Reflections on 80 day Noyarao dieta, Interculturality and other themes
Just over four weeks ago, on Sunday 27th April 2014, I completed an eighty day dieta with the Amazonian tree Noyarao. This involved drinking a tea made with the bark of the tree two nights each month just before going to bed and also drinking ayahuasca throughout the dieta at least once every three days. There were three more intensive ten-day periods during the dieta when we drank ayahausca five times.
Dieting a palo, which can be a tree or plant, provides a way to make contact with the spirit or intelligence of that palo. For an excellent article on what is a dieta click here.
This article says the word dieta “describes dietary and behavioral regimens that allow one to move most safely and effectively into working relationships with such plants. These relationships can bring about profound transformations, and the dietas are designed to best facilitate them.”
Noyarao is an almost mythical tree within Amazonian plant medicine. For an interesting article and also to hear a beautiful Noyarao icaro (the traditional healing song that can be learned from the palos), click here.
Since finishing this dieta, I have been in a whirligig of activity (not ideal!). This blog will record some of my reflections over this period. I’m imagining it as a mosaic of different designs attached to different experiences, that, hopefully, create some overall coherence, such as in the picture below.
Working backwards from the present, my period of frantic post-dieta activity was finally broken about ten days ago by the opportunity to go downriver from Pucallpa to spend eight days with my Shipibo maestro and his family in the native community where they live. This at least meant no computer activity whilst I was there.
In the past, in the village where my maestro lives, there was no cellphone signal but the community has recently acquired an antennae which receives and transmits signals from Movistar, one of the two large mobile phone companies in Peru. The antennae is situated right next to my maestro’s house which means that the reception there is now actually better than many places in the city of Pucallpa.
Should we see this new development as a sign of ‘progress’? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I used to like going to the village and being able to completely disconnect from the electronic world of phones and computers. Lying on the hammock in my Maestro’s house, gazing out across the field to the other houses and the surrounding jungle, the view seems eternal and uninterrupted by modernity.
On the other hand, many people in the village are very happy with the new service. They can contact their families in the city of Pucallpa and elsewhere much more easily, immediately and cheaply as they no longer have to use the expensive and cumbersome satellite phone.
The central theme in this mosaic of reflections would have to be the Noyarao dieta. This was by far the longest and most demanding dieta I have ever done. Previously my longest dieta was 30 days with another huge Amazonian tree who does not want his name mentioned in my blog.
The dieta was extraordinary – hugely powerful, deeply transformative, compelling, challenging, intense, absorbing (even though I had to continue working throughout the dieta) and inspiring a release of creativity in myself and the six other people doing the long-term dieta with me.
Noyarao is known both as the ‘Tree of Light’ and the Camino a la Verdad (the path of truth). Its fallen leaves are said to glow in the dark.
Within the particular Shipibo tradition I am working in, dieting this tree for at least one year, which does not have to be a continuous period (my friend and mentor did his 365 days of dieta over a number of years) is seen to be the essential, necessary, and possibly even the sole path to becoming a healer.
So in addition to the flowering of creativity, which in my case took the form of poetry, and which I wrote about in my previous blog entry, what else did I learn and/or gain from the dieta?
I’m still assimilating the answer to that question. What I can at least say now is that the dieta gave me remarkable clarity – it was as if my mind received an immense, thorough spring-cleaning – all the cobwebs and dirty corners were cleaned out – and my mind was illuminated by the light of this tree.
And when I use the term ‘mind’ here, I am referring to what Zen Buddhist teacher Genpo Roshi calls ‘Big Mind’ not little egoistic personal mind. Big Mind is part of and connected to the wider cosmos, to the individual soul as well as the anima mundi (the soul of the world), and to what is often called the heart – though I increasingly disagree with the way many people too easily fall into a simple dichotomy and opposition between mind and heart, thoughts and feelings.
This mental expansion, or, better put, expansion of the whole psyche, that I received during the dieta, involves a huge increase in intelligence.
Here, I am not referring to intelligence in its conventional, highly limited, sense as IQ or some other quantative measure, but more in line with Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences. Madre Ayahuasca expands them all, obviously some more than others in different individuals, depending on personal disposition.
Another way of approaching this is that the dieta led to my intuition being more highly activated, made more conscious and accessible. In the language of cognitive psychology, it could be said that many of the unconscious assumptions I typically make about the world, myself and others, (in short, my worldview), were exposed, made more transparent to inquiry, and therefore capable of changing.
This is not a cold, purely intellectual process. These assumptions are emotionally rooted and La Madre is ruthless in showing us the emotional underpinnings of our worldview, which usually results in significant purging.
