7 August 2016

WHAT IS AYAHUASCA

I’ll try to give an answer to a question I’ve been carrying in me since 2008, the year of my first experience with the Amazonian brew named Ayahuasca. I’ll try giving the answers mostly for the sake of those who know nothing or a little about it, who live their lives in perfect normality and who perhaps heard talking about Ayahuasca in television or have read alarming articles about it, and who in this way risk to get an erroneous – or at least partial – idea about this vast and fascinating subject.
I’ll be also doing it for the sake of those that have known me for the normal person that I am, beyond my apparently alternative interests and my passion for history and culture of the Amazonian natives, or those which have worked with me and known me for a careful, dedicated, enthusiastic and professional collaborator, even though I, obviously, carry my own flaws.

Talking to the audience of people who know nothing or little about this subject can be useful to untie the knots of the mystery, mistrust and fear that surround Amazonian shamanism, Ayahuasca and other antique forms of ritual, and that distance many people from a real and efficient opportunity of healing and relief. 

I’m doing it also because I need it – I need to communicate the beauty of those millenarian traditions, but I also feel deep motivation to describe the normality enclosed in those rituals that seem so distant from our everyday life, yet which echoes inside of us like an ancient memory of our common history as humans of Earth and points to a single, profound truth: that we are all brothers and sisters.

This message, which is deeply rooted in Ayahuasca practice, should bring to mind other messages you might have heard, distractedly or not, during your lifetime. Certainly, if the Christianity was – or is – present in your life, this message is not new to you; if you’re adhering to oriental religions or philosophies, this message will certainly bring you back to the teachings of Buddha, of Krishna and other ancient prophets. If you have knowledge of the original Islam, you might identify this teaching among it’s truths and you might see in this unifying message the real source of all the religious traditions of human history which – taking diverse paths – divided, separated, forgot and believed themselves to be “different”.

This process of separation has often taken place due to the man – and not the human being – and his pain, and it has nothing to do with the fundamental theological contents which the religious traditions have kept intact during the millenniums.

In fact, these religions all derive from the same source, were all born around the same fire, under the same starry sky, becoming the shelter in which the first men and women find solace for that which was, and still remains, the humanity’s hugest problem, the biggest question that human beings have ever asked themselves: why do we suffer?

It was this question, this prayer for consolation, for protection, that brought about the rituals whose purpose was to reconnect us to the divine source which we belong to. By making us perceive this connection that we have with the universe, it allowed us to feel at home during our earthly journey on this planet. The feeling of belonging helped us to love each other, to respect the ambient that hosted us, encouraging us to live in humility, which is the fundamental requirement for any spiritual path, any learning and for making us free at last. A suffering human being, in fact, will always be the slave, will always be maneuverable, will always be a half person at the mercy of other people’s passions. He will be a person who is ready to give away his life in return for a dream, but other people’s dream. He will be ready to sacrifice himself searching for a meaning and a goal for his life.

Since then, since that starry night in which human beings clung to each other around a fire, searching for mutual consolation, regrettably many wounds were casted down on the bodies of many men and women, who then transformed these wounds in resentment and in hate, confusing their need for love and forgiveness with an erroneous motivation to forcedly evangelize, to make religious wars, to violently affirm superiority of one tradition above the others, of one race above the others, of one truth above the others.

All these manifestations of separation derive from a fundamental error: the belief that we are different from the others. The correction of this conviction is possible for some and difficult for the others, but it’s never impossible and would give rise to the correction of many problems that since then layered in the course of history. The length of historical stratification of this conviction created a hard shell of false convictions, an illusion difficult to eradicate, which often makes us slaves of hatred, frustration and dissatisfaction.

Ayahuasca, a brew that’s been used by natives of western Amazon for thousands of years, can enact a process of soul searching in those who get involved with it – a process of calling into question of all of these false convictions – and can de facto liberate persons from their pain, restoring their joie de vivre, health, balance and love.

Written this way, it might seem to be describing the miracle cure for any ailment of humanity but obviously, the reality is more complex than this and the tool cannot be reduced to the way it gets to be used. If someone gets injured by a tool, whose is the responsibility – of the tool, or of the hand that used it? If a charlatan psychiatrist is exposed for randomly prescribing psychiatric drugs, causing damage to the persons who turned for his assistance, whose is the responsibility – of the charlatan or of the drugs he was prescribing, and why should those drugs be forbidden?

