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Driven to distraction…

Classes with Eladio

November 25, 2022

5am. We awake for the morning plant medicine, which will continue to be ajo sacha for the next few days. I stumble to the maloca in the pre-dawn light, go up to the altar, and gulp down my glass of garlic juice. The first drink is the most concentrated, then water is added to the concentrate and it gets less sharp with each passing day, so it’s slightly less nauseating today. With a strong aftertaste of garlic in my mouth, I return to my room to catch an extra hour of slumber. 

The jungle is no place for finicky sleepers, like myself. There’s a constant din of sound: layers upon layers of frogs “wooping” and quacking (I haven’t heard a single ‘ribbit’ here—no, jungle frogs are far more diverse), a bird whose call sounds like heavy drops of water in a pond, monkeys guffawing, and as previously mentioned, some heinous creature (bird? insect?) that, when it buzzes, sounds like an electric razor. For some reason, this one makes its noise right at dawn, like a rooster from hell. All of these sounds are loud, but ever-so-slightly muffled, as though coming through a curtain. I didn’t know how to put my finger on this, but when the four of us were discussing the jungle sounds, PC said: “It all sounds wet.” Ah, there it is. Well put.

I lay there resting for a while, managing to doze off briefly during a buzzing pause. Eventually, I get up to shower, gingerly navigating the jungle mud, grass, and ant nests as I do so. In my effort to watch my step, I hit my head on a low hanging mango. The showers are concrete stalls, some of which are in full view of anyone who happens to be passing by. With no electricity, the water is cold…but then again, “cold” in the jungle is much warmer than a cold shower back home. A few of the shower stalls have an ant hill bursting out of their drain. I step into a stall and a massive, 5-in long grasshopper crawls over the wall to join me. There’s just no keeping the jungle out of the jungle.

Dieta food

At 8a, we have breakfast. Given that we began dieta the night before, we didn’t have dinner. I thought I would be famished, but I wasn’t. Up until this point, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the food. I assumed we’d be on a dieta for the majority of the time (to varying degrees), but the food has been flavorful—full of rice, various forms of plantains, and fish from the river. However, now that the dieta has begun, our breakfast consists of boiled beets, carrots, cucumber, potato, and rice porridge made from freshly harvested rice. All plain, no oil, salt, or other condiments allowed. Not being terribly hungry, I ate a few of my vegetables and a few spoonfuls of porridge. 

At 10a, we had class with Eladio in which we talked more about plants and learned some icaros. After a short break, he met with each of us individually to ask us about our experience with ‘the medicine’ (this is how people who take ayahuasca generally refer to it), what problems we hope to work on while we’re here, and what we hope to gain from the experience. I explained the issues I hoped to receive clarity on, which were quite simple and uncomplicated. He asked me if I have children and I replied “no.” Then, he asked about my health and I told him I deal with chronic pain in my back, head, neck, and joints. He repeated that he saw my problem with back pain, which he said had to do with ‘movement’—I couldn’t be sure if he meant the movement of my spine or the movement of my body. He commented that he saw no other health issues with me and our interview concluded. Later, I found out that Eladio asked me again during ceremony whether I wanted children—that is, he asked me psychically, consulting my spirit self. Apparently, my spirit self replied with a resounding “no.” It’s nice to know that both my conscious and unconscious selves are in agreement, but it’s a reminder of how perplexing it can be to more traditional cultures that a woman of a certain age might intentionally choose to be childless.

Tonight we have our second ceremony, so we won’t be having dinner again. Today’s lunch was much like breakfast, except with the addition of fruit and broccoli. I’ve discovered that food with no salt or spice is difficult to eat, so I focus on eating the most colorful veggies (thinking these would have the most vitamins) and leave the majority of my plate untouched. I am eating very little on this trip so far, but I am also moving shockingly little during the day, so I suppose it evens out.

8:00 pm Ceremony 2. When we went into the maloca, we discovered that Frankie, our translator, would be joining us. Although this was a somewhat surprising development (up until this point, nearly everything we’ve done has only included the four of us), all of the ceremonies I’ve been to in the past were with larger groups, so I didn’t think anything of this change. 

I spent a moment on my mat to set my intention for the evening’s ceremony, hopeful that I’d be able to go deeper than I did the first night, and hoping I’d be able to weather any distractions that came in the form of small flying rodents or physical pain. I went up the altar and took my drink from Eladio, then sat back down on my mat, waiting for the light of the maloca to go off. 

