Intro: Thanks for coming everybody this evening. Good to see an almost full lecture hall. We’re excited to have moved to a different location other than our home at Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. So, welcome to the museum that’s not at the museum. We do hope that you’re able to make it to see our exhibit at the Hearst Museum if you have not already. This talk is a part of our programming series related to our new exhibit that just opened a few weeks ago called Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer: The Worlds of Mind-Altering Substances.
And so, if you don’t know a little bit about the Hearst Museum already, the Hearst Museum cares for a collection of about 3.8 million objects from all around the world spanning 2 million years of history. And in our most recent exhibit, we featured 10 substances from around the world and seek to show the varying meanings and migrations of those substances and the objects related to those substances.
And sort of highlight the gray areas in between these ideas of Pleasure, Poison, Prescription and Prayer when it comes to mind altering substances. So, ayahuasca is actually a substance that we … Because of space constraints, collection constraints, a substance that we were not able to feature in that exhibit. And so, we’re really excited since that’s such a huge topic that we’re able to open things up so that we can cover additional substances through programs like this. So, we’re really grateful that Joe is here for this talk tonight to talk about ayahuasca. So, I want to first of all, thank my colleagues at the Hearst Museum Jessica Moreno and Katy Fleming for arranging this evening. So, this was quite a feat to have a whole shift in venue. And I’m going to introduce doctor Joe Tafur.
Joe is a Colombian American family physician originally from Phoenix, Arizona. And after completing his family medicine training at UCLA, Dr. Tafur spent two years in academic research at the UCSD Department of Psychiatry and a lab focused on mind-body medicine. After his research fellowship, over a period of six years, he lived and worked in the Peruvian Amazon at the traditional healing center Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual. There, he worked closely with master Shipibo shaman Ricardo Amaringo and trained in ayahuasca shamanism. In his new book, The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine, through a series of stories, Dr. Tafur shared his unique experience and integrative medical theories. And before I turn it over to Joe, I also want to recognize the close connection between this talk and a longtime friend of the museum who passed away last year, Dr. Michael Harner.
So, we’re grateful for his and his family’s ongoing support. He passed away last year and he was the founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. And Dr. Harner studied here at Berkeley, conducted ethnographic field work in Ecuador and Peru and served in several roles at the Hearst Museum or what was then, the Lowie Museum.
And as the Foundation states, Dr. Harner brought shamanism to contemporary life in the West after extensive field and cross cultural investigation, experimentation and personal practice. He originated, researched and developed core shamanism, a system designed for Westerners to apply shamanism and shamanic healing in their daily lives. So, thank you for being here tonight. And since this event was sold out, we don’t have all of our seats filled as you can see, but since the event was sold out and we know there was great interests, you might like to know and might like to pass onto your friends that a recording of the talk tonight is going to be posted as a podcast on Berkeley talks. So the good word of Dr. Tafur can be spread. So with that, I’ll turn it over to Joe. Thank you very much.
Joe Tafur: Hello everybody. Good evening. Thank you for having me here. Thank you to the Hearst museum and everybody, the staff for including me in this. Can you hear me all right, a little bit? Yeah, so I’m here and having to be here because there was the integrative mental health conference in San Francisco downtown. We were just there last few days and Michael Pollan spoke and Gabor Mate and Andrew Weil and they were just all about how psychedelic medicine is really entering like integrative medicine. It was kind of announced at this by Dr. Andrew Weil that it’s here now. It’s part of it. So it’s kind of come full circle, this thing. So this is my talk and then we’re going to have some time for questions. I just want to get into this material. I have this book, so I’m going to be presenting some of the ideas of the book and it’s a little bit of a medical perspective, but the point of it is more to blend the scientific kind of view or the western view and more of a traditional shamanic perspective. So, it’s called Ayahuasca Shamanism Illuminating the Interface between Biology and Emotion and Spirituality. So, this is the exhibit that’s here at their museum. Pleasure, Poison, Prescription, Prayer, the worlds of mind altering substances. And here is a little huichol peyote art from Mexico.That’s part of the exhibit.
So there’s me, he introduced me. I’m a family medicine doctor from the UC system; didn’t spend that much time in Berkeley, but I like Berkeley and I went to UCSD for medical school and UCLA for family medicine and went back to UCSD to do some mind-body medicine research that Liz discussed. And then I spent time from 2007, I got involved with a traditional Shipibo shamanism in Peru, in the Amazon. So ayahuasca shamanism, but also traditional Amazonian plant medicine, the other plants that are used in addition to ayahuasca to the present. And from 2011-2017, we founded a healing center. So, some people I met … A friend of mine from Iquitos here, but I ran a healing center, from though that period of time, where people come from all over the world to receive ayahuasca and other plant medicines for healing.
And in that process, I went through traditional apprenticeship to learn to become ayahuascero under my teacher and she runs ceremony. And so, that’s kind of like my perspective. And since then, I have a few things going on, but it includes modern spirit.org is an organization I have that we’re promoting some research and education. So, this is a quote from the website of the Hearst Museum of this exhibit. They say, “Around the globe, colonial powers have exerted their influence by casting judgment on the mind altering plants used by indigenous peoples. How did these methods of control influence how these psychotropics would migrate around the world be used and be viewed in global context today?” So, we’re now in this era where peyote, which is still a scarce resource at least from North America, spreads to some degree outside of the native community.
