James Jesso & Benton Rooks On Ayahuasca and Psilocybin

I caught up with my friend James W. Jesso recently to ask him some questions regarding psychedelic culture and his new book The True Light Of Darkness

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BR: As of late you’ve been having jungle journey’s in Peru with our mutual friend author/filmmaker Rak Razam. What are some of the qualitative differences you’ve seen between traditionally brewed ayahuasca and psilocybin? I know you have explored the latter in your book Decomposing the Shadow, which is one of my very favorite reads on the subject (and also one of the few!). More recently you have explored the former in your essay ‘Ayahuasca and I’.

JJ: Yes, I went to Peru in September of 2014 and attended one of Rak’s retreats as a part of that adventure. What led me to the jungle was one of those synchronistic arrangements of opportunity and timing that seem to sing to some grander frequency pattern that undertones a harmony between one’s purpose and the unfolding of space/time events; a set of opportunities I just couldn’t turn down.

I had previously taken Ayahuasca only twice, both were part of the same weekend retreat in Alberta, Canada. The intention was to be there for three ceremonies, but the second left a bad taste in my mouth, as they say. That retreat was going to be my first time, though I already had years of research and reading on the subject that, when primed into my avid fascination for idolizing ‘spirituality’ culture at the time, had me ready to blindly jump with both feet into the religious cosmology underpinning Ayahuasca culture.

I found exactly what I was looking for in my first experience: a validation of the religious concepts around Ayahuasca as being a deity-type entity that would enter my psyche as I entered the dynamic spirit realm ‘she’ existed within. This accentuated my previous ideologies around Ayahuasca and deepened my investment into them as being reflective of some inherently true reality.

Throughout the day following that first ceremony, the conversations I had or heard happening around me offered profound reference to a new state of being emerging inside of me. Blending with my fascination and desire to feel as if I was now part of some powerfully spiritual quest through the psychedelic jungles of the mind towards enlightenment, I felt I had found the great medicine path I craved and the tribe I had been, until that moment, unknowingly emancipated from. I was now talking to ‘Aya’ inside my head as if I had welcomed the power of Christ into my heart to guide me on my spiritual journey.

I was building a personal mythos, a metaphorical background, to this spiritual journey and to my psychedelic explorations that mapped over my understanding of the Ayahuasca cosmology. I was establishing an identity-construct that held the Ayahuasca ceremony and the journeys through ‘her’ spiritual world as the mythic realms wherein I would earn my place as the warrior sage.

It’s almost uncomfortable to openly express the level of hubris that can be read in that past paragraph, but infatuation breeds all sorts of wide-eyed ideas. For the second night, I asked the great Ayahuasca (who I was feeling in my psyche more as a Lover than a Mother) to take me deeper, to be shown more of the “Truth” I only tasted the night before.

“Be careful what you wish for”: quality advice long-heard but often omitted from practical application.

I was taken deeper and shown Truth in a way that ripped away my illusions about the Ayahuasca religious cosmology and was shown the enantiodromia of my reverence as I entered a terrifying world of cult ceremonies used to harvest psychic energy out of the pain and pleasure of intoxicated humans for the energetic parasite named Ayahuasca, who wears the mask of deity to fool us from it’s true intentions. I latched onto this for a couple days before I recognized that what came after the parasite reality was the actual lesson in my experience and that the parasite concept was (also) a self-created illusion, a metaphorical representation of psychodynamic processes.

I was taken in and beyond every belief system I had gathered into my higher order identity constructs and watched as they slipped away into smoke and mirrors, including even my very sense of self. I travelled all the way into complete dissolution of my ego and into a direct awareness of the non-dual nature of existence in the totality of the present moment in which I was(am) immersed. The story is much more intense when read in it’s fullness, heavy-sprinkled with vomit, clandestine magical men, evil entities, human depravity and psychedelic death, which is what the ‘Ayahuasca and I’ essay you mentioned is about.

The lessons contained in that experience offered me a personally new perspective about the illusory nature of all human story and belief enfolded within the grander reality of pure being. They have offered a vital point of reference for the further development of my work as a creatively self-aware entity and writer. However, the package it came in was one wrapped in trauma, anger, cynicism and, essentially, fear. This fear was logged into my limbic system and though on the surface level of my awareness I navigated it with ease, when triggered, it would express itself as defensive posturing taken in the form of cynicism and distrust of spirituality cultures, especially those idolizing Ayahuasca.

