Originally published at www.julianpalmerism.com
I’ve been giving Ayahuasca (and also Acacia and Syrian rue) to people for over 14 years. Around the world, more and more, I see people wanting to get into this story and become an ayahuasca facilitator.
A lot of people don’t know that actually giving ayahuasca to the regular people in any kind of visionary dose is not traditionally carried out in South American countries like Peru. Traditionally in Peruvian Amazonia, it would be the vegetalista or curandero who will drink ayahuasca and then perceive the sickness and know what plants can treat that sickness. He may give the patient ayahuasca, but they would rarely have visions, as how they traditionally brew ayahuasca is not for visions. Ethno-pharmacologists Terence McKenna and Jonathon Ott found this out directly when they first went to Iquitos in the 1980’s and neither of them could find ayahuasca that would give them visions.
So within that Peruvian mestizo paradigm, giving ayahuasca to the “gringos”, the white people, is in no way representative of their tradition. It is in fact a new tradition. Therefore, why do so many people so vehemently adhere to these so-called traditions? Especially when much of these traditions involve what westerners would see as sorcery? Is it just a case of better the devil you know?
True indigenous people, just drink ayahuasca, there is no brouhaha about it, the medicine is the medicine. I have heard of people drinking with the Shuar people in Ecuador and the whole tribe will drink ayahuasca together in the daytime, in the forest recreationally and heard similar stories from people who have drunk with indigenous people in Brazil. There is no “shaman” there, they are all enjoying and being with the space unfolding together. And you will see this in many indigenous cultures, an example is this clip showing Bruce Parry being given a sakona snuff (like yoyo, containing 5-MeO-DMT) with many members of the tribe.
So many of the facilitators are really just pandering to both their customers views and conceptions of what is “spiritual” and what is “traditional”. And yet, some facilitators may tip their hat to what is considered traditional, and others may not have a bar of it.
Many people like structure, they like sitting in one place, and having lots of rules. Each to their own. I personally dislike such structure and find it encourages a juvenile, dependent state of affairs. Are we really empowering individuals in this endeavor?
I believe as soon as everything turns back toward the facilitator, we have lost the group, we have then lost unity. Neither do I believe that the group space has to be paramount or a most essential factor. Groups occur because it is convenient for many people to drink at one time, rather than giving people one on one sessions, which some may see as an ideal situation, but very time inefficient for the facilitator. A lot of people just want something “religious” to hang their hat on, something “important” and spiritual. And yet, if you take a large enough dose of tea you will go beyond that anyway.
Having said that, many facilitators are not giving people the bigger doses and that is because it is more work to give people higher doses, as people can spin out, start channeling, making all kinds of crazy noises and so on. But at this edge, is where a lot of the most powerful work can occur.
And if you do give people bigger doses, as a facilitator, you must be able to deal with extremely crazy situations. The fact is, people can dramatise themselves losing control. Shit can happen (literally!) You must deal with these situations and help everyone back to a calm and grounded state.
You have to delegate difficult people, and some people may try and steal the “power” from you they believe is in this space. Some people may be very loud. You must allow them get quiet or find a space for them be loud. Sometimes there may be a few people becoming loud at some points.
You must also deal with the energies of the group, and this is more difficult to talk about. In this case, you are making the tea and also serving the tea, and creating a space or container for people to have an experience. It is very similar to how a party will be dependent on the nature of the host of the party and the friends he invites to his gathering, and the vibe that is generated through everyone who attends.
Yet, I see many facilitators, not so much creating space or a container for people to experience, but continually filling in that space, because they want to show their value in that space, and make themselves known in that container.
Carlos Castaneda talks of impeccability, and I believe it is useful to understand how much is expected of you, if you are to engage in this sort of work. In this work, anything that is out of alignment will be shown and brought to the surface very quickly. If there is major stuff you haven’t at least looked at, then it can compromise the space. As the host, you don’t want anything to happen which disturbs other people, which is arising out of your own issues. At the same time, you are always being challenged in different ways. The point, your own “stuff” shouldn’t be influencing the group to any significant degree.
