Never Judge a Book by its' Cover- The Shamanic Cacao Dieta
With much excitement, we recently announced that we will be offering the Shamanic Cacao Dieta as an option to our guests attending our 8 day Ayahuasca retreats.
As you may imagine, being the responsible retreat facilitators that we are, before we put our guests through a process such as a shamanic plant dieta with a new plant medicine, we need to do it ourselves. We need to become familiar with the plant’s characteristics on the physical, emotional and spiritual/energetic levels. We also need to learn the lessons the plant has for us and how to work with its specific energy and medicine.
This is exactly what we did, and this blog post speaks to our direct experiences with the Cacao spirit in the context of the shamanic dieta, the lessons she had to teach us, and the instructions on how to work with her as it relates to our Ayahuasca retreats.
To begin with, we had some ideas (read preconceived notions and expectations) about the characteristics of Cacao through previous direct experience, albeit outside the shamanic dieta context. Raw Cacao is known for its ability to open the heart, provide feelings of connection/partnership, create harmony, etc… We also knew that it can be somewhat stimulating and uplifting.
Then we knew that there are the scientific or material world aspects of the Raw Cacao seed as it contains several “feel good” chemicals or precursors such as Theobromine, Serotonin, PEA (‘love molecule’), MAOIs, and Anandamide.
The combination of some direct experience with Cacao and knowledge around the chemical makeup of Cacao had us speculating that, “Hey, maybe this Shamanic Cacao Dieta will be easier or even more ‘fun’ than the numerous other plant and tree dietas we have been through.” In retrospect, these thoughts were both true and laughable at the same time. LOL
Keep in mind that shamanic dietas are notoriously challenging and at the same time extremely rewarding on every level. My Maestro used to say, “When I am doing a shamanic dieta, I often feel like I am dying.” In my personal experience, this might be a bit of an exaggeration, BUT I always point out shamanic dietas are, without question, challenging. Physical energy levels drop, one can feel groggy, headaches, other aches/pains and often times the hardest parts of a shamanic dieta is when challenging emotions and thought patterns start coming to the surface for release...ugh. Maybe these patterns being released are what my Maestro meant by “dying” as it could be viewed as an ego death process of sorts.
All of these challenges within the shamanic dieta are normal and simply part of the cleaning and healing process. The body and mind do not want to let go of the “gunk” and patterns that we all are holding onto. We resist the process and therefore we suffer.
On the upside, all the suffering experienced in dieta is worth it. After the shamanic dieta is over we literally feel lighter and cleaner. We often feel like we have released a significant amount of emotional and spiritual baggage. The physical energy returns in spades. One could say that this is because our energetic channels have been “roto-rootered” by the medicine of the plant dieted. This in turn allows our physical and energetic systems to function much more smoothly and efficiently. To top it all off, we have established a strong relationship with the spirit of the plant we just dieted. It is also worth noting that the plant is teaching us throughout this entire process- sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly.
As a side note, the drinking of Ayahuasca can be helpful in terms of understanding the teachings of the plant we are dieting, particularly the subtle non-linear teachings. Also, while I am on this side note...what I just stated above is part of the explanation as to why the practice of shamanic dieta is foundational to Amazonian plant shamanism. The whole point of Amazonian shamanism is to open and clean the “vessel” such that it is operating optimally, opening us up to learn directly from the plants and understand how to create direct long term relationships with the plant spirits. This is exactly what happens within the plant dieta context and it is why my Maestros often said, “Dieta, dieta, dieta”.
Getting back to the Shamanic Cacao Dieta... It all started off “as expected”. For the first two days we were feeling nice and energetic. Our hearts felt open and our meditations were blissful. We even had enough energy to jump in the lake for a swim and do some challenging physical exercise. We thought, albeit too soon, that our speculations might be coming true. In a sense we were correct as our first two days were fun, light, energetic and smooth.
However, day three we started to slow down a bit. Our physical energy dropped, but our mental mood was still generally good, but funky mental and emotional patterns started to surface.
It was noted that when we encountered these negative patterns, there seemed to be more “space” around the perceived issue or pattern in question. This was followed by a positive almost blissful feeling of resolution.
This experience caused a bit of excitement, “Could a Cacao dieta be a way to soften the edge of looking at our negative mental and emotional patterns?” I.e., while these experiences were challenging, they were not as tough and seemingly not overwhelming as other past dieta experiences of the emotional release process. This process was slow and soft enough experientially to really go into it, open up and relax the heart. This allowed us to fully feel the experience as the emotions and sensations intensified, peaked and then released.
This process, to say the least, was very cool. Cacao was teaching us in real time, experientially how to deal with challenging emotions or sensations. That is, not to avoid these feelings, but open up to them, feel them fully and in turn they would flow through the system to be released.