My story was proliferating through the aforementioned essay and a few controversial storytelling performances that featured that story. I wanted to continue to tell that story and share my insights, but I felt I needed to return to Ayahuasca and check-in with how valid my perspectives were in light another Ayahuasca session. I didn’t want to be some yahoo with a only two ayahuasca experiences under his belt running around talking about the nature of the experience to any willing to listen, we have enough of those yahoos sparkling through all sorts of cultures in this world.

I also didn’t want to offer cynicism and distrust when I was asked about these experiences or of spirituality in various workshops, performances, and one-on-one interactions. Decomposing The Shadow works as a gateway for people to approach me with the vulnerability of their challenging entheogenic experiences. In this context, and in the reality that I have chosen to make myself a public figure on the topic, I felt I had a responsibility to go back to the place where my fear was so deeply encoded and disassemble it. Whatever that might mean.

During a visionary experience in a mandala-shaped garden on private land high up a mountain road nestled deep in British Columbia, I got the message to forfeit my plans to travel Thailand and study martial arts. Instead, I knew I had to go back to where I grew up and be a part of my family life, which included the recent addition of my only sister’s first child. This opened a space of about a month between the end of my summer tour of 2014 and the return to my origins, which I was happy to enjoy training contact improvisation on a gulf island off the west coast of Canada. Then one day the space I had available was held in reference to my previous thoughts of exploring ayahuasca again. ‘I wonder how much it would cost to go to Peru for an Ayahuasca retreat?’ I considered to myself, yet did nothing to follow up on it.

Three days later I got a message in my inbox from Pulse Tours inviting me to teach on psilocybin at one of their retreats in Peru, which was to feature the mushroom and Ayahuasca (separately). I took the synchronistic opportunity and booked my tickets. After booking my tickets, I began to see if there was any other retreats I could get involved with before I left. Rak had begun to promote his first Aya Awakenings retreat, and since I had previously been in dialog with him about other things, I felt called to it. Turns out his retreat started the day my first one ended and completed twenty-four hours before I boarded the plane back to Canada. I jumped on that opportunity too.

On August 30th I left to Peru with two intentions: to explore the validity of my current perspectives on Ayahuasca culture and human culture in general, and to see what Ayahuasca could offer me as means entheogenic exploration with the hopes of addressing the fear I had associated to Ayahuasca in my limbic system, my deep psyche. I returned on September 24th with eight more ceremonies under my belt and the perspective I was looking for.

What are some of the qualitative differences you’ve seen between traditionally brewed ayahuasca and psilocybin?

First off, I admit I have only drank Ayahuasca ten times: twice in Alberta at the end of 2013 and eight more times over the course of about three weeks in September of 2014. From my limited exploration, I’d say there are many qualitative differences, most of which are bred of the cultural matrix in which their usage is enmeshed.

Ayahuasca use is deeply integrated into cultural traditions that, for the most part, revere it as a powerful medicine of the mind/body. These traditions include a complex mythos from which the experiential and practical qualities of this brew precipitate. Mushrooms don’t have this, the mythos around their usage and place in human societies was grossly whitewashed years ago and whatever traditions did exist have mostly been lost to obscurity (though I have heard recently that there are legitimate mushroom retreats in Mexico).

Although there are obviously noticeable commonalities that can be seen in each different substance due to their pharmacological action, the nuances of a psychedelic experience are inseparable from the qualitative distinctions primed by the culture in which the psychedelic is used, one’s set. Distinctions such as the complexity of the cultural languaging structures allowing for a perceived application of one’s experience of the psychedelic realms into their baseline reality, and how openly integrated the psychedelic experience is within the cultural mythos a person is typically immersed. These deeply influence the depth and breadth of that experience’s lateral reach through, across, and into one’s ‘normal’ state of consciousness, as well as what affect that reach has on a person’s self-identity and basic perception of reality.