A further effect of being able to access my intuition is that action naturally follows from this, as night follows day. For most of my life, using Rudolf Steiner’s three-fold division of our nature into thinking, feeling and willing, my weakest area has been willing, that is converting ideas into action.
Fifteen years of cathartic, body-based Reichian therapy in my twenties and thirties helped a lot to strengthen – and possibly overdevelop – the emotionally expressive side of my nature. The Doctorate I did in my forties helped shift the pendulum in the opposite direction. I still, however, used to have difficulty transforming my ideas, insights and feelings into action. No longer.
This increased capacity for organized action stood me in good stead immediately my dieta was closed, as I was plunged into organizing a large intercultural event five days later in the Plaza de Armas of Yarinacocha – the indigenous heart of Pucallpa. Simultaneously, I was engaged in a series of important meetings about the future of the Peruvian-based NGO (non-profit) I work with.
The purpose of the intercultural event was to showcase Shipibo culture. The event began in the early evening with songs, theater and dance by children and their teachers from a nearby urban Shipibo community. A Shipibo elder then told two of the traditional stories he has been researching and down the river Ucayali and compiling to ensure they are not lost to future generations.
There then followed the most inclusive (in terms of different ages, genders, races and nationalities) fashion-show I have ever witnessed, modelling Shipibo designs on traditional and modern clothing before the event finally took musical expression in three different acts, each of which showed the creative interaction of Shipibo culture with other cultures.
The first musical act was provided by Liberation Movement, a musical collective from California who are making highly innovative music combining the traditional icaros of the Shipibo healers with contemporary electronic music.
To see their excellent promotional video which includes samples of this music, click here. In the concert, two Shipibo healers sang live with them.
The second act was a quartet from the School of Fine Arts in Pucallpa who sang Italian opera in Shipibo.
The third act was a well-known local group, ‘Sensación Shipibo’, who sang cumbia (Peruvian mestizo jungle music) in Shipibo.
One of the many challenges in organizing the event was the weather. The local District Municipality of Yarinacocha, who were a key partner in the event, wanted it to be held in the open-air, in the main plaza, rather than a less accessible site that had the advantage of rain cover. For the six days before the event, it rained heavily every day, but at least not all day. The day of the event dawned with clear skies, which lasted throughout the day and into the night. The day afterwards was also clear, then followed by three days of rain.
I had been curious whether Pachamama and Tlaloc – the Aztec God of rain translated as “He who makes things sprout” – would want to support the event. Judging from their behavior on the day, the answer was a resounding yes.
We were also fortunate to have a talented film crew present who were documenting the event. This included Mitch Schultz (Director of the film ‘DMT: The Spirit Molecule’ – to see the full current range of his work visit his website Spectral Alchemy here) and two other cameramen working with him, Donald Schultz (no relation) and Jason Harter. I was impressed with their energy, professionalism and receptivity. They were a delight to work with.
Shortly after the event had been completed, important projects of the NGO I work with had been documented, and the film crew and Liberation Movement had departed, I started, perhaps not surprisingly, to have acute pain in my right hip.
This pain persisted for the week before my trip downriver and for most of the time I was living in the Shipibo community with my Maestro. His daughter treated me by boiling together five different plants (cotton leaf, coconut husk, marosa, piñon colorado, and piko). I drank the resulting infusion as a tea. She also used it to massage my lower back and hip. The plants quickly took the pain away, but not completely, as I needed repeated treatments. But finally, and miraculously, I was pain-free.
“This plant medicine really works”, I thought, somewhat stupidly. How much more evidence will my skeptical, rational mind need? I wondered.
The final part of this mosaic comes from the second of the four ceremonies I participated in with my Maestro. At one point in this ceremony, I almost physically felt my heart open and I experienced great love for my Maestro and his family, who had been carefully looking after me in a myriad of ways. “Oh My God! This is the beginning of a profound heart initiation”, I thought, and my mind spun off into imagining the grand, initiatory scenes that would follow next. As I mentally tried to foresee these, I returned to the watery ground of what had actually happened and realized that the initiation had already taken place. It was more than enough.
Throughout my time at the community, I had a sense of deep respect and almost reverence for my Maestro and his desire to stay working in his local village – greatly facilitated by my friend and mentor who brings foreigners to work with him there and who pay him well.
I think one of the reasons his work is so powerfully effective – apart from his skill and knowledge, obvious integrity and descent from a long Shamanic lineage – is that he remains embedded in the context of his large, extended family and the wider community. Whilst I was there, a number of villagers came to him for free treatment, including a young boy who had been bitten by a particularly venomous snake.
He is more than content with his role as a village healer whilst simultaneously working with Westerners.