What Jennifer Aniston May Not Know About Ayahuasca

JenniferAnistonHWoFFeb2012It’s the evening of January 25, 2007, and I’m hosting my first Ayahuasca Monologues storytelling event to a packed room at Eyebeam Atelier in New York City. On stage, Breaking Open the Head author Daniel Pinchbeck, who semi-popularized the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca within the spiritual counterculture, brushes aside his disheveled hair, asking in a voice barely audible from laryngitis, “How many of you here have tried ayahuasca?” Out of 220 people, only nine hands lift in the air, and they are mostly the featured storytellers (including myself) that I’ve directed for the show that night.

Cut to February 2012, and the mega-celebrity, Jennifer Aniston, best known for playing perky girl-next-door Rachel in Friends, is tipping a bowl of ayahuasca to her lips in Universal’s newest romantic comedy Wanderlust. In just a few years, the once secret “shamans brew” of the Amazon has snaked its way into the popular consciousness, including the entertainment industry with cameos in the TV shows Weeds and Nip/Tuck and now the movie Wanderlust. But the question lies, can Hollywood portray this ancient medicinal, psychonautic elixir with the maturity and complexity necessary to address its multifaceted experiences.

The movie itself spins a bubbly tale of a New York couple (Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd) who – jobless and unable to afford their high-priced West Village apartment – flee to an intentional community (not commune) in rural Georgia. As Seth, the smarmy neo-shaman community leader states, “We use ‘intentional community’ because when you hear the word ‘commune,’ you think of a bunch of hippies smoking pot and playing guitar.” The movie then trots out a series of sixties commune clichés – prancing nudists, tie-dye shirts, free love, and, yes, hippies smoking pot and playing guitar.

This sets up a number of enjoyable, easy jokes, but the clichés become more trite, and somewhat worrisome, when Aniston ingests ayahuasca. The experience starts out plausibly enough when Paul Rudd complains that the strange dark brown tea handed to him “reeks like cat butt.” Ayahuasca’s bitter, rotten-coffee taste is something you never forget. But, the Wanderlust gathering looks more like a backyard party than a traditional ceremony.

In the Amazon, shamans usually sing healing songs called icaros while cooking what they consider to be a sacred mixture. They believe ayahuasca to be a spirit or divine being, composed of two different plants – one containing the psychoactive chemical DMT (dimethyltryptomine) and the other, the double-helix shaped vine Banisteriopsis caapi.

Ceremonial participants normally prepare days (sometimes weeks) in advance by abstaining from pork, red meat, sugar, chocolate, cheese, alcohol, and sex as a way to clean out their system beforehand. Shamans hold opening prayers and ask that everyone stay inside a circle or the maloca (ceremonial center), so they can maintain a container for “the healing energies” of the ceremony to flow and to protect from interference from what they consider negative energies or entities. They sing icaros through most of the ceremony, and will often help journeyers through difficult passages by chanting the songs, blowing cleansing tobacco smoke on them (it’s different than tobacco sold at 7-Eleven’s in the US), or waving feathers to clear out unwanted energies.

In Wanderlust, members of the intentional community don’t follow any dietary restrictions; there is no trustworthy shaman or guide (just Seth with his dubious motives), no singing, no healings, and probably worst of all, no set container for participants to find support when difficulties arise. This is, by far, the sloppiest group ayahuasca ceremony I’ve ever heard of.

In record timing (just a few minutes), the ayahuasca kicks in for Aniston (ayahuasca usually takes between 30–45 minutes). She embarks on a chaotic trip full of flashy, confusing images. In one quick-edit sequence, she is suddenly perched on top of a tree, singing R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” I soon realize the filmmakers are treating ayahuasca like the stereotypical acid trip.

In fact, Aniston herself conflated LSD and ayahuasca in a Chelsea Lately interview. When Chelsea Handler asked Aniston how she prepared for her LSD scene, Aniston answered, “I’ve never done LSD so I just kind of imagined every greatest fear that I could have.” She never mentioned that it wasn’t acid she takes in the film but rather a medicine that Amazonian healers and shamans have used for centuries to treat illness and disease.

Those who have tried ayahuasca know very well that it is no tune-in, turn-on, drop-out-of-trees kind of drug. I’ve never met anyone who ever wanted (or probably was able) to climb anything taller than a chair on this powerful, consciousness altering substance. Often with the intensity of the journey, it’s a titanic struggle just to sit up.

