Yarindin: Healing the Warriors
In many of the Native American healing ceremonies, a prayer is said at the beginning that includes a line that deeply moved me when I first heard it: "We do this not only for ourselves, but for all the children." When one person heals an issue as deep as war, rape, or abuse, a way, a camino, is opened for others to heal the same wound. This is the subject of the upcoming documentary film, Yarindin, in which a band of warriors journey deep into the jungle to heal their souls with indigenous plant medicine. To heal war.
There are many different ideas about the purpose and use of Ayahuasca. Some see it as a religion, some as a way to receive powerful visions, some as a way to divine who is sleeping with your spouse or who stole your property, some as a way to find out who caused a disease via a curse and then to throw that curse back onto the sender, some as a connection to Divinity, some as the work of the devil. In much of the upper Amazon, and in the more than 25 years I have been working with her, she is, above all things, a doctor, a healer, and a teacher.
As curanderas (healers), the plants used in Ayahuasca combined with the heart of the healer have an agenda -- to heal the human species on all levels: body, mind, soul, and spirit. The question that arises, that must arise is then, how does this happen? What is the real purpose of this work, and most importantly, how does it integrate into our current culture in a way that will benefit not only those who come from the psychedelic community -- many of whom seem to see Ayahuasca as just a stronger way to trip -- but also those for whom the need for healing is intense beyond most people's ability to comprehend.I first met Steve at a healing circle near where I live. He is a survivor of Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq war. To say he was a haunted soul would be understatement. Tortured by memories of doing things, being forced to do things that no human should ever have to do to another human being, he carried with him all of the symptoms of the complex condition referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD occurs after life events overwhelm the nervous system. Surviving a natural disaster, being a victim of assault or domestic violence, incarceration, and witnessing disasters are all potential triggers. And war. Of course, war.
The way the symptoms of PTSD manifest are well known. The vet who takes a dive for cover after hearing a car backfire or a helicopter pass overhead is nearly cliché, yet the effects can be far more insidious. The National Institute of Health lists the following major categories:
Reliving the event disturbing day-to-day activities -- flashbacks, repeated and uncontrollable memories of the events, nightmares, strong reactions in situations that remind you of the event.
Avoidance -- emotional numbing, feeling detached, loss of important memories around the event, loss of interest in normal activities, avoiding people and places that might remind you of the event, loss of hope for the future.
Arousal -- difficulty concentrating, startling easily with exaggerated responses to those events, hypervigilance, irritable and/or outbursts of anger, trouble with sleep.
Survivors Guilt -- Why did it not happen to me?
Various symptoms of anxiety, stress, and tension.
Exactly how PTSD is caused and how it ravages a person are unknown. What is known is that there are changes in brain chemistry and neurological changes, especially in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system and deals, in part, with aggression and depression. The amydgala is strongly affected and changed in response to the neurotransmitters formed in response to acute stress, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine -- exactly those chemicals that would exist in great quantities in combat situations.
There is a shift in perspective about treating PTSD with psychedelics. We see it in the groundbreaking studies and advocacy work MAPS is doing with MDMA. Ayahuasca has some added benefits. When used in a sacred manner and in a ceremonial context this ancient plant medicine invokes something mysterious and indefinable. There is a consciousness, a teacher that invokes a soul-healing inner journey, which cannot be reproduced in any other setting.
When Steve returned from Iraq, he was not properly debriefed. Debriefing -- talking it out -- is considered an important part of preventing the lasting effects of PTSD, and to be effective (and it is not always effective) it needs to be done shortly after the triggering events. Like many returning vets who try to get care for their symptoms, Steve was given the usual barrage of psychiatric drugs, group sessions, support groups, etc. When those failed, he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. All to no avail. The healing group where I met Steve offered him deep acceptance and love, and most importantly, many deeply caring hearts to hear and share his story and his pain. Yet even that was not enough.
One night Steve had a dream. In his dream, the person who founded the healing circle, an elder in the community, told Steve that I would take his demons away. At that time, Steve knew nothing about my work in Peru with Ayahuasca. Given the situation, I could only invite him into a situation where he could experience the healing of La Madre.
There was some risk in this. With PTSD as severe as Steve's, you never know when a flashback might occur. I had to weigh the remote possibility of someone much stronger than I am, and trained in hand-to-hand combat against the message of the dream. I chose to trust the dream and the medicine. This turned out to be a wonderful choice.
It is difficult for a civilian to understand and empathize with the trauma that soldiers go through. Currently more returned vets are committing suicide than have died in the wars -- a statistic that is not talked about much. In the media, the public is shown a highly sanitized version of what the soldiers go through. Gone are the real battlefields reporters, having been replaced with carefully screened and controlled embedded reporters. We do not and cannot know what is really going on there. Add to this the sexual violence against women in the military. These vets are coming home wounded in body, mind, and spirit.
Many are homeless. Many are abusing drugs and alcohol. Many are perpetrators or affected by domestic violence. Holding down a job or participating in the normal activities of society is often impossible.
Though Steve was never homeless, he was plagued by many of the above symptoms. In his first ceremonies, he went through reliving many of his Iraq war experiences, often dramatically purging them out. In many ways, this was a process for him of letting go of his past, coming into the present, and of deep self-forgiveness. It was not until his sixth ceremony that we reached the first deep root level of his PTSD.
Midway through the ceremony, he called me over and pointed to his belly, and said that it was all there. I asked him if it would be OK if I helped him release it, and he agreed to go through the procedure, even though it would be painful.
Neurologists are now recognizing what several indigenous cultures have known for a very long time. We have three centers of consciousness. One in the head -- very familiar to the Euro-centric cultures, one in the heart, and one in the belly. They roughly correspond to the chakra system, with the belly brain being the instinctual center of consciousness concerned with survival. In addition, I believe, it is a place in the body where traumas are somatically locked up as a method that the body's wisdom utilizes to try to protect the conscious mind. However, it is nearly inevitable that they affect everything in a person's life.
I reached into his belly and found the very tender spot he was pointing to, deeply massaged it, and then released it from his body. The next morning, Steve was laughing, joking around with people, and amazingly, hugging many of the people who were with him the night before.
However, it was the next ceremony that a real miracle happened.
He spent much of the first night in a bowed down position -- facing the east. In the morning circle, he shared that he was doing that to try to understand the souls of the people he had killed. In the next ceremony, with the magical synchronicity that so often occurs, a Palestinian man was in the room. At the point of the strongest effect of the medicine, I asked the Palestinian to sing the call to prayer to Steve. Shortly into that beautiful prayer, Steve was weeping. A few minutes later nearly everyone joined him. Magic happened.
In our council the next day, when Steve was sharing the power of his experience, I heard that Still Small Voice within whisper: "Do this for the vets. Show their lives as they are. Tell their stories. Let others see their challenges, their pain, and their healing. Show their transformations. Make it available for other vets to experience it so that they too may find the beauty of healing."
You have healed my soul and my body,
I am your child and I deserve pardon.
I give you gratitude Queen Mother
For giving me a new birth,
And for returning me to joy.
I invite you to join us in supporting this journey. Please visit the Indiegogo page Yarindin at www.indiegogo.com/p/111875. And please share with others.
Image by Richard Grossman.Tweet