Could the biggest game changer in mental health be a plant?

I recently wrote a post describing important factors to consider before taking psychedelic ayahuasca. That post focused on facts and precautions, while this post explores what’s possible, including how this powerful plant medicine can affect your psyche and how it has the potential for collective healing.

My opinions are based on 12 years of contemplation, research, conversations and ultimately my own experience with ayahuasca. I took part in 4 nights of ayahuasca ceremony while at a week-long medical retreat center in Costa Rica, trying a different strain each night (coming from different Amazon regions).

I came with my own intentions, but I also adopted the intentions suggested by the center, including: show me who I have become, reunite me with my true self at all costs, and heal my heart. Pretty powerful stuff. Many people, myself included, have fulfilled those intentions during their stay. After all, Ayahuasca has been described as 10 years of talk therapy in one night.

But how come?

As I mentioned in my first post, ayahuasca calls the “default mode network” in the brain that is home to our ego. We all have an ego, that part of our psyche that is related to the feelings we have about our own importance and the image we have of ourselves.

Ayahuasca can free people from their dysfunctional ego – the part of us that gets bogged down in a need to be right, makes judgments about ourselves or others, becomes overly focused on self-interest, and identifies too much with our “story” (thinking we are too much, or that we are not enough, or that we will always be victims of our circumstances, or that we will always be addicted, and so on). The beliefs of the dysfunctional ego can be quite rigid and defensive as they have been built in the face of stress and trauma since childhood.

Many people who try ayahuasca report transcending the dysfunctional ego, describing forgiveness of themselves and others, feeling an increase in gratitude and a reconnection with their souls. People also report feeling more connected to nature, animals, and kindness toward others, rather than being focused on competition, comparison, or old grudges.

This led me to wonder what might be possible if these changes in consciousness were widespread. After all, we are on the heels of a COVID crisis and in the midst of a mental health crisis. We also have an increase in people who are angrier and more divisive, which is perhaps not surprising in a culture that puts profit before people. But could the radically different approach to ayahuasca have the potential to heal the disconnect by reconnecting us to our innate empathy?

Imagine a world of greater empathy.

Source: Vonecia Carswell/Unsplash

This also made me wonder if a focus on the ‘talking cure’ in psychotherapy keeps us stuck in the story of our dysfunctional ego. Even most of the self-help theories out there are sometimes just that: so self-centered that they fail to address the larger conflict between people. As a somatic therapist, I’ve long thought that just focusing on talking isn’t always enough when it comes to trauma and relationship issues.

I like to envision a future where licensed mental health professionals have the legal ability to combine talk therapy with ego-liberating methods like ayahuasca. I dream of a widespread shift from collective judgment to collective compassion, acting in hyper-competition and self-interest for cooperation and community.

While we still need more research on plant medicine and the impact of ‘ego death’, I find it ironic that research using modern technology can support the fact that something as basic as eating plants from nature is the key. may be to our kindness . Perhaps a return to nature is where we belong.

This is where science meets the core of who we are, moving beyond self-care to collective care, from the well-being of me to the well-being of us.

So imagine, who could you be without the constant chatter of your stories?

You might find that the more you calm your ego, the more you can hear your heart.

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