Some thoughts on Ayahuasca and Other Healing Plants

by Tom Riddle, 2016

Ayahuasca, here seen in an Iquitos, Peru, market, is a vine that is brewed with the leaves of another plant to make the tea called ayahuasca.
San Pedro or huachuma is a cactus that is boiled to produce a soup. It does not cause near the bodily discomfort the ayahuasca does. It also lacks many of ayahuasca's healing properties.
Iboga is a bush that grows in parts of Gabon and Cameron. It can render one immobile for a few hours. Above is the author while under the influence. For more on Iboga see thomasriddle.net/gabon .

We have been blessed with many natural remedies for the physical and mental maladies that can plague humankind. Some of those remedies come from plants. Marijuana is one such plant. It has some beneficial properties in relieving pain and certain types of anxiety, but it is light years away from having anything near the healing properties of ayahuasca, peyote, iboga, or huachuma, sometimes called San Pedro.

The North American media and corporate world has succeeded in producing an epidemic of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. It has also, at least in the USA, successfully demonized what in other parts of the world are considered sacred healing plants.

Thank God for the British. The BBC has for years supported an open investigation into the world of the sacred plants, notably though the work of Bruce Parry, a man with a never-ending sense of adventure and curiosity.

Bruce and I recently drank ayahuasca at a small ayahuasca center outside of Iquitos, Peru, that is run by Percy Garcia. Unfortunately, Bruce and I were not there at the same time. But that is a minor detail.

At the center, http://www.ayahuasca-healing-das.org, we both had a very hard time with the ayahuasca. You can watch Bruce's account below. Before that, let me show you a few pictures.

Guests to Percy's place can expect a hut about like this one. Before I arrived, I didn't know that there was no electricity, so I hauled all of my computer and camera stuff there. After a few days one hard disk died of mildew and my camera became covered in mold, plus my underwear kind of smelled.
Life inside my hut wasn't too bad. Because I was surrounded by the jungle, there were lots of animals to keep me company. And although I didn't see any of the man-eating bats that I heard about or the snakes that are bigger than a female mud wrestler's thigh, there were plenty of creepy-crawlies and flying-biting-critters.

This is the scene of the crime, the maloca, or the place where ayahuasca is served. No one can count the number of times I vomited while leaning over the railing that is on the right.

 

Inside the maloca things are spacious and open. During the ceremonies, which are held in total darkness, the leader of the center, Percy Garcia, sits behind the table and sings ayahuasca songs, called icaros. Participants lie on thin mattresses placed on the floor with vomit buckets beside them.

ayahuasca

Percy doesn't have to lock up his ayahuasca between ceremonies because no one wants to steal it. Just the smell of it is enough to make a normal man want to wretch.

Bruce ends his video somewhat abruptly. The big question is: was all of that discomfort worth it? Well, yes, in my case at least, it was.

Howard's place is on a tributary to the Amazon.
Making ayahuasca in Peru.
Making ayahuasca in Brazil with Essencia Divina. Andre, the leader of the center that I drank with, is stirring the pot.
Tasting the brew. This woman, the mother of the man in the previous picture, is a genuine connoisseur of ayahuasca.
Making ayahuasca continued late into the night in Brazil.
This and the next picture show the high-end Dawn of Eden Shamanic Center in the city of Iquitos.
The maloca, or ceremonial room for drinking ayahuasca at Dawn of Eden. Just across the street from this center is an Evangelistic Church.
These ladies who dance for locals and tourists in Iquitos, Peru, are holding a symbol of the Amazon, a boa constrictor.
The management at Suan Mokkh, like so many ayahuasca masters, believes that the best place to get to know yourself is close to nature.
Ken Wilbur has something interesting to say about nearly everything, including ayahuasca.

After most ayahuasca ceremonies my brain feels like it had just been to the dry-cleaners and come back clean, sweet-smelling, and with the wrinkles nicely ironed out. About like the way I feel after a ten-day silent and intensive Buddhist meditation retreat.

There are many places to drink ayahuasca in Peru and Brazil.

In Peru I've drank it at three places:

1. http://www.biopark.org/peru.html This place, a short riverboat ride from Iquitos, is run by an American ethnobotanist, Howard Lawler. His website is kind of a mess, but his place is lovely. He has all of his ayahuasca made on-site. He also has hot-water, wi-fi, good food, and comfortable accommodation. Years ago the British, who else, made a reality TV show where they sent three celebrities to Howard's place when he still rented a humble camp on a river bank. Entertaining.

2. http://www.ayahuasca-healing-das.org is Percy Garcia's place. It's is closer to the nearby town of Nauta than it is to Iquitos. To get there one has to walk about 25 minutes through the jungle from the road. The staff is very accommodating.

3. http://dawnofeden.net is run by another American man, Dan Reynolds. Dan believes that he was a shaman in a former life. In this life he has invested his life's savings to build an ayahuasca center in a suburb of Iquitos. It's a lovely place—nice air-conditioned rooms, high-security electric fences, and TV downstairs. Dan thinks it will appeal to people who don't want the rigors of jungle life. If that's you, check it out. I made the outline of his website and took most of the pictures. He wrote the text. If nothing else, you can check out his, well my, pictures of Iquitos. Iquitos is in some ways the center of the ayahuasca world.

Friends have spoken highly of http://www.templeofthewayoflight.org/ which is near Iquitos.

In Brazil I have drunk with the Santo Daimi Church and an offshoot of that church, Essencia Divina. In both cases I was well taken care of by sincere and knowledgeable people. It is worth noting that in Peru ayahuasca essentially has never left the jungle whereas in Brazil it has. People in Brazil told me, and later I read it on-line, that in the 1930s, at the same time that Buddhist meditation was leaving the caves of Southeast Asia and entering the cities as a lay practice, a Brazilian rubber tapper, Raimundo Irineu Serra, brought ayahuasca, which he mixed with some Christian practices, into the Brazilian cities. Today ayahuasca churches in Brazil have between 10,000 and 20,000 members. It seems to appeal to artists and intellectuals.

I have also drunk ayahuasca with two fake shamans. One of them, a European, was as close as I've come to meeting a genuine witch, what the people in the Amazon call a bruja. She took a perverse and careless delight in over-dosing people. The other faker, another European, thought nothing of charging naive foreigners for ayahuasca and then serving them river water. So be careful. Here is some more advice for people who want to drink ayahuasca. It appeared in the free paper of Iquitos, Peru.

If you are curious to read more of my ayahuasca experiences in Peru and Brazil, please see http://thomasriddle.net/aya_08/intro.html Unfortunately, I wrote so much about ayahuasca that I can't imagine anyone reading all of it. Here are a few highlights:

• What will happen the first time you drink? Here is what happened to me: http://thomasriddle.net/brazil/index.html#january01
• Everyone wants a deep healing experience. Here is mine: http://thomasriddle.net/brazil/index.html#january29 Even now, 13 years later, I see January 29, 2007 as a turning point in my life.

• Here is another deeply healing experience: http://thomasriddle.net/brazil/index.html#telephone

• Finally, you can read about what it is like to work with a fake shaman. It was not good: http://thomasriddle.net/brazil/index.html#janurary11

If you want to experience a distant cousin of ayahuasca that is legal in most states in the USA, please see http://www.sagewisdom.org/. He sells the amazing Salvia divinorum. For a nominal fee he, Daniel Siebert, can send you some of this magic tincture in a US postal box with a generic return address. With it you can have one of the most pleasant evenings of your life. For an hour or so you can experience what it would like to be fully enlightened. The next day you'll feel like Buddha. If you keep doing it, you'll get bored with it. Then you can go on a meditation retreat or go to Peru.

Many people, for a variety of reasons never want to put a healing plant in their mouths. Not to worry. If you want to simply explore the mind and possibly become fully enlightened, try Buddhist meditation. Here are a few places to look:

http://www.thomasriddle.net/swan_mokh/index.htm This is a very beautiful meditation center in Southern Thailand. If you ever wanted to do meditation in a place with hot springs, look no more! The food, accommodation, the people, and the cost are all excellent. The page begins with me recommending three of my favorite books on meditation.

http://www.opendharma.org/ - Open Dharma teachers lead meditation retreats around the world. The style of meditation that they teach resembles a Buddhist mindfulness practice, but they bring in other traditions as well. If you want a relaxed and open approach to meditation (you can recline in the hall), check it out.

http://www.insightmeditation.org/ This site contains a wealth of information about meditation and the awakened life as seen through the eyes of Christopher Titmuss. Christopher was a Buddhist monk in Thailand for six years and has been teaching around the world for thirty-plus years.

http://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/ Here you can find hundreds of talks about meditation and Buddhism. You can't go wrong with any of the talks you'll find here. My two favorite teachers are Joseph Goldstein and Sarah Doering. Here's a talk by Joseph about what I like to do at the end of each ayahuasca session and every daily meditation. It's called metta or loving kindness. Metta meditation and ayahuasca go together like beer and salted nuts. Another of my favorite teachers listed on that site is Sarah Doering. She was in her 70s when I met her. I found her to be as clear as a bell. Check her out and see if you feel the same way. She only has a few of her talks available. All of them are excellent and can be found at: http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/155/

There are now hundreds of Buddhist meditation centers across the USA and the world. All of them are good, but I guess I'd recommend shying away from any that would have you believe that they are the one true path. If there was one key that opened everyone's door, the human experience, as we all know, would be very different.

If you wonder if I'm the only person who thinks that Buddhist meditation and ayahuasca go well together check out what Ken Wilbur, the prolific author on spirituality, has to say. He has a lot to say, including his belief that for people who do not drink ayahuasca without a background in meditation, the experience can become "more about me." I had wondered about that.

Okay, that's all. As they say in Buddhist circles—may you be happy, peaceful, and full of sympathetic joy, compassion, loving kindness, and equanimity. And, unless you really need medical marijuana, stay away from that kind of thing.

TR - October, 2016