There are so many interesting elements in the long standing traditions with Ayahuasca, their diversity and interconnectedness with life in the jungle has a vastly interesting influence on the experience. For example, the use of the ayahuasca brew is inseparable with an extremely developed medicinal and spiritual system of herbalism. Where that system is practiced, there is an understanding of diet and what herbs are included with the ayahuasca brew and how that influences not only the body but also the qualities of the trip and even the very expression of one’s basic personality. This adds a whole new dimension to the experience. As does their work with sound, icaros, which interpenetrates the herbal traditions. It’s all very interesting, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here.

The herbal and dieta systems, the uses and philosophy around the icaros, the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, the culture’s relationship to the jungle as a living system, a highly developed religious cosmology and social paradigm, all of this is woven into a complex and evolved model for reality. This is what ayahuasca use is enmeshed within. It’s absolutely beautiful (though sometime terrifying as well).

Even Westerners with little to no understanding of the complexity of what this all means, there is a strong morphic influence connected to the practice that alters the set and setting of the experience and thus the experience itself. When we, as non-indigenous people, step into an ayahuasca experience, to a large degree, we step into this well-mapped reality holding the (figurative) tourist brochures offered by the shaman and cultural adepts on the way in.

Mushroom use in the modern world, on the other hand, is enmeshed in a culture that is almost infantile when compared to ayahuasca culture, and adolescent when held relative to itself. Of course, more mature and developed cosmologies and cultural frameworks for mushroom use exist, but the commonality of its reverence as a medicine is not nearly as widespread as that of Ayahuasca within the western cultures that use it. And to say that the qualities of the mushroom experience aren’t commonly integrated into western culture’s common operating system is probably the understatement of the year! This difference has a vastly dynamic influence on the set (which we just explored) and setting of one’s experience, such as the availability of a safe place with an experienced person to explore the reach a psychedelic has to offer.

Of course, this isn’t to put Ayahuasca on a pedestal in anyway. It is simply seeing it how it is, ayahuasca is part of a highly developed spiritual herbal technology birthed from the wilds of the amazon jungle. This is a double edged sword. It may offer one a space and experience that more readily presents the transformation one may be looking for. On the other hand, with such a deeply invested religious culture for Ayahuasca, Westerners going in on pilgrimage towards finding whatever aspect of themselves they perceive as missing might replace that search with church, with a religious investment in the ‘church of ayahuasca’, rather than a practical integration of one’s insights into their Western normative reality. Of course, all psychedelics pose this potential depending on the manner in which the person engages it; Ayahuasca simply has more priming for it. Also, maybe church is exactly what a person is looking for, and if so, all the power to them to harness the expression of spirituality for which they are most called.

Mushrooms may relatively lack the complexity of culture, but that can be seen as a positive situation, it offers much unexplored terrain for the psychonaut to map. Also, psilocybin possesses the same level of potential for transformation and the evolution of self-awareness as does ayahuasca. Many of the same practices with sound, diet and herbalism can apply.

Long before I understood much about dietas and icaros, I would blend different herbs into my mushroom brews to offer different sets of information into the experience itself, usually as a part of (perceived as) alchemical herbal raw chocolate making practice. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found noticeable change and benefit in doing this.

Mushrooms don’t have these lateral interactions to one’s baseline reality in the Western world yet because the minds of those participating in it haven’t come together to fully explore and apply what the experience fully offers. But, this is happening as we speak, this conversation being a part of the process. So is Decomposing The Shadow, which is my part in evolving the culture around mushrooms by contributing to the discussion with an external reference point (a book) for the mythos I had built in myself for the mushrooms’ potential. Something that could be held into social accountability to see if it holds up to the developing entheogenic subculture of the West. I believe it offers a languaging structure, an interfacing module, for the mushroom experience that allows one to more effectively integrate the insights of one’s experience into their daily lives. The intentions is to help further pull the mushroom’s common cultural usage from party-silly and good times, to honest spiritual exploration and the remapping of one’s psychology though metabolizing repressed emotional energy.

