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Taking Stock

October 10, 2013

At the end of December this year, it will be four years since I started drinking ayahuasca. My introduction to La Madre Ayahuasca was at the Temple of the Way of Light, in Iquitos, Peru which involved drinking ayahuasca in seven ceremonies over twelve days.

I am grateful to the Shipibo Maestr@s and all the staff at the Temple of the Way of Light for facilitating a safe and powerful entry into La Madre’s world. Living in Yarina (the indigenous part of Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon), I increasingly hear stories of neglect and abuse – financial, sexual and emotional – by so-called shamans. The Temple of the Way of Light provides a secure and strong container for people’s initial experience with La Madre.

For some reason, now seems a good time to take stock of my nearly four-year journey with La Madre.

As I continued to to drink ayahuasca in further workshops at the Temple of the Way of Light, over the period of a year, I had some extraordinary and powerful experiences, which opened me to new worlds and other realities. I have now come to think that what La Madre does is to give us glimpses of her world, which then provide the encouragement and motivation to keep going when the going gets difficult. And normally, it does get rough. It’s like any relationship in which the honeymoon period or the first flushes of falling in love can later provide an important reference point and reminder when the reality and challenges of the relationship begins to bite.

As I wrote once before, anyone who thinks drinking ayahuasca is a short-cut or false means to obtain enlightenment, is talking out of prejudice and/or ignorance. As my friend Ian Driscoll wrote in his blog about his experience of dieta and the seemingly endless miserable retching and vomiting that he experienced:

 “If anyone tells you that ayahuasca is just a recreational drug, and simply another form of escapism, feel free to give them my contact information.”

The serious work with La Madre really began when I started to do dietas. For a really good article on what a dieta is, click here. The main purpose of a dieta, in which a palo (a plant or tree) is imbibed in liquid form (with one notable exception), is to make contact with the spirit of the palo and receive whatever the palo offers.

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical about this at first. My academic training and fifty odd years of being immersed in the dominant rational, materialistic culture did not leave much room for plant spirits. But then as Jeremy Narby has commented: “Drinking ayahuasca is a profound challenge to the Western paradigm.”

My first ten-day dieta was in November 2012. There are many different ways and traditions of doing dietas. The people I work with offer ceremonies every other night of dieta, and the palo is usually drank at last twice on the nights when there are not ceremonies. There are strong food and behavioral restrictions on dietas, again which vary according to the specific tradition, but generally include no red meat, no dairy products, no fruit, no bread, no oil, no salt, no alcohol, no sugar and no sex.

After a ten-day dieta there is usually a twenty-day post dieta which involves no sex, alcohol and pig (for two months). This often generates amusing and/or disturbing fantasies (according to your taste) of breaking the dieta in three ways simultaneously by getting drunk and making love to a pig.


The flower of chiricsanango

My first dieta was with chiricsanango. My Maestro had recommended this to me a few months before as he had diagnosed potential rheumatism in my body. Chiricsanango is very good for the overall strengthening of the central nervous system and is often recommended as a first dieta as it provides a strong platform for further dietas.

On my first dieta, I don’t think I ever experienced such strong ceremonies. I was besieged by apocalyptic imagery, which I have written about before. But the primary revelation for me was to strongly experience the presence of chiricsanango. This was a very friendly, accompanying, companionable presence, which I felt physically very close to me.

Additionally, the chiricsanango gave me great clarity and helped to slow down and make it much easier to navigate the chaos of the onset of the mareación. A further effect of chiricsanango for most people is to have vivid, and therefore more easily recalled, dreams.

Since that first dieta, I have done five other ten-day dietas – twice with Don Machinga, once with Bobinsana, once with Bobinsana and Chiricsanango combined, once with Noyarao – and one recent thirty-day dieta with ayahuma. One thing I have learned from these dietas is that the plant spirits really do not like me writing about my experience and conversations with them in this blog.

Don Machinga, especially, has mostly withdrawn from me – partly because he was angry that in my very first blog entry, I revealed intimate details of his world and partly because he is waiting for me to do something about illegal logging. This relates to the point Steve Beyer makes in his excellent book ‘Singing to the Plants’ (to my mind the best book currently available about ayahuasca) in which he says that contact with the spirits, like any relationship, entails reciprocity and mutual obligations.

