You can only control what you are aware of. What you aren’t aware of controls you.
We often find ourselves being pushed around by such things like old habits that we are unaware of, past programming that is no longer relevant or blockages that we have managed to forget about. The only way we can change these old patterns is by first becoming aware of them. That is why raising awareness is at the very core of handling any change you need to do in your life. It is at the very beginning of the process and nothing can be done without it.
If you need to raise your awareness in order to work with change it therefore goes without saying that you should avoid drugs and medicines that numb you and lower your awareness. Common drugs that should be avoided are alcohol, opiates and pharmaceutical antidepressants. Caffeine, nicotine and cannabis are also numbing when used on a daily or close to daily basis. Junk food and sugar are also really bad for awareness.
Things that will raise your awareness include meditation, exercise, mindful sex, good food cooked from scratch, herbs, hugs and playing. This is of course also why psychedelic medicines are such powerful agents of change, because they drastically raise our awareness.
So do you want a tip for a New Year resolution that will help you immensely and that you can always find new ways of being true to? Promise yourself to be more aware this coming year. Instead of focusing in on one specific, such as exercise, see the bigger picture. It all comes down to awareness and you can become more aware in so many different ways. Give yourself a bigger promise this year, and at the same time make it one that you can keep.
If you look at the meaning of the word diet, one understands that it refers to the “restriction of something”. What are these restrictions in a shamans diet?
Alcohol consumption, for obvious reasons, is not allowed while one performs a diet.
Sex or masturbation is not allowed for simple reasons. At the moment of orgasm you release your energies or you catch energies from your partner. When we are on diet we want the energy that is contained in the plant or crystal that we are dieting to become a part of us. If we have an orgasm we will lose the energy that we have accumulated.
When one is on a diet it is recommended to stay away from the city, because our body is in an open state, which helps us to be receptive to the energies. Therefore the place will influence the outcome of our diet. You must be isolated or surrounded by those who are helping you with the diet, like the shaman or other people on diets. How isolated you need to be also depends on the plant that you are dieting. Some plant spirits can be more demanding than others, just like people.
This point is very important because nowadays, especially in the city of Iquitos, various centers have no idea of the importance and the reasons behind the food that should be served during a diet. When you are on diet, you want to create the least amount of distractions in your body so that the spirit of the plant can work on you. The food should generally contain little nutrition or energy. It is usually recommended to eat rice and lentils once a day, since everything you eat will compete with the spirit of the plant that you are dieting. For example, if you eat a carrot, the carrot has lots of “personality”, which will compete with the plant spirit that you are dieting. This does not mean that you cannot eat a carrot. You can, but the benefits from your diet will decrease. If you eat vegetables in your diet your learning might decrease by 40 percent.
In Peru the shaman will normally close a diet or post diet with chili, since it cuts energies. Chili also has a hot energy, which can give you a headache while on diet. The only exception to this case is when one is dieting chili, but that is a very special diet and not very common due to its degree of difficulty. Then it is usually consumed as powder up the nose and it is mainly for protection.
Salt is one of the most powerful sources of energy for our body. Therefore it is a big interference for plant or crystal. Since we don’t want the energies to compete, salt is generally used to end the diet. It is a signal to the body that the diet is over. When you stop eating salt before starting a diet you are also opening your body to energies around you. It’s important that you eat salt before ceremonies or your body will feel weak. Also nowadays we are eating far too much salt. The amount of salt that we need is only 2 grams a day. It is also good to keep in mind that salt sometimes comes with additives such as Fluoride, which is a poison.
As I mentioned, when you’re on a diet, you are in a receptive mode, or one might say that your WIFI is switched on. Therefore it is important that the diet is done in a secluded place in nature, not only because of the importance of creating a safe place and being in contact with nature, but also not to expose yourself to other people’s energies. It is highly recommend not to have any physical contact with people. Remember that our skin can absorb everything, not only creams or water, but also energy. Handshakes and hugs are not allowed during a diet. The only contact you may have is with the shaman. Usually the shaman asks the patient to hold his/her hands as if to receive something and then blows smoke for healing, cleaning or to provide energy.
You should not use any electronic apparatus during a diet, so forgot about your laptop or your mobile. The signals that electronics emit are not good for you during a diet. They can make you feel sick or give you headaches. Using your cell phone to communicate with the rest out the world while you are on a diet is not good, especially if you receive bad news. You need peace, not problems.