Personally, I would still turn to the mushroom over ayahuasca when it comes to moving through personal struggles across the inner landscape. I walk away from mushrooms feeling more personally empowered than I do with ayahuasca, from which I seem to emerge humbled, but tender and fragile. Further more, if as a Westerner person I seek a psychedelic experience that can be integrated into my ‘normal’ social reality, mushrooms are a lot closer than Ayahuasca. They are less mysterious (and thus frightening) to the average people and the ongoing academic/therapeutic research seems to have a strong lean towards psilocybin being institutionalized into therapy far sooner than any of the other psychedelics at this point.

Many outsiders to Burning Man culture see it sort of as an endless party with no real political agenda or progress. A lot of corporate advertisers seem to capitalize on the fact they have a large audience potentially more susceptible to product pitching while in an altered state. 

That being said, your book Soundscapes & Psychedelics: Exploring Electronic Mind Expansion explores some of the interactions between psychedelics, festival culture, and vibration/sonic perception. What was the inspiration for this text?

I’d like to quickly call attention to the use of the term “outsider”. Without making claims to what funds your reasoning behind the use of this term, it makes a clear point towards a type of mostly accidental elitism (let’s call this MAE) within ‘Burner’ culture (and many of the so called “Conscious” and “Transformational” festival communities around the world right now). This MAE makes it very easy for self-identified Burners to be sold to, as a sense of ‘special’ and ‘betterness’ is a great avenue for manipulating purchasing behaviours. Somewhat paradoxically, it’s pretty much the best avenue next to a sense of social and sexual approval, also a big aspect of what Burning Man can offer.

{humans, we wanna be unique and special, but socially accepted and included. Funny, funny creatures.}

This isn’t exclusively a one-directional process, from the ‘insiders’ to the ‘outsiders’, but also unfolds as those who consider themselves to be the outsiders project a perception of elitism onto the ‘included ones’ as an expression of insecurity towards the radicalism of these cultures. Initiate the inference/counter-inference feedback loop and the MAE dance begins, the first steps taken by insecurity on both sides.

{Again, humans, funny creatures.}

I should be clear that I don’t intend to express distaste towards these cultures or present that my generalization here is held with sweeping confidence. I feel as though communities such as these are filled with people who hold a healthier self-confidence and are more accepting, possessing philosophical outlooks and moral/ethical values that represent one of the leading edges of human culture. But I’m biased; though I’ve admittedly never been to Burning Man, I am an ‘insider’ to festival culture.

Sounscapes & Psychedelics, honestly, the inspiration to write it came from a lack of inspiration to continue giving the lecture of the same name. I figured I’d just throw together a quick essay, 10,000 words later and I realized I could have a short book on my hands if I included a few more steps to the process.

As for the content, my initial realizations about the metaphysical background of what we perceive as reality being a complex energetic system of wave interaction and interference came from a psilocybin experience in 2010. Through time, that realization grew and developed as it naturally integrated itself into my basic awareness, working as a common philosophical medium for the interrelational connection of various aspects of my experience. Without going into the entire progression, I eventually came to apply it to electronic music festival culture (later validated objectivity when I saw the documentaries Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within and Electronic Awakening).

The motivation to write this book came through riding the turbulent waves of the post-existential malaise of enlightenment rippling out from my traumatic Ayahuasca experience back in late 2013. Through the lense of my own psychodynamically rendered ayahuasca ego death, I saw our fascination to the religious cosmologies of the indigenous peoples mingling with cultural appropriation and New Age idealism and cutting us off from Reason and a great spectrum of potential for Entheogens. I felt it very important, urgent even, that we as a larger community discuss different sociocultural contexts wherein psychedelic use can be beneficial.

When we hold an awareness wherein only certain types of psychedelic use can be good, then we inadvertently make ‘bad’ other avenues of use. So if we believe that the only way to can benefit from their use is in a ‘traditional ceremony’ then we subconsciously align our behavioural patterns when using them outside of this context to uphold there being no benefit when used recreationally. When this is the case and we are in a perceivably autonomous environment free to use as we choose, such as a festival, this belief system around what contexts do or do not allow for beneficial psychedelic usage subconsciously informs behavioural patterns that are more likely leads us towards destructive use. If, however, it is understood that even in a recreational environment, there is potential benefits to our brain and self-awareness that can be garnered, we subtly alter those subconscious behavioral influences in a way that more likely leads us towards engaging the experience in a healthier way.