I surprised myself by working out that over the last year, I have spent a quarter of the year on dieta. The interesting thing is that I never planned to do this. The process happened naturally – one dieta unfolded into another. My friend and mentor here says that dietas are where the real work gets done – that is deep, intense and sustained healing.

So, taking stock, what have been the overall effects of these dietas?

Before answering that, I first want to make a general comment about how Madre Ayahuasca has effected me. For the first fifty years of my life, when I lived in England, I suffered from anxiety, depression and insomnia. This became particularly acute in my thirties and forties. I spent twelve years in therapy and training in body-based Reichian bioenergetic psychotherapy, three years in Gestalt therapy, and one year in Jungian analysis. This all helped but never seemed to fully resolve the problem.  

An important step in overcoming these personal issues was my decision at the age of 50 to leave England and move to live and work in Mexico at which point I started to feel much better. This confirmed for me James Hillman’s view that the problems we suffer do not reside solely in our individual psyche, or, better put, that our psyche and that of the world and culture we live in are continuous. (As an aside, for an interesting discussion of this, have a look at Ian Driscoll’s latest blog about the psychological effects of being back in California for a few months after living in Peru for a year.)

I think all the therapy that I did was useful in that it gave me tools to work with La Madre Ayahuasca and for her to work with me. I think she uses whatever tools, channels and resources people have available – for some people it can be meditation, for others yoga, martial arts, painting, poetry and/or music.

However, La Madre Ayahausca has helped me reach parts of my being that I had never really touched before. For example, I realized that my birth had been deeply traumatic. I knew this intellectually and even emotionally before but in ceremony I experienced it on a deep somatic level. As a result, I had made a decision to not fully incarnate into my body. The trauma also led me to reject the love my mother offered me, which is an interesting reversal of the standard psychological doctrine of seeing ourselves as victims of our parents.

In short, La Madre helped hugely to heal myself of the anxiety and its accompanying symptoms, which had plagued me for so many years. It seems there is growing evidence of her efficacy in dealing with anxiety, panic and depression – as well as in many other areas like the healing of many physical illnesses and the treatment of addictions.

So back to the question about my dietas.

For the last six months or so in the dietas that I have done, I have felt that I am in boot-camp with La Madre Ayahuasca. She is patiently teaching me focus and concentration. I am a slow learner and in her remedial class, which is a relief after having all my life been in the top class.

She is also slowly showing me the differences between what are the products of my mind and what is genuinely ’other’ – though the dividing line here is not sharp. Furthermore, the dietas have been very powerful in the overall cleansing of my body and psyche. I have had relatively few visions or even insights in this time. She once said to me that the time for visions is not now. The work is cleansing and concentration which leads to being present.

I have had many ceremonies now in the past year where my rational, left-brained mind thinks afterwards that nothing much has happened. Yet, as always, the ceremonies are enormously stimulating and I rarely sleep afterwards. I’m writing this now at 4am after returning from a ceremony, finding that I could not sleep and that the words for this blog began to form spontaneously in my mind.

What I notice is that – even if I am not having visions or transcendental experiences, like I used to – I am more confident, assertive, creative, energetic, embodied and productive than I have ever been in my life. La Madre is helping me live more fully in this world, which seems the point to me of a human existence. Plus, at my best, I can let life flow more easily. Being anxious and a Capricorn to boot, I have always had a tendency to plan and control. Now I find I can use this capacity, which has its benefits, alongside being more receptive to what life is presenting me. I am less forcing and more responsive.

I seem to have acquired an inner strength, which was always latent but is now more manifest. I feel both more empathic with others and at the same time less overwhelmed by others’ feelings. My ideas and intuitions flow more easily into actions.

I can only conclude with a deep sense of gratitude for the work with La Madre Ayahuasca, all the friends I have met and made on this path, and in particular for my two teachers.

  1. Michael Guy permalink

    Very clear, informative, and written with appropriate humility Paul. I enjoyed reading it, and regret that you won’t be around during my upcoming visit. It would have been good to see you face to face.

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