Meeting the Mareación and Paying Attention
I am currently about half-way through a nine-week dieta with the legendary Amazonian tree Noyarao, also known in Spanish as Palo Volador (the flying tree).
The seventy-seven year old Shipibo Maestro B. is the undisputed main source of knowledge and training regarding this tree. He claims that being able to receive and work with the spirit of this tree is all that is needed to become a healer. He also says that the tree is “el camino a la verdad” – the path to the truth. He has been drinking ayahuasca since he was five after his family, which has a long shamanic lineage, recognized his special talent. For a haunting recording by Howard Charing from 2002, of Maestro B. singing a Noyarao icaro, click here.
Friends who have been dieting longer with this tree – the full dieta is 365 days, which can be spread over a number of years, which works better than doing 365 consecutive days – report visions of celestial cities of great beauty. The defining feature of the tree is its uncompromising purity and radiance – generally seen as white light.
I have had the good fortune to be with him the last nine days during which time we have done five ceremonies. Maestro B. commented towards the end of a recent ceremony that the tree “no quiere declararse” – it does not want to show itself. This comment interested me greatly because it validated what I had been pondering about all the plant and tree spirits that I have dieted – that they like to remain hidden, thereby affirming one of Heraclitus’ important sayings that “nature loves to hide itself”.
Heraclitus, also known as the “weeping philosopher”, was a pre-Socratic Greek thinker, living in the fifth century B.C. before Socrates, Plato and Aristotle sent Western thought spinning off on a path towards the dominance of reason.
Many see his work, which survives in fragments, as forming the roots of a distinctive, alternative, almost mystical tradition in Western philosophy.
I have commented in other blogs that despite my efforts with many dietas, in which, to the huge surprise of my rational mind, I have felt the presence of these extraordinary plant spirits, each with their distinctive character and gifts, after the dietas the contact seems to fade away. I had previously wondered if writing and talking about them led them to withdraw and I’m sure this plays a part.
Recently, however, I had begun to see, helped by La Madre Ayahuasca, that they fade away because I also do not pay sufficient attention to them. It’s like any relationship. You get back what you give. I had cast myself in a passive and dependent role, expecting the plant spirits to do all the work. They have to be approached with humility, care and respect, courted even, to ease them out of their hiding.
To counter this neglect on my part, I have acquired two specimens each of bobinsana, chiricsanango, and ayahuasca and planted some of them where I can see them from my balcony.
The same principle applies of course to meeting La Madre Ayahuasca. On this recent dieta, we drank on two consecutive evenings. I was very tired the second night.
I thought going into the ceremony that my tiredness would help me surrender more to the medicine as I would be less resistant but what happened was that I lacked the strength through tiredness to be able to meet and enter into the mareación – the name given in the Peruvian Amazon to the altered consciousness induced by drinking ayahuasca. This work is demanding.
I have written about this reciprocal relationship before, citing Steven Beyer’s view that we cannot enter into the spirit world as tourists and that entry and subsequent stay entails obligations and commitments.
Sonu Shamdasani makes the same point in the book he co-authored with James Hillman called “Lament for the Dead”, based on their conversations following the recent publication of Jung’s famous Red Book.
He says (p.16-17), in relation to Jung’s relationship with the personalized figures of his deep imagination that he encountered in his long shamanic descent (more respectably called a “mid-life crisis”) that:
“The images came with a burden of responsibility. That he was given a boon as he [Jung] puts it. But they indicate what he subsequently had to earn and realize in life.”
There are no free rides in the spirit world. That may not suit our impatient, quick-fix, hedonistic Western consumer culture.
This attitude of passivity in relation to getting well comes particularly from the way that Western allopathic medicine encourages dependence on the doctor or the treatment. I was struck recently, on hearing the story of a friend’s encounter with doctors at one of the leading cancer clinics in the USA, that the whole emotional thrust of their interventions was to create fear – nothing like fear for inducing dependence.
In the face of this fear, the highly-trained, white-coated, usually male doctor or pill or shiny advanced technology becomes the ‘hero’ in the healing narrative. As an aside, my friend also told me that before you see any of the doctors in this clinic, you see the financial adviser – which is necessary when just a twenty minute consultation costs $1600 USD and that is before the battery of hugely expensive tests they want to give you.
Stemming from this passivity, and also from the view that plant medicines are simply one more drug to take, some people drinking ayahuasca want to just sit back (or lie down) and let the show begin. I remember on one workshop, a woman from New York City, and a doctor to boot, complaining that she was not receiving visions and saying she wanted to see it all on the big screen in panoramic technicolor – ideally in three or more dimensions or at least in High Definition.
All this points to the importance of active, conscious attention. As the brilliant neuro-scientist and cultural historian Iain McGill shows us in his magnum opus, “The Master and the Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern Western world”, (which I have written before about here), what we pay attention to shapes the reality mediated to us.
This is a fundamental lesson (Paying Attention 101) that I am very slowly learning. For nearly two years now, (I am a slow learner despite having a quick mind), the medicine and particularly my dieta with Don Ayahuma has been trying to teach me that it is vitally important what I give over my attention to in ceremonies.
I used to think that it was important to surrender to the medicine and let her guide us, and I still believe this, but at the same time, I can see that I now need to up my game and more consciously attend to what is being revealed to me by La Madre. Both masculine focus and feminine receptivity are needed.
I have noticed that soon after drinking the medicine, as the mareación comes on, I pass through a phase where whatever I am imagining seem to assume its own reality. Usually at this stage, these thoughts come from the lower personal subconscious, a little like the outer layers of the Freudian ‘id’, and the reality produced by these thoughts is typically bizarre, inconsequential and instantly forgettable. I generally experience very little of value in it.
Slowly, slowly, I have been learning not to completely give over my attention to these thoughts. This is similar to what a good meditation practice does – observe the thoughts, because they appear unavoidable, however much I would like not to have them because of their trashy nature, but not get committed to them. In the course of this long training, I have been given various tests, nearly all of which I subsequently realized I failed when towards the end of a ceremony I become aware that earlier I was shown something significant but I allowed myself to be distracted away from it.
So now the question that La Madre Ayahuasca asked me two years ago, when I am fully able to enter that marvelous and miraculous shamanic landscape, of what I am doing here, resurfaces with added force……..if I can begin to direct my attention in the state of mareación (what the local Shipibo healers here in the Ucayali call being able to dominate the mareación, which they mean more to be in active communion with the medicine) and not be distracted by the inexhaustible, labyrinthine workings of my mind, then what should I direct my attention towards?
What should I be using the mareación for?
This question has its significance because I can now see with a clarity that escaped me before, and on many levels of my being, not just the intellectual level, that whatever I direct my attention to is important and has the capacity to create good, bad or even hardly anything in the world.