"I gave you science and wisdom, and what have you made of it? All work and no joy," says José with disappointment, as if the Forest Spirits are addressing the dwellers of big cities. "When you die, you will be buried in your oldest clothes. The widow shall keep your best garments. Have enough money for your coffin and a little land to be buried into, because even for the land of our burial, we must pay these days; and spend the rest of your money. You can't take anything with you to the other side; the bereaved will not bury your belongings in your grave. The inheritance of your children is their education, so they will earn their living. If you leave them money, they will fight over it. Or they will not know what to do with it."
There is a wide variety of palos to experience in the short span of a lifetime. In dreams or visions, the adequate palo for each person seeking the wisdom of the forest is revealed to the palero. The types of dieta also vary, depending on whether the person is Indigenous, white, or a palero apprentice. "The friend, the brother, [the palo], is willing to join you. The spirit of the dieta wants to reunite with you. The love bestowed by the dieta brings knowledge and understanding. If I give you just any palo, you may become ill." As a person partakes in more dietas, the spirit of the palos create a circle around him that strengthens the protection and brings wisdom.
"The physical body is held by several energies. When these energies are not in harmony, a person does not feel well, and there is a lack of order about life. You try to accomplish tasks, but you cannot achieve them. This lack of order takes you wandering down various paths. Your own dieta may abandon you because your life is disorganized." It is not a simple endeavor: the dieta demands conviction and the will to sustain it through time. "During the dieta, the palo gets hold of your energy. A tree grows inside you. It is advisable to remain quiet."
Along with the dieta come many dreams. "The palos show you the way. They will put you to sleep during the day. You must be alone during the dieta so they can reach inside you and find the void that needs to be filled. In silence, there arrive the answers that you are seeking." It is usual to dream of distant episodes or forgotten memories that may require our attention. The roots of our present life are buried and nourished in these residues of our past. It is also not uncommon to dream of mythical animals or their archetypes that confront us with taxing labors as a form of training to prepare us for more complex challenges in our waking life. Frequently, the dieta brings insomnia and a feeling of anxiety. We are presented with an opportunity to face our fears and unveil what we hide in our daily life.
Fasting is observed until midday, followed by a light meal with specifications that vary according to the palo: no meat (though at times certain types of fish or chicken are allowed); no flour or sugar; sexual abstinence; and no alcohol and other intoxicating substances. "One day I realized that my personal history was no longer necessary, so I gave it up, together with alcohol," says Don Juan to a young Castaneda in his Journey to Ixtlán. The mere act of fasting during the dieta may represent the first step toward a new way of life.
The end of the dieta is marked by a bath in ceremonial water, mixed with flowers and healing plants. The fasting and food requirements, as well as the drink and sex abstention, must be observed for a period of one month. It is advisable to remain in the forest until the end of that term, when the dieta effectively comes to an end. The healing quality of the dieta shall depend on these commitments. "After a month of dieta, you find harmony and order, your life changes. All your affairs will go well." However, on occasion, "The dieta may await further wisdom before it awakens and produces effects. Some palos remain dormant inside you, waiting for new dietas to integrate the wisdom received. There is no immediate trance as is the case with ayahuasca. The palos are showing a tad more each day, steadily bringing order within you." This is certainly not an easy item to market in fast urban times; it may be several months before the first benefits of the dieta start to reveal themselves.
Palos used at the dietas present indisputable benefits backed by botanical science. The rich chemical composition of palos have antitumoral, tonic, and restorative qualities, they fight inflammation, and regenerate damaged tissue. Beyond their pharmaceutical properties, the principal feature granted by the palero is the spiritual dimension. "Palos will make you strong. You will find solutions; there are no more doubts, sorrows, or fears." After the first dieta, some may be sucked back into a disorderly life, while others shall feel the call to delve deeper into the wisdom of the forest. "He who brings order is the teacher that sees the fear and doubts in the people." The experience is always worthwhile, and staying on the path brings the possibility of an answer.
A lesson I learned in Yarina is that there is not one single way to relay a path made of spirits, dreams, and intuitions. This type of knowledge cannot be categorized within the usual parameters of the white man. I was told that the Shipibo-Conibo Indigenuous peoples of the Ucayali modified the designs of their textiles after being contacted by the white man for the first time, around 1930. They also modify the ícaros that they sign during the ceremonies, according to the new information that ayahuasca brings in their journeys. Nothing remains unchanged. Or everything is essentially the same, in new forms. As my teacher Leo Pinonsoy likes to say: at the bottom of darkness there is light that reflects on each of us in a different way.
Above: José Gama
Ph: Leo Pinonsoy