Carlos Tanner, Founder & Director at the Ayahuasca Foundation joined the GCI Content Hub in conversation.
Could you give our readers an overview of your background, and what led you to psychedelics?
As a child in the 70s and 80s I was fascinated by Star Wars and played with the figurines for many years, preferring the Ewoks, and particularly the shaman Ewok, as the favorite toys of my youth. Growing up I had unusual conversations with my father about the seemingly miraculous feats of Himalayan monks, the unbelievable technology of alien spacecraft, and the mysterious properties of mono-atomic gold. These interests and conversations stimulated my curiosity and most likely influenced me to think outside the box.
In high school I was introduced to marijuana and mushrooms by my older brother and discovered an immediate affinity for them. During my senior year I did book reports on ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’ before going ‘full hippy’ in college, where I studied philosophy and art at the University of Massachusetts. During that time, I experimented heavily with marijuana, acid, mushrooms, and other psychedelics while reading Castenada and McKenna, contemplating Socrates and Buddhism, and drawing trees, fruit, and naked people.
After I graduated, I continued my research into psychedelics and shamanic plant medicines and eventually made my way to the Amazon rainforest to experience ayahuasca in 2003. Due to the profound personal transformation that occurred on that trip, I decided to move to Peru to live and study with a curandero named don Juan. After four years as his apprentice, I started the Ayahuasca Foundation.
What about ayahuasca specifically do you believe lends itself to being so useful in tackling trauma?
There are two important aspects of ayahuasca that contribute to its effectiveness in treating trauma. The first characteristic is the medicine’s ability to reduce sensory gating, allowing much more sensory information into one’s waking consciousness. This has the obvious effect of providing greater awareness around whatever one gives attention, including thoughts and emotions originating from memories of past experiences, creating the potential to realize a more accurate interpretation of our experiences, as well as our self-perceptions, and our understanding of our lives.
The amplification of sensory information also creates a novel experience of reality that loosens the solidity of our previously held truths, insisting that we re-evaluate our beliefs and relearn our knowledge. This rerouting of neural pathways provides incredible potential to replace detrimental thought patterns or programs with beneficial personal truths that contribute positively to our well-being. The combination of increased awareness and novel experience creates the optimal environment to address, transform, and release our traumas.
The second characteristic of ayahuasca that contributes to its effectiveness is the traditional ideology and methodology of its use. Ayahuasca is always consumed in ceremony and the paradigm within which this ceremony procedure has developed for many generations is rooted in a non-material perspective of reality. In addition to this focus on the non-material is the placement of humankind as inseparably interconnected to nature, plants, animals, mountains, streams, and the singular conscious being of the Earth herself.
Attending an ayahuasca ceremony is much more than just the consumption of a psychedelic substance: it is an immersion into a context of truth where we are not alone, trying to solve our issues on our own, but rather we are connected to and taken care of by a being and force far wiser and more powerful than we can possibly imagine. This faith is instilled into the ayahuasca ceremony and influences our experience towards having faith that we shall be healed.
This ancestral understanding contributes specifically to the healing of traumas, which, by nature have roots in our ancestry, as well. When we return our perception to having a special place in a greater picture, mind, and plan, we strengthen our ability to achieve our goal of regaining balance, harmony, and health.
How does consciousness play a role in the healing process?
Even in the most materialist view of the modern medical paradigm, it is well known that consciousness can be a powerful influence in the healing process. Referred to as the placebo effect, even the least spiritual doctor or scientist will still acknowledge that a person’s beliefs can sometimes produce far better results than the most effective medications and treatments.
Unfortunately, the placebo effect is often considered to be a trick played on the mind, rather than an expression of the mind’s true power. I am puzzled how any scientist could witness a person heal themselves only through the power of belief and not want to dedicate their lives to understanding how to make that happen all the time.
Shamanism, particularly the ayahuasca tradition, is a science of utilizing the power of consciousness. When I started living in the Amazon and studying this truly amazing healing tradition, I found myself asking the question: do we know we are healed because we are, or are we healed because we know? If I had to answer that question now, eighteen years later, my answer would simply be ‘yes’.
I have come to consider the entirety of reality as a complex pattern of consciousness, which I view as inseparable from energy. Therefore, I believe our cells are made of consciousness, our thoughts are made of consciousness, our health issues are made of consciousness, and the solutions to those issues are made of consciousness. I recognize that this is not a common point of view, but if the question is how does consciousness play a role in the healing process, my view is obviously that consciousness IS the healing process, as well as whatever is being healed, and the being who is experiencing the healing.
Thankfully, there is now a plethora of scientific research that demonstrates the power of the mind and thoughts, and to me, when this power is increased and/or enhanced by the effects of psychedelics like ayahuasca and the characteristics I mentioned earlier, the potential for healing is only limited by the same mind that can achieve it. So, consciousness determines whether we activate or suppress a medicine to heal us, and consciousness determines whether we are healthy or unhealthy, as well.
Given what you’ve said, do you believe that this can be integrated within the modern medical paradigm, and why?
I definitely believe that not only can it be integrated, but that it must be integrated within the modern medical paradigm. Whether it is acknowledged or not within that paradigm, consciousness is already heavily involved in every medical procedure, medication, and treatment. But, because there is little attention and understanding given to its power and influence, consciousness currently acts like seeds dispersed in the wind. Only a few will land in fertile soil, while most dry up and lose their potential to grow. Integrating ancestral wisdom and indigenous practice back into our healing sciences will turn doctors into the gardeners they are meant to be.
