31st August 2023

Book in Focus
The Labyrinth of Ayahuasca

By Dr Manuel Almendro

This book moves between concern and hope.

Why do so many people seek experiences in remote jungles and mountains that break with their ordinary lives?

This book represents a synthesis of more than forty years of coexistence – and scientific research – with healers or “curanderos” of both the Peruvian Amazon jungle and the Mexican Sierra Mazateca. It has been necessary to establish academic rigor, but at the same time intersperse the text with personal accounts that give it credibility and relatability. In this way, the indigenous cosmovision’s historical contexts, and a deepened understanding of the investigations into Indigenous Traditional Medicines that are being carried out, are made present. It is the critical reflection that highlights the decadence and abuse of the use of plants, while delving into the therapeutic potential that permeates indigenous ancestral knowledge.

In Shamanism (a name of Siberian origin, extended by Western culture), in its complexity, the crisis is seen as a process of renovation, which connects with the current Chaos Theories. That is why my indigenous teachers always advised me: you have to come with us, to the Sabanai – Mazatecos, to know our ancestors who live in the "water": Asheninkas, Cocamas, Shipibos-Conibos...

This book is not only made up of the conceptual knowledge needed to be able to translate the experiences, but also of experiences written in the first person and research written in the third person. This has allowed the book to transmit their legacy even though some of these master teachers are no longer with us.

 "…The Amazon rainforest instills inner solitude, and at times the silence is overwhelming, especially when walking alone. When stopping to observe and to access stillness, animals show up. Pichico monkeys slowly lean out from behind branches, at the same time to snoop spy on the intruder. At the slightest movement, they hide again in unison and repeat the dance over and over. The Iguano Machaco, a poisonous snake…" (Page 71)

 "The soughing of the breeze across the southern Mexican high mountains, green and rain-loving, carries the same hum that, in solitude, you hear amid the Amazonian canopy. From above, at first sight, rivers take the shape of serpents and appear to be yacumamas. At ground level, on the banks, wafts of pure diesel fumes reach the harbor from battered barges with rattling old outboard motors that slowly make their way along the river." (Page 158)

The history of these ancient societies and their evolution, the light and the shadows that do not leave our Earth, have entered healers and allowed them to obtain a medium type of knowledge that is interesting for the Western mind. But also, a small minority of healers have reached a wisdom impossible to be understood by our rational minds. It is a knowledge that connects them with the great traditional wisdoms such as mysticism, Zen, Hinduism, etc.

In reality, we are clearly shown that this knowledge is conceived as Universal Consciousness and a direct perception of the "invisible". These elevated healers affirm that they are connected with the Spirit that governs the world. In this sense, I am grateful for having been made a participant and for having this door opened to me. From that moment on, I understood the impossibility of putting this knowledge into words, but at least I am able to approach the topic and share this knowledge with those who are interested in this way of life.

From the scientific point of view, in order to be able to assimilate this knowledge, it has been necessary that the passion of the Western mind be involved in understanding what spirituality is in matter; that which connects to finding the meaning of life. Celestial biochemistry is also present with its rights and wrongs, in its laboratories and scientific tests as well as in the wild "laboratories" of the streets.

"Everything takes place within the walls of universities, hospitals, and laboratories, away from the genuine maestros who are truly knowledgeable about states of consciousness." (Page 121)

 "From this perspective, the human quest can follow its evolutionary course and combine all its knowledge in such a way that both traditions—Indigenous medicines and science—can enrich each other and serve humanity. Science can verify some facts related to Indigenous medicines, particularly in relation to data monitoring and evaluation." (Page 223)

Yet little attention has been paid to the indigenous tradition by laboratory and hospital researchers – and it must be stated, for the record, that the finding of genuine representatives, and the concretization and deepening of knowledge, can be done impeccably.

"Some neuroscientists believe that spirits are, in essence, biochemical entities; while rationalists tend to see them simply as fantasies, if not pathologies." (Page 127)

"I was welcomed into Don Patricio´s family…and this experience (Indigenous Mazatecs) and this experience …. ranks right up there at the top…" (Page 129)

Anthropologists and researchers have understood this and have joined this adventure.

