A tropical vine found in the Amazon, Ayahuasca has long been both celebrated and stigmatized. When transformed into drinking form, the vine is reputed to offer potent healing and psychedelic potential. Once regarded as a niche form of holistic medicine, Ayahuasca has gained wider acceptance in recent times for its treatment of chronic pain, clinical depression and other common maladies. The calming and perceptive documentary The Nature of Ayahuasca explores the veracity of these claims while setting out to demystify this misunderstood miracle brew.
The centerpiece of the film involves a retreat hosted by the SpiritQuest Shamanic Sanctuary, a Peruvian organization that promotes the healing and spiritual powers of Ayahuasca and other sacred plants. In attendance are a group of willing participants who indulge in five separate ceremonies involving the plant. For many of these subjects, traditional Western medicine has proven insufficient in the treatment of their ailments. They’re searching for a more permanent medicinal solution and hoping to achieve a higher plane of spiritual enlightenment as well.
Their guide through this journey is sanctuary founder Don Howard, a middle-aged gentleman who discovered the potency of the plant while seeking an unorthodox treatment for his depression. During the retreat, Howard guides each participant in a ritualistic consumption of Ayahuasca, during which they might experience intense visions, moments of deep transcendence or even a purging form of nausea. The hallucinogenic episodes are followed by intense sessions of shared discussion. These group sessions are an essential component of the treatment process; it allows each member an opportunity to decipher their experiences under the influence of the plant and embrace the sense of oneness with the other members of their group.
The attendees share the experiences and conflicts that have led them to the retreat. One participant has lived in a state of anxiety for much of his life. After ten days of Ayahuasca therapy, he achieves a feeling of openness and acceptance that had previously illuded him.
The Nature of Ayahuasca is a thought-provoking and highly astute study of the ills that can overcome our sense of wellbeing, and a celebration of nature’s protective embrace in the face of great uncertainty.
Directed by: Gavin Hoffman