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.
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.
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.
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.