Ayahuasca: A Strong Cup of Tea

Peruvian Ayahuasca, Photo by Sascha GrabowThe New York Times SundayStyles section’s lead cover story this weekend is about Bushwick hipsters experimenting with Ayahuasca, along with a photo collage of celebrities who have tried it, including Lindsay Lohan, Tori Amos, Penn Badgley, Devendra Banhart and Sting. What does mainstream media recognition mean for the future of the foul-tasting brew?

On a recent Friday night, a dozen seekers in loosefitting attire, most in their 20s and 30s, climbed a flight of steps of a mixed-used community space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. After arranging yoga mats and blankets on the floor, they each paid $150, listened to a Colombian shaman and his assistant welcome them in Spanish and English, signed a disclaimer, and accepted large plastic takeout-style containers for vomiting.

Then, one at a time, each got up to receive a cup of thick brownish liquid with a muddy herbal taste. It was ayahuasca (eye-uh-WAH-skuh) tea, a hallucinogenic brew from the Amazon that they hoped would open them to personal insights through optic and auditory hallucinations.

Once they drank and had settled into their spots, they waited in the darkness with just one candle flickering. The shaman played traditional stringed and wind instruments while chanting ritualistic melodies, some sweet, some guttural.

A participant who asked that her name not be used because it might jeopardize her teaching positions at several graduate programs in Manhattan settled in for the all-night journey. She had abstained for several days from alcohol, red meat, spicy foods, aged cheese and television, as prescribed by email. She had not had sex and she was not on antidepressants.

This would be the second time she would be in Brooklyn to participate since February, when she decided to have an ayahuasca experience just a month after her husband, who was Peruvian, had died. She had done it in Lima several years ago and found it meaningful.

“It’s a transitional time for me right now, and I want to stay open,” she had said in a phone interview the night before. “I find ayahuasca to be a purifying psychological journey.”

She’s not alone. In a world increasingly dominated by screen time, not dream time, it is not surprising that many people, having binged on yoga and meditation for years, are turning to a more dramatic catalyst for inner growth. But those who swear by ayahuasca’s usefulness (many say it’s like having 10 years of therapy in a night) also caution that it has to be treated seriously, calling their experiences while under its influence “work” because, in addition to causing them to vomit and sometimes have diarrhea, it can be frightening and challenging to the psyche…

[continues at the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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7 Comments on "Ayahuasca: A Strong Cup of Tea"

  1. There was a time when no one could participate in these kinds of rituals for any amount of money. They required a commitment of time and immersion in the culture to really understand the rituals and to be able to comprehend and use the spiritual information gathered through the ritual. Now it’s just plop down your debit card and get your cheap-ass spiritual enlightenment. Pity the poor bastards who achieve that high level of oneness, compassion, and empathy as well as a sense of wonderment at life itself without paying a “Shame-on.”

    • I have gotten incredible benefits, from just this “cheap-ass enlightenment,” you so disparage. Not much of an exaggeration to even suggest that it may have saved my life. I also know of many others who have gotten similar results. So you know, it ain’t all so simple.
      Of course, this kinda shit in the propaganda stream is annoying, but it does not mean that there are not people out there doing good work.

      • And for every one person who benefits because they are already in such a state that whatever ritual being enacted has a lasting impact, there are 100 who get nothing out of it because it wasn’t a “good fit.” In the absence of the sacred, everything becomes “one size fits all.”

        • I don’t know how it breaks down numerically. No idea how many who actually try it get some kind of a good result. From what I have seen, I would say, far more than one in a hundred get a good result.
          But, yes, it is certainly not for everyone, and certainly not to be taken lightly. It’s some really scary business.

    • not quite nascar spiritualism 😉

  2. anyone have the number for this place

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