🫠 Psychonaut POV

[4-min read] Q&A with Shamanka Sonamor, Neuroscientist & Shaman

Welcome to Tricycle Day. We’re the psychedelics newsletter that swirls science and spirituality like a well-oiled soft-serve machine. 🍦

Dr. Shaunna Morris, aka Shamanka Sonamor, came to indigenous traditions from an unlikely background—neuroscience. Only once her research got personal and Western science failed to deliver did she begin to explore plant medicine. That path eventually led her to becoming a shaman herself.

We spoke to Shamanka about reconciling hard science with shamanic wisdom, how quantum theory explains collective healing, and a dream experiment to study the human capacity for love.

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Shamanka Sonamor Psychonaut POV
You had an accomplished academic career in neuroscience and psychiatry before transitioning to working with plant medicines. What initially sparked your interest in indigenous healing traditions?

My curiosity about human nature started early in my life. As a teenager, I became interested in psychology and spirituality, which led me to study with a Jungian analyst. I was inspired to become a doctor of psychology and went on to study many religions and philosophies. Along this path, I became fascinated by the brain and found myself on the cutting edge of neuroimaging research, studying conditions like Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and Parkinson's disease.

However, I found the prevailing paradigm in neurology at the time—that neuronal death and lost connections were permanent—bleak and unsatisfying. As my grandfather developed Alzheimer's, I searched for solutions, but science couldn’t provide the answers I’d hoped for. After watching a documentary about ayahuasca, I was drawn to explore plant medicines and indigenous healing traditions.

My first experience with ayahuasca completely changed my life. Since then, witnessing others' transformations with plant medicine has only deepened my interest in indigenous traditions and psychedelics as agents of healing. I’ve been blessed to connect with people who have nourished my curiosity, including my partner and longtime shaman, Wakana Whiteowl Medicine Woman.

In recent years, science and spirituality have begun to coalesce. People are becoming more receptive to ancient wisdom because scientific explanations back it up. We can now see that plant medicines help rewire the brain, and as our brains change, we can create new paradigms and ways to view ourselves and each other. This convergence of ideas is bringing hope and positive change to our world.

Coming from a background in Western science, what has surprised you most about the shamanic perspectives you’ve encountered?

One of the most surprising realizations was just how much I didn't know. The more time I spent in academia, the more I noticed how many assumptions were made to verify the supposed truth. It made me question what I believed and, fundamentally, what was real.

My experience with ayahuasca allowed me to have a personal connection with something larger than myself. I recognized that there were many more possibilities than I’d ever conceived of. The medicine also helped me understand how my thoughts and beliefs were affecting my reality. The patterns of my thinking were wiring my brain, which in turn limited what I could perceive. While I could intellectually understand this idea from my academic background, the medicine helped me appreciate it in a new way.

The medicine allows me to see things I wouldn’t normally see. It has taken me time to make sense of this paradigm shift. One of the most valuable things I have learned is to practice being comfortable sitting with the unknown. Approaching each situation from the standpoint of not knowing allows me to discover even more than I could have otherwise.

Can you elaborate on your perspective on quantum physics? How does quantum theory fit into the brain remapping and subjective experiences facilitated by plant medicines?

Everything is interconnected in ways beyond our human comprehension.  In a ceremony, as we step outside of our usual limitations and experience something new, as we heal and change from within, there’s a ripple effect beyond time and space. When we lean more deeply into loving ourselves and each other, that love expands in ways we can't even fathom.

This is where the quantum physics explanation fits in. Everything is instantaneously and infinitely connected. For example, if someone in a ceremony is working through trauma, and they are able to create healing, they are not only healing it for themselves but also, to some degree, changing that energy for the better wherever it exists in the world.

Jungian theory supports these ideas, too. According to Jung, there are universal archetypal energies, shared by all human beings. As we work through our pain, it transforms into something else. This process affects us all, not just the person receiving the healing. The healing of an individual's trauma works to heal that archetypal energy on a collective level. This is how we change the world.

At Reunion, your work is oriented around helping guests expand their capacity for love and shed limiting beliefs. Why did Reunion feel like the right setting to pursue those intentions?

Reunion integrates indigenous traditions, modern perspectives, and cutting-edge science into the best practices I have witnessed in the plant medicine field. These practices create a map that allows people to find their way back to themselves. I give credit to the Founder and Steward, Brad Wells, and his commitment to honoring sacred plant medicine as a gift to be shared with others. He chose to set up Reunion as a nonprofit, which was key for me because I’ve witnessed the miracles that are possible when purpose is chosen over profit.

Reciprocity, trust, and safety are prioritized in how we care for our guests and each other. This work is supported by the beautiful land Reunion sits upon, and it's an honor to serve here surrounded by nature—the ocean,  jungle, and grounds. Everyone at Reunion pours their heart and soul into every aspect of the guest experience. The focus, dedication, and deep care for each other from all involved (grounds and housekeepers, kitchen staff, operations, facilitators, shaman) are rare and truly matter.

What research projects would you most like to explore next?

We see after people have experienced plant medicine here at Reunion that their capacity to love themselves and others increases. A fascinating research project would be to measure love capacity before and after ceremony.  If we had a scale to quantify love or an instrument to monitor it, this would be an amazing thing to explore.

As much as I’d like to quantify self-compassion and love, I understand the difficulty in measuring something without influencing the results. Quantum physics tells us that what is studied is always changed by being observed.  When our consciousness becomes entangled with what we are observing, what is observed changes.  Speaking as a scientist, that muddies the results. As a shaman, on the other hand, I am excited by that. This is how we create change.

Want more from Shamanka?

Visit her in Costa Rica. As a not-for-profit healing center, Reunion has generously offered our readers $250 off any retreat with code TricycleReunion.

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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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