Essentially, the intention behind Soundscapes & Psychedelics was to offer a languaging system to opens to potential benefits of psychedelic use within “recreational” environments. That intention created an avenue to explore a lot of ideas I felt very interesting but not commonly spoken of, such as the epigenetic relationship between food and self-awareness, the meaning-making mechanisms of human consciousness, the basic nature of reality as an energetic system, neuroplasticity and psychedelics as nootropics, dance as an avenue for somatic integration of ecstasy (the experience, not the pill), the connection between ancient shamanic traditions and contemporary EDM dance culture and the mind/body/realty connection, among other things. It’s pretty jam packed for such a little book.

Is there any hard and fast line for you between natural plant based entheogens and those that are synthetic or made in a lab? This is an ongoing debate that I find interesting. I find myself trusting nature over human created substances, and am more comfortable in engaging with plant/fungi teachers that have had the longest recorded use.

I’ve also heard Yogis who claim that certain substances can cause leaks in aura and/or cracks in the astral body. I really like what John Michael Greer has said about the subject, when he calls his own path “green wizardry”.

To think that there is a hard and fast line between anything within the interpenetrated biological matrix of the planet and human-consciousness is narrow-sighted. The topic of ‘natural’ is almost ridiculous in the way that is is often used, which is usually as a logical fallacy in narrow-sighted discourse. It’s also very difficult to speak of ‘natural’ without accidentally falling into that very fallacy. I’ll do my best… If we watch what we call Nature, which is the pattern and dynamics of life expressing itself undisturbed by the will of (hu)Man, we can observe coherent complexities beyond which we as humans are yet to recapitulate and apply in our own creations (except for maybe the internet). However, that which humans have created is a result of the planet’s ‘natural’ evolution towards the creation of a primate species capable of what we have become. I think the issue behind the naturalist perspective is that our (humanity’s) choices aren’t usually harmonious with what the planet’s ‘natural’ patterns and dynamics would create, which has had mostly discordant effects on its (the planet’s) integrity. Managing this harmony is something we are likely gonna get the hang of eventually or we will go the way of all the great other civilizations before us.

Plants can show us the way. This means that if we watch and relate to the patterns and dynamics of the ‘natural’ world, if we align ourselves to the implicit messages contained in the remaining wilds, our manifest thoughts, emotional patterns, creativity, and resulting behaviours will more likely be harmonious with the coherent structure of the complexity of life from which the opportunity for self-awareness originally emerged. One fantastic way to achieve this is through the use of plant-based entheogens. Besides opening the awareness of a human to the spiritualised subtleties of consciousness and the sense of being connected to the essence of existence that animates all life, visionary plants and fungi that express this potential in human consciousness, consumed in their whole-food form, are a direct expression of that very same coherent complexity.

The entire nutritional matrix that has given rise to that organism has affect on one’s experience, not just the active alkaloids (which is an expression of reductionist thinking). Within that organism is a variety of nutrigenetic information, that leaves lasting impressions on the functioning of the body/mind system through an epigenetic modulation of cellular behaviour.

If one is to learn from the plants and garner their insight directly, it would seem safe to assume that catalysts of consciousness alteration that emerge directly from the biological matrix of the wilds (‘nature’), would be a safe bet. However, as much as the plants, fungi, and even certain species of frogs are a direct expression of the ‘natural world’, the ingenuity of human-consciousness is as well.

The neuromodulators we have created that awaken similar states of consciousness are indirect expressions of that very same ‘nature’. They do not contain the additional nutritional information that a whole-food entheogen would, but in no way does this mean that the states of consciousness they activate are some how less. Synthetic creations also have the capacity open the awareness of a human to the spiritualised subtleties of consciousness and the sense of being connected to the essence of existence that animates all life. They also open new doors in the mind than have ever been opened before, I consider that to be an extremely valuable avenue of study and exploration.

There is of course, less history, less trial and error safety guarantees, and far less certainty towards an ‘entheogenic’ experience (an expression of but qualitatively unique aspect of the psychedelic experience). Yet, the synthetics, as much as the vines, cacti, flowers, fungi and frogs, possess the capacity to open and explore various states of potential as to what it means to be human and alive. In the right context, there is no reason why a synthetic substance would fail at offering entheogenic, ‘nature’-oriented awareness or a state of awareness equally as revelatory and beneficial, simply because it was made in a lab. That’s narrow-sighted thinking.

