Ayahuasca: not the fire next time!

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Reflections on the second encounter with the spirit of Ayahuasca and visions of much more to come. The point of departure is transgression, destination unknown.

James Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time in a transgressive manner, one of coming to terms with the white man’s (and woman’s) oppression of themselves and of all other races, who consequently are subjected, also, to the oppressing force’s self-afflictions, thus a double terror, manifesting throughout history in atrocities that leave fiction no place to roam for novel horror. It was in a revolutionary voice that he wrote, in an oppositional and confrontational voice. It was a call for action:

a burnt out skeleton from the closet

“Baldwin knew the acquisition of power would have to play a key role if blacks were to achieve full civil rights. Baldwin writes, “The only thing white people have that black people need, or should want, is power–and no one holds power forever” (p. 96). He recognizes that whites would be reluctant to relinquish the power they had over blacks. “The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. So every attempt is made to cut that black man down–not only was made yesterday but is made today.”” (from this site)

In much the same manner have my approaches to and encounters with the psychedelic realm unfolded – transgressing norms and values (of a white, christian, conservative culture), revolting against the understood way that life was to be led, opposing the (lack of) prospects in a consumer existence, and confrontational with those who didn’t “tune in, turn on and drop out”– angry even, if they just didn’t get it.

The pattern shared in these experiences, valuable as revolution, shock therapy and violence may be as liberating forces -there is a time and place for everything- these patterns are not helpful for the understanding the message of the Ayahuasca spirit, or the voice of the plant. It does not, the plant that is, lend itself to the kind of self-medication typical of a muntoid, poly-toxicomanic berserker. Well, it does if abused, since many tourists pretend to tune in, turn on and drop out for one night, for thousands of dollars, with a shock therapy level dose of Ayahuasca, which makes the stomach turn, the head spin and the vision go fractal. In that state you see everything, many things, and none at all. The appearances of many things are stimulating and for the consumerist drug taker that is the business, but not of Ayahuasca. The purpose, the invitation offered by the plant is that of a convivial journey. Neither party can know for certain where we’re headed, but together it will be fine.

Hence I have lost my fear of Ayahuasca which was one of a transposition, a projection of anxieties evolved over years of experimental self-apprenticeship and friendly voyages with loved ones. It is not the fire next time, it is neither here, nor there; neither conservative nor revolutionary, neither today nor tomorrow; rather, -it is right in between.

It feels much like a practice requiring patience to travel between here and there, now and then. It doesn’t take you to a specific place, like a K-hole or two bottles of tequila, but it can help you into a frame of mind that will let you go anywhere. At least that is the promise of things to come, contained in the guidance and the emotional responses from within. It is a ticket to ride! – the idea is not to be ridden.

However, to go somewhere, one has to find out how to let go of this place – let go of the body. Ayahuasca is a dream world. The ayahuasquero (the medicine man, locally known as a yatchak) trained with his grandfather and when he was little he slapped him with thistles – how do you think that’ll leave you with an embodied knowledge of a wonderful reward for letting go of the body?

We all leave our bodies far behind, every night, more or less, we journey into the spirit world in our dreams. The art of dreaming has of course also been the target of Freudian thinking, tainting all of Western culture the last hundred years, which at once equips us with a popular imagination and possibly skills for dream interpretation as well as incapacitates us from engaging in the art of dreaming as free spirits, cut loose from our own smothering of language.

Ayahuasca bridges the gap between day dreaming and sleepy dreaming, between one and the other in such as way as to experience both oneself and the other in union, yet in contrastual relation.

The plant comes and goes – like fleeting moments; fluctuating; it is not a permanent state. This reminds of the way in which some people seem to think that, in Eastern traditions, the state of enlightenment is some sort of station to which the train will eventually arrive, if you do right, and at that station one shall then forever after be empowered to remain, at will, in bliss. Nonsense. Unity with the universe pulsates.

The dream like state that one is seeking, the realm in which the power of the plant spirit can be encountered and felt and learned from is not quite a specific place. More like a mindset, an energy flow, a mind and body expansion, literally, to be felt emotionally, which sings out from beyond and within like de Quinceyan confessions in your own voice. Ayahuasca is speaking with the world, to the world and patiently, with discipline and focus, dreaming up answers to questions in formation.

It stones you into the chair as the poppy juice, but your mind is flying “a hundred miles an hour, baby”. Ayahuasca, like much mystical or spiritual practice, is flirting with ambiguity and with contradictions. (Contradictions, by the way, have in this part of the world “always” been complementaries -not opposites of mutual exclusion; they did not sit around waiting for Niels Bohr to deduce from his experiments in the laboratory and existential (Kierkegaard) readings that contradictions and opposites are dualities).

Nevertheless, paradigms change, wither and are destroyed, they have to be. Revolutions occur in excited states of evolution, and some of the bad stuff we confront, get rid of, and we install new ideas, values and concepts that can bring us together as humans. Human rights have a history of providing transcendental food for thought: imagine if we could achieve to get over there. Paradigms must be stretched and they have a breaking point, which can be transgressing or transcending. The former exhibiting the immanent danger of letting oneself be defined by what is opposed or revolted against, while the latter is a delicate matter.

The spiral of violence that characterises the repression and radicalisation of social movements met with the paternal, hard hitting fist of the state, comes to mind when thinking about transgressing without transcending. This is by no stretch of the imagination, however, a denigration of the violent revolution, revolt with the reine Gewalt (pure violence), of which we find conceptual traces in Walter Benjamin and firestarting anger in Franz Fanon. The notion of a pure, pacifist position in, firstly, a complex inter-subjective reality, and, secondly, in a violently oppressive world, is an illusion impossible to sustain reflexively.

When attacked does the pacifist always turn the other cheek? I think not. The satyagraha of Gandhi, although often portrayed as passive resistance and idolised or construed as a model for transcendental revolution, with the glasses of a sociologist or political scientist, was never passive:someone suffered somewhere. When the Indian people did not purchase processed cotton from the mills of Lancashire the wage slaves of those mills suffered – directly. The pacifist inaction can have massive ramifications – and omission of action is in principle as strong or significant as an action in itself.

It is time to act – there is no doubt about it. But for all too long have we been driven by the mindset of the conquerors, making ever greater claims to the outside we have denied a history of exploration of the inside. We are still in the early days of a global civil society, but it is heart warming that one of the new spheres in this reality, of social relations in the new globalised spaces, revolves around psychedelic practices. Within this global civil society, however, the psychedelic movements is in its infancy, could be a still born. Still struggling with the fascist undercurrents of transhuman desires for the here and now body forever, still struggling with a lingering narcissistic pain, self-consumed and all-consuming. Macho even.

The idea that there could be something like a global mindset, one which is a fair interchange between parties based on mutual respect and aid, –rather than a trade of power where the bigger gun skims the cream as we now endure the G9 led global economy–, is a great idea.

The transcendental moment has to be found in language – emotions alone cannot unite in peace the global village. It has to be spoken. In a coming together of the opposites that attract, in the inter-mingling of the liberal, educated frame of mind, which knows the state the world “objectively”, and the poetic, visionary language of the mystics in traditional cultures, might be the complementaries across the gap that we hoping to bridge. Ayahuasca might be the bridge; when contemplated, when administered like a Shaman’s companion and levelled with, it offers a way to connect and comprehend it all. In small bits. Little by little. Step by step.

It is not the fire next time, and so no “Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am”, but certainly we’ve found our Medicine(,) Man!


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