Ayahuasca, Dietas and Work
It is over three months since I last posted on this site. During this time, I was in England for six weeks over the Xmas and New Year period to visit my new grandson, and, since coming back to Peru at the end of January, I have been very busy with my work as Intercultural Education Director for the Peruvian-based NGO, Alianza Arkana.
At the same time as working intensively, I have completed one dieta of seven ceremonies over fourteen days with my Shipibo Maestro and am just about to finish another dieta of seven ceremonies with a good friend here who has studied for twelve years in the same shamanic lineage as my Shipibo Maestro. Both these dietas have been with the extraordinary and rare tree, Noyarao (translated from Shipibo to English as ‘flying medicine’), also known, in Spanish, as Palo Volador. (For new readers, I have written before about dietas in general here and specifically with this tree here.)
The lineage with which I work are known here for their expertise with Noyarao. They call it ‘camino de la verdad’ (way of truth) and ‘camino de la luz’ (way of light).
They say that dieting this tree is the royal road to become a healer, although all of them have dieted with many other plants and trees.
Additionally, they say that with Noyarao, unlike all the other plants and trees, it is not possible to do daño (harm to others).
The whole subject of daño and witchcraft is another theme which I will not deal with here, although I approached it in my previous post.
Shamanism in the Peruvian Amazon has always been a mixture of the dark and the light, and most Shipibo shamans know how to do both. In fact, in order to be able to help people who are suffering from daño, it is important to be able to know how it is done. It is said with Noyarao that if anyone attempts to use it to cause harm, then the spirit of the tree will leave the person.
Before writing about the key theme of this blog which is about dietas and work, I want to make a comment about dietas in general. When I first came back to Peru, I did two ceremonies with a magnificent female Maestra, also from the same Noyarao family lineage. At the time, I was in a lot of turmoil in my personal life. When she started singing to me in the first ceremony, I realised from the names of the plants she was using, that she was singing to my dietas. I could feel the strength of these previous dietas returning.
She then sang me another icaro and I started to weep deeply, which I rarely do in ceremonies. I felt like a hopeless, lost child. Later, I wondered if she was able to evoke that in me because she is a woman – generally I work with two male Maestros – and carries a lot of ancient female, earth wisdom. I wept for a long time and then felt that I was starting to get locked into this in an unproductive, repetitive way. At exactly that moment, the Maestra switched icaros again, and my strength returned – not, of course, that weeping is a weakness. Far from it.
Two nights later, I went to bed and found an old, familar anxiety coming back. I could not sleep. As the anxiety intensified, I felt I was on looking into the abyss of a major depression, such as I had experienced in my life twice some fifteen years ago. This frightened me. After wrestling with this until just before dawn, I remembered that this was the very same day in which my mother had been born, got married and died. I got up and lit a candle by a photo I have of myself and my mother in my garden in England some nine months before she died. Slowly the anxiety and fear receded.
The next day I felt fine and was able to carry out and enjoy my role as padrino (Godfather!) of the female football team from a community I know well who were participating in the Shipibo World Cup.
Later, I came across a passage in a book by John Welwood called ‘Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship’. He writes that:
“The Sufi tradition contains an important distinction between states – qualities of being, like peace, joy, trust, inner strength, or confidence, which emerge spontaneously for a short time, as when we fall in love – and stations – these same qualities when they have become permanantly integrated into our lives. once a state has passed, we cannot readily call it back. But a quality that has become a station is one we have access to whenever it is needed”.
The discipline of Sufism is to create stations and, therefore, be less at the mercy of ever-changing states and/or getting locked into them. This resonates strongly with me. A good dieta helps create a station, a deep anchoring in the spirit world – or, in more psychological language, a part of the self (in Jung’s words ‘the Self’ and what transpersonal psychology refers to as ‘the higher self’), which gives a vantage point to observe and engage with emotional states without getting overly caught up on them.
As stated earlier, these last two dietas have been done whilst I have been working. This is challenging. Traditionally, the Shipibos on the path to becoming healers would do dietas isolated in the jungle for long periods, with their teacher visiting them maybe once a week to drink ayahuasca. Very few people do this now, which is for a variety of reasons – deforestation around Shipibo communities and the increasing encroachment of Western globalised culture. On the negative side, this is eroding the Shipibo traditional way of life and their unique, sophisticated cosmovision, and, on the positive side, is creating new cultural forms as more Westerners come here to drink ayahausca.
I talked a while back to my friend with whom I am now doing dieta, about working and dieting at the same time.
I had great clarity, was very productive, my mind was generally razor sharp, despite lack of sleep, and I could see more deeply into issues and the dynamics surrounding situations.
Additionally, I felt I had greater access to my intuition and could take decisions more quickly and effortlessly. I was more present and able to focus and concentrate better. I also laughed more.
I was significantly more creative, too. (As an aside, I think there is a huge area of potential investigation to be done looking at ayahuasca and creativity. I notice that the artistic work of my friends here, who are musicians, painters and photographers, has improved immeasurably over the time that they have been drinking ayahuasca. Jeremy Narby writes in his book ‘The Intelligence of Nature’ about how two out of three plant biology researchers made significant breakthroughs in their research after drinking ayahuasca.)
All of the above, I associate with the gifts of Noyarao, which I am experiencing again. On these latest two dietas, too, I have much more sense of being in the flow, of being guided from beyond my ego, and of letting things unfold rather than having to push them – some days at work are full of magic.
On the other hand, going back to the conversation I had with my friend, I told him that I had a nagging feeling that, through being so involved in the social world of work, I was losing the opportunity to go more deeply inwards.
I really liked his reply to me. He said that dietas are about learning and that the learning can be applied in all areas of life, not just learning to be a healer. He gave me the good example of a young woman who was using her dieta to become an even better mother.
This is my key point. The longer I have been drinking ayahuasca, the more I see that the medicine demands of me that I do something in the world with what I am learning. This relates to the arguments being advanced by people like Andrew Harvey and the Engaged Buddhist movement that spirituality and political/cultural/environmental activism need to go hand in hand, especially given the dire and dangerous state of the world we are living in.
I remember a ceremony about four years ago, after I had been drinking ayahuasca for a year or so, when I entered what I think of as a personal shamanic landscape, and Madre Ayahuasca said to me: “It’s good you have arrived here, but why are you here?” I understood at the time that an answer in terms of my own learning, healing, personal development or spiritual growth, was not enough.
I am delighted now to be discovering the answer.
I feel privileged, blessed and deeply grateful to all the Maestr@s I have worked with, and to the Shipibo culture, in general, for having given me the opportunity, at a relatively late stage of my life, to find them, work with them and do dietas.