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Caya Shobo Ayahuasca Retreat Center

The Shamanic Healing Process – to know or not to know?

– The Shamanic Healing Process – to know or not to know? –

– by Becky Griffin –
16/06/2021

“What do the Onanya maestros see when they sit in front of me in the ceremony? What are the healing or teaching properties of my dieta plants? What does the spirit of the plant look and feel like? Will it talk to me? Why did I receive this inexplicable vision or dream? Why are these intense emotions, thoughts or physical sensations arising? What does it all mean, and is everything proceeding in a good way?”

At Caya Shobo one of the key aspects of our role as facilitators of the Shipibo medicine tradition is helping guests with their many questions and curiosities about Ayahuasca and the plant dieta healing process. We of course keenly understand that in our modern culture there is a deep desire to make logical sense of the shamanic journey by leading with the reasoning power of our minds. But… what if hunting for them with a hungry mind only makes them more elusive? 

The desire to ‘know’ is especially understandable considering the potential dangers associated with a journey into the Amazonian medicine world. But aside from wanting to be sure we are safe, most westerners also experience some challenges accepting certain mysterious notions at the heart of the Shipibo healing tradition. It can be difficult for us to fully embrace the idea of the spiritual consciousness of the master plants, for example, or the experience of being ‘in relationship’ with a plant. Or to make sense of the x-ray-like ‘vision’ the maestros develop after years of dieting master plants, and their uncanny ability to accurately diagnose our physical, mental and emotional issues. There are many wondrous facets of Shipibo shamanism that seem so exotic and foreign to us, and perhaps a little ambiguous or even doubtful. 

Yet here lies the essential challenge. For while some things can be directly explained and verified through experience – such as the fact that Suelda con Suelda (or “bone heal”) is an effective herbal treatment for fractures or muscle sprains and is a good general tonic for the musculo-skeletal system; there is so much more that is not able to be logically explained. Words will only ever offer a whisper and a tiny step towards full comprehension of the magical truths that reside at the heart of the spiritual world of the plants. Such as the exquisite power of Suelda (in a dieta done well) to reawaken an openness to the beauty of romantic love and an appreciation of how to be in intimate connection with another human being in a harmonious way. How could such a ‘knowing’ be tested and verified? And what if that ends up not being the key teaching this plant brings to a particular person in dieta? Will they be disappointed? Will they be confused?

Another example, Ajo Sacha, or ‘forest garlic’ is a prolific Amazonian shrub that is often prescribed for early stage dietas. It’s crushed leaves smell strongly garlicky, and like garlic it is a great treatment for viral or other infections; it helps to boost the immune system, and also treats general conditions of inflammation in the body. These points are straightforward to grasp and authenticate, but if we also hear that a good Ajo Sacha dieta can help a person learn how to have healthier boundaries in relationships and can clean energies associated with violent trauma or sexual abuse, how can these truths be understood and confirmed? How precisely does the plant do that healing work? How will the guest know if it is really working? 

These things are practically impossible to articulate,… and yet the maestro knows. 

There is a vast separation between the world of the native Amazonian Onanya and that of the typical western person. The maestro does not carry the same preoccupation to intellectually interpret the shamanic experiences as we do. But we do not spend our entire lives immersed in nature’s rich web of holistically integrated life’s energy, such as exists in the thriving ecosystem of the Amazon. We are not constantly schooled from birth by our elders and through direct personal experience in the potent healing properties and the sacred wisdom of the master plants. And we have lost what, for these native jungle dwellers, is an innate and obvious understanding – that the body, mind, heart and soul is an holistic whole; that wellness is achieved when our entire person is in balance and in love, not only internally, but also in harmony with family, community, environment and the broader cosmos.

Instead we come from long ancestral lineages bearing an intensely scientific mentality for ordered planning, resource gathering and technological advancement, born out of our early agricultural beginnings and redoubled over many generations as our complex modern civilizations have evolved. We have been deeply indoctrinated into using our deductive logic and strategic forethought to master and dominate life’s uncertainty and nature’s wildness – both outside and within. This anatomizing attitude towards nature has brought us to perceive health and healing as a disaggregated issue – the human being is considered an assortment of distinct parts. The doctor attends sickness in the body, the nutritionist proposes diet, the psychiatrist medicates the mind, the priest tries to redeem the soul and who has the ability to heal the heart?? But perhaps most importantly we have been programmed from a very young age to develop strong, ego-based personas so as to survive and thrive in our intensely competitive societies. We allow ourselves to be molded into professional capacities that promote rigid mindsets but devastate our capacity for genuine receptivity and change. We are taught that ambition and achievement surpass reflection and patience, and that we are nothing if not able to compare ourselves favorably to others. 

We have forgotten who we are at our essence, where we belong in the grand scheme of life, and what we are truly here to offer and create.

Perhaps it is understandable that for the Shipibo Onanya our profound hunger to ‘know’ can be somewhat bewildering and maybe even a little frightening. Aside from the Onanyas’ surprise that we seem to have forgotten many essential truths of what it means to be a healthy, happy human being, and that we seem quite clueless about the existence and function of plant and other energies, there is of course an infinite array of possible directions a medicine path can take for any given person; a thousand different ways of interpreting each shamanic experience during Ayahuasca ceremony or plant dieta. And of course, the maestros who perhaps more fully appreciate the special divinity and uniqueness of each human being, do not want to presume to precisely say how our personal processes of self-understanding and liberation will unfold. Instead, they will tend to offer cryptic comments about ‘spirit clouds’ or ‘cold air’, or give generalized guidance about how the plants and icaros are ‘cleaning energy’ or ‘bringing protection’.

For each of us the process of healing and transformation is unique. We each have a distinctive personal profile of life experiences, traumas, confusions, pain and sorrow, and we each have our very own special blend of strengths and qualities, talents, beauty, and way to understand life and express ourselves in the world. As facilitators who have ourselves grown in the western culture, we can appreciate the intense curiosity of our guests, and we also perhaps have a finer sense of what the maestra specifically means when she describes how the icaro she sang was aimed at excavating the roots of trauma from a person’s nervous system, versus the icaro for another that sought to untangle the jumble of confused mental energies, also birthed from trauma. 

We can offer insights from our own experiences dieting master plants over the years, the common visions, dreams and senses, but more importantly how we personally have chosen to interpret and integrate these revelations into our lives. And we can share what we’ve learned supporting others; the psychological and emotional pitfalls and successes we’ve observed as people seek to comprehend the deep unearthing of their life’s journey that Ayahuasca and the dieta plants awaken. 

But we can never categorically define what will happen and how the experiences should be signified by any one person. The truth is that nothing is certain and nothing is guaranteed in the process of personal transformation. Truly it is up to each individual to figure through these complex unfoldings, and hopefully discover a capacity to surrender some of the need to control the process from the helm of the meddlesome mind and dominating ego. With the help of the master plants, we can perhaps recognize the roots of indoctrination that have molded and encased our minds and spirits, we can take a deep breath, be open, reflective, patient, steadily disciplined in mind and diet and gently curious about what arises and what is revealed and cleaned.  We can learn to appreciate that everything is in motion, and thereby allow a dissolution of the old so the new may come forth. 

The plants grow slowly, as does the process of self-realization through dieta. So, while some of the shamanic teachings may be difficult to believe and the lack of logic or absolute certainty can be unnerving for newcomers to this medicine path, we recommend letting go, just a little bit, of the need to know everything with precise certainty. Try surrendering to the mystery of the adventure. 

It is our great honor to provide our support and offer the benefit of our many years of experience dieting with the master plants and the Shipibo maestros that we are so fortunate to call our friends.

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