Our focus should be on nourishing the soil where we plant the seeds of health, and protecting and supporting the growth of those seeds. This is much bigger than just doctors or medical knowledge. A profound cultural paradigm shift is needed and to me, the most important motivation within this shift is the reconnection of humankind with the whole of nature and the Earth. My own thoughts, voice, and efforts are but a tiny contribution to a movement that is far far greater than we know.
Actually, I don’t feel that ‘we’ are the ones who will make this paradigm shift a reality, but rather that the paradigm shift will occur as the Earth intends and has intended throughout the entirety of human existence. To me, consciousness is not the product of the brain. Nor is consciousness confined to an individual mind. It is much more like a radio broadcast, picked up on the radios of all who tune in, and my observations suggest that more and more people are tuning in. The fact that I am answering these questions is a great example of this observable phenomena.
Building on the previous question, as the psychedelics ‘industry’ continues to grow, how do you think that we can effectively bridge the gap between western medicine/science and age-old ceremonial practices, traditions and customs?
As we strive to improve, it is inevitable that we will bridge the gaps and discover what is the most effective path forward. Perhaps the biggest reason why we see this rapid expansion of the psychedelics industry is because the previous medical industry of the modern age, operating in its material-centric cultural paradigm, has not produced the results it had hoped for or expected. If we look to the scientific progress over the last century we will see a major shift has taken place in the recognition of non-material phenomena. The particle-wave theory exemplifies this perhaps better than any other single discovery.
We can trace a progression from the invention of baby formula, once touted as better than what mothers can produce, to a return to the more accurate understanding that nothing is better for children than their mother’s milk, because there is a non-material communication between mother and child that determines the particular constituency of the milk produced to meet the specific needs of the child, not to mention the tremendous value of motherly touch. This progression can be found in more and more industries now working to return to a more harmonious relationship with the natural environment, the rise of organic foods, the banning of harmful chemicals, and environmental activism. In a mere one hundred years we have seen a tremendous shift in perspective, and interestingly, the real shift began when psychedelics were introduced, first in the early 1960s, although met with powerful forces to restrict them, to their reintroduction today, with newfound appreciation and acceptance.
Of course, ancestral cultures across the globe have always relied on psychedelics, plant medicines, and shamanic paradigms to maintain their health and well-being. All our ancestors for countless generations lived in a reality heavily influenced and determined by psychedelic experiences. In my view, what we are witnessing now is a remembrance of our ancestral wisdom, a replanting and revival of a garden that had been neglected for a few generations but is ready to grow and give fruit again. We are blessed to still have ancestral guides willing to help us navigate this process, which will certainly include the bridging of gaps and the unfolding of a new realization of healing and growth.
For people keen to take part in a psychedelic retreat, how do you believe they should approach this exploration? What would you say is the best way to ascertain the psychedelic best suited to the individual? And what should folks look out for, to ensure they sign up to retreat which is safe and guided by experienced leaders?
I think improved self-knowledge is the key to figuring out our unique path forward in life. I also feel that medicine and healing should be viewed as an artform. When we regard healing as a form of art, we can often more easily determine what resonates with us, as we have most likely already decided what music we like, what food, books, dance styles, and other types of art. Knowing who we are helps us find the best connections in our endeavors to heal, as well.
As an example, I prefer natural medicines that have ancestral traditions and are used in natural settings. Perhaps from reading this interview it is obvious that I would lean this way. For others, working with pharmaceutical medications like MDMA or Ketamine in a clinical setting feels better. Still, others may feel like personal exploration without any ‘tradition’ is their preference. Who we are is such a complex combination of influences, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, that each person must feel their own way in their decisions.
Becoming familiar with the options is always a good idea, but not necessary, especially if something feels like the best choice right away. For some people, trying different medicines might feel necessary before deciding on a complete treatment. Ultimately, the goal when choosing any healing path is to be committed to and trust the process, and to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. In the end, we can only do our best, so whatever we determine to be most beneficial will be what we choose.
When you decide what medicine or treatment plan feels best to you, there will most likely be numerous options for retreats. When choosing a specific retreat, I recommend initiating sufficient communication. That might not feel necessary, because you felt enough from visiting the website, reading reviews, watching videos, or talking to someone who went there, but it may also be helpful to write to the retreats that feel good to you with questions or to schedule a call. Through further communication you should be able to discern what feels best to you and make your decision accordingly.
I feel that, no matter what you decide, it will always be an important part of your healing journey, ripe with opportunities for learning, growth, and improvement. Recognizing that life is a journey is a helpful consideration as well, as healing is not something that is black a white: ill or well, unhealthy or healthy, but rather a spectrum on which we are always moving up or down. Another helpful consideration is that a healing process is rarely linear, so we do not just move up that health spectrum a little, and up a little further, and up again, and again, and so on. It may, more like a mountain range of ups and downs, all necessary to arrive at a place where we are empowered to continue the ups and downs that lay ahead. Remembering our true power to handle whatever life has in store for us is the essence of true healing. May we always trust the process. May we always be healing.
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