Mushrooms have exploded across the world from the Mazatec shamans and in southern Mexico and other psilocybin research that is going through clinical trials at the FDA level. And is making major progress and it’s probably going to lead to psilocybin becoming a prescribed medication in a psychotherapeutic context within a couple of years, they’re anticipating; on top of movements to legalize psilocybin here and elsewhere for religious use or just for decriminalizing it, period. Just for being mushrooms. And then there’s … Yeah, I guess there’s mushrooms. So, why make it against the law? And on that note, there’s ayahuasca right? So, ayahuasca is spreading out of the Amazon and definitely into the Bay Area heavily. As far as I know, this has got to be one of the headquarters outside of the Amazon.
And so, it’s interesting and then now here it is. It’s an exhibit from the anthropology museum when it was considered this very foreign, probably exotic thing, national geographic style. And now it’s come all the way through and we had it at the conference. I was a speaker at an integrated mental health conference in San Francisco two days ago or two or three. So, it’s coming around. This is a photo from Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual from the center as far as what is going on with this whole international context of ayahuasca. Well, this is a center where we are receiving this as a group from 2013 of naturopathic students. So, I live in Phoenix and we had a relationship with the naturopathic school there. So, we were bringing groups down of medical students, psychologists, psychotherapists and naturopaths to go through traditional Shipibo healing under Ricardo’s guidance.
So traditional Shipibo healing, at least this traditional Amazonian plant medicine and just like traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine or oxygen allopathic medicine, there’s many different fields and departments. So, there’s some people in traditional Amazonian plant medicine or herbalists focused on medicinal use of plants. Some people who are body workers, some people who are focused on midwifery, that kind of thing and then there are shamans. There’s ayahuasceros who are focused on spiritual healing for a wide variety of things, but have more of a spiritual focus and energetic focus.
And that’s Ricardo Amaringo. That’s a Nihue Rao tree that he’s sitting there with. That’s what the center is named for. And he’s my teacher. He’s a Shipibo, ayahuascero, curandero. They call them monaña in their culture and then some people call them shamans. They’re not so excited about that because they have their own words for their … What they do as medicine people. He is now the sole owner of Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual like this for people that are so worried about cultural appropriation and stuff like that. Well, we set up the center and we ran the center and now he bought me out and he’s the owner of one of the larger ayahuasca healing centers and it’s run by indigenous Amazonians. Yeah, that’s a real thing.
And so then, ayahuasca ceremony, he knows part of what goes on at the center. Like I said, there’s a lot of other traditional plants used. But Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday Nihue Rao, there’s ayahuasca ceremony and it’s run there and we heal people through that approach and try to help people that way. And this is a first time I saw somebody cooking while he’s wearing a Phoenix suns hat, which was weird. So, I always include that. This is a little aerial view of Nihue Rao, the center in Peru where from the drone, you could see that it’s on the edge of a national forest that is like oceanic and it’s … One side you have towns, villages and then the city. The other side is like an ocean of Amazon. So, there’s still a lot of Amazon out there.
I’m always trying to encourage people that are into ayahuasca and into these topics to think about the Amazon, to try to help the Amazon when your conscious or find ways to support the forest and the people of the forest because thanks to them, we have access to this medicine that’s helping a lot of people and a lot of other medicines. So that’s outside of Iquitos, Peru. So I have this book, The Fellowship of the River, only a few copies left because there was a kind of a run on the books at the integrated mental health conference, which was really cool that all these doctors bought it and psychologists and people like that. But, it’s available on Amazon if you want it if you can’t get it here and it’s also audio book and Kindle. So, that’s the book. It’s Fellowship of the River and it’s about what I say here: acknowledging the emotional and spiritual dimensions of illness.
So, what are we getting when shamanism comes back around when the Westerners … I’m a doctor. I trained … worked at Kaiser in California and worked for Cigna in Phoenix. And so, when the people coming through those systems are not getting the kind of healing they’re looking for, and then they go all the way to the Amazon, to Peru to go with natives in the forest, what are they looking for and what is it that they’re finding? What’s missing in our system? This advanced, allopathic scientific materialist, maybe a slightly overly capitalist system, what’s missing? Well, it seemed that what the people found, what I was tracking, was emotional and spiritual kind of considerations that the doctor wasn’t quite ready to go there in many cases. So, that’s kind of the art of healing. That’s what we call the art of healing in my idea.
And so this is a little clip from a photo from Netflix. This movie called Sky Ladder, which was about this Chinese fireworks expert. He’s like the Avatar of Chinese fireworks. And they made a Netflix … I mean, that’s a big deal, right? And he did the Beijing Olympics. So this is … that’s divine. He is going to be in the scrolls, I would imagine. And so, his dream was to make this sky ladder, to create this ladder that was going to the sky and hang it from a balloon and fighting the authorities and trying to pull off his sky ladder. And he was so dedicated to it and he said, “Art is very important. Art addresses the invisible world.” So he says, “It indicates and addresses,” that got cut off, “indicates and addresses the invisible world.”
That’s the function of art. That there is an invisible realm not so easy to measure that we experience. We experience it subjectively. We experience it in so many ways. We’re human beings. We’re alive. We feel a lot of things. We notice a lot of things, strange things, sometimes mysterious things. And so, art is one of the places where we express this freely, what it feels like to be alive. And he says it’s very important because it indicates and addresses the invisible world. And then he uses the example of Feng Shui. He says, “Feng Shui is an example of something that indicates and addresses the invisible world.”
