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Work with Amazonian plantas maestras or teacher plants is almost always enlightening, but the process can be confusing, too. The language of plants is not exactly straightforward or clear-cut. They speak to us in non-verbal ways, through images and sensations that can be vague, diffuse, difficult to understand.

Plant teachers move at a different pace than our harried everyday minds, a pace that’s organic, slow and grounded, growing from what came before and connecting with what is in ways we don’t always immediately see. This is exactly why their work with us is so powerful: they teach us what we don’t yet know, or what we’ve known and forgotten.

Translating the experiences of ayahuasca and dieta into terms that are comprehensible to our minds, while remaining respectful to the often veiled nature of the work, is a delicate undertaking. It seems to me that plant work is a cumulative, day-by-day process, each ceremony building on the last, each dieta standing on the shoulders of the plants I dieted before. I’ve learned to trust that the work is always taking place, whether or not I receive visions or downloads or teachings, whether or not anything much seems to be happening in a particular ceremony or dieta.

The Language of Curanderos

Just as plants speak in a cryptic language, curanderos and ayahuasqueros often don’t work in the way we expect them to. Much of my work as an integration therapist involves helping bridge the gap between indigenous Amazonian plant medicine and the hyper-developed intellect of modern minds. Often the people I work with are seeking to know things at a level of depth and detail that’s simply not part of traditional plant medicine work. We tend to want the meaning of our ceremony experiences spelled out for us: Why did I see this? Why did that happen—or not happen? What does this mean?

So, for example: Why did I ask for peace, and get pain and turmoil?

Why did I ask for love, and see only the blockages I have?

What did it mean when I saw the imminent the end of the world?

Why did the medicine rip me apart in such a terrifying way?

An ayahuasquero might give a very simple answer: you need to superar (overcome) or dominar (master) this situation, or even more simply, “You’ll be okay.” From everything I’ve observed, traditional medicine servers are not into long discussions of what arises in ceremony. You’re to accept what happened, assimilate it, and keep working.

So many times I’ve asked Enrique, the curandero I diet with, specific questions about my process, and while he responds animatedly and in-depth to broad philosophical inquiries about soul, spirit, Dios and las plantas, when it comes to personal matters of what’s happening now, I most often get a Cheshire Cat grin and a one-line response. Or that inscrutable grin, and a neutral sound—however you’d translate hmmm into Spanish.

This might have driven me crazy, if I hadn’t suspected something that through experience I eventually began to truly understand: that the plants themselves are answering my questions, over time. Through my continued work, more and more is revealed in the full truth of experience, to the point of utter jaw-dropping astonishment and rendered-prostrate-on-the floor-gratitude. (And it just keeps coming.)

Organic Emergence

Dieta work is not a cerebral process, though it certainly involves a degree of mental understanding. I now believe that whatever Enrique sees happening within my process is, more often than not, knowledge best kept to himself. To disclose it prematurely would at best be simply mind candy for me. At worst, it could derail me from the organic process taking place within. Like pulling open a rosebud to get to the full bloom now, premature revelation is disrespectful. And, it just doesn’t work.

The best I can do is continue to work, and wait, patiently, for the unfolding realisations to emerge: in dreams, in a vision, in a sudden flash of understanding that illuminates months of incomprehension and ties everything together in a new way. Along the course of 2 ½ years of intensive dieting, I’ve come to trust that this understanding will arise. It’s just a matter of time, and the time I’m speaking of here is that of Kairos, magical time, not the linear time of Chronos.

The learning of dieta is a process of slow growth, of growing the way a plant grows, in an organic unfolding.

While revelations are a natural and intrinsic part of the work, they are not to be revealed out of context or prematurely. Time is an essential element in this work. Each dieta builds upon the openings of the last to unveil depths and dimensions incomprehensible to the inquiring mind that just wants to know, right now.

It’s the same with ayahuasca work: the things I was shown in my initial ceremonies, unbelievable as they were, were integrated and eventually eclipsed by further revelations that I would not have been ready to receive (and indeed, might have run screaming from) earlier on.

Increasingly I’m learning to trust that the pattern will emerge if I give it time, attention, and love. But it’s crucial that things not be revealed before their time. Like a tree budding into blossom, I can’t hurry it along by extracting the meaning or imposing interpretation on what’s happening. I have to wait for it to emerge, dropping the urge to grasp at analytical thought—plants just don’t operate in that way. The learning of dieta is a process of slow, slow growth, of growing the way a plant grows, in an organic unfolding.

Cultivating the Relationship

So much depends on how we approach the medicine. While I strongly believe in the value of showing up for ayahuasca with a heartfelt intention, a goal-oriented approach that seeks specific outcomes (“Heal this/Do this/Show me this”) generates a different kind of relationship than an honest, open, humble connection that seeks to both know and be known. The kind of intimacy we can experience with teacher plants is deeply, purely relational.

I am always so humbled on dieta to recognise how I am taking the plant directly into my body, allowing it full access to all dimensions of my being. There’s a startling intimacy in this practice, in the way that I yield and open to the slow pace of the medicine, so different than my impatient goal-oriented desires. I guess that’s one reason why we look upon the plants as teachers. They do it differently than us, and I am so happy to say: there’s a lot to learn from them.


  • Vishal Mann says:

    “time, attention, and love” 🙂

    The article gives me confidence to walk into a ceremony, not necessary with a concrete intention, but with an open heart and just allowing mother to show me what i need to see.

    At times i have been working hard on fabricating an intention, however really all i want is prostrate and just be a recipient of the presence.

    • Interesting, as I’m writing a post right now about forming intentions!
      In general I find that doing the preparatory work of sorting through your motivations and crafting a simple, sincere intention seems to serve people best, both going into and coming out of ceremony.
      And yes, sometimes that intention can be “Show me what I most need to see right now.” But it’s not an all-purpose every-ceremony solution.
      More to come.

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