I’ve taken part in two ceremonies with Grandmother Ayahuasca. It’s customary to prepare physically and mentally in the days before the ceremony – to abstain particularly from red meat, heavy or fried foods, even certain foods such as avocados and bananas, alcohol and other intoxicants, negative news and thoughts, and sex, and also to think carefully about the purpose of your journey. My friends have pointed out to me that it’s unlikely that anything you consume will interact negatively with the sacrament, with the possible exception of psychotropic drugs. The worst that will happen, they say, is that you will need to purge a little more during the ritual. From what I have seen, this is true. People come in, having missed or ignored the warnings from the guides, having eaten tacos al pastor a few hours before, they face their fears and their own past, and ultimately have a sublime experience, leaving full of love and passion.
Even so, I know in my heart that these preparations are important for different reasons. The idea isn’t to avoid some negative physical effects. The idea is to acknowledge the gravity of the undertaking. Taking part in such a ceremony can literally change the course of one’s life. The manner to show respect is up to each individual. However they do it, it is beneficial.
Enter the temple
On the other side, some people are cautious about going to holy places because they don’t want to show disrespect. For certain groups and places, it is proper to show respect by not entering. However, most will be happy to receive you. If you are cautious about entering a holy place, it is a good sign, because you are recognising that how special such a thing can be. In fact, that might be a sign that you should enter. Take all reasonable steps to know the rules, dress appropriately, take off your shoes, and enter.
With certain exceptions, the number one rule is to enter. Ready or not, take that journey. Ready or not, enter the Temple and expose yourself to the Divine. The second rule is, do prepare yourself, do be ready.
A dinner date with Divinity
When I was in Chiang Mai, I met a wonderful fellow from England, Rowan. I told him about taking the satja, or oath, in Wat Tham Krabok and asked him what the phrase “I believe in holy things” meant to him. He said that he’d travelled through India, going to various temples and helping out. Some weren’t sure what to do when he approached, but most would say with a smile “Welcome brother! Let us find you some food and a bed!” The Sikhs were especially accommodating. To the Sikhs, he told me, food is holy – food is the Divine itself. Here is something before you, prepared with care, always vegetarian to avoid harm against living things, something that you can touch and taste, that sustains your life – clearly it must be Divine.
The pleasure of the process
A couple of days ago, I was chopping up some vegetables to make breakfast. At first, I was slicing them with haste, and as always, the subtle words of my friend Conscious Kenny @kennyskitchen arose in my mind: “When I have time, I like to go slowly.” Preparing food is a meditation, and I slow right down, and instantly I find that act so enjoyable and life-affirming, the intrinsic pleasure of the process.
I thought what a gift it was that these vegetables had surrendered some of their life so that I could live, giving much more than what I might be capable of giving.
The Higher Taste
My Hare Krishna friends also have a divine perspective on food. You sit down for an amazing meal which has been prepared with Love and Attention, and even offered to Krishna as in their tradition, you take the first bite, pause and feel the excellence of the moment. The Hare Krishnas call that “The Higher Taste”, the spiritual element of food. It’s available to us every day.
Gentleness and gratitude
I was cooking a stir-fry for my parents and my nephew. When we sat at the table, my nephew didn’t want to try it, and I didn’t want to force him. My mother made a peanut butter and honey sandwich for him instead. Later, I wondered what I could say to encourage him:
“I’d never force you to do anything you didn’t want to do. No matter what you do, I’ll still love you. I want you to know that I made this food as an expression of my love, for my parents, for you, and for myself, to make something that is good for you and that you can enjoy, just like when your grandma made this sandwich for you.
“It may be hard for you to imagine, but there are families in this world who won’t make food for their children, or who lack the time to prepare it for them personally. You don’t have to feel guilty about having nice things, or having people do nice things for you. My point is, it’s wonderful when you appreciate the nice things people do for you. Being grateful is something great you can do for yourself and those around you, and it doesn’t take any more than a moment. In fact, you’ll find that when you are grateful for people’s kindness, they will be more willing to do nice things for you.
“Like I said, I won’t be angry if you don’t try my food, but I will be honoured if you try even just a little bit. I’ll just leave a little bit on a plate if you want to smell it or taste it.”
I didn’t have the presence of mind to deliver that speech for my nephew in the moment. Maybe next time.
To be continued
My monk friend taught me other things about meditation and karma while I was at Wat Tham Krabok, and I also had thoughts about the holiness of words, and about procreation. Please follow for more intriguing ideas.