All the great time-tested traditions of the Earth urge us to think beyond our own needs. They inspire us to consider the needs of others both human and nonhuman, present and future, as if they were our very own needs–which, from a Oneness perspective, they are–and to act upon this. Protecting what’s left of Earth’s great tropical rainforests and striving to record and understand the collective wisdom of the region’s people is among the most valuable legacies we can leave to the future. But, particularly, what is the future of ayahuasca?
The transcendent importance of the rainforest for planetary well-being: oxygen production, climate stability, carbon sequestration and the myriad natural processes beyond comprehension that occur there daily, demand we not allow the continual erasure of it’s cultural and biological diversity. We must, as a humanity, view the rainforest as the natural laboratory it is, filled with the fruits of millions of years of evolution.
From our human point of view, in awe and reverence, there are plants that heal certain ailments and others that reveal great secrets; yet above all, the tropical rainforest itself is a great medicine. A great Planetary Medicine.
The rainforest of the globe and for that matter all great expanses of wilderness, oceans and natural ecosystems, are the mainstay of the planetary immune system. Perennial stem cell capable of renewal and fertility. All Earth’s species need the wilderness areas in order to be healthy, to maintain climate stability, and to continue life as we know it. What then does the “Ancient Future of Ayahuasca” look like?
Plant, People, Planet
It can be said that the link between the natural environment and people is the basis of culture. Our cultural heritage unifies people with plants, with our sustenance and medicine, with the elemental powers and the natural cycles. The cultural context is relevant to herbalism, agriculture, seasonal phenomena, spirituality and all plant use in all societies, and it is particularly crucial for understanding uses of entheogens; the so-called “plantas maestras”: the “plant teachers.”
If we are to best comprehend the roles that these sacred plants play in peoples’ lives, we must understand the time-tested traditions that have evolved with human use of them. It is precisely these traditional guidelines that have allowed the sacred plants to act as positive agents among people and societies.
For instance, when properly prepared and administered, ayahuasca—also known as yagé (pronounced ya-HEH) as well as a number of other indigenous names—can realign one’s worldview and way of perceiving nature, showing how to find a sense of place within the human community as well as the greater community of all life.
In the hands of a master of this plant-medicine tradition, the energies it allows access to be channeled to help other people regain inner balance, healing, and renewal. People then may find themselves more aware of their participation in the creative unfolding of the universe, as co-creators expanding the original celestial order.
Some of these indescribably beneficial effects can be obtained even through the truncated and limited experiences of so-called “ayahuasca tourism,” as well as more serious experimentation and journeying. Mild doses on a regular basis constitute a church service for some people, a healing purge for others. Such modern uses of this traditional medicine are evolving and spreading across the globe, and may help us find a way out of the ecological and spiritual mess we’re in—certainly they’re a route worth exploring as we seek to prevent the collapse of Earth’s life-support mechanisms.
Simultaneously, ayahuasca is also in danger of being integrated into Western consumer patterns and economic laws. Drug tourism is a big new business in the Amazon. Will the medicine become another mass-market item divorced from its traditional origins and incapable of providing the benefits we seek?
While it’s a sad truth that that despite ayahuasca’s great potential to steer humanity and the benefits it has granted many people in the past (not to mention its straight-up and barely-believable magic), this art and science is fading fast in its traditional context. The great Amazonian sage and visionary painter Pablo Amaringo once explained to me how he used ayahuasca as a tool in order to apply rigorous scientific scrutiny to understand the truth of this existence. In his book, Ayahuasca Visions, he writes:
“It is only when the person begins to hear and see as if he were inside the scene, not as something presented to him, that he is able to discover many things. There is nothing that he is not able to find out. I saw how the world was created, how everything is full with life, how great spirits intervene in every aspect of nature and make the universe expand. The world is multifaceted, so mysterious and unfathomable that it is beyond imagination. I also understood that human beings will never be happy until they realize their connection with the Creator and the spiritual dimensions.”
Ayahuasca can heal many physical ailments and illness, even so-called terminal ones, but this may not be possible entirely on its own. These cures can be accomplished when the plant medicine is combined with the advanced mastery of the graduated or adept drinkers, who as a result of a lifetime of earnest spiritual training and practice, using methods handed down from generations of devoted masters, are able to associate with powerful healing spirits and to direct energy appropriately. This is where our Western medicine is often divorced from its energetic origins and the mastery of human healers.
As regards both palliative and preventative care, sacred plant-medicine traditions and the ancestral approach to healing are perfectly tailored to each person’s specific needs. Exactly how ayahuasca works to awaken within each person a brand-new opportunity for renewal is a bit beyond rational comprehension. This is why the traditional elders among the Secoya people say, “The yagé knows; we don’t know.”
From the Jungle to the World
Still, the ability of indigenous science, traditional Amazonian medicine, and ayahuasca to assist people in attaining insight, balance, and wellness has been proven on countless occasions. Due to the effectiveness of this medicine, it is inevitable that we will see it gain in popularity, and this will—in ways beyond imagining, as ayahuasca assists people in their personal journeys—help salvage both the medicine traditions and the rainforest environment itself.
