Monday, October 06, 2014

Again with the Ayahuasca Dieta

Okay, so I'm the heretic of the ayahuasca dieta. I just don't believe that there was a universal regimen around the Amazon for the last couple of millenia that said to become an ayahuasca curandero you had to go through periods of abstinence from salt, sugar, oil, pork, hot peppers and sex. Given that a couple of hundred years ago those things didn't exist in current form, and that even now they are costly and require real intention to get hold of--considering salt doesn't grow on trees, and while peppers do grow on bushes, very little of the Amazon will support them--I just don't see where abstaining from things you never have constitutes a diet.
    Of course people challenge me on that. Lots of people are making their living pushing that abstinence. Lots of restaurants in a place like Iquitos make a lot of money touting meals that don't include those things--HA!. But I got into a controversy and someone responded and the person who responded deserves respect so I thought about what I'd said and thought about it some more and came up with this as a response.
    This is what I wrote.
    And I'm still a heretic.
On the dieta: I cannot see a better reason for abstaining from something than what you put forward, Sachahambi: The ancestors didn't have it so we will refrain from using it. If that is the case, that's fantastic. 
And yes, I agree that getting quiet enough to hear plant spirits takes being alone, quieting yourself, not being restive, figety and so forth. I've only ever ever challenged the current dieta that people quote as a rite of passage: No sugar, no salt, no oil, no pork, no hot peppers, no sex. I've never thought--and if I did, I've changed my mind--that there was nothing to becoming a curandero or learning plant and river and animal songs--which means, really, learning how to be in communication with those things. Heck, you can't learn to play the piano or be a writer unless you're willing to spend enormous blocks of time alone for years on end, just you with your instrument or your blank paper. 
So I certainly agree on getting alone. But the way Julio and the Matses men Pablo and Roberto taught me to learn plants--and I'm a lousy student but don't hold that against them--was to go sleep with them. Just physically go out into the forest and put your arms around them all night long. I don't want to bore people because I've written this before, I think, but what you quickly learn when you sleep with the plant are that it's got lots of protectors who don't really want you near their plant. I remember one tree I was trying to learn: First night were thousands of ant bites; second night an entirely different set of ants--black, not white like the first night--bit me thousands of more times. Third day came a hoard of different insects; fourth day came a coupe of vampire bats; finally tree snakes. And it was only after living with all of that poison in my system that I finally got past those guardians and got to the tree itself--which was very generous. But she, the tree, was not going to share her spirit without me proving I really wanted it by getting past those guardians. 
The word dieta was never used, but in hindsight that was certainly a rough diet. Just hang out in the woods alone, eat some leaves you find and sleep with a tree whose allies are going to try to run you off. I could not have done that for dozens of trees and plants. I just didn't have the mettle. 
So I guess I was taught that as a dieta, rather than the no oil, no sugar, no salt thing. Of course there was none of that: I was just in the woods alone, eating leaves for several days and taking water from a shallow stream bed protected by lots of mosquitos. There also wasn't fish, wasn't plantain, wasn't decoctions of the tree bark, wasn't anything but mapachos.
In the end, I don't think we really disagree on intent, I think we disagree on the specifics. 

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