All About Ayahuasca

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 21, 2019
Rak Razam speaks about his experiences with ayahuasca at Unity of Santa Barbara on March 23

EntheoMedicine Santa Barbara co-founder Jacqueline Lopez is thrilled to be able to present the psychedelic journey equivalent of a baseball doubleheader in this Saturday’s event at Unity of Santa Barbara that offers two distinctly different angles on the advantages of ayahuasca. The entheogenic brew made out of vine, bark, and other natural ingredients used as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin is in the news for both its spiritual and medicinal properties, and the timing is right.

“This is a hot topic for me because of the epidemic of depression, anxiety, and PTSD that is plaguing our society,” Lopez said. “Entheogens aren’t for everybody, and we don’t encourage people to just go out and try them without proper preparation and setting. But these plant medicines like ayahuasca have been proven by science to be effective. They’ve been studied in laboratories in studies that go beyond anecdotal evidence that we (Lopez and her partner, Michael Russer) have experienced on journeys. We can tell you it’s wonderful. But more importantly, there are systematic and repeated experiences of people getting relief from PTSD that have suffered for years.”

That will be the subject of Saturday’s opening talk by Rachel Harris, Ph.D., the author of Listening to Ayahuasca: New Hope for Depression, Addiction, PTSD, and Anxiety, the 2017 book from the researcher who has received an NIH New Investigator Award and published more than 40 scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals. She’ll talk about how the base plant contains several alkaloids that act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) to combat depression, and describe how people report an on-going personal relationship with the spirit of ayahuasca that provides healing and guidance beyond the ceremony. But she’ll also discuss contraindications and warnings, as well as the challenge in integrating the experience into daily life on both a psychological and spiritual dimension.

Dr. Harris will be paired with documentary film producer, author, and “culture shifter” Rak Razam, who will share with far more irreverence his own experiences with entheogens and his journalistic undertakings in the area. Author of the book, Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey, and its companion volume of interviews, The Ayahuasca Sessions, Razam brings his unbridled passion to the platform.

“They are very complementary speakers – one speaks from personal experience, the other from a scientific therapeutic background,” Lopez said about bridging the gap from academia to anecdotal ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon on the same night. “There’s something to be said for bringing people from both schools in one space. Because at the end of the day, we all have a desire of helping other people going through traumatic experiences, whatever the perspective.”

The March 23 event begins at 5:30 pm with a networking hour followed by the two talks plus a brief update on MDMA with the organization’s senior advisor, Michael Gilbert. A Q&A session with the producers and all the speakers and a final opportunity for informal connecting concludes the event. Visit

‘Mother’-ly Love in Ojai

Amma Sri Karunamayi, the South Indian healer revered around the world as an embodiment of Divine Motherly Love due to the compassion and affection that she showers liberally on all people, animals, and even plants, is coming back to Ojai. Amma, or “Mother,” as she is affectionately called by her followers, is revered as a living saint, humanitarian, peace leader, and spiritual teacher who shares her visionary message of global unity, sustainability in the new millennium, and higher spiritual awareness. Amma’s aim is to remove the suffering from people’s hearts through her kind, loving words of spiritual guidance and encouragement, her healing touch, and her divine knowledge and insight. 

Amma begins her two-day stay in Ojai on Wednesday, March 27, with a free public talk from 6-8 pm, a divine discourse where the subjects include the spiritual, philosophical, and practical advice on developing inner purity and compassion, and on how to live one’s spiritual life dedicated to serving society. It is open to the public for all to attend. The evening includes silent meditations, discourses, and spiritual chanting, and concludes with Darshan, a time to receive the personal touch and blessings from Amma. The following day, Amma will offer a one-day silent meditation retreat open to all, beginners to those with an established practice. The retreat serves as an opportunity for devotees to deepen their meditation practice and to listen to the inspirational wisdom of Amma’s divine discourse; participants are requested to maintain silence throughout the retreat. The retreat costs $102, and half-day options are available for $62. Both events take place at the Camp Comfort Clubhouse, 11969 North Creek Road, Ojai. Visit for registration and details. 

Amma Sri Karunamayi will be holding similar events the previous week (March 20-25) in Los Angeles, including free Divine Discourse on March 20, Individual Blessings on March 21 & 22, a Sacred Fire Ceremony on March 24, and a special program on March 25. The one-day retreat takes place March 23. Visit 

Devotion to the Dirt

With its annual adults-only Dive Into Silence retreat in the rear view mirror, Sunburst Sanctuary invites the whole family to experience Regenerating Earth & Spirit, a special hands-on weekend to engender a greater connection with the earth at the expansive Lompoc space. Facilitated by Sunburst’s “soil-whisperer” Sean Fennell, participants will have a chance to co-create with nature through a get-down-and-dirty permaculture workshop about soil-building, composting, and seeding, and learn and practice different styles of fruit tree grafting, including being able to take home a graft of your own. The workshop also offers an opportunity to connect with the wisdom and emotional strength of a horse through an equine “Observation of the Herd” circle facilitated by Natalie Riggs of Shakti Ranch. Yoga, guided meditation, and shared home-cooked meals amid the sanctuary’s pristine natural beauty, and lots of activities for children round out the Friday to Sunday, March 29-31 weekend. Sliding scale donation of $120 to $220 per adult, and $60 to $100 per child. Register by March 20. Call (805) 736-6528 or visit

Experience Pacifica

While the campus lies above and near the coastline, students surely don’t coast through their studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, which hosts one of its periodic Graduate School Information Days this Friday, March 22, to expose potential students to an “education that goes beyond the classroom to… spark your fire within.” The 9:30 am to 4 pm event offers prospective students a comprehensive introduction and orientation to the institute, including a glimpse at Pacifica’s interdisciplinary graduate degree programs through faculty-led, program-specific information sessions and presentations, exploring the grounds of the school’s two Montecito-Carpinteria campuses, touring the Joseph Campbell Archives and Library, engaging in ongoing dialogue and community exchange, and hearing from Pacifica students and alumni about their experience and what they are doing with their degrees. One of those alums will go in-depth with her presentations: Dr. Liz Schewe, Pacifica’s Director of Clinical Training, who will lead an optional yoga session. Presenter Harry Grammer – an activist, scholar, poet, and the 2004 founder of New Earth, which works to reform the juvenile justice nationwide, which earned him a CNN Hero honor in 2017 and selection as an inaugural Obama Foundation Fellow in 2018 – is also is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Community, Liberation, and Ecopsychology program. The $35 registration fee includes all of the day’s activities, plus a continental breakfast and lunch. 

Over the following two days, March 23 & 24, Pacifica hosts two one-day programs on “The Healing Power of Dreams: The Craft of Dream Tending,” with Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., the Chancellor and Founding President of Pacifica who is a professor of depth psychology at the institute. Working with tools and methods from Dream Tending, participants will learn how to access the power and potential alive in dreams, discover how to engage untapped creativity and deep intelligence, and experience ways of transforming nightmare images to serve a more constructive purpose. Admission to either 10 am to 4 pm session costs $45-$75. Call (805) 969-3626 or visit 


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