Sitaramaya Sita

In this episode of Plantscendence, we sit down with Sitaramaya Sita, the spiritual herbalist, pusangera, and plant wisdom practitioner who guided Jon’s very first entheogenic experience four years ago. Together they recount that initial ceremony, detailing both its ecstatic and challenging moments, and touching upon plant medicine’s role in fostering neuroplasticity and the creation of neural pathways. Sita tells the story of her chance first-encounter with plant medicine on Maui in 1997, and the two and a half decade journey that followed, including Sita’s extensive training with the indigenous Shipibo people of the Peruvian Amazon. The episode also addresses the escalating threats posed by deforestation, clear-cutting, and modern development, emphasizing the urgent need to protect the Amazon rainforest and preserve indigenous knowledge.

Sitaramaya Sita (“Sita”) is a spiritual herbalist, pusangera, and plant wisdom practitioner and ceremonialist formally trained in the Shipibo ayahuasca tradition. She has over 22 years of studying and working extensively in the Amazon.  Sita has organized and spoken at countless world conferences and works with individuals and groups in ceremonies and guides plant dietas.  Sita started and stewards a 70-acre land conservation project in the Peruvian Amazon – Fundo Sitaramaya which is directed by the One Acre Project. She is the Founder of PlantTeachers, an organization dedicated to cultivating entheogenic awareness and is an art curator and was the organizer of Ayahuasca & Visionary Art: A Coming Together of Cultures. 

One Acre Project

ICEERS

Pablo Amaringo Art

Episode Transcript

Sitaramaya Sita

I believe that ayahuasca’s brilliant and different people need different things. But many, many people respond to that first night being beautiful, and opening, and visionary, and colorful because if night two was like night one, a lot of people wouldn’t come back. Right? 

So, I think there is a brilliance and an intelligence in the plants.  

Jon Reiss

Welcome to Plantscendence – the podcast where we talk to people about their most significant psychedelic experiences and how those experiences profoundly changed their lives.  I’m Jon Reiss. 

Today’s guest is very special to me – Sitaramaya Sita was the ceremonialist of my very first entheogenic experience four years ago.  To say that those two nights in her yurt with eight strangers blew my mind – would be an understatement – it started me down a life transforming journey that has affected me in so many ways.  Having an experienced and trusted guide is probably the most crucial element when engaging in plant medicine – it will come up many times with multiple guests throughout this season and I was very lucky to have been introduced to Sita when I was starting out.   

Sitaramaya Sita is a spiritual herbalist, pusangera, and plant wisdom practitioner formally trained in the Shipibo ayahuasca tradition. She has over 22 years of studying and working extensively in the Amazon.  Sita has organized and spoken at countless world conferences and works with individuals and groups in ceremonies and guides plant dietas.  Sita started and stewards a 70-acre land conservation project in the Peruvian Amazon – Fundo Sitaramaya which is directed by the One Acre Project.   She is the Founder of PlantTeachers, an organization dedicated to cultivating entheogenic awareness. 

Jon Reiss

It’s very exciting to have you here today because you are actually the person that I had my first journey with. And thank you so much for, you know, agreeing to participate. And it’s really an honor to have you. And I really appreciate all the work that you do. And maybe it’s best for you to, to say and explain who you are and what you do.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah, I’m Sita and so I am a Plant Wisdom practitioner and I am trained in the Shipibo Ayahuasca tradition, and the Shipibo are an indigenous group of the Peruvian Amazon.

So, I’m trained in plant medicine, and I practice plant medicine in a variety of formats. I am an ayahuasquera, but the Amazon is such a rich pharmacopeia of so many different plants, and I work with many of them.

And I’m also a somatic experiencing practitioner, so it’s a therapeutic process to help bring regulation to the nervous system. And so, I have my own blend of offerings, which also includes pusangas, which are aromatic elixirs that I prepare for people. So, I’m a pusangera, which is another tradition, more of a folkloric but also a shamanic tradition out of the Amazon basin.

So, I, I blend those offerings for people depending on what’s present for them, what they’re looking for, and what I intuit might be helpful or healing modality for them.

