ancestral wisdom, it becomes a powerful tool for introspection and self-knowledge, as well as an extraordinary means of healing and physical, mental and emotional reconstitution. Ayahuasca, within a transpersonal psychotherapeutic context, becomes a powerful catalyst in the transformation or transmutation process of the personality, awakening the power of the spirit hidden in matter and giving access to the deep contents of the psyche and the collective unconscious. However, the use of ayahuasca medicine requires certain skills and abilities on the part of the one who directs the process, the session or the ceremony. The use of ayahuasca in a ritual or therapeutic context is based on an ancient science, an ancestral medicine system that requires from the healer the knowledge of many medicinal plants and an intense training of the body, mind and spirit. The art of giving ayahuasca medicine can be considered as a mystical art that requires a committed work of service and the development of various virtues.


Today, a psychotherapist truly committed to the emotional, mental and spiritual healing of the people who come to him, could easily represent the living image of an ancient magician, a hermetic artist, or a doctor of souls. The psychotherapist can be a doctor, an artist and a philosopher at the same time. It is important to recognize that the training of a true psychotherapist is not limited to study classrooms at universities. The career of psychology is not designed to train psychotherapists. It is necessary for the future psychotherapist possesses certain capacities or some innate talent, plus a lot of knowledge from the depths of human soul and some understanding of the nature of being, also requires certain life experiences, many overcome crisis, temperance, courage and purity from the heart. But it is obvious that not all psychotherapists possess these qualities, just as not all artists compose masterpieces.


The shaman is said to be a mediator between the world of physical senses and the world of spiritual perception, the material world and the world of spirits; and the shaman is said to undertake journeys to alternate realities, to other dimensions, and to other worlds, and then return with the spiritual tools necessary to heal and help their community. Shamanism is a practice that humans have practiced for more than 30,000 years, it has existed on all continents and cultures of the planet, and continues to exist today. Roger Walsh in his book The World of Shamanism: New Views of an Ancient Tradition makes an impeccable study on shamanism and what it could contribute to the field of psychology. Walsh invites us to reflect on the importance of the existence of shamans and on everything we could learn from them, for example, their ability to live the myth as a personal experience, their constant training of body, mind and spirit, their knowledge of nature and various techniques to be able to access different states of consciousness, the understanding they have after their trips to other realities of the mind, their ability to see beyond the obvious facts and the cosmic trips they make. The shaman at the same time is a doctor who seeks to restore the health of his patients through the knowledge of the cosmic order or thanks to his contact and communication with the spiritual hierarchies. It is evident that the majority of residents who live in the great cities of today and who are part of contemporary civilization, have great doubts about the capacities, knowledge and even about the existence of these characters. That is obvious, because the human being today lives submerged in a world bombarded with superficial impressions and based on materialistic or nihilistic conceptions of existence. But human beings who seek to transcend the limits of ordinary reality have always existed in all corners of the world and at all times, because the instinct for evolution, the instinct for transformation, is a deeply inherent quality of the human being.


At present, in the contemporary world, the art of giving ayahuasca medicine requires the qualities of the shaman, that is, the power to be an intermediary of two dimensions, of two worlds, the material world and the spiritual world, the world of the physical senses and the world of psychic reality; the guide of an ayahuasca session must have sufficient knowledge and sufficient skill to be able to undertake a journey to alternate realities without losing himself, and also to be able to maintain the energy balance of the session, not allowing those whom he is guiding to either lose themselves and may return from their travels in better health. But the art of giving medicine does not end with the performance in the ceremony, the guide of the ceremony must help the person who has returned from his journey through the world of spirits to be able to integrate his experience into his daily life and thus convert his experience a tool for your own healing and growth. Here is the need for an accurate interpretation of the process with ayahuasca medicine. This work of interpretation or translation of the contents of the experiences or integration of the experiences is essentially a psychotherapeutic work that requires the experience and knowledge of the person who guides the process. The one who guides a ceremony provides tools and techniques allowing to one who had an experience with ayahuasca to achieve an interpretation of their own experience, to understand the meaning of symbols and images and the dynamics of their experience.