Steve Beyer and Rak have both written extensively on the dangers of brujeria (sorcery) in Ayahuasca rituals. Have you had any experience with white or dark magic in aya trance?

The concepts of brujeria and sorcery are wrapped in a mythos that I don’t necessarily connect with. To me, many of the stories and myths around such aspects of consciousness are out of date and lacking applicable context when held in respect to the updated human knowledge base. That being said, the phenomenology holds presence and deserves consideration; we have barely scratched the surface of the mystery of life and there are many things that found their place in other societies long ago that we (Westerners) are yet to understand.

It seems reasonable that when under heavy trance, especially in Ayahuasca, there is the potential to be psychologically (say, spiritually) manipulated. We see various levels of this type of manipulation everywhere, from the public school system, to television advertising, to post-hypnotic suggestion. We could call this magic, it’s an apt word to use and applies, but also implies something supernatural to it, when it is actually very ‘natural’ (pardon the term), albeit extra-ordinary.

‘Sorcery’ and ‘brujeria’ are part of a languaging structure that enables, through practice and familiarity, an application and manipulation of whatever facilitates the phenomenology of Magic (psychic manipulation and repatterning turn ‘real’ in the body/mind). We could also call it The Dark Side Of The Force if we wanted to. The only difference is that former comes from a time and place where the myths and stories that inspire such actions are wrapped in a sociocultural belief system that allows them an influence in the phenomenally Real. The other comes from a time and place of spiritual bankruptcy where myths had already become considered as falsity and mere ‘entertainment’.

To directly answer your question, I have had a couple extremely dark experiences. With the first I was quick to jump to a magical, malevolent explatianton for it (i.e. Ayahuasca And I). I had others support me in this story and explain to me the power of dark entities or spirits or hexes against me in order to justify the darkness that came up. Yet upon deeper contemplation, I found my dark experiences to be more psychodynamic manifestations of distrust and insecurity than actual situations of ‘dark sorcery’.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a psychic danger present in ayahuasca cultures or that there aren’t deep veins of darkness within the transpersonal that can present actual danger to the unaware human, I believe people practicing ‘sorcery’ and ‘brujeria’ in the Ayahuasca exist and can be dangerous. But for the most part, I see it as a mythic dance with psychosomatic manifestation within the sociocultural sphere in which it is participated in.

For the average person going in to explore what ayahuasca has to offer them, in my limited experience, I imagine one need only be careful on their selection of a curandero and environment for their ceremony, and follow the presented dietary restrictions carefully in order to remain safe. Beyond that, it seems very helpful to arrive primed with a belief structure of safety in personal empowerment, careful not to disempower oneself by projecting all of one’s power onto the ‘shaman’ or fall into accepting one’s place within the mythic dance as real. To do the latter may be welcoming a danger unnecessary.

What are your thoughts on the overall popularity of ayahuasca tourism in the West? In recent times it has come under fire, mainly as it prioritizes rich Westerners who also damage the potential sustainability of the caapi vine and chacruna leaves as traditional curanderos have described themselves having to go further into the jungle than ever before in order to find the resources for brewing etc.

It does seem like there are always dangers of cultural appropriation if there isn’t enough sensitivity.  I’ve heard the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council is doing what they can to address the issue of sustainability, too.

The globalization and commodification of any natural resource comes with a variety of concerns, especially when it regards a plant of religious importance sourced from a delicate ecosystem and popular amongst the major buying powers of western peoples. Most obviously, these plant are deeply revered by the local people, a power aspect of their spiritual lives, and is becoming a global commodity whose price may increase to a level that blocks those people from having access to it. Thankfully that is not what we are seeing in the jungle yet, most local people still drink for free as far as I know. Wherein the high price Westerners’ pay helps to facilitate that. Of course, this isn’t the general situation, but I have heard of this happening with locally reputable curanderos.

