ASK ABDI: WHEN DOES MEDICINAL SHAMANIC WORK CEASE TO BE HELPFUL?

QUESTION: I am writing with a question regarding ayahuasca ceremony. Each time I sit with the medicine, at some point in the night, I become like a revolving door for suffering beings. One comes in, I embody them and feel them fully, they go out, and then another comes through. There’s a lot of unfathomable horror and deep pain. There has been a lot of learning in those experiences - about ancestral suffering, my suffering, and the suffering of others… but there are just so many coming in! Also, though the experience feels much more concentrated and intense in ceremony, it echoes the porosity stuff that I’m working on in my day-to-day life.

I’m wondering why so many are drawn to me? When does it cease to be about learning and start to be about boundary issues? 

ANSWER: A very important question you ask. You already know the answer, otherwise you would not be asking. This is a boundary issue on your part. The medicine has done its job. It has shown and taught you about suffering and its ancestral origins, both yours as well as others. You have connected this with your daily awareness and issues. Now what? How are you applying this to your daily life? More importantly, what are you looking for in further partaking in ceremony? What is your intent?

You ask why these energies are attracted to you. That is like someone leaving the door open to their apartment at night on a busy street and wondering why so many people are stopping by. The more important question is - why are you leaving the door open? What are you looking for? Why do you feel responsible for these energies that come to you? How is this behavior similar to your waking life? Is there a boundary issue there, a caretaking, or sense of responsibility to others while your own needs suffer? 

You have already learned the lesson (which you already knew, but for whatever reason needed it in technicolor). We all have a fear of missing the lesson, so we double and triple check with different tools and teachers. But now that you know, how will you apply it in your daily life? 

Here is an important thing I have noticed regarding shamanic work… I have been around it since my early 20s, both of Native as well as South American origin. Powerful technology no doubt, it has taught me much and I have utmost respect for the tradition. But unless one is being called to be a shaman, most people way overdo the ceremonies, while not embodying what is being taught. One ceremony done with a proficient practitioner contains enough information to keep us busy for many, many months, if not years. My present-day experience of treating many people who partake in them regularly is that not much change happens. There is a mental awareness that can occur during the ceremony, but that information is rarely translated into actual behavioral change. Deep wounds, especially of ancestral origin, take a ton of elbow grease applied daily to sort out. 

Another danger is a reactivating and re-traumatizing of old wounds without actual release. This is where we re-experience past trauma, or areas where we are stuck, with neither healing nor the ability to reintegrate. That, in itself, can and does activate the negative pleasure principle. This is a rarely examined aspect, but one that is far too real. 

Lastly, in the "Woo Woo" category, but absolutely real and with consequences, is the issue of attachments. Attachments are exactly what they sound like: unmoored “negative” energies that can attach to one who is in a weakened or vulnerable state. A proficient shaman is a physician of the soul, mind, and body, while being a garbage disposal unit as well as a bouncer. All those elements have to be present so that the participant is safe, at the minimum. Playing loosey-goosey with any of those parameters, like I see all the time, is courting unwanted results. This is one of the dangers of importing, and then altering, culturally exogenous practices without fully understanding all of the nuts and bolts that make them tick. Just because we do not see or believe in radiation does not mean that we do not get sick from it. 

One thing I would like to add, for people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder is the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Of course, MDMA is illegal presently, but there are clinical trials being carried out with excellent results. This particular form of medicinal work is an example of a culturally relevant shamanic practice. There has been an underground movement afoot, where therapists work with people using this method with profound results. 

The medicine used in ceremonies is not addictive, but the feeling of oneness that the medicine can foster certainly is. And that is where the danger lies. We can get hooked on that feeling and keep wanting to repeat it. We need to pay attention to such things. At the very least, we Westerners, who are psychological beings, need expert help to integrate the information gathered in the ceremony, outside of it. The questions you are asking are crucial and wonderful, so keep asking. And act on what you know to be truth.