So, this is Shipibo Kene. Kene is what they call the designs, the Shipibo designs. So, these are designs that are taken from the visionary realm. Very many people, foreigners from all over the world let the anthropologists study it. Many people from Nashi 00:15:14 peoples anywhere, Russia, Japan, they see these designs and their ayahuasca in the ceremony. It’s common, the experience. They report that. They share that. And within the culture, they’ve kind of refined a certain motifs that are drawn from the visions that are believed to be visual representations of plant medicine energies, healing energies that you can see under the influence of ayahuasca.
And many people see these things. So there’s just like indicating and addressing them. Visible world. People see this stuff and then they put it on their clothes and they put it on their skirts and they put it on to paint their house. And it’s everywhere, that this is very real, this invisible realm that they experienced in ayahuasca. They bring it out into the open. So, here’s Kene painted on a human face. So how these things interact and interface with the mysterious anatomy of the human face and how it develops from a single cell into this form and this shape. And then to see in the ayahuasca vision, sometimes somebody, they say they’re like a healer. They’re connected to the plants. People see the designs on their face. It’s common. It happens. So then, they paint this to show everybody what they saw.
So Feng Shui indicates and addresses the invisible worlds. “In Chinese mythology, Feng Shui is a system of spiritual energies, both good and evil, present in the natural features of landscapes.” That’s Wikipedia. What I understand from what I read in Wikipedia, it says Feng Shui means wind and water. I think that’s … I don’t know which one’s which, but Feng Shui is wind and water. “An ancient Chinese system of designing buildings and space arrangement according to special rules about the flow of energy aimed at achieving harmony with the environment.” So what are these invisible forces that shape the landscape and make the river flow this way and make the wind blow this way? There’s forces. There’s things we could study in them across the scales that they need to be studied, but there’s something there. There’s something there that’s part of that process. It’s an invisible force and their presence in the landscape is proof of that invisible force and the beauty of so called creation.
And this is how it looks. It’s from that. And so, similarly when people try to apply Feng Shui in a physical space, it’s not necessarily driven by aesthetics. The idea is you’re trying to be in alignment with these invisible forces. So, there’s a harmony, an energetic harmony that people are reaching for, that people then claim in their subjective sensibility. They sense that, “Oh, I like the way this feels here in this space.” I’m gonna say, “Oh, well it’s because we’ve studied how to arrange things in a certain way that it brings that sense of harmony.” So, that’s an example of using art to indicate and address invisible forces.
So, we’re … I think this is a physics building. I don’t know. I was looking around. I think it’s physics. So, electromagnetic field, that’s one simple example of an invisible force in the scientific world. That’s a huge part of our lives and that you don’t necessarily see it. We don’t see the five g or the four g that’s flowing all around us like full of movies and information and everything, I guess my presentation. So these are invisible forces that we don’t necessarily see, right? We believe we do interact with them when we learn how to use them and draw from them. And there’s ways to indicate and address them like this with the magnet and the iron filings.
So HeartMath, which was related to some stuff at Institute of Noetic Sciences, I think, in Petaluma. And they’re doing this research on the electromagnetic field of the heart. For example, that the electromagnetic field of the heart, which is a very measurable phenomenon. It is the basis of the ekg, which we use as doctors to study what’s going on with somebody’s heart and how healthy their heart is, etcetera. But that this field that’s generated, that’s measured on the surface of the body, goes out a few feet away. And this idea that they’re … the same body that produces it perhaps is sensitive to the same phenomenon. And that’s something.
So, art is very important and it addresses the invisible world which we can feel and experience, but not always measure. And so, this is getting it on a human face, on a pot, this multidimensional situation and then you could grow ayahuasca in there or you could drink it from there. And there it is. So, curanderismo, like spiritual healing techniques like this kind of Spanish term for the spiritual healing also addresses invisible worlds. Okay. That’s the purpose of that kind of people going to a shaman to a healer, to a curandero to an ayahuascero. You’re asking to go to somebody that’s going to help you address some invisible elements of what’s going on. So, invisible causes invisible sources of aid aimed at achieving harmony. So, scientists struggle with the mysteries of life. Sometimes discouraging the acknowledgement of our feelings, our subjective experience.
Here we are on this physics building. The quantum physicists and the mathematicians, supposedly so rational, so logical, so materialistic or something like that. According to their extrapolations, there’s at least, I don’t know, I think for quantum out here there’s at least 10 dimensions or maybe there’s 12 or 15 or 20 that the mathematics points to this. That the models all point to this. So, there’s a lot of mystery indicated by our measurement currently.
But sometimes that mystery, we kind of in the scientific world, I don’t know, somehow it gets denied. We’d ignored … We discourage sometimes the acknowledgement of our feelings. As a doctor, that’s a big issue when I was going through medical school. How do I feel about what’s going on? “Oh, don’t worry about that. Let’s get the labs, let’s get the x-rays.” So, our subjective experience is sometimes denied. So, we limit the discussion to our mental, whatever that is. So, mental is a huge metaphysical realm that somehow arbitrarily within the society and the culture is described as if that’s normal mental. We don’t even know where our thoughts come from. We don’t even know where consciousness exists, but somehow that’s arbitrarily not considered mysterious. I can talk about mental, but I can’t … I can talk about maybe visualizing for sports like my runway or whatever is going on the ski slopes and visualize and guided imagery.
But if I think about some intentionality or a praying or reaching the way, the same kind of function, my imagination is a complete mystery. Where is it that I’m drawing these ideas from? What is it … What portal am I opening myself up to? But still, mental and physical experiences. Traditional healers are artists. They do not distinguish themselves from the mysteries of life. So I don’t have to pretend that … I don’t have to see how it fits into a box. If I feel something, if my intuition tells me something that I can later investigate with somebody and verify or not verify and see where that leads me, I can do that as a living human person. And as a healer, I can bring that to my work.
This is art from El Mac. He’s a graffiti artist. He does murals from Phoenix, from Arizona, from Mesa. And I just think it’s interesting. His art and the way it looks to me reminds me of things I see in ayahuasca. Where does he get those ideas from? Where is that from? So, psychotherapist. I presented this stuff at a psychotherapy conference. They are also artists. So they’re addressing the invisible influence of, for example, emotional trauma and our belief systems. The way our belief systems influence our health. Whether it’s the placebo effect and just what we believe or how we see and we don’t hope that we believe we can get better, or what do we think is wrong with us? So those things, those invisible influences, emotional trauma, our belief systems, the way they influence our mental … This measurable thing, the mental because I guess we have a psychometric measures, although they’re very subjective. They’re considered to be fact.
So, mental and physical health are influenced by these invisible things. Emotional trauma, which is only now getting a lot more attention. The way emotional trauma affects our health longterm. And then our belief systems, the way we see ourselves in the world. So, where do these invisible energies, where do they touch the flesh? The way that Kene is here on this lady’s face or the way the acupuncture Meridians are drawn in Chinese medicine crossing over the body. And so then, brings us to the treatment. So, the book is partially about my journey, but it’s also about watching people go through treatment down there as a doctor and seeing people go into the system where they’re going to allow this invisible discussion. They’re going to allow this artistry to happen and they’re going to also allow the person’s experience subjectively of emotional trauma and the way they believe and what they see and what they feel. That’s going to come to the forefront of their treatment.
And so, when people come down there to Nihue Rao, they go through this traditional Shipibo healing and it involves a vegetalista diet. So, that’s part of this particular tradition. Not all ayahuasca people are into that, but these guys are. And you have this very strict diet that’s part of you preparing yourself to receive the medicine and make the most of the medicine. No salt and no sugar and etcetera, etcetera. Okay. All these restrictions. Then these people are given plantas maestras, master plants. So “maestra” in Spanish is more like teacher. It means master, but more teacher. The way you call the teacher of the school was “maestra.” It’s like master, yes, but it means teacher. So, plants that have been shown or then explored and experimented with that they can teach you things about yourself, about your life according to the tradition.
So, people are guided to diet with these master plants. Then, they’re treated in ayahuasca ceremony and within the ayahuasca ceremony, they have the option of consuming ayahuasca along with the shamans or the healers. And then, they’re going to receive Icaro. In the traditional Shipibo, there’s many different forms of shamanism around ayahuasca and different ways of performing Icaro and singing these mystical healing songs. But in this particular setting in Nihue Rao, then yeah, they get a personal healing song. An Icaro, which is considered to be the art of the shaman. The strength of the shaman’s medicine. And that’s where the energetic healing and cleaning happens, in the song. That’s where the invisible work is happening, in the healing, in addition to supporting somebody through an ayahuasca experience. And then through this wild exotic, anthropological, whatever, museum quality treatment technique, modality, these people, many many, I watch hundreds of people go through the center as a doctor.They achieved a lot of mental and physical healing. Okay. What we would describe as mental, psychological healing and even healing physical symptoms through spiritual techniques.
So, here’s an example of the cases that I present in the book. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, which is a hot topic right now. So, post traumatic stress disorder was considered kind of a subset of anxiety disorder. So, from big trauma, whether that’s war or sexual trauma or other forms of trauma. There’s an unexplainable chronic cough case. A lady that had this cough, dry cough won’t go away, went to all the doctors, went to the cat scan, the pulmonary function testing and the pulmonologists; not getting better. She got better with this approach. Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease. People, there’s Crohn’s disease. There’s ulcerative colitis. There’s irritable bowel syndrome. All of these kind of what are considered to some degree, psychosomatic gastrointestinal problems, digestive problems.This guy had a miraculous healing with this kind of medicine.
Psoriasis, inflammatory skin problems, Eczema, psoriasis that are known to get worse when people are stressed out and have genetic factors. But also there’s maybe other factors. Anxiety, big focus of research with psychedelics here. Silo sideman for end of life. Anxiety in cancer patients is getting a lot of airtime right now. They’re having a lot of success. Depression, okay. This big epidemic all over the country. Depression. Addiction, huge problem. Not really getting better with the advances and kind of medical research. That approach that’s not looking at this emotional side. That’s not looking at the spiritual side is not having a lot of success with addiction, but down there, they are reporting on more success with addiction with psychedelic medicines and traditional plant medicine. Migraine headache. I presented a case of a migraine headache had a major improvement.
