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Doing Dieta – two additional rules

April 15, 2013


My friend Papamiki (one of the few Western Maestros who really merits the name) consistently says that doing dietas is the royal road to deepening the therapeutic work with Madre Ayahausca.

Actually, he does not use that particular expression – I borrowed it from Freud who famously talked about dreams being the “royal road to the unconscious”. Papamiki also points out that most of the well-known writers in the ayahuasca world have never done dietas. I don’t know how he knows this but he’s usually right.

So what is a dieta? One very good answer is offered in this link. It is the way of training that the shamans of the Shipibo-Konibo have used for thousands of years to deepen and develop their healing crafts – usually done with the support of their Maestro. Essentially, for a given period of time, that can range from ten days to one year or even longer, the shamans imbibe a plant – combined with ceremonies with la Madre Ayahuasca – to gain access to the knowledge and wisdom that the spirit of the plant may grace them with. Given that there are thousands of medicinal plants in the Amazon, the possibilities for dieta are endless.

Traditionally, these dietas were conducted in an isolated hut in the jungle – alone except for visits from the person’s Maestro – with strong dietary restrictions (typically no salt, sugar, oil, dairy products, sex) to be observed in this period. To become a genuine Maestro is a difficult, tough, rigorous training, usually lasting at least ten years, whilst the apprentice Maestro does a number of long dietas with different plants/trees. The demands of this, and the sacrifices involved is one reason that few Shipibo young people are now following this training to become Maestros.

To Western ways of thinking, notions of plant spirits stretch credulity way too far. If, as Jeremy Narby says, the experience with Madre Ayahuasca is a profound challenge to the western rational paradigm, then ideas of plant spirits that are intelligent, healing entities is a further leap in the dark.

I recently completed my fourth ten-day dieta. This time I dieted the shrub bobinsana, which helps strengthen the emotional body. In Shipibo medicine, in common with other non-Western medicines, we have four bodies – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.


Chiricsanango flower

In previous dietas, done over a six-month period, I have dieted chiricsanango, machinga and noyaroa. The last of these is a special case and has a unique diet with different restrictions – for those interested, you can read more about this in a recent post on my friend Ian’s blog.

A number of people have commented that they have seen changes in me during this six month period of dieting – basically more confidence, humor and strength. I would agree with this. It was particularly in the dieta with machinga that I felt I was really introduced to the world of the plant spirits, and the particular being who is Don Machinga, which inspired the creation of this blog.

This fourth dieta with bobinsana has enabled me to be clearer about two rules – additional to the dietary restrictions – that it’s advisable to follow:

Rule 1. It’s best not to work at the same time.

I was fortunate to be able to do my three previous dietas in contexts outside my normal day-to-day life. Additionally, I had no access to internet or phone during the period of the dieta which is a great help. This time, however, I had an unexpected opportunity to participate in a dieta as its venue changed from a community twelve hours downriver to a center close to where I live and work. This meant I could come and go to the ceremonies every other night for nine nights whilst I was working.

one of Don Machingas's roots

A root of the machinga tree

The point of a dieta is to immerse you in a deep, intense, internal process. Sometimes, too, such as with machinga, the effect of drinking the plant/tree is to almost immobilize you for periods of time. To be receptive to the wisdom of the plant spirit, you have to attune yourself to its rhythm. Having to work during this recent dieta meant that I constantly felt pulled between the demands of this internal process and the need to extrovert myself to be social and attend to complex work situations

There were, however, some benefits to this. Especially because I was dieting a plant that effects the emotional body, I was much more sensitive to situations and the emotional impressions of these situations. In ceremony at night, I was able to see better and understand clearly the emotional dynamics that had impacted me during the day. In general, I find this with Madre Ayahuasca – she helps bring semi-conscious, intuitive realizations much more strongly into consciousness.

Rule 2. Be careful what you eat after the dieta is closed.

During the ten days of the dieta, I ate no salt, spicy foods, sugar, oil, dairy products, red meat, and fruit. It is an exceptionally boring and bland diet. The night that the dieta was closed and the dietary restrictions ended was also the birthday of the Shipibo Maestro conducting the dieta so we celebrated with chocolate cake. This seemed like a good idea beforehand but I was not so sure when confronted by this huge, glistening, chocolate cake looking like an enormous slime mould at 2am.

inca+colaThe next day, along with all the people participating in the dieta and the family of the Shipibo Maestro, twenty of us went to eat roast chicken and chips at the best polleria in Pucallpa. Somehow, I was stupid enough to drink almost one liter of Inca Kola – an incredibly sugary, urine-colored, caffeine-filled Peruvian national version of Coca Cola whose main ingredient is hierba louisa (lemon verbena).

Despite not having slept at all the night before when the dieta ended, I could not sleep this night either. My heart was pounding so strongly and my mind so stimulated by this excess of sugar that I decided to get up and work rather than lying tossing and turning all night

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