Ulrich Meyerratken, (b. 1960) holds a degree in biology, is a computer specialist and hypnotherapist. He has been studying Buddhist philosophy and practicing meditation for 35 years. For the past 15 years, he has been working with psychedelic plants, leading groups and individual sessions. He is particularly interested in working with banisteriopsis caapi, also known as ayahuasca, a jungle vine that belongs to the Malpighiaceae family. Parts of the plant are brewed into a hallucinogenic drink consisting of several components.
Mathilde: Ulrich, how would you describe ayahuasca, the Brazilian herbal medicine that you have been using in your therapy sessions for the past 15 years? What significance could this plant have for us as human beings, and what does it mean to you personally?
Ulrich: I think that plant spirits in general, and ayahuasca in particular, represent a valuable contribution to general evolution, both socially and in terms of personal evolution, which is self-determined. Plants help a person expand perception beyond the boundaries of one’s own ego and conditioning, and allow us to see the “big picture” that we find ourselves in; that we as human beings, animals and plants are actually connected, and not only in theory. You can hardly hear it any more, this idea that “we are all one.” All of these spiritual statements have become devoid of meaning. But it makes a difference. These plants allow us to actually see this truth and have a direct experience. As trapped as most people are in their conditioning, programming and fixed points of view, it is difficult for them to get out of it without help; they can’t distinguish between these identifications and what they presume to be realities. Getting a sense of this bigger picture can be very healing. First of all in a personal sense, because the individual feels connected. I think the great sickness of the world and humanity is this separation from our origins. We have been given a free will; we can plan and think ahead, but until now, we have only used this gift for ourselves. Meanwhile, we’ve been spreading out everywhere, all over the place, and are completely sucking this planet and its resources dry. Now, there are so many humans that our situation on this planet is becoming really critical, and most people are unhappy. They have become so far removed from their society and their own personal happiness. Hallucinogenic plants open up a very large world that is connected to what lies within us, and this has the capacity to heal trauma and pain. So that we aren’t being driven by the past to do the same thing over and over; instead, we can start to develop an openness and spontaneity– a spontaneity that comes from the moment known as Being. Genuine Being, an unimagined Being. I see caapi as a great medicine, as are other plant spirits. A medicine that can help with evolution. My personal preference for banisteriopsis caapi– and the advantage I see with this particular plant– is that it connects us back to nature and we feel what we are actually doing; we can appreciate nature again, and respect it as a living, vibrant thing. We feel love. We’re not behaving like human beings who live on this planet, but these otherworldly creatures that came to colonize the place. Like creatures who want to excavate what the earth has to offer, like a mine. It is so incredibly loveless, so disconnected, and it starts very early.
Mathilde: This idea of “feeling connected as one” has something of a clichéed aspect to it. One wonders if this cliché, an empty husk, can be filled with meaning again. Maybe the lack of direct experiences has something to do with these clichéed images of spirituality and that there are so many of them. Do you think these images might be an obstacle? What does a cliché mean to you, and how do you think we could undermine them?
Ulrich: Even with the deepest truth or wisdom that one discovers, there is always the danger of it becoming a concept– detached from the direct, immediate experience. And there are so many spiritual platitudes that mean nothing to us anymore. A statement like “we are all one” can be very divisive; a person can use it to cut themselves off from the others. Or hide something. Or not want to look at it. You have to examine it more closely. When I say now that “everything is one,” then I mean of course we are both different people, we are not the same, but we are different and diverse human beings with consciousness and a capacity to discriminate. I’m not implying that we are all one and the same thing, like applesauce or something. What I mean is that we are actually connected. Physically I would call it something like “quantum entanglement” – the great discovery of quantum physics. That all the parts are connected, and exchange information through a field that is not linear and not temporal, no matter how far apart they are. So everything that happens is the consequence of that field. And this means that everything is “one.” It means that if you discover in yourself a strong, creative, inventive spirit, then you leave this victim role. That you are no longer a victim of genes, of circumstances, coincidence and society, and you discover your own power. You empower yourself.
