Chapter 8 : Pilgrimage to the Light ? On the Threshold of a Dream: Sacred Plants, Passionate Dedication to Ideals, and Healing, Richard Yensen, 2015

Chapter 8 : Pilgrimage to the Light ? On the Threshold of a Dream: Sacred Plants, Passionate Dedication to Ideals, and Healing

Richard Yensen

January 2015


The desire to incorporate ancient healing practices with sacred plants into modern medicine has been a central passion of my career as a clinician and psychedelic researcher for over 40 years. During that time Mexico has offered me friendship, collegiality, adventure, and wonder. At times I have felt when visiting first Nations in Mexico like I was stepping back into ancient times. The wonder and honor of knowing Maria Sabina, Don Ricardo, Niuweme, and other healers and shamans has transformed my outlook on the practice of psychedelic medicine.

I am happy to say that the two remarkable men I will discuss here are from Latin America. This is important as the conquest came from Europe. And is important to me because I live in countries that disparage Latin American people in general and specifically people of color.

Mexico has been blessed with a wide variety of psychedelic plants and ancient traditions for their use in healing. In recent times Mexico was also blessed with a true pioneer, a man who asked native people how they used sacred plants. He not only asked the questions but also listened to what they said and took it seriously enough to follow some of their advice. Psychotherapy with this doctor, whose name I will keep a mystery for now, became a pilgrimage of the spirit searching for meaning, truly a journey to God. His treatment transcended the pathological and sailed dramatically into the land of the spirit. This is especially important, for so many of the ailments of modern civilization are rooted in the spiritual vacuum in which we live.

Human beings are on a meaning seeking and meaning making journey through existence. As individuals we feel best when we are in touch with our reason for being, our story, our purpose, our unique individual nature and can see clearly a meaningful path through our life.

It is remarkable that these people from a wide variety of indigenous nations within Mexico were willing to share precious keys that open the door to meaning and belonging, to spirit and wonder. The people offering this forgotten wisdom had been themselves conquered by invaders from Europe. My psychotherapy mentors held that the effects of trauma persist up to seven generations after the original insult! Trauma injures the capacity to weave meaning into our lives, it decontextualizes us, and it injects a random or meaningless, capricious or diabolical element into our consciousness. In the course of losing their ability to make meaning the individual usually prepares to die in hopelessness and in so doing surrenders the essential capacity that brings hope to our experience.

I believe that such trauma lies at the core of addiction, posttraumatic stress disorder, and some depressions. Used wisely sacred plants and psychedelic drugs can offer an opportunity for a deeply remedial healing experience, one that repairs despair with hope and annihilates hopelessness with the most deeply meaningful experiences possible.

We live in a world with too much environmental stress, collapsing ecosystems, diminishing cultural diversity, loss of languages and ways of being, and the dangerous creation of a global monoculture. At this point in history it is essential for us to pursue an awareness and openness to prior successful adaptations.

In order to gain the perspective necessary to adopt new treatments for trauma we need first to regress, to back up, to carefully examine the organization of cultures and societies that are able to integrate the effects, insights, and experiences of sacred plants. Hunting and gathering cultures can be characterized as primitive, or we can realize that they are actually quite sophisticated and elegant in their adaptation to the environment. Their adaptation is more complete than our own. The consequences of our poor
adaptation are catching up with us. The pressures of expanding populations threaten humanity. It is as though our phenomenal neurological gift, the three-pound universe we carry between our ears, was not enough to guide us properly; we face the same end story as a colony of bacteria that blindly consumes all available resources on a petri dish until there is a collapse.