Alonso del Rio interviewed by Howard G. Charing and Peter Cloudsley.
Alonso del Rio is a powerful maestro who interweaves Shipibo and other icaros with sacred music of his own to lead you on your journey; he is both a talented musician and an inspiring communicator of the Amazonian shamanic world. He first came into contact with ayahuasca in 1979 after spending three years working with huachuma (San Pedro). This was when he met Don Benito Arevalo, a grand Shipibo shaman with whom he developed a long relationship, and who gave him his first teachings in ayahuasca and other medicinal plants.
Later, taking ayahuasca alone as part of his traditional teaching, he says: “I didn’t feel comfortable reproducing the chants that I’d learned with my maestro, so one night I picked up my guitar and began to play what came to me and the result was surprising. From then on I was never without my guitar at ceremonies and over the years many songs came to me, set to different rhythms for ceremonies and incorporating teachings and revelations from the medicine itself.” He has published three CDs to date. Alonso lives in the sacred valley of Cusco where he runs a healing centre and a primary school for local children.
The potential and purpose of Ayahuasca
For most traditional shamans, ayahuasca is a tool for diagnosing illness, and as curanderos, (healers) they will mediate with plant spirits to heal their clients both physically and spiritually. More ‘popular’ urban shamans can also use their magical powers to change your luck, for example attracting money or a lover.
On this retreat we would like to develop another aspect, perhaps even more serious, and use the plants as powerful tools for self knowledge. Amongst all the spiritual paths that the world offers, Alonso believes that, at this time, teacher plants are the best way for people to gain a deep knowledge of themselves and at the same time this can solve some problems that other paths cannot.
During his 30 years experience with ayahuasca and San Pedro, Alonso never wanted to be a shaman or attain magical powers but rather gain self development through self knowledge. He will share his discoveries to help us ‘undo’ the mental programming and the cultural conditioning (family and ancestral) which models our minds. Ayahuasca is a powerful tool for being happy and free, says Alonso.
The retreat we are holding with Alonso, could equally suit a person who has some background in Buddhism, yoga or mysticism.
It is a space for having contact with divinity without intermediaries or interpretations. Ayahuasca allows you to be gently introspective, to see your fears, worries and everything that makes you suffer! It can take you back through your life to show you at what moment the suffering took hold in your body and in your memory, how it has made you live on a superficial level because underneath there is too much pain, and as we don’t want to feel pain, how we condemn ourselves to living on the surface. With ayahuasca we can enter the pain at the time when we were children, when we experienced the first traumas and agonies of life, and cleanse it by forgiving the whole chain of events and the people who made us suffer. Traumatic experiences are inevitable in life, but what we cannot afford to do is live with resentment and blame people, as this ruins our relationships.
Some people may not be satisfied with the life they lead. Ayahuasca enables them to see their priorities. Is it following a spiritual path that you want most, or making money? Do you want to start a family or do you want to pursue your career? Constantly doing what is expected of us we cause suffering. The answers are all inside us. We must live by what we profoundly want. Ayahuasca clarifies your priorities and feelings, which are neither good nor bad in and of them selves.
Conversation with Alonso
There are many myths about the origin of Ayahuasca and there is even one which has been growing fast in the West, that Ayahuasca is what we need to get us out of the mess we’re in! But can it work for Westerners the same way if they are outside the cultural context and all the associated beliefs that go with it?
I think it works but its different. The mind of a person brought up in the selva without much contact with the Western world, probably born about 50 or 70 years ago, as are the majority of traditional maestros, have lived without watching TV and other Western influences. His mind is very different from your or my mind. So to have access to the same visions, the same codes is difficult. But what I have found is that the expansion of the consciousness and the power that the plant gives you to understand many things is perfectly valid.
The magical space to which we are taken – call it the ‘unconscious’ or any term you want to use depending on your psychological model – is one where all the kingdoms of nature can communicate. That is people can talk to plants, and plants with minerals, minerals to animals and animals with humans… all in the same language. It is a very real communication and one of the greatest mysteries which exists. This is something which an English person, or a Peruvian born in Lima can experience just as an Amazonian person. Because you can do it without speaking in a native dialect, it doesn’t go through the mind but between one spirit and another.
Some Westerners have done themselves harm by not respecting the diet properly, and some have tried to make special exceptions for foreigners.
Yes its true, and the main point they have missed is respect, respect for a tradition. Its not that there is one diet for a native and another for a Westerner. There is one diet not two! Its more than what you eat, its sex and other things too. Otherwise anyone could come along and pretend that it was a bridge to a wonderful sexual experience! There is no limit to the imagination of some New Age gurus. If you follow these traditions which have been tried and tested for thousands of years and then you want to make modifications, then probably you can do it. But first you need the nobility to undergo the full rigors of the tradition, then you can have the authority to alter things for your people. But if you can’t hack doing a proper diet, then you are not in a position to underrate it.
There was a group of Germans who after sessions with Guillermo, would go to the disco, assuming they had come down from the effects of the ayahuasca. They would dance to the very loud music. It gives you an idea of how mistaken you can get from not respecting the tradition. You need to prepare your mind and body to receive all the information which comes to you, otherwise it might destroy you like lightening burns up a tree.
As you continue to work with plant diets, you have more intense experiences, and at the same time you develop a greater capacity to resist them, until you can take the strongest plants and live more in the other reality and to be able to return to your self, to your body.
Alonso relates an Ashuar Myth
In the time of the ancestors there was a ladder, like a rope which connected the world of the Ashuar with the upper world. Here lived other beings just like the Ashuar but they were spirits. These beings were very powerful and could transform themselves into anything they wanted. One day Moon-man cut this ladder so that the people could no longer communicate with their spirits above, and thus they lost their power. Moon man refers to the way of relating to all things in everyday reality through the mind. This is what gives ‘everyday reality’ its often disempowering quality, ‘its out there and we cannot change it’. In other words the mind came between man and the spirit world. The Ayahuasca is the broken rope, but it is always there.
In all cultures there is a recollection of an era when people could talk with the spirits directly. Then civilization arrives, and holds reason as the highest human achievement. What is not rational, does not exist, and that is what has reigned until today. For 2000 years we have suffered this kind of tyranny of reason. If its not logical its not worthy of us. The next step in our evolution is the reconciliation of these two things, and will be the union of reason with intuition. It will generate a new development in humanity leading to other states of consciousness and knowledge.
So what are we to make of taboos, supposedly irrational, but they must have served some purpose because our ancestors were not stupid?
In some cases they may have become distorted in some way but generally they come from something real, so its best to respect them without rationalizing them. If we try to do that we are already on the wrong track.
Alonso del Rio is holding a workshop, Ayahuasca and San Pedro Ceremonies at the Eagle’s Wing Plant Spirit Shamanism Retreat at Mishana, October 2007. For more information, visit the author’s website.