Wake Up! – Dennis McKenna Explains What Ayahuasca is Trying to Teach Us

Dylan Charles, Editor
Waking Times

Just below the surface of mainstream today is a growing movement of people who are finding inspiration, guidance and spiritual wellness through the experience of the plant medicine ayahuasca. Something about ceremony deeply resonates with many in Western culture, as if we have something we desperately need to know, and the answer is to be found in communion with the ‘vine of the soul.’

But what is it? What is ayahuasca trying to teach us?

  • Dennis McKenna is a figure-head of this global movement, and as a botanist and lifelong psychedelic explorer, his rich insights help to make sense of these experiences which are always so personal, yet so relevant to the grand human dramas we see playing out on the global stage.

    Speaking in a recent interview with journalist Shelby Hartman, McKenna speaks to the important reason why ayahuasca is so popular right now, bringing up the void. That emptiness, aimlessness and lack of purpose that so many people feel right now.

    “The ayahuasca tourism on some level is people reaching out because they personally, I think, find that their lives are spiritually impoverished. I think most people who bother to push themselves out of their comfort zone and go to South America to seek ayahuasca, they’re not looking for kicks, they’re not that type of person, they’re looking for answers, which is a different thing. They’re looking for profoundly meaningful experiences that will help with their spiritual development…”

    The plants help us to find meaning to the twists, turns and features of our own individual journey. In Dennis’ case, during his first meaningful experience with ayahuasca, the medicine helped him to understand the biological process of photosynthesis, which, for a botanist, is exceptionally relevant. This is an example of how they teach us.

    I recall during some of my first ayahuasca journeys, I experienced a kind of initiation into the energetic world of reiki, qi gong and chi energy. Beautiful, extraordinary visions help to clarify within my own mind how these practices really work with the natural movements of energy in our three-dimensional world. This was very relevant to me personally, as on my path I had for years been focused on martial arts and energy work, using these practices to heal myself and to help others.

    And that is what ayahuasca is trying to teach us, says McKenna. We need to make a connection to something beyond the self, and use this insight to heal yourself so that you may then help to heal the world.

  • “The message is basically “wake up!” You know, we’re wrecking the planet. I do think that my ayahuasca experiences and other experiences have led me to think that the Gaia concept, the idea that the earth itself is an organism and that the earth itself is intelligent, this is not new age claptrap. There’s a lot of scientific evidence to support this and I think the earth, as a whole, the biosphere, as you will, is a super organism and it reacts to situations in the environment to preserve life. That’s why the parameters that support life on the planet have existed within broad limits for 3.8 million years, because life is actively regulating that and we are threatening those because we’re pushing the envelope on so many levels. The big one is greenhouse gases. We’re emitting so many megatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that it’s actually destabilizing because the plants, which sequester carbon dioxide, can’t keep up. And, at the same time, we’re burning the rainforest, which is an enormous carbon sink, and releasing all the carbon that’s been sequestered in that biomass for, you know, millions of years so it’s a double whammy. I think Gaia is basically speaking to us through these plant teachers, through these messenger molecules, to try to get us to wake up a little, to understand our relationship with nature and then hopefully to change our behavior in positive ways.”

    He continues, talking about the challenge that is presented when we do begin to wake up.

    “…they come away with a sort of new understanding of what the message is and certainly a desire to propagate that message. So you get a kind of exponential growth in interest and, hopefully, you reach a tipping point. You know, I think what has to happen is that global consciousness needs to change. When you reach that critical time and suddenly this becomes a prevalent meme, if you want to put it that way, in the culture is not clear.


    As a species we’re faced with two challenges. One, we have to wake up, we have to wake up to what’s happening. And secondly, we have to wise up in the sense that, based on our changed perception about our relationship to nature, we have to start changing our behavior…”

    Ultimately it is about changing our behavior, so that we may directly experience spiritual wellness in everyday life, using this as a source of energy and power to create positive change in the world. McKenna continues:

    “We have big brains and complex nervous systems, we don’t always use them to great advantage, but I think the plant is trying to say “use them to good advantage, think about this.” In other words, “wake up.” And if enough people do that, and enough people with the power to change things do it, then maybe we can save it.”

    Final Thoughts

    Considering Dennis’ comments brings me even closer to the conclusion that plant medicines are messengers from mother earth. They are her means of reaching out in an unmistakably personal way to drive individuals to reconsider their connection to the earth and to the web of life. Something I wrote in 2014 echoes this:

    “We know she is capable of doom and destruction, and that when she speaks up the earth shakes and trembles and entire cities fall. When she cries out her tears create centennial floods and blizzards that shock, surprise and humble us. When she moans in pain of being tortured, her anguish is felt in droughts, famine and pestilence, and thousands of her children die and fade to dust. When she smiles, we reap abundance in harvest and we thrive in good health of mind and spirit.


    She speaks to us in these familiar tongues, using the language of blessing and destruction, yet our human minds have gone so far down the road of disconnection that we know longer hear her or heed her voice. We’ve advanced so far in the direction of materialism that we no longer acknowledge her communication as an intelligence, and we’ve grown so arrogant and pompous in our endeavors that we discredit her say, instead always moving to subjugate her interests or insulate ourselves from her wrath. Foolishness of the highest order.” [Source]

    The medicine seems to call out to those who would be willing to step way outside of their comfort zones in search of solace. Something which is very much needed in the world today.

  • About the Author

    Dylan Charles is the editor of Waking Times and host of The Battered Souls Podcast, both dedicated to ideas of personal transformation, societal awakening, and planetary renewal. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world.

    This article (Wake Up! – Dennis McKenna Explains What Ayahuasca is Trying to Teach Us) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Dylan Charles and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.

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