After having written about the sacred Amazonian plant Ayahuasca and its healing properties, I was always drawn towards finding out more about it and knowing people’s experiences with this Spirit Vine.
I spoke with Mumbai-based Anahata Menon, who began her journey as a healer and spiritualist after a series of powerful experiences in 2004, about her vision that led her to the Amazon jungles to study Ayahuasca and its healing properties.
Under the guidance of Shamans from the Shipibo tribe, Anahata was initiated into this new spiritual dimension. Here she shares with us her experience, the transformation and her path to spreading awareness about Ayahuasca in India through The Anahata Foundation.
What led you to the Peruvian Amazon to work with Ayahuasca?
Though I had heard of a visionary herbal medicine from the Amazonian rainforests years before I went seeking it, at the time it amounted to nothing more than interesting trivia to me. A few years later, during a hypnosis session with my teacher, I slipped into a vision that took me through ancient jungles of Peru. Interestingly, in the vision, I was a shamana or a mystic priestess of an esoteric tribal collective, who worked in higher realms with the jungle cosmology including plant spirits, majestic animals and a beautiful skull shaped crystal artifact.
Though the story it told was rich and intriguing, the vision was way too ‘bizarre’ for me or lets say, the person I was at the given time. My teacher suggested that I should read up on the Incas of Peru and the Mayan legend of the crystal skulls, as he sensed that I may have been a shaman in a past life from South or Central America.
At that time of my spiritual journey, I was focusing on more ‘so-called scientific’ approaches to consciousness and healing, and so, this was forgotten as irrelevant information. Almost two and a half years later, having moved beyond hypnotherapy, the vision started returning to my consciousness bit by bit, as I found myself poring over pages and pages of literature on Banisteriopsis caapi or Ayahuasca, the shamanism of the Amazonian indigenous people, and so on.
One could say I was almost obsessed for months with journeying to the enchanting world of Ayahuasca shamanism in person. My sister Anindita and friend Megha were as intrigued by this mysterious plant. We wanted to study the plant and its spiritual benefits, along with its cultural context. And so we traveled all the way from Mumbai to the Amazon rainforests and took part in many ayahuasca ceremonies with powerful indigenous shamans.
So though on the face of it, I was led to Ayahuasca by my curiosity and fascination for the unusual, I have come to believe that the vision I saw years back had more to do with it.
I wouldn’t dismiss any of this as co-incidence and hence, spreading the word about Ayahuasca and taking people who need healing to it is an integral and essential part of my own spiritual mission here on Planet Earth.
Why Shipibo tribe?
The area of the Amazon we were visiting back then, has more Shipibo tribes and our curanderos were Shipibo too. They have an ancient heritage and a powerful history and in spite of severe encroachments into their lives by modern systems and Christian doctrines and conversions, the Shipibo are a resilient community and many have kept their traditional ways alive, like the Ayahuasca ceremonies, which now heal not only their villagers but people from all over the world who travel to their shamans for relief and spiritual growth.
Ayahuasca shamanism has been practiced for thousands of years by tribes across the Amazon region in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and so on. Within Peru itself, there are many other tribes one could encounter who are sharing this wisdom with the world, like the Mestizos and the Ashanincas. I do intend to explore the ayahuasca medicine in the cultural context of other tribes in the future.
What was it like to be on foreign soil with natives speaking a different language? Did you face any obstacles?
Not at all. Though the distance between our countries is daunting, I felt more at home in Peru than I have felt in most places on this planet. Being Indians, we’re used to dealing with people speaking other languages constantly in our own country, which has so many diverse cultures, sometimes a few miles from each other.
Peruvians have an incredibly respectful, warm and welcoming nature and though they speak Spanish, and some do speak english today, I never encountered a situation which wasn’t addressed peacefully amidst animated gestures and peals of shared laughter. We also had interpretors helping us through our stay in the jungles. Having said that, I cannot say if another discerning traveler would feel the same way.
Diet to observe 7 to 10 days before the retreat
Food should be saltless and sugarless, with very low oil content, full of fresh vegetables and fruits, nutritious grains like quinoa, rice and lentils, sometimes also includes steamed fish or chicken.
Other restrictions are red meats, packaged or chemical treated food and beverages, abstinence from drinking, mind-altering drugs, prescription drugs and sexual activity.
Your first Ayahuasca experience and your visionary experiences?
The very first Ayahuasca ceremony I sat in was held a day after we had arrived at the jungle camp. I had researched the medicine and the traditional use of it enough, and so, I had no huge fears attached to the experience. However, I have to admit, all that research could never have prepared me for this life-altering experience.
To begin with, the ambience of a night ceremony in the midst of the dense Amazon rainforests has a surreal value almost incomparable to anything else. The ceremonies are held in a large circular hut called, maloka. With sacred jungle mapacho tobacco, the shaman clears the space and calls in his allies from other realms to assist in the healing.
The air of reverence and healing is palpable and when I articulated my intent for the ceremony to the thick brown medicine in the bowl sitting in my palm, I felt the stirrings of a sacred moment. My first ceremony was as I had intended for it… a few easy purges, harmonic experiences with the icaros (medicine songs) and wonderful visions.
I had asked the consciousness of the plant to go easy on me for the first time I welcomed her inside me, and I cannot deny the sense of absolute nurturing and love the medicine made me feel.
It was from my second ceremony that I started having a clearer communication with the medicine, when it started doing serious deep healing work. I was taken through a plethora of visions and experiences, sometimes taking me to frightening depths and overwhelming heights, sometimes breaking me down and then building me up, sometimes knocking me out and then waking me up.
The millions of cells in my body were ringing with new information and as I struggled with a paralyzing fear which arose from me in the third ceremony, I felt like I died and then returned, renewed and free. It is hard to really describe an Ayahuasca experience and it is unique to each person. It is often misunderstood as only visionary and often people struggle with an obsession to see them. Ayahuasca is an omni-sensory experience and it speaks and heals an individual in ways that are outside realms of articulation.
To be continued…
(More on Anahata’s ayahuasca journey to Peru, alternative healing and healing nature of this sacred vine in the next part)
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