In the previous articles of this series, we looked at benefits of restricting food and sex while in Ayahuasca Dieta. Today we explore another feature of this traditional process: Social Isolation. To clarify, an isolation-style dieta places you by yourself in a small shelter, not too far from base-camp, for however long your dieta lasts. The only social contact allowed in this time is with the shaman having your daily check-in chat, or assistants delivering your meals.
It sounds lonely, and it can be, but as usual there are very good reasons for the effort.
Fact is, Psychedelics open you up and make you way more sensitive while they’re in-effect, and even for some days after. The main reason for this is the temporary dissolving of a person’s mental/emotional defense systems (aka: ego). Removing the ego can leave someone very happy but emotionally and spiritually defenseless! It makes one more receptive to healing, but also more sensitive to harm.
Ever seen a crab changing its skin? On a psychological level, a person taking Psychedelics is much the same. First your old shell (ego), which has become too constricting, is cracked-open. Then you’re coaxed or pulled out of the old shell, and temporarily left a shell-less, vulnerable and jell-o-y invalid. It’s a naked feeling, but this soft state allows for expansion, re-shaping and modification! Then, given security and proper time to cure, the new shell will harden – Ideally better than the last one.
So it should be obvious why one might want to be in a private bubble, while working deeply with a powerful psychedelic such as Ayahuasca. But let’s examine the details anyway.
As social animals, living in societies; we are all connected. In so many big and subtle ways, we affect each other constantly. This can be a blessing when we love and support each other, but we also abuse each other plenty. We use each other. We suppress each other. We nip and bite, criticize. We project our dis-eases into others… It’s good and bad, in a jumbled mess of interaction!
The Dieta’s ‘no-socializing’ rule provides a refuge from others’ junk, and shields others from yours. Believe me, junk always comes out of people in dieta and they’re often very careless about throwing it around like a rabid monkey. As an assistant I’ve had to take plenty of attacks I knew weren’t meant for me. These are the normal emotional releases which happen in Ayahuasca healing, but all the more reason to separate people.
Also, Ayahuasca healing is a very individual experience, which plays-out in different ways for everyone. Hearing other peoples’ stories in mid-process can make you feel your personal journey isn’t right, you’re doing it wrong, it’s not working right for you… Jealousy, Insecurity, Desperation, Competition – You don’t need that stuff distracting your self-work.
Every dieta is a process of re-birth. Just as a baby in the womb, social isolation affords a buffer against outside interruption – at least until the work is done.
Let’s face it; a great many of us can’t stand being alone. Those who seek to surround themselves with others, using them like a comfort-blanket, are the least likely to want an isolation-dieta – but ironically those who want it least need it most. Leaning on others can be an unhealthy and vampiric dynamic, which is bad for both the lean-er and the lean-ee. Having nobody to lean on for a while teaches one to stand alone, and see just how desperately one might have been relying on others.
The most common reaction to the idea of being alone for a week or more: Fear.
But why? Fear of what? At the bottom of all the excuses and fantasy-disasters, it’s fear of standing alone with your issues, of things coming up that you’d prefer stay hidden, covered by constant social distraction. “I’ll never know how sad I am if the party never stops!” – But dieta is exactly about exposing these things, probing these things, so they can be addressed. If you want Ayahuasca healing, you won’t be getting it without embracing discomfort.
Fear of solitude is like fear of the dark: It’s not the solitude or the dark you’re really afraid of, it’s the fears that crawl out of you in the lack of stimulation. It’s the content of your own mind that’s really scaring you. And that means the fear is always in you, 24/7 – Why blame the dark or solitude, who are acting as medicine, exposing the issue? They should be embraced as helpers.
You don’t beat any fear without facing any fear.
Other people are very distracting, and distractions can cause one to miss-out on the medicine’s more subtle messages. For instance, remembering Ayahuasca visions works a lot like remembering dreams – Many subtle memories will vanish forever if your mind’s attention falls into other things for a while.
Being alone lets you stay completely within your own experience; wrapped in the lingering smoke of your visions and the medicine. You have your Ayahuasca ceremony at night, go to bed, and wake up not to the dozen “what did you see last night?” conversations going on around you, but silence and solitude – All the space you need to think of YOUR experience, and digest it with full attention, un-skewed by others. This is yet another way the Ayahuasca Dieta squeezes every drop out of your time with the medicine.
In isolation, all time is devoted to your internal process – listening to the self and medicine out of sheer boredom, if anything! You’d be amazed what surprising things show themselves.
Every one of us puts-up an act around others, to varying degrees. Universally, we all keep something only-to-ourselves and in the worst cases, some things we even hide from ourselves. It could be acting tougher than we are, to shield an insecure personality. It could be dishonestly playing a victim, to force care out of others. It could be putting on a happy face, when our heart is screaming for healing love. Being someone you’re not, to please someone else or to deny accepting what we are. And this one I know we all know: Pretending not to care, when we really deeply do.
This kind of pretending often masks an underlying complex, illness or unreleased tension.
At the root of many peoples’ personal issues, and even physical diseases, there is often this kind of rigidity: A resistance around admitting some hard truth, or facing some fear, or being honest in an ugly or uncomfortable way. And you’d be amazed just how much other-peoples’ simple presence could hold that wall in place. To illustrate: Imagine picking your nose while alone in a waiting-room – Someone walks in – Quick, pull your finger out! “Oh shit, did they see me?!” Fakeness. Lying about what the self needs in this moment, shame about nature, just because someone else is there. Nobody even had to say anything, for the repression to occur.
Dieta provides the privacy to tend to so many ‘unpicked-noses’ you’ve been walking around with in life.
Having plenty of time and space away from social pressure allows space to let-in what’s been knocking for a while. Cry if you have to. Laugh like a loon if you have to. Get naked if you have to. Shake in jittering anxiety if that’s what’s there. Sing, Dance, Pray-out-loud, Talk to yourself, scream at the trees … You’re alone. You’re free. Nobody will know but you and the trees. This is your private island.
In solitude there’s absolutely no judgment, except your own. One may learn to stop being so hard on themselves, too…
Speaking of the self, it also naturally follows that spending time alone allows one to remember an often-forgotten figure in our lives – ourselves. For many of us, the self is often lost in the noise of focusing on other people. Sometimes we’re the last person we think about helping, protecting, or loving…
A dieta can be seen as going on a very intimate date with yourself. With all the time apart from others, it can be a great window to remember who you really are, free from the pressures of social life. This can also be called ‘finding your center’ – A person who finds this can move forward with an unshakable power that comes only from owning ‘the real you’!
It should be no surprise then, that people often leave a good Ayahuasca dieta with a whole new sense of purpose and direction in life!
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So there you have the main reasons social isolation is an important factor in the Ayahuasca Dieta. Just as every other limitation in this potent process of self-work, it’s not always easy but always worth it. For all the resistance people throw-up when considering these restrictions; our clients never feel like leaving their little camp, when time’s up!
The next article in this series will look at the Dieta and Nature.
‘i’ is an Ayahuasca apprentice, podcaster, and writer – Currently working at a dieta center near Tarapoto, Peru.