As a medical doctor, these are all the problems that we don’t even think they can get better. That’s just like chronic disease management is what you’re looking at there. I’m family medicine doctor, so every one of those people … PTSD is going to go to the psychiatrist basically for the rest of their life. The chronic cough is not getting better; they’re going to hang out with a pulmonologist. Hopefully things improve. Crohn’s disease, they’re going to go to the GI doctor for the rest of their life. Psoriasis is a derm problem. Anxiety, depression, addiction, kind of psych problems, migraine, headache, neurology. And so, that’s the deal. And so, that’s what I had been exposed to. And then yet, I saw these people have this huge improvement through this treatment. I just described it in the last slide.
They all had the same treatment with different plants, but largely the same basic treatment. And so, why? So I said, “If they’re all getting better from the same kind of treatment, then there must be some kind of common physiology between these problems.” That’s how it always works. We still have a material body and if it’s all working, then they must have something in common. And what is in common in these cases, and I’m not saying it’s always the case for these per diagnoses, but in these cases it was emotional trauma. These people all went through a very deep emotional healing. That deep emotional healing was facilitated by a spiritual context. They learn to forgive. They learn to love themselves. They learned to find compassion. They learn to re-experience gratitude. And those were … There was a lot of energetic cleansing and purging and catharsis.
The ayahuasca also facilitated that led to rapid gains, but there is no doubt, like a very mystical quality to how they improved. So, treating these seemingly invisible elements of our emotional experience, our spiritual lives, our sense of meaning and purpose. Someone who just feels lost in life, doesn’t feel like they have a place in life. They don’t even belong here. This existential crisis they’re ashamed to even be born. And so, how do you help somebody like that? This way, there’s belief systems. So, where do these emotional and spiritual influences touch the flesh? Where does it touch the flesh? Back to that question again. So, we have the Kene on the face and the Chinese Meridians, the chi. And so, where can we find the related physiology and the biochemistry? So, if I’m saying, “Everybody here who has all emotional healing and so there must be some common emotional physiology. There must be some common emotional biology that’s impacted by what they’d been through and we should be able to find it actually. We have enough knowledge now.”
And so I’d say, “Well, that’s the emotional body,” which I’m going to describe. And then the epigenetics. These two new kinds of areas of research. So, how do we … Like I tell people all the time and this is where … How do we bridge? People are like, “Don’t you go crazy? How can you drink ayahuasca and work on people in ayahuasca. Then you’re a doctor. Doesn’t that make you crazy? How can it all make sense?” That’s because it’s always the westerner that has a really hard time when things … when their worldview starts getting cracked. Like, “Oh my God, was that real? Was that real? Is this real? Was that real?”
The indigenous people, I worry they don’t have that. It’s so much. They’re just like, “Oh wow, that happened. That was wild. That was…” But they’re not … They’re like, “It’s gone now,” But then, “Woo!” But they’re not so worried about the implications for how they see the world, how they think about the world. But there’s this lockup and it is hard. And I am a doctor and I mean, I can understand to a degree. I’m a western person, but when I’m trying to figure out how to bring this together, traditional healing song and ayahuasca and plants and this kind of healing of migraine headaches or psoriasis, it’s the patient is the bridge. Okay. That’s how you explain it. That’s what it is. And that’s the difference when a doctor goes or a psychotherapist goes to work alongside shamans. It’s different because we’re comparing notes. I’m not seeing them like, “Some of this real distant whatever this earlier stuff … Anthropology or the meeting of the cultures part of it was just trying to … Are these the same species as us?”
That’s kind of … There’s a lot of that attitude. “Well, how could they, how they think, how could I, that couldn’t affect me?” Sure they believe in all this stuff. That can’t affect you if you don’t believe in that. If you’re not from there. That’s not your blood, then you’re just not gonna touch you. But then people are flocking to the Amazon from every part of the world, from every race in the world to receive a Shipibo healing song and readily. Guess what? They’re all human beings. They’re all human beings and they can take pills just like you take pills and you can take ayahuasca the way they take ayahuasca. Carefully, very carefully. There’s a lot of risks and I’m not trying to promote ayahuasca. I’m simply saying that it’s there.
And so people … You can watch a person and you can hear what did the shaman say about them. You can hear what did the patients say about their experience? What did the doctor say about their experience? And then you use those three perspectives to try to understand what happened because that’s what really happened. It’s not about trying to fit the diagnosis or what … “No, it didn’t … Nothing happened.” It’s like, “No, talk to the person.” If it’s your family, you were going to ask him. “I’m going to ask my brother whether I’m a doctor. I’m not a doctor. I’m going to ask him what happened.” It’s very important. It’s very real to me and to him. So, the patient is the bridge and there’s this thing. There’s just as we talk about mind-body. There’s this mind-body that’s kind of hitting the mainstream. Mind-body connection. Mind-body medicine. Talking about meditation and the way stress affects illness and how by stress making people sick.
That’s a big area of mind-body research or the way meditation and mindfulness and all these things are helping people. There’s another pair that other systems talk about like Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine or maybe like a traditional native cultures. You talk about emotion paired to energy. The emotional body paired to the energy. The emotional body pair to the spirit. Okay? That’s the spirit. That’s … The mystery is there. So just as we paired mind-body, there’s a pair here. And through your emotional being and through what you sense and feel, is how you become aware of the mystery of things that don’t add up, that are beyond the scope of your mind. So, when somebody has a very strong mystical experience that they feel is very very meaningful, when you think “Well, that was really meaningful. What just happened? You feel it.”
