INTERVIEW Tuesday, June 24, 2014www.pachamama.org/templeofthewayoflight.org/chaikuni.org/en/
We all want to change the world, whether it be through the revolutionary promise of permaculture, protecting the Amazonian rainforest, standing up to the wanton greed of big corporations, advocating for people's basic rights, or helping people heal and get in touch with their true selves. Change on so many levels can be overwhelming to face, but Matthew Watherstone is one person who heeded the call for change and is doing much to address these various crises of ecosystems, communities, and inner wellbeing.
Matthew is the founder of The Temple of the Way of Light, an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru, as well as two NGO's- a permaculture center called the Chaikuni Institute and Alianza Arkana, which advocates for social and environmental justice in the region. These three organizations all have specific areas of focus, yet they are united in their fundamental mission to make the world a more sane, gentle, safe, and abundant place for all people.
I had the opportunity to speak with Matthew and discuss these epic endeavors, from their magical inception to the many lessons learned along the way. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us all the way from the Amazon. To start things off, can you explain the genesis of the Temple of the Way of Light and the Chaikuni Institute? I understand you also have an NGO, Alianza Arkana, that does work in the region- how did these three entities come about, and what was the spark that began this journey in the Amazon?
It’s a long story so I will try to summarize as best I can! I came to the Amazon at the beginning of 2007 and attended a 10 day ayahuasca retreat near Iquitos. I was hoping to release emotional pain related to old family issues. I wanted to see if ayahuasca was truly a medicine and, if so, if it could help to resolve these issues. The answer was a resounding yes. Quite unexpectedly, after my second ceremony I received a clear vision to develop a healing facility in the Amazon. I shared this vision with the curandero (healer) who was running the retreat and then moved forward immediately, and, rather naively, with funding and building the Temple. I sent my life savings across to the Amazon in February 2007. The initial stages of the Temple were built and then pretty much everything started to go wrong!
It took two years working with many different male mestizo curanderos and experiencing many of the negative aspects of shamanism in the Amazon (drunken healers, ego/control issues, sexually inappropriate behavior, and even witchcraft) before we started working with indigenous Shipibo healers in February, 2009. The catalyst for this change was the arrival in June, 2008 of my now wife, Klara, who had the insight to work with female healers.
Since the Shipibo came to the Temple, everything really turned around. It was at this point that I felt strongly that we needed to establish an NGO in order to give back to the people and the land. From an indigenous perspective, the preservation and protection of the land is the most fundamental priority. Indigenous people across the planet have always held that the land is sacred. They work with and respect the spirits of the land. Their ceremonial and ritual obligations defined their connection to the land and ensured that this relationship was not broken. Through my personal healing journey and work with plant medicines, I began to feel strongly that the Temple also needed to identify and practice ways of embodying this relationship of reciprocity, both to the land and the people of the Amazon.
An unexpected threat to the Temple occurred in 2010, pressing this requirement for reciprocity into immediacy. A Canadian oil company called Gran Tierra came onto the privately owned Temple land and started cutting – without permission - a 750m line of trees as part of a seismic oil exploration project. Their activities were the antithesis of everything that the Temple stands for.
This difficult situation kickstarted the establishment of our first NGO – Alianza Arkana – with a clear vision to focus in three specific areas; environmental justice, community based solutions, and intercultural education. Over the last 3 years, Alianza Arkana has supported key indigenous leaders - representing thousands of people living in oil contaminated lands - to seek the attention of national government. These efforts have helped towards the government finally declaring environmental states of emergency in four major river systems deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
Alianza Arkana also has implemented a wide range of projects, including bringing fifty acres of degraded landscapes into projects for food and medicine production, equipping and training twenty-one indigenous communities in regenerative waste management and basic sanitations, sponsoring eight young indigenous people to attend university, supporting the development of an intercultural school, carrying out an in-depth research study on nutrition in indigenous communities and holding classes on nutrition in nine Shipibo communities. After only one year in operation we were recognized by the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment and received a national award for environmental citizenship.
Incidentally, the oil company also left the area around the Temple in 2011 and are no longer exploring for oil.
