Samá in the Shipibo language or dieta is a therapeutic and spiritual practice of isolation and working toward integration with plant medicine. A huge part of this deep traditional experience is to create a direct interaction with plant spirits and their energy and ignite a deep, conscious and complex healing process. The practice of dieta can be viewed as the traditional support foundation upon which a structure of deeper and extended work with plant-based medicine is built. Dieta can also be seen as an agreed period of time upon which a certain interaction with plants and Curandero, be it an intentional work or practice or other motivation, is to be achieved. Dieta can also be seen as a deeper extension of an individual connection to a particular plant and as further experience in understanding the healing processes of plant-based medicine. The educational dieta in Shipibo tradition serves an essential purpose – to build alliances with Master Plant spirits who will aid the practitioner in their healing work. Dietas with plants also cultivate the nervous system to be able to navigate higher states of consciousness.
The length of dietas varies from short ones, usually 8 to 10 days to, more common ones of few months or even few years. A traditional Shipibo practitioner who is to master shamanism can stay on a certain plant dietas for even as long as few years.
Food for thoughts, thoughts for food
Samá (dieta) is as a direct spiritual and contemplative practice and as such it is far superior to just a set of dietary rules and extends to restrictions in sexual and social stimulation. The general agreement in a dieta is that the student is to sacrifice the pleasures of physical stimulation by refraining from sex, alcohol, and sweet, spicy and salty food. In return for this sacrifice, the plant spirits agree to teach, guide, protect, strengthen, or even endow special abilities to the person doing the dieta.
However, the dietary part is not only necessary for the spiritual aspects of the experience. It is also extremely important to consider possible food interactions with the chemical structure of the medicine, as this can cause unpleasant symptoms such as a severe headache, accelerated heartbeat, and many others. To avoid this and achieve the best results with the medicine, a regular safe food diet should be maintained prior, throughout and after your work. The best thing about this “restriction” is – it restricts your plate to super healthy food only so that it not only contributes to your best experience with plant-based medicine but also cleans and detoxifies your body profoundly.
In the Shipibo tradition dietas come with certain fasting rules to help a practitioner achieve genuine healing through the balancing of the body, mind, and spirit, as well as to create a deep and meaningful connection with the medicine. This happens on two levels. While the medicinal properties of the plant help practitioners to understand and address the physical aspects of illnesses and heal these bodily functions, the spiritual practice aims deeper searching for an understanding of the root causes, often emotional or psychological of the illness. The cleaner the body is the less work is to be performed on this deeper level.
Preparation to your dieta
The experience of samá is multidimensional and it arises on physical, emotional and psychological levels. The experience is achieved simultaneously through and in between ceremonies, and also in self-reflection, meditation, dreams, and integration with the environment. Successful and beneficial learning and healing require both openness of mind and heart, and discipline of the body. To facilitate best results, one must follow certain requirements, including creating a contemplative space and abstaining from certain heavy foods and activities. What to avoid? The main things to abstain from, are as follow:
Foods, Drinks and Ingestibles:
- Hot spices and herbs
- Acidic food, acidic fruits
- Fermenting food and drinks
- Pungent and caustic vegetables
- Processed oils
- Frozen or cold food and drinks
- Sparkling sodas
- Processed food
- Dairy products
- Red and white meats
- Farm raised fish
- Recreational drugs*
- Pharmaceutical drugs*
- Herbal supplements and multi-vitamins
* Please always inform your facilitator about the use of Pharmaceutical and Recreational Drugs in advance!
- Sexual activities
- Stressful activities and work
- Complex social tasks and activities
- Chemical deodorants
- Chemical lotions
- Makeup, and hair products
It is advisable to avoid the above-mentioned foods and activities at least two weeks before the beginning of your work with plant-based medicine. However, and especially for longer dietas, the best results are usually achieved the earlier one can refrain from those foods and activities, prior to initiating samá.
It is very important to note that some foods, many drugs, and pharmaceuticals may react strongly with plant-based medicine. For detailed information on possible reactions, please refer to this article and read it very carefully.
Dieting on your Dieta
Does this all sound like a torture to your taste buds? How is one to survive such a “restrictive” diet? Well, in the jungle, it’s done pretty easily. On my expeditions to the jungle and during my stay with the Shipibo family, my group only ate fresh, locally grown vegetables, wild fruits, and carbohydrates. These ingredients, freshly cooked on the village fire by our lovely hosting family, made for very nutritious light meals and most amazing jungle treats!
“Mi fuego es mi cocina.” (My fire is my kitchen) – Abuela Lila
What to expect? A typical meal prepared by our hosts, is composed of a mix of locally grown vegetables wrapped tightly in banana leaf and slowly cooked on the fire, served with delicious, potato-like yuca roots (Cassava in English, wiki), grilled bananas, rice and lentils, fresh avocados, lime and tomatoes and gallons of coconut water straight from the sunny jungle, enjoyed daily to replenish electrolytes. Fresh mangoes straight from the ground are had for dessert. No salt, no sugar ever added. Comida rica en energia y muy deliciooooooosa! Fresh food rich in energy and very delicious! Poetry!
The Peruvian Amazon is also the origin of some pretty amazing fruits. One of the most amazing jungle snacks is Macambo (Theobroma bicolor), also known as Mocambo, White Cacao, or the Jaguar Tree. It is the lesser-known cousin of the cacao plant. When cut in half it reveals the pulp and its brain-shaped seeds grow inside large golden pods found hanging from trees deep in the Peruvian Amazon. The pulp is richer and thicker than that of cacao and not that acidic. It kinda tastes and looks like banana pudding mixed with sweet melon. Pods have a strong aroma even before you open them. The pulp is quite good, but in native areas, the main part that is loved the most are the roasted seeds. Once peeled off from the pulp seeds are then lightly toasted on a fire until golden and crunchy, with a flaky texture that crumbles in your mouth. The seeds have a little salty, little more smokey flavour that tastes extremely unique while somehow invoking a roasted chestnuts flavour nostalgia.
Nutritional benefits. Mucho! Each Macambo seed contains an amazing 31% dietary fibre and 25% pure protein — an extremely high content compared to other nuts or seeds. As a relative of Cacao, Macambo contains theobromine compounds, so yeah you get that natural buzz from eating Macambo, same as that of dark chocolate. Macambo is also high in Omega-9 fatty acids.
While the outward expression of the dieta is often talked about in terms of food restrictions and sexual abstinence, the real experience of dieta goes much deeper than just the physical aspects. Thoughts, dedication to and contemplation of a process are extremely important part of any dieta. Some plant medicines may also require a post-dieta during which it may be important to maintain a certain energy state for a specific amount of time to benefit from the healing/learning processes fully. This is also to ensure a complete integration of the learning/healing processes and will provide additional time for your body and mind to become accustomed to the healing/teachings of the samá. For instance, Noya Rao/Ayahuasca post-samá will require avoiding sex, alcohol, and drugs even as long as few months, as those are seen as energy diffusers and shifters. This subject is often talked about in greater context during my public medicine talks.