But Aniston is right about the fear. Often anxieties, sickness, or dark energies (as shamans might call them), seem to rise to the surface to be released during ceremonies. This often comes in the form of purging, whether from throwing up or defecating, or in some more “volcanic” cases, both at the same time.

Surprisingly, this ancient ayahuasca healing modality has proven effective in some cases where Western medicine failed. In Black Smoke, author Margaret DeWys describes how “the spirit vine” cured her of terminal breast cancer; Reality Sandwich web-magazine contributor April Blake writes about Shipibo ayahuasqueros curing her brain tumor, and National Geographic adventurer, Kira Salak wrote about how overcoming a “devil” in an ayahuasca vision vanquished her life-long struggle with depression in what has become “the most popular article the magazine has ever published, bringing in 20 times more reader response mail than any previous article.”

These tales may seem strange, or like mere hallucinations, until, well, you’ve tried it. A common joke I tell at talks and book readings is that skeptics and atheists are just “one cup of aya away from a religious experience.” I’m often asked if drinking the tea is taking the easy way out. To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything easy about battling your fears on ayahuasca. I have also only been asked that question from those who have yet to try it. Perhaps that’s why so many journeyers compare the vine to the red pill in The Matrix. It opens your reality to things you never thought possible. It certainly did for me, including curing the severe panic attacks that had plagued me since childhood.

Of course, since that first Ayahuasca Monologues in 2007, awareness of the spirit vine has spread across the Northern Hemisphere. At 2011’s Monologue event in NYC, when author Daniel Pinchbeck asked the same question, “Who here has tried ayahuasca?” more than half of the 300 attendees in Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom raised their hands.

I find it unfortunate that the US government still considers the most powerful healing medicine I’ve encountered as a Schedule 1 banned substance. But as more people have their minds opened and bodies healed from the medicine, we’ll continue to witness it more and more in the mainstream.

Perhaps Aniston’s Wanderlust adventure will turn people on to seek the medicine in the Amazon or elsewhere where it is legally available. However, there is a danger in portraying ayahuasca in a completely flippant manner. My hope is that nobody encounters a ceremony as reckless as the one portrayed in the movie. Whether or not you believe in energy, sacred healings, or intervening spirits, one thing is for sure – if you don’t enter an ayahuasca experience without the proper care, the joke will likely be on you.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post


Jonathan Talat Phillips is the author of “The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic

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20 Responses to What Jennifer Aniston May Not Know About Ayahuasca

  1. Jin The Ninja March 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    of course, hollywood sees a moderate, ‘underground’ trend of psychonautic exploration and entheogenic travel- and they commercialse it and subvert it’s narrative because it’s “cool.”

    if american film studios cannot even portray american history correctly, how can you expect them to portray amazonian indigenous culture correctly? much less in a j. aniston film. it requires a nuance and throught-process lost on makers of rom-com.

  2. Dunzain March 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Well, I once ingested Nutmeg, not knowing how powerful a drug it could be, I had no idea how to prepare or how to get anything worthwhile out of the experience, and therefore it turned out to be nothing more that a very confused state of mind. With the right preparation, I think this “trip” could have been a learning experience. 

  3. Redacted March 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    You lost me when you put “mature” and “Hollywood” in the same sentence.

    • Jonathan Talat Phillips March 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      LOL Tibus!  There is one Hollywood movie that I think portrays an ayahuasca journey fairly well, and surprisingly it’s a Western, a psychedelic Western.  It’s called Renegade (or Blueberry abroad).  Unfortunately, the quality of the film itself isn’t always so great (sound issues and stilted acting) but it’s definitely worth checking out. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276830/  

      • Redacted March 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

        I’ll check it out sometime, thanks.

  4. anarcho March 2, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I think the issue is the total unpreparedness people have for mind altering substance.  Why is it used and sometimes necessary?  Because we have no idea how suppressed we are,  how we are engulfed in an artificial – thought ridden,  unthinking,  willing victims who are unaware of what is transpiring.  It is like a lock on our thinking processes – a “prison for your mind.”  Nor do we have any idea how we have been abused by toxic substance,  converted into what is supposed to be harmless and good for us.  I do not see anything inherently “spiritual” in the use of such substance as mentioned in the article,  but look at it as a way to clear your mind for reality – or should I say created reality,  which is made worse than you can imagine by those who “know whats best for you.”

    • Dunzain March 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      The most seducing feeling of all being high is the amazing feeling of being “home” or the feeling that you are in a place so familiar and yet so strange. Your “know” this place. 