Every shaman has their own specific rules about diets. These are kind of general rules. Some shamans are stricter and won’t even allow people to read books, but I think that is to exaggerate. You won’t be with your diet energy 24 hours a day, so you can have moments when you distract the mind. Just make sure that you read something nice.
If you have taken the decision to start a diet, you must finish. You have made a promise to yourself and might very well get sick if you don’t keep it. I will talk more about that in another post.
Have you ever wondered why all people living in the Amazon aren’t shamans? Or why all aren’t working with sacred visionary plants such Ayahuasca or San Pedro? The simple answer is that you don’t become a shaman by just taking Ayahuasca or San Pedro. As I wrote in the first part, the way of the shaman isn’t an easy one. Shamans in the Amazon put a lot of effort into such things as diets.
Sacred visionary plants are just tools for the shaman. It is through the plants that shamans CAN SEE and CAN GET INFORMATION. But see what? What information are you talking about? Ayahuasca can show where in the body the root of the problem is. In case of a disease it also works like a x-ray machine. The shaman is helped to better understand the patient’s situation, their problems and necessary treatments by canalizing information from the spirits, from the plants, animals, etc.
When you start learning about plants, spirits and shamanism, your teacher will normally tell you which plant you should diet with. Why? Because s/he knows the plant spirits, what they look like in the Ayahuasca world and their functions. There are for example plants that are better than others to clean energies. The most common diet in the Peruvian Amazon is with the Ajosacha plant, which smells like garlic. It is normally the first diet that you do in your training. This is reasonable because when you will start a new spiritual path you need to clean your energies from the past. I began my training at the age of 22, so at that point I was cleaning 22 years of energies. This cleaning probably never ends, because we interact with people and this means an exchange of energy, both good and bad. So during your life you will need to repeat this diets as many times as you need. You are cleaning karmic energies from your family, mothers and fathers side as well. You need to be as clean as possible to work with people as a shaman.
What’s a diet?
Diets are temporary retreats in nature, usually for period in isolation, with ritualized ingestion of plant teachers and very strict management of the physical (food restrictions and more that I will be explain) and the psychological. A space in contact with nature dedicated to the physical and energetic purification, will help remove that which blocks sensitivity and will help you find your inner teacher. We open an inner door that allows us to contact our being at the deepest level, but at the same time that makes us vulnerable, which is why it is important that the place where we do the diets is isolated from cities or towns. When we do diets we are OPEN.
Two kinds of diets
In my experience there are two kinds of diets:
Learning diets. All diets are about learning, but the degree of learning depends on the effort we put into each diet. It also depends on the connection you get to the spirit of what you are dieting, whether it be plants, crystals, or whatever. The more restrictions you have in your diet, the more benefits you will get from it.
Healing diets. All diets are for healing also, but there are specific diets to cure specific diseases or problems. A person who performs a healing diet can vary the level of restrictions depending on the severity of the illness. The restrictions will depend on what the shaman recommends, but the basic general rules do not change. The only thing that varies in this case is the food, depending of the body. A person who is old and physically weak may have a little more elaborate meal, but always WITHOUT SALT.
How to start a diet
For the following reasons the shaman will often do an Ayahuasca ceremony with the person previous to the diet:
To clean the energies and the body of the person who will diet, so the first obstacles of working with the spirit of the plant are removed.
To identify the plant that the person will diet. The shaman in the ceremony calls the spirits of different plants to see which is best suited to the diet for that person.
The shaman also sets the time the person must make in their diet. Diets generally have an average minimum duration of three days, which are usually fasting (just with water). Seven days, 10 and 15 day is the normal time of diets, but if you want to specialize in the use of a plant then diets are longer or repeated several times, can be 30 days, three months or a year. After you have done several diets, you will feel how long to make your diets in advance.
The day after the ceremony the diet starts very early in the morning by taking prepared tea or macerated bark, roots, flowers or leaves of the plant that the shaman saw during Ayahuasca ceremony. You drink the tea for the first three days of the diet. After that you might continue drinking it, but it depends on the shaman and whether the diet is learning or healing. In diets for learning it’s enough to drink the tea the first three days. For healing diets, the tea plant is taken during all the diet, either 7, 15, 30 or more days, which also depends on the disease severity.
