Ayahuasca Part I: The Leadup

The organizer of a local Meetup Group I frequent sent out the usual reading material prior to the monthly meeting. Feel free to read the whole thing, but if you’re not inclined, it’s the manifesto of Mother Ayahuasca (the spirit of Ayahuasca), describing herself, her intentions, and her journey through the world. It offers information while still being some degree of readable, but I had a little trouble with it because I’m generally not one for indulging in that particular brand of whimsy.
I had known a little about Ayahuasca for years, but felt strongly that I had more to learn, so I was excited to see the headlining speaker at the Meetup, who was a Curandero (a healer who uses traditional remedies, also referred to as an Ayahuascero or Shaman). As with the reading, though, I was hesitant to throw my support in the ring for this guy and his practices just yet because my background is in the more modern psychological practices. For a long time, I held the “newer is better” belief, and it still lingered around in my brain coloring my view of older practices.
When I got to sit in front of him and hear him speak, I was impressed by his sense of humor, his down-to-earth attitude, his traditional college-level education in sociology, and the laid-back assuredness that can only come from 19 years of working with Ayahuasca. I asked him the requisite, “What kinds of questions do you ask people before you work with them?”
“The biggest questions we ask are, ‘Are you on any medications right now? Do you have a history of mental illness in your family? Have you ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder?’ Things like that.”
He also qualified it by saying, “That said, have I still given the medicine [Ayahuasca] to people on medications like lithium? Yes. Have I still given it to people with schizophrenia? Yes. But it’s all on a case-by-case basis after sitting down with them and discussing potential problems.”
He also said, “Usually when it’s time for you to do the medicine, the spirit of Ayahusca will call you to her.” And I definitely heard the call.
This guy had exactly the kind of practical approach I was looking for, plus I just fuckin’ liked the dude. Before we hugged each other goodbye, I overheard him mention the potential that he’d be doing a healing ceremony sometime before he headed back to Peru, so I connected with him on Facebook. He wouldn’t know the details for certain until he had confirmed enough participants to make it worth his while and had returned from the Sun Dance he was headed to (a Native American ceremony involving hours and hours of dancing).
Before he even left, he sent me a message confirming that it was happening, and providing some reading material on “la dieta,” which gives some fairly strict guidelines on the types of food you can eat leading up the ceremony. You were supposed to start it as much as two weeks in advance, but being me, I waited until like three days before. Scientifically, the point is to have very little in your stomach that might increase acidity, as Ayahuasca can be pretty hard on your digestive tract. Spiritually, the point was to eat a diet as close to that of our Peruvian predecessors as possible to maximize our ability to commune with the Spirit of Ayahuasca. So it was a lot of fruits and vegetables, and very little seasoning (if any).
I spent many of the days leading up to the ceremony reading about the science and tradition of this particular plant medicine and listening to personal accounts. Honestly, most of it was an attempt to assuage my growing nervousness about being ripped out of this world and shown the more sordid parts of my history. Every account I heard went something like, “There’s nothing particularly fun or enjoyable about the experience. Usually it’s actually pretty rough and it was one of the most trying things I’ve ever done. But it was absolutely, 100% worth it.” It was also described as, “ten years of traditional talk therapy crammed into two nights, with extensive vomiting and diarrhea thrown in.”
Really selling it, right? Anyway, a few days before the ceremony, right after I had really committed myself to the diet, I sat down to meditate. Once I was able to clear my mind, I saw a figure making its way toward me. I intuited that this was the Spirit of Ayahuasca. When she reached me, she placed her hand on my forehead, and I felt warmth and comfort and calmness. She saw me stirring about in my own mind, and took time out of her busy schedule to put me at ease. Nervousness lingered a little, but I was as ready as I’d ever be to take this journey.

Keto Good News Bad News

I’ve continued my keto journey in spite of not telling all of you about it, and it’s going really well. I feel great, I was able to pump out my weight-lifting routine yesterday just fine (fuck you rib pain), and I’m looking pretty good. I’ve also continued my nonstop research into the hows and whys of this diet, and there’s both good news and bad news to be shared. I’m going to keep it short and sweet, and start with the good news:

Keto can counter certain types of persistent epilepsy.

