Film sheds light on ayahuasca

Doc­u­men­tary tracks grow­ing trend of Peru’s psy­chdelic brew

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - VANCOUVER - David P. Ball

Two film­mak­ers are rais­ing funds on­line for a doc­u­men­tary, years in the mak­ing, about a Bri­tish Columbia shaman known simply as “Dave.”

Dave spent decades study­ing a mys­te­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of two psy­choac­tive plants that make up the medic­i­nal brew ayahuasca, used cer­e­mo­ni­ally by the Ship­ibo Indige­nous peo­ple of Peru.

Also known as Ronin Niwe, the un­likely shaman orig­i­nally hailed from B.C. and still lives here when not prac­tic­ing at the Espíritu de Ana­conda re­treat cen­tre.

The film, di­rected by Todd Har­ris, has an­other B.C. con­nec­tion: its sub­ject of­fers ayahuasca cer­e­monies and re­treats for renowned Van­cou­ver physi­cian Dr. Ga­bor Maté, au­thor of In the Realm of Hun­gry Ghosts: Close En­coun­ters with Ad­dic­tion, and his pa­tients.

“This film goes to the next level to give (ayahuasca) the light it de­serves,” the film’s pro­ducer, Christina Good­ing, told Metro in a phone in­ter­view. “When you look at is­sues like men­tal health, ad­dic­tion, child­hood trauma, sex­ual abuse — things that our so­ci­ety strug­gles to even talk about, let alone heal — it felt like an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to share this mes­sage and help peo­ple see there could be a dif­fer­ent way.”

Dr. Maté helped Down­town East­side res­i­dents strug­gling with ad­dic­tion, trauma and men­tal­health is­sues find heal­ing us­ing ayahuasca — un­til the gov­ern­ment of prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper threat­ened to strip him of his med­i­cal li­cence if he con­tin­ued in Canada.

“Dave is no doubt one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple in North Amer­ica,” Dr. Maté said in an in­ter­view fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary. “Few would have had the ded­i­ca­tion to be in the jun­gle as long as Dave did.

“He’s a very ex­pe­ri­enced Ayahuas­quero, and I’ve seen his work deepen im­mea­sur­ably over the years that I’ve been associated with him.”

Barred from con­tin­u­ing his re­search and treat­ments at home, Dr. Maté turned south, em­bark­ing on a se­ries of “heal­ing re­treats” led by Shaman Dave in the Ama­zon, “in­te­grat­ing tra­di­tional Ama­zo­nian cer­e­monies with his psy­cho-ther­a­peu­tic work,” ac­cord­ing to the film’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als.

Good­ing be­came fas­ci­nated by ayahuasca’s heal­ing po­ten­tial af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it her­self. Yet she ad­mit­ted it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe with words.

“So much of it is mys­ti­cal and mys­te­ri­ous in a way that’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble,” she said. “It can’t be con­sid­ered a drug — to com­pare it to any other psy­choac­tive drug does it a dis­ser­vice.

“I had my doubts about that be­fore I did it, but it’s truly a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion with the nat­u­ral world that we’re ul­ti­mately a part of .... It al­lows us to see into our­selves in a way that our ego and minds block us off to.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence, she re­ported, isn’t easy, and not ev­ery­one is “called” to it. Peo­ple should ap­proach it with cau­tion: Com­mon side-ef­fects in­clude vom­it­ing, nausea and hal­lu­ci­na­tions — all seen as part of the treat­ment it­self.

“It is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful tool to help your­self,” she said. “It’s not the ayahuasca or the shaman do­ing it for you.”

At time of pub­li­ca­tion, the IndieGoGo fundrais­ing cam­paign had raised nearly $24,000 of its $50,000 goal. The cam­paign ends Wed­nes­day.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the doc­u­men­tary The Path of the Shaman or to learn about its fundrais­ing cam­paign, visit pathofthe­

Our so­ci­ety is sick, our so­ci­ety is de­pressed, and mass parts of the pop­u­la­tion have huge trau­mas. ‘Shaman Dave’ (Ronin Niwe)

The sub­ject of the new ayahuasca doc­u­men­tary The Path of the Shaman is a B.C. res­i­dent known only as “Dave.”

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