Listening To The Plants.
In traditional Amazonian shamanism, the master plant dieta (commonly known as 'La Dieta') is a process in which an apprentice shaman enters strict isolation in the jungle, adheres to a very limited diet, and ingests and cultivates a relationship with a particular plant: to learn the teachings and healing modalities that the essence of this plant has to offer.
Restrictions differ depending on lineage, tradition and beliefs, however similarities exist. Generally the diet is bland, with no salt, sugar, spices, oils, dairy, red meats, fermented foods or alcohol. There is limited contact and communication with others, hence the strict seclusion and isolation in the jungle. Entertainment such as music and reading are prohibited. No soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, or other artificial substances are permitted, and abstinence from all sexual activity is a necessity.
Traditional post-dieta protocols follow the same guidelines, anywhere from 3 to 30 days (perhaps even more) after the conclusion of working with the plants. Essentially, all of this is undertaken to keep the body, mind and spirit as clean, clear, pure and sensitive as possible, so that one can notice the subtleties of the plant wisdom coming through.
I spent nine days adhering to a similar structure, working with both Ayahuasca and my master plant, Chiric Sanango, listening to and learning what the plants had to teach me. It wasn't without struggle. The process involved strong resistance on my behalf, largely due to fear and trust issues surrounding worsening health issues, and the cessation of contact between loved ones.
I underestimated how challenging this would be, but by my fourth and final Ayahuasca ceremony, I was gifted with remarkable physical healing, and many insightful teachings and wisdom.
The reason for this post is to give an overview of the process that I went through, how I was feeling along the way, the challenges overcome and the results gained in the end.
It was suggested that I take a photo of myself everyday - to observe any changes as the journey unfolded, which I've included as well.
AYAHUASCA CEREMONY #1
This initial ceremony was mainly about cleansing and clearing space, so that my master plant, Chiric Sanango, could begin to enter and intertwine with my system over the subsequent few days. At 7pm every night, we had a half hour meditation, followed by an Ayahuascsa ceremony at 8pm, every other day.
A lot of bodily sensations were present: tingling and buzzing sensations throughout my body and head, especially my lips. At times, the pressure in my head was so dense that it felt like it was on the verge of implosion.
Eclectic visuals consisting of rotating green and yellow fractal patterns entered my existence, while humanoid entities flittered in and out with their ephemeral nature, seemingly void of any meaning or teachings.
As the medicine intensified, the focus of this experience was brought down to my lungs. This was no surprise. In my past five ceremonies in Australia (I've yet to write about these experiences), my awareness has consistently been placed on my lung health. Having suffered from asthma since my childhood, and having other respiratory issues for a few years linked to an unknown illness, the medicine was continuously bringing this to my attention.
It was clearly an ailment that was holding me back and that needed to be resolved.
In-between a few mild purges, I went into coughing fits, trying to bring up mucous from my respiratory system, hoping to clear the unpleasant feeling in my chest.
Amongst all of this, an insight regarding clarity came to me. I keep asking for more clarity in my life, in terms of meaning, purpose and direction. It seems that this clarity is not necessarily going to be about illuminating or finding hidden gems in my subconscious mind, but moreso about clearing away the fog and unnecessary clutter, so that what I already know and have in my life, can shine more brightly.
CHIRIC SANANGO #1
At 8am every morning, my shamans came to me with the shredded root of Chiric Sanango, infused with water in a large mug. The texture & consistency was akin to thick sawdust, which was as one might imagine, uncomfortable to swallow down.
According to my shaman's perspective, this plant will now stay in my system for six months, and if I complete La Dieta satisfactorily, will become a plant ally in a psychological and spiritual sense, for the rest of my life.
He tells me this could be a powerful life-reset; a great first plant to diet with: in alignment with the warrior's path. A medicine and teacher to bring me more into integrity, to aid with direction and clarity, to allow me to continue cultivating the strong & courageous yet loving & gentle warrior within, and unite me more with spirit.