Jon Reiss

Great, Great. So, I always like to start at the beginning. So, can you tell me a little bit about your first experience and what motivated you? And you can just start it and then I’ll maybe ask some additional questions.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Okay. So, interestingly enough, I heard about ayahuasca, and at the time I was 11 years sober from drugs and alcohol. I heard about it from my yoga teacher. And I was kind of militantly sober. So, I really had a lot of judgment. And I’m like, oh, it’s just an excuse to use drugs. And mind you, this is in 1996.

And so, there’s no Google, there’s no Internet. But then I started to observe my teacher, who was just an amazing human being and so compassionate and so wise. And I thought, hmm, maybe there’s something to this. And so, I’m like, well, maybe it’s my excuse to use drugs. And so, I got over that. I sat with it, and I pretty much meditated and contemplated for a year.

And then I said, Yeah, I think I’d like to try this. And then it was another year before an opportunity presented itself. And so, for my, my first experience was actually, on the island of Maui. And it was not actually with the ayahuasca brew, as we are all aware of it now.

It was with an analog. I had no idea what to expect. I showed up with a yoga blanket like, no mat, no, no, anything. So, I was on the hard floor for 8 hours in a very intense experience. And I kept – And it was these, for me, it was very visionary, just repeating unfolding mandalas that really were the mandalas of my heart. And they literally, I couldn’t move. I just could not move. And then finally, after, I don’t know, six or seven hours, I crawled to the bathroom, I hauled myself up onto the toilet. And I was just like, you know, I had this huge, as we say, evac-huasca. And I stood up and I felt like a warrior. I’m like, wow. 

And so, people shared afterward these amazing insights in cosmic understandings and all of this. And I felt like, wow, I came here kind of clueless, in like some kind of pain or suffering for the, for the whole night. And then I like, kind of had an incredible bowel movement and came out a warrior. 

So, it was really reduced down to that. It was this capacity for letting go and at that moment there literally was my life before ayahuasca and my life afterward. And I thought I had done so much work and yoga and sobriety and expansion. But little did I know, I feel like that time period of what was then 13 years was really like a preparatory dieta for what was to come next in my life.

Jon Reiss

Can you explain what a dieta is?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yes. So, in this tradition, the dieta or the sama, as it is referred to in Shipibo, is a preparation or an engagement with a plant. So, we prepare to take ayahuasca by abstaining from salt, sugar, spices, oil, dairy, alcohol, recreational substances, sex, masturbation, pornography, other types of pharmaceuticals or herbs to help clear the body. So that we have a clean palate with which to start our experience with ayahuasca. 

Dieta is also if we’re doing a master plant diet, a diet with one of the plants where we’re making that plant our primary relationship for the period of time we’re dieting. And it’s one of the cornerstones in the Shipibo tradition. And part of that is dependent on the maestro or the maestra that you’re working with because everybody has their own medicine kit. But the fundamentals are the same. And there may be no touching or no talking or isolation.

And so, the, the diet is actually opened typically in a ceremony with an ikaro and closed the same way. It doesn’t have to be, but that’s the short version of dieta.

Jon Reiss

So, is ayahuasca a master plant? Or it’s, it’s a, yeah.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah. So ayahuasca is a master plant. But it’s interesting because ayahuasca is a combination of two plants, the ayahuasca vine, and a leafy plant called chacruna, which is Psychotria viridis. So together they make ayahuasca, and so ayahuasca is also a master plant and it’s a really powerful plant, really powerful natural antidepressant and detoxifier. And I believe does amazing things for both the body in the mind, in the brain and our spirit and our connection to ourselves, really.

Jon Reiss

So would the diet be similar, so what I did here that wasn’t necessarily when I came to you and had my experience? Would you consider that a diet, a master plant diet? Or that was – how do you differentiate that – those two things?

Sitaramaya Sita

Yeah. So, your diet?  That is, that is a master plant diet and they’re all a little bit different, meaning the duration. So, for example as a practitioner, we diet for extended periods of time. It might be three months, six months, a year, even. 

And so, during that time we’re also learning every diet is a healing diet. But some are also learning diets that when we’re healing, we’re also learning. So, it’s not so easy to tease apart. But yeah, it is a dieta for sure. Like you are maintaining the restrictions, you’re there with an intention for a healing and there is an opening and a closing and a holding.

And so, what also makes it a diet is that you’re working with someone, a Maestra in this case that is holding that diet for you.

Jon Reiss

Great, cool. And I want to get back to something where you when you spoke about what you did initially was an analog. 

