Praise Jesus, praise Buddha, rejoice, you’ve seen the light!!! You just finished a 10-day retreat in the rainforest and have a new perspective of life. For the first time you see beyond the veil of illusion that has been obscuring your vision for all these years. You purged toxins that have been in your system so long that you forgot what it’s like to feel healthy. After living in a crowded concrete city for decades you gained a new appreciation for the color green and the abundance of life that is the rainforest. You experienced a sense of peace forgotten long ago and realize this is how life is supposed to be. And in a few days you are catching a flight to Lima before connecting to that long international flight back home… then what happens next?
American Dream Some would say I had it all. Certainly not wealthy by American standards, but by world standards I was quite successful. A stable and permanent job with the federal government; known for offering generous benefits including retirement, health insurance, paid leave, sick time, and holidays. I lived in a city with a high quality of life, including easy access to nature, many organic food stores nearby, and a population of educated people. My apartment had a beautiful view of the bay, and I owned a reliable car for trips that were too far to bike. I also had a loving girlfriend and a close friend. Yet I gave it all away for a trip to Peru. Was it a foolish decision? Perhaps, but before you answer consider my reasons for leaving.
The Peyote Way Church comes out in Arizona. Photo by Sattvic Planet
It’s time to add users of psychedelics to the list of minority groups that have been denied their basic rights in America. That list obviously includes Native Americans, women, and African Americans among others. More recently the homosexual community that we often associate with the phrase “coming out of the closet” has achieved major legal victories, and cannabis consumers are now able in some states to come out of their secret grow closets to openly buy a few grams down at the corner store. One thing I assume all of these groups had in common is that they were never going to make any progress hiding in a closet. The first step to earning a right must certainly be to stand up and say “I exist and I’m not afraid to admit it”.
Amitabha Stupa, Sedona Arizona. Photo by Sattvic Planet
Like many seekers on the spiritual path, I recently discovered Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. Admittedly I’m a little late to the show as the book was published years ago but at least I finally got the message. In case you haven’t heard the primary message is that in this modern society we have developed our rational minds to a level that has become more harmful than beneficial. Our rational minds are constantly turned on and as a result our presence is usually turned off. Our lack of presence is evident in the priority that past and future events take over the present moment. We often dream of the good times from our past and constantly anticipate a distant and better future without appreciating the current moment. According to Eckhart the ego is directly related to the mind and as a result of over developing our minds we have falsely identified with our egos. We believe that we are our professions, possessions, clothes, status, emotions, likes, dislikes, etc. Of course there’s much more to his message than this, but that is the foundation.
“In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits”
-From The Center of the Cyclone, written by John C. Lilly, M.D.
Isolation tanks, or float pods, are increasingly popular these days and can now be found in large cities throughout the US West. Celebrity Joe Rogan deserves some credit for spreading the word as he often raves on his podcast about the benefits he enjoys from owning a tank and floating regularly in his home. However, the person who deserves the most credit is a scientist named Dr John C. Lilly who invented the concept during the 1950s. You may have heard of Lilly if you ever listened to The Joe Rogan Experience, and you can usually find one of Lilly’s books for sale at a float studio. Lilly did much more than pioneer this meditative therapy, he took the concept further than any of us can imagine. Lilly was fascinated with exploring the human mind, and unlike most scientists today he was willing to experiment with his own mind rather than the minds of his test subjects. One such experiment involved taking LSD and then entering his isolation tank on multiple occasions to learn more about human consciousness. Since I was interested in having a similar experience I decided to read his book The Center of the Cyclone prior to my first journey. The book is a personal account of his LSD influenced float tank experiences along with other stories of mind exploration. Lilly seemed to be writing the book not only to document his pioneering efforts, but also to provide assistance and warnings to others who might follow his path.
Chocolate for breakfast?! Well, almost, but not quite. Many people often confuse cacao and chocolate, the former being the primary ingredient for the latter. However, in addition to cacao, chocolate often contains milk from conventional dairies that we should probably be avoiding, sugar which we already eat way too much of in our diets, and other unnecessary ingredients depending on which chocolate you buy. When eaten alone cacao can be equally as delicious as a bar of chocolate, without the negative effects on your health.
Amazonian ceremonial maloca. Photo by Sattvic Planet.