Brunfelsia grandiflora is a flowering shrub native to South America, traditionally used to treat fever, arthritis and rheumatism, amongst other various conditions.
According to what I'd read from Steve Beyer, "The effect of ingesting chiric sanango can be dramatic — a tingling and vibrating sensation in the extremities, moving inward toward the head with ever-increasing intensity; periodic waves of cold; tremors, electric vibrations penetrating the chest and back, stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, loss of coordination."
I was anxious and curious as to what I was about to experience as I proceeded to lay down in bed, becoming as still as possible, observing any noticeable changes in perception.
After about an hour, and for the following couple of hours, I experienced many bodily sensations, including numbing of the lips, tingling in the head and face, a coldness spreading throughout my extremities, and regular disturbances in my digestive tract, which led to a few bouts of diarrhoea. The peak intensity faded after three hours, and I felt extremely lucid for the remainder of the day, with my equilibrium slightly off and my vision a little distorted.
By the afternoon - a mere two days in - I'd realized my incessant need to constantly be 'doing', to distract myself from the onset of potential boredom. I never considered it to be detrimental in daily life, however I'm beginning to see where I seek out meaningless entertainment and distractions, just from simply 'being'.
I was glad to pick up on this - to try and break these habits so that they don't transition into procrastination, in regards to the things I really should be spending my time and energy on.
Moments of sadness and loneliness were setting in, and I released a lot of tension through crying, which alleviated some of the emotions I was feeling. This was stemming merely from the thought of not being able to communicate with loved ones; from projecting these thoughts into the future, and reminiscing on the past.
One of the things I wanted to work on was to deepen my presence in everyday life, and this was certainly an ideal/challenging situation to practice that.
CHIRIC SANANGO #2
The medicine this AM had no resemblance of sawdust, moreso a mildly sweet water. Easy to get down. For the first couple of hours, I was simultaneously awake, yet in a dream-like state. My lips became numb, but I was no where near as lucid as yesterday.
During and after the peak of Chiric Sanango's effects, my breathing capacity seemed to moderately improve, but correlation doesn't equal causation. Perhaps moving around in the sun during the day played a large role in how my health felt.
Overall though, my breathing appeared to be worsening. Even with an Ayahuasca ceremony that night, I took a slight risk and used my asthma puffer slightly, several times (taking asthma medication and other pharmaceuticals could have severe and dangerous interactions with the MAO inhibiting qualities of Ayahuasca, and is NOT advised).
With a heavy feeling still sinking into my chest, I thought it could be a respiratory infection of some sort coming on.
Reflecting back upon my previous medicine ceremonies, I was a little confused and suspicious. I hadn't quite figured out if the medicine was helping by bringing up stagnant phlegm and reducing inflammation in my chest, or, if drinking Ayahuasca was causing my body to become more run down - causing it to produce more phlegm and inflammation. My trust issues around my body and the medicine's capabilities could be a self-fulfilling prophecy into worsening health.
I only drank a very small cup, no more than a shot glass. I didn't want to drink. My health was on my mind. After the icaros began, I left the temple space and proceeded to try and hack up anything in my lungs. It's absolutely horrible being in an altered state feeling like you can't breathe properly; especially when breath plays such a huge part in the experience.
During intense moments, to not be able to come back to the stillness & comfort of consistent and healthy breathing, is extremely distracting and makes for an incredibly uncomfortable time.
The visual experience was mild, with an emphasis on consistent, heavy, buzzing sensations in my head. I hadn't yet connected with Chiric Sanango in a visionary perception. I do have the sense that the plants can help with my ailments though.
Trust, trust, trust. I need to trust.
But that's the dilemma: It's challenging to trust and surrender completely when I feel like I'm taking such a massive risk in terms of being in an altered state, while I have poor respiratory function.
I could notice more resistance and fear settling in...