Sitaramaya Sita

Yes. 

Jon Reiss

Can you explain that? Yeah.

Sitaramaya Sita 

So, it was essentially DMT and Syrian roux, along with mushroom tea, psilocybin mushroom tea which extends the effect. And it’s actually pretty phenomenal and I’m so grateful to it. I am not opposed to synthetics. Things inherently are not like good or bad. They’re good or bad for us. And we make, you know, just because something is a plant doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It could be a poison. So just because something that’s synthetic doesn’t mean that it’s bad, it could have benefits and so much, in my opinion, of everything in life depends on intention and how we’re using it.

Jon Reiss

Right. So well, let’s since you just mentioned intention, what was your intention when you did this-  when you went and had your first experience?

Sitaramaya Sita 

I don’t know that I had one, actually. I just knew there was something more in my journey and that I trusted my teacher, my yoga teacher, and like I wasn’t on Maui for ayahuasca, I was on Maui at a yoga retreat. So, this all just came together in a really synchronistic and magical way.

Jon Reiss

Oh, so you were, and you didn’t go to Maui to do ayahuasca. Or if you did, you were there for a yoga retreat and there was an opportunity presented itself to you. 

Sitaramaya Sita

Yeah. 

Jon Reiss

Oh, interesting.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah. So, it was very.

Jon Reiss

So, was it a group experience you had?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yes, it was a group. It was a.

Jon Reiss

Were they singing ikaros?

Sitaramaya Sita 

No, there was actually was recorded music. But the musical selection, this particular practitioner, their capacity for creating a really amazing soundscape and like, ecosphere of sound and healing was pretty phenomenal. And they actually, they didn’t put on a playlist, they actually kind of DJ’d the session in real time, tapping into what was happening in the, in the room.

Jon Reiss

Wow.

Sitaramaya Sita

It was really beautiful. And they really are a master of their own art in that way.

 Jon Reiss 

Interesting. So, what do you think it was about the experience that, and maybe you can also tell me a little bit about your life before that this experience, became the kind of like separator between your life before in your life after? 

Sitaramaya Sita 

I felt connected with something bigger than myself. I felt connected to the person next to me who was the partner of the facilitator. And then there was this affirmation, I’m like, are we sharing the same mind? And, and they reported having the same experience. I’m like, okay. And then the capacity to feel pleasure.

And what I mean by that is that person brushed my hair like, way after it was all done. And I’m like, oh my God, like I’m having my hair brushed and it feels ecstatic. So, there are so many remarkable things in the ordinary. Being cold, and the floor is hard, and I have nothing but me and to come through that, I really felt like I went through a portal. And this release, this release of ideas, and I didn’t even know what I was releasing. 

And obviously it unfolded more and more over the years. But thoughts about who I thought I was, what my prior addiction and alcoholism and trauma, of which there was a lot, had been about. And I didn’t unpack it all right then. But there was this sense that there was another way to experience this one precious human life that I’ve been given.

Jon Reiss

I think that’s really well said. So, what happened? Like in the short version, how did you end up becoming who you are now in terms of being a facilitator and, you know?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah. And so, you know, as a practitioner, as a plant medicine practitioner, how that happened was both a result of seeking not the training, but seeking myself. And so, the short version is I went to Brazil, to the Brazilian Amazon. And-

Jon Reiss

How long after your experience was this?

Sitaramaya Sita 

So, my first experience was in ‘98 and I have to check the dates, I believe it was at the end of 2000. I went to Brazil and again, it was more of a syncretic style setting. And so, we were drinking ayahuasca, but it was with Luis Eduardo Luna. I won’t go into his background, but many people you can look him up, many people know who he is, and a psychologist.

Jon Reiss

And was there any significant thing that you took away from those sessions different from your first session?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah, like more of the synchronicity, for example. There was an art component to it where we would draw and, you know, work through art. And I had the great good fortune that Alex Grey, who is now quite famous in the visionary art world, was there. And what happened was, I was painting the vision of a vision that I had of like what we would call a UFO kind of thing. And later that day there was a talk by Dennis McKenna. And he comes into the room and he’s wearing a shirt that is a painting by Pablo Amaringo, who is kind of like the father, the creator of ayahuasca visionary art out of the jungle. And on the painting is like the UFO I saw my vision the night before. 

