What is Ayahuasca?
For centuries, South Americans have used ayahuasca in healing ceremonies and to communicate with ancestors. The vine Banisteriopsis caapi is found deep within the Amazon Rainforest. Shamans, calledayahuasceros, remove the bark, beat it until it’s soft, and then boil it into a tea with various plants that contain the Schedule I drug dimethyltryptamine, commonly known as dmt. The shamans are so powerful, believers say, that they can see deep childhood wounds and decide how much tea to give you just by reading your body language.
Once they drink the tea, users have what is usually an all-night psychedelic experience. They see verdant landscapes, Tetris-like formations locking and unlocking, people turning into jaguars or being swallowed by snakes. It sounds something like a more sinister version ofAvatar. People purge, writhe in pleasure and agony, talk to spirits, feel clairvoyant.
But that’s just the fireworks. According to its proponents, the real allure of ayahuasca is its potential to help users confront pain—both physical and emotional—and reckon with their inner demons, leaving them feeling like they had done years of therapy in a matter of hours. From ecstasy to lsd, psychedelics have long had a role in experimental therapies, and ayahuasca is the latest drug to be used not as recreation, but as a conduit for personal insight.
Sting, Tori Amos, Devendra Banhart, and Paul Simon have all spoken about trying it.
I went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Nothing. I sat back down, waiting for it to kick in, seeing if anything felt different or distorted. By this time, the shaman had started to sing. Sounds were what I noticed first: distant ambulance noises and the rustle of a neighbor scratching his head were equally loud. My tongue started to feel like it was growing in my mouth, and I had a moment of paranoia that I wouldn’t be able to breathe—my only anxiety of the night. But it subsided once I inhaled deeply and listened to the music.
I closed my eyes and began to see trails of color that looked like blood pulsing through a vein. The music intensified and then there were fireworks, vibrant colors, and geometric shapes. I opened my eyes and could feel the serotonin pumping through my system—my eyes rolled back in ecstasy. I may have drooled a little. At one point, I dove into Beyoncé’s stomach and saw her unborn child. People started throwing up. A man near me was vomiting, making me a little less high—until my friend Nick appeared. He danced a jig that erased everyone around me and I was suddenly back to my own thoughts. I saw golden birds flying everywhere.
I wonder if the experience would have been wilder if I’d gone deep in the South American jungle with a smaller group and no cellphone service, no car horns in the distance, no pop-culture preoccupations.
Very interesting article, it was published in "Good."
As my students know I drank ayahuasca in the Colombian Amazon, up river from Arara - relatively close to Leticia, the Colombian border-town with Peru and Brazil. It was my first night in the Amazon and it was a great way to start my fieldwork on perceptions of development in the Arara community. The bottom line is that I ended up vomiting at around 4 am, in the dark Amazon jungle. Next I had this trip (literally), aerial trip, from the Amazon to Guatemala. In a matter of seconds I was looking at my mom, who was then in bed. Fast forward I was looking at beams of light moving randomly. Fast forward I was immersing myself in an affluent of the Amazon River. Fast forward, next morning, I was totally tranquil, as probably had never been, looking at the fast water cycle - rain, evaporation, rain, in the jungle.
This is the paper I wrote, not on Ayahuasca, but on rationality and development in Arara. The paper is titled: "Rationality as a Social Construction: What Does Individual Behavior have to say About Development in an Amazon Community?"
This article argues that two different manifestations of rational behavior can coexist and collide in a relatively homogeneous society. In the Ticuna community of Arara in the Colombian Amazon; on the one hand, the majority of villagers tend to reach relatively lower levels of material wealth, following Polanyi´s idea of the pre-modern man (1968a; 1968b, 1968c), and also Sahlins´ idea of the original affluent man, 1972. On the other hand, community leaders and schoolteachers tend to accumulate material wealth, following Polanyi´s idea of modern-man (1968a; 1968b). These behavioral frameworks help explain the limited success of certain types of development programs in the Ticuna community.