The reason it makes a mark is because you feel that in your whole being. And so, there’s that part of you that feels and senses the world and it feels what’s inside of you. And so, I’m calling that the emotional body. That’s what some people call it. It’s the medium through which you feel this stuff. So, the emotional body and the medium through which we experience emotion and feeling. And so that’s the … This is just a Finnish study I think, where they asked people subjectively, “Where do you feel these different emotions in your body?” And they just mapped what everyone said and they got this crossover based on what people said. They had this physical map like, “Oh they feel the shame in this regions of their body. They’re blushing. The pride is like up top in their heart and their mind.” And so, there’s these different things that the people have a common experience of emotions. And so then, this mind-body research that I was a part of, whether setting all this stress influence on disease and psychological influence on disease, they have described a network called the psycho … First they were talking about psychosomatic medicine.
They used to have a psychosomatic. And then they started sending this, a psycho neuro immunology. PNI meaning the way your brain and your psychology affects your nervous system, affects your immune system. PNI. And then there’s PNEI where your hormones are also affected. Then, there’s a network that responds together and I’m saying this is the emotional body. Why do I say this is the emotional body? Because this network, you can show that emotional trauma disturbs this network and you can show that deep emotional healing alleviates function and this network. And that’s a phenomenon that we’ve measured.
So, there’s the limbic brain. The emotional brain is kind of at the core of this. The limbic brain and the way it’s linked into the autonomic nervous system, the immune system. The autonomic nervous system that controls the expression of our emotions. The way it feels to feel emotion: when your stomach rumbles, when you’re anxious, when your breathing speeds up, when you’re a little agitated or excited, when you sweat, when you’re uncomfortable, when you cry, when you throw up on ayahuasca. You go to the bathroom on ayahuasca. You shake. That’s your autonomic nervous system.
And then the endocrine system. The hormones that … The main ones that we could kind of focus on. There are stress hormones and adrenaline and things like that. Cortisol that you hear a lot about. Cortisol, the stress hormone. That’s part of the system. There’s this HPA axis you may have heard of. I don’t know. It’s pretty medical, but the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal access. This access, which is called the stress response system in the body. The fight or flight response is controlled by this. And this is what affects adrenaline levels and cortisol levels. And it’s a big focus of research in mind-body medicine. The way stress affects illness. The way stress affects high blood pressure, right? It turns out high blood pressure is highly psychosomatic. Like don’t talk about it enough, but it’s a fact that they’ve measured in this whole PNI field, all the data is there.
That’s a real thing. Depression, the way it affects your immune function. The way your white blood cells and all that … The way they’re affected by being depressed. That’s part of that research. Emotional trauma affecting the stress response system. PTSD, like war trauma affecting somebody’s stress response system and their HPA axis is thrown off and they’re hyper vigilant and they’re super agitated and they’re quick to anger and they can’t rest and their blood pressure goes up and their heart has problems and their inflammatory system is not working right. This is just some papers. I’m not getting into the details, but just to give you an example of research. Examining the crux of autonomic dysfunction and PTSD, endocrine aspects of PTSD and implications for diagnosis and treatment. Pro inflammatory milieu. There’s increased inflammatory milieu. Their inflammation disturbed by PTSD. This is a big thing in psychedelic medicine right now as maps who’s here in the bay area and Santa Cruz and do as a lot of work here.
The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies has been running these MDMA trial. So, they opened up this MDMA research and they think by 2021, it’s going to be prescribed. It’s going to be rescheduled or something. Why? Because the results of the study are so impactful that you just can’t hold it back from people. And so, they have this MDMA assisted psychotherapy for PTSD. And so, they’ve done the first studies that were just showing that this is safe. This is effective. How long does it last? They’re already at that level, following people one year or two years saying, “This is real.” They’re having lasting results. It’s not just, “Oh they got high and nothing really happened.” And then, you have … Going after the more conservative elements to society. MDMA assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, for military veterans, firefighters, police officers. Trying to really reach out and help the traumatized elements of the society, not just for people that are psychonauts.
So, PTSD in the emotional body. So, I’m saying this is a disease of the emotional body, of this network. I just have it on diagram, psycho neuro endocrine immunologic system. This whole network is affected by emotional trauma. For example, war trauma. You have psychological anxiety, nightmares, neurology. They get the autonomic stress response dysfunction. I talked about endocrinologic stuff, cortisol, adrenaline levels I talked about. And this inflammatory disturbance in the immune system. So, in the book, I talk about this case. Russ is a family friend of mine. He’s a Vietnam vet that was in Vietnam in the late 60’s. So this is like 40 years later. He’s still suffering for this problem. He’s going to the VA and he’s going to group therapy with guys coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq that are in their twenties and they see him in his 60’s and they think, “Am I going to be coming to this group for the rest of my life?”
Like, yes. Is that … If they want to because there are symptoms. They’re not really being addressed effectively by the system. But now, this new hope of MDMA assisted psychotherapy is like, “Whoa these people, they don’t even qualify for PTSD.” So 60% of them from the last data, they report it. So, Russ went through a treatment in ayahuasca healing. And I talk about that in the book and his thing … Ricardo, the shaman, is like, “What we gotta do … We’ve got to heal him. It’s energy. We’re going to approach it energetically.” So, there’s this mind-body and there’s this physical side. The emotional experiences, psycho neuroendocrinologic network and there is … That’s the physical and then I’m going to get into a little bit how that plays into this allostatic load, like measurements of cortisol levels and different autonomic disturbance and the way that’s related to epigenetics.
