Tobacco and Plant Dietas
A dieta is a term used to describe a process of learning from a plant. Unlike reading a book to learn about a plant, a dieta is a direct, experiential practice to learn from the plant. In this way it is said that the plants teach us. We can learn and heal using the plant as a medium to open us to this space of light. Different plants have different healing properties and can teach us different things. Every plant can heal specific conditions and also has the ability to teach us about its own unique light. Ultimately all plants are pointing us towards the same truth, that which we are. These plants are teaching us about nature, natural law, ourselves, our place in this world, and opening us to worlds beyond. Beyond all, they are teaching us to be in harmony, to be at peace, and to live in accordance with Truth, and with Knowledge, and not book knowledge, but experiential knowledge.
A dieta usually consists of going into isolation for a designated period of time; this could be anywhere from a few days to a few months. The process in which we work is a series of ten day dietas, although the duration could be extended or shortened depending on the condition of the dieter. During this time the participant stays in her room, isolated from others. He restricts his food to something very light, usually juice or soup, and only at breakfast and lunch. The plant medicine is ingested every night and is drunk with the guidance of the curandero who accompanies the patient for the initial duration of the experience, which can be intense. After drinking the plant and possibly purging, the dieter and the plant medicine will continue to work in her dreams. This medicine usually awakens strongly the dream world which usually brings information about the cleaning process that is being done. The curandero is available for questions and for guidance, but much of the process is spent in isolation with ones thoughts, mind, and being. In this way repetitive thought patterns, beliefs, fears, and that which is holding us back can be brought to light and eventually released.
The specific plant that you will work with will depend on a diagnostic by the curandero. The plants are given specifically for what is seen will be beneficial to the patient. Most of the plants are trees, which traditionally are seen as the bridge between the earth and the heavens. They are strong and old and wise and have the ability to help us learn. On a physical level they tend to be very cleansing, cleaning our blood and stomach and intestines - areas which we carry much sickness. On the level of the mind, they help to clear thought patterns, belief systems, and mental systems that have been holding us back. On an energetic level they help to clear blockages, opening ourselves so that life energy can flow freely again. This the same concept of meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda.
In general, the plants are administered with tobacco. Tobacco is seen as the carrier plant, the plant which allows and regulates the other plants ability to work. Tobacco is seen as the grandfather plant, the ancient energy that allows all other plants to exist. Tobacco is a strong medicine, and a very powerful teacher on its own. Often tobacco will be the first plant one works with, as it is a most powerful cleaner of the body on all levels: physical, mental, and energetic.
All of these plants are first working on cleansing the body. As the body, mind, and energies are cleansed, then healing and teaching can begin to happen. Often this process of cleansing can be challenging, as often a lot of purging can happen. The action of tobacco in liquid form is mainly as a potent emetic and as a purge aimed at energy purification. Purging can take the form of vomiting, diarrhea, crying, shaking, fits of heat and cold, etc. It is important to mention that unlike what happens in our Western culture where the purge has an associated negative connotation, traditional medicines like in the Amazon and the Ayurvedic system for example, agree that it is extremely important to perform purges regularly in order to detoxify at the energetic, physical, emotional and spiritual levels, discharging and eliminating from the body/mind impurities and toxins, including negative emotions and thoughts. Through purging the patient begins to notice changes within such as the liberation of stagnant energies and feeling a new sense of inner peace.
As with all strong plant medicines, a true desire must be present to work with these plants. The experience is not always easy, rarely so in fact, but the rewards can be great if the person has the willingness and courage to undertake the journey.
The Role of the Curandero
The word curandero is a Spanish word that can roughly be translated as “one who cures” or “healer” or “doctor.” There are different types of curanderos. There are vegetalistas - doctors who work with plants, much like herbalists. There are curanderos - healers who have access to other states of consciousness and have the ability to guide and to heal in those spaces. And there are, in some traditions like the Shipibo, moraya - mythical curanderos who have reached a level of mastery of the world. Within the world of curanderos there are different specialities. Some may be an ayahuasquero - a curandero who specializes in working with the master plant ayahuasca. There are sanangueros - a curandero who specializes in working with the master plant chiric sanango. There are tabaqueros - a curandero who specializes in working with the master plant tobacco. And certain curanderos may further specialize in areas such as women’s health issues, bone setting, attraction, etc.
The easiest way to view a curandero is perhaps to think of them as a doctor. They are someone who the patient comes to when the patient is sick and needs help. The patient may have a physical ailment, or as is becoming more present in our times, psychological ailments such as depression, anxiety, lack to joy, loss of purpose of life, trauma, chronic pain and the like. The curandero may use specific plants to help treat the physical symptoms of the patient, but he potentially must also seek to find the root of the problem. And the root must often be pulled up and out from one’s psyche. This is where the knowledge of master plants such as tobacco, ayahuasca, and innumerable trees and plants come into play. The curandero gives the patient specific plants that will begin to try to affect the root of their ailment. This may happen in a ceremonial setting such as working with ayahuasca. Or it may be through a process of offering a dieta, where the patient goes into isolation, restricts their diet, and drinks their plant every night to experientially heal and learn from it. Some diets are administered to specifically heal certain conditions, and some diets are offered in order to learn from, to “dominate,” or to acquire the plant as an ally that aids us throughout our lives.
