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‘Kindergarten Class With Madre Ayahuasca’ and Other Poems

April 21, 2014

Stuka Swarm

When I did my first dieta in the Peruvian Amazon in November 2010, I started writing poems. The following poem came out of that dieta:


 The first class will be the Holocaust.

Then, children, I will show you,

By putting your arms,

Stretched out beside you in a long V-shape,

How the Stukas used to dive.

No room here for soft, small animals,

The observing of bugs and tadpoles.

The point is to see the horror,

Not to flinch,

Even as the bejeweled snake,

Shows its forked tongue.

This is no world for innocents.

At the end of the ceremony, (I’ll call this, for ease of shorthand, ‘The Preparation Ceremony’), prior to the one which inspired the poem above, I thought I had found the answer to the question Madre Ayahuasca had posed me a few months beforehand. This had happened when I fully entered what I thought of then as the shamanic realm (it keeps changing!)

She asked me kindly but firmly what I was doing there.

I realized that I did not have an adequate answer. To talk in terms of personal learning or even my own healing seemed grossly self-centered. Thinking about it now, she was really asking me what I was in service of – good question (not just for me, Dear Reader).

painting Shipibo womanIn The Preparation Ceremony’, I thought I had discovered the answer to Madre’s question. I was looking for God! Pleased with myself, I rushed off to tell her my answer.

I found her in the guise of a little, old but spritely Shipibo woman, dressed in traditional clothing, tending plants in a small garden.

Enthusiastically, I told her what I thought I was doing in her realm. She shot me a withering look, raised her eyebrows and beckoned me to sit down beside her.

Quietly, I watched her gardening.

Finally, she turned to me and said that despite the idiocy of my answer, she would take me on in her kindergarten class. I was thrilled. I spent the few days before the next ceremony envisaging my first class. I saw it like the Waldorf kindergarten class my two sons had attended – a curved room full of beautifully carved wood, soft cloths in gentle pastel colors. I thought, excitedly, Madre is going to teach me everything about plants and animalitos.

The night of the class finally arrived. I drank the brew – and realized that the first class was the Holocaust and the horrors of the world. She told me later, when the class was concluded:

“If you are going to work with me, and be of any use, stop being so naive. Wake up to what is going on around you.”

On the same dieta I wrote another short poem.

This was on the theme of envy, which is a big deal in the Shipibo world. Like Melanie Klein, one of the English psychoanalysts who, in her masterwork ‘Envy and Gratitude’, developed Freud’s ideas into concepts of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ breast, the Shipibo see envy as a fundamental motivator and force in the world. No room for new-age sentimentalism in their cosmovision – especially in the jungle where everything eats everything else.

For the Shipibo, it is primarily envidia (the Spanish word for envy) that motivates brujeria (witchcraft) attacks and daño (harm) on other people. One of my naivities, by the way, was not believing in this until I experienced it first hand, but that is another story.

Here is the poem:


It’s proffered casually,

As an explanation of complex wrongdoing.


Envy, in English.

It sounds too innocuous, even implausible.

And then its talons grab you,

Cut deep into your flesh,

Looking to tear out your heart,

And carry it to a foreign altar.

Where the only remedy for self-loathing

Consists in the sacrifice of others.

Illustration from Jung's 'The Red Book'

Illustration from Jung’s ‘The Red Book’

I am now at the point, within the next ten days, of completing a long (ten-week) dieta of a tree known in Shipibo as Noiya Rao and in Spanish as Palo Volador (the flying tree).

This has meant drinking ayahuasca every three days, as well as five times in each of three ten-day periods. Once a month too, twice over three nights, I have drunk a tea made from the root of the tree.

I have been fortunate to do this with a genuine Noiya Rao Maestro and his two Shipibo Maestros (who have between them over 120 years experience of drinking ayahuasca), as well as with a constant group of seven people.

Recently, I came across a quote by Teilhard de Chardin which gets at something of my feeling about this experience with my fellow dieteros:

“There is an almost sensual longing for communion with others who have a larger vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendships between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality almost impossible to describe.”

As you might imagine, this long-term dieta has been extraordinarily intense. Once again, it has shown me the full range of what La Madre is capable of doing. One moment, I’m crawling around the bathroom vomiting into a bucket, feeling like a mangy, sick dog; later, in the same ceremony, I’m traveling in ethereal realms; later still, I’m receiving insights about my work and how to deal with tricky, complex situations.

The aspect I want to focus on here, for the moment, is creativity.

I don’t see so much written about this in relation to La Madre. The main discourse is about healing. But what I have witnessed in myself and in my companions over these ten weeks is an outpouring of creativity. The two march together in a virtuous circle. As we become more emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy, we become more creative. And as we become more creative, we further heal ourselves.

Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado

Each person has their distinctive way of expressing this. Some people have begun to sing exquisite icaros (special healing songs) in Shipibo.

Another person – an accomplished, internationally recognized composer and musician – is playing the guitar in a radically new way.

Someone else, is creating a unique art format.

For myself, the expression has taken the form of learning and reading poetry – especially Rumi (1207-1273), whose poetry more than anyone, with the possible exception of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado (1875-1939), echoes the encounter with Madre Ayahauasca.

I have gained a new appreciation of language and am writing more poetry.

I have written about Rumi before so will refrain from quoting any of his poems at length again except for a very short poem that my mentor especially likes:

“God and I are like two fat men in a boat

We keep bumping into one another and giggling”

This is the poem by Machado that points to some recent encounters with La Madre:


Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?

No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming—
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of vast silence”

chicken poetry reading

I will conclude with a teaching poem I wrote on this dieta about an object that I became particularly attached to:


 Just as everything alive and even inorganic has its secret purpose,

Its special talent to display,

Its way of dreaming the creator’s dream,

So your vomit bowl, whether red, green or blue,

The traffic lights of the mareación,

Your dearly beloved Friend,

That unchanging haven at times of crisis,

Has its unique destiny.

And like human beings,

Your bowl needs others to help realize its God-given task.

Its path is not to be alone in this harsh, beautiful world.

It wants company, it needs to be filled,

To play its part in the planet’s healing.


Everything is in relationship, nothing stands alone.

Many eons ago we moved on this moist earth together.

You and your kind,

Tiny, tiny, tiny,

Were secreted far away below the surface,

Pressed, squeezed, forced together.

Your deep dreaming sleep later interrupted,

Dug up to fuel our crazy ambitions and turned into plastic, shiny objects.

Your holy name became ‘fast-moving consumer goods’.

We took another direction and walked with the dinosaurs.


So, to conclude, my journeying companions, herein lies the teaching.

Remember, too, our part.

The loving rinsing at the end, the measured dose of water that cleans and purifies,

The fresh appreciation of that reappearing bright red, blue or green,

From the dark scummy liquid,

As your bowl once again becomes virgin.





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