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Dieta, Taking Root

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

As of today, I’m officially returned from the jungle and my dieta. It’s been about a month and I’ve been taking lots of space to let it settle; wise counsel from my teachers dictates that the plants don’t do anything in haste.

The Maloka (ceremonial building) in the Morning

Since departing Paoyhan I’ve been enjoying some time in Pucallpa, Peru and Quito, Ecuador. Walking, reflecting, observing myself and what’s arising in the aftermath. Reconnecting bit by bit. I got a special treat spending a few days with good friends in Quito, a reminder of how necessary face time with friends and community is. I’ve been taking Spanish lessons, trying to do my part to build relationship with this land. Tomorrow I’ll start a short volunteer stint at a fascinating organization called Jambi Huasi, a health clinic in the market city of Otovalo, Ecuador. The clinic combines traditional/indigenous and modern medicine to serve the Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and Mestizo communities in the area. I hope to learn a lot, make some nice connections and give back a little something from my heart.

As with all powerful inner experiences that transcend words, it’s hard to know what to say about how it was. The numerous gifts of this diet are still racking up. Some have come with orders for acknowledging aspects of my psyche keeping the rest of me in a headlock and for taking action in my life. Time to Deal With It, say the plants. Naturally I’ve resisted, I’ve bargained, I’m slowly coming around to accepting this latest call to step into my own power and walk the walk. Syllabus: Advanced Methods in Healing. Classroom: Your Life. This is long-term work. I can’t predict how it will go, but I have high hopes. It is said you get what you’re ready for.

Time in the Amazon can’t be summed up in two-dimensional musings on love, light and Pachamama; certainly not now, in the time we live in. The jungle is a place of unparalleled force, to be sure. The magic and medicine of this region are a miracle of existence. It’s also a place in urgent ecological and sociocultural crisis with many, many challenges for the people living there. Money is tight for the majority, illnesses of body, spirit, and society proliferate. Waste management is non-existent, some trash is burned and what isn’t clogs the riverbanks in places. In Paoyhan, diesel motors - the soundtrack of modern agriculture, transportation and the logging industry – often run through the night. Once, there was a barge as long as a city block parked in the village port, piled high with thick, red tree trunks from the deep jungle upriver.

Grief and rage over our planetary situation – and the effects I experience personally down to the specifics of my health, which I’m endlessly pissed off about - was a significant theme of this dieta for me. In a way, witnessing this and feeling it inside my body, expanding my sense of the connection from inside to outside, was the dieta. That other dieta I long for in a silent, isolated hut somewhere in virgin jungle isn’t much available these days. Globalization, including the phenomenon of foreigners seeking ayahuasca en masse itself, contribute to the degradation of tradition and ecology both. I nod to my part in that and, in choosing to go forward, know I must be very aware of how I step. To that end: the purpose of this practice is to gain insight into what needs healing, to face one’s shadows, and so it was. My health, the health of community, society, environment all linked in a continuous system, myself victim and perpetrator at once, all laid out to see. This is the medicine of jungle: what is, is intensified. Nothing stays buried.

Witnessing it opens the way to accepting it, then transforming it – or learning to co-exist with it and act in integrity despite it, transforming ourselves around it instead.

Paoyhan is an incredibly special place. It’s electric, buzzing with activity, yet contains these spacious pockets of people just enjoying being alive and being together. To my eyes, the Shipibo I got to know there are something like Zen masters of cultivating joy and connection side-by-side with hardship, and this was a great inspiration while I struggled and stretched to grow more of this space inside myself. I used my tools, which are many now: yoga, bodywork, mindful reflection, sure. I took full advantage of my oversized Tambo and danced every day. I slept in my hammock and had my mattress up against the wall to try to punch a hole through in overwhelming moments. I took pleasure and rest in opening my own fresh coconuts in the morning, in daily visits from one of the resident cats, in meals and heart sharings with other dieteros. In singing in ceremony and feeling my voice grow with the help of my teacher plants. In the fiery sunsets and night skies full of stars. In learning about the natural world of the Amazon from the experts, our Shipibo hosts, and in creating bonds of friendship across all separation, all differences.

