Yoga, Plant Medicine, and the Western Mind.
By: Matty Van Biene
We live in a fascinating time, in which cultures, traditions, and ideas are flowing freely across humanity in a tangible way that we on earth have not known before. It is a time in which ancient wisdom is meeting modern understanding. While these points of view were once seen as opposites they are now beginning to meld and propel the evolution of our consciousness and how we live.
Practices such as yoga and meditation have crossed this divide remarkably well and likely have more western practitioners than those from whose cultures they emerged. The proliferation of plant medicine has been leading a new understanding of how to heal the symptoms of diseases that our modern world has unfortunately helped curate. PTSD, sexual trauma, depression, and social anxiety are a few examples of illnesses that result from a population that has been systematically repressed, divided, and put into conflict with one another and the earth. Many people have had enough and find solace and healing in these ancient practices that provide doorways into deeper understandings of the self.
Often though, its these deeper doorways that can get overlooked by many with a “western approach” (defined here as the modern culture of Europe and North America). Many current cultural paradigms stifle deeper spiritual connection to these practices and experiences. This could be summed up by saying that many people “do” yoga, but perhaps do not integrate it as a cultivation of the divine or those that feel called to plant medicine may be looking for/expecting a quick fix to their problems, but after what may be a profound experience, do not continue to appreciate the ceremony of life around them.
This, again, is the western mind at work, so lovely in its open grasp of new concepts and desire to explore, but rutted in the need for immediate and direct results and understanding. The stretching of yoga felt good, so we keep doing it, but many do not move deeper than the physical understanding.
Plant medicine can give the gift of a profound and immediate “Aha!” moment, but as time rolls on the experience fades and this can become a distant memory of bliss rather than a living embodiment that we carry with us.
So, where the ancients had the time and understanding to let the inherent medicine of these practices do their work, the western person, caught up in the grip of a fast-paced life leaves little room for true integration. Herein lies what I believe is the true beauty that is the crucible of these practices and lifestyle in this modern time. When yoga, plant medicine, and modern understanding are applied together can yield a beautiful (and necessary) growth in the human spirit.
Yoga: Yoga’s appeal is obvious. We only need to look at the sheer number of people practicing asana based yoga to note its impact. Meditation is also becoming increasingly popular and science is backing up any notions of the benefits it provides. But for many, yoga remains strictly a physical practice, while they may derive and even notice that it has permeated their well-being on a mental, emotional, and perhaps even spiritual level, it still gets viewed as something to fill the end-of-the-day-workout slot.
A science centric culture has in many ways erected barriers to spiritual understanding and depth (and ironically, given the increasing evidence it yields on the benefits of meditation) because it has historically neglected to ask these questions. For many people this leaves out of the conversation concepts of union, consciousness, and god/goddess. Science leaves out mysticism and in our modern world this concept is hard to experience in a tangible way, which is something that the western mind is all but completely reliant on to accept as truth. Enter plant medicine.
Plant Medicine: The experience that plant spirit medicine provides, specifically the entheogenic variety, is almost always a transformative experience for any human being. The intense emotions, visions, and feelings they illicit could be described as about as close to a tangible connection to spirit that one can encounter while in the human body, that is, at least without “doing the work.” Unfortunately, without any foundation of spiritual practice these experiences can easily become ethereal moments in one’s life rather than integral steps to higher awareness. The western mind might feel as though it is too rushed, too busy, too engrossed in “this” reality to give time to esoteric practices like yoga and meditation to hopefully one day illicit lasting joy, peace, and connection to spirit.
Plant medicine has the unique ability to make that connection for us, almost immediately. The inherent drawback to this is that such profound experiences often leave the experiencer with un-usable insights and inspiration if they have no method for proper integration. This is where yoga and meditation can provide a key, allowing the experiencer to purposefully cultivate and curate their new- found connection to spirit with practices that continue to allow the space for spirit to speak through. Together, the experience of plant medicine and yoga/meditation can be extremely inspiring to pursue or continue a more grounded spiritual practice.
The Western Mind: It is easy to frame the drawbacks of the western mind and its pre-occupation with seemingly everything else besides stillness, mindfulness and spirit. It’s apparent focus being “progress,” empirical evidence, “doing” over “being,” material over spiritual. There are many forms of religion in the west, but even those likely have an unbalanced focus on the material. One need not look father than yoga itself and its western incarnation that is weighted heavily towards cultivating a beach body then tending the garden of the soul.
But yoga and meditation have grown and I feel that despite most people’s initial intentions, the practice begins to speak for itself and folks find themselves returning to these practices so surely they must feel it improves there life in some way. The fact that psychedelics are seeing a resurgence in use, attention, and acceptance in the western world is a sign that collectively we are returning to seeking for deeper answers and awareness of the reality around us.
The beautiful part about all of this is that the science the western mind has cultivated is beginning to be directed to seeking answer to these questions of consciousness as well and supports spiritual truths. In conclusion, I believe it is at this confluence of cultures, wisdom, and history, that the western mind, if focused collectively in this way, can bring the ancient to the present, the higher truths to the ground level, integrating this wisdom into our societies and way of life. It is there that we may begin to truly thrive as a collective.
Since his Kula training at the Yoga Forest (YTT200), Matty has been diving into the mysterious art of sound healing and cacao ceremony to augment his offerings of yoga and tantra. Back home in Leavenworth, WA he is helping weave a community centered around song, ceremony, and sacred practice. He is teaching yoga classes, holding song circles and cacao ceremonies, and offering personal coaching and workshops for Tantra and sacred sexuality. Sometimes he ties all those together into beautiful bouquet of mystery and love.