We then established our second Peruvian NGO - The Chaikuni Institute - at the beginning of 2013 in recognition of the need to develop an education center where foreign, local, and indigenous people could come together to train in experiential learning and to support permaculture experts to develop a flagship permaculture demonstration site. We invited Doug Bullock – a world leading expert on tropical permaculture – to carry out an extensive permaculture master plan across 175 hectares of secondary regrowth rainforest surrounding the Temple. Since then we have been implementing a multitude of projects focused on regenerating and reforesting the land, sustainable food, fuel and fiber production, energy and water systems, waste management systems and sustainable building projects.
Agricultural and extractive industries are expanding ever deeper into the Amazon. This is resulting in severe destabilization and degradation of the Amazon Rainforest, the loss of its rich and ancient cultures, rural poverty, malnutrition, and a rapid decline of biodiversity. The Chaikuni Institute aims to integrate design, education, experimentation and community outreach programs to promote regenerative development in the Amazon. By coupling ancestral knowledge with modern innovation, we are working with indigenous communities to implement projects focused on self-reliance and regeneration, promote local, ecological economies, and stimulate a resurgence of indigenous culture and traditions.
So the Temple is a purpose-driven, socially responsible enterprise, putting people and the planet before profit. We consider our work having another triple bottom line in that our focus is, 1) healing and reconnection to nature through plant medicines, 2) preservation of indigenous traditions, and 3) protection of the environment. We use all surplus revenue outside of our operational expenses and development costs to fund the outreach programs through our NGO’s. The Amazon and much of the world's wild areas are threatened by human development, which seems to be both a crisis of human exploitative action, and a symptom of a disconnected and fear-based human consciousness. Through the Temple and the Chaikuni institute you are addressing both of these factors- the material through permaculture and the subtle through ayahuasca retreats. What do you see as the niche roles for these two approaches and how do they interrelate? Is one more important or pressing than the other?
I see the two areas as directly related and equally important. Energy gives rise to matter. At our core we are energetic beings. When we carry negative energies - inner shadows - they block our systems, resulting in emotional, mental, and physical imbalance. These negative energies come from trauma. Trauma is a fact of life and shared by us all. It has become so commonplace that most people don’t even realize its presence. Trauma is felt by everyone at some stage in our lives. Unresolved and unintegrated trauma leaves negative energies in our system, resulting in past pain leaching into and driving our present day experience.
This internal disorder is outwardly projected and collectively accumulates, creating the disorder that we see across the planet: into our families and communities, into our society, into business, politics, and mainstream religions, permeating out and affecting our entire civilization. The collective shadow influences every aspect of our lives. At the very depth of our global crisis there is a calling for an unprecedented transformation and collective healing.
The cruelty, madness, and injustices that we face across the planet, driven through the dominion of corporations and organized religions, are emanations of our shadow, both personally and collectively. When we are able to face our shadow, recognizing the opportunity and transformational potential of integrating our pain, balance within is restored. The more of us who return to our natural state of Being, the more the outer landscape will subsequently reflect the harmony within.
All negative emotions, whether fear, sadness, depression, anger, panic, etc., are ‘altered’ states of consciousness. When we return to our natural state of consciousness, we reclaim a loving relationship with our authentic Self. This relationship then begins to extend to everyone and everything around us. When we return to this state of Being, it is only natural to come into service, and hear a call to action to tirelessly seek solutions to the issues that we face on our planet. By re-embracing our connection with the natural world, especially through appropriate and respectful use of plant medicines, nature itself can bring our species back into alignment and harmony with each other and to the environment around us.
At the Temple’s core, we are focused on causal medicine – a healthcare system assisted by plant medicines that reaches to the energetic cause of our issues – which brings balance and the remembrance of our interconnectedness to nature. Through working with ayahuasca we are able to recognize the shadow and the opportunity that sits at the core of all negativity, which, when faced and integrated, is a powerful catalyst for transformation and spiritual evolution.
By facing our shadow we are often met on the other side with a remembrance of our purpose. A deep passion or calling is re-awakened within us – in our case, to commit our lives to traditional healthcare, preservation of indigenous traditions, permaculture, environmental advocacy, and education. When this happens, your creativity expands exponentially and a stream of inspired new ideas begins to flow. In permaculture terms, as we regenerate within ourselves, we are then called to regenerate the land around us.
