I can’t remember now how I heard about it. Online somewhere I suppose, probably in my perusal of websites made for people like me who were seeking to transcend the suffocating weight of a Saturday morning by inserting a canister of nutmeg into their anus.
Ayahuasca. Normally taken in liquid form, orally, that was good to know. Heals cancer, depression, PTSD, addictions, obesity, impotence, auto-immune disorders and schizophrenia. Website seems trustworthy. Dennis McKenna is a sponsor. Says it’s the real deal. Three-toothed native shaman shuffles about in hut, smokes pipe, says it’s the real deal. Guy with schizophrenia – one week in – grins like a newborn child, like this was a deal that went beyond the horny disassociation of a nutmeg attack… and into the main-line of the real: a substantive antidote to the condition of being human.
An antidote, I breathed, unconsciously. Some lost thing inside me cried out.
Like anyone else, I lived in a big city, its neon signs bulging excitedly with solutions
to modern living. There was George Clooney’s visage on bus stop posters selling watches that looked like they would last forever
and recently an icecream store with three hundred and sixty five flavours opened up in my neighbourhood which
was convenient because I often felt empty.
Of course I knew, with my conscious mind that knows knowable things, that the city’s fixes were superficial and that perhaps I had a chemical imbalance going on. I read a study proving that Ayahuasca increased serotonin in drinkers by 25%. They have also been saying that it “resets your limbic brain system”. Now we’re talking: science… you know, chemicals, cells, biology, algebra and the stuff inside a computer; penicillin, Viagra, shampoo… and doctors give you pills for sleeping and you sleep; and pills for headaches and the headaches vanish; and injections that prevent rabies and polio, and since those injections I never once got rabies or polio.
And yet I also knew that because I was especially doomed, and more so than anyone else, perhaps something … magical … was required to change me. Here we are, someone who knows: SpiritUser 679 on the forum (who has 9804 posts to her name) says that you must be willing to give yourself to ‘grandmother’ Ayahuasca. But she is a fierce grandmother who demands respect … and if you pray, offer up your soul to her spirits for cleaning, she will show you what you need to be shown and then make you vomit up the horrors into a bucket. The efficiency of this grandmother at once terrified me and electrified a little half-dead body of hope inside. Truthfully I was becoming hooked on grandma even before I had rationally concluded that grandma was for me. Be smart, I told myself, do more research.
So the real name of the vine is BCaapi, that’s got the MAOIs; the DMT is in the psychotri verido leaves… resourceful teenagers make it themselves — youtube pop-up > ‘85 year-old retired accountant trips nut-sack in backyard’:
“First you shit on yourself.
Then you go to hell and see the future and
at the end it’s like 25 years of psychotherapy.
And I had sex with aliens. They fixed my prostate.
It’s all in my new book”
(Dennis McKenna is on the back, says it’s the real deal).
And Lindsay Lohan uses the visions for creativity and direction in life, her weekend “jungle fix” — pop-up visionary art collage > baby butterfly serpents and demonic frogs making love to divine emptiness inside a human skull; Sting softly, convincingly agrees that the whole scene is “out of this world, actually”, and the woman from National Geographic was healed of depression in one ceremony, full stop, end of story,
does any of this feel familiar?
and the website says it’s important not to have expectations so I won’t have any.
There is a deeply-rooted tendency that I have observed in the belief frameworks of many people who come to drink Ayahuasca. It is our desire to be rescued, for a quick-fix, short-cut or antidote to the symptoms of our problems, to be lifted from pain into pleasure. It exists even if one superficially repeats the mantra “Ayahuasca is not a magic bullet”. Until the truth of those words is actually internalised, our fetish for an antidote can substantially influence the way we work with Ayahuasca – both during and after the ceremony – and can be an obstacle to true healing and evolution. It is a kind of spell, and I have slumbered beneath its imaginary wing for a long time.
