Ayahuasca is many things to many people. For most it is a practice that allows us to clean, heal and grow on many levels. It is a hygienic process that works on us physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It can offer profound insights and understandings that lead us toward deep personal transformation and spiritual awakening.
Occasionally, retreat participants will come to us expressing a desire to expand their practice and go deeper into the medicine through more focused and advanced study. From our perspective this can mean two distinctly different things and the approach is unique for each.
The first type of study [and the one we encourage most people to undertake], is a path of personal development and enrichment which we can call the "individual path". In this case the student is not seeking to lead ceremonies or engage in shamanic work. Rather, he or she is focused entirely on personal growth and self optimization through a engaging in plant dietas and continued Ayahuasca retreat attendance. (See the Dieta podcast on our website).
It is worth noting that at La Famillia Ayahuasca we are a bit different than the teachers one might encounter in the Amazon. We use an integral approach to study and learning. That is we feel that it is important to round out the plant medicine study with other modalities and perspectives. We may suggest other practices like meditation, yoga, exercise and nutritional programs that further assist in preparing and nurturing the body and mind.
Our students may also be encouraged to investigate the works and ideas of other spiritual teachers, philosophers, intellectuals and thought leaders. We find this additional information can serve to balance and broaden the student’s perspective.
We also recognize that each student is unique and what is asked of them will vary from student to student. While this option is certainly challenging, it is also the most flexible path because it allows the student to work at his or her own pace, making it easier to integrate the practice into their everyday life.
It is very important to understand that this "individual path"
option can be extremely beneficial not only for the student, but also the people around them. The student’s growth and development reverberates outward and has a positive influence on their, family, community and indeed the whole world. For most people this is the most appropriate path. This is also a mandatory prerequisite for anyone interested in the more complex and demanding path that may eventually lead to shamanic practice and facilitating ceremonies.
The second option could be called the “shamanic path”. It is far more challenging and requires absolute commitment and dedication from the student. This is not the path for the “weekend warrior” or those with a causal interest in medicine work. The decision should not be made in haste or taken lightly. It requires a great deal of sacrifice and can potentially be very disruptive to the student’s life.
In many cases, there may simply be an intellectual decision. The work of the shamans may look fascinating and interesting. The idea of helping people in ceremony may appeal to ones desire to serve their community in a unique and impactful way.
Others may feel “called” to study, sensing a deep true stirring of spirit, urging them to acknowledge some untapped ability or talent.
In some rare instances the maestro may select the student, having recognized an innate capacity for this special work.
In all cases the medicine is asking the student to do some deep soul searching. There needs to be an honest evaluation of the student’s motivations.
Some questions are worthy of patient contemplation before embarking on the shamanic medicine path and after considerable time doing significant personal work with plant medicine:
Do I have time to put in the work?
Medicine work and the requirements around it can be very time consuming and there are no short cuts. It often means setting aside other interests and activities we enjoy. Work and career will have to be very flexible in order to make room for the new study you are engaged in. Are you really prepared to sacrifice your time to pursue this path? If you are studying part time, do you have the patience to wait 8-10 years before leading ceremonies?
What is my motivation? From the outside, shamanic work can look glamorous and it’s easy to romanticize about what it is.
The truth is, it’s hard work, often messy and must be done from a place of humility. The student must look closely at the reasons for wanting to do this work. If self aggrandizement, attaining power, prestige or an elite place in your community are among your reasons for studying the medicine, you are in dangerous territory! Be honest with yourself. These motives limit your effectiveness and are always extremely disruptive to the community you will serve.
What is my capacity for service?
Shamanic/medicine work is demanding. It can be tiring and energetically taxing. You may be asked to give more when your reserves are low. Do you have the capacity to serve selflessly when others require it of you?
Am I ready for everything in my life to change?
This may be the most import question to consider. This path can be very disruptive to the student’s “normal life”. Things are going to be different. Your priorities will change. Friends, family, romances, finances and daily life will all be effected by your decision to walk this path. Some people may never understand why you are taking these dramatic steps. The concepts and practices are often ephemeral and hard to explain. It may be inappropriate to discuss these subjects with some people. Others will tell you that you are making a mistake, throwing your life away, wasting your time. These changes are going to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. Are you ready?
Do you realize that this decision is ultimately not up to you?
In the beginning many people think that they are making the decision to study the medicine. In reality, it is not our decision. If road block after road block comes up for the prospective student, the medicine may sending a message that this path is not for you. Conversely, there are many shamans who avoided studying the medicine and yet life continually nudged that person onto the shamanic path over and over again.
So which path is right for you? It’s a question that only you can attempt to answer. It will require honesty, humility and patience. There is no rush. The important thing is that you carefully consider which is a realistic and healthy path to pursue given your unique situation.