It is important that a person living an experience with ayahuasca medicine can make sense of their own experience, to draw up its own narrative of his own experience and to be able to discover the possible symbolic meanings of contents that arise during the visionary process. It is also important to meditate and reflect on the insights that are produced during an experience, they must be digested, assimilated, processed and sublimated and for this the experience, knowledge and assistance of the psychotherapist are very helpful. It is very important that after an experience with ayahuasca, the interpretation and integration process continues for a long time, and this requires the commitment of those who live the experience, it is necessary that people going through a process with ayahuasca to be able to assume or commit to follow a psychospiritual discipline that allows to carry out a deep and continuous work on one's own personality, from within oneself. In this sense, it could be convenient to follow a certain spiritual discipline, such as transcendental meditation or vipassana meditation, chi kung and Taoist philosophy, the fourth way, or more modern practices such as Assagioli psychosynthesis or integral practice life of Ken Wilber.


The impact generated by an experience with ayahuasca medicine is definitely not the same or similar for all people. There are some people who are sensitive to post-ayahuasca effects and it is possible that these sensitive people could experience certain psychic phenomena, which are difficult to explain from scientific positivism or from an materialistic point of view, for example, telepathy, precognition, or other types of acausal or synchronistic events. The experience of these phenomena can be a very delicate matter, depending on the psychic fragility of each individual, since a too fragile psyche could crack and the person suffer a process of dissociation or psychosis. This is one of the reasons why not all people are suitable to live an experience with ayahuasca medicine. Obviously, the type of counseling that the psychotherapist facilitates in the process of integrating the experience is very important. The interpretation, assimilation and channeling of an experience plays a very important role for the health of those who live a psychedelic experience. Although a tough field of science has always been reluctant to admit the study of these phenomena, from the beginnings of psychology, majors researchers such as Herbert Silberer, Carl Gustav Jung, Roberto Assagioli, Stanislav Grof, among others, they have dedicated a great effort to understand paranormal phenomena and mystical experiences, elaborating models of the human psyche where consciousness is conceived not only as a mere product of our brain, but as a phenomenon whose existence occurs in a transmaterial way, transcending the limits of time and space. According to the Swiss psychiatrist CG Jung, the psyche cannot be reduced to the ego or to an epiphenomenon of the brain, the psyche encompasses a much larger reality where everything is interconnected. Beyond our personal unconscious there is another reality that is the reality of the collective unconscious, which would become an objective reality that encompasses all the events of the universe, this reality is beyond time and space and would become as a kind of memory of humanity or the soul of the universe. It is a kind of higher consciousness to which our personal consciousness connects. In this higher dimension of the psyche are the archetypes that are true centers of psychic energy, when these energies are activated, as happens in a process with ayahuasca medicine, then images of great intensity and symbolic meaning emerge, the so-called visions. In an experience with ayahuasca medicine these images weave with emotions, perceptions and insights, the world of psychic reality weaves with the material world, producing synchronistic events, that is, the internal experiences that are lived in the process with ayahuasca medicine are manifested in external events, and the important thing here is not exactly the moment in which certain events occur, but the meaning they have.


So, a process of integration of an experience with ayahuasca medicine is actually a long and complex process, which Jung called the individuation process, it is about an individual achieving harmony or synthon with the invisible laws of the universe and this requires a process of transformation or transmutation of the personality that gives the individual the ability to shape circumstances through a direct interaction between consciousness and the collective unconscious. Thus, an integration process, as Jung conceived it, has as its goal the reintegration of the individual's spiritual identity. From this perspective, it is the loss of connection with the spiritual dimension that produces in the human being the sensation of loneliness, anxiety, depression and existential anguish. Therefore, when an individual is able to re-appropriate his inner world and make sense of his visions, dreams and experiences of the inner world, there is a return to the lost center that is the Self, there is a reconnection with the real center of the personality, beyond the limits of the ego.


These ideas will be treated further in a future book which is being developed, it will address the relationship between experiences in ayahuasca sessions and the consequent psychological and existential impact. Before concluding, I would like to share some lines written long ago by the mystique Jean Leade:


“Just as a natural stone, so is there also a spiritual stone which is the root and the foundation of all that the sons of art have brought visibly into being and into the light. And just as the external is corporeal, and consists in work of the hands, and consumes a great amount of time before it can be brought to perfection, so also is the internal elaborated from degree to degree....”

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