But then on the other side, this emotional body’s also linked to this energy part of ourselves, the energy body. And so, the Shipibos are saying that a lot of other people are saying we can just go after just like this. It’s this interesting leap because if you have a lot of emotional blockage and disturbance, it can really block your intuition for example. When people come and they’re really blocked, as we say, blocked … Shipibos say, “If they come drink ayahuasca and they don’t see anything. He doesn’t open up. Maybe it’s just physical.” And then they start going through a cleaning process. And this happens. You can watch this happen every week, then it opens. Now all of a sudden, they didn’t believe in anything. Now all of a sudden they’re saying, “Oh my, was that God?” And so this idea of this nihilism of a society is in part due to this heavily unaddressed trauma blockage in the emotional being. And as you start opening that up, when you start treating people’s emotional trauma, their hearts open more. Their minds open more.
That’s very common. I mean, it’s just something you can observe. And so, what’s funny is that’s like a portal and the portal goes both ways. So, you can approach somebody energetically to get this through the energy and that’s healing song. That’s Icaro in our tradition and they use ayahuasca to help open people to that because they don’t … it’s hard to believe in that if you never seen that before. But ayahuasca makes it easier sometimes for people. And so, Russ had an experience where Ricardo singing to him and all these dark black leeches are getting ripped and pulled out of his body and all this stuff and he’s throwing up and all this stuff is coming out. This big release. This big purge that leads to him having wild experiences with his mom that passed away, he had some unresolved stuff with. And his mom forgiving him and asking … He was able to ask forgiveness and have this deep heartfelt shift that ended up resulting in with his daughters that he wasn’t able to be there with his daughters. He wanted to be coming back from Vietnam. And then he has this whole forgiveness process and he comes back and his blood pressure was down. He doesn’t need so much medication and his diabetes is getting better and it’s easier for him. And he’s not so reactive and he’s not so jumpy and he doesn’t take psych drugs anymore from that.
So, that’s an example. So what about the biochemistry? What about … I said okay, emotional body and I said biochemistry. What about the biochemistry? Where are these energies in the body? It’s on the book I talk about. I was singing to somebody. So, then I’m training. I talk about my training and I’m singing to this woman that has this migraine headache history and she’s struggling and you can get the whole story there. And ayahuasca shows me this image I had my friend paint of what I call her chromatin. So, the DNA is wrapped up in these proteins packaged up to make the chromosomes. So it’s these histone proteins. So, the DNA is wrapped up in these things and I saw histones floating and pink glowing. He didn’t do the pink, but we’re still working on it. And I saw this little black dragon swimming through nooks and crannies of her genetic material. And ayahuasca said to me, she goes, “Joe, her problem isn’t in her genes. It’s on her genes.”
I was like, “Oh, well you got migraines and your family has migraines and that’s it. It’s in the blueprint.” She’s like, “No, it’s on her genes.” And so that was real interesting for me and to them. I’m going through that process and it started exploring epigenetics and learning more about epigenetics. So epigenetics. This is DNA strand, like the chromosome. And you start unraveling the chromosome and you see the DNA is wrapped around these little histone proteins. And this is a big focus of modern medicine now, big breakthrough. Epigenetics showing how these little tags that get put down, these epigenetic factors get put down along with the strand or in the proteins affect the way the genes are expressed. So, the same genes are expressed very differently because of the way the epigenetics is programmed. That’s what I talk about it. There’s a hardware and then there’s a software.
And so, Bruce Lipton, his book about epigenetics. I think it’s Biology of Belief. And he’s saying it’s like there’s a contractor, there’s a blueprint. The DNA code is a blueprint, but then there’s a contractor that reads that blueprint and that contractor is influenced by the environment, constantly responding to the environment. And so, this is a huge versatility of the biological system available from the epigenetics. The simplest example is just your different blood cells, your body cells. I got a eyeball and I got a hand and I got a red blood cell. They’re all with the same DNA exactly. Same DNA exactly. It just programmed differently to be differentiated. So, that epigenetic program and you can undo that programming and make stem cells. They can harvest a thing, unprogram it and make a whole sheet from that.
So, there’s this thing. There’s a lot of software in there and it turns out this software and the way that epigenetics can be affected, it’s turning out to be a really big deal in terms of cancer, in terms of autoimmune disease, in terms of diabetes and mental health, depression, anxiety, addiction. So, just migraine I didn’t even know that … I didn’t think about how what she learned in the process was that her migraine headaches were heavily related to all her father’s rage when she was a little girl. And all the screaming and throwing stuff off the table that she lived through and the way it just overwhelmed her senses and kind of fried her circuits and crossed them. So now, a smell or the light or whatever brings on the headache. Or in her case, hormonal shifts around her menstruation pushed her over the edge.
It’s really bad migraines and I didn’t really hear about childhood trauma or stress leading to migraines as a doctor. And I find these papers, Migraine: Maladaptive Brain Responds to Stress. Childhood Maltreatment and the Migraine Patient from 2016. Epigenetic Mechanisms and Migraine: A Promising Avenue. Epigenetics and Migraine: Complex Mitochondrial Interaction. So all this epigenetic research around migraines that I didn’t know about. So, Lisa had a major healing down there that ultimately, the key to getting past where she had to go and it was a difficult journey for her, was with some severe headaches through the process was about letting go of that anger and rage that she had with her father and learning how to forgive him and learning how to accept him at a deep spiritual level. And she had a major resolution of her migraine headaches, just a reality. She just used to be debilitated three days, can’t do anything, has to take this kind of medication. Then, the next two years, takes barely any medication, has almost no symptoms from that. That was her experience.