CHIRIC SANANGO #3
Consistency: sawdust again. With my laboured breathing, congested sinuses, and constant sneezing, I was praying that the plants could help heal me.
Amongst the body chills and tingling in my extremities, this was the first time I could feel a strong vibrational pulse coursing through my body; a constant buzz. When I held my hand up to my face to observe the shaking, I couldn't notice much, but inside, it felt like my central nervous system was hooked up to super-charged battery.
I was feeling deeply humbled by how difficult all of this was. In all honesty, the thought of ending this prematurely found its way into my mind several times, yet I was beginning to see how undertaking and completing this journey was a real testament to the resilience of my character and spirit.
Although I'd been broken down several times and let my emotions get the best of me, a new foundation of strength, love, kindness and softness was beginning to form.
I was pulling out the weeds, and planting new seeds to nurture and grow.
CHIRIC SANANGO #4
The final morning of ingesting Chiric Sanango. Apparently it's too taxing on the body to continue on with high doses, so we were given a little less than half the dosage of yesterday, tapering us off smoothly (although it didn't make it any easier swallowing the sawdust down again).
Similarly, there was coldness in my fingers and toes, and the vibrational pulse was present, although not as strong as yesterday. I was quite spaced out & lucid, carrying a minor headache.
Chiric Sanango is also an aphrodisiac, which would explain some of the dreams I'd been having; challenging to alleviate and steer away from as soon as they arise, as sexual thoughts are prohibited in a purely traditional shamanistic context.
In fact, it's said that an apprentice shaman's maestro is able to look into their apprentice's eyes to see if they've given in to the temptations of sexual thoughts, which would result in the termination of the apprenticeship, in which the apprentice would never be permitted to become a pure master shaman with only positive intentions for healing.
Going further down the rabbit hole, it's said that these failed apprentices would become known within their community to have failed their training, and would perhaps harbour resentment and envy towards others, which would generally lead to the practice of brujeria, black magic & witchcraft; the practice of negative intentions within the shamanistic context.
The way I view it: sexual energy of any kind can be very overpowering and strong, and doesn't allow for the subtleties of the plant energy to be observed as acutely.
Sexual thoughts or behaviours can also give way to desire; not a feeling I want to indulge in when trying to cultivate character traits and qualities such as discipline, focus & equanimity.
My thoughts and feelings are revolving more and more around loved ones, and how I'm looking forward to sharing my appreciation, kindness and love for them. Quite amazing upon reflection, considering I was not at all close to family only one year ago.
My perceptions around love were incredibly distorted, which affected my way to give and receive it my entire life. With the help of the plant medicines, they've allowed me to reframe perspectives, open my heart, and change deep-seated behavioural patterns. I truly owe it to these sacred teacher plants for transforming my life for the better.
A greater sense of appreciation and gratitude is forming in more ways than one. I'm remembering how important and grounding it is for me to spend even more time in nature. Feeling the cool crisp wind against my skin, smelling the fresh pine pollen, watching the birds flitter in and out between flowers and trees, embracing their chirps as they serenade me with their songs... It makes such a profound difference to the quality of my life.
Abstinence from human contact & communication, which has been a great challenge for me, has surprisingly given me a deeper appreciation for silence, serenity, and the stillness within myself. The practice of removing verbal communication, has allowed me to fine tune my ability to hear and listen, not just in an auditory sense, but on a deeper observational level; both internally and externally.
My shaman mentioned that she can see myself soften in my face and my smile. I can feel it within. It's as if the hardened shell that formed around my heart is cracking open. When I nurture the wounded/healing boy within, I can step into the space of being the man I want to become.
It seems there's always layers to this, and I'm constantly being given opportunities to come back to my integrity, back to my highest virtues, back to my softened and open heart.
Sigh. Another ceremony of not being able to fully surrender due to my concerns around breathing.
Shortly after the beginning of the icaros, I left the room again so I wouldn't disturb other's journeys. I had the extremely distracting urge to expand my lungs to full capacity, forcefully coughing to try and dislodge anything in there. Although the medicine was having an influence on this, most of the unpleasantness was self-inflicted.
