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Study 5.

In What Ways Is The Ayahuasca Experience Expressed Throughout Literature?

Doctoral Dissertation by Bradley James Gardner.

This dissertation is an exploration of an unknown landscape. It is literally as well as metaphorically, a journey deep into the jungle of literature, where the exploration of consciousness meets the actually expression of this experience. I have looked at literary texts dealing with direct experience, indigenous oral sources, religious song, as well as literary accounts. The interdisciplinary nature of these sources reflects that an understanding of the experience transgress across many different areas if study, from anthropology, philosophy, psychology, ethnobotany to theories of creativity. Although taking all of these perspectives into account I will be focusing on literature, considering the possibilities of communicating such a profound experience through this artistic medium. Indeed, this task may seem tantalisingly diverse as it raises many fundamental questions on the nature of consciousness, and the ability to communicate areas, which we have no systematic or formal way of recording. Where are we going (whether this is viewed with or outside ourselves) while under the influence of Ayahuasca? To put it another way, what terrain are we exploring and thus trying to express? And, in what form do we experience such a phenomena? It is through this form that we begin to assimilate occurences into a natural language, one in which we are able to construct the experience. It is the analysis of creativity therefore, the ability to bridge the gap between our natural language and our constructed one, which can give us a pathway towards
understanding those otherwise undefined territories of the mind.

As Breton says in the Manifeste de Surrealisme, “if the depths of our mind harbour strange forces capable of increasing those of the surface, or of successfully contending with them, then it is in all our interest to canalize them, to canalize them first in order to submit them later, if necessary to the control of reason.” This is the driving force of the artist, and this statement may be applied in general to those engaged in the attempt to explore and express the furthest reaches of consciousness, and more specifically through the use of Ayahuasca. It is to take hold and express those experiences that are incomprehensible to the reasonable mind, but offer potential access to both wisdom and power in ways we have yet to completely grasp.

In order to assess whether it is possible to convey such experiences it is essential to first recognize common elements within the different forms of literature concerning Ayahuasca. It is then the intention of the writer, speaker or more generally the creator of a piece of art, to successfully recreate these elements within the imagination of the audiences mind. It is true that these elements belonging to the Ayahuasca experience are not simply diverse in form and content; they are also from territories of the mind, the unconscious, the ‘antipodes’, in Huxley’s words, areas that we rarely have access to (whether these be reasons for our survival or for the wishes/ignorances of society). Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ was a pivotal point in literature signifying a detailed record of his experience with altered states of consciousness. In the same vein of the texts I will be looking at, this account marks the expression of an area believed to carry potential within the creative mind of the individual. Nonetheless these areas are unfamiliar to us, thus making it more difficult for the individual to capture what has been conveyed. If we can looked firstly at consciousness as being in someway unified between all beings and nature in general, and view art as a form of expression which not only aims to at being an expression of one’s own individual mind/psyche but is also derived from a universal creative source, the potential significance is that communication through art, (and literature in this case) can alter the consciousness of the individual, the reader, the audience, rooting him in the same universal creative force where he is simply experiencing what is being communicated as if it were a part of him.