Sananga & Wild Sight
"Think of the state you typically find yourself in at the end of a long day of staring at the computer screen: posture hunched, head thrust forward, shoulders tight, legs restless—you probably know the scenario all too well. And while we can stretch our legs, get a shoulder rub, and work the kinks out of our necks, some parts of our bodies aren’t so easy to shift out of their habitual states. I’m thinking of the eyes—and the brain.
In our text and media-saturated culture, our eyes are almost always on. Visual cues are everywhere; night is almost the only time we relax our visual apparatus, unless you’re one of the few who regularly makes time to listen to music (I mean really listen, without doing anything else).
It’s not just about eye strain. More concerning is the state of mind (and corresponding state of the central nervous system) that accompanies our habitual sharp focus. Constantly focusing on the trees to the exclusion of the forest, we tend towards myopia, in the figurative sense of “lack of imagination or intellectual insight.” We’re looking so hard all the time that we forget to open our eyes and see.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a magic eye drop to snap us out of screen-and-text mode and back into big-picture vision, into sight as sensory experience? Something to help us to see the forest, with its play of light and color and shape, and not just the trees? Sananga is that something.
Sananga comes to us by way of the Amazon. A liquid extracted from the root of an herbaceous plant in the Apocynaceae family, Sananga burns intensely when applied to the eyes—like many rainforest medicines, you feel it working, to say the least. The burn is intense for about about a minute, or until tears clear the fluid away; the pain recedes completely within 3 or 4 minutes. The pain is not something to be endured so much as embraced; it is part and parcel of the medicine, bringing one into the present moment, into the body and emotions and breath.
Subtly, under the burn, there’s an almost electric tingle, a clue that Sananga is working on the nervous system. (Another clue: Sananga is a distant cousin of the Central African plant Iboga, known for its potent neurological and psychoactive effects.)
What I’ve found over a month of working with Sananga is that, though the initial sensation is intense, the lingering effects are subtle. There’s a sense of the visual field being washed clean (as the tear ducts certainly are), and of the eyes being wide open. The feeling is of peaceful, sober clarity. There’s a renewal and brightening of vision, which goes hand in hand with moderate light sensitivity for the first few minutes. There’s a softening, too: it becomes natural to take in more of the visual field. This may be part of the reason Sananga is traditionally used by the Yawanawa, Huni Kuin, and other Amazonian peoples before hunting— with soft focus it’s easier to detect movement throughout the visual field.
On the subtlest level of all, Sananga is reputed to help open up the third eye or inner vision. This sounds cool, but what does it mean? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about x-ray vision or even visionary states so much as lucidity in day-to-day life. Are we walking through our waking dream with eyes wide open? Are we aware enough to notice what’s happening in and around us? Simply put, Sananga brings us back to ourselves and helps us to see. "
Jonathan Hadas Edwards, Herbalist
Brooklyn Acupuncture Project