It is important to mention that diets are usually performed by just taking one plant at the time. No two plants are mixed in a diet unless they are for the sake of healing body, or to heal a disease. I know that in some Ayahuasca centers, there are diets up to 100 plants in one diet, but this is outright crazy. The only thing you get from these diets is CONFUSION. As I mentioned before, plants are not compatible with all energies, and also some plants are not compatible with each other, either for chemical or energetic reasons. Please, if someone offers you such diets – RUN.
Substance abuse is part of the person, not the substance.
That people feel the need to numb themselves, to switch off and escape, is almost always a result of something within that is really uncomfortable and hard to handle. Some have been abused, lost someone they love, been bullied or otherwise traumatized. Others feel bad in less visible ways. They suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, they feel unimportant or unloved.
Many who flee into addiction have that in common that they lack other ways to cope. They stun themselves to escape. There are many ways to numbing oneself, many of which are legal but equally destructive as the illegal ways. The most obvious way is to numb oneself with drugs, where alcohol is the most common but also one of the most dangerous escape drugs. There are of course plenty of more or less dangerous substances, such as heroin, amphetamines and Spice. But if we really want to remedy abuse we need to understand that it is just as easy to abuse such things as gambling, sex, food and relationships.
The big problem with the Swedish drug policy is that it lacks this basic understanding. It chases symptoms (substances) instead of the root causes that drive people to flee from themselves. It is inherent in the very name – drug policy. It’s not an abuse policy. It’s not a policy of well-being. Everything prohibitionists have to say seems to focus almost solely on the substances.
The same backwards approach recurs in school drug education. The education essentially only tries to scare students from trying drugs. They are bombarded with terrible stories of drug abuse and a long list of negative effects that drugs can have. When I look back at my own education, I think it is remarkable that it never offered a single tool to take care of my mental health.
If we really want to reduce substance abuse we first need to help people to feel good. If we want people to feel good, we need to 1) not traumatize them, and 2) give them the tools to deal with the trauma that they will still be exposed to. If we really want to protect our young from abuse, we need to give them the tools to manage tough experiences in life, to process abuse, to handle losses and deal with bullying. They need to feel loved and important and included and given the opportunity to build a strong sense of self.
And those who still fall into addiction because they cannot find another way, we need to help. To help is something we do far too rarely today. Instead we pour our resources into chasing, controlling, forcing and punishing people. It is not only extremely costly for society, but it helps to perpetuate the problem. People do not recover by being systematically stigmatized, just as we cannot get children to stop fighting by beating sense into their heads.
Today’s drug policy is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on drugs, instead of focusing on people. Tear up the legislation and start over. Focus on people’s well-being. Redirect resources to not only help those stuck in addiction, but also to give everyone access to the tools to heal themselves from whatever they might want to flee from. In this way we will not only deal with abuse, but we will also put an end to a war that society wages against its own people and that it cannot possibly win.
After several blog posts where I have explained how profoundly detrimental today’s drug laws are and how legalization could work, it feels important to write something about addiction treatment after such a paradigm shift.
The question is: what kind of addiction treatment do we want to see in the future? But before I go into that, I first want to say something about addiction and addicts.
What is addiction?
I define addiction as something compulsive where the person despite serious negative consequences is not capable of changing their behaviour. Addiction is often surrounded by a lack of awareness about ones problems, or an unwillingness to face them.
Note that such a definition can be applied to very many things in life, not only substances. It is common for people to abuse relationships, sex, games, television or food, just to name a few. It is especially important to emphasize that addiction is never inherent to what is being abused, but is something in the addict him/herself.
When people talk about substance abuse in the public debate, it is easy to get the idea that the substance is the cause of addiction, because as soon as anyone uses an illegal substance they are seen as addicts. That is a profoundly erroneous notion that hinders a sensible understanding and good care. Anyone who has sex is not a sex addict. Similarly, not everyone who smokes cannabis is a drug addict. If there is no compulsive behaviour and serious negative consequences, they are merely using the substance. Sending a cannabis user to treatment is as stupid as treating someone who has a healthy relationship with food for bulimia.
