Shamanism
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The Economics of Ayahuasca: Do You Get What You Pay For?

Art by Josh Usmani

Money is a complicated force woven within our cultural psychology, and when you combine it with our spiritual pursuits, the energies can go haywire.

Most of us have no problem justifying the cost of our iPhones, our doctor-prescribed medications, our exotic vacations, jewelry and clothes and food and furniture; even the cost of a spa massage. If the items we want or need are beyond our reach, we find a way through savings and patience, or putting in extra elbow grease and effort. Humans are manifesting monsters when we have our eye on the prize.

For many of us, however, paying for a spiritual experience brings up all kinds of resistance and stories. There’s a lot of discourse that proposes a process that brings you closer to God should be free; perhaps because it’s our birthright to know our divinity. How does someone have the audacity to charge for that?

But what if the reverse is true? Isn’t it audacious to assume someone’s life calling should be given away? Isn’t the most valuable thing in the world our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being?

An Ayahuasca ceremony can completely transform your life. From your physical health to your emotional stability to the way you connect with the world, this medicine has the power to completely reshape your beingness and bring you back into your natural state of joy and serenity. But she is only as powerful as the vessel she moves through to connect with you, and if that vessel has worked for decades to purify and bond with her energy, they are a core reason your life improves.

The people that dedicate their lives to this path deserve compensation for all their tremendous work and devotion. Furthermore, you deserve the blessing of giving them money or an energy exchange as a show of gratitude and respect; for them, for Ayahuasca, and for the entire tradition.

The Psychology of Giving and Receiving

 Paying for anything gives it value. If we don’t hold something as valuable, we are far less likely to receive it with an open heart. Some sort of energy exchange is almost always necessary for one to truly experience the full gift and value of any object or experience. This is especially true for healing.

Let’s first examine this by thinking about how we receive gifts. When we receive something for a holiday from a loved one, it’s usually either an expression of their love for us (which is itself an energy exchange for the love we give to them), or something given out of necessity because it’s a bloody holiday and one has to give gifts.

I would venture to guess the gifts you love the most came from the people closest to you. While it may seem those gifts were in fact “free”, they are instead physical tokens of all the times you listened, laughed, and bonded together. There were likely dozens of energy exchanges long before the gift landed.

And the gifts you love the least often feel that way because they aren’t personal or customized; they are after-thoughts, or given by someone who doesn’t know you that well. So they lack the same level of meaning, no matter what their monetary value is.

This is the psychology of giving and receiving. In order for a gift to be meaningful, it is given and received. And it’s our ability to receive that makes or breaks the process.

So let’s bring that in to the healing space.

Yes, in theory, it would be lovely if Ayahuasca were free to everyone, as everyone deserves to heal. But would that really bring about the results we envision?

No way. That goes against our psychology.

“Yage” by Kailyn Deyn

It’s true that in indigenous cultures, the medicine man or woman doesn’t always charge their tribe for services. But then, in these cultures, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is always giving and receiving. The hunters, the chefs, the caretakers, the builders, the healers – they are all held as equals, and each one helps create balance and happiness for the whole tribe. Their payment is receiving the gifts of all other roles, that is incredibly divine.

Our culture honors money as a way to create that balance, which is no less sacred and effective at its core. Some of us still embrace the barter system too, which is awesome. In my Ayahuasca and psychedelics coaching practice, I love receiving someone else’s gifts in lieu of cash as payment. I’ve received incredible artwork (just look at that Ayahuasca inspired painting by Kailyn Deyn!), psychic readings, sound healing sessions, and all kinds of beautiful exchanges. In many ways, these are far more powerful and meaningful than a cash exchange. Regardless of what is given, however, it’s the balance that matters.

So showing up for an Ayahuasca ceremony without giving anything in exchange does not create the energy for anyone to fully receive and heal. Balance, balance, balance.

How Spirituality and Money Became a Dirty Combo

I have gone toe-to-toe with the expectation that healing should be free a gazillion times. When I ran the Las Vegas Ayahuasca circle, people came from all over the country to sit with us, and I frequently held space for the arguments around cost.

I get it. Somewhere along the way in our culture, connecting to spirit via a money exchange started feeling as dirty as paying for sex. If you want to know why, ask the church.

The issue is integrity, not the actual money exchange. We have endless examples in our world of people who pretend to have our highest good – priests, healers, monks, teachers – but are actually seduced by money and power. And it feels utterly devastating to be duped by the people we trust the most.

I went to Catholic mass every Sunday as a kid, and when the donations basket was passed around, I loathed that feeling of responsibility and expectation. There were always those people who eyeballed the process, silently judging those who didn’t give an offering. It was as if God’s love was equal to the check you wrote that weekend. That felt so out of context for a holy place.

