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January 12, 2013

Ayahuasca judgement, not curiosity

Last night I went to a play in Vancouver, a monologue about Ayahuasca and how the characteristic purging, puking, and grip you by the throat terror that this thirty-something guy on stage had experienced after participating in a ceremony as part of a retreat on Vancouver Island that enabled him insight and to make connections that had eluded him for years.

He had been trapped by behavior that made his life miserable and came with inexplicable and horrific random visualizations.These images confused him, paralyzed him, made him disassociate and sometime even puke, even without drinking any Amazonian vine called Baanisteriopsis Caapi.

He’d read books by a well known Vancouver doctor more than once, inhaled them in fact,  and then one day, uncharacteristically, he e-mailed the doctor who eventually invited him to a retreat of about 25 people where Ayahuasca was consumed. The doctor ingested it himself, as if he was John C. Lilley doing his first hits of L.S.D. because this doctor liked to be different, he was different, he’d built his reputation on it.

Before this play, I’d first heard of Ayahuasca in 2008. I saw a documentary film on Salt Spring that played to a full house with the filmmaker, Richard Meech, present. In his film, Vine of the Soul: Encounters with Ayahuasca, he'd documented the  experience of three thirty to 40 year old Caucasian Torontonians who'd travelled to the Amazon and, like this actor on stage before me, went through their own little private versions of Hell and back as part of their purging experiences. Only one had experienced pure bliss.

I thought to myself, Jesus, why are middle class white people so tortured and why must they participate in rituals considered “cool” because they've been stolen from ancient cultures? Sweats. Ayahuasca. Take your pick.

The guy who hosts the groups was on stage to answer questions on this particular night as well. A medical doctor. Written a bunch of books. Good books. Books worth reading. I've read a couple myself. He had a ring on every finger,silver rings, which unnerved me. It reminded me of someone who had been a therapist in my life in my past. Be suspicious, very suspicious of any health care provider who wears a ring on every finger.  They just might come with side effects. Who you trying to impress? Why you trying so hard to be cool?  Don’t agree with me? Go get five rings, if you own five rings, out of wherever you keep them, put each one, one by one, on your fingers and see how it makes you feel. 

This guy, the physician on stage, he had a very masculine presence even though he’s not a very big man. After the play, on stage, he was wriggling around like a football coach, preparing to give the pre-game talk to his jocks. A not so undisguised whiff of disdain was wafting off of him and I couldn’t figure out why. He’d agreed to be there hadn’t he? 

I asked him a question, a rather innocuous question I thought, “What personal experience had he had that convinced him that this should be incorporated as part of his therapeutic technique.” His  response came back with such defensiveness it was as if I’d challenged him. I wonder if he realizes that his manner, on stage, is arrogant and defensive and maybe all those years of working with clients reeling against “the man” had rubbed off on him except I didn’t believe that. I believed it had always been there, right from the beginning, and that’s his shit, entrenched and perhaps why he's able to have, such compassion, I guess, with the addicts he treats.  

But, I also wondered what his story is, the other story, the one that he tells himself when he’s home alone right before he goes to bed at night and whether it would ever be possible for him to just sit in a room and do nothing, be a nobody, just a human being, minus the notoriety because eventually we will all have to be what we are, just that, flesh and blood and bones, that's it, just ask the elderly.

I wondered why it would be okay for the doctor to take the Ayahuasca while he was hosting these retreats and I wondered why cultural misappropriation wasn't an issue for him and when he referred to a Shaman named Dave, I didn’t even bother to suppress a laugh. Would you go to a shaman named Dave? Where do you find Dave? In the yellow pages under S?

Sometimes middle class Caucasians really make me sick with their first world desperation and their cloying need to be rescued out of their first world problems and it’s not as if I haven’t been there myself because I have. 

Those are the kind of thoughts I was having at the end of the evening. It made me wonder if maybe I couldn't benefit from a little Ayahuasca intervention so I might discover, Yes and thank you, why that sort of thing really irks me more than it should.

When I left the play, my friend looked at me and said, "That guy, the doctor, he has a lot of anger. I feel agitated," she said and we continued on to the corner of main and Hastings where we saw three or four cops in the middle of a take-down  and my friend, who has an anxiety disorder, insisted we get on the wrong bus just to get away. 

"It's all bullshit," she said. "People looking for a quick fix and there isn’t one and it's only when you've been through hell and back and done the work that you know that."

When you’ve become really attuned to others' feelings because you've had to become attuned to your own because there was a time when you were more removed from them than the Grand Canyon is long and wide, then you can see other people's bullshit. The lies they are telling themselves become so obvious because their body language is betraying them. And then you can see false prophets as if you are an astronaut on the space shuttle looking back at earth shocked by a huge clearcut or like you’re reading a new adult version of the Emporer’s New Clothes.

You want nothing to do with anything that isn’t  about you finding your own inner strength, not expecting external sources to rescue you,  not even from some doctor who thinks he has all the answers  even though he thinks he’s fooling some people by saying, out loud, that he doesn't.

PS: Kudos to the guy who wrote and performed the play. It took a lot of guts. There's no need for the doctor in the house, except for ticket sales. Maybe.


Unknown said...

Have worked with this doctor closely and have a radically different impression...he would never espouse ayahuasca as a quick fix ...only as a tool for finding ones inner strength

Gayle Mavor said...

That's good to hear.

Perhaps he was just having a bad evening on the night I write about. It was merely my impression, and the impression of the person I was with, that he came across as extremely arrogant and bored or annoyed to be there and given the nature of what he was doing there as a guest, his way of being was at odds with the context and not a great representation for himself or his work.

Unknown said...

I also know this physician - and hold nothing but respect for his honesty, caring, courage and commitment to helping others learn about themselves and heal. Reading your post, I wondered what was going on in you that generated so much anger, hatred even in your posting. You commented his rings" reminded me of someone who had been a therapist in my life in my past." Perhaps such a visceral reaction to a stranger, to "never trust" had very little to do to with the man before you - rather, the reminder of a deeply negative experience/person/therapist from your past?

Gayle Mavor said...

To unknown, thanks for your comment.
Free speech. It’s great
First of all, I’m not commenting on his ability as a physician or therapist. I was very careful not to do that since how could I assess them? He’s made a reputation on being good at what he does so that stands for itself.

Hate is a word I don’t use in association with anyone, certainly not strangers. Did this person evoke a strong reaction from me. Oh yeah!! Clearly. I wouldn't have written this if he hadn't. If I was the only one to feel this way afterwards, without any prompting, then I probably wouldn't have written this. Am I aware that male therapists of a certain kind are forever associated for me with a therapist from my past? Yes. Why else would I have mentioned that? I am more than capable of separating that projection or transferance or self- awareness or whatever you want to call it, from a reaction that I have to a stranger, a stranger I might add, who has always been presented in an excellent light so if anything I had a more positive impression of this person going into this event than I would normally of someone I hadn't met. Given that, I consider my perception valid. It’s valid because it’s mine. I was there that night. It’s unlikely you were. Are you saying I’m not allowed to have an impression? If the person I was with that night hadn’t had exactly the same reaction (which adds some minor objectivity to my own reaction) then I probably wouldn't have even bothered to feel impassioned to write this. In the end, let’s face it, I’m sure he can handle it. It’s not as if he wouldn't have heard weirder shit than most of us. I’m happy that your experience with him has been super positive. That’s the ideal.

Anonymous said...

You made an interesting point about seeing the obvious lies that people tell themselves. Please read your response above again and feel it as if you were reading it for the first time from the doctor that antagonized your thoughts initially. I too harbour a mistrust of trinkets and over expression, I am also not a 100% convinced on the benefits of Ayahuasca and this is after drinking it 6 times over the last decade, that said it has helped me significantly with my self indulgent middle classed neediness. So the shamans name was David, not that I'm a practicing Christian but wasn't David saviour and king of the Jews. And what if the shamans name was Steve or Ahmed would it make it any less credible ? What is in a name without a person other than your own preconception. Maybe the Dr who works tirelessly with the less fortunate is feeling the edge and less patient with intrusive questions that serve to question his own integrity after all that he has given through action not just words. He is after all only human.
I enjoyed your observations, I can tell you've been through some self indulgence yourself. Are all problems not relevant to the individual. Go easy on yourself my friend and be open to the topics you judge.

Gayle said...


I enjoyed your comment.

I didn't understand the second sentence even though I've re-read it more than a few times. I did laugh out loud about the reference to feeling that I'd been through some self indulgence myself.

Who? Moi? No? Really? ha ha ha.

Maybe just a little, but then again I have no public reputation and I wasn't on a stage being asked what seemed like a legitimate question. On the other hand, as you suggest, he's only human and from most public accounts, he has done very good and dedicated work.

"Be open to the topics you judge," you say. Very good advice. Very good advice indeed. I'll try harder. Thank you.