Extreme Celebrity Ayahuasca

Three celebrities

It's actually not a bad idea for a television reality show. Get several very minor celebrities, pack them off away from their home comforts, and subject them to a range of programs that claim to enhance inner peace, happiness, and understanding. That at least was the premise of a short-lived BBC program called, naturally enough, Extreme Celebrity Detox, on which the guest celebrities performed t'ai-chi exercises in the Slovenian Alps, practiced Taoist sexual yoga in Thailand, did body-cleansing hatha yoga in the Himalayas — and drank ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon.

In each case, the goal appears to have been to discomfit the celebrities, in the name of personal growth, by having them practice genital weightlifting, drink their own urine, achieve whole-body orgasms, and, in the case of ayahuasca, get crazy. "While under its influence," the announcer tells us portentously, "they could well hallucinate."

Mina smokes mapacho

The three celebrities shipped off to Peru were Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records; Mina Anwar, comedy actress; and Jo Guest, former glamour model, a term I did not understand until I looked up her name in Google Image Search with SafeSearch turned off. Do not do that at work.

The result of the expedition, however, was, to my astonishment, a remarkably accurate and sympathetic portrayal of three ayahuasca tourists and their attitudes and experiences. Their motives differed — although one may guess that none of them shunned the chance for television exposure — and in many ways were probably more vague than is typical of such tourists. Tony: "I thought it sounded like a very interesting thing to do." Mina: "I was very keen on the idea of a spiritual odyssey and of finding myself." Jo: "I wanted to find out something more about myself."

The three celebrities were also deeply fortunate to have been given over to the care of my good friend Howard Lawler and my own maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho Jurama.

Howard Lawler

Here is a little background. Lawler is a herpetologist by training, author of more than fifty papers and articles on ecological, wildlife, and conservation topics, who first came to the Amazon to study its reptiles. As have others before him, he fell in love with the land and the people, but his interest centered on jungle curanderismo, the healing practices of the mestizo shamans and their use of medicinal and sacred plants. He is a naturalized Peruvian citizen who lives in Iquitos with his wife and two children. He devotes his entire energy to making sure that his clients get the full benefit of their experience, and he has also worked to improve the lives of the indigenous peoples with whom he works. "You are not going to die," he reassures a panicked Mina. "Just take a deep breath, and embrace life."

The entire 24-minute segment is worth watching.

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