Visiting Permaculture and Plant Medicine Impact Centers in the Amazon – David Casey

Temple of the Way of Light & Chaikuni Institute are partner Impact Centers located deep in the Peruvian Amazon. The Temple is focused on inner healing.  We came by way of airplane into Iquitos, the largest city in the world that is not connected by road to the outside. Iquitos feels like the Wild West must have felt, with indigenous people alongside Peruvian migrants from other regions coming to seek a better life, as well as oil and resource companies acting with little oversight. There are flashy casinos, and what appear to be brothels, elements often present in regions flush with wealth from drilling and mining. There are also a number of foreign tourists that come to this particular corner of the jungle to seek healing with a legendary medicinal plant brew: Ayahuasca.

Photo of Shipibo people at The Temple of The Way of Light from Stuff.Co

Photo of Shipibo people at The Temple of The Way of Light from Stuff.Co

Ayahuasca (aya-waska) is a medicinal plant brew with over 3000 years of traditional use in the Amazon basin. It literally signifies “vine of the ancestors”; in local lore it is believed that the vine connects them directly to the wisdom of their ancestors, who knew the forest so well that it was their pantry, apothecary, hardware supply, and everything else. It is used traditionally to cure a wide array of ailments, both physical and spiritual. Ayahuasca ceremonies generally take place at night, and are led by professional healers who possess years of experience and a repertoire of magical songs (icaros) that are believed to bestow protection to the patients. The healer plays an equally important role as the medicine in curing the patient. During the ceremony, it is common to experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea during the ceremony, sometimes accompanied by terrifying or magnificent visions, and deep insights into unhealthy behavior patterns. I have heard to it referred to as “jungle television”. Recently, this medicine has caught the attention of a number of Westerners interested in alternative medicine, many who have tried everything that Western conventional medicine has to offer and are desperately seeking a cure for their ailment. Ayahuasca is claimed to cure cancer, depression, addiction, parasites – some of its many prescribed uses. Early clinical research is beginning to support some of these claims.

Photo by Chris Kilham from Medicine Hunter

Photo by Chris Kilham from Medicine Hunter

Heading out of Iquitos, we took a 45-minute journey by moto-taxi (a mix of a motorcycle, a tricycle, and a tuk tuk) down bumpy unpaved roads to a small village. There, a boatman was awaiting us at the side of the river with a motorized wooden boat resembling a canoe. He collected some medicines from another person waiting on the side of the road to deliver to sick people at the Temple of the Way of Light and the surrounding village. As we climbed aboard the boat, we overheard that a couple people had caught malaria. Eek. We powered forward for about twenty minutes on the main river before docking, downsizing boats, and turning down a side river. We wound through the dense jungle landscape for another twenty minutes and docked again. The fourth and final leg of the journey was on foot – thirty minutes through a somewhat muddy path until we reached the final destination.

The Chaikuni Institute, Temple of the Way of Light, and the Alianza Arkana are three different branches of this extensive operation which involved inner transformation and healing, applied permaculture design to the food, water, energy, construction, and waste cycling in the center (which has over 100 people on-site at a given moment), and social outreach into the communities and environmental restoration projects.

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The Chaikuni Institute emerged from the Temple of the Way of light less than two years ago. One of the long-time residents explained to me that the Chaikuni Institute is an ongoing experiment to design the physical living systems that the Temple will eventually be immersed in. The intended center for Chaikuni is not even built yet, so it is temporarily being housed inside the Temple grounds.

We received a splendid tour from the Michal of Chaikuni. The whole complex runs almost entirely on solar energy, and their water is sourced on-site from a freshwater spring, and collected from rainfall. Comprehensive greywater systems feed circles of banana trees. Most of the food is still brought in from Iquitos, although the center aims to be almost fully self-sustaining within ten years in this respect as well. Chaikuni workers are experimenting with a number of growing techniques including aquaculture. They are experimenting with some exotic plants that have high nutritional content, like moringa and chaya.

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David Casey and Michal.

On our tour, we saw the nursery, a very functional humanure composting system, a solar power system and battery bank, a satellite internet system, a recycling area, a developed agro-forestry system left by a previous landowner, experimental aquaculture systems raising fish and water snails, beautiful ceremonial spaces called “malokas”, and the future site for the new Chaikuni Institute to be built.

There are a multitude of different ways to get involved between the two projects. At the Chaikuni Institute, there are work-exchanges and interns, who stay for a period of 3-6 months. At the Temple, there are work-exchanges as well as guests who come for short 12-day intensive retreats. There is another area referred to as “deep immersion”, where individuals can stay at least one month to integrate the teachings of the medicine through other healing modalities, such as yoga, qi gong, and various forms of therapy, offered through daily classes.

Nearby the center (about three minutes walk) is a local town called “Tres Unidos”, with the number of residents equivalent to the number of people on-site at the Temple. In fact, many local villagers are employed by the Temple as kitchen workers, builders, guards, farmers, cleaners, and porters to carry in materials from Iquitos. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the town and the center. There are a couple social projects in Tres Unidos, such as a clean water project and a recycling program which includes the artisanal production of bags for cellphones and water bottles from plastic.

The Chaikuni Institute has a strategy of working with their employees, sourced from local villages, that lets each worker farm their own area in the techniques that they know best. Farm workers are encouraged to experiment, and the institute’s directors slowly give permaculture-infused ideas to their workers to integrate into their daily work. Chaikuni is working on developing a prototype family subsistence farm using permaculture techniques and local knowledge that they one day hope to spread throughout the region as a sustainable alternative to pesticide-heavy monoculture cash crops.

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The Chaikuni Institute is young and growing, and they are seeking individuals with experience in permaculture design to join the project for three-to-six month internship opportunities. They currently host two interns and are looking to double that number. In the future, the Chaikuni Institute seeks to cultivate relationships with local universities and sustainable agriculture organizations that work directly with small-scale farmers in the local communities. They also plan to send their own interns into the surrounding areas to spread regenerative agriculture techniques once they develop successful prototype models on their own land.

Although we left the center without testing the medicinal brew, we were surrounded by a number of individuals undergoing deep healing processes, supported by a team of experienced counselors who also testified to the clear benefits that this Amazonian medicine brings to patient and counselor alike. In conversations with the permaculture staff, I learned that drinking ayahuasca helps them understand relationships between different plants, nutrient and climate cycles – the pattern language of the jungle. Indeed, the very concept of the Temple of the Way of Light was conceived in a vision received by its founder in ceremony.

Since its founding seven years ago, the Temple has birthed both the Chaikuni Institute and the Alianza Arkana, and continues to grow in scope and scale of activity. It is a truly inspiring project, and a testament to what one man’s vision can create when accompanied by determination and purity of intention.