As I mentioned in my last article about Kambo poison frog medicine, I am currently visiting Peru for the primary purpose of improving my health. If you haven’t already heard, in recent years there have been increasing numbers of Americans traveling here in search of plant medicines that can’t be found in the US. Much of Peru is covered by the Amazon rainforest, regarded by many as the plant pharmacy of the world. Some Americans come here as a last option when they face a serious condition that western medicine is unable to treat. A couple nights ago I watched the documentary Sacred Science which shows the results of bringing eight westerners with various diseases to the rainforest in search of relief from their suffering. While some of the people did have life threatening diseases, I don’t think this is a requirement for coming to the rainforest seeking better health. In one way or another even the best among us have some sickness, it is nearly impossible not to in this society, and there is always room for improvement. In my case, my intention was to eliminate some challenging food allergies that had been bothering me recently. In addition, I wanted to work on some trauma that I accumulated during my military years.
Alternatives Many people turn to alternative medicine for one of two reasons, they are either suffering from a condition that western medicine is unable to treat, or they are simply opposed to a pharmaceutical and surgery dominated approach that primarily treats symptoms rather than eliminating the cause of disease. In my case the opposition came first, as I believed there must be a better way of managing people’s health. Next came my realization that the experts were unable to treat my condition; as evidence of this they diagnosed my allergic reactions as idiopathic angioedema, which translates to swelling caused by an unknown origin. In Canada I met an excellent Ayurvedic medicine practitioner who helped me to manage this reaction through a highly disciplined diet, but was unable to eliminate the reaction entirely through diet alone. As a result, I now find myself traveling to Peru in search of some relief from this condition. This condition was not my only motivation for visiting Peru, though it was definitely a driving force behind my decision to try Kambo therapy.
A traditional Cuy meal, also known as guinea pig. Photo by Sattvic Planet.
I’m writing this post from a small village in the Peruvian Andes where a community of spiritually focused foreigners have either visited or settled over the years. Having arrived only yesterday I obviously have much to learn about this community, though a couple of my observations seem very clear to me already. First, they seem to gather their practices from a wide array of disciplines such as Ayurveda, Buddhism, and indigenous Shamanic culture. It seems to be a true hybrid of global spiritual philosophies. My second observation, which is the inspiration of this post, is that vegetarian and vegan diets are the preferred choice at their hotels, restaurants and retreats. I’m talking about the foreign community here and not the locals when I refer to the choice of diet, as the locals appear to eat chicken, beef, trout, alpaca, eggs, and cheese.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain”
Lyrics from Trenchtown Rock, performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Bob Marley was born 70 years ago on February 6, 1945. I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly examine these famous lyrics and what they mean in the context of preventive medicine. On this blog I frequently refer to the concept of Food as Medicine, which refers to the practice of preventing and even treating disease through the diet. I also frequently target the pharmaceutical industry as an over used and harmful form of treatment that too often takes the place of simple lifestyle modifications. Instead of finding the source of a symptom, pharmaceuticals are frequently used to mask the symptoms and allow the patient to continue the destructive behavior that is causing disease. The language we use says much about our beliefs as individuals and as a society. For example, many people use the term “medicine” to describe the pharmaceuticals they are taking for various diseases and conditions. When I think of medicine I imagine some form of therapy that does nothing other than to support, heal and strengthen the mind-body-spirit. From my perspective medicine is an odd choice of words as there are often many unwanted side effects associated with these drugs. Admittedly, people suffering from serious diseases may not respond to other methods of treatment, though it just seems like two steps forward, and one step back. Another example is to describe a powerful plant medicine such as Ayahuasca as a “drug”, while an indigenous shaman from the Amazon rainforest might prefer the word “medicine”. How is it that one culture uses certain plant medicines to heal a wide range of conditions, while another culture declares the substances illegal, and without medical value?
Fill in the blank as Medicine
Listening to Marley sing Trenchtown Rock it sounds as if he is describing a sick patient being dosed with painkilling drugs, yet he refers to nothing more than the sound coming from his guitar and your speakers. So we have Food as Medicine, Plants as Medicine, Music as Medicine, and the list goes on. What about Travel as Medicine when we change our surroundings and get inspired by a new perspective? Or perhaps Career as Medicine when we feel good about our professional purpose and the people we work with rather than grinding through the daily routine to earn a check that pays the bills. For those of us living in the cloudy Pacific Northwest we could even talk about Sun as Medicine. These are ideas I plan to explore in greater detail as I travel to South America this month; I hope to share the results with you soon, ciao!