The existential vacuum is a form of spiritual distress wherein the inflicted individual is unable to perceive the meaning and purpose of ones life. If the existential vacuum goes untreated, it could lead to forms of psychological distress including depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Since the current healthcare system overlooks spiritual issues as a real health concern, more and more Westerns are turning to alternative therapies to treat their spiritual needs, including ayahuasca shamanism. Ayahuasca shamanism is a traditional spiritual ritual practiced by the indigenous people of the Amazon to treat a variety of ailments with the aid of a psychoactive brew called ayahuasca. Given the spiritual nature of ayahuasca shamanism, it was predicted that participating in traditional ayahuasca ceremonies could help people increase in perceived existential meaning.The sample of this study included 15 men and 14 women (N=29) with a mean age of 37.6 years (SD=12.0; age range: 24-69) who attended the ayahuasca centre Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual near Iquitos, Peru. Participants were asked to complete a set of questionnaires before and after their ayahuasca experiences, which included measures of demographic information, attitudes towards life, psychological well-being, depth of alterations of consciousness, as well as profundity and mysticism of experience. In addition, participants were interviewed after participating in the ayahuasca ceremonies. A paired samples t-test revealed an overall significant difference of existential meaning before (M=208.78; SD=25.64) and after (M=225.44; SD=18.02) the ayahuasca experience with t(26)=3.67, p=.001 (two-tailed). The results indicated that this change in meaning was not necessarily attributed to the alterations of consciousness produced by drinking ayahuasca, nor that those who were seeking meaning were more likely to attain meaning, but rather that the greatest predictor for change in meaning was having a surrendering attitude throughout the ayahuasca experience. These findings suggest the need for further investigations on surrendering as a potential therapy for treating existential issues concerning the meaning and purpose of ones life.

Surrendering to the Vine of the Soul: Ayahuasca Shamanism as a Logotherapy