But because we’ve allowed money to be the core of our safety and foundation, a balance is necessary. If we can’t give money as thanks for a spiritual connection, what on earth is of value to us anyway?

Integrity. That’s really what we’re seeking. And the moment we are betrayed by those we gave trusted funds to, our whole paradigm falls to pieces. We are now damaged, and fear has replaced trust. Because human beings are fallible, the whole space of money exchange for healing and expansion has become deeply tainted.

 But we can reclaim that by trusting the process, and continuing to give value to the things that matter.

Stop Saying Money is a Necessary Evil

 I once knew a jungle-based shaman who refused to charge for his ceremonies. “Money is the white man’s devil,” he stated. And in time, he, too, succumbed to the darkness he resisted. He secretly lusted for abundance, and started chasing fame instead. And soon enough, people in his ceremonies started reporting infractions and darkness galore. Safety went out the backdoor, and his internal battle come to the forefront.

Isn’t that the way of duality. . .if we vilify anything, we have created a conflict. A war we must engage in. And eventually, we will breakdown.

All this darkness and manipulation and pain is not money’s fault; currency is energy, like anything else. I actually had the spirit of money visit me once in an Ayahuasca ceremony; he went by the name “Moneta”. I sat in the truth of that vibration; it’s a giving energy, a beautiful, supportive, divine light.

It’s us humans that bring our dualistic darkness to the exchange.

You see, every time we receive money, it’s part of a contract. I will give you X dollars for Y goods or services. If those are not delivered with honesty, there is a disconnect.

And money gets blamed. But money has zero fault.

We also come with sky-high expectations at times, and our agendas get in the way of a balanced exchange. I saw that in ceremony from time to time. People would come with the expectation that the shaman was there to heal them, to essentially do the work for them, because they paid for the experience. When that false assumption came to light, there was occasionally deep friction.

But that’s on us once again. If we owned our end of each monetary contract, money would never get blamed for being the bad guy.

It’s also true that the more someone faults money as “the root of all evil”, the less of it they are likely to manifest. Energy goes where it is invited, consciously or subconsciously.

At the root of anyone who does not want to pay for a spiritual experience lies scarcity and fear. They may have been wronged, betrayed, and hurt by similar exchanges, and they unknowingly project that through mistrust on others, or money itself.

You know what doesn’t work for those people? Giving them free Ayahuasca ceremonies.

My Rites of Passage with Giving Away Healing

When I started organizing ceremony circles, I had this big, huge, “everyone gets to heal!” heart. There was one big bit of wisdom I was missing, however – not everyone wants do to do the work that healing requires. We all have divine timing. And no one can force a miracle.

People would come to us a lot without the ability to pay, and I often paid for them. I paid for dozens and dozens of folks to have ceremonies. I made it a habit to take my 20% cut of the profits and donate it back to the process by giving people free ceremonies. And I often went overboard and took money out of my pocket too.

By and large, this blew up in my face.

Because of the lack of giving and receiving, most of these beautiful souls did not have the profoundly healing experience they were hoping for. Why? Because they didn’t put any skin in the game. The universe requires that we give of ourselves in order to get what we want in return.

By paying for other peoples’ ceremonies, I was robbing them of that vital balance.

There were exceptions, of course – people with humongous hearts and hurts that were equally large, who came with such humility and gratitude, that itself was a legitimate offering. Those that showed up with a gift for the shaman or a basket of fruit for the tribe – they would have transformative experiences. Those that stayed late and cleaned the buckets or swept the house – they, too, created the necessary exchange.

I learned that nothing is given to us without our willingness to work for it, because we don’t know how to value a handout.

Contrast is necessary. Giving and receiving are a sacred duo.

One Graceful Way to Combine Money and Healing

I have landed in a place through my coaching practice that feels heavenly with regards to money. It’s been a tough road to get here, but it feels like I’ve unlocked a graceful way to combine these two with grace and harmony.

I have my set rates, and those that can pay them, do.

But those that can’t show up frequently, and I have a simple formula: Tell me what you can pay. Name your price.

That leaves the responsibility on the individual to first stretch into some place of offering. They create value first and foremost by working through the discomfort of asking for a discount, and then honestly stating what they can pay.

I am wholly taken care of by Moneta, and therefore feel so aligned to never turn someone away because of money.

I’m not giving away the gifts and wisdom that I worked hard to attain, but I’m not making it out of reach for anyone either.

It’s a delicious harmony. But it takes trust that balance will prevail.

Money is not the root of any evil. It’s a supportive, powerful force. The more we bring our integrity and love to that union, the more supported we can be too.

I hope we can reclaim some of this ugliness around giving an energy exchange for a healing; we all deserve to have a cleaner experience of giving and receiving.