So, Ricardo is always talking about cleaning energies. We’ve gotta clean their energies. That’s what they need. Energy clean. And Shipibo always say, “Soa, soa.” That’s clean in the song. Clean, clean. The song, “Soa soa soa soa.” So, cleaning the energies of … What are we cleaning? The shaman’s like, “Oh, we gotta clean their trauma. We’ve got to clean their strong emotional experiences they’ve had from their infancy, from in utero, from adolescence, from their environment, from their relationships, from their ancestors and their families.”
So then, we see these energy. Where do these energies live? And I’m saying … I’m starting to think maybe it’s the epigenetics. That’s where they get imprinted in. That’s where they get programmed in and that’s what we’re cleaning. And so, we should see a healing at the epigenetic level also. So this just papers. Early life trauma, depression and the glucocorticoid receptor gene, the cortisol receptor gene. The way the cortisol receptor gene is affected epigenetically from childhood trauma and how that’s connected to depression later in life. The signature maternal rearing. And so this is just monkey studies where they’re showing how, when you pull them away from their mom and they go through that neglect, you can see imprints and the epigenetics in parts of the system, the DNA network in their limbic brain, in their white blood cells. It stays in there.
There’s ancestral trauma now. It’s starting to come forward from the epigenetic research that it’s carried down. They’re studying Holocaust survivors and their children and showing that it looks like some epigenetic imprinting going on. Why are these kids whose parents were in the Holocaust were in concentration camps, have more prevalence of anxiety? Is it, “Oh, it’s because their parents were traumatized and so they don’t know how to raise the kids.” And it’s like, that’s part of it probably. The nature versus nurture, but then it turns out there’s epigenetic imprints that they can link back to that time. And then, these mouse studies where they shock these mice every time they smell a certain smell until the mouse freaks out. Just from the smell, they’re now conditioned to freak out to the smell. And then there are multiple generations after that have that sensitivity to the smell.
It’s part of how instinct is imprinted into the system. So, that mouse and their progeny are adapted to a new ecosystem. When they move in somewhere new and they have to start tracking what’s repulsive with some predator, some smell. What’s good, some good smelling little berries and some of that stuff tracks into the system and it’s emotional memory as a way to think about it and that can get passed on. So, that’s the adaptive response, but there is such a thing as maladaptive stress response. Things that are imprinted that you’re trying to protect your children to carry this information. However, it was a concentration camp in Eastern Europe, not that useful to them. So, you got to heal that. You got to clear that out of the epigenome. We know that the epigenome responds to antidepressants interestingly enough. That that’s one of the functions of anti … They alter epigenome.
Parental love or the lack thereof. All this neglect, all the stuff they study, they show that love actually … Turns out that epigenetics seem sensitive to love. A loved monkey or whatever you want to call it, but I think we know what love is. I think it’s okay to throw that out there. Loving the children, that’s a real thing that has epigenetic implications and not loving them also does.
Meditation has been shown to alter the epigenetics. Meditation, advanced meditators can alter the epigenetics within a few hours is what the study I saw. So, altered states of consciousness effect. So, it’s a very sensitive element of our biochemistry. It seems sensitive to very emotional exchange, sensitive to a meditation, altered states of consciousness and as it turns out, psychotherapy. Psychotherapy has been shown to alter epigenetics as well. So, there’s no material exchange, just this relationship with this person and working through issues.
And I’m saying probably emotional and energetic healing techniques also affect epigenetics. Icaros, for example, as a theory. So, this is just more data. HPA axis related genes responds to psychological therapies. So, psychotherapy and epigenetics, psychotherapy and genetic neuroscience. It is concluded that although the evidence is still limited at this stage, extent research does indeed suggest that psychotherapy may be associated with epigenetic changes.
And so Ricardo, when he’s talking about cleaning these kind of energies of these certain experiences in life, each one of these is a major epigenetic focus. Epigenetic imprinting in utero is a big study area: childhood, infancy, lot of emotional epigenetics. A lot of programming goes on in those windows, which is very sensitive and adapting. Adapting to try to be prepared for life. But then there’s still later trauma that can imprint in adolescence or let’s say war in an adult.
The environments influence. Relationships influence. Ricardo is always saying, “Oh, the relationship with their mom. We got to sing to him about that.” And then ancestral stuff which we just touched on. So, psychedelic therapy I say, is healing hearts and souls by healing the emotional body and the epigenome. That’s where it touches together. And so, we have our Modern Spirit Epigenetics Project. So, modern spirit from my visions and my idea and talking to a lot of people and doing research for the book, we realize, “Wow, we should start looking at epigenetics and these psychedelic trials.” So, maps has agreed to allow us to collect saliva and check for epigenetic changes for the people that are going through this PTSD healing. So, that started. We’re raising money. We have who started the study. We have someone who could use more money. Maybe some of you have money. That’s at USC. So, it’s maps and it’s USC introductory Alcon. And so that’s what I want to talk to you about. I want to open it up to questions. And so, let’s have some questions.