The Economics of Ayahuasca: Should Healing be Free?

 Art by Josh Usmani

Art by Josh Usmani

Originally posted on

Nothing polarizes spiritual pursuits like the almighty dollar. Money is a complicated force woven within our cultural psychology, and when you combine it with our spiritual pursuits, the entanglement can go haywire.

Most of us have no problem justifying the cost of our iPhones, our doctor-prescribed medications, our exotic vacations, jewelry and clothes and food and furniture; even the cost of a spa massage. If the items we want or need are beyond our reach, we find a way through savings and patience, or putting in extra elbow grease and effort. Humans are manifesting monsters when we have our eye on the prize.

For many of us, however, paying for a spiritual experience brings up all kinds of resistance and stories. There’s a lot of discourse that proposes a process that brings you closer to God should be free; perhaps because it’s our birthright to know our divinity. How does someone have the audacity to charge for that?

But what if the reverse is true? Isn’t it audacious to assume someone’s life calling should be given away? Isn’t the most valuable thing in the world our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being?

An Ayahuasca ceremony can completely transform your life. From your physical health to your emotional stability to the way you connect with the world, this medicine has the power to completely reshape your beingness and bring you back into your natural state of joy and serenity. But she is only as powerful as the vessel she moves through to connect with you, and if that vessel has worked for decades to purify and bond with her energy, they are a core reason your life improves.

The people that dedicate their lives to this path deserve compensation for all their tremendous work and devotion. Furthermore, you deserve the blessing of giving them money or an energy exchange as a show of gratitude and respect; for them, for Ayahuasca, and for the entire tradition.

The Psychology of Giving and Receiving

Paying for anything gives it value. If we don’t hold something as valuable, we are far less likely to receive it with an open heart. Some sort of energy exchange is almost always necessary for one to truly experience the full gift and value of any object or experience. This is especially true for healing.

Let’s first examine this by thinking about how we receive gifts. When we receive something for a holiday from a loved one, it’s usually either an expression of their love for us (which is itself an energy exchange for the love we give to them), or something given out of necessity because it’s a bloody holiday and one has to give gifts.

I would venture to guess the gifts you love the most came from the people closest to you. While it may seem those gifts were in fact “free”, they are instead physical tokens of all the times you listened, laughed, and bonded together. There were likely dozens of energy exchanges long before the gift landed.

And the gifts you love the least often feel that way because they aren’t personal or customized; they are after-thoughts, or given by someone who doesn’t know you that well. So they lack the same level of meaning, no matter what their monetary value is.

This is the psychology of giving and receiving. In order for a gift to be meaningful, it is given and received. And it’s our ability to receive that makes or breaks the process.

So let’s bring that in to the healing space.

Yes, in theory, it would be lovely if Ayahuasca were free to everyone, as everyone deserves to heal. But would that really bring about the results we envision?

No way. That goes against our psychology.

 “Yage” by Kailyn Deyn

“Yage” by Kailyn Deyn

It’s true that in indigenous cultures, the medicine man or woman doesn’t always charge their tribe for services. But then, in these cultures, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is always giving and receiving. The hunters, the chefs, the caretakers, the builders, the healers – they are all held as equals, and each one helps create balance and happiness for the whole tribe. Their payment is receiving the gifts of all other roles, and that is incredibly divine.

Our culture honors money as a way to create that balance, which is no less sacred and effective at its core. Some of us still embrace the barter system too, which is awesome. In my Ayahuasca and psychedelics coaching practice, I love receiving someone else’s gifts in lieu of cash as payment. I’ve received incredible artwork (just look at that Ayahuasca inspired painting by Kailyn Deyn!), psychic readings, sound healing sessions, and all kinds of beautiful exchanges. In many ways, these are far more powerful and meaningful than a cash exchange. Regardless of what is given, however, it’s the balance that matters.

So showing up for an Ayahuasca ceremony without giving anything in exchange does not create the energy for anyone to fully receive and heal. Balance, balance, balance.

How Spirituality and Money Became a Dirty Combo

I have gone toe-to-toe with the expectation that healing should be free a gazillion times. When I ran the Las Vegas Ayahuasca circle, people came from all over the country to sit with us, and I frequently held space for the arguments around cost.

I get it. Somewhere along the way in our culture, connecting to spirit via a money exchange started feeling as dirty as paying for sex. If you want to know why, ask the church.

The issue is integrity, not the actual money exchange. We have endless examples in our world of people who pretend to have our highest good – priests, healers, monks, teachers – but are actually seduced by money and power. And it feels utterly devastating to be duped by the people we trust the most.

I went to Catholic mass every Sunday as a kid, and when the donations basket was passed around, I loathed that feeling of responsibility and expectation. There were always those people who eyeballed the process, silently judging those who didn’t give an offering. It was as if God’s love was equal to the check you wrote that weekend. That felt so out of context for a holy place.

But because we’ve allowed money to be the core of our safety and foundation, a balance is necessary. If we can’t give money as thanks for a spiritual connection, what on earth is of value to us anyway?

Integrity. That’s really what we’re seeking. And the moment we are betrayed by those we gave trusted funds to, our whole paradigm falls to pieces. We are now damaged, and fear has replaced trust. Because human beings are fallible, the whole space of money exchange for healing and expansion has become deeply tainted.