My lungs got a severe work over. I could feel how coarse they were; seemingly full of liquid, yet dry as a sponge at the same time. My body felt run down, with some sort of sinus infection accompanying my runny and blocked nose.
It's so difficult finding the stillness within and letting go of control, when my anchor point of steady calm breaths, aren't solid enough to fall back on.
The visual distortions were apparent in the bathroom. I watched the patterns on the floor breathe and gently swirl around, as I repeatedly coughed and spat in my bucket.
I ventured outside and listened to the chorus of frogs in the cool crisp air. I wasn't sure if the cold air was more of a detriment to my lungs, but being outside in the dark, under the blanket of stars of the milky way galaxy was very grounding.
One of my shamans came outside. Sensing my discomfort, she presented a challenge to me.
"Let go of yours lungs," she whispered to me. "Let go of this story holding you back. Your lungs have been working hard. They're tired of carrying around this story..."
She blew mapacho smoke over me, and with some sweeping motions across my chest - which I understood to be clearing the energy surrounding my lungs - she disappeared back inside, leaving me to ponder this challenge she had offered.
After deep contemplation and much reflection, I began to unravel what my shaman had shared.
Since my early childhood, I've carried the story of being an asthmatic; relying on daily asthma medications to stabilize respiratory function. Even moreso since 2012, when I suffered from unknown health issues travelling through the jungles, forests, volcanoes, reef systems and coastline of Central America and the Caribbean.
Both infectious disease and liver specialists in Australia couldn't pinpoint why my liver enzymes were extremely elevated, which coincided with a weakened immune system - in particular, my poor respiratory function. Over the course of a year, my health slowly improved on it's own, but since then, it was never quite the same.
Fast forward to my initial journey to the Amazon to work with the plant medicines, where I stopped taking asthma medications for an extended period - the first time I'd ever done so. It was only until a few months prior to La Dieta, where I was beginning to feel extremely run down and short of breath, so I resumed asthma medication for peace of mind.
So the story I tell myself from my past, is that I've always had lung issues. Based on this story, I've held expectations of how I want them to be. I've become attached to this old story of diminished health that no longer serves me. Attached to the desire of wishing for something else, while clinging to the past.
I need a new narrative. To release the old story, and create something new. Of course, the past can be important in teaching us lessons and offering insight, yet I can see how holding onto this story, is holding me back.
I get locked into the mindset that I know my body, and I know my limits (based on past stories and experiences) but all this does is sabotage my ability to push beyond boundaries and explore what I'm capable of.
Whether it's purely a psychological attachment that I can release (asthma experts state that a lot of cases are psychological in nature), or something in my physiology and lifestyle that I need to address, what I truly need to do is surrender into complete acceptance of what is, and rewrite my narrative.
How would this look like? - Adhering to my highest principles and living a lifestyle that promotes optimal health and wellness.
In pondering that, it all feels like such a risk: willingly putting myself into an altered state of consciousness, crossing my fingers for physical and psychological healing, but not knowing if I'm going to have a respiratory malfunction, have my airways constrict, not be able to safely use any medication, and potentially take my last breath.
Yet there's the great riddle of consciousness and the mystery of life itself... It's a miracle that we even exist at all. And it's all transient. Nothing lasts forever.
So can I become comfortable and accepting that I will have to take my last breath at some stage, potentially during ceremony?
Can I trust that my body knows what to do to look after itself, without my mind interjecting?
Can I at least pretend that all is fine, and surrender into illusory peace and stillness?
Can I trust that the medicine can truly help me heal?
Can I trust that my spirit is strong, and if necessary, can fight for the will to live?
Yet can I also trust that if it's truly my time to go, it's my time to go?
