Stephen Gray: The relevance of sacred plant medicines in a challenging time
By Stephen Gray
The use of psychoactive plants, fungi, and molecules is undoubtedly the single most controversial topic and set of techniques related to healing and awakening work. Deep, long-standing prejudices make frank discussion of these substances difficult in the public arena. But there’s a rising chorus of committed explorers who have done much research over many years—through the literature and through personal exploration—and have become convinced that sacred medicine plants have proven a great benefit to humans for millennia and hold exciting promise for the years ahead.
Times are changing fast, avenues of research and practice are opening up, and there’s good reason to believe that medicines like ayahuasca, iboga, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and others will play much greater roles in the years ahead. If so, the central questions are: What can we learn from them, and how can we effectively and safely incorporate their use into healing and awakening work at this crucial time?
These substances are sometimes called ego dissolvers. In the best of conditions they can help us see through and release our limiting stories and the unhealed part of ourselves. They can reconnect us to our naturally open and peaceful hearts, to each other, to the Earth, and to mysterious forces that animate life altogether. The understanding of elders and visionaries is that in making this journey of reconnection, we create the foundation for the work necessary to envision and realize sane and sustainable societies.
There are several key points that I believe all experienced, ethical plant-path workers would agree upon. These are:
First: This work is most definitely not about sensation, entertainment, or escapism. It’s about individual and collective healing and awakening.
Second: These “tools” are by no means for everyone. You need to be ready for them—ready to remain present in the encounter, ready to surrender, ready to change, ready to open to insights that might turn your habitual patterns and fixed ideas upside down.
Third: What has been called the “setting” for the work is extremely important. Indigenous traditions from around the world have understood this. You have to create a safe ritual container, approach the plants with courage, respect, and humility, and do your best to avoid “head traffic”. As a general principle, guides, healers, and ceremony leaders need to have undergone long and sometimes arduous training apprenticeships and be on intimate speaking terms with the spirit allies of their chosen medicine.
Fourth: Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. Especially with medicines like ayahuasca, whose use is rapidly expanding around the globe, there is the distinct danger of encountering charlatans and self-styled, improperly trained ceremony leaders and “shamans” who can create more harm than benefit.
Finally: The use of sacred plants is not a replacement for an ongoing spiritual practice that grounds new openings and insights. Neither does that use grant permission to bypass or “transcend” compassionate, creative engagement with the world. Intensified experiences mean little or nothing in the end unless they inform and guide our behaviour in all aspects of daily life.
There is a vision loose on the planet that cuts through opinion and belief to unconditioned truth and is growing in strength and clarity. If this whole 2012 meme has any reality or relevance at all, it’s surely not about the destruction of the human enterprise but about the lifting of the veil. Plants of the kind discussed in this brief essay are coming out of the shadows and offering their guidance as direct conduits to the deepest, most enlightening truths and when used wisely in the right hands may be of immense benefit in the reconnection journey.
Stephen Gray is the author of Returning to Sacred World, from which this essay is adapted, and will be one of more than a dozen international and regional presenters at the Spirit Plant Medicine Conference, taking place from October 26 to 28 at UBC in Vancouver.