But, what is Ayahuasca? As a matter of fact, it is a brew that gets produced during a extended boiling of some plants, in particular: Banisteriopsis Caapi, a vine typical for Amazon forest and a shrub called Psicotria Viridis. These two plants have a synergistic effect – Psicotria Viridis contains, among many other alkaloids, a potent hallucinogenic called Dimethyltryptamine. If taken on its own, this alkaloid has no effect whatsoever on human organism. For some evolutionist reasons, in fact, our digestive and nervous systems have developed an enzyme, called Monoamine oxidase (MAO), which destroys Dimethyltryptamine alkaloid and cancels its effects. Monoamine oxidase does not destroy only this alkaloid, but many other molecules, which are produced directly in our bodies and which regulate our moods. In fact, there is a whole class of antidepressant drugs, called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (IMAO), which reduce oxidation and therefore reduce the destruction of “mood” molecules of our bodies, enhancing therefore our state of mind.

The most mysterious and most fascinating part of the story of Ayahuasca is certainly the fact that Banisteriopsis Caapi contains, among its alkaloids, many monoamine oxidase inhibitors and could de facto be defined as an antidepressant plant. When ingested together with Psicotria Viridis, it inhibits the monoamine oxidase of our organism and allows Dimethyltryptamine to trigger the visionary effects that are at the base of Ayahuasca rituals. How did the Amazon natives, devoid of any technology, manage to find the exact combination of these two plants among 80,000 species of higher plants? It remains one of the mysteries which are most difficult to explain using our actual scientific knowledge.

This is an interesting and widely studied subject which is not exhausted, unfortunately, due to the biases of many people that prevent them from studying it in more depth. Expressions such as “visionary experiences” or “hallucinogenic effects” are linked to the culture of prohibitions in which we have grown up and that prevents us from investigating in more depth. We might be curious, fascinated, astonished, but speaking of a “drug” blocks us and prevents us from moving forward. This is, obviously, a large limit and a factual cage. Every prejudice is a cage – ask Galileo Galilei or Giordano Bruno about it. A cage of prejudice is that narrow, restricted place, where one lives together with his fears, closed in the world of scarcity, pain, hate, in which violence and subjugation thrives. It is a place where individual is separated from the real world, which is, on the contrary, a dimension of joy, love, equality and peace. It is when we have an opportunity to dig deeper that we find a treasure. But digging is known to be a very, very strenuous activity.

The question that I ask myself now is: who would wish to live with a prejudice, knowing the inconvertible fact that it generates pain? Why then persons do not decide to nurture love, compassion and solidarity within themselves? Why are they injured, discouraged and why this mistrust, deriving from long time ago and passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter for thousand years, is so difficult to interrupt? Those who live in pain do so because they have not received love, and their parents are not responsible for it, because they themselves, unfortunately, had not received it. Ayahuasca and the visionary experience it donates can heal this void, doing what the mystical experiences recounted in the lives of saints have always done: it can give back to the persons the perception of the divine presence within and outside themselves.

This perception of the presence of something that transcends the materiality of our very life can restore joy, it can offer us a completely different perspective and a better future. It can heal our wounds, break the chains and interrupt the cycles of suffering.

If all of these things were not already contained in all the sacred books of all of the religions of all times, I would frankly believe myself to be mad. Instead, I find myself, after 8 years of practicing this shamanic tradition, to discover and write things that are already present in Christianity, Hebraism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as in all other ancestral shamanic traditions that our planet is showered with.

The invitation, therefore, is not to be afraid. Do not be afraid of shamanism, do not fill yourselves with prejudices, study, get informed, ask, and if I can help you, I will. Try to address the right persons, and you will find them. When you start searching for a minister, it will not be the first one you run into that you’ll feel affinity with, the intimate communion. It will take time and research. Similarly, if you start searching for a psychotherapist to entrust your problems to, to ask for solutions, it will not be the first one you’ll go to that you’ll feel connection with. In the same way, do not believe in the first piper that will promise to give you solutions to your problems, because Ayahuasca is undoubtedly a way to find solutions, but it is also path that requires sacrifice and dedication.

Likewise, do not fear the word “drug” or “visionary experience”, because many historical sources reveal that all religions have a visionary experience as their starting point. A visionary experience that might have been natural or induced by fasting, or sometimes induced by plants having “visionary” substances. But if a visionary experience is a medium to find the solution for many of your actual problems, which barrier stops you from accepting its possibility, it’s dignity, it’s power, it’s strength and efficiency?

I finish with an invitation to peace, hoping that all human beings of this Earth can find a path towards health, respect, patience, tolerance and humility.