I spent extensive time living in Peru and in the amazon jungles. I wrote this article for my medicine-sangha five years ago, here is the updated version and still very current.
Amazon jungle is a very special place. In the middle of ‘nowhere’ you are able to see life with a new set of eyes, while able to heal many aspects of your unconscious self.
On my path with plant medicines it is one of important requirements to do what the natives call ‘la dieta’ which means a traditional plant diet, a deep medicina work.
It is nothing like what a western mind could imagine – it is a ‘diet’ that consists of taking medicine plants and going – often times – through rough physical processes to clean and strengthen the body and psyche so that new knowledge can enter. The natives in the jungle believe that every plant has its teachings to offer. Not all plants are edible and not all are safe yet by watching the environment and the way these plants grow and interact with their surroundings and animals/insects – gives them an idea and understanding of what they are for and what they are offering to those who chose to take them.
The natives of Peru (and Amazon Basin) have followed the process of plant dietas for thousands of years allowing them to connect and understand nature, plants and animals, spirit world and elements in ways beyond our western understanding. I felt a lot of connection in the dieta with the Tibetan Buddhism and Bön traditions, anchoring me to the Earth’s wisdom, transforming energies and liberating stuck patterns of my psyche.
I have to say that the first time I heard the words ‘Master Teacher Plant’ I was a little surprised and I did wonder “how can a plant be a teacher?” and soon after I realized that this natural world and MANY plants in the Amazon give us tremendous capacity to awaken and see the world with a very different perspective, not to mention to heal our bodies and MANY illnesses that trouble us these days. The dietas are not only for those who work on regular basis with medicine plants, they are also a very deep and profound way of healing a myriad of illnesses from cancer to digestive issues, to heart problems, lung problems and much more. The world of plants teaches us to live in alignment with Earth, connect us to our natural mind and show us insights that otherwise would not be accessible. In the work with Sacred Teacher Plants we are always shown what is inside of us, and how we relate it to the outside environment (our relationships) and the medicine allows us an opportunity to transform, release and evolve beyond our patterns of conditioning. Many diseases out there are a result of deeply held beliefs and rooted programming of our culture. Having an opportunity to take a step back from the ‘culture’ we live in, gives us not only an opportunity to heal but an opportunity to see our life with a fresher perspective.
While in the western world we can do fastings and silent retreats and all sorts of changes and modifications to our lifestyles, we are still submerged in the energy of the western world. One of the primary gifts of doing a diet in the jungle is a complete ‘sensory detox’ with no electricity, no running water (let alone hot water), and no radios, iPods, computers, cell phones and internet – you are bound to feel like you have been “unplugged” from the world – and literally you are.
The regular diet lasts 8 to 9 days (up to 30 days or longer as needed) during which you eat a very simple 2 or 1 meal a day of cooked rice and platanos, and/or carrot/potato. All these are cooked just in boiling water without any spices or oil – this is to keep your body clean and to allow for greater and easier absorption of plants and to allow detox of your body. You are not allowed to use soap, creams, or deodorant, as these substances (even if 100 % natural) are taking you out of your experience and are considered to be sensory distractions. You are not allowed to take any medications (with some exceptions) or anything other than what the Curandero gives you. You spend the entire time alone and are not allowed to talk or look directly into anyones eyes. This is all done to keep you focused on your process, to maintain your energy and to focus you internally and its interesting to see how much we like to distract ourselves with extra sensory things.
Everyone goes through their own intricate and unique process while doing a diet. For me this diet was physically and mentally intense. One of the plants I took kept me sweating a lot and all I felt was ‘negative’ energy leaving my body. The second plant I dieted (if the curandero deems you are fit to do it) – gave me a whole new level of understanding what I call the ‘mind of the medicine – Sacred Teacher Plant’ and gave me such intense dreams I thought I was awake while asleep. <– that all in itself with some of my Buddhist background gives me a whole different view on awakening from the dream.
The modern world today is seeking dramatic improvements and healing both to the mind and body. With proper use of Shamanic traditions and teachings of Buddhism we can really purify our obscurations, rest in essence and also cultivate and bring out compassion and wisdom to heal our relationships and the planet.
Rev. Dr. K. Sonan Wangmo
The plants I was dieting were Chiric sanango, and Huayra Caspi – described briefly below.
1. Chiric sanango (Brunfelsia grandiflora) – Chiric sanango contains the same tropane alkaloids as Toé but is not as toxic. It characteristically produces a feeling of cold characterized by chills. It is used to help deal with fears, open the heart and connect with greater level of compassion as well as strengthen the ‘medicine heart’. Since the diet I have observed myself very much more at peace with the environment around me. There is a new level of connectedness between me and mu surroundings. When taken you consume the skin of the fresh root – the plant gives its life so that you can take it – it is a whole energetic process as well to be taking a root of this tall bush as it has as well a capacity to clean your roots – family, friends, life connections.
2. Huayra Caspi (Cedrelinga catenaeformis)– largest tree in the lower jungle, is said to connect one with their medicine path and to give greater clarity in the work with medicine plants, as well as helps to clear any ‘dark’ energies from previous experiences in this and past lives. Huayra Caspi connects the person to the inner medicine within themselves. It helps the medicine person embody their medicine and be grounded on one’s path. It also opens the medicine mind to understand other and different aspects of Sacred Teacher Plant and how it works.
Image: Amazon Jungle, Peru by author