There is no dualism here. As we address the subtle, the material follows. Each individual's personal healing moves the world towards a collective critical mass of positive transformation. A hunger to serve the collective purpose of the planet and all its beings follows. For us, the mission of the Temple and our NGOs is driven by this sense of hungry enthusiasm to work together creatively and effectively towards participating in creating a new vision for the world around us, one that comes from our light and no longer from our shadow. While permaculture here in the US is largely synonymous with organic gardening and composting techniques, I've heard it echoed that in its history it has at times suffered from being considered "cultish" or too interwoven with New Age or pagan spirituality. Some practitioners and instructors see permaculture as a strict design science based on facts and observation, while others recognize how much it seems to align with perennial wisdom traditions and nature-based spirituality. Teaching permaculture design courses at the Chaikuni Institute next to an ayahuasca retreat center, I'm curious how you deal with the spiritual or mystical side of permaculture. Does shamanic spirituality intermingle with ecological education, or are they separate? And have the two ever been in conflict or is there a strong foundation of mutual respect?
I see ancient wisdom and indigenous cultures as the grandparents and foundations of permaculture. For me, they are deeply connected to the modern practices that are now attempting to reclaim age-old, yet forgotten, ways of living and working in harmony with nature. The only difference is that we now have modern technologies, which ultimately are attempting to mimic the intelligence of nature. I see that working with nature is a ‘sacred’ science that works on facts and observation – but on both physical and non-physical levels.
Working with plant medicines reconnects us to the truth of our inter-connectedness in the most profound way. This connection naturally opens us to seeing the depth of our relationship to nature. This is the essence of paganism or animism, which sees the sacred in all as recognition of the energetic unity of all. Pagan spirituality is a shared ancestry to every human being on the planet that is non-religious and existed in all corners of the globe prior to the advances of organized religions and the ascension of scientific materialism. Pagan and animist cultures always lived with a direct, felt experience of both the material and spiritual aspects of themselves and the natural world.
I resonate most with the definition of Permaculture meaning permanent culture - as our ancestors lived for hundreds of thousands of years - and not a suicide culture, as per our current materialistic consumerist culture, which focuses on competition, domination, and exponential growth, which is impossible on a planet with finite resources. As our ancestors did and indigenous people across the planet do, we need to relearn how to see everything as eco-centric, rather than anthropocentric.
The bedrock of permaculture is its three ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. At the core of permaculture is also our common union with every aspect of the natural kingdom. The perennial wisdom and the scientific can align synergistically when approached from a place of connectedness. This can come from healing with plant medicines, which open us to the beauty and wisdom of nature, and enable us to feel our place in the web of life, while allowing us to see the potential in harnessing the brilliance of the modern, including the powerful tool of science, in a balanced way. In the years of working with the government and local communities to affect change, working with ayahuasca to heal visitors, and teaching and implementing permaculture to regenerate the land and live sustainably, where have you seen the fastest and most positive change? Where have you met unexpected or recurring setbacks?
The ‘fastest’ change I have experienced is with individuals - whether they are indigenous or non-indigenous - who come to work with ayahuasca. I have been blessed to see significant transformations in hundreds of people over the last seven years. One of the most poignant for me was with an indigenous leader called Aurelio Chino Dahua, who is the leader of the Quechua people of the River Pastaza. He first came to the Temple in 2010. He had rejected ayahuasca after having had two very negative experiences many years ago. In his first ceremony at the Temple I watched Chino explode with joy and inspiration. He felt a complete reconnection with his ancestors, had clear communication with the plant spirits, and received insightful guidance on how to move forward in his role as a leader of his people. This was the beginning of an inspiring friendship between Chino and me that has been facilitated by ayahuasca.
A significant issue found throughout the Amazon is the fact that many indigenous people are living lives split between the ’old’ and ’new’ world. Traditionally, the forest provided everything for the community – it was the hardware store, the supermarket, the pharmacy, the church, etc. However, indigenous people now struggle to grow sufficient crops on degraded lands, the rivers are often polluted and therefore fish is scarce, and local people’s diets consist of nutritionally impoverished, mass-produced foods, such as refined sugars and flours, factory-bred chickens, and copious amounts of soda drinks (which are almost the same price as purified water).