Conceptually this is not a new idea as many traditions and modalities talk about dealing with challenging sensations in a similar manner. In addition I have had direct experiences in meditation, during other shamanic dieta and during Ayahuasca ceremonies working with emotions in a similar manner with some success. The difference this time the process seemed to have a softer “edge”, to be slower and again, it a feeling of more “space” to it.
It is somewhat funny as I have noticed over the years that in the shamanic dieta process there is often a point where we say that the dieta “hits” and later in the process there is what we call “getting over the “hump”.
This Cacao dieta “hit” on day three. Physical energy dropped, the grogginess kicked in and “the fun” was over. Also, the emotional release process got much much more intense. It was as if she was warming up, providing an initial “easy” version of the lesson in regards to working through challenging emotions and then Cacao decided to take it up to “10”, maybe “11” to see how we would do with integrating the earlier lesson.
Cacao is known as an energetic “heart opener” and at the same time on the physical level it is a vasodilator. The message that was received from Cacao was that “heart opener” can sound all wonderful, warm, fuzzy and “feel good”. At the same time, when we open the heart all the gunk and blockages that we have held there start to loosen and come to the surface to make room for more of the heart essence to shine through. This is the other side of the coin when it comes to heart opening and it is not necessarily pleasant and at the same time it is the stuff we are going for when doing this work. In a way it is “gold”. Gold covered in shit.
As I said above, Cacao took the heart opening and emotional processing way up the scale in terms of intensity. There was a cycle of build, build, build of challenging thought patterns and emotions followed by a wonderful release, often when we drank Cacao in the evening. This meant the processing cycle lasted several hours...which was a bit tough.
Also, during this dieta I started to get a little discouraged in regards to my difficulty with the processing of emotions. I have been doing this work very intensely for over eight years! This should be getting easier! Cacao was kind enough to point out that as we do this work, especially deep heart work, the first 80%, while not easy, is the training ground for the last 20%. The last 20% gets progressively more and more challenging. It also gets progressively more rewarding.
These personal lessons that Cacao provided were not necessarily new and yet at the same time she took me on a slightly different experiential “tack” or approach. Post dieta the integration has been really amazing. Physical energy is great and my general mood is above expectations. The heart feels more open, reminding me that the heart can always open wider.
Challenging thoughts and emotions still surface and it seems that some of the experiential lessons Cacao provided are kicking in. I am by no means fooling myself though...I am still working on that last 20%, but happy to keep on plugging through shamanic dietas, ayahuasca, meditation, prayer, gratitude and any other modality that will help me on the journey.
In addition to the lessons about processing challenging emotions, other important messages were received. There were clear instructions on details about how to refine implementation of the Shamanic Cacao Dieta into our Ayahuasca retreats. These were details like Cacao dosages and timing of drinking the Cacao etc...
More importantly there was some direction from Cacao about what we, La Familia Ayahuasca, can do by helping people through the Shamanic Cacao Dieta.
You see, the original ceremonial use of Cacao by the Mayan culture has been lost. Subsequently there have been some neo-shamanic Cacao ceremonies developed largely by westerners. This can actually be viewed a positive thing as Cacao is being reintroduced to the world as a powerful teacher and plant medicine. It and the ceremonies can have great benefits to offer. Cacao is a safe, powerful, internationally legal and an accessible plant medicine.
The direction received was that through the process of a Shamanic Cacao Dieta, it is a great way to connect with the spirit of Cacao directly...to learn directly from Cacao as to how to work with her on a personal basis.
During our Shamanic Cacao Dieta we will be guiding dieta participants to connect directly with Cacao. They will be learning from Cacao such that when the guests leave the retreat they can choose to work with Cacao on their own.
This personal work can be done with their own private Cacao rituals and meditations on a regular basis and/or by continuing with solo shamanic dietas with Cacao. This idea and intention is not to produce “Cacao shamans” that go out and start putting on “Cacao ceremonies”. Rather, the intention is to provide guests with a powerful tool that they can use and develop for their personal spiritual growth. This tool is in addition to the other tools we teach during our retreats such as several somatic meditation techniques.
La Familia Ayahuasca’s goal is to empower our participants with as many safe and effective tools and techniques as possible. This is such that when our guests return home post retreat, they can choose to continue their personal and spiritual development with their own personal practices.
As we have said before, we are really excited about offering the Shamanic Cacao Dieta as part of our retreats. We feel blessed that Cacao is willing to work with us in this manner. It is a wonderful and powerful plant medicine and teacher. We are honored to be a vessel in which to share this medicine to those who choose to do so.
Important to Note- the experiences outlined here in this blog were personal to us. While there may be some general themes in working with Cacao during dieta, one might take into account that the above description is largely based on experiences of someone who has been doing shamanic dietas, working intensely with plant medicine and listening to the plants for over 8 years.