It is with great pleasure that we announce our Author of the Month for May, Roan Kaufman, and his book, Ayagogy: an account of his truly excellent endeavour to obtain light on Ayahuasca’s promise as a social change agent – to trigger deep worldly change from within us – from the inside-out.
Roan Kaufman has been an author and researcher for the past 20 years, 15 of which he has concentrated on ayahuasca. He was the co-author under the pen-name Ron Louis of the best selling dating and relationship series How to Succeed with Women and How to Succeed with Men. Roan is the creator of the Multi-Dimensional Man Podcast. In 2015, he earned his doctorate in education from Fielding Graduate University. His doctoral dissertation explores ayahuasca as a social change agent. His work focuses on individual and social change.
I spent 15 years searching to understand how ayahuasca and Indigenous wisdom might heal the damage caused by the Westernization of this planet: layers upon layers of exploitation, destruction, manipulation, and domination by the power elites. The answer is, it can. At the crosshairs of systemic and historical protection of privilege is the opportunity to restore our relationship with Earth and each other. My work explores how returning to Indigenous wisdom, specifically via the Amazonian plant teacher ayahuasca, can transform us individually and collectively. My book Ayagogy: Ayahuasca as a Social Change Agent and Learning Model, posits that ayahuasca ceremonies can provide healing for individuals and help collective humankind on all levels to find self-determination. It is the culmination of what I have learned and wish to share about my spiritual journey with the medicine: from my initial exposure in the jungles of Peru, to participating in underground ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States, and conducting research about this under-represented Indigenous wisdom from the perspective of a Western academic looking in.
My personal experience with ayahuasca ceremonies allowed me to access the deep, profound wisdom of the medicine also known as “Grandmother”. These ceremonies pulverized my shallow ego, as experienced by many others before me. During this process, I adopted new ways to look at myself and the world – to accept myself, my own humanity, my own failings, and to extend that acceptance to others. Likewise, I had seen many friends transform through ayahuasca: the foundation of their beliefs shattered, and their compassion for others, self-awareness, appreciation of the natural world, social awareness and social responsibility bolstered. This was not some Utopian vision I had experienced—these were hard lessons, sobering lessons, which came from focused “work” with ayahuasca; it is a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional experience, which is perhaps what lends to it being so uniquely effective at unraveling some of the problematic ways in which Westernization has entangled and punched through the so-called web of life. Experiencing ayahuasca over the years softened me and opened my heart, to see the ways in which I was living inauthentically; how shallow were my conceptions of what it means to be a man. Ayahuasca turned my life upside down and forced me to question my life, my values, my drive towards commodification, my delusions around being a solitary individual in the world of sentient beings, and my own disconnection from the flow of nature.
The medicine has a way of keeping one humble. Just as I felt more secure in my path, the rug was pulled out from under me again. While doing my doctoral research, I had an “aha” moment when I saw in great detail the destructiveness of Western exploitation, keeping people stuck in the muck of various forms of enslavement, and how deep this form of dominance influences nearly every single element of our world and lives. It is in our striving towards making money to buy stuff we don’t necessarily need, the great divide between the “haves and have-nots”, the construction of sexuality and gender, fashion, rape culture, food preferences, and the persistent drive to succeed. Through this process, I saw myself inside the “Matrix.” I saw how trapped I was by Westernization and yet I was able to locate myself inside my own preprogrammed nonsense; I saw a way out—a way to start to shed those skins and be more liberated through ayahuasca ceremonies (it is no mistake that the medicine often shows itself as a snake). I don’t want to suggest a miracle — in which the sky suddenly parted, I drank ayahuasca, and was forever changed. It was a long process which is still ongoing today, but working in ayahuasca ceremonies has been my most life-changing process, and it has transformed me spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. This direct experience informed my trajectory as an educator in a field in which this wisdom is under-represented.
The Indigenous worldview, and the significance it gives to experiential learning, contrasts with Western academic models of learning. The ayahuasca experience provides emotional learning, teaching, and healing through direct experience. Academic models of learning tend to ignore the role of emotion in the learning process and ignore the visceral-level reaction individuals feel in relation to various forms of oppression and injustice. The ayahuasca ceremony leader I interviewed for this book summed up the ayahuasca process in the following way: “The medicine works as a galvanizing experience. It pulverizes the ego and challenges people to look more deeply at their ideas and illusions of what life is like. It is a disorienting experience for many people, but the challenges always lead to more freedom.” The ayahuasca experience in this case provides movement away from the trappings of Westernization, towards liberation.
My book Ayagogy frames ayahuasca and ayahuasca ceremonies as a learning and educational model. When I began doing my research on ayahuasca, I was surprised to find virtually no work that connects ayahuasca to social change. There are books that explore how ayahuasca can help with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other psychotherapeutic uses. Other books explore the anthropological aspects of ayahuasca and ayahuasca cultures, or document with wonderful description apprenticeships with ayahuasca healers in South America and authors’ personal experiences with ayahuasca. I am a supporter of any and all discussions and books that look at ayahuasca and other plant medicines. However, my work focuses on the potential of ayahuasca ceremonies in aspect to what I feel is lacking in the literature and in popular discussions about ayahuasca.
