A common trend that occurs when westerners assimilate other culture’s spiritual traditions is the extrapolation of pinnacle teachings and experiences from the underlying cultivation practices that supports them, which often results in the misappropriate use of power that is inherently accumulated through rites of purification of cultivation. For example, Many people who practice “yoga” have never heard of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the 8 limbs (asthanga) from which asana is derived (don’t get me wrong, I was one of them!) . According to the 8-fold path of Asthanga yoga, Asana was meant to supplement a morally and ethically defined path of life and inquiry that led the practitioner into intense degrees of meditation and cultivation of supernatural powers known as “siddhis.” Without the proper cultivation of ones identity as a moral and ethical being, states the sutras, the momentum of the siddhis can easily overcome the restraint of the practitioners will, resulting in the abuse of power that manifests in the the form of psychic manipulation, sexual abuse, violence, etc. In other words, purification and cultivation that is based in a clear sense of personal identity will allow the yogi to merely observe the Siddhis without feeling compelled to act upon them. On the other hand, Practicing asana while negating the other limbs of yoga is tantamount to venturing into the wilderness without the proper survival equipment- personal injury, both physical and psychological, is imminent.
We are seeing a similar behavioral pattern when we consider the use of ayahuasca outside of its traditional and ecological context of the Amazon. Psychedelic tourists are drinking copious amounts of the tea without a clear understanding of the purification and cultivation practice of the dieta, let alone the awareness of the role of cultural lineage in fostering an appreciation and respect for the powerful effects of the brew. The glory of the peak experience of ayahuasca is more immediately gratifying than the time and dedication it takes to cultivate a sincere and sound practice of plant spirit medicine that surrounds the use of ayahuasca. This level of cultural appropriation is less offensive than it is dangerous. This article is meant to illustrate the form and function of the dieta and why it is important to consider for anyone who is engaged in the use of Ayahuasca.
Logistically, the dieta is a period of isolation in the jungle for a minimum of one week to an entire year (for more serious practitioners), wherein the initiate adheres to a limited diet (which generally includes rice, plantains, and certain fish), and consumes plant remedies known as “master plants,” in order to heal and learn directly from the plants and the natural world. Initiates (which includes patients and apprentices) may either take a single remedy or a concoction of multiple plants, depending on the condition being addressed (in the case of a patient), or the level of mastery an apprentice is attempting to achieve. The plants may be taken daily or otherwise.
The dieta is firstly a method of purification. Isolating yourself in nature is simultaneously a liberation from mundane responsibilities and distractions which often take priority over our health issues. The longer we can distract ourselves from addressing these issues, the deeper and more complex our condition becomes. As such, the longer one spends in a dieta, the deeper the healing power of nature and the plants can penetrate into ones illness, be it physical, psychologically or spiritual (though bear in mind that, in the eyes of the Shipibo, most, if not all, illness has its roots in spiritual disharmony, and as such, healing is focused on the level of spirit, which then has a cascading effect into the physical body). As one becomes saturated by the rhythms and cycles of nature, the bodies internal rhythms and cycles recalibrate to match the environment. The only sense of time becomes the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, the rise and fall of the river banks with the coming and going of the rainy season, the movements of plants and animals… natural medicine at its primordial form. Further, the clean and simple diet can reduce musculoskeletal inflammation and or excessive disharmonies in bacterial flora of the digestive system (specifically conditions of excess, as the diet is nutritionally replete of major proteins, amino acids, etc). The simplified died also furthers along the awakening of the 5 senses and proprioceptive fluctuations within, and sensitizes us to the effects of dietary and external stimuli.
Minimal distractions and responsibilities allow the cognitive business of the mind to dissipate, affording the initiate ample time to concentrate and observe the qualitative patterns of their mind. In time, one’s generally negative emotional states, obsessions, desires, fears, aversions, worries, guilts, shames, frustrations, angers, victimizations, tendencies to externalize blame, and traumas become self-evident, as well as that which makes them happy, satisfied, content, imaginative, creative, sincere, loving, compassionate, empathic, and awake. In time one learns to minimize and resolve the underlying content of negatively charged cognitive content and cultivate instead the more life-nourishing qualities of mind, which inevitably has its cascading effects on the entire physiological being.
Beyond the method purification is the inner cultivation and fortifying of thecore of one’s being, so that they may in turn hold a safe container for others to heal. Sitting alone in the jungle, one cannot hide from the reality of one’s internal landscape. Thus, the dieta is a means for an initiate to look deeply into themselves and observe what they are truly made of, and to reveal to themselves the root of their motivations and intentions for engaging in this work at all. in this way, The dieta is a means of cultivating the identity of the healer, be it morally, ethically, and philosophically. This serves the apprentice in their ability to wield their power specifically for the benefit of others. In other words, the dieta is a way to anchor the force of purification and cultivation of spiritual power into the bedrock of a cultivated identity and healthy relations to ones self and community.
lastly, the dieta is an opportunity for teachings to be transmitted from lineage holder to apprentice, the importance of which cannot be understated. A lineage holder may aid the apprentice to interpret and contextualize their experiences, and to make adjustments to the diet if the apprentice is having a difficult time. It is also an opportunity for the lineage holder to teach the apprentice certain icaros, healing songs which carry in them the power to invoke the spirit of the plants the apprentice may be dieting.
The dieta is like an ayahuasca ceremony, only stretched out over time. In other words, what may transpire in a week in the dieta can occur in a single sitting with ayahuasca. The slow approach of the dieta helps the initiate to become familiar with the nature of plant spirit medicine over the course of hours, days, and weeks, which allows the healing benefits to root deeply and further prepares an individual to interact with the lifestream and often speed of light content of an ayahuasca ceremony.
It is worth mentioning that Ayahuasca was never meant to be a stand alone panacea. Most locals of the Amazon fear its power, and resort to local healers as a last ditch effort, only after western doctors cannot treat their illness. Traditionally, it was the Ayahuasquero (a term which refers to those who heal with ayahuasca) who drank on behalf of their patient, to journey into the visual realm and diagnose the origins of their patients illness, after which they would prescribe some herbal remedies and encourage the patient to undergo a period of dieta. In other words, patients did not drink ayahuasca unless the healer deemed it necessary (such as in the case of parasites). It was enough to rely on the visions and prescriptions of the healer without having to put themselves through the potential terror of drinking ayahuasca. The way in which ceremonies are being held these days, within the amazon and abroad, in which everyone drinks, is a relatively recent phenomena that shifts the course of the entire ceremony (that topic is for another discussion!).
On a psychodynamic level, Stepping into the world of ayahuasca is simultaneously an act of dilating the filters and parameters of subjective reality. This is no small undertaking, and is what is implied when ayahuasca is referred to as a deep medicine- in time, ones own core beliefs and values, which give symbolic meaning to subjective experience, are thrown into question, and even dismantled and reconstructed (this is especially true for foreigners who do not come from a culture that supports the role of the shaman or the paradigm of plant spirit medicine). In time, the ayahuasca experience and the reality of the plant spirit world becomes as tangible as anything else, which changes our relation to reality as a whole. It is for this reason we are encouraged to work slowly, first through the purification and cultivation rite of the dieta, in order to develop a stable ground from which to interact with the subtle energetics of plant spirit medicine, and after which ayahuasca can be used used as a catalytic vehicle for more advanced healing and endearing shifts in consciousness.
In conclusion, The dieta is a means by which the container of your own being is purified, cultivated, and aligned with the core teachings of a lineage, in order to strengthen one’s capacity to interact with the plant spirit world and endure and contextualize the potentially life altering experience of ayahuasca.