Alex Good is the owner, founder, and head shaman at The Way Inn, an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru. While Alex has had extensive training with native ayahuasqueros in the region, his center takes a somewhat unique approach as they feature non-native shamans as the ceremonial facilitators. In the first part of this two-part interview with Alex, he describes his introduction to Peruvian ayahuasca shamanism and what led him to pursue the niche of shamanism with a Western approach.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Alex. Can you tell us about The Way Inn and how your retreat center came into being?
An out of body experience at the age of twenty turned my world on its head and led to the exploration of consciousness being the primary drive in my life. The years 1997-2001 were spent traveling the world, delving into different consciousness expansion techniques, until I arrived in Huaraz, Peru, where my spirit guides, whom I had learnt to trust implicitly, told me, “Stay here and all your dreams will come true.” In 2002, I bought some land in the mountains and started building The Way Inn as a mountain lodge focusing on adventure tourism.
The year 2005 was the first time I drank ayahuasca, at the lodge with a shaman who was passing through Huaraz and who came recommended. I received my first icaro (a traditional ayahuasca ceremony song) that night and was blown away by the potential of ayahuasca. In late 2007, I became involved in establishing The Temple of the Way of Light and moved to the jungle to run it. By 2010, Matthew Waltherson bought my shares so that I might leave them to their practice of traditional shamanism and turn my mountain lodge into a shamanic centre as well. When combined with the practices and true wisdom teachings of the planet, remarkable and stable growth is realistically realizable in a way that working with just ayahuasca doesn’t make available.
Your center is unique in that you focus on non-native or Western shamanism as the context in which you offer your ceremonies. On the one hand, some people might prefer to use ayahuasca in a traditional setting with an indigenous ayahuascero from the culture that has been using this medicine for centuries. On the other hand, it is important that rituals evolve and adapt to the unique qualities of the people and cultures they are serving so that their meaning can be conveyed clearly. Do you see yourselves as part of a new evolution of shamanic ritual for a Western audience?
Absolutely and most definitely! When I first landed in the jungle, as naïve as most others I see coming to the medicine now, I thought shamans were some form of enlightened being, with knowledge and wisdom beyond the average man, protected from the layman by a series of rites and passages that an initiate had to pass through. I put the shaman on a pedestal and was looking for someone from whom I could learn the secrets of the universe.
Very rapidly I had to learn how to defend myself from witchcraft — which I did not believe in until I was affected directly by it — and I rapidly realized that every shaman I went to study under was no more advanced than I. In many cases, they were even significantly behind me. Whilst shamans have a unique set of skills — namely the ability to access and navigate other bandwidths of existence, other realms, as well as the ability to interact with things there in a way that changes things here — they had not learnt certain lessons about the basic nature of consciousness itself, nor had they enquired into it. They play with the infinite possible manifestations that emerge from that consciousness without inquiring into the nature of what they are delving into.
When I asked them probing questions or even straight and simple ones, although they were more than willing to try and explain things as they saw them, they didn’t have either the vocabulary or the cultural frame of reference to be able to communicate it easily to my Western-structured mind. In the traditional learning style, as in times of old, the learning process is through hands-on practice, whereas the Western mind likes things lined up in a nice, linear, ordered structure. Over the years of studying this path, deciphering its paradoxes and learning how to communicate them, I have received increasingly supportive feedback regarding the positive impact this level of understanding has on expediting people’s healing process and journey of self-discovery. My guides also made it clear to me a few years ago that this was the path I had to take, but it still took me a while to feel comfortable wielding that responsibility without anyone to fall back on. I now feel very comfortable with that responsibility and ready for the challenge of forging this path, although I have no idea where it will lead.
There are also other reasons that I have decided to work purely with non-native shamans. One of the things I have discovered over my years studying the medicine is the danger of the pitfalls on the path to becoming a shaman. I have yet to meet a native shaman who properly understood these pitfalls and who hasn’t, either rapidly or over time, succumbed to these traps and subsequently fallen from the path — not one. And I am immensely aware that I run the same risks.
There are basically two paths that run side by side when one expands one’s consciousness and interacts with these other realms. One is the medicine path, the pathway that works with and wields influence in these realms for the purposes of healing and for the service of others. The other is the pathway of ego, wherein these abilities are wielded for selfish gain. Now, a person is never purely one or the other — instead, they are a blend of these two. How much one dominates the other determines where one is vibrating on a spectrum; the greater the presence of healing intention, the higher that person vibrates, and the greater the presence of the egoic drive, the lower that person resides on the vibratory scale.
Understanding things in this way, one sees how any one person’s perspective on the world is determined by their overall and general level of vibration from which they perceive. The higher the “hot air balloon” of vibration lifts them, the more of reality they perceive, the more their consciousness is expanded to incorporate a wider and wider perspective on reality. Understanding the way that these different energies operate in us and form us — and then learning how to work with them — is the pathway of consciousness development; an external healer becomes unnecessary because one has come to know oneself and can therefore effortlessly self-correct when things fall out of balance. The medicine helps us learn to recognize what this state of inner balance feels like as direct experiential knowledge and not just as some theoretical construct.
As far as we’re concerned, ayahuasca is simply a tool, albeit a mighty powerful tool, that teaches us how to become familiar with certain states so that we can eventually access those same states without her help. All good teachers want their students to supersede them and go beyond them, and so it is with ayahuasca. Hence, the necessity of a familiarity with materials that allow us to take what we learn in ceremonies out into our day-to-day lives — these materials are the Vedic, Buddhist, Christian Mystic, Native American teachings whose validity is proven first hand through the ayahuasca experience.
These teachings provide practices for incorporation into daily life to help us keep our energy bodies clean and hence more buoyant. They provide maps outlining where the pitfalls on the pathway are, things to watch out for, and ways to deal with difficulties encountered. When exposing the Western mind to this powerful entheogen, a lot of collateral damage can be avoided if people have a familiarity with the maps of the area that already exist. In my experience, this familiarity facilitates smooth development that extends far beyond the ceremony setting itself, impacting people more powerfully over the long term than simple exposure to ayahuasca on its own does.
Thanks for talking with us, Alex!
If you’re interested to learn more about ayahuasca therapy services at The Way Inn, you can learn more on their website.