And let us not forget that there is enough to go around. Our world presents us all with an opportunity to thrive; we only need to hold the attitude that everyone is worthy. Everyone gets to win. I know we’re not there yet, but I know that’s where we’re headed. It may be a bumpy road full of greed and fear-mongering and a deep space of separateness, but on the other side of that ugliness lies a beautiful space of inclusion, love, and abundance.

I will see you there.

So, do you think Ayahuasca should be free?

About the Author

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The AfterLife Coach, is a traditionally trained Ayahuasquera and a vocal advocate for all sacred psychedelic spaces. Kat is an experienced Ayahuasca coach and guide, helping anyone prepare for and integrate this amazing medicine. Kat also works with people confronting issues around death and shadow, and anyone looking to be more deeply connected to soul. She is soul coach communicator and lover-of-death. Her calling is to be a light as we walk through our darkness, and to remind us that everything is always OK.

 

 

 

20 Comments

  1. Yes a million times! I did the exact same thing paying out of pocket for people I thought really needed ceremony early in running Infinite Light, and had the exact same results you did. It’s impossible to pay for spirituality… people pay for time, materials, food, housing, etc. That includes staff who don’t have full time jobs elsewhere. You touched on the larger issue within many spiritual and arts community around money, and I look forward to the day we collectively get past our money issues so we can get in there and make the changes we want to see in the world. Balance is key as you mentioned, but that belief system vilifying money is fierce (it took me several intentional years of working on it to release it…and I’m not sold it’s done!) But there’s no other option.. otherwise we end up bankrupt and powerless, with all the change we want to offer sitting at home with us. Beautiful article!

  2. Hello medicine sister! Awww thank you a million times for the support and resonance – amen to progress and spiritual abundance! :))) Big love to you.

  3. These are some wisdom teachings right here. Nothing to add except that this rings true in my own life of giving teachings away because of the “charge” I had on money. Your place of balance is conscious and wise. Thank you Tina Kat!

  4. Ike Arrow says

    This article has some interesting and valid points – however, it also illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of contemporary monetary systems (and their foundation in compound debt-based fractional reserve banking). This misunderstanding is not unique, as it also evident in the thinking of most mainstream (i.e. neo-classical) economists, finance ministers and central bankers. However, it needs to be challenged, as concerns about the sale of ayahuasca and related ceremonial “services” are very much bound up in beliefs about the history and evolution of modern money.

    Another recently published essay (not coincidentally also titled “The Economics of Ayahuasca”), by Canadian ayahuasca and drug policy researcher Kenneth Tupper, explores similar issues and misgivings about the commodification of ayahuasca. He comes to some very different conclusions about whether money actually has “zero fault” in concerns about the emerging market for ayahuasca ceremonies, suggesting rather that debt-based money is at the root of the pernicious conceptual disconnect between economy and ecology: http://www.kentupper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Economics-of-Ayahuasca-Tupper-2017.pdf

  5. Hi Ike,

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree that all notions of economics and ceremonial integrity need to be examined and challenged at every angle, so I appreciate the knowledge share. If you have any further thoughts on the matter, I’m all ears/eyes 🙂

  6. The age old concept of energy exchange can never be replaced, simply because it is a basic tenant of the known universe we live in. We all know this on a subconscious level and will always respond in kind, ESPECIALLY when it has to do with our own healing. There is a basic foundation of self responsibility that must be ascertained in order to truly receive what movements like Ayahuasca have to offer us as human beings, developing and evolving in our own cosmologies. This is most readily, and easily, accepted by our psyches through money that we have earned paid for services rendered. Money is only energy after all, and is an integrous way to open up the psyche to taking responsibility for a healing movement, however profound.

  7. Katherine Robinson says

    The obvious trouble with ayahuasca & fees (the same as ayahuasca & power/ego) is that it attracts people- ceremony leaders- who want power and money. Not all of them by any means, for sure! But why pretend this is not rampant? In Bali, no one would trust a traditional healer who “charged”. A donation is tucked into an offering. People who want big money and power should go into finance, not spirituality, and in my opinion not politics and healing, including medicine. There are cultures where this is so already, just not ours. Ceremonies can be appreciated if they are free and they can be expensive when costs require it for practical reasons. As a small business owner/merchant/craftsperson I can assure you that you do NOT get what you pay for these days. You get (most easily, because you can find it, and are sold by slick, tested advertising) what is well-promoted and hyped at high prices/poor value, and can find modest and sincere merchants (and ayahuasqueros) at fair prices if you do your research.

    I am particularly offended by “life coaches” who do not have expensive educational credentials who charge more than licensed psychologists and use gimmicky methods such as pricey video series! That doesn’t mean that wisdom only comes via academia; I don’t buy that at all.