Keto can counter Type 2 Diabetes.

Keto can stave off Alzheimer’s.

Keto can stave off some cancers.

Keto can prevent seizures in high-risk, under-water special operations missions.

Crazy right? That’s a lot of shit, and that’s not even all of it. I started linking to articles on that list, but just do some Google Scholar searching like I did, and don’t take any of that as hyperbole – there’s science to back up all those claims, but it comes with all the caveats scientific studies tend to come with. For more information, check out Dom D’Agostino – a tenured professor at the University of South Florida, and a leading expert in the whole keto thing. He’s been doing this research for quite a while, and so have a bunch of other doctors, apparently. We’re all just behind the fuckin’ curve on this one.

Here’s the bad news: I’m not doing anywhere near enough. That’s true in a few capacities. First, I expected to be doing this for about 30 days to test it out, but according to Dr. D’Agostino, it’s reasonable to expect a performance decline for the first two to three months while your body adjusts to using fat as it’s primary fuel source (I haven’t seen declines, but it’s good to have that expectation set). After that you can start to see performance gains, but a lot of the more significant benefits aren’t seen until 6 months to a year after starting the diet.

I am, of course, still tracking my calories and macronutrients, and I’m still killing it with the diet. But I’m also still having like 2 beers after my shift at the bar and usually one shot of some hard alcohol on top of that. There’s no drinking going on on my off days, but I’m sure the amount of sugars and carbohydrates associated with that are fucking with my ketogenic state potential. So how do I fix that?

Well, I’m going to have to start testing my fucking blood. Not for alcohol, but for blood glucose and ketone concentration. I’ll probably end up going with the KetoMojo device recommended by Dr. D’Agostino, though honorable mention goes to Precision XTRA, which is what Tim Ferriss uses and recommends.

Here’s the real takeaway from this revelation: the highest performers in all fields are using biofeedback to maximize their output. If I want to be a peer to these motherfuckers, I see no alternative but to join the bandwagon and start tracking the minutiae of my body chemistry, which is both exciting and daunting. I’ll certainly keep you abreast of all new and pressing information.

Keto Day 10

I promise I’ll actually discuss my diet this time, but first… that was a close one. I just Matrix-dodged the pseudoscientific writings that use the legitimate scientific study of epigenetics as a cloaking device for mysticism (I’m not gonna say his name because unpopular though this blog may be, I’d still like not to be sued). Funnily enough, I downloaded his audiobook and wrote him off as an eloquent quack, but a pretty lady Doctor of Nursing candidate recommended him to me, so I gave it another shot (I have since looked up her school, and it is for-profit… not sayin’, just sayin’, know what I’m sayin’?).

First red flag: he says he’s a neuroscientist, but he earned his “Doctor of Chiropractic from Life University in Atlanta.” Granted, he may have studied neuroscience in his postdoctoral work, but I found very little Google Scholar evidence that pointed to any peer reviewed articles, and his Wikipedia page is mysteriously nonexistent. I’ll even go so far as to say that MAYBE the things he’s saying are accurate in that I can’t directly disprove them (they operate on a lot of separate assumptions that taken individually accurately represent the current understandings of our world), but dude… You can’t just go around calling yourself a neuroscientist. It’s not cool to be misleading like that.

Who knows? Maybe he’s right, and I’m wrong, and thinking positively and imagining yourself as a doctoral candidate in neuroscience is really all you need, then you’ll change your DNA on a molecular level and collapse all potential realities into the singular reality in which you actually are a neuroscientist. Personally, I’m a fan of the more traditional route of finding the people actually doing the scientific research at reputable institutions of learning, and joining them in their efforts until I know enough to help advance the field ethically. Crazy, I know. Whatever. Maybe more people are meditating because of his books, and that’s positive. I just hope people don’t use this strategy to avoid taking actionable steps toward the future they want for themselves. It’s a decent read (gave me some great short story ideas), but I don’t think I’ll be finishing it. I have too many books to read by real neuroscientists and psychologists to entertain myself with that dude’s work for any longer than I already have.