Our jungle walk leader and Chiric Sanango, one of my Master Plants <3

Times are tough in this world we’ve made. Sometimes I’m so angry we have to be like weeds growing through cracks in a city sidewalk rather than proud jungle or strong mountains or whatever other metaphors we apply to psycho-spiritual growth. Then I think: well, if that’s the way it has to be now in this moment where I live, then that’s what I’ll do the best damn way I can figure out how. The way it is is what we have to work with and all of it is useful, all of it purposeful. Everything depends on what we create out of it. This is what I have to believe, at least.

What a rich experience this was. All I can say is thank you to the jungle offering her unceasing medicine, in sickness and in health, always.

Unfortunately, I don’t have photos to share because my phone got snatched on the street in Pucallpa a few days after leaving Paoyhan. Yeah, it’s a bummer – but ok, let’s call it an invitation to keep one eye on what’s really happening and count my blessings. I’m fortunate enough to be able to take time in my life to travel, follow my interests, commit time to my own healing. The two 18 year old kids who rolled up behind me in that mototaxi live in a barrio where even the locals are advised not to go lest they get slashed for no good reason, and one of them didn’t have any parents. If I needed to be humbled (always a good idea, probably) then consider it accomplished.

(Note: The photos were since reclaimed in the Cloud!)

So now, gratitudes:

Irake, utmost gratitude to La Medicina and to my plants, Chiric Sanango and Noya Rao, that travel with me now. Thank you to the mighty Ucayali River, the animals, trees, spirits, sun, dirt, love, anger, tears of La Madre Selva, whose fingers extend across this living Earth and touch all of us in one way or another. Jai Kali-Shakti, Viva la Pachamama. Not enough thank you’s in this life for what you give.

Huge thank you to the legendary Papa Gilberto Mahua and Maestro Oscar for your dedication, masterful healing and leadership. Thank you and big hug to Carolina Mahua, Maestra vegetalista, for the supporting medicines and general awesomeness! To Teobaldo Mahua for expert organizing, to Reydalinda and daughters for the nourishing food and support - some of those days cutting vegetables in the kitchen with you helped me more than anything else could. Tania Mahua, Juli Mahua and the rest of the family and staff, thank you so much for your hard work and help, smiles and good vibrations. I look forward to seeing you all next time.

Thank you to Robin and Alicia of Master Plant Retreats, long-time students of Papa Gilberto, for being top notch guides, giving me a foundation in Shipibo language, and orienting me in my first two weeks. Thank you to our wonderful workshop group, I couldn’t have wanted for a better start before flying solo. You were all in my heart through it and remain there still.

Thank you to Wendy, resident angel dietera working for local NGO Tribal Vision, and to everyone in our shifting cohort of dieteros for the support and comraderie on some days, pushing my buttons on others! Love to you all, every one.

To the entire village of Paoyhan for being willing to share your lives, traditions and ancient medicine with the rest of us, it was a treasure to be received by you all. I’ll try my best to do honor to the privilege of my stay there, thank you so much.

Special thanks to Carolina, Reydalinda, Irma, Zaida, Dina, Ruth, Lidia, Magali, Juana, Pilar, Clesie, Ruth Mery, Ynes, Faustina, Luzmila, and all the women making telas (traditional handmade tapestries) in the village. Your work is world heritage, I feel lucky to have gotten to know more about this incredible art form during my time in Paoyhan and about some of you in the process as well. Huge respect to you all, Artistas, keep it up.

And speaking of telas! As a part of my project “Telas of Paoyhan”, about 1700 USD went to purchase pieces directly from the women who made them. Tela sales provides one of the only sources of income in the village, so this is crucial support for the women of Paoyhan and their families. Thank you to everyone who pledged generously in advance to make such a sum possible – if I haven’t already, I’ll be contacting you about choosing your tela soon. Over the next few months the remaining pieces will be for sale, culminating at the Movement Medicine Long Dance in July 2020 where you’ll be able to buy them in person. 100% of the profits will go to an organization supporting the Shipibo.

It’s a stunning collection and the best ones are sure to go quickly! Find out more here.

It’s good to be back y'all, I missed you! Hope you’re all well and happy where you are.

The center of Paoyhan on market day


Read about the project Telas of Paoyhan here and the project conclusion here.

The Telas of Paoyhan page on this website is here.


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