In order to purify my body, I have been on the strictest diet I have ever tried. It has brought up many intense feelings for me. It has shown me how much we as a society rely on food to comfort us and to distract us from what is really present.
Let me rewind a bit. A little more than a month ago, I attended a sacred art and music festival called Beloved. I was relaxing on the hill with friends, passively listening to whatever act was on the stage, when I heard a familiar sound. It was the sound of a peruvian shaman singing Icaros. The music was the collaboration of electronic musicians and indigenous healers of the Shipibo people. I thought to myself, “well this is interesting…” It brought a familiar feeling to mind, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I was feeling. Some kind of recognition about how these ancient songs were somehow special to me. I knew that the Icaros were healing songs that were channeled through shamans while in the rapturous state brought about through the consumption of ayahuasca.
Later that night, a spontaneous toning and singing session erupted between two dear friends. One of these friends lapsed into a style of singing that sounded to me much like the Icaros I had heard from recordings a year earlier. It was another reminder that I have considered trying ayahuasca for years, but had never felt ready. It was after the singing ceased that I had a realization, and that I told my friends, “I just realized that I’m going to go to Peru to do an ayahuasca ceremony.” And that was the moment that initiated my investigation into how I would go about doing this.
After the festival was over, I returned to Portland, and then the third sign was the charm. I was hanging out with some friends after an Acro Yoga class in Portland, and the topic of ayahuasca came up. The instructor of this class said that she had done a 12 day ceremony in Peru, and it had been very powerful for her. I asked her where she had done the ceremony, and she told me – the Temple of the Way of Light. She said, “it was amazing, you should definitely go”.
One year earlier, a good friend of mine had also traveled to the Temple of the Way of Light to experience in Peru and had come back with nothing but positive things to say about her journey (later I found out that the recordings I had heard at beloved were made at the same temple). It was clear to me that all signs were pointing to the Temple. My friend had participated in a 12-day Ayahuasca ceremony. In these ceremonies, a group of people would imbibe in a potent brew made from a combination of several plants native to the Amazon jungle. One plant contained a chemical called Di-methyl Tryptamine, also known as DMT, and the other contained an MAOI.
DMT is present in countless plants around the world, locked away in the cellular structure, waiting to be extracted and used for visionary and healing experiences.Normally, the body quickly dissolves DMT in the bloodstream with MAO (mono-amine oxidase). This is why smoking extracted DMT only lasts for 10-15 minutes: there is nothing to inhibit the breakdown of the DMT. However, an ancient natural technology was discovered thousands of years ago that prevents the immediate breakdown of DMT. This process combines a naturally occuring MAO inhibitor with the DMT naturally found in some types of jungle vines to create a 4-6 hour experience. This allows for much more time to integrate the experience, to navigate the realms that it transports you to, and to make sense of the experience and acquire knowledge from this other place.
But before one can embark on this journey, one must prepare oneself physically, mentally, and spiritually. On the physical side, one must avoid a long list of foods that contain tyramine, because MAOIs prevent the natural breakdown of tyramine in the body. If the levels of tyramine exceed natural levels, it can lead to high blood pressure, intense headache, dizziness, nausea, etc. This is more of a problem with synthetic MAOIs, and is not as much of a concern with plant based MAOIs. However, there are other reasons for the diet, one of them is purification, which will reduce the amount of purging needed during ceremony.
Another essential thing that must be avoided is sexual activity. The reason for this is twofold: For one, sexual (creative) energy needs to accumulate to help “power” oneself through the often difficult experiences that come up during ceremony. The other reason is that ayahuasca, as a plant spirit, is more “interested” in working with those who have set aside all other distractions to dedicate themselves to this healing work.
It has been recommended to diet for at least seven days and potentially longer. One must avoid many common foods that are found everywhere. Just a few things that I no longer can consume: salt, oil, fermented foods, ice cold anything, spices and flavorings, ginger, pork or read meat, cheese, processed or canned foods… You get the idea. Basically, anything with added flavoring or anything that isn’t fresh is thrown out the window. Breakfast is usually plain oatmeal, perhaps with a bit of cinnamon and almond butter. Lunch is typically a big kale salad, and dinner is usually a salad with quinoa. I now have the diet of a goat.
This is the first time that I’ve ever put myself on a strict diet. What I have found is that so many of us rely on food, especially comfort food, as a means of pushing away the sadness or isolation that we all feel beneath it all. Recently, a video of Louis CK has been making the rounds on the Internet. In it, he tells us why he won’t let his kids get smartphones: because part of being human is learning how to just sit there with yourself, to just BE.
So many of us keep busy to avoid having to confront the sadness that arises whenever we have nothing to do. We use food, drugs, technology, and sex to keep our monkey minds occupied. And it really struck me as spot-on. In this culture of greed and destruction, ignorance and blame, I think there is a deep undercurrent of sadness and grief for so many reasons. Grief that we have no initiation into a real culture of meaning, sadness that we feel so alone and disconnected. The body responds with apathy and longing to FEEL something. And so often we use food to fill this void.
Once I removed all the comforts and distractions of substances and sensory pleasures, feelings were no longer as easily avoided. When something uncomfortable arises, I am now more likely to sit with it instead of pushing it away. By adhering to these strict preparatory guidelines, I’ve decided that I will not give into the desire to use unhealthy foods or other vices that help me distract me from what is really present.
I’ve never really been that great at being strict with myself. One of the reasons why a like to go to meditation retreats is because I am put into an environment where everything is taken care of for me. Because I so easily absorb my surroundings, when I am put into a situation where people are eating healthy, meditating, doing yoga, and generally doing self work, I easily follow suit. I get so much benefit from retreats like this, because it makes self-discipline easier. I have no temptations, therefore I have no problem. However, once I get back home, I find myself falling back into the same old patterns.
When I have a lot of time to sit around and think, I feel the sadness creep up on me. And I know that meditation and yoga will help. On countless occasions, I have wanted to establish a regular practice of meditation and yoga. But all too often, I get caught up in easy ways of distracting myself. For example, in the morning I often wake up and think, “I should meditate this morning,” but then I will pull out my phone and check emails and Facebook. Then I will get hungry and find food. After breakfast, I might think about meditating again, but then I pull out the laptop and start checking my favorite sites and more emails will come in. Then I start thinking about all the things I have to do this week, and so on. Instead of confronting the discomfort, I push it away. In fact, often times it feels like I’m RUNNING away from it.
And that brings me back to this journey. It is no longer time to run away from myself. It is time to heal the deep cultural wounding that I was born into. It is time to step outside of who I think I am, and experience a unity consciousness of sorts, to get some perspective into the nature of this three dimensional reality and my role in it.
As I sit here at the Los Angeles airport waiting for my flight to Peru, I am less than 48 hours away from my first experience ayahuasca. Wish me luck.