The disciple becomes a curandero through a very intensive process of working with plants. This process of doing plant dietas usually involves a prolonged period of isolation working with different plants. The disciple works with a curandero who becomes his maestro, or teacher. The curandero helps to guide the disciple in his process of learning. The process can be very arduous. The act of being in isolation for such prolonged periods of time can be very challenging for the mind. It forces the disciple to go into her mind and to begin to learn about the nature of the mind. Eating little to no food for prolonged periods weakens the body. It is said that when the body is weak, the spirit is high. And this allows the medicine to penetrate deeply into each disciple. But the challenges of forgoing food for such times also can cause great distress. And the process of ingesting master plants on a regular basis can be the most challenging aspect of it all. It brings up her suffering, doubts, fears, separation, and all of the blocks and traumas and belief systems that we have been holding onto. And though the process of constant working with plants, the disciple begins to slowly see into the nature of herself. She begins to learn about reality, about the human condition, about nature and natural law, and about how the plants have the ability to open us and to help us to heal.
At a certain point, after potentially years of training, the disciple slowly begins to work. This may initially take the form of apprenticing his teacher, and then beginning to administer plants himself, and eventually going out on his own and working as his own curandero. Each curandero’s process is different and unique to them. Good curanderos have undergone a rigorous training, a deep process of self reflection, and have acquired an experiential knowledge of working continuously with plants. And when the teacher feels her student is ready, she sends them out to begin working on their own.
The curandero, through his own process, learns a great deal. He begins his process of self mastery and acquisition of his own power. He sees and trusts the healing power of the plants, which are a gateway to an even greater power - that of the Universe, of Creation, of God. He knows that ultimately it is not him who is curing. He is a guide who is creating a space, through his own hard work and dedication, that allows his patients to experience the healing power of that higher force. He has the ability to guide the medicine, to heighten or lower its affects, to know the dosages, and to guide the patient through the most challenging and beautiful of experiences. It is not a role to be taken lightly, as that space, if not held, can open the patient to potential harm and suffering. It is much like an open-heart surgeon. If we are having our hearts operated on, we want to make sure that the surgeon has done their training! The curandero has worked on herself, gone deep into herself, so that she can work on and help others go deep into theirselves.
Tobacco and Ayahuasca Ceremonies
The plant ceremony is a form in which participants are able to experience the power and healing properties of the sacred plants. It is important before deciding to join that you do your research and understand what it is you are getting yourself into. If not, you could be in for a surprise! These strong medicinal plants have been used for a very long time. The exact origins of them are still being debated and perhaps will never be known. But their origins go back many many generations, perhaps and probably long before history as we know it began to take shape. The ceremony was an integral part in the lives of indigenous peoples around the world. It wasn't isolated to just certain parts of the world but was truly a world-wide phenomena. The ceremony was a chance for people to join together and to experience something that was quite out of the boundaries of their normal day-to-day lives. It also acted as a sort of test for the human will. In many cultures this was performed when a boy or girl 'came of age.' It was an initiation ceremony where the young person was able to test themselves and see the strength that lay dormant in them. And for everyone, working with these plants was a chance to experience realms of our consciousness, realms of reality that for most of us, lay dormant in most of our waking lives. And it is important to remember that what we experience when working with these plants is indeed reality. It is our experience. And it may be so different and fantastic from our normal state that we may be in disbelief. But much in the same way that our eyes can only see but a small part of the spectrum of light, there is much to this universe that, in our normal state of consciousness, we can overlook.
These plants offer us a chance to join together and to experience what they have to offer. These plants are medicine. They can help us to heal on both a physical and mental level. And whats more these plants are life. And in this way they share their life with ours; there is a bonding of plant and man, of energies, of consciousness, or of spirit as it is often referred to in native languages. This may seem a bit hard to grasp for us at first, but once we begin to work with these plants, we need not debate or get lost in ideas, the experience of the plants gives us a knowing that is perhaps irreversible. How the actual mechanisms work when we partake with these plants is just beginning to be studied in our modern age. And while it is surely of benefit, the intricacy, complexity, and ultimately knowing of how and why is perhaps beyond our intellectual power. It may reside in that space of the Great Mystery, that from which we come. And working with these plants has the potential to bring us closer to that, that which we are, our truest self, that which always has been, always is, always will be.
Inquire into what these plants are. Do your research. And if you decide to partake, come in with an open heart and mind. Approach the work with respect, humility, and honor, and in that way you will receive back from the plants what you have put in. The ceremony is no easy feat. It very well may test your strength, your endurance, your patience, your courage, and many of your beliefs. And this is part of the challenge and the experience of the ceremony. It tests our will. It opens us up to question everything we have come to believe. And as we let go, the answers we had been looking for become clear. The traumas that we had been holding onto begin to soften. The fear that we had is examined. And the essence of who we are is brought to light.