As for the ESC, they originally sold me with their smooth talk and good intentions, but as things have unfolded, I don’t trust them. I highly recommend and article titled ‘Damning Critique of ESC, the Sustainable Ayahuasca Non-Profit’.

There’s pretty much nothing we can do to stop the infestation of Western purchasing power into delicate resources. The best we can hope for at this point is to preventively mitigate the harm by engendering a move towards sustainability and regeneration amongst the cultures that surround it. I have no idea what that looks like, but I don’t believe that should look like a top-down western lobby group telling the indigenous people how to use their medicine. I’d say it looks more like getting the Western world over it’s fetish with it, but that isn’t the best answer either.

Ayahuasca tourism is a difficult beast. It’s almost this generation’s ‘going to india to find my guru’, and a lot of good can come from people going on these pilgrimages. But the negative consequences can be severe, too.

I believe much of the Western world’s issues stem from adults remaining children because they were never truly initiated into adulthood, a spiritual bankruptcy to all of our religious institutions from—church to marriage, and the lack of a strong spiritual mythology that calls us into our best. The ‘ayahuasca pilgrimage’ may offer exactly those changes to a person, and with an occasioned mystical-type experience to go with it. The benefits this may offer people can then create an industry that feeds money into the peruvian economy, from the ceremonies and retreats, to souvenirs and restaurants, which is a good thing assuming it is used properly. Also, the added interest and investigation of Western people down there opens doors to discuss the power and potential of the Amazon, and why it is so important protect it from those who would cause it harm. Maybe this could help create the social pressure to protect it from assholes like Shell who look only to pillage it like reverse robin hoods (stealing from the poor to sell to the rich and get richer), while enabling the funds to do so as ayahuasca tourism centres call in money to local communities.

Unfortunately, that isn’t really what it looks like. This same potential for good has opened up an industry for charlatans and scam artists, and a mad call to take whatever ayahuasca you can find to sell to the tourists on the street, raw, bottled or on necklace (“to protect you from dark spirits”, of course). So the jungle begins to getting pillaged for it.

As for those who are making the most money in this industry, the high level-curanderos with big retreats, are they feeding back into the community or driving fancy cars and motorcycles? I don’t know, hopefully both (there is nothing wrong with putting your life to something and getting paid well for it, assuming there is integrity and balance, ‘right livelihood’). There is also the cultural appropriation in the tendency for spiritually immature Western people to come back with their chakapa, ayahuasca necklaces and shipibo print cargo shorts talking evangelically like they are now the change, great mother ayahuasca the Way and the Light. The fetish spreads.

I don’t have a problem with pieces of ayahuasca culture spreading into western subculture around psychedelics, that is the evolution of culture. I kind of wish I participated in the chakapa workshop at the retreat I went to, I’d like to have it now. The issue is when the changes in the western world feedback and damages the original culture by changing it in accord. Such as how the traditional method of healing with ayahuasca didn’t include the patient directly drinking the plant every other day for 2 weeks like it does for Western people now, which is part of the sustainability issue.

Also, “Crises, precipitate change” (Deltron 3030), and everything we see here is a ‘natural’ part of the planet’s evolution as expressed in the form of Human Culture. Hopefully we, as an expression of free-will and conscious choice in that evolution, manage to adapt in a way that redirects from our current descent into ultimate demise.

…There isn’t really any answers here, sorry. This is an extremely complex issue and I am far from brash enough to offer ‘answers’. You asked for my thoughts, here they are, with openness for discussion and refinement. My mind isn’t made up on any of this.

How do you feel about the mainstream representation of ayahuasca by celebrities and more recently showing up in the NY Times, etc. Do you think the subject is being treated with enough depth?

The media, it’s great. News is good news when it comes to getting people to think and talk about these things. Being able to being an a convention social setting such as a work place, and have conversations that starts with ‘last night on the TV, they were talking about [insert psychedelic here] as a spiritual thing’ or ‘I was reading an article in the NY Times speaking on the relationship between the experience of dying, anxiety, and psychedelic drugs’ or ‘did you hear about that ehawaska stuff [such and such celebrity] took in the jungle?’, is great. It gives a socially accepted referencing source for taboo subjects, allowing discussion on them in the public sphere. That is a vital part of the evolution of culture.