If you are a male, you will inevitably at some point have women coming onto you during the state, as some women will instinctively beeline for the individual they see as having the power or status. Very obviously, it is just not appropriate to initiate this sort of contact. You cannot favour one person over another. In a way, you must be something of a non-person, at least that is how I approach it.
Yet, many people are trying to become a “person”, a “shaman” or “special person”, people should turn to as an authority. But really, Fuck your ego. If you haven’t drunk enough, and more importantly done the inner work in your actual life and dealt with your ego, so that it isn’t controlling the show, maybe you should think twice about giving medicine to people to actually going into a place of ego dissolution. Or, can people really dissolve their ego safely in the space you have created if you haven’t done so yourself?
Giving people ayahuasca is really nothing to do with power, nothing to do your ego. You are not a shaman just because you are giving people some herbal tea. Real “shamanism” or deep metaphysical work, is its own focus.
You are more like a glorified barista. As making good coffee is quite an art, but making medicine is much more involved than that. It might even take a good couple of years before the medicine is really where you want it to be. There are so many variabilities to deal with, it might be many years until you can bring most people into the “sweet spot”, which is not too strong and not too weak.
In terms of holding space, much of it, like in life, is in what you don’t do rather than what you actually do.
There is a strong tendency, even in making the tea, for the individual to want to make their imprint upon the tea, or for what they are doing in the space to be primary. All this comes back to one’s philosophy: are the plants guiding the people or are you?
If you do not let the plants guide the people, and you are guiding people, how do you think this is going to work out?
My view is that the plants resent the show being stolen from them, and will not actually show up in a real sense, if there is an individual trying to steal the show from them.
The idea of ritual and ceremony is really just there to give the idea that something “spiritual” or “sacred” is happening. But what we are essentially talking about is taking the space seriously. And it can be just as often sheer madness, than “spiritual” or “sacredness”, as it can often be stinking shit and unhinged insanity we are dealing with. But it is useful to keep in mind that this madness is our madness. The plants are not mad. WE are mad. The plants are also not above us or even wiser than us, and how they view the world can even sometimes be perceived as somewhat capricious and childlike.
What is really needed first of all I think, from the facilitator, is a supportive presence, and curation of space. Much of this is related to your attitude, vibe, your thoughts and feelings and how you are being and acting. Much of it, in my view is being like an anchor, solid and stable – and therefore you should be solid, stable and cool as a prerequisite. If you are ungrounded, or easily knocked off balance, fearful, or being heavily provoked in this state or easily put on the back foot in this space, this is likely going to affect other people in the space.
Which brings me back to the medicine, how much traveling in the high seas have you done? Unless you know the upper limits of where you can go, how can you provide a foundation for people to go there in a space that you organised?
I pretty much know every state that people have gone into. I can empathise with them and know how to help them and what to say, because I have been to many of these states, perhaps several times.
And any state that people are in, and in what they describe and talk about, I can decipher and interpret what it means and what is occurring for the person. This is a big part of it, that people can come to you and be understood in what they are experiencing.
A lot of the more traditional people say “you need us!” and “our way is the right way”, which is of course just their perspective. Yes, the traditional people’s ways can engender respect in participants, but simply just singing their songs and wearing their clothes, and doing what they do, is not going to bring about authentic respect. And just doing what they do, is not going to help deal with malevolent entities.
My view on entities is that they are all around us all the time, and that we already deal with them on a subconscious level anyway. And we need to learn how to deal with them if we truly want to survive and thrive. That many people are not dealing with such entities very well is a big problem in our world and many people appear possessed and negatively influenced.
So it is not that the curanderos are somehow protecting a pristine space where the entities are not. I would say they are already an influence.
It is not like the ayahuasca space is somehow different to say the pub, where people drink a lot and similarly expose themselves to entities, or at psychedelic trance parties, where the dance floor can be a feast of entities, as people are open when they take psychedelics there. Are people taking a shaman to the pub with them when they drink at the pub or taking their shaman to psychedelic dance parties?