When a family is living on the razor edge of poverty, not knowing how they will feed their children the next day, and a multinational extraction company (oil, mining, logging, etc.) offers paid work – which typically pays more than subsistence farming – it is practically impossible for the local people to turn away this opportunity of a livelihood, despite the detrimental effect it has upon their community and the ecosystem.
We believe that community-based development programs are needed that focus on revitalizing traditional ecological knowledge, regenerating the soils and forest, while providing ample opportunity for self-sufficiency and sustainable livelihoods for community members. Alternatives to industrial development are possible, and well-designed, community-integrated, eco-social enterprises can generate significantly more income than the wages offered by oil companies and without the detrimental side-effects; in fact, quite the contrary, they can be a force for regenerative community development.
One of the biggest obstacles we face is in dealing with senior government, both regionally and nationally. Local government is always the most open to change as they truly have the interests of the people at heart. However, they are also the least effective in being able to intervene in some of the most pressing problems facing the Amazon and its indigenous people. In contrast, senior government is typically not interested in working with NGO’s that are focused on community development programs. The national government and its policies are fixated on economic growth, seemingly without any concern about environmental or human rights. In fact, I would dare to say that indigenous people could even be considered an inconvenience to the economic interests of national government.
The government is blindingly committed to industrial development of the country through the sale of its natural resources and the enhancement of the national GDP - a perverse metric that says nothing about the quality of people’s lives, only how much is bought and sold. The long-term intrinsic value of the Amazon is overlooked and they fail to recognize how significant an asset the forest is in terms of the life-sustaining ecosystem services that it provides (oxygen production, climate regulation, flood control, disease mitigation, detoxification, etc.), as well as the immense value of the largely unknown majority of medicinal plants.
It seems like insanity to me to be destroying the Amazon at a rate of at least 20,000 square kilometers every year. That’s an area approximately equivalent to the size of Wales, or almost the size of the state of Maryland. If allowed to continue at the present scale and pace, every person on this planet will also suffer the repercussions of this destruction. It has taken only one century of human activity to destroy a substantial part of what nature has spent many millennia evolving. It's time for us to wake up... Founding either an educational institute, NGO, or retreat center could easily be someone's life work, but you have founded all three in less than 10 years. Do you feel that this holistic and multi-faceted approach enhances the individual projects and speeds the impact of the overall mission, or is it ever a burden? What have you learned through your journey that you could share with others who are called to start similar projects elsewhere in the world?
My overwhelming recommendation to anybody looking to start any project that is committed to affecting positive change is to look and heal within first. By facing and integrating our inner shadow we are then able to connect to our higher potential and we are then inundated with inspiration, which is how we have developed three organizations in a short period of time. Through the healing process we remember that we are not here to work solely for self-gain, but to work in service to the whole. When you are able to find your purpose, you become driven by deep passion and enter into an inspired flow that is profoundly rewarding. This could never be experienced by working selfishly.
I believe that any paradigm-changing action – whether it is social, political, or environmental - needs to be coupled with a profound healing journey and deep spiritual practice. As a species, we are the marriage of spirit and matter, interwoven and of equal importance. The issues that we find across the planet are due to the amnesia of our species regarding our spiritual selves and the buildup of our personal and collective shadow. As we face our shadows and the clouds dissipate, we reclaim the remembrance of our spiritual purpose and then we are no longer able to remain inactive. We are then called with overwhelming passion into effective action. Plant spirit healing can very much facilitate this process.
The development of the Temple and our NGOs is thanks to a community of many people who are all committed to their own healing journeys and have each uniquely found their purpose. I am only one of many people who work together, each focused in different areas within the organizations, drawn together by the mutual desire to heal their past and commit to being of service to something that is greater than each one of us individually. The speed of our growth and the successes we have achieved are due to a collective of inspired and passionate people, and in no way solely due to my efforts.
I would like to share my favorite quote which captures my feelings as well as the work that we carry out through the Temple: “If you want to awaken all of humanity, awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the World, eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” – Lao-TzuBy Wesley Thoricatha