During my last half-dozen or so plant dietas, I’ve been experiencing a phenomenon I call ‘unfolding.’ It has something to do with the way my normal life, much of which is spent staring at a laptop screen, flattens my perception, collapsing my sense of dimensionality. Technically speaking, you might say I suffer from an overemphasis on the mono-focus of the left brain, at the expense of the holistic vision of the right.
What’s interesting is how I find dieta to be a direct path to healing this imbalance. (As I discuss in other posts, dieta is the traditional Amazonian practice of drinking and learning from plantas maestras or ‘teacher plants.’) The energy of the plant works within my physical and energetic bodies to restore spaciousness and vitality, reformatting my being in ways that are at once subtle and profound—and sometimes bone-shatteringly powerful (All Hail, Mapacho!).
Over the course of a dieta I feel increasingly grounded, open, and clear, connected with the pure essence of my being. It takes a few days to enter this state, but eventually, despite the hunger and boredom and nightly rat visitations that seem to accompany all my dietas, I arrive fully at that interior state I call Home. Then, there is nowhere else on the planet I would rather than be lying in that hammock, gazing at the jungle sky. There is absolutely nothing else I would rather be doing, so delicious is the taste of this purity.
Piranha Mind and Ro Chig
It takes some work to get here, though; the first few days of a dieta are always a struggle. I’ve written elsewhere about my Piranha Mind, exponentially fiercer than the meditator’s Monkey Mind in its never-ending demands for mental stimulation. The first days of a dieta seem to involve a slow loosening of Piranha Mind’s rigid grasp on reality. The incessant desire to read a book, examine an astrology chart, look up a tidbit on Google, or otherwise distract myself from my actual embodied experience is a deeply ingrained pattern.
But a few days into the dieta, a natural transition begins to occur. I start to open to the deeper manifestations of the natural world, and as I do, I’m less compelled by the superficial distractions instigated by Piranha Mind and its unfortunate addiction to The New York Times.
My energetic body rejoices in the space that’s opening up for it, to the point where the sensual pleasure of simply breathing, moment by moment, is all I really crave. The more I tune into this delicious sense of freedom, the deeper the feeling goes. Ro chig, Tibetan Buddhists call this, ‘one taste’—the taste of Emptiness, manifesting in limitless forms.
Unfolding Into Dimensionality
Rebuilding and rewiring the subtle body and its myriad invisible energies is one of the things the plants do with us in a dieta. The work of dieta offers a refuge for our over-structured mind, and redemption for our undernourished subtle body. The plants rebalance our human essence, nourishing depths of soul and spirit.
We don’t have to give up our intellect, nor its fine-tuned ability to do things in the world. We just need to release our conceptual fixations (namtok, as the Tibetans call it), to allow all of our being to flourish. This means creating something like a watering schedule for the soul, time where we don’t do anything, but rather simply are. Creating balance in our lives, harmonising right and left brains.
I get practical instruction from the plants on this: How I need to spend part of each day consciously unfolding my psyche, contacting the more subtle dimensions of being. To raise my vision from the laptop screen (difficult as a writer!) and consciously release the contraction that creeps. To unfold my awareness in an offering to the natural realm that through our great good fortune is always here nurturing us.
Eventually you will be able to move easily from one to the other, the plants tell me. Both your subtle body and the mundane, task-oriented one will remain stable. But for now, be aware of how you spend your time.
Sometimes geometric forms spring into my vision, images that begin as flat shapes and spontaneously unfold into fully dimensional tetrahedrons, octahedrons, complex interlocking pyramids, rotating as if to display their dimensionality, the depth of all their facets and forms.
This can be understood in many ways, but one is that this is the process of unfolding at work, signaling that I am not the flat-plane being that I mistake myself to be. The shapes vibrate, springing free of stuckness—boingggg!—to manifest in depth. It’s exactly what happens to me in dieta, as I unfold into full dimensionality.
From my dieta journal:
A little while ago, craving an escape, I let myself read for 20 minutes. Closing the book, I get a clear message: A new body is unfolding within you. It’s sensitive and needs a clean space to open into. When you focus on reading or writing or articulating the thoughts inside your head, you flatten your dimensionality, just like pinning a butterfly to a board. Your subtle body is emerging from its cocoon, and it needs protection to unfold fully into its innate spaciousness.
The environment of sacred protection is part of what dieta is about. The structure of the practice— a minimal amount of simple food, limited social contact, nothing to do—creates plenty of time for breathing, for gazing, for simply being. Freed of its usual constrictions and nourished by the energy of the plant, the subtle body gains the strength to unfurl its wings and flutter off the flat board into a fully dimensional world. (No coincidence that the Greek word psyche, signifying what we call soul, translates as ‘butterfly.’)
Sitting out by the pond one dieta evening, I realise how the natural world is a book, truly. Here is the real manuscript, spread open all around me, each page exquisitely textured with the ongoing play of life. What could be more compelling, more fascinating, than the moon rising in the evening sky, the birds swooping over the water as sunset light gilds the clouds? To bury my eyes in a printed page in these moments seems a travesty, a waste—a sin, in the original sense of another Greek word, hamartia, which rather than indicating evil simply translates as ‘to miss the mark.’
Missing the mark indeed. I think of how computer time sends me into a kind of energetic box—a purely linear perception, an ordering of mundane priorities, ‘do this, this, then this,’ that woefully lacks depth. Depth resides here, in the earth, in the plants, in the sky. And how often do we in modern life notice these, much less consciously connect with their nourishing vitality?
We all need the support that nature is providing us, every moment—not living solely in the blue-light zone of electronic screens, but balancing this with the light that the sun, the moon, and the stars are so abundantly and effortlessly shining on us, constantly.
Reweaving a New Whole
In my life I’ve occasionally experienced a sense of timeless time, time outside of time—experiences in which time dissolves. Meditation is one path into this timeless realm. Dieta is another, and indeed I find in many ways it’s a form of meditation.
Meditation and dieta both reconnect us with the sacred, something we lack in ordinary modern life. The wonders of modern scientific materialism—bless it for the comfort and ease that it brings us—have limited our human vision to the surface of the material world, collapsing the dimension of depth. When the Scientific Revolution burst forth a few centuries ago, we didn’t create a new relationship with the invisible dimension of spirit—we simply, over time, dropped it.
Now we need to gather up these threads again, and reweave the fabric into a new whole. And we need this desperately, for we can see all around the despair and unhappiness created by living lives devoid of meaning, disconnected from ritual, detached from ancestors, from nature, from sacred depth—separated not just from spirit, but from soul.
Plant dieta is one path to reclaiming our human essence, redeeming our human heritage. I am grateful beyond words to the indigenous peoples who have kept these practices alive through the centuries for we humans coming now in search of them. This is one reason I’ve loved living in Peru, and before that, Nepal—to dwell in cultures where people maintain a connection with the land, and with each other.
These connections are inevitably eroding, as traditional cultures around the globe reach for the comforts of modernisation—but perhaps they can pass us the torch as we cross paths, transmitting the fire of unbroken indigenous lineages, and perhaps some of us will manage to rekindle our own innate knowingness and relight the fire within.
Because what we all need, ultimately, is a world that blends both; the timeless human wisdom of embodiment alongside the powers of modern technology, harnessed in service not to corporate profits, but to the planet, and each other.