The addiction is always in the person. We relieve addiction by helping people to heal their problems, not by chasing substances. If we manage to remove the substance without solving the underlying problem, then the addiction will simply jump and start using another substance or any other area of life. Then nothing is won, because the process of freeing oneself starts over.
What makes an addict?
One can probably find many features that characterize addicts, but these are two that I have seen in all addicts I’ve met.
Fleeing. Behind the addiction is a fear of meeting something within oneself or in the surrounding. It can often be such things as old traumas, abuse, problematic upbringing, shame or guilt. There may also be a fear of actually being as good as one can be. In such cases the abuse becomes a self-sabotage, which is also a way to flee, even if it is from a situation that is potentially better than the one the person is in.
Loss of control. This is the compulsive aspect that I talked about earlier. The situation has spiralled out of control. However, I think that it is incorrect to say that the drugs or someone else has taken control. All power in a person’s life originates from that person. If anything or anyone else is in power, it is because the person has given it away, but often that is not the case. Instead the power is still there but is not being used. Regardless of which, the long term solution is to rediscover and exercise power in one’s life; that is to reintroduce control.
But moving on to addiction treatment.
I want as many people as possible get the help they need to recover from addiction. That is not happening today. Instead the support that is being given is often contradictory, since society stigmatizes addicts and prevents or even sabotages the recovery process.
Education. The best prevention* that I can think of is to give young people the tools to deal with difficult situations, resolve trauma and rid themselves of such issues that might make them want to flee. We need to start working on personal development, so that we can identify and deal with the reasons why people want to flee from themselves. When there is no longer a need to flee, the fleeing will stop.
Our society works quite differently today. We learn to avoid that which scares us, rather than to face and deal with it. We prefer to distract or sedate ourselves rather than facing the discomfort. Antidepressant medication is a typical example of this, as it puts the lid on the symptoms instead of curing the cause. I’m not saying that antidepressants are never needed. They can be a very valuable emergency response, but the prolonged mass medication that we see today is a direct result of people not having the tools to deal with the unpleasantness that they encounter in life.
Addiction treatment. I want to see addiction treatment that is much more accessible and less stigmatizing than the one we have today. Reaching out for help should be a small step and help should be available to anyone who seeks it. The aim of treatment should primarily be to tackle the root causes of the addiction and since it is a disease it should be financed within the health care system, but should include more methods of treatment than those available today.
* By preventative work I do not mean to discourage people from using substances. I mean to prepare people to face life in such a way that they do not need to use substances to flee from themselves and thereby end up in an addiction.
Main photo: The Help by Marina del Castell on Flickr
The first time I bought magic mushrooms they were still legal in Sweden. After a night of heavy drinking my friend and I came home. We wanted to continue drinking, but there was nothing left. I brought out the small plastic bag of mushrooms. My friend did not want any. On the bag it said “Contains mushrooms for three trips. If you want to become a shaman, eat them all.”
– Why would you not like to be a shaman, I asked myself and proceeded to eat the whole bag.
My friend was a little worried at first, thinking that he would have to save me from jumping out the window, but calmed down when he saw me lying helpless on the floor. I lay there all night, unable to move from the spot. All around little figures were moving.
● ● ●
Many years later I once again met the mushroom, but this time without alcohol and with a higher purpose. Early on in my exploration I found the humour of Terence McKenna, who was an ethno-botanist, philosopher and influential psychonaut. Five grams of dried cubensis mushroom is the effective dose, he argued, and he advocated meditation to get in contact with other realities.
I am obviously somewhat different than Terence, but on the whole I like his approach to things. He has a playfully irreverent yet respectful approach to the mushroom, paired with an incredible curiosity and the drive to try to describe what he experienced.
When I started working with the mushroom it was in five gram doses and one of the first things that the mushroom told me was that I should meditate with it. I did as it asked, layed flat on the bed and closed my eyes.
– Welcome into my body. I humbly ask you to heal me and help me grow. Please work with my body and show me what you do.
The first thing the mushroom then does is to penetrate the whole body. You don’t get that full body sensation if you focus on doing other things, such as talking or fooling around. That is why meditation and focus are such incredibly important tools for working with the mushroom.