But we can reclaim that by trusting the process, and continuing to give value to the things that matter.

Stop Saying Money is a Necessary Evil

I once knew a jungle-based shaman who refused to charge for his ceremonies. “Money is the white man’s devil,” he stated. And in time, he, too, succumbed to the darkness he resisted. He secretly lusted for abundance, and started chasing fame instead. And soon enough, people in his ceremonies started reporting infractions and darkness galore. Safety went out the backdoor, and his internal battle come to the forefront.

Isn’t that the way of duality. . .if we vilify anything, we have created a conflict. A war we must engage in. And eventually, we will breakdown.

All of this darkness and manipulation and pain is not money’s fault; currency is energy, like anything else. I actually had the spirit of money visit me once in an Ayahuasca ceremony; he went by the name “Moneta”. I sat in the truth of that vibration; it’s a giving energy, a beautiful, supportive, divine light.

It’s us humans that bring our dualistic darkness to the exchange.

You see, every time we receive money, it’s part of a contract. I will give you X dollars for Y goods or services. If those are not delivered with honesty, there is a disconnect.

And money gets blamed. But money has zero fault.

We also come with sky-high expectations at times, and our agendas get in the way of a balanced exchange. I saw that in ceremony from time to time. People would come with the expectation that the shaman was there to heal them, to essentially do the work for them, because they paid for the experience. When that false assumption came to light, there was occasionally deep friction.

But that’s on us once again. If we owned our end of each monetary contract, money would never get blamed for being the bad guy.

It’s also true that the more someone faults money as “the root of all evil”, the less of it they are likely to manifest. Energy goes where it is invited, consciously or subconsciously.

At the root of anyone who does not want to pay for a spiritual experience lies scarcity and fear. They may have been wronged, betrayed, and hurt by similar exchanges, and they unknowingly project that through mistrust on others, or money itself.

You know what doesn’t work for those people? Giving them free Ayahuasca ceremonies.

My Rites of Passage with Giving Away Healing

When I started organizing ceremony circles, I had this big, huge, “everyone gets to heal!” heart. There was one big piece of wisdom I was missing, however – not everyone wants to do the work that healing requires. We all have divine timing. And no one can force a miracle.

People would come to us a lot without the ability to pay, and I often paid for them. I paid for dozens and dozens of folks to have ceremonies. I made it a habit to take my 20% cut of the profits and donate it back to the process by giving people free ceremonies. And I often went overboard and took money out of my pocket too.

By and large, this blew up in my face.

Because of the lack of giving and receiving, most of these beautiful souls did not have the profoundly healing experience they were hoping for. Why? Because they didn’t put any skin in the game. The universe requires that we give of ourselves in order to get what we want in return.

By paying for other peoples’ ceremonies, I was robbing them of that vital balance.

There were exceptions, of course – people with humongous hearts and hurts that were equally large, who came with such humility and gratitude, that itself was a legitimate offering. Those that showed up with a gift for the shaman or a basket of fruit for the tribe – they would have transformative experiences. Those that stayed late and cleaned the buckets or swept the house – they, too, created the necessary exchange.

I learned that nothing is given to us without our willingness to work for it, because we don’t know how to value a handout.

Contrast is necessary. Giving and receiving are a sacred duo.

One Graceful Way to Combine Money and Healing

I have landed in a place through my coaching practice that feels heavenly with regards to money. It’s been a tough road to get here, but it feels like I’ve unlocked a graceful way to combine these two with grace and harmony.

I have my set rates, and those that can pay them, do.

But those that can’t show up frequently, and I have a simple formula: Tell me what you can pay. Name your price.

That leaves the responsibility on the individual to first stretch into some place of offering. They create value first and foremost by working through the discomfort of asking for a discount, and then honestly stating what they can pay.

I am wholly taken care of by Moneta, and therefore feel aligned to never turn someone away because of money.

I’m not giving away the gifts and wisdom that I worked hard to attain, but I’m not making it out of reach for anyone either.

It’s a delicious harmony. But it takes trust that balance will prevail.

Money is not the root of any evil. It’s a supportive, powerful force. The more we bring our integrity and love to that union, the more supported we feel.

I hope we can reclaim some of this ugliness around giving an energy exchange for healing; we all deserve to have a cleaner experience of giving and receiving.

And let us not forget that there is enough to go around. Our world presents us all with an opportunity to thrive; we only need to hold the attitude that everyone is worthy. Everyone gets to win. I know we’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re headed. It may be a bumpy road full of greed and fear-mongering and a deep space of separateness, but on the other side of that ugliness lies a beautiful space of inclusion, love, and abundance.

I will see you there. you still think Ayahuasca should be free?

About the Author

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The AfterLife Coach, is a traditionally trained Ayahuasquera and a vocal advocate for all sacred psychedelic spaces. Kat is an experienced Ayahuasca coach and guide, helping anyone prepare for and integrate this amazing medicine. Kat also works with people confronting issues around death and shadow, and anyone looking to be more deeply connected to soul. She is soul coach communicator and lover-of-death. Her calling is to be a light as we walk through our darkness, and to remind us that everything is always OK.