For while the traditional modes of transmission crumble, hope for the future of the yagé tradition comes, ironically, from outside the rainforest—from elements within the very cultures that seem bent on destroying it all. Globally, as more and more people seek reconnection with original nature and their true identity, they are participating in ayahuasca healing ceremonies and/or seeking health through the use of various botanicals from the Amazon rainforest.
We see that as it is passing to the West, a new form of syncretic ayahuasca use is developing among interested people the world over. It seems as though as one door starts to close, another opens, and one could reckon that the medicine is moving to where it needs to go, striving to offer people the ultimately satisfying challenge of awakening and becoming a conscious human being. Although this may be the case, any conscious human being cannot help but be saddened by the tremendous loss of biological and cultural diversity taking place today.
In a world governed by corporations and driven by profit margins, even the knowledge of top scientists is not respected, let alone that of feathered masters. Nevertheless there will come a time when indigenous science and modern scientific methods will merge their strengths to help steer humanity back on course. The spirits, deities, and immortals revealed through the drinking of yagé want this more than anything else.
The evolution of “globalhuasca”
Understanding this, what then, is the future of ayahuasca? It includes enacting sustainable alternative economies and appropriate progress on local levels (as opposed to massive development), opportune education and loving upbringing of children, protecting the sources of pure water and air, caring about the methods used to raise our food, and immediately protecting Earth’s mighty rainforest and wilderness areas, home of these great traditions and most diverse terrestrial ecosystems.
This knowledge will continue to help people and communities as it expands beyond the jungle, and I want to believe that nothing can stop it. It is evolution at work, the constructive cycle of the universal energetic flow manifesting itself, gaining momentum and daily getting stronger.
And despite the loss of much of the original body of knowledge, peripheral forms are being passed along. From these seeds, there can exist a future when the vines again flower, and these arts and ways are respected and able to flourish anew in the rainforest and the world over. Contained within this ancient mode of science, at its simplest and most practical, are profound methods for contemplating wholeness and re-establishing a personal connection with the whole. These methods rectify critical misperceptions and cleanse the individual of many false assumptions taken today to be truths.
This ayahuasca experience is currently in fashion but it is sometimes ungrounded in tradition. For in the Western rush for instant gratification it’s vital to try to understand that this science is vast, and its full comprehension requires a dedicated lifetime of study, which few Westerners (and, indeed, few modern Amazon dwellers) are capable of, or have the necessary courage to undertake. Yet it seems that elements of traditional Amazonian medicine can integrate into modern times to help realign people with a more holistic and natural mode of being.
Grandmother Medicine is wise and powerful. Perhaps the plants themselves are catalyzing new opportunities for survival of their wisdom as well as their rainforest home, and maybe us too! Awakening an understanding that we are the most recent evolution of the rainforest, reaching out to protect herself is refreshing.
How does ayahuasca do this? Through ceremonies everywhere that inspire and imprint the experience of oneness and connection on a personal basis—no longer only in a jungle setting but all over the Earth. And through the motivated hearts of those who know how to love this sacred Earth and respect all life. We can act as medicine for the rainforest if we grasp ayahuasca’s message of oneness and help preserve the great treasures of the Amazon and the Earth. This task is urgent: Industrial globalization threatens the very existence of the forest and the botanical knowledge that could provide so many solutions.
And yet, as powerful as the medicine is, every great shaman and achieved sage in any culture will agree that ayahuasca in and of itself is not essential in order for one to progress on the spiritual path. Ayahuasca and other sacred plants can reveal many things, yet ultimately they are not necessary. After you are healed then what?
The culture of service is the centerpiece and foundation of this path of spiritual development and subtle scientific understanding of the power of being virtuous, the universal potency of being absolute. In the end it’s all about getting beyond oneself and being able to help others.
As ceremonial elders of old marveled in acknowledgment, in hushed whispers around the soft glow of a fire, that indeed the only way to unite all of one’s virtues with all the virtues in the multi-universe, is to always offer ones absolute very best.
One of the contemporary demands on our energies and an excellent arena for service is to awaken oneself and others to the need to shift to sustainability—to consider not only the needs of people but the needs of nature alike. Now is the time to nudge our dormant yet inherent abilities to trigger the unifying powers of the culture of service to enact positive change, standing ready to serve all of life’s creation, at any given time by doing our best in each moment. This is contemplative mediation!
At the core of ancient ways we learn that to take from nature is a privilege, not an entitlement. Any seeker of the truth can agree, the only entitlement we as humanity have is the ability to awaken as truly conscious beings, in order to enact a life in reciprocity, balance, and harmony among all living beings. This is our entitlement, this is our planetary mission, and this must become our direction.
Ethnobotanist JONATHON “SPARROW” MILLER WEISBERGER has devoted the past 30 years to the study of rainforest plant medicine traditions. Since 2000 he is the steward of Ocean Forest Ecolodge Retreat, on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. www.oceanforest.org
This has been an abridged reworking from the author’s book Rainforest Medicine Preserving Indigenous Science and Biological Diversity in the Upper Amazon, used with permission.