So again, it started to affirm that this cosmology of ayahuasca is independent of me. Like, yes, I’m tapping into it, but the fact that there are so many themes, and visions, and experiences that are shared across cultures, across place, across time was really powerful for me. And I really also started to learn even more about like how it came to be that this group of people from the north wound up in the Amazon drinking ayahuasca. Like historical information. So, there was also connections with really brilliant minds and people who knew so much more than me and I was really enthused. 

The second time I went as the yoga teacher, I had, again, the great good fortune to be there with Jeremy Narby, who is an anthropologist, he lives in Switzerland. But he wrote one of the first books that was published about ayahuasca, and it’s going to come to me in a minute, The Cosmic Serpent.

And the other thing that happened, like, which was monumental – I was having a lot of health issues, and it turned out that I had mercury poisoning. You know, I did a lot of speed and a lot of methamphetamines when I was out using, and I ground and ground and ground my teeth and all the mercury fillings released mercury and many people will detoxify from that. I did not. And so, it was starting to store in my organs and in my brain. And so, I was having crazy symptoms. It’s really hard. So, they can measure mercury in the body by gram of mercury by microgram per gram of creating an output in the urine. 

And I had been treating for a year holistically and my level hadn’t dropped. I’m now, I’m in Brazil and at the end of the retreat, the one facilitator said, I want to bring a local shaman. And so, the shaman came and said, think about what you want to work on. And it just occurred to me, in that moment, like the mercury poisoning, this, this person is a healer. And so, I’m like, and, and I had such a colonialist view. Is he going to know what Mercury is? And I’m like, wow, watch yourself, you know? And so, again, this, this kind of learning, this kind of like, Oh, right.

And so, I told him about it, and he did this cold infusion. He gave it to me. And literally I had this massive purge, and I could see this big white cloud. And this was just with the vine. And then he took a pack of milk and blew smoke into it and prayed into it and told me, drink this milk. And I just had this white milky cloud, like, okay. And I had just tested before going. And when I came back, my mercury, I tested again. I’m like, I just have to test and see, and my mercury level was down by half. And it was in the days of this that Matrix printers, you know. So, the printout went like this, and the dots kept literally going off the page to the end of the page. I still have the reports. 

So yeah, so that was another thing that affirmed like, okay, this is like a real thing. And then I wanted to go further, and Jeremy introduced me to both an asháninka shaman and the Shipibo Onaya. 

Jon Reiss

And were they in Brazil or in Peru?

Sitaramaya Sita 

In Peru.

Jon Reiss

Oh both in Peru.

Sitaramaya Sita 

And so, my first time then to Peru, like I was the only person there. It wasn’t even a retreat center. I was the only one there. And there’s, you know, tarantulas in the outhouse and all the things like, I didn’t speak Spanish. Nobody spoke English. Yeah. 

Jon Reiss 

I guess just to slightly jump ahead, how did you. Because you work within the Shipibo tradition now. So how did you make the transition and, and maybe because I’m curious, what’s the difference between the two traditions?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Well i will say is that um at the time I couldn’t have told you the difference, but the second time. So, I went. I came back and went again. And the second time I was there at the end of the trip, I was at Pablo Amaringo’s house, and he said he wanted to introduce me to a Shipibo shaman. And, and so then I went and I, I met the Shipibo shaman, and they said, Come back for a ceremony tonight.

And I was already, you know, I had been dieting. And so, I’m like, okay. And that experience was very different. How was it different? My personal experience of it was I felt very connected. I felt like really blown away by the medicine and the singing was different and it was just like, wow. Like, it just, it was a wow. And it was magnetic. It was enchanting. And I know, like, we have to be careful with the enchantments, but I felt that there was a precision to it, a precision to the singing, to the icaros, and a precision to the work that was really powerful. 

Jon Reiss

So, you had that experience with the Shipibo? When was the transition to you becoming a maestra?

Sitaramaya Sita 

I had no idea that that’s what I was doing. I was approaching it like I was my yoga teacher training. When I did my yoga teacher training, I didn’t plan on being a yoga teacher; I planned on making offerings, community offerings to people in halfway houses and people getting sober, that sort of thing with yoga. 

