In early May of 2022 I flew to the Amazon in Peru to lead a dieta, a plant diet supervised by the Shipibo people of the upper Amazon who are famous for their knowledge of plants, the songs of the plants, and their powers to transform us. This was perhaps my thirty-third diet over the last twenty-seven years, each diet seven days in all.
Many of the plants require dieting three times for 21 days in all. I first began dieting with the plants in the mid 90’s and as I did so more and more people wanted to join me so that now, I and my wife Lena, and our daughter Anna often take around twenty people per trip. This group, composed of eleven mostly-veterans was smaller than usual due to the still-present specter of COVID.
To give a little context to this particular trip, it was taking place between two eclipses and during a catastrophic wildfire in New Mexico – the biggest fire in the USA – that was threatening to engulf our land at Eagle Bear Ranch and had already burned some several hundred acres of our ranch. This is the land that we hold all our retreats on and is central to our work. We had evacuated the land just before the trip – removing all the tools, ATV’s and a couple of trailers. The rest would be left to the fire if it were to come. I had to work very hard on the dieta, not to be obsessed with thoughts of what the fire was doing. As of this writing our land has been miraculously spared, and I do mean miraculously. That is a whole other story.
I had completed the plant I had last dieted with and was beginning a new one with a plant called Albaca Brasiliera, a plant originally from Brazil but adapted to Peru. In that part of the Peruvian jungle, in the village of San Francisco, Brazil is only a short distance away. Being a small group, I could concentrate on my own experience more rather than supervising a large group. We spent the better part of the day in hammocks after rising about five AM to drink two liters of water before seven AM when the diet officially begins each day. The Shipibo bring the tobacco infused plant potions daily, icaros are sung into them, and then everyone drinks their particular plant infusion and the diet begins in silence until later in the afternoon. No water is taken after sunrise. The weather is often in the nineties with very high humidity. The first few hours of the diet are the most intense and most of the plants have a psychological and energetic impact that can be mind-altering, visionary, and bring about deep contemplation.
The Albaca I was taking was particularly strong and rapidly put me into a deeply calm expanded space of awareness where I began to sense my own awareness of being conscious and alive. My path of contemplation went along the lines of what I had been reading about recently. I had been reading a book by Tibetan Buddhist Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche for his advanced students. I began to contemplate the following:
The Buddha is purported to have said and taught that “Life is Suffering,” but this is undoubtedly a result of either bad translation or poor understanding of what he actually meant. The key tipoff word here is “Life.” Suffering is not to be found in life but only in denial of life. Our suffering comes from misunderstanding, confusion, ignorance, identification with ego, dualistic thinking, and the belief that we are separate from spirit. This is not life but rather a form of delusion, a craziness formed along our path when we decided that we were on our own, a path more associated with death than life.
Some might say that we humans have not forgotten Spirit, that there are millions who believe in God and follow traditional religions and paths of faith. That may be so but a belief in God does not mean that we do not deny Spirit on a daily basis. In fact, we do. We tend to be believers in name only. When we indulge in the slightest fear, we deny Spirit.
The truth is that being alive, aware and conscious in the here and now, is quite sweet. It is not suffering in the least. On the contrary, thoughts involving separation, judgement, condemnation, comparison and so on create fertile ground for fear, and fear begets more of itself until it takes over all our thoughts, all our feelings, and eventually all of our actions.
Enhanced by the Albaca, what was revealed to me is the extent of fear in the world today and the extent of fear that had been present in my own life until recently. This revelation was like discovering the extent of rot in an older house after a termite inspection or the degree of cancer in a body discovered to be riddled with it. Not a pleasant discovery and daunting to contend with. The plants are very good at cutting through thought process and simply revealing what is so or what lies we have told ourselves that are not so. In this way we can know clearly what is true or what is false instead of the usual mental process of analyzing, rationalizing, and weighing the considerations endlessly. The plants are more aligned with knowing than thinking. This has to do with the fact that the plants themselves are instinctive, they lack an intellect and don’t think per se but rather just know because they are a direct expression of Spirit. Like all elements of nature including insects, birds, animals, trees, water, clouds, gemstones and so on, the plants don’t judge or compare. They know the seasons, whether it is day or night, and they know what the weather is and what it will be. When we diet with the plants we join them in this system of knowing and benefit from the simplicity of it.
