Updated: Jun 20
Art by: Tina Marie Elena
I have been a sacred medicine facilitator and shamanic healer for fifteen years now. And what a journey!
I can safely say that my true understanding of Ayahuasca and what it means to serve medicine only began once I embarked on the sacred journey of ‘dieting’ also called 'dieta' (not to be confused with the ayahuasca diet). This is a physical and energetic merging with what are considered Master Teacher plants in the Amazon.
Circa 2008 I was one of those (and this seems to be becoming the norm nowadays) that came to facilitating Ayahuasca ceremonies as a calling. And I was pouring medicine before I began a formal training (which also seems to be the norm nowadays). And while it was always clear that the teachings came from the plants, I later discovered the importance of taking time to sit with a teacher or Maestro with a deep ancestral connection to this medicine, to learn through being in their energetic field and also to have my own energy cleared and balanced regularly. The dietas I speak of are delineated by extended periods of isolation, fasting, and eating only a handful of bland foods for weeks or months at a time: no salt, no fat, no sugar/fruit and perhaps only one small meal a day. The impact on the physical body can be brutal as there is a deep breaking down of the flesh and spirit, so that a rebuilding can begin. Only once the dietero has surrendered everything including their body, ego-mind and spirit to the devas (spirits) of the plants and animals of the jungle with an unshakable trust established, is the dietero truly ready to be taught.
This cleansing and realignment process is considered an ongoing set of initiations for any healer working with Ayahuasca. Traditionally any fledgeling healer with a talent or a calling for it needs to embark on a profound journey of self healing and self discovery which usually starts in childhood and continues on throughout their lives. And it will be a number of years, maybe even decades before they are ready to pour medicine for others.
Bear in mind that for people who have grown up in the jungle, whose ancestors and community have been hunting, fishing and foraging as a way of life for many generations, this dieting process will feel completely different than for a westerner who grew up with electricity, running water, food in a refrigerator and supplies always available in grocery stores.
Hence there is an important distinction to make between the dietas done by westerners and the ancestral dietas done in the traditional way. Often 3 - 6 months or more, the ancestral dieta will be spent mostly in silence, in isolation and in deep contemplation while learning from and receiving direct messages from the sacred plant devas or spirits. The most powerful beings that grow in the soil of the earth are considered Master Teachers, and under the right circumstances they will provide the ardent dietero with enhanced psychic, prophetic and healing powers. The Shipibo say that a talented and determined few (advanced mystic healers known as the Banco or Merayas) may even be granted the ability to bilocate and shapeshift, transforming themselves into any animal they want to; this only after at least ten years of isolation in pristine jungle, maintaining celibacy, abstaining from animal flesh and eating only green plantains and a certain river fish called Boquichico.
For any westerner who desires to hold space as a ‘facilitator’ with the sacred medicine Ayahuasca, I implore you to start with the deep journey into self - the ‘dieting’ of Master Teachers.
Not only is it important to know how to protect yourself in ceremony energetically and psychically you will also need an understanding of how to compassionately and deftly hold space for others going through what will be some of the most transformative experiences of their lives. You will need to be able to read their energy and know what is ailing them - really ailing them. You will also need healing allies known as ‘plant doctors’ who have your back when you unleash the power that is Ayahuasca, by pouring medicine for those who put their trust in you. There is also a more comprehensive list, of course.
Over the years I have completed a number of dietas with Shipibo and Meztiso Maestros, determined to come into deeper communion with the sacred and magical Amazon jungle and Ayahuasca that unlocked so much for me in terms of understanding and healing my own traumas and that of others. The way westerners are led through diets is different to how it was traditionally done. What with these dietas becoming so popular now, it eventually became more challenging to ensure that I was in isolation, eating clean dieta food and able to sit quietly, not getting entangled in the energy (and drama) of other dieteros. And yet conversely I will always be grateful for the experience of sitting in ceremony with these incredible Shipibo healers who sing the arkanas for me, whose ancestors have sung these songs and worked with these plants for many generations - this was the greatest honor.
And through trial and error, I found that the more I focused on being isolated or alone as much as possible, eating sparingly and strictly, the resultant growth and learning was exponential.
And beyond the incredible experiences I have had with these medicines (both psychoactive and those used purely for healing certain ailments) it was the jungle itself and the pace of the wilderness that continued to be the most understated part of the healing process. Having no access to technology, waking early and sleeping soon after the sun has set, hearing the birds and the insects and the odd fish jumping in the river. No stimulants like red meat, salt, fat and sugar, which in the west we consume in excess. No caffeine, which literally keeps most of us going from one productive hour to the next. This slowing-down allows for the unwinding of overactive minds and tight fascia together with a more sensitive ear for the songs of the plants and the whispering of our hearts.
Somehow, it seems to be the actual diet of nature itself, that left the deepest feeling of peace in my body.
Needless to say there are many who flock to Peru now, westerners all having been given messages to work as a 'Shaman'. And hence it’s the soft, open or social dietas that are happily being offered by many centers for westerners, and for good reason.
Firstly, the resilience of the western body is not the same as someone who is native to the Amazon.
The bodies of westerners are accustomed to receiving a multitude of nutrients from foods enhanced with vitamins and minerals. We are also used to a more comfortable style of living with access to first world conveniences and so sleeping on a hard floor for long periods while fasting, and with ongoing deprivation of minerals and nutrients can at times cause more health issues for us than it will heal. I have come back from dieta with hair falling out from hormonal imbalances. I have even heard of others acquiring life threatening diseases when they left the jungle after dieta. Granted, traditionally, the disease or illness is considered an indicator that the body is actually healing, according the vegetalistas, curanderos, paqos and other indigenous healers. Still, this is a heavy experience to live with and surrender to as a westerner.
Secondly, we are not used to extended periods of complete isolation.
This is a disposition that needs to be developed over time (like a muscle to be built). If there is a lot of unhealed trauma in that person, or a deep ancestral burden (which lets face it most of us do have) the overwhelm of being in quiet contemplation without distraction can quickly exhaust our capacity to hold space for ourselves. A vipassana retreat will teach you how challenging it is to sit in silence with only your own thoughts for company for ten days. Imagine the added challenge of a dieta where there is even less stimulation and structure but with psychedelic plant medicine, lots of fasting, many long hours under your mosquito net journaling or lying in a hammock (when mosquitos permit).... smoking many mapachos (jungle tobacco). I usually find it to be incredibly therapeutic for the first two weeks and then extraordinary things start to happen. My perception of reality starts to bend. I am hypersensitive to the people within a 20m radius of me, I cry at the slightest thing, and a deep awareness and appreciation of my body returns, after existing in a heavily cerebral culture.
Dreamscapes are enhanced, creativity shoots through the roof and for me after two weeks I start to interact directly with spirits and disincarnated beings. Around this time I will often wake up in the pitch darkness of the jungle to footsteps outside my tambo (not belonging to a physical being) or to the sound of a woman wailing in the night. I have often woken up to objects moving in my room, large bodies crashing towards me through the undergrowth and to the sounds of furniture moving or whispering coming from the empty room beside me. Trust me the jungle is alive with a lot more than just mosquitoes and cockroaches!
Thirdly, most westerners do not have ancestors that they can draw this sort of strength and ancient knowledge from.