But it was really to deepen my understanding and deepen my practice. So, it wasn’t like, you know, I was doing it for money, and I thought, I’m doing the same thing. I just want to deepen my own understanding and my own healing. So, I was told that the diet would be six months and I wasn’t going to be there the whole time, that I could be there for a period of time at the beginning and then go home with the diet, as we say. So, I did that. It was mind-blowing in so many ways. And probably a story in and of itself. 

I go back to close the diet and they say it’s really a year. And I’m like, this is my very first like full. I’m like they said, well, you know, you’ve dieted really well, and some people don’t and I didn’t want to invest all of this. We had to see how you were doing. So, you need to go and call your husband because remember, there’s no sex. So, the long walk down, you know, two-and-a-half-kilometer road of sand, you know, the hour trip into the town and then finding a locutorio with a phone like no cell phones then are there, right?

And so yeah. So, then I did, and I thought like, okay, I’m going to do it. And so, I dieted for another six months and then I went back and closed the diet. And in that moment, then I understood because at the close of that diet, all of the medicine of the diet landed.   And it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And I still didn’t know that I was going to practice. 

So, I continued to diet and then it just naturally emerged, just naturally emerged over time. So, I really was the slow path, which is a good path and a good way to not get ahead of ourselves. And to make sure that we’re really practicing with care. And so, but the initial part of it was doing ceremonies for myself, me and the medicine.

Jon Reiss

So just backing up when you say you’re dieting for a year. So, I understand the restrictions that you’re doing. How often do you take the ayahuasca and what dosage?

Sitaramaya Sita 

So, I didn’t because I still wasn’t pouring for myself like I hadn’t gotten to that point yet. So, it was when I would go back, and I’d drink, and I’d come back. But other than that, I’m just me and my plant. And the thing is, some would say, well, once you become acclimated to ayahuasca and you like ayahuasca ceremonies, like now you’re dieting and you’re not even drinking ayahuasca. It’s really quite rigorous.

Jon Reiss

So, you weren’t ingesting any ayahuasca when you were back in the United States, or?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Right, exactly

Jon Reiss

You know, while you were dieting. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. Wow, it’s pretty fascinating. So then, when did you start practicing as a maestra?

Sitaramaya Sita 

2008. But before that, I was sitting next to my teacher and singing and learning, and then they’re kind of like, like, like you have to have your own practice. This is, this is, this is my practice, in other words, so this pushing me – but that was also good because I, I wasn’t so much in a hurry because it’s a huge responsibility.

And if I’m doing something in the moloca with my maestro, he can clean up any mess I make, which is also a way of teaching me, teaching me. Okay, like do it like this or do it like that. So yeah, it was not until 2008, so it was a full ten years from that first experience in Maui. And then before that, I’m like, pouring for myself, can I pour for myself, can I sing for myself, can I do this? And then it’s like, you know, working with two people or three people. And then doing retreats, taking people, you know, back and forth to the jungle and, and, and putting the time in.

I think now, people can move through the process more quickly because of the availability of information. And the autonomous groups of Shipibo people and young people who are doing this wonderful work and encouraging people to learn Shipibo, because we know that when a language dies, culture dies.

So, there’s all of these access points that weren’t available then. I’m not saying you have to put ten years in before somebody does a ceremony. Everybody’s different. But that was the process for me. And it was a good one because in my life before I was fast, fast, fast with everything. And this is like the tortoise pace, and it was so good for me to slow down.

Jon Reiss

Interesting. So why do you feel it’s important for you to do the work that you do?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Well, it’s been important for different reasons at different times. I think that my path in this life is one of service. What little thing can I contribute to bring more happiness and less suffering to myself and others? 

I was basically an abandoned child and abdicated at birth, meaning that nobody came back to get me. And so, through that process of, you know, being in an orphanage in my infancy and then being brought into a home and having lots of different kinds of trauma and violence and exposure to cultural conditions that were not favorable for success.

But there was something in me saying like this, is this just wrong. This is just like, forget even what it’s doing to me, this is just not right. And there’s something that we can do. There’s something we can do to advocate for children, to advocate for people, to have a better quality of life. And I remember as a child fantasizing about, I’ll just run away to the woods and build the hut and live there and connect with the plants.

So, I had all of that going on. And so, Shantideva says as long as space endures and living beings exist, may I remain to help alleviate suffering. And that really speaks to me because I feel like it really encompasses so much. But at its core is what I’m up to.