Okay, rant over.

I hate not exercising. I’m taking my dog on long walks and running up the eight flights of stairs each time (four times today) and doing my stretches, but I have so much excess energy! Luckily my rib pain is rather noticable, so I’m pretty quickly reminded why I’m not lifting weights, but it’s frustrating. Also the left side of my rib cage is definitely at a different angle than my right side, but I’m wondering if it was always like that because I haven’t been motivated to notice that shit at any other time in my life.

My body seems to be adjusting really well to this diet. The frequent urination thing has subsided, so I’m either getting better or not drinking enough water. Not sure which it is, but I feel great. The meat-and-dairy-heavy part is hugely enjoyable, and I’m definitely more lean than I was when I started this thing. I’ve been wondering how much of that is attributable just to the fact that I’ve been very conscious of my food consumption, though. I got one of my highest fat percentages today, but it’s still only 70% and I didn’t even hit my protein goal (108.8 grams). Thank goodness I’m not exercising, amiright?! *crazy laugh*

Tonight is the Night of The Irish. Wish me luck!

Keto Day 9

Today felt good. I got a decent amount of sleep, I had my morning cocktail (water, lemon, Himalayan salt – I’ll just be calling it the morning cocktail from now on and will specify when it inevitably switches back to alcohol at some point), walked the dog a bunch of times, got a haircut, got groceries, got a bunch of shit for my apartment, and got all my art mounted on my walls… Just a fuckin’ good day.

I opted out of jiu jitsu today. I think taking a week off is the best possible way for me to heal this rib thing. The pain still hasn’t subsided much, though admittedly, I’ve not been stretching enough. Maybe I’ll have time for that tonight before bed, but right now I feel like it’s unlikely.

My barber recommended I check out Bad Blood on Netflix. Ugh… Okay, maybe I’ll stretch while I watch that. Fine! I’ll stretch while I watch it! Damn.

Back in December my cousin crashed my car. He rear ended someone, and the front of the car got all:

He was physically fine and the car still ran well enough to get him home, so I was able to write off a lot of my initial concern. Also, the weather was starting to get shitty and I planned to leave it in the garage for most of the winter anyway, so that’s what I did.

When it warmed up I figured, “What the hell? Why not?” (if you’ve been following this blog, you might be noticing that this is a set of questions I ask myself often) and I started driving it again for errands and to/from work. After an extensive phone tag game with my cousin’s insurance company, they finally determined it would be covered under his plan, so I took it into a shop about a 9 minute walk from my apartment.

On Friday I was told that the car was totalled. I have a cornucopia of colorful emotions about this news. To sum up, I’m bummed because I really liked that car and I only got to drive it for like 10 months, but on the bright side, I’ll be able to get an SUV much more suitable to my dog’s size and energy level, and more capable of providing me with the sort of deep nature immersion I’ve been missing so dearly of late.

Unfortunately, I didn’t expect it to be totalled, and I left my 60lb weight vest in the trunk. Luckily I’ve stayed fairly fit, so the most annoying part of the walk back was actually the bag of sundries and not the vest. I clearly need to start incorporating it in my workouts again, though. That thing is awesome.

Oh and I’m still doing the keto thing. It’s going swimmingly.

Keto Day 8

Oof. I drank heavily this morning. I mean… It was when I got off work, but that was at 6am and the sun had risen, so… Three light beers accidentally opened by the bartenders, two or three much better beers I intentionally poured myself, and about four shots of Jameson. Obviously none of that is keto-friendly, but there isn’t much that feels cooler or more satisfying than drinking in a closed bar after a long night.

I was feeling particularly good when I got home, and here’s what I had to say (edited to account for drunk grammar mistakes):

Am I supposed to believe that the version of me that takes more reverence in the sun shining through the leaves of a tree nearby, or gives more leeway to the actions of my hyperactive dog, or laughs off the little things with greater ease is somehow a worse version of me because that version of me is related to my alcohol consumption? What if I truly am a better person as a result of the influence of alcohol? Do the negatives associated with alcohol consumption warrant a complete disregard for all of the positives that alcohol has had in my life previously and to this day? Are all of the relationships I’ve hardened in the kiln of inebriation meaningless?

