In our day and age, a lot of thought and money goes into maintaining a healthy physical condition. Middle-aged men throw out the junk food and hit the gyms with an ultimatum from the missus. National exercise initiatives promote running as a fun activity by sponsoring themed races with zombie dodging, paint throwing, live music, and more. Elevators across the nation are being neglected. Workers are taking to the staircases in mass. Before long we’ll be trading in our cars and trucks, converted to those engine-less wonders of the Flintstone era in one concerted effort to burn a few extra calories.
It’s important to keep our bodies in good shape, no doubt about it. But how many people fall into unbearable depression, anxiety, and confusion despite the swarming endorphins? Surely we are more than flesh and bone.
With so much attention dedicated to our physical well-being, it’s easy to cast mental health on the backburner. Modern life pulls identity to the surface tanned and toned.
On the other hand, the shamanistic tradition has explored the vastness of the human psyche for centuries. In their search for psychological remedies, causal thought processes, and spiritual insight, the Native American people unearthed an invaluable tool for introspection: Ayahuasca.
Deep in the jungles of South America, perhaps as early as the 16th century, these mystics discovered the banisteriopsis caapi vine. By itself, the vine is what is known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, the categorization for a certain class of alternative anti-depressant compounds. When combined and brewed in a tea with any of several plants containing DMT, a natural, yet powerfully psychoactive substance, this vine serves as the necessary catalyst for a drastic shift in cognitive perspective colloquially referred to as “tripping balls.”
However, as beloved ex-Police frontman Sting explains, “…it’s not a frivolous pursuit… there’s a certain amount of dread attached to taking it – you have a hallucinogenic trip that deals with death and your mortality. So it’s quite an ordeal. It’s not something you’re going to score and have a great time on.” It’s medicine. Despite my joking, ayahuasca isn’t a drug; it’s a tool for viewing one’s own mental operations on a whole other level, and according to reports, it’s not to be taken lightly.
Historically, ayahuasca was consumed by indigenous groups and used as a means of communicating with the spirits and with nature. More recently, shamans have used this concoction in the entheogenic rituals of ayahuasca churches throughout Brazil, the United States, and Europe. Currently in the United States it is legal to possess the plants that ayahuasca is derived from. It’s illegal to actually make ayahuasca however; that is unless one is a member of the aforementioned religious movement. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, certain Native American churches have received the governmental green light to take ayahuasca as a sacrament in the same way that a Christian might take communion.
Everyone’s path is different. According to these religious leaders, ayahuasca may not be for you. For many, ayahuasca may add to or exacerbate existing anxieties. It is to be fearfully respected and taken only by one with a flexible mind and a solid grip on reality. Most of us are probably better off popping a daily dose of vitamin B12, avoiding the television, and making the periodic appointment with a licensed psychologist. Some though… well some people are hardwired with curiosity. If this is you and if you ever get the opportunity to open that ancient door -to walk into your own headspace and sit down behind your eyes for a while—give it a try; see what you find up there.