    I am really turned off by greed, or by folks who can’t get enough clients (or spend all their energy and time promoting) that they must charge their few clients extortionate prices, or who don’t want to be bothered by serving/helping folks of modest means. I am also annoyed at the naïveté of folks who think “expensive is better”. What an American value at its worst.

  8. Hi Katherine!

    Yes, humans are humans in all walks of life, and we get blinded by all the trappings of temptations in every conceivable industry….;)

    Interesting that you are charged up around credentials too – I am one of those coaches you are triggered by, with no fancy letters after my name to offer legitimacy in the eyes of people like you, yet I’ve spent 2 decades of crazy intense personal work, sat in ceremony over a thousand times, apprenticed with 2 maestros, and therefore give value to the work I have done. So it may not match the value you hold, which is totally fine, but if I don’t give it value, no one else will….

    Yes, there is greed. There is also the rising up against those who defend the system as a reflection of legitimacy, and those of us who say there are other ways to measure value.

    Much love and gratitude to you!

    Kat

  9. Hi Kat,
    I appreciate your insghtful take on the money issue, especially the movement of exchange has resonated with me. While I agree that money itself is not a bad energy I would like to draw your attention to the way it moves through our world. There are others more fit to explain the mechanics but from what I gather it is introduced into the system as debt, meaning that it is by default a scarce resource – there is never enough around to pay all the debt.
    What I also observe is that the more one has, the easier it is to attract more. While some people work away their life time, others let people work.

    Many exchanges seem unbalanced and I suspect that most money haters refer to the inherent imbalances in the monetary system rather than to the money itself.
    What I believe about money stems from friends and the Zeitgeist movies, it might be rubbish. I consider myself critical, though, it might just be true.

    Thanks for this inspiring blog, I enjoy ingesting your experienced views and your honest expression.

    Greetings,
    Michael

  10. Ah Michael, this is an important and insightful contribution to the money discussion, and I totally resonate with what you shared. Yes, there is an inherent lack of integrity in our fiat system, in that most of what is passed around is in fact generated from debt, and not from wealth. Therefore, the numbers on the screen of our online bank account don’t tell the whole story. And that’s important energetically, you’re very right about that. Thank you for bringing this to the discussion; I will be more mindful to honor this in future writings.

    <3
    Kat

  11. why people make Ayahuasca so holly and actually doing it like a religion
    and in the same time forgetting or underestimate the power of mushrooms ???
    it’s pretty much the same !!
    you can build the same setup and use mushrooms instead !!
    which are local almost everywhere and for free now
    (it’s the season in north hemisphere – just go and pick them)
    no need of so called “shamans”
    polluting transportation over continents
    go to nature and be your own masters
    and if you insist on Ayahuasca
    buy the ingredients separately available on the net
    with lot of info
    and be your own master !!

  12. Paul Holmberg says

    Actually it is free and there is a religion based around giving it away freely called Santo Daime. You can just go to any of their meetings and get it for free.

  13. Oh, my friend, I respectfully disagree. It is not that simple. I am very familiar with the Daime. Some charge, and some don’t, but regardless, it is never free. They specifically call medicine sessions “Works” – that’s because it is in fact hard work. Purification, cleansing, singing, expansion, bringing in the light – they ask a lot of participants, with or without a donation. I don’t define that as free. There is always an energy exchange.

  14. Darling, mushrooms and Ayahuasca are NOT the same. They are entirely different plant spirits – both awesome and healing and expansive and wonderful, but that’s like saying two human beings are the same. Different energies, and loving one does not disrespect the other. Whatever works for each individual’s path to healing. And while individual work can be gorgeous, it can also be dangerous – for a gazillion reasons. So please do not disrespect the sacred role of shamans. You wouldn’t likely visit a self-taught surgeon, and this is healing too. It pays to sit with someone who has dedicated their life to learning this craft.

  15. “But those that can’t show up frequently, and I have a simple formula: Tell me what you can pay. Name your price.
    That leaves the responsibility on the individual to first stretch into some place of offering. They create value first and foremost by working through the discomfort of asking for a discount, and then honestly stating what they can pay.”

    That’s always a powerful move, and even more so because ultimately what the person chooses to give indicates not just what they can pay, but also a measurement of what they will receive out of the session. Not the literal amount of money, of course — some people could offer a million dollars and it wouldn’t guarantee the quality of their presence — but what that amount represents in that person’s personal economy, what that number means to them in real life. So right after you say that, their responsibility is enormous.

    You can talk about that — it’s an interesting conversation to have: “you are about to decide how much you will get out of this session.” Or you can let it happen and maybe the person will have the insight later. Sometimes the conversation is possible right away, sometimes not.

  16. Thank you for your comment, Marc – you state this perfectly. And thank you for the reminder to always reflect back value – sometimes I hide from that part of the responsibility, and I agree it’s super important. You rock. Thank you 🙂

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