    • Jonathan March 2, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

       I agree that ayahuasca can be a powerful way to clean the mind, and body (as seen in purging), but the strange thing about “the vine of souls” is that it seems to have a spiritual component, something which took a long time for my rational intellect to accept.  Of course, what is “spiritual” anyway, except other levels or perceptions of this very weird cosmos we live in.

  5. Visionary Artist March 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    There is a great podcast VISIONARY ARTISTS PODCAST.
    Where the narrator goes into great length about the visionary
    experience associated with Psychedelics, & its Research.

    It’s funny the alternative is Emotionless Phramalogical Zombies.
    http://wp.me/pAJ5G-PF
    As we have seen recently all the deaths due to Perscription
    Drug Interactions/ Addictions.  Its easy to say the main proponent
    in that argument is Control & $$$$$$$$.   So just look at what they
    tell you , and then reverse it to get a better comprehension. Same
    with Vaccines,  STEP RIGHT UP! PILLS AND SHOTS. No Thanks.

  6. Chaorder Gradient March 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    There’s a disturbing trend of some people recreationally using DMT, sure its not full blown ayahuasca, but  it still makes me uneasy.

    • Jin The Ninja March 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      same.

    • Micah Dylan March 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

      Disturbing? Really? I use dmt every night when i sleep dude it is produced by a gland in my brain & it is completely natural & found naturally occuring in plants all over the world … why would people using such a thing be disturbing? Because they didn’t do it under the supervision of a religious cult? Fuck sake man c’mon legalize nature in all its forms it makes no difference if the usage is ‘recreational’, medicinal, therapeutic, spiritual, religious, ceremonial, etc etc etc 

      I bet you are a santo dime & a control freak to boot … i’m glad ya’ll have the right to legally use ayahuasca but you do not have a monopoly on it thank the gods there are curious, creative, independent & rebellious people in the world who choose to explore such things in a way that works for them

      & this article is retarded the movie was hilarious & people need to take the massive stick out of their ass if they can’t enjoy a good movie for what it is … the fact that they portrayed ayahuasca use, however goofy that portrayal was, simply means that many people who watch this movie may become curious about ayahuasca & dmt .. which is a good thing, regardless of what fearmongers might say

      • Chaorder Gradient March 2, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

        Adrenaline is naturally produced in your body, testosterone, is too, So is estrogen. Also, Uric Acid.

        Do you give yourself a dosage of these every night too? I mean, Its natural, Legalize Nature!

        C’mon man, the reason this shit isn’t legal, is because people are terrified of others not having respect for the chemicals, or their own bodies. I mean I’m all about laissez faire myself,  but that doesn’t mean i want to give a medal to people that mess themselves up. 

        I’m talking recreationally, like stupid recreationally, like not even knowing what set and setting even mean, recreationally. Psychonauts are not the same as this, and I have no problem with them.

      • Misinformation March 3, 2012 at 5:49 am #

         I would love to see the citation for your use of DMT every night when you sleep. I’d also appreciate the citation for the gland that is in your brain that secretes it.

        Imho, “many people becoming curious about anyahuasca and dmt” is just fine. The problem is when those, “many people” take a mind-melting, reality-shaking molecule and have no critical thinking or context to place their experience in. They can often become lost or scared or manipulated by those who understand the darker natures of these substances.

  7. Auntikrist March 3, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    You lost me when you said that people frequently vomit and/or shit on this stuff.  At least LSD never made me lose control of my bowels!  Feh.

    • Ronniedobbs March 3, 2012 at 9:23 am #

       You did not take enough then

  8. C. March 3, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Wake up and grow up assholes!
    Bless all Indigenous Wisdom Ways for they are the truth and opposite of all the bullshit/fuckery this so-called civilized society we so-called live in (or better/worst yet are slaves of/to and are being killed off by).

  9. Viola Woolcott March 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Ayahuasca brings back great memories and it is good to see that it is mentioned here. Even though this is a bit off topic of how it really works, not to mention that the intention for ingesting the plant spirit is important.

  10. Max Schneider March 4, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    In this episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, Aubrey Marcus goes into extensive detail on his Ayahuasca journey in Brazil. He talks about how he was selected to go, what the shamens were like, both trips in lengthy detail, what caused him to change his name, reasons it is illegal and how beneficial it is. This is definitely one of my favorite episodes. If you have any curiosity about aya, check out the video, download the podcast, andlisten to the most interesting conversations of the millennium.

    Joe Rogan Experience LIVE #167 — Aubrey Marcus, Brian Redban

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oM2YVf_oGtc
    (this video doesn’t have many veiws, but a 500K people listen to the podcast and ustream)

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