My annual trip to a small Peruvian village in the Amazon jungle is probably one of the most challenging things I do. It’s also one of the most enlightening and empowering things I do.
In a book I recently read, the author said that we too often look for “salvation without sweat.” That we are looking for quick fixes or magic bullets and get discouraged and sometimes give up when we realize we are going to have to work to change a habit or cultivate a new way of being.
There can be so much resistance from ego when we are seeking to grow spiritually and become more free of our habitual conditioning. One of the forms resistance takes is magical thinking. That somehow we are going to take part in something and it will easily and effortlessly transform our lives and make everything better.
Sometimes it can feel like that happens. But often there have been years of sweat equity leading to those kinds of sudden awakenings. When I experienced my magical transformation in January of 2010 (see How I Came to Be a Healer), there were not only hours and hours of meditation, yoga, prayer, learning and growing that preceded it, but there was even more work that was needed afterwards to learn to nurture that state of spiritual connection and heightened awareness.
I’m totally guilty of magical thinking. I have grandiose dreams and can get completely carried away by my fantasies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think having crazy, big dreams makes life fun and exciting. If I had known the reality of what I would have gotten into every time I tried something new that would push me to higher levels of growth, I likely would have shied away in fear.
When I decided to go to Peru for my first dieta, I really had no idea how challenging it would be. I am a total wuss when it comes to physical discomfort, and eight days in the jungle working with plant medicines involves a fair bit of physical discomfort. (To learn about what a dieta is, read Working with Plant Medicines in the Amazon.)
First, there’s the discomfort of being hot, sticky, sweaty, and a magnet for mosquitos. Then, there’s the discomfort of sleeping in a tent, using an outhouse and going without the comforts of nice bathrooms with clean running water/electricity. And there’s the discomfort of fasting 20-24 hours for seven consecutive days and also not having any water from 6am-3pm most days.
On top of that, there’s the physical discomfort of working with plant medicines in what essentially amounts to 10 ceremonies in 7 days. These plants are incredibly powerful, and they do a great job of clearing you out, which means you may purge through crying, shaking, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Needless to say, the body gets put through a lot.
I went into this dieta with a fair bit of trepidation. My digestion was already off from all the travel I’d undertaken this year, and I came down with a bug a couple of weeks before my trip. Resistance was strong as I was getting ready, and a part of me seriously wanted to cancel my journey. But I moved through the resistance, made it to Peru, and am happy to say I got through the dieta better than I had anticipated.
Yes, all the discomforts listed above were present. Mid-way through the dieta, I woke up with terrible stomach pains at 3am one night, threw up at 4:30am, and then had the runs here and there. But I was in good company. Multiple participants talked of shitting their pants, and the sounds of violent vomiting were pretty intense during our second night-time ceremony. The jungle can be a tough place in many ways.
As if all of that weren’t enough, this type of work also has us facing all the hidden patterns, pains, and fears we keep ourselves so busy repressing and numbing. It’s quite humbling to face our darkest fears and our most painful wounds. To be brought to one’s knees in ceremony is incredibly challenging and amazingly rewarding.
The plants, in their infinite wisdom, have a way of breaking us down in order to build us up. So much gets cleared out and space is created for a deeper connection to Spirit, one’s heart, one’s true authentic self, and one’s dreams. So much wisdom and amazing insights are shared by the plants, who are referred to as Master Teachers.
In this dieta, I gained incredible insights about myself and my life as well as the spiritual reality of the world we live in. I received amazing support from spirit allies and was taught new techniques for healing and navigating ceremonial space. Once I was back, I slept 20 of the first 24 hours I was home. Not only was I recovering from the physical challenges, I was integrating all that I had gained from my journey.
I’m beginning to see personal and spiritual growth as a type of birthing process, one in which we give birth to a newer, more healed, whole, authentic, empowered versions of ourselves. Now that I have had an opportunity to transition to life back home, I can feel the strength and power of the plants working in and through me.
It’s amazing to see how much stronger I feel and what wild, crazy dreams I’m open to entertaining as real possibilities…things I would have never even allowed myself to fantasize about. That’s the magic of the plant medicine work for me…bit by bit, it sweeps aways more and more layers of fear and allows me to step towards greater possibilities and dreams.
So, once the memory of the excruciating labor that often is a part of spiritual initiation has passed, I am in total awe of the life, beauty, magic, miracle and possibilities it has given birth to. And I am in awe of and hold deep gratitude for the blessings the ceremonies and dietas with plant medicines bring. The process can definitely be sweaty beyond belief, but the salvation it leads to is so sweet.
If you would like to hear more about my journey, please join me for an Evening of Shamanic Wisdom at 6pm on Thursday, October 17th at Shamanic Soul Center. I will share stories and lessons from my journey, talk about Shipibo woven song cloths and icaros, answer questions about shamanism/shamanic practice, and guide you through a shamanic visualization journey. Simply email me to RSVP.