If there is one message I would humbly fire through clenched teeth into those moist and receptive pink bits of your intelligence, it would be: try to break the spell, wake up. There is no antidote. Neither Ayahuasca nor any other plant or spirit or chemical by itself will teleport you from suffering to enlightenment, or even guarantee more awareness over the long term. In fact, if you rely on her blindly as a quick-fix, she can make you more blind.
She can, however, be a deep and powerful catalyst for growth, a potent ally or tool, if used with intention, awareness and emotional honesty. But it is up to you to relate honestly and respectfully during your relationship with her, and to put her wisdom into practice in your daily life (where it counts).
Relate to her with awareness, as one tool among many, ideally within or as a complement to an established framework of personal growth (which includes daily practices, such as meditation or emotional introspection).
But lasting change will take time. And it is sometimes intensely uncomfortable. Satisfaction, fulfilment, wholeness, peace, love, growth… are not the same things as feeling good (though feeling good frequently occurs as a side effect of those things). Lasting change is a process that will take time. After the extra-terrestrial orgy — the laundry. Then for the rest of your life: the glorious laundry.
And still, there are true stories of people using Ayahuasca to instantly change or evolve themselves once-and-for-all in profound ways or heal a physical illness or imbalance, seemingly without much effort during or after the experience; these shifts and healings do happen. They have happened to me. But they are not common, and our enchantment with these stories re-entrenches our tendency to want to ignore (rather than relate to) our pain and to cling desperately to grandma’s feel-good rainbow peaks. And if that sentence makes you uncomfortable it is because it is true. We then remain blind to the reality that the spiritual journey home is whatever it needs to be: long, sometimes very painful, sometimes very subtle or utterly ordinary, sometimes ecstatic; and that this journey requires commitment, patience, self-honesty and, fundamentally,
a shift in the way we relate to our pain and darkness.
The personal, the emotional, the spiritual… is the global. At least part of the reason we are heading towards extinction is that many of us have lost touch with our capacity to relate to pain and darkness in a healthy way. The antidote fantasy is a manifestation of our dysfunctional relationship with our pain and darkness, and my hope is that the gradual dissolution of this fantasy will lead to a more respectful, harmonious and intelligent relationship with plant teachers such as Ayahuasca, with ourselves, and ultimately with all beings in our environment.
So I see this discussion as part of a larger movement towards more productive ways of relating. Again, let me be clear: I know that there are people still getting significant, sometimes life-changing benefits from Ayahuasca even if they are relating to her like an antidote on some level. And I also know that others are using Ayahuasca (among other plants) to bury themselves deeper in delusion. In any case I think that it is important to continue to find ways of relating to our plant teachers and ourselves that lead to the greatest positive transformations over the long term. That is evolution.
In the following posts, I want to explore the nature of the antidote fantasy, how it looks when this fantasy infects the way we work with Ayahuasca, and whether there are more helpful ways of relating to Ayahuasca than treating her like a quick-fix.
In writing this stuff, I have in mind at least the following three categories of audience:
1. the people who are very much under the illusion that Ayahuasca is a drug / genie that will take away their problems and overtly relate to her as a cure-all antidote;
2. the people who intellectually acknowledge that Ayahuasca is not a magic bullet, yet secretly relate to her like one. These are typically the people who experience disappointment when, three months after returning home: a) they begin to fall into their old emotional patterns, b) they are at a loss as to what to do because c) they have not bothered to apply what Ayahuasca has taught them, or change anything in their environment and d) they lack any complementary personal growth framework to support them;
3. people who are open to asking questions in order to go deeper in their relationship with Ayahuasca and themselves, even if they are already relating in a way that is working for them.
***Note: this post forms part of a series which explores how our quick-fix fantasy affects the Ayahuasca process. This post is part 1.
Here is part 2: Humping the Antidote — drug-takers and light-chasers
 Note: these posts do not deal with the influence of the shaman on the participant’s experience; to begin with I have chosen to focus on what a participant does with their mental / emotional resources because this always bears on what that person achieves with the help of Ayahuasca and a shaman.