In recent years, science has been involved not only in research on LSD, Psilocybin, etc., but is continuing the process of research into states of consciousness. There are still many details to explore regarding plants and their traditional stewards, and this is particularly important today in the midst of globalization, with its lights and shadows, which cannot be avoided.

There is research being carried out in relation to addictions, neuroses, and other ailments. Although it is a fact that many advances are being made in this field, this does not justify the overexploitation of indigenous natural wisdom. Indigenous culture is suffering from these wild searches and from the experientialisms of Western origin; this cannot continue, regardless of how much desperation there is behind the search for answers.

"Overcrowding is sometimes the result of research, motivated by potential gains for businesses. At other times, there is a desperate existential quest which leads outsiders to these places; this process needs to be carried out and monitored far more closely. The rules of coexistence with Indigenous people and their customs are often overlooked, and so are the essential preparations for Western seekers." (Page 260)

If this search, represented in this book, is done properly – that is, respecting the indigenous tradition with its healing plants for all kinds of ailments, its diets, its stints of solitude and its humility – then one’s understanding can be deepened in the truth of high states of consciousness, as happens with the experiences of meditative absorption and illumination. The Amazonian Indians call this process flowering and crowning.

Transmission (in Shamanism) seems to be the key concept for authentic wisdom to be passed on…. per example in Zen…

Here we must mention Evans-Wentz (1958), whose texts explain the secrets of Tibetan Buddhism, which incorporates the old Bo╠łn religion of a shamanic nature.

He describes the rites of the black reality and the white party, among others. These rites are linked to aspects of reality pertaining to the Indigenous medicine presented in this book.

This book has personal insights that can offer light in this world of shadows and in the essential descent to the underworld, allowing us to be challenged by our ignorance, since matter and reason, when assumed in an extremist way, disintegrate when facing the inconceivable. Moreover, these are ways of understanding life that are stifling the freedom of spirit and consciousness.

The descent into the underworld, according to the healer, is the way to be able to ascend to the upper world which beats within us, transcending terror and reaching bliss. Christian mysticism, Sufism, Zen, Aurobindian wisdom and other traditions advise us about this path to the eventual realization of peace – ascent and descent, descent and ascent, sowing and harvesting.

The Oxigeme Process has been nourished by all of this because the most serious symptom of our societies is the loss of the meaning of life; a symptom that could fill all the DSMs.

"The day had dawned without a cloud, so the sun would be shining in full force. At first, we chatted, and G. explained to me that B. was a disturbed man who barely made himself known, although he was anything but one of the crowd. This description fueled my growing fascination for the man, and I was aware of a tingling in my gut. We plowed our way through the overgrown trails, machete in hand, when suddenly heavy clouds darkened the sun. The first raindrops began to fall and within a few minutes there was a violent downpour, so strong that I could barely see G., who was only a couple of meters ahead." (Page 300)

"We cannot go on deceiving ourselves by ignoring the anomalous for the sake of mechanical normality—the origin of the neurotic need to control everything—which programs us linearly because of the fear of what is pushing up from below, from the unknown. That irruptive seed will destroy the orderly artifice, no matter how many stakes are placed to hold it together." (Page 342)

Manuel Almendro, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and director of Oxígeme, a school in Psychology and Psychotherapy of Consciousness in Barcelona and Madrid (Spain). He is a member of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA) and the past founding president of the Spanish Transpersonal Association (ATRE). He is on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies and the Journal of Transpersonal Research. Since 1978, he has worked with the Mazatec in Mexico, and the Asháninka, Shipibo-Conibo, and Cocama, in the Peruvian Amazon.

In the seventies, he was appointed as a Dharma Teacher in the Zen tradition by Seung Sahn. The triad Clinical Psychology, Zen tradition, and Indigenous Traditional Medicine is the line of work and research followed by Oxígeme, which has introduced innovative psycho-therapeutic methods. Dr. Almendro lectures and conducts workshops throughout Europe and America. He is the author of a number of articles and books.

The Labyrinth of Ayahuasca is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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