Before ceremony, it was suggested that we build an alter in the garden, sit before it, and smoke some mapacho - sacred tobacco - to connect with the spirit of our master plant and ask for guidance with our intentions. I could feel the vibrational pulse within when I asked mapacho to deepen my connection to Chiric Sanango.
Going into ceremony, it was as if Chiric Sanango was piecing together my armour of courage, strength, integrity, discipline and direction, while keeping my softened, vulnerable, loving and compassionate heart contained within.
Distracting thoughts and feelings would try to creep in: What if it comes on too strong? What if it's terrifying? I can't wait for this to be over. Am I breathing okay? Do I need to cough or clear phlegm? Do I need a drink of water??
But before I'd even finished these thought processes, they were met with a very stern "shh!", as if I was karate chopping these thoughts away with my mind before they had the chance to solidify. It seemed that my master plant, my new plant ally, was allowing me to channel higher levels of discipline and focus, and continuously helped straighten me back on track with the slightest awareness of distraction.
I was present. I was calm. I was ready.
With only a small cup of Ayahuasca, the medicine kicked in strong, and I experienced humbling, mind-blowing dimensions, full of wonderment and wisdom.
Large humanoid beings made of twisting spirals, gently greeted me into their world. Luminous grey twirling stripes were the undertone, while beautifully vibrant pastel colours flowed throughout; a white essence the backdrop from which everything stemmed, signifying that this place was pure - a place for gentle healing.
These entities moved softly, caressing the space in which they carried themselves. We travelled through various landscapes, and with their elongated limbs, they produced glowing orbs which were presented to me as gifts. Gifts of wisdom. The wisdom of absolute trust in the medicine, the wisdom of trust that my body is fine, my body is strong, my body is okay to look after itself while I journey through these realms, and the deep wisdom of peace, stillness and oneness, once resistance is released and absolute surrender is embraced.
I had visions of gazing into a gigantic wooden vessel. The boards were running horizontal in the far distance rising high into the sky; subtle blue tones making up the open ceiling.
Inside this vast vessel were plants, trees, ferns and flowers, all lining the banks of a peaceful stream, which rose up into the highlands of the ship-like enclosure, disappearing into waterfalls and dense, scintillating, tropical vegetation.
It was like I had stepped into the movie Avatar, a visionary Utopia. Breathtaking. My words always fall short of articulating these visions with much justice or accuracy.
Themes of loved ones appeared, as I opened my heart to family. Uncomfortable feelings accompanied these themes, and a purge ensued, which I understood to be the continued clearing of emotional baggage surrounding family. Out with the old, in with the new. Getting rid of the negative connotations to make room for more love.
At some stage, Ayahuasca's realm shifted from luminous bright whites, to a darker, sinister tone. I proceeded with caution. Slithering black circles rotated around, embedded with tantalizing gemstones that gave the impression of forbidden fruit. It felt as if a malevolent force was trying to hypnotize me, but this soon vanished as the medicine wore off.
I was deeply humbled and full of gratitude. I'd just received and embodied so much deep wisdom and teachings, that I knew I was in integrity to saddle up for another cup; to test my strength, courage and discipline to journey a little longer. There's no guarantee my experience would be pleasant again, but I called on the power of Chiric Sanango and crawled up to the alter in the darkness, sitting before my shamans.
There was more resistance after drinking again, yet time after time, I kept allowing myself to drop into stillness. I was navigating an interesting world of fractal patterns when I was called on to share a prayer/blessing/song during ceremony. I wanted to decline, but somehow channelled some strength and cleared my throat. I allowed the medicine to pull, twist and contort my voice from deep inside me; a powerful native american tone emerged as I chanted along. It was incredibly healing allowing that level of expression in such a vulnerable state in front of others journeying with Ayahuasca. A powerful form of solidifying one's sense of empowerment, voice and expression in the world.
Throughout the journey, Ayahuasca would let me know when it was time to purge, or clear my throat - without my mind's distractions or input from ego playing a part. There were moments it felt like I couldn't breathe when I needed to cough or purge, but still, I trusted my body, the medicine, and the process, and stayed true to the stillness within.