Jon Reiss

That’s great. Yeah, that’s wonderful. So maybe we should kind of shift to where unless there’s something else about your experience you want to talk about. But I was thinking this might be a good time to transition to, you know, my meeting you. 

I kind of forget who introduced us. I remember that I was seeking some kind of psychedelic experience that would – Essentially at the beginning, one of the motivations was to break myself out of patterns that I’d kind of, like, felt like I was falling into these grooves. And, you know, I listened to Michael Pollan’s book, and the thing that probably sat with me the most then and still does is how, as we age, our neural pathways become kind of set. And one of the things that psychedelics does well is to help loosen up those neural pathways. And I was really feeling a need to do that in my life. And someone, and actually I should look back in my early emails, you know, because I probably still have it, of who introduced me to you.

And so, I ended up doing the ceremony in August of 2019 and I believe we connected several months before, because I was, I had been on Lexapro for 15 years. And I knew I had to titrate off, but you told me also that I needed to. And you said, you have to titrate off several weeks before, you have to be done several weeks before you even start this process. And I think I even gave myself some extra time to do that. So, I titrated it off the Lexapro, which I felt wasn’t really doing anything for me. 

And then, you know, I had my ceremony with you, which I still remember pretty vividly. And my first experience, I don’t know whether we’ve, I know we talked about it because we had sessions afterward, but my first night was relatively ecstatic. I still remember, why isn’t everyone doing this, and I have to tell all my friends to do this. And this is the most amazing thing in the world. And I think I had a lot of what I had was visions actually for a script, you know, 

And then I remember my second night, as you maybe remember, was quite- in the sense I always refer to that as darker. And I had visions, you know, geometric visions on the first night and it was amazing. And I kind of dissolved into the universe and all those things. But the second night I didn’t have visions. And it was like, oh, I’m not hallucinating. Should I go and get some more medicine?

And something said to me, no, this is not about hallucinations. Like we’re doing work here. Because I was like, I was basically in a fetal position, and I could feel work going on in my heart in some way. And I’ve talked to other people since, and they talk about beings that are working on you. I don’t remember beings working on you, although this voice did talk to me. And that was you know, that was, you know, that was like a flip side night for me from the first night to the second night. 

And so, I also remember the first night I didn’t purge, and it was like I had this ego thing about, oh, everyone else is purging and I’m not purging, so I must be, you know, whatever, some superior being, which is, you know, clearly some ego need to be cleaned out there, and-

Sitaramaya Sita 

Ergo night two.

Jon Reiss

Ergo night two, ergo night two. And I even remember when we had a talk session the morning of, everyone was talking about these deep experiences. And I could tell and I still remember that I was in my head. And so, the second night, obviously, I got out of my head, and maybe that’s why I’m in my head a lot is, or have been in my head a lot, is because, you know, my heart needed some work.

And I do remember purging on the second night and that it’s a cleansing, it’s something’s coming out of it. It really feels something emotional is coming out of you, and then I was like, darn, I can’t believe I didn’t purge last night. Because now I see how great it is. 

But it’s interesting because then you had me on a diet of microdosing ayahuasca for, like, I think a week or two or ten days afterward, because you were concerned about my, you know, transitioning off of Lexapro and that I still had these issues with anxiety and depression.

And so, I dieted, I guess am I using the right term that I dieted or continued to diet?

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah, yeah. I wouldn’t say microdosing but I’m going to come back to that. 

Jon Reiss

Right. Yeah. So anyways so I continued and, and I still, like that experience was, still in retrospect,  super intense, probably one of the most intense experiences I’ve had in my life. And I talked to people afterward and they said you started with ayahuasca? Like starting with the mother is pretty intense. You know, other people do other things before. 

But I still had that experience of being, and I still, when-  now, after doing psilocybin a couple of times, or one major journey on psilocybin, now I feel like I’m ready to kind of go back to ayahuasca and try it again. But I feel like it really was so intense that I was like, okay, I got to, it’s going to be a while before I do this again.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Which I can relate to, I can jump in, like, after that first ayahuasca experience in Maui, I’m like, I’m good. I never need to do this again. Surprise, surprise. So, I believe that ayahuasca’s brilliant and different people, you know, need different things. But many, many people respond to that first night being beautiful, and opening, and visionary, and colorful because if night two was like night one, a lot of people wouldn’t come back. Right? 