So Albaca Brasiliera laid bare the fear I had been holding in my body throughout my life and revealed the thoughts responsible for that fear, without judgment. There is no hiding from this, no denying it, no way to rationalize it away or remain in a doubtful skeptical state.
Fortunately, I had tools ready for these revelations and could immediately go to work on them, bringing them to the upper room space behind my eyes for neutralizing and erasing. The upper room serves as a place to neutralize all fear thoughts by raising their frequency dramatically and then allowing them to erase themselves in the process. Even so, erasing a lifetimes load of fear is not a simple matter. I spent many hours at it in my hammock and still there seemed to be a never-ending stream from even earlier memories that had their roots in other lifetimes. There were all the fears of my childhood to contend with including early memories of dread that something might happen to my parents and I would be abandoned or left alone, wonderings about what would make them angry with me, how I could please them, how I could avoid my brother’s machinations, whether there were ghosts in the attic, or a monster under the bed. Later on, I worried about being home alone and killers on the loose or neighborhood bullies that could and did beat me up and steal my stuff. I worried that the kids at school would make fun of my being half Mexican and talk about my mother as if she were a whore. What if I wore the wrong clothes or ate weird stuff that they would judge me for? On and on through the different stages of my life, I looked at incessant ongoing fears, the ongoing sense of being not okay, the ongoing fears of falling ill as I often did with measles, chicken pox, mumps, colds, the flu, and allergies galore, the fear of atomic bombs rampant in the fifties, all the fears of committing mortal sins causing me to burn in hell forever, fear of the dark, fear of pedophiles (always lurking in that part of Hollywood), fear of the drunks and psychotics wandering the streets, and on and on. All these mostly forgotten memories reared up during this plant diet and revealed themselves plain and clear, the results of feeling separate and disconnected from the true source of Spirit within me. What if God did not exist? What if God existed but was mean and vengeful and was always watching for my mistakes and misdeeds? What if God existed but just didn’t care at all.
I realized that with all these chronic fears I rarely felt safe from anything growing up. I did not know that spirit was within me in the form of my own consciousness and would protect me no matter what. I did not know I had allies and helpers: I did not know that nature was full of medicine to heal me. I was not empowered as a child but terrified most of the time. I grew up to be an uncertain young adult who outwardly tried to appear confident and effective, able to handle life but my thoughts were anything but confident. I was pretty anxious and anxiety is just a polite and formal word for being afraid. I was fearful and felt separate. Little did I know everyone else was feeling the same or worse as I was to discover at a fifty-year grammar school reunion a few years back.
While the plant diet was giving me an inventory of my fears it was also showing me the absolute fiction of my narrative, the invalidity of the storyline. In fact, my awareness of myself is only in the moment of now. This narrative of anxiety was only an idea about the so called past that I could never prove even existed. It was just a movie, fascinating but only a virtual reality experience. When I look at my current situation it is a totally different picture. I am and can be calm and confident in my knowing that God Spirit is within me and expressing itself through my own self-awareness in this perpetual moment of now. This awareness is a shared experience with all beings. And yet I am truly fortunate to be my unique self, just so. I am completely safe, whole, connected, and loved unconditionally. Wow. What a difference. Thank you, plant medium.
Does this mean that the fears have vanished forever? No, not hardly. They are part and parcel to my false personality that still asserts itself when I think too much. When I am in my knowing more and more of the time, it has no power over me. It is my choice where to focus. Distractions abound. That is where the work is. That is actually the only job there is, stabilizing self-awareness, being no-thing, being the space that life flows through, the context that cannot be harmed, and not the content that can be a cause for suffering. Thanks for your help, plants.
**By Jose Stevens PhD