No two ceremonies will be the same. And no ceremony will be the same for two different people. Certainly each ceremony will challenge you physically. All of these plants tend to induce a big purge. This is most often in the form of vomiting, but could also be defecation, sweating, shaking, crying, laughing, heat, chills, or any number of other ways the body releases. It is very common to feel discomfort in the body. This will come and it will go. Learning to accept and allow it to be will greatly aid in the process. Our mind may also begin to travel, to places of fear, of joy, of the past, of other worlds perhaps. And, as people in control, this can be very confronting. The experience can seem overwhelming. But truly it is not. And if we can be at peace knowing that it is ok, then this will help tremendously. Some of the best advice I received before my first ceremony I still give to others today. It is that these plants always give us exactly what we need, and that they never give us more than we can handle. So remember that if things get tough, that the plant is indeed giving you exactly what you need in this moment, and that whatever that is, it is within your power to handle it. And perhaps handle isn't the correct word. It implies control. Perhaps a better concept is to allow it to be, to release into the experience and simply to observe it, knowing that everything is as it should be.
Ceremonies are generally held at night. Usually the ceremony will commence around eight o'clock. The space will be cleared (smudged) and all participants will come together in a common area, sitting in a circle amongst each other. I will begin by doing a bit of work with my pipe. One by one each participant will come and drink a cup of the medicine. Depending on the number of people this could take between a few minutes and an hour. Once everyone had taken their medicine, usually I will commence by working more with my pipe, using an oración or prayer, and begin singing. After a time has passed, usually around a half of an hour or whenever I feel participants are ready, each will come forth one by one. If working with tobacco, each will then partake in singuiado, or the taking of liquid tobacco through the nose. Then I will sing and usually use my chacapa (rattle) on each person. After everyone has completed this, they will be able to relax and go into their own experience. I will continue to work with the pipe and sing. The actual length of the ceremony can vary widely in time, mainly depending on how many participants there are. The ceremonies can range in size of two people to up to ten. Everyone is encouraged to spend the night in the space. The space is where the work is happening. And even if we feel like we are ok at some point and can get up and leave, it is in our best interest to stay. The effect of the plants can come in waves, and therefore it is best to stay in the space for the night. In the morning everyone in the group can share their experience if they like, or I will be available in private to speak as well. Once day comes, participants can return home when they please.
If you are interested in participating, please subscribe at the bottom of the page with your email so that you will know when and where upcoming ceremonies will be held.
Here are some tips and guidelines to follow in preparation for the ceremony:
•It is very important to follow dietary and lifestyle restrictions before participating in ceremony. For at least one day before ceremony and preferably a week, one must follow a dieta, or diet. The following should be observed:
•No eating of: meat (especially pork), alcohol, spice, ice or iced foods, salt, sugar, fats, processed foods (packaged, canned, smoked, cured), ferments, dairy. Basically the diet should just consist of vegetables and perhaps a bit of fruit.
•No sex (including masturbation)
•No drugs of any sort at least one week before! This is very important. Taking drugs can have a very negative impact on the experience. Our bodies become very sensitive during ceremony and if drugs are in the system it could cause very severe side affects. Prescription drugs should also be avoided. If you are unable to go off your prescription medication for a week beforehand please inform me beforehand.
•Try and go inward as much as you can. This can include staying away from computers and cell phones, no gossip or chit chat, being alone as much as possible, being in nature, meditating, etc. The more centered we are coming in the more we will gain from the experience
•Wear comfortable clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. Its is good to dress in layers and the body can alternate between states of heat and cold during ceremony
•Bring a bucket to purge into
•Bring at least one big bottle of drinking water
•Bring a blanket and pillow
•Bring tissues or a roll of toilet paper
•One mapacho (pure tobacco cigar) will be given to each participant. You can bring your own tobacco if you would like to smoke more, but please make sure it is pure tobacco. No commercial cigarettes will be permitted. Also don't forget matches or a lighter.
•Please don't wear any perfumes or colognes as the sense of smell can become quite heightened during ceremony and others may be sensitive to it.
Tobacco, Plant Dietas and Ayahuasca Retreats
Temple of the Way of Light
One of the original retreats in the Amazon near Iquitos, Peru. The Temple of the Way of Light offers 12-day, 9-day, and 23-day long Ayahuasca retreats and 10-day tobacco and plant dietas. The Temple works with ayahuasca in the Shipibo tradition and tobacco in the tabaquero tradition. The Temple is unique in that every ceremony is run by five curanderos who all give you personal attention. The Temple also looks to give back to the Shipibo community through their NGO, the Chaikuni Institute. The Temple has comfortable surrounding and runs ceremonies with tradition in mind. Highly recommended for both beginners and those looking for deeper work.