In regards to the depth it is being represented I feel it’s important to consider what media source is reporting on it and for whom? One cannot expect too much depth from mainstream media (which is where one would find a celebrity talking about it); their mandate is interesting and emotionally charged, with only enough information to offer the viewer a perception of being informed while actually leaving people horribly uninformed. Also, the mainstream media speaks to a demographic that aren’t really looking for depth, they are looking for entertainment disguised as ‘education’. The NY Times and Huffington Post are offering intelligent discussions with reasonable depths for for the intelligent reader looking for a reasonably deep article.

Yet of course, the depth of potential implications for psychedelics is extreme and there is much deeper to go yet, but one cannot expect a major news outlet to feature someone like Bernardo Kastrupt discussing the metaphysics of reality according to the psychedelic experience. That’s where the fringe outlets still hold strong to the people and culture who are called to seek it out.

These major media outlets are offering stuff to people who aren’t really looking for anything specific necessarily, just something from a trusted source to read or watch that interests them. If that outlet goes too deep too quick or talks too far out for their particular demographic, they lose the reader/viewer. And that what was the point the article at all? So how much depth in which the topic of psychedelics can or should be offered is contextual and so far, it’s seeming doing pretty well, being how often it’s in the news.

So we have sources like the NY Times, Huffington Post, and Science Daily putting out really intelligent stuff in a way that reaches their demographics. We’ve got Reality Sandwich, Psychedelic Frontier, and Reset.me reaching out to the really interested folks. And CNN is putting out stuff too, far from intelligent (and always coming with sensationalism and references to the current culturally normative anti-drug-that-isn’t-prescribed-to-you paradigm), but talking about it nonetheless and directly to the mainstream culture in a way that they will hear it.

All of these sources are offering different demographics the priming to think about psychedelics and a safe referencing point to talk about it publicly. When we start seeing the ‘terrorism’ style fear-mongering around white kids dying in the jungle, we will have a concern on our hands. Until then, if it’s getting spoken of through the mainstream channels, that’s great.

What is next for you in terms of writing? Will your next book focus more on your ayahuasca experiences, or be something else entirely?

Ayahuasca? I don’t consider myself deep enough in that world to write a book about it, though I did journal and audio record my entire journey through the Amazon (including a severe insulin crash that almost cost me my life) with the intention to share it one day. So there’s a pending book about that experience. It isn’t currently a priority, but will one day see the light of other eyes.

My next book is titled The True Light Of Darkness. It follows up on what was presented in Decomposing The Shadow. Wherein DTS was a non-fiction research style text that only reaches certain demographics of readers, alienating others. TLOD will be a storytelling narrative to reach a much more expanded demographic. It explores and discusses three of my most personal and challenging experiences, based in the philosophy of DTS, interwoven with other philosophy and psychology stuff, and expresses itself in a playful, engaging narrative. I have been getting some great feedback recently and I’m really excited to release it.

I actually have some custom concept art from some great visionary artists being made into limited archival prints for the Indiegogo campaign. I would like this campaign to also help fund me to do a tour around Canada talking about entheogens, wherein all the events will be a gift to the particular community of whatever city.

The True Light Of Darkness is a very big project for me and I have really put my best into it (and 100s of hours over the last 2 years). If the reader of this article is called to check it out, please and thank you so much.

Other than that, I just had an essay titled ‘Entheogens and the Mind of Society’ published through the Blasted Tree out of Montreal, another essay titled ‘The 4 Archetypes Of Psilocybin’ is being released through a new magazine titled Psychedelic American, the article I wrote for a print edition of PsypressUK in early 2014, ‘Reigniting Awe’, was just released online through psypress and reposted on Reset.me.

I also did an interview with Rak Razam for his podcast In A Perfect World, and recently launched my own podcast called ATTMind Radio.

I might also be teaching on Sexuality and Relationship in South Africa in May, but this is yet to be confirmed.

When what is currently on my plate has nourished me and those at the figurative potluck of psychedelic culture, I reckon I’m gonna start leaning more towards storytelling and musical performances, and eventually try my hand at fiction. I’ve got a great story that I have been exploring with a friend for a while now that will one day fruit.

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jameswjesso.com
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