Ayahuasca Tourism a la Pisac y Community

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The Sunday market, jam-packed with handwoven scarves, alpaca figurines, crystals, and-if you know where to look-huachuma and willkayopo powders

Pisac is an interesting little town, nestled deep in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It’s about an hour collective ride from Cusco, and a major destination point for the alternative crowd seeking mind-expansion, healing therapies, and communing with like-minded people.

In fact, sacred plant tourism is so popular here that you can find advertisements for ceremonies posted in bathrooms, outside the tiny grocery store, even incorporated into the plastic covering of a few of the moto-taxis that navigate the narrow, cobblestone streets. Everywhere you turn you can see evidence of shamans from varying backgrounds, experience levels, and intentions vying for the tourist’s dollars.

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The view from the upper level of Ulrike’s, a westerner hotspot, with good wifi, papas fritas, and the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted.

I came to Pisac with a different angle than perhaps many of the people I’ve seen roaming about town. The community I stayed in approached the sacred plants in a very different way than how I gathered many of the advertising practitioners do. I saw fliers touting ayahuasca weekends, or wee long packages, where attendees would have three or four ceremonies, sometimes back-to-back, with very little time for processing or integration in between. I heard stories of people being given ayahuasca, then left in a little room while music plays on a stereo. Still others who give the medicine, then fumigate people with noxious smoke in order to induce as much vomiting and physical unease as possible. I think, there, the idea is that it isn’t real medicine if you don’t puke your guts out.

The community I lived at has, from all I’ve gathered, a pretty unique approach. One that I’m not going to pretend and say I agree with completely, or even understand completely, but unique nonetheless.

To begin with, there is a heavy emphasis on service. How can I be of service to the community, to Life, to the medicine? It’s a question that raises a whole host of other questions. Like, what does it mean to serve?

There has been a lot of research done on happiness and belonging, and one thing that nearly every study comes up with is this idea that service is an absolute necessity for true happiness. Feeling like you are giving back, being useful in some way or another, is an underpinning of human health and well-being. We want to feel needed. We want to feel wanted. We want to feel like we are a integrated part of the human web.

So, members of the community engage in service, from everything to cooking to keeping track of bedsheets to creating medicinal plant tinctures.

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Boiling stock for dinner

Another big feature is the emphasis in the collective, and circle consciousness. This is one point that really threw me, which I still don’t really understand or know how to practice. The idea, from what I do get, is this: we are all part of a broader collective, at its largest level being the Universe. On a smaller scale, our collectives expand around us, starting with the couple, then your immediate family, on outwards to encompass your neighborhoods, schools, social groups, cities, states, countries, etc. So, being part of a collective is unavoidable. It’s just built into to existence. (Feeling like you’re part of the collective is a different story altogether.)

Circle consciousness is accepting and embracing the idea of the collective, and then moving your consciousness from the ‘I’ focused out to the ‘us’ focused. An example of this, in practice, is the approach they take to issues like depression, or illness, in the community. An individual who presents with a bout of depression is not depressed in and of themselves, but is rather manifesting a sickness/issue that is present within and arising from the community as a whole (and, by extension, humanity as a whole). As such, there are a lot of heavy discussions within the community, exploring situations up, down, and sideways. This, I think, is not something you will find in many ayahuasca retreat centers, where the emphasis is on the ceremony as opposed to the intentions going into the ceremony, and integrating what came after the ceremony.

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A view of the square from the Blue Llama Cafe

Despite the difficulties I had living in and integrating with the community, this approach strikes me as a far saner method than the majority of the alternatives. Of course, I’m speaking from a pretty limited perspective on the matter, having not explored any of the many, many alternatives available. One thing I’ve learned from my time on this planet is that there are energies among us that deserve respect, and reverence. The sacred plants—ayahuasca, huachuma, marijuana, tobaccos, amanitas, the list goes on—are among those that should be approach with humility and openness. The latter of which I readily admit I lacked during my time at the community.

I Guess You Gotta Treat Pleasure and Pain the Same…

Yesterday I was in a black, black mood. I woke up with my neck in so much pain it was hard to turn, my head full of disappointments and broken expectations, and a wounded ego that just wanted to stay in bed under the covers all day. Being in the middle of a heat wave, that option wasn’t on the table, but the whole bed=good, everything else=suck equation was definitely in full force.

So, I did. Stay in bed, that is. And I used some of that time to cry, because that’s how I express strong emotions. And I used that time to smoke pot and watch TV, because that’s how I hide from my emotions. (Seriously, though, Grace & Frankie is surprisingly fucking awesome.) and I used that time to try to figure out what the hell was going on inside my head and my heart to bring me to this place of drawn curtains and ice cream cravings.

In the past, I’ve let these moods sink me for days. I’ve let them take root, falling into the idea that what I’m feeling will be what I am always feeling. When I extrapolate out like that, the future seems very dim indeed, but that is how it feels. Pain, pain, everything is pain. It’s an oddly comforting place to be, I think at least in part because that would mean I know what to expect. Even if it sucks. Like going to McDonalds: you know what you’re going to get.

Except life doesn’t work that way.

Life flows. Life moves. And we move along with it. Sometimes with grace, sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes without even realizing we’re along for the ride.

The journey brings pain, as sure as breathing. If I like, I can zero in on that pain, nurture it and let it blossom like a black, fetid rose. I can choose to ignore, or even fight, the pleasure and happiness that comes my way by being so intent on my misfortunes. In this way, I bring in pain twofold— by cultivating it and welcoming it into my life, and by struggling against any happiness I might find, often because I think I don’t deserve it, and the rest of the time because I think it’s fake.

But as sure as my heart aches, it sings as well. I’m all about cultivating happiness, nurturing the beauty in my life and pouring out gratitude for every awesome thing that comes my way. Maybe this brings me more happiness and joy through attraction, or maybe I’m just more aware of it, or both, but these practices lend a brightness to my life which I find invaluable.

Taken from a slightly different perspective, though, the enjoyment of pleasure can turn as ugly and limiting as an obsession with pain. This comes when I choose to chase pleasure. When I choose to grasp it, and hold on for dear life even as it slips from between my fingers, smothered by my desire.

When I glorify pleasure and in turn demonize pain, I lose the ability to appreciate any of it, because I’m too busy striving for one and avoiding the other to just be. It becomes a state of fear. Fear that I’ll lose my precious joy, and fear that I will have to experience that wicked pain. Thing is, pleasure and pain are the same thing. They’re emotions. They’re experiences. They do not define me, they do not define my life.

Above all: They are transient. As ephemeral as the clouds. Sometimes it rains for days and days. Sometimes it feels like it will never stop raining. And sometimes it feels like this great golden sun shining down on me couldn’t possibly pale or hide itself away, and yet it does.

This, too, shall pass.

My perspective has shifted significantly in the last year. I’m moving towards the point where I can let these emotions into my life, enjoy them for what they bring and how they enrich my humble journey, and let them pass again. I’m not there, yet. Not sure I can ever truly get there, but I can sure as hell move in that direction.

We all can.

I lovelovelove you all,

Sarah