For me the first meditation is a very intense experience, requiring that I am aware, fearless and curious. What comes up from one’s own mind can sometimes be hard to meet, but it is also heavenly to free yourself from it. I always go straight into what feels difficult or uncomfortable, because I know that is how I solve it. But there is another side to the experience that is not from one’s own mind, but from the contact with another entity. The mushroom is clearly a separate entity that one can interact with. It can provide access to unusual abilities, open up ones sight, contribute to healing, help to make contact with the spirit world, teach one about life and about our place in the infinite.
For me the meditation lasts approximately 20 to 30 minutes. It is obvious when it is done, because then the flow ceases abruptly. Then I find myself in an alternate reality where there are such things as spirits and magic. There are fairies and angels. I can communicate with trees and feel energies. I can dive into people, channel power, connect with past lives and see across time. My eyes become large and my reaction to the outside world like a child’s; like seeing everything for the very first time.
Terence McKenna speaks warmly of smoking cannabis when taking mushrooms. That is one thing I do not agree with. I feel it is disrespectful to mix the mushrooms with other drugs, at least if one hasn’t explicitly asked to do so in advance and got yes for an answer. I find that cannabis distorts the experience, making it more confusing and often resulting in the loss of the deep psychedelic connection one has with other people. There are those who think that they can dampen the intense effect by using alcohol or other drugs. I believe that you should never mix with such substances, since they are dirty. It is disrespectful to the mushroom and the experience itself. If the trip is very intense I recommend to: 1. challenge yourself to face that which is intensive and potentially frightening, in order to process it and heal. Trust the mushroom, be brave and go with the flow. If you need you can hold someone’s hand. 2. change the surroundings. Put some music on, go to another room or take a walk. When one changes the surrounding, the mood changes. 3. eat. If you really need to land from the experience food is earth and pulls one back to the physical reality. You may find it difficult to eat, but it is a respectful and natural way to land.
After six to ten hours I slowly begin to come back to ordinary reality, even if the spirit world continues to be close by. The time is ripe for conversation and play with fellow travellers, or for contemplation and rest. It is a time for vision, creativity and silence. That is when I begin to integrate the insights that the mushroom has given me, because the real trip is the rest of life, where we live what we have understood. This is a crucial step if the mushroom experience is to be something more than a temporary rush. It is here, in the rest of life, that the healing and growth shows.
Some people are born with the ability to navigate and fully assimilate the psychedelic experience. When I work with psychedelics I usually call in the spirit helpers I want to have with me (angels and such) and ask them to keep me safe and help me. I don’t need the extra protection, but I am happy to have them with me and work with them.
The vast majority of people would probably like to hold somebody’s hand the first times they try mushrooms. With a sensible guide by your side it is easier to dare more and travel further. It is often also good to have someone who can mirror you. I am certain that most people would love the psychedelic experience, and that they would be able to draw positive life-changing lessons from them. Used in this way the risk of injury are negligible, close to none.
It is however important to note that there is a group of people who should absolutely not use psychedelics. Anyone who is trying to escape from him/herself, who is terrified of what’s inside, who wants to continue repressing and living in denial, that does not want to challenge the ego, who does not want to have contact with other realities, that are afraid of the unknown and do not want to see their illusions crushed, should definitely not use psychedelics.
∙ Set a clear intention. Be clear about your intentions and consecrate the ritual, preferably to Mother Earth. ∙ Be clean. Wash before your contact with higher realities. ∙ Feel nice. Dress in clothes that you like, that you feel pretty, handsome and confident in.
∙ Be a little tired. The mind has a way of trying to hold on to and continue categorizing things. By being a little tired the mind has less chance to do so and it will be easier to reach other realities. ∙ Do not eat before. The stomach takes up the mushroom. If you have eaten heavily before the ritual, the stomach will be working to take care of the food. Do not eat four hours before. A little water and fruit is ok. ∙ Relax. Follow the flow. Do not resist. Meditation is recommended, especially in initial stage of the journey.
∙ Dance and sing. These are powerful tools for processing, reinforcing and spreading emotions. The music that you create yourself in that moment is the strongest. You can also use mantras, if you feel comfortable with them. ∙ Don’t mix. Treat the mushroom with respect. Mixing the mushroom with dirty substances such as alcohol, nicotine or amphetamine is not respectful. ∙ The place. Some locations, such as power spots, are particularly suited for rituals. Choose the location carefully.