All good questions, Drunk Sean. Definitely worth pondering.

Anyway, the hangover has not been enjoyable. The water with lemon juice and Himalayan salt helped, but didn’t completely remedy the queasiness and it’s done absolutely nothing about my extreme unwillingness to do things. I took my dog on a long walk, though, so I’m feeling pretty good about my accomplishments for today.

I’ve been watching a lot of Tom DeLauer’s videos to guide me through this keto thing, and he has one on keto-approved fast food items. Thank heavens for that video and Postmates because there’s no fucking way I’m cooking anything today. Tom repeatedly made the point that these fast food options should only be used in a pinch, but so far as I’m concerned that’s what I’m in. Five Guys is on the way and my dog and I are hunkered down in the cool, dark cave that is my apartment – him napping peacefully, me watching the new season of Jessica Jones and dreading getting up to go downstairs via elevator to get my food. It’s raining outside. I call bullshit on it being summer.

The barbacoa is from the 24 hour Mexican place nextdoor to the bar, but Chipotle’s is probably pretty similar.

Keto Day 7

Fat bombs were not the macronutrient saving grace I hoped they would be, but they’re fuckin’ delicious, so whatever. I started with a recipe I found online then realized I didn’t get everything I needed for that recipe and cream cheese was missing from the prescribed ingredients, so I just winged it.

In the event you’re curious: 2 tbsp coconut butter, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 4 oz cream cheese, the rest of my fresh almond butter (about half of a small container), 3 tbsp cacao nibs. I heated it in my awesome frying pan then spooned nine servings into a muffin tin sprayed with coconut oil and one serving directly into my mouth (sans coconut oil).

I’m also trying out Qualia Focus nootropics. They arrived today. 5 capsules a day, 5 days a week is the recommended dose, but they also recommend you ramp up, so I started with three. Intention: get some high-quality GRE studying in before going to work. End result: very thorough shopping on the Amazon Prime app for things I’m missing in my apartment. This included careful measurements of the spaces they were meant to fill and comprehensive customer satisfaction reviewing. So I’d say they’re effective, but I’ve gotta work on directing that focus a little.

I’m sad to say that I really didn’t get in any stretching or exercise today, either. I didn’t get up until almost 2pm because I didn’t get off work until nearly 6am, and the last two hours of that work was very labor intensive. So I’m okay giving myself a pass, but my aching body could have really used the stretches. Now off to work again until 6am, at least! Happy Pride!

Keto Day 6

I think there’s a very decent potential that I’m totally overthinking this shit. I spend so much of my time planning my meals for the day and tweaking snacks to try to hit that 80% fat target that it’s eating into my other daily activities. That’s both unsustainable and unhealthy in mental and emotional terms – physical health be damned.

As you’ll see, I still haven’t hit my percentages for today. No matter what way I rearranged my daily diet plan, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of adding more butter or oil of any iteration into any additional slots. It’s a fucking lot of fat in there already, man. But there are people doing the shit successfully, so I spent some more time googling with the added insights of the past five days, and discovered a fat bomb recipe (I’ll show you once I’ve successfully made it). I also got the collagen-based protein from Bulletproof (the egg-based protein is fine, and was cheap, but it’s not helping me in the ways I need it to right now).

With these adjustments, I feel confident that I’ll be able to get all the way to that 80% marker. But I feel like I’ve said similar shit in the past, so I guess we’ll see.

In other news, one of my regulars at the bar is both a personal trainer and professional dancer, and she had some great insights about my rib pain. She doesn’t think that it’s broken a bruised, but it’s more likely that I pulled a muscle in that area or displaced a rib, both of which can be solved with some purposeful stretching. I told her I already stretched 20 minutes a day and she smiled patronizingly and told me I should be doing at least 30 minutes given how often I exercise.

She also recommend that I start incorporating natural movement exercises into my weekly routines. I’ve been a longtime advocate for MovNat and I suppose it’s time I start putting my money where my mouth is, and roll around on the floor for a while.