Or just in taking psychedelics in general one can open oneself up to entities. My advice is that the psychedelic space is a good place to learn how to deal with them, and learning to deal with them, can carry over into one’s daily life and benefits can come from that.
Generally, the worst these entities can do is to possess you, to make you mad or take you to hellish realms. Having experienced all these things, I can say I don’t have any fear about it. I have found a good way to deal with them by making short sharp high-pitched sounds I am calling “torping”. Other people may have different techniques. I found people generally know to deal with their own “demons” in them. Afterall, they are theirs! The fight is theirs to fight and that is right. Ayahuasca puts them into a space where they will more likely know what to do.
Traditionally orientated people may say they are singing icaros that call in good spirits to protect people from the bad spirits. But the point is, you should be innately inviting in good spirits who allow a permeable membrane, through the creation of a positive space. And not all the bad spirits are purely ”bad”, they can represent part of the adventure and provide an edge to the space. They can show us things too. For myself, they don’t really have anything “on me” now, just like your enemies vicious condemning attacks can be turned around into radically accepting self-appraisal and reflection. When you have done enough work on yourself, they don’t have anything much to work with against you. There is no truth in their words and so you can more easily deflect their attacks.
Some people have been asking me that they want to get into this, and to serve medicine. So this is my advice to people who want to get into this. What is your motivation? This is seductive stuff. There is money involved. Is this going to feed your ego? Are you going to become a control freak and want to “get something out of this”? Are you a servant of the plants or are you just serving your ego?
The work should be for itself, not for “what you can get out of it”.
I can say what I get out of it, if there is a good group, is especially strong feelings of satisfaction, even getting high to the point where I will have difficulty functioning, that the feeling is so strong it surpasses that of any drug or substance I have ever taken. I spoke to a friend who runs workshops who said he gets the same feeling running workshops that do not involve any sacrament. I have to say I enjoy it, even though dealing with the energies and situations can sometimes be quite intense and processing all these energies can take up quite a lot of one’s internal CPU, even in the week after a ceremony.
I recommend people start small, and learn the ropes. We live in an age of instant noodle shamans, and plastic shamans. Yes, sure the medicine wants to spread, and it appears to be becoming dilute, so concentration and focus is required to created a distilled and truly effective, respectful space.
My view is like with anything related to healing and personal transformation, is that maybe 80-90% of the practitioners are going to be feeble, just going by the book and not actually pulling the rabbit out of the hat.
Many people want to find some sort of traditional yoda like figure to teach them the ropes when it comes to these plants, and I say good luck to them! I can’t say I’d recommend to people to go to South America and learn the icaros and diet with the plants. But the plants will communicate with you anytime if you are prepared to listen. THEY are the teachers. You can learn from them now. Sure, if you can find an ayahuasca yoda teacher, good for you! Go and do that if that feels right for you.
But I think the best learning is through experience. So start small. Hold groups by donation. Perhaps do not charge money for some time. I did it by donation for 7 years, and the first time I charged money was a powerful initiation it took me some months to recover from.
In terms of this non-traditional space, it appears increasingly accepted that the facilitator will play recorded music and give people the tea, and hold space for them. The alternative is normally one guy (or gal) sings the whole night, with or without instruments. I think it just makes sense to play all the very beautiful music from all over the world that one can play in such a space.
However, many are concerned about how some facilitators are going about this, with reports of one facilitator are playing The Cranberries, John Mayer and Eric Clapton. Although this may be great music for chillaxing with a martini at the bar, to my mind its focus is much too worldly to really allow people to go deep into what the medicine can offer.
For sure, westerners often do clearly lack qualities like reverence and respect, and many can seem to go over the top, in their tokenistic display of such qualities. But playing music which makes no effort at all to instill a reverential or respectful state of mind, might well work against such a space.
The plants are good employers I think and it is a beautiful thing to be supported by this work. But at the end of the day, people are ultimately seeking this medicine, not your talking and not you. So many people have not done the work on their ego, and fall prey to the seductive power this work can bring. At the end of the day, people who have been conscious and working on themselves for a long time, normally understand that Ayahuasca is one tool, and one focus, among many.