And this is the most amazing part of all...
By the end of the ceremony, I could breathe! My lungs didn't feel like a dry sponge, and it didn't feel like they were full of liquid. It was the clearest I had felt throughout the entirety of La Dieta, and for quite some time before that as well. My cold had diminished, and I felt strong and healthy.
Truly amazing. I sit here contemplating the scientific mechanisms at play to explain what's happening on the level of physical healing. It's difficult for me to comprehend.
It feels as if the medicine collects old mucous from the crevasses and cavities in my lungs, pools it together into a globular form, and then allows me to cough it all out.
It seems like some kind of mechanism is being activated that allows conditions preventing homeostasis in the body to be targeted and worked on by internal healing processes.
Whatever the explanation might be, the relationship that this medicine and the human body has, and the way they work together so synergistically to provide multi-layered healing, is nothing short of astounding.
The further I journey and the more I drink the medicine, it becomes more and more clear that this is not just a psychedelic consciousness altering substance. There is something very mysterious at play here, and I experience it first hand, on deeper and deeper levels each time I sit to drink.
DAY 8 + 9
At the end of this journey, we eventually broke our diet with a delicious feast, and the communication with the other 'Dieteros' in a sharing circle. Before this, there was still ample time to process and reflect.
There were many moments where the completion of this journey seemed so far away, yet by the end, it all went by in the blink of an eye; like it was all some sort of waking dream. Did all of that really just happen???
Bitter-sweet. As it always is, finishing another cycle of work with the medicine.
It had become clear at this stage, that the core of this journey was about my health, and the process of releasing resistance into absolute surrender and stillness. In hindsight, I had many opportunities to become much more present throughout this odyssey, yet I also realize that it was the exact path that I needed to take to get me where I'm currently sitting.
There were many things that I was bringing back with me:
- Resilience of spirit.
- An armoured plate of strength, discipline, integrity & direction.
- The softening of my heart, giving way to more compassion, kindness and love.
- Deeper trust in the medicine and my body.
- A renewed relationship with my health, and how I perceive it.
- Clarity and alignment with my highest virtues, values, health & wellness, and spirit.
- The wisdom of letting go of resistance into complete surrender.
- New appreciation & gratitude for serenity, silence & the stillness within.
- Re-connection with being outside in nature.
- Even more wonderment towards the magic of the medicine.
- Great preparation for my following weeks, returning to the Amazon Jungle.
The question I found myself asking, was how do I reintegrate and make sure these lessons & teachings stay with me?
In the past I would ponder how I might act and what my behaviours might be like interacting in interpersonal relationships. But right now, I feel I'm in a place where I don't need to project into the future and think about how I'm going to be, for the more I think about how I'm going to be, the less I'm actually being in the present moment.
Like my dear medicine sister Nicole shared with me prior to La Dieta:
"Don't try to be. Just be"
I trust I'll remember and embody the wisdom I've gained, and I'm certain over time that I'll momentarily forget. But that's what reintegration is all about for me. Cultivating the practices in daily life that allow the alignment and authenticity of my deeper wisdom & truth to shine through.
Further reinforcement has become apparent, that this is my master key. At least for now, the plant medicines are my ultimate tool of choice to help carve this inner path of self-mastery. It's trial by fire, and can be incredibly uncomfortable and challenging on many levels, yet for me, it continues to keep unlocking and revisiting those deeper layers of inner wisdom, regarding my virtues, values, heart and spirit.
I feel I'm in a great place for my second adventure back to Peru to work with the medicine. I've placed my foot on the first stepping stone, ready to further uncover and delve into more of the mysteries of the universe, hopefully gaining more clarity, healing and wisdom along the way.
So so grateful. So very humbled.
Share with your friends!
Don't forget to join the community and sign up for your free download:
65 Questions to Contemplate Before and After the Psychedelic Experience.