As many of you know, I participate in ayahuasca ceremonies about three times per year with a gifted South American Shaman.
I was a serious, die-hard Buddhist for years. Then I drank “the tea.” Needless to say, things changed.
Ayahuasca is gaining popularity in spiritual seekers. Ayahasuca or Yagé is a serious path. It’s not for everyone and I highly recommend doing serious research before participating.
So, recently a former client, a devoted Diamond Heart student, decided to check it out.
She said this of her experience
“I would say it was probably one of the most, if not the most, profound experience of my life”
Meanwhile, check out this disappointing, but not surprising, “instruction” given by her small group teacher, after she told her Diamond Heart what he was up to. She proceeded to let me know that her Diamond Heart teacher told her she “couldn’t take ayahuasca and be in the Diamond Approach.”
The teacher added, “Hameed (the Founder of DH) had a student once who was using ayahuasca. He spent a year researching it and decided that it didn’t fit with the Diamond Approach.”
My former client continued,
“The teacher then said that the use of drugs is not compatible with the Diamond Approach and I couldn’t do both.”
Then she said something like, “We’ll have to wait a month until the drug comes out of your system and then we can work on you as you are.”
She emphasized that the Diamond Approach is not a quick fix; it takes a long time. While all of this was happening I felt like she was looking at me as if I were a sick patient. She also didn’t spend as much time working with me as in the past, presumably because she felt I was incapable of doing work while “on drugs.”
Then two of the people in the group who went after I did, talked about their negative experiences in the past with drugs or drug users. As I remember, I left the group feeling furious, shamed, and like there was no one I could talk to; I sat on my friend’s car and fumed.
My former client told me that she was “shocked” and even though they gave her flack about it, that she’d participate in another ayahuasca ceremony soon.
My former client questioned herself and wondered if he should have not brought it up.
She said, “Actually, I will have to consider the negatives associated with ayahuasca use, but at this time, given the potential of the ceremonies for insight into my life and life itself, healing, and visions I’m inclined to do more ceremonies.”
“As far as the Diamond Approach experience goes, yes, that was difficult. I still feel sad and angry when I think about it; I also just feel like I wasn’t really understood, and it didn’t seem like there was even the space to consider another point of view seriously. [It seems that] plant medicine experiences are often considered dangerous or less real than other spiritual experiences or other forms of spiritual development.
Today I talked with a friend in the Diamond Approach and she said she knew that was the official position of the Diamond Approach; she was not surprised. The experience bothered me in many ways. I sensed that at least one other person in the group was bothered by it as well. As you know, I’ve been very drawn to and affected by the Diamond Approach work. In fact, many of my other profound experiences have come through my work in the school. I also feel like these experiences were better contextualized and explained than the experiences I had in ceremony. So this is not meant to be an attack on the Diamond Approach, I actually love the Diamond Approach. I just don’t see the Diamond Approach and the ayahuasca ceremonies as incompatible. Personally, I think we (individually and collectively) need all the support and wisdom the world has to offer.”
I love that last quote by my former client.
“I think we (individually and collectively) need all the support and wisdom the world has to offer.”
Overall, this interaction has brought up a few complaints and questions about the role of the spiritual teacher and more importantly the role of teaching assistants (who are not getting direct transmission experience).
Here are my concerns and questions with this DH small group teacher.
1. Since when did a spiritual teacher become the authority on this person? And, since when did a “by proxy” spiritual helper become the authority on this person? Yes, I have a lot of judgments about human spiritual teachers (read this blog post as an example) and the students that project perfection on to them. We are all human—flawed in perfectly human ways. Fortunately for this character, she did what she wanted at the risk of getting kicked out of the community. Not sure about you, but following someone else’s rules does not help me trust myself.
2. I don’t trust teachers (especially assistant teachers) that are not speaking from their own, direct experience. Because she’s not directly transmitting while teaching, she’s parroting whatever Almaas said, instead of investigating herself. This is a sad commentary on how students abandon their own agency and experience in service of being “good” students (even “senior” students). It speaks to how deeply imbedded the puritanical overlay is that so many of us have in relationship to our current spiritual path.
3. Like anything, it’s pretty hard to criticize ayahuasca on hearsay. She could have told her student, “Go check it out and find out for yourself.” Or, she could have said, “Hmmm, I don’t have experience with that, maybe I’ll got sit with this man myself and see if it’s compatible with our approach.” Ayahuasca is not a drug. Far from it.
4. It’s one thing for a spiritual teacher who is teaching from his/her direct experience. Hameed gets to do whatever he wants since it’s “his” tradition. However, anyone under him making decisions or recommendations based on Hameed’s direct experience (instead of their own) is out of integrity in my view.
5. What’s the big deal? So what if someone takes peyote or ayahuasca or even LSD? If the path they are following is so legitimate and awesome without it, then their direct experience of these medicines will point them back to their teachers, tradition and lineage. If not, and they choose to move on, who cares?
I get that everyone has his or her own path to walk. I also get the wisdom in following a “tradition” and sticking to it. When I was a die-hard Buddhist, it made sense that I close all other doors and devote myself entirely to that path and one teacher. However, the more I practiced, the more locked up I became, despite my efforts to be a “good” student and follow everything by the book. Somewhere in there, I abandoned my own experience in service of doing what my teacher told me to do. And, yes, I take responsibility for choosing to leave my integrity behind. It took me a while to realize this was stifling my journey.
When I finally took a huge risk and left the community I was part of, my spiritual practice and life deepened dramatically.
The big question I’m left with is how is it possible, for an assistant teacher of a particular tradition, to help someone if they are not speaking and teaching from their own experience? In my view, it’s not possible. Because the transmission they are giving isn’t lived and experienced. It’s merely a concept they believe in. Am I off here? I’m open to missing something….
And finally, what if the goal of the spiritual mentor was simply to assist a person in loving, accepting, and trusting themselves and “what is” more fully? If so, maybe traditions wouldn’t be so threatened by those of us who take a multidimensional approach when those are the spiritual aims we seek.
Editor: Brianna Bemel