After everyone received their drink, the light went off and Eladio began his icaros. In an impossibly short time (typically, it takes about 40 minutes for the drug to take effect…but this was like 15 minutes), Frankie began purging violently. He was directly next to me, so it was particularly loud and in stereo. Typically, purging is a relatively short-lived affair as the body rids itself of the stomach’s contents, so I was surprised when it continued for a much longer period of time. He retched and heaved uncontrollably and as he did, the sound of it gradually became more unnatural, as though an animal were inside of him struggling to get out. I became mildly alarmed, alternately wondering whether he had enough buckets and imagining that a demon was attempting to free itself of its human host. This continued loudly for what felt like ages, interspersed with him speaking to himself, engaged in conversations with some nameless, faceless entity. He repeatedly called out for water, which PW brought to him. Attempting to leave the water with him, Frankie would say “no, I want you to have it,” which began a cycle of PW walking across the maloca to give him water when he called for it. About 75 minutes into the ceremony, Frankie called “I need help.” Thinking Eladio would go to him, I didn’t move. However, Eladio continued his icaros, seemingly unalarmed and unmoved by Frankie’s call. When Frankie called out again, PW went to him. I heard Frankie say he needed to go to the bathroom. Given that I’d been contemplating using the bathroom myself, I rose from my mat and offered to take him. I noted that Frankie’s behavior seemed as though he had regressed into a childlike state, needing to be helped, calling out, needing others to bring him water and care for him. When we reached the stalls, he looked at me with some fright and said “don’t leave me.” I assured him I wouldn’t. After we finished and I escorted him back to the maloca, he looked at me and plaintively asked “can you help me?” I asked him how I could help, but he couldn’t answer me. We returned to our respective places in the maloca and soon after, the violent purging, loud conversations, and calling out resumed. My feelings about this were conflicted. I began this ceremony with hopes of being able to weather any distractions that came my way, but this distraction was at a level that was difficult to ignore. Between Frankie and the discomfort in my neck and back, it became nearly impossible for me to relax into my own experience. Each time I was ready to drop deeper into a more personal reverie, a new round of violent purging and talking began next to me. So, yes, I was annoyed by the distraction; yet, I also felt a wave of compassion for Frankie because it was clear that some trauma had been unearthed inside of  him. I didn’t want him to suffer.

I went up to the altar for another drink, hoping that another would help me go deeper and get past the distractions. When it finally took effect, I could feel the deep drugged feeling in my body, but my mind still couldn’t connect, grappling as it was with the present-moment issues of my body and Frankie. Though Eladio never addressed the noise and constant conversation coming from Frankie, he again sensed my physical discomfort in the blackness of the maloca. As I was sitting and hanging over my vomit bucket (having experienced a new wave of nausea to boot), he came over to my mat and began working on my neck, pressing on a few points, whispering incantations, blowing smoke on it, and making a movement with his hand to pull something out of my body. Shockingly, I was able to rest my head comfortably after that. 

The night continued much the same as it began, with Frankie continuing to intermittently purge and speak out loudly, sometimes talking to himself and sometimes to others in the room. Some of my fellow participants attempted to quell the distraction by talking to Frankie, imploring him to please try to be quieter, but it was to no avail. I decided to use the constant distractions and turn it into a practice, repeating to myself “stay with yourself” every time my attention wandered to what was happening next to me. I continued to feel alternately annoyed and filled with compassion for him. However, though the compassion I felt seemed nice, it also served as its own distraction because it pulled my energy away from my own experience and placed me in his. A few times I was able to stay within myself and achieve some of those sweet moments of gratitude that I love so much, but it was a struggle for me to stay with it and I had to work hard on my practice, on staying focused, and on staying with my own experience. After what seemed like a lifetime of this, the ceremony finally ended and Frankie went back to his room. The four of us lay there, utterly spent from the evening. We discussed the experience and unanimously agreed about its impact, each of us having struggled to focus. We’re all thankful there are still two ceremonies left.


About colleen f

Colleen is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


2 thoughts on “Driven to distraction…

  1. This is so remarkable to read about. And you are such an excellent writer! I almost feel as though I am there with you. I love your blog 🙂 Hope you are doing well! Anne



    Posted by Anne Weiss | December 17, 2022, 11:41 pm

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