The dream of a free society where psychedelic exploration is not prohibited is coming true. Acknowledgment of the medicinal and spiritual benefits of such activity is steadily breaking through to the mainstream. It’s hard to say when this transformation will be complete but that we are headed in that direction is increasingly obvious. Those of us with direct experience of intentional psychedelic therapy have seen that the personal effects that can arise will range from the subtle to the dramatic. Gentle bursts of creativity as well as total emancipation from addiction are not at all uncommon. How these personal breakthroughs will translate into a more generalized social shift is being slowly revealed. The transformation is of course more evident in some areas than in others.
One of the more pronounced examples of this trend exists just outside of the historic city of Cusco, Peru, where a community of international seekers have settled in the area known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The valley is studded with ancient ruins perched along the surrounding mountaintops. Only a few hours away sits the stunning wonder of Machu Picchu. That the area has long been utilized as a hub for spiritual activity is practically certain. The vast majority of travelers who have made the pilgrimage to the valley seem to be engaged in a modern continuance of the same spiritual impulse that must have existed in the area since the first stone blocks were cut and placed on a lonely desolate mountaintop. The current practice of choice seems to be the ceremonial ingestion of psychedelic plant materials.
Besides the spiritual magnetism that seems to act as a sort of vortex for the sensitive passerby, there are other more pragmatic reasons as to why the valley has grown to become a mecca for psychedelic activity. Thanks to the timeless tradition of sacramental use of psychoactive plants among many indigenous peoples in the surrounding area, the Peruvian government has remained relatively tolerant in terms of allowing the religious practice of plant-based shamanism to continue unabated. The fact that the recent boom of psychedelic tourism is being more or less capitalized by many Peruvians probably doesn’t hurt either. The effect of all this has fostered the creation of a distinct community of western spiritual seekers where psychedelic ceremonies are openly practiced and publicized.
I had been hearing about the psychedelic scene of the valley for several years already when I finally arrived in the fall of 2014. Members of certain ayahuasca drinking circles had advised me that the town of Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Incas was the best place to go to find regularly occurring huachuma (a.k.a. San Pedro cactus) ceremonies. Within a week of my arrival, I was sitting next to a scenic rushing river with the energetic force of the medicinal cactus flowing through me. The casually conducted ceremony was led by a Russian expat and I was accompanied by several other members of the community that I would get to know over the next month.
I eventually found my way into a shared living situation in a house just outside of town. My housemates were an international mix of seekers in their twenties and thirties. All of their lives had been changed by the power of psychedelic medicine. In fact, almost every single member of the local spiritual community had at one point gone through some sort of personal transformation that was usually brought on by ayahuasca. It was very rare for me to witness any consumption of alcohol. If I had chosen to indulge, I’d have worried that my new friends might consider me to be some kind of weirdo for doing so. Being a budget traveler in his mid-twenties doing a tour of South America, this environment was certainly an exception to the usual boozy vibe of the gringo trail.
If the Sacred Valley can be considered an experiment on how a modern western community might function if it were to have psychedelics as a primary influence, I would suppose its success would be determined by the overall mental and physical health of it’s members. I will go ahead and assume that a near complete lack of alcohol abuse is a good indication that one’s faculties are in order as any sort of self-destructive behaviour is usually a sign of inner turmoil. And although it is fairly common to stumble across a conversation that may consider the actual existence of inter-dimensional reptilian overlords, the fact that such talk is followed by either yoga, meditation, or a hike in the mountains negates any suggestion of mental deterioration. These popular activities also demonstrate the general tendency to maintain an active lifestyle. In comparison to a typical western neighbourhood, the apparent level of health seems to be much higher in the valley. That much of the produce comes from local and organic farms would help to account for this.
The tendency for denizens of the valley to explore lesser known areas of human experience is undoubtedly impressive. I doubt there exists anywhere else in the world with such a varied array of shamanic practice. There is obviously a large number of ceremonies that utilize the more commonly known sacraments of huachuma and ayahuasca. But there are also other sacraments making the rounds that I imagine most people have never heard of. Among these are the tobacco snuff known as rape (pronounced rap-EH), an eye-drop medicine called Sananga, and the infamous frog medicine known as Kambo. As far as I could tell, each one of these substances would be administered with a high regard for the original tradition from which it arose.
And if one should happen to seek enlightenment outside the realm of psychoactive substance, options also abound. In the space of a couple months, one could become trained in a wide range of disciplines. From Ancient Thai Massage to Reiki energy healing, many of the courses offered are taught by certified professionals at a cost much less than what one would encounter in a modern western city. It’s almost as if some kind of decentralized and alternative university is being unconsciously set up for the area. As the community continues to grow and mature, I imagine the loosely established education programs will continue to evolve alongside.
It would be disingenuous to proclaim that the Sacred Valley is a template for a perfect existence. There is still an abundance of human foibles that serve as the basis for much gossip and even distrust. Whether someone is profiteering off of the distribution of sacred plant medicine or whether someone may be succumbing to the all-too-common “guru complex” are some of many legitimate concerns that float around the valley. There is also the important question of how the spiritual community relates and interacts with the local populace, most of whom live in considerable poverty when compared to the so-called developed nations. To be fair, I did notice that the locals of the area seemed to be friendlier and more courteous than other areas I visited that had been overrun with tourism. I would hope that this behaviour is a response to the greater social awareness that can arise with a regular spiritual practice.
If there exists anywhere else in the world with such an established modern psychedelic community that is able to practice their discipline in an open and public manner, it would be worth looking into the similarities it may have with what’s happening in the Sacred Valley. As psychedelic therapy continues to infiltrate mainstream society, these experimental communities will offer an increasingly valuable window into how the world might look if we were to fully embrace the healing potential of psychedelics. My own brief journey into the Sacred Valley lifestyle has only further solidified my conviction that this direction must become an essential part of our near future if we are to evolve into a healthy and productive civilization.
photo found via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/emmanueldyan/4288057674/