Who are we? Where are we going? Are we connected with our truest selves and the world that surrounds us? What about the magic and the mystery that pervades every moment of our lives – does it bring fear and anxiety, or wonder and excitement?
Recently I spent some time at a spiritual healing centre in the Amazon jungle and I found my-self thinking deeply about these questions.I often feel that the society in which I was brought up in has very fixed views of what should be considered a success or failure, good or bad, in life. But on a deeper level I have always known that it isn’t for anyone, including my-self, to judge me as a success or failure. I want to accept my-self fully as I am – with all my “strengths” and “weaknesses” – unconditionally. Kindness and compassion toward my-self and others, although difficult, seem important to nurture.
Ayahuasca for spiritual healing
The spiritual healing centre I spent some time at in the Amazon is based primarily around a traditional plant medicine – Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a potent entheogen that can help open up a pathway to our sub-consciousness and allow deep introspection into who and what we are. Ayahuasca has been used in a traditional context for millennia, and in recent ages many have come to ayahuasca to confront the spiritual malaise that seems to plague many of us in the face of modernity.
There for my brother
However, for me ayauasca was not actually the reason I was in the Amazon jungle. I went to the jungle primarily to see my brother and the community based life-style he has chosen. He has been living in an ayahuasca healing centre for a couple of years. There he has been applying permaculture principles to the land at the centre. Unlike my brother I am no permaculture expert – but for those unfamiliar with it in essence permaculture is about replicating natural eco-systems to get food from the land in a way that is both sustainable and productive.
My brother has been living in various different communities over the years that have been developed with permaculture principles at their heart. Humans are part of the natural system and so an important part of permaculture is about looking after ourselves – our minds, our bodies, our hearts. Some, my brother for instance, might prefer to describe ayahuasca retreat centres using permaculture as in fact permaculture sites that specialise in an important aspect of permaculture – human care. This is a subtle but important difference as during my time in the Amazon jungle I felt that a key part of the spiritual healing that I observed came from being in an open and supportive community.
The importance of community
We may get deep insights into our psyche through ayahuasca, or in fact any experience, but the important thing it seems to me, following any deep experience, is whether there is anyone around to help understand the insights and support even deeper explorations. Often times in the societies we have constructed such support feels somewhat lacking. To me nothing compares to walking into a group of people, being able to open up and share as freely as I am able, and be accepted for who I present my-self to be. Ayahuasca certainly has a powerful part to play in opening up that world – it is a tool that can act as a catalyst, but not a necessity, towards a better way of being.
In the jungle I experienced sitting in a circle with others, talking uninterrupted about how I felt in that moment to listening ears, and applying the same courtesy to others; hugging, holding, and supporting; I learnt about what it means to have a simple role and feel appreciated for it; I relished sitting at a table three times a day every day to share a meal with the same beautiful faces; I spent time sitting with my-self free from the need to connect to a virtual world; and I learnt how to be here and now, as much as I was there and then.
However, what I loved doing the most…
…was waking up early in the mornings and, before it got too hot, going to work with my hands alongside my life-long present beauty of a brother. I am grateful beyond words and my heart is open…
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