Mathilde:The concept that we in the West have of the spiritual or the divine, especially the God of monotheistic relations, is that we are at its mercy. God gives us grace, forgiveness and created the world for us. This is the core issue if you ask me. The Western concept of God outsources creation; we’ve left creation to something outside of ourselves so that we don’t have to be responsible. Because we are also victims of creation. And if things are going badly for us, then it is because God is not allowing things to be different. Rather than the other way around: God is what we make together and can control. We can tell God what to do instead of God telling us, because we are God. And we help create, so we are “co-creators” and we share responsibility for what has happened or what is happening now.
Ulrich: Yes, strictly speaking this is the next step in evolution. And either we manage it as human beings or we don’t. But that’s what makes it interesting– that it is not yet determined whether we will be able to take the next step in evolution. We could also annihilate ourselves and cease to evolve as a species.
Mathilde: You mean because we’re annihilating our planet?
Ulrich: Yes and with it, ourselves. What I mean is ultimately, looking at it in the long term, we could outlive our sun; we could survive the next ice age. The planet will look so different in two thousand years; if we can’t build domes or create our own atmosphere, then there will be almost nowhere for us to go. But almost no one thinks about that. It’s always the little things, like family or getting through the day. But building a vision for society in the sense of “what do we really want?” – something based on cooperation, friendship and sympathy and not not “survival of the fittest,” all of this social darwinism and egotism– this is where these plants can help. Caapi is natural; it’s been on the rise for twenty years now.
Mathilde: Used in groups, ayahuasca creates a strong feeling of temporary community.
Ulrich:This awareness of self-empowerment, the responsibility for other people as well is something that stems from these processes of knowledge or realization: sharing your good intentions and your good heart, and bringing it to others in your own way. This is what you would also call “self-fulfillment” or “self-realization.” Psychoactive plant rituals are social boding rituals. People come together again and again and then go back to their everyday lives, but it creates many connections, friendships– a kind of network. I don’t know where it’s going either, or to what extent this will spread to society at large. It would have to be something sustainable that can actually change things.
Mathilde: It needs constant care and nurturing; this network has to be kept intact, and in the long run you have the question as to whether this always has to be done in a ceremony or whether it is possibleto crystalize something like a feeling of bonding and connection without help – something where a person can feel taken care of.
Ulrich: Psychoactive plant rituals like the use and consumption of banisteriopsis caapi, for example, also have a lasting effect. It is therapy, but it goes much quicker than psychotherapy because it creates a direct experience and, how can I put it, at higher level, your intelligence knows what is healthy. And banisteriopsis caapi, or ayahuasca, gives input into that. The experiences are different but the path always leads to healing and empowerment. But when it is blocked, as it is with many people, then this power creates ideas like “I am evil” or “I won’t be able to do it anyway,” or “no matter how hard I try, it always turns out wrong,” or “I didn’t deserve it at all.” Thoughts like these limit ideas and concepts that we do not even consciously understand, manifesting the reality that we then encounter. It’s because we don’t know our own power– the power we used to create our own malheur. Of course we have social realities that in some instances are really hard, but that is yet another level. We have room for maneuver within this social reality, and if we drink banisteriopsis caapi a few times, there will be healing, and there will be healing when an individual is empowered and has seen this power.
Mathilde:But it is very important to have a guide during a plant ritual. Isn’t it?
Ulrich: Yes, it should be a guided process. These kinds of intense experiences can be critical moments, and someone needs to be there.
Mathilde:Is this a problem with hallucinogenic drugs? That people take them without guidance and then don’t know where to go?
Ulrich:Yes, this was also a main concern back then, when it was banned so quickly. But banisteriopsis caapi would be a great medicine if more people were trained to do this.
Mathilde: Other medications are also taken under doctor supervision. Medical guidance.
Ulrich: Exactly. But in this case a medical guidance wouldn’t just be that you prescribe a pill and the patient goes home and you make a profit. A lot of modern medicine is no more than dilatum. Pharmaceutical companies are drug manufacturers, and doctors and pharmacies peddle the drugs. It’s a huge business. It basically influences the entire field of medical science. Something like the use of psycho-active plants is a holistic medicine. A lot of diseases are at least partially psychosomatic. Soma and psyche are actually always connected. Many illnesses are symptoms of psychological manifestations that have been building up over many years. Ayahuasca is the connection between power and light. Or space and light, like awareness. Awareness has yet to be determined. It is a vast space of possibilities, but nothing is crystallized; it’s a space beyond all illusions.
Printed in: Performing Change, Mathilde ter Heijne, Published by Sternberg Press in association with Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg