This is a question that is not easily answered in a few statements, as the answer spans multiple domains, ie the physical, or, the material and the spiritual. This article will try to explain what Ayahuasca is using the physical as a starting point and then move to the spiritual, or energetic domain. The reason why this is done, is because western culture is highly materialistic and because of this, can only explain and understand phenomena in terms of materialism. However, if Ayahuasca is only explained through its chemistry, it would lead to a one sided understanding of the medicine and the point would be missed.
Ayahuasca is a medicinal brew than has been in use by amazonian tribes for millennia. It is used by healers to diagnose and cure all kinds of health problems, emotional, physical as well as mental problems. Ayahuasca is made of the vine banestriopsis caapi (The Ayahuasca vine, or the vine that gives the brew its name), and the leaves of the psychotria viridis plant (Chacruna), by mixing them in large kettles of water over a woodfire until a syrupy, brown liquid remains that can be drank.
Ayahuasca is a word from the Quechua language that means vine of the dead, or vine of the soul. Different tribes have different names for Ayahuasca, like Yagé or Oni, but Ayahuasca is the most comonly known and used.
Ayahuasca is an entheogen, which means “divine within”. As such it is a psychoactive substance that may induce visions, an altered state of consciousness, deeper insight, a deeper connection with the self, others, and nature.
On a chemical level, the visionary ingredient is DMT, also known as the spirit molecule, which is found in the chacruna leaves. However, since the stomach contains an enzyme that breaks down DMT, ingesting a tea of only chacruna, would have no effect. Here is where the Ayahuasca vine comes in. The Ayahuasca vine contain inhibitors that prevent the enzymes in the stomach from breaking down DMT. Upon ingestion of Ayahuasca, the enzymes are rendered inactive and the DMT can pass through the bloodstream to the brain.
To understand Ayahuasca from a spiritual point of view, it helps to think of “spirits” as energies. People, as well as plants have a certain energy. For instance, the energy of a person is quite different when sick or when happy.
When a person drinks Ayahuasca, they are infusing themselves with the energy of Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca can heal, but more so allows a person to connect with the energy of other healing plants. When drinking Ayahuasca, a person becomes more open. Physically, emotionally and energetically. Because of this openness, energetic blockages may be released, dense energies removed and replaced with light energies. This can be subjectively experienced as the release of trauma.
Typical western ailments
In the west, or in any industrialized nation, we typically live in high-paced, goal oriented, success driven societies with a high emphasis on rational thought. Human beings are survival oriented beings first,, then emotional being and then rational beings. By placing a high emphasis on the brain, rather than the heart, emotions easily go unacknowledged, pushed away and rationalized. So we keep up with every day demands on our life and the result is emotional numbness, irritability and stress among other symptoms.
This by itself is a normal response to an abnormal situation. The problem in the west is that we’re locked in this state perpetually. We don’t allow our bodies to release the built up stress, so it gets locked into our bodies as built up tension. If this situation goes on for too long, serious health problems can occur, like a heart attack.
Often, a person will burn out. The nervous system and the body basically give up in an attempt to heal itself. This is usually a very strong signal, something has to change.
Western medicine is based on scientific results and treats the body as a machine. This goes well for a wide array of diseases, but it is more difficult to apply on psycho-somatic diseases, the ailments in which there is a relationship with the mind and the body. If for instance, after (subconscious) emotional trauma a patient is prescribed anti depressants, the symptoms might be relieved but without further in depth treatment, the original problem remains.
Healing with ayahuasca and plant spirits
Healing with Ayahuasca and plant spirits takes a holistic approach. Holistic means that a person is treated as a whole, not as the sum of its parts. The root of the problem is treated and the imbalances that result from the problem are restored, bringing a patient back to health. Keep in mind that someone who has just healed with Ayahuasca can have a sense of alienation. This is caused by the fact that a person has lived with the problem, often for a considerable time, and needs to get used to this new state of being, and stay there. This process is called integration and will be covered in a later article.
From Spanish (curandero) healer.
The Amazonian tribes have an animistic worldview, which means that every object and every living creature contains an animating life force, energy, or spirit. A curandero, by dieting a plant, infuses him or herself with the energy of this plant and once an alliance is forged, can call upon this plant to heal. Traditionally, in a healing ceremony, Ayahuasca is ingested by the curandero only to allow him to connect to his plant allies who tell him about the ailment his patient suffers from and how to heal him. In the case of emotional and mental problems, the healer can often suffice by manipulating the energy field of the patient and remove energetic blockages, crossed energy or bad energy. In more severe cases, manipulating the patient’s energy is not enough and a plant diet is prescribed to effectively heal the patient.
The ikaro is the healing song of the curandero and is the primary tool of the curandero. In an Ayahuasca ceremony, the curandero sets his intention to navigate the energetic space. In collaboration with the spirits, he goes to work and when he does, the spirits will give him the energy he needs to heal. When he connects with this energy,, he will start to sing the song that is fueled by this energy. He doesn’t have to think about the words, it comes out naturally. The spirits are practically singing through him. It’s his job to guide the energy and direct the flow. When the job is done, the energy drops off and the song finishes.
The difference with a regular song and an ikaro is, is that an ikaro carries the energy that drives it and that heals. A regular song may sound like an icaro, but lacks the energy.
The mareacion is when the effects of Ayahuasca come on. This is usually preluded by some mild visual patterns, but then opens up fully. In this state of consciousness it is possible to do the work. The work simple, but difficult. All that is required is to concentrate on your intention and follow the medicine and the ikaros. Over the course of a mareacion, it is quite normal for the effects to drop off a bit, and to rise again later on. Also, a mareacion can have just one, or multiple themes. For instance, you may learn of self love early in the mareacion, and then Ayahuasca shows you where you have been too hard for yourself in a later part. Ayahuasca tends to give you what you need to follow through later on.
A common theme is la purga, or the purge. The purge is the release of energy that does no longer serve you. As you progress through your journey with Ayahuasca, layers of layers will be peeled of, and more and more insight is revealed. Then, when you are ready to let go, you will. You may cry, scream, sweat, shake, have diarrhea or vomit. This is all a normal, and applauded part of the healing process. It’s not necessary to vomit. Some do, others don’t, you’ll know when the work is done.
We as human being have something called consciousness. We are aware of ourselves, our surroundings, have thoughts, can feel, think, etc. Consciousness isn’t static, it is fluid. For instance, when driving a car, we take all the necessary actions to operate the car, without being conscious of it. Or, when in deep thought, we may travel to a place and not know how we ended up there. It seems as if our consciousness has a certain limit. We cannot be aware of everything at once and at the same time, what we are aware of, changes with each situation too.
Ayahuasca and plant spirits operates on a level of consciousness that we ordinary humans are generally unaware of and hence think it does not exist. But it is real, just the screen you are reading this off of is real. It requires a lot time studying Ayahuasca to really deprogram the western mode of thought, but it is not needed for the healing to take place. In other words, you don’t need to believe in spirits to heal with Ayahuasca. Furthermore, if you are doing an Ayahuasca ceremony and you don’t experience what you expect to experience (visions primarliy) it does not mean Ayahuasca isn’t working. It’s most likely that Ayahuasca is working behind the scenes to prepare you for the breakthrough moment in which you are aware of what is happening and in which you can let go.