So, I think there is a brilliance and an intelligence in the plants understanding what it is that you need and what you’re ready for. I don’t personally ascribe to the terminology of hallucinations because hallucinations suggest something outside of ourselves. A visionary experience requires us to be part of it, in my view.   

So, just to make that distinction, from my perspective. So, with respect to the Lexapro and coming off of the antidepressants, because the Banisteriopsis caapi is a Monoamine oxidase inhibitor, we have to be very careful because there is a flood of serotonin to the brain, and we don’t want to create a serotonin syndrome by having too much serotonin and then having the synapses remain open.

So, there’s also a very specific timing that I recommend, that you’re off of it for a certain period of time. Because often times when people come off of antidepressants, they’re okay for a few weeks, and then it’s after a few weeks that some fallout starts to happen. So, it’s right at that moment that, if one is choosing to drink ayahuasca, there’s that sweet spot.

And then the vine, which is the monoamine oxidase inhibitor. When we continue with that afterwards, the idea of a plant teacher is that this plant teacher is creating a new lesson plan for your brain’s biochemistry, for the neurochemistry. And so ayahuasca, like many psychedelics, creates conditions that promote neuroplasticity. They don’t actually do it, but they promote this neuroplasticity, which you were mentioning.

And when we have neuroplasticity, we have the capacity to create new neuronal connections, and those connections then develop into neuronal pathways. And as we create the new neuronal pathways, the old ones are pruned away. So, all of this was what you were going for. And I believe that the ayahuasca vine is so important because the very first antidepressants were MAOIs. 

They were not tolerable, they’re still used in some degree, but they weren’t tolerable because they were irreversible and they weren’t temporary and they had a lot of other complications, had a very low compliance rate. But this is like, okay, so we have another agent coming in showing the way, right? Creating favorable conditions for causes and conditions to come together in a way that’s positive rather than adverse, that’s life-affirming rather than depressing. And so that period of time afterwards, when we take a specific dose of a medicine intentionally, that process of keeping the dieta, can be really helpful. Typically, a three-week dieta.

And it’s not just for people who want to come off of pharmaceuticals or who are feeling depressed, but it’s really a wonderful tonic for the body, for the mind. Ayahuasca, it is said, and has been said, can have up to a thousand times the antioxidants as green tea. It’s just such an amazing plant. You know yes, you  titrated off on your own, but the plant carrying you through the process, doing the clean-up, and then creating conditions for you to be able to pick up that, that thread and continue to weave a different kind of fabric for your, for your brain, for your mind, for your heart, and for the way you want it to be in the world.

Jon Reiss

Yeah, yeah. Cool. Well, thank you. You know, and thank you for, you know, being there to be my first, you know, teacher in a sense.

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yeah, yeah.

Jon Reiss

And so, I do want to get to you talking about the work that you’re doing to preserve your project. I think it’s the One-Acre Project? 

Sitaramaya Sita 

Yes. 

Jon Reiss

And so maybe you can start with explaining what the project is.

Sitaramaya Sita 

So, Fundo Siddaramaiah is a 70-acre privately held land conservation project in the Peruvian Amazon, not far from the place where I did my initial training. And it is administered through the One Acre project and the one-acre project is dedicated to preserving this piece of old-growth forest. It’s not primary, but it’s old growth and the ecosystem in the waterways and the birds and the plants. It’s number of which are endangered. The city keeps growing around us, to use the words of the person  on-site down in Peru. 

And just recently we found out just a few weeks ago, the one boundary now is completely clear-cut. There’s no more forest. And so, what’s happening as a result of tourism, as a result of population growth, as a result of expansion, as a result of civilization, this 70 acres is going to be one of the areas outside of like a major metropolitan area called Iquitos, that is preserved while people are living all around it in these clear-cut areas.

The other part of it is there’s a family that takes care of the land and they are the descendants of the indigenous people. And the more we take away the forest and their capacity to live in it, we’re also taking away that ancestral knowledge.

So, it’s this blend of, okay, here’s the ancestral knowledge, preserving this connection to the land, and then also living in the modern world. So, you know, the eldest child who was just a toddler when I started is now in college. And so, educating themselves both in the ways