My book is based on my findings after interviewing hundreds of people about their ceremonial ayahuasca experiences, in addition to interviews with ayahuasca experts such as Rick Strassman, Alan Shoemaker, and Rak Razam, and Indigenous scholars such as Sobonfu Some, and Native American scholar Michael Yellowbird. My major findings are based on themes and changes that seem to occur in people who have experienced ayahuasca more than 50 times, and have been distilled down to five major “movements” away from Westernization.
I am describing these as “movements” away from Westernization because this most accurately depicts what my data suggests: that the ayahuasca experience and its unique form of challenging Westernization is a process, and often a lengthy one. “Movement” implies a more organic change model which aligns better with an Indigenous worldview. It is unrealistic to think of the ayahuasca process as a miracle cure or a panacea, as the ayahuasca process may be abstract – not necessarily a Western form of additive knowledge over a period of time, or in singular dramatic “shifts”. My research data shows clear evidence that over time, long-term ayahuasca users show movements away from Westernization towards Indigenous-based antidotes:
1. Movement from the Personal Trappings of Westernization Towards Self-Determination
This antidote and its movement suggests that the ayahuasca experience often assists participants in personal-level healing, which includes transforming personal meaning, healing trauma, regaining perspective on their lives, feeling more connected to personal purpose, and assisting in change from the “inside out.”
Westernization preys on people in the arena of personal beliefs and attitudes; its force towards commodification drives the notion that individuals are incomplete, and that compared to others, they do not measure up. Westernization wounds individuals, and prevents them from dreaming of a new future, moving through emotional trappings, and freeing themselves of trauma and pain.
2. Movement from Individuality and “Survival of the Fittest” Towards Relationality and a Kinship-Focused Orientation
This antidote and its movement suggest that ayahuasca helps to move people from the Westernized structure of individualism and “survival of the fittest” towards “relationality” and a kinship-focus, which is at the heart of the solution to the Western prioritization of individualism and “survival of the fittest”. Rather, relationality encourages humans to strive towards healthy relationships with themselves, other people, the environment, the larger cosmos and expansive ideation (Wilson, 2008). This movement happens when individuals working with ayahuasca change their orientation and values from self-concern toward concern for others.
The Indigenous worldview values interdependence and collectivism; Westernization supports social values where there is zero sum gain, whereby some people succeed while others fail. At a deeper level, Westernization is structurally entrenched in the belief that the aim of life is success and personal gain, which is valued above others’ success and happiness. This belief suggests that one is likely to be concerned with one’s own small family unit at the cost of the global human community at large.
3. Movement From Anthropocentrism Towards Viewing the Natural World as Sentient
This antidote shows how the ayahuasca experience influences people to move from the belief that only human beings have consciousness towards the view that plants, animals, and the natural world are likewise sentient. For instance, many of the qualitative interview participants reported revering ayahuasca as a living entity, referring to her as “Grandmother” and a plant teacher.
Westernization seems to focus tirelessly on exploitation of resources at any cost, without concern about environmental degradation or sustainability. The Western model of environmental ethics (or lack of ethics) places human beings at the center of the universe, promoting an anthropocentric view of the world. On the other hand, the Indigenous model of environmental ethics (to which most ayahuasca cultures subscribe) positions human beings in relationship with plants, animals, and the natural world. The Westernized model focuses on individual liberty and human-scale utilitarianism, whereas the Indigenous model promotes respect and ecosystem sustainability (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001, p. 96).
4. Movement from Valuing Materialism and Consumerism Towards Meaning and Purpose Beyond these Structures
This antidote shows that after working with ayahuasca, participants move from a focus on materialism and consumerism towards finding meaning in other areas of life. The growing divide between rich and poor in the west is perhaps best illustrated by the “American dream,” which stresses economic success over compassion, personal meaning, character, relational respect, and sustainable ethics; whereas ayahuasca ceremonies and ayahuasca culture centers around finding personal meaning within one’s individual experience, and values self-sacrifice and compassion towards others as character traits.
Westernization drives the idea that everything can be seen as a commodity, including activities, knowledge, and social relationships. American cultural paradigms tend to view human beings, cultures, and the natural world exclusively through the filter of their commodity value. Therefore, nearly everything in the West is reduced to its value in the marketplace.
These antidotal movements collectively reject the status quo of a world damaged by Westernization and rather embrace criticality and a different worldview grounded within an Indigenous framework. For those who wish to read further, Ayagogy also critiques ayahuasca usage in the West, including exploitation by ayahuasca ceremony leaders, cultural appropriation, and misappropriation by psychonauts. As the poet Adrienne Rich (1979) suggests, “In a world where language and naming are power, silence is oppression, is violence” (p. 184). As inspired by Rich, the goals of this book are to name the oppressive structures created by Westernization and to show how ayahuasca may be one of the only solutions left to free ourselves and our world from this destructive force.
Deloria, V., & Wildcat, D. (2001). Power and place. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Resources.
Rich, A. (1982). On lies, secrets, and silence. New York, NY: W.W. Norton Company.
Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood.