***Note: this post forms part of a series which explores how our quick-fix fantasy affects the Ayahuasca process. This is part 2. Click here for part 1: The Antidote – an introduction.
There is no question that many of us have been imprinted with the psychological barcodes of corporate marketing, scientific materialism (including its medical profession), New Age spiritualism and religion. We have inherited from these systems habits of thought that subtly [ subconsciously ] pervade every aspect of our experience. These systems are so popular — and can so easily hook us — because they exploit three deeply-rooted human tendencies:
- to avoid pain, discomfort and darkness
- to chase and attach to the pleasurable, ‘feel-good’ or light aspects of life
- to make life meaningful.
In other words: being human is hard, painful and confusing and we want to make it easy, painless and comprehensible. So we manufacture and buy into this fantasy that there is a quick-fix, an angelic portal, an antidote to the condition of being human, to pain, darkness, boredom, emptiness, meaninglessness; and when we find something that seems to work, we cling to it, seek to repeat it until the merciless tendrils of reality coil again around our bony ankles and… down we sink, itching for the next fix.
Drug-takers and light-chasers
Our quick-fix / antidote fantasy has taken the form of (and is reinforced by) the age of awe-inspiring drugs which travel from the market place to your bloodstream at the speed of advertising and tweak instantly almost any parameter of being human… with unquestioned legitimacy, they sling-shot you into other dimensions, short-circuit a psychotic episode, deliver you from flesh-eating bacteria and get your dick hard under any circumstances… maybe even all in one weekend… and here are the dealers who vouch for the supply, and here are the doctors with mystifying combinations of letters after their names — FrOOt SaCK — wielding prescriptions of tiny bleached bottles neatly inscribed with unutterable contraindications…
and George Clooney is there in your peripheral selling those watches that seem more substantial than your life ever did…
and thousands of hypnotic channels impose on you from everywhere, and as you look into them they look into you with the unanimous spell-binding implication:
— “you can tune out what is uncomfortable by tuning in to consume what we suggest will make you feel good; feeling good is the same thing as being fulfilled in life; feeling pleasure is the same thing as being satisfied, whole and connected; feeling good is healing, feeling good is meaningful” —
… and all of this is taken for granted and seems to make as much sense as your first name.
So some of the “truths” I have learned (without realizing I learned them) are:
- chemicals rule; behaviour can be predicted by a study of chemical components; transformative experiences are the effects of chemical reactions;
- illness is caused by chemical malfunctions or pathogens and can be undone with the right chemical cocktail;
- drugs act quickly;
- the patient is a passive recipient and has no responsibility for their own healing;
- a drug is working when it causes desired effects (feeling good, a “good trip”) or rids the patient of undesired symptoms / suffering;
- undesired outcomes (suffering, feeling bad, a “bad trip”) are accidental “side effects”, unfortunate incidents of trying to get where you want to go;
- happiness, wellbeing, real satisfaction and health mean: “feeling good”. We should try to feel good as much as possible;
- there is a drug / fix for every condition.
You can probably already begin to imagine how these assumptions shape the way one relates to Ayahuasca. People with a history of taking mind-altering drugs (psychedelics included, nutmeg included) can be particularly susceptible to this paradigm because it has been apparently confirmed by their experience time and again: you take the drug, you get high; when the trip goes wrong, eat lasagne and sleep it off. Perhaps they have even cooked up a batch of Ayahuasca themselves (or have seen grandpa tripping in the backyard) and apparently “the shit is working, must be the betacarboline alkaloids, serotonergic agonism and the DMT, yo”.
Everything in this world can be described as having chemical components to it (although I have never seen a chemical myself), and it is perfectly interesting to try to understand nature (and Ayahuasca) from this point of view. But one cannot understand completely and meaningfully the experience of listening to a piece of music by analysing the physical components of an instrument; the song is neither in the instrument nor the sheet music. Similarly, to conduct your romantic relationship based on ideas of a relationship as merely a prolonged exchange of bodily fluids or the electrically-induced excitement of neurotransmitters would result in spectacular meltdowns or aloneness, and certainly not in a deep and lasting experience of love (although this frame re love may be more useful than the shameful lies I inherited from Disney movies). Here this kind of thinking totally misses the point.
Metaphor, theory and our own experience are all we have to understand the infinite dimensions of natural phenomena. Chemicals are metaphor, but the metaphor is limited when we want to understand certain aspects of subjective experience, particularly life’s spiritual or non-physical dimensions and how people change.
In an effort to supply a greater sense of meaning and explain these more human dimensions of life, religions and New Age spirituality have offered people different metaphors and theories. Some of these involve GOD, heaven, hell, saints, sinners, crystals, chakras, angels, demons, aliens, energy and spirits. And these may be perfectly valid metaphors in themselves.
But what has happened? Our use of these spiritualized metaphors is also, in many cases, influenced or infected by the antidote fantasy. What we are not aware of controls us. So we may rely on these metaphors to short-cut or by-pass the dark and the difficult parts of our experience, to anesthetize the symptoms of our problems and suppress awareness of their causes. It is not the use of these metaphors themselves that is troubling, but the impulse that sometimes lurks beneath their use — the antidote fantasy.
You might imagine what assumptions you have inherited from these systems of thought that are motivated by the antidote fantasy, and how they influence your Ayahuasca experience. Even if we have not consciously subscribed to such a meaning system, we may have nevertheless been imprinted with its signature subconsciously. For my part, I can say that I have been taught at least the following:
- negativity and darkness are things we need to clean out of us, release and let go;
- life is about filling up our energy with love and positivity;
- if darkness threatens me, reach for the light, pray, ask the angels or god to take it away;
- if you feel negativity, it might not be yours; it might be dark energies or spirits you picked up from other people or places;
- your soul is eternal, so you should not worry about death;
- happiness, healing, wellbeing, real satisfaction and health mean: “feeling good”. We should try to feel good as much as possible, to be “high vibrational”.
Whether we believe in machines and chemicals or spirits and chakras (or, as I do, a combination of these kinds of metaphors), something inside of us still longs for an antidote. It is nothing to be ashamed of; life is confusing, scary and painful, and we are all just trying to get by and live a life with meaning. And these systems of thought help us depending on who we are and where we are in our lives.
And of course I am not saying that each of us is irretrievably controlled by the antidote fantasy and we are all incapable of maturely processing the contradictions and darkness of life. I am just saying that we should be honest with ourselves and admit that we have been conditioned to want and believe in a quick-fix to the symptoms of our problems; this tendency exists and its consequences should be acknowledged. What we are not aware of controls us.
Unfortunately the media and marketing hype around Ayahuasca is slithering with the antidote fantasy, for obvious reasons. There are even well-known authors publishing apparently authoritative accounts of the Ayahuasca experience who give the impression that “although Ayahuasca is not a magic bullet, maybe for you it can be a magic bullet”. While I agree that Ayahuasca is a wonderful tool, and I am continuously astounded at its usefulness, I would not want to suggest to a [desperate, depressed] person that it can offer salvation in a single ceremony, full stop, end of story, or that they should drink Ayahuasca without awareness of their environment, a realistic treatment plan, integration, or other tools and support.
So what does it look like when the antidote fantasy infects the way we work with Ayahuasca, and are there more helpful ways of relating to the experience?
The next post in this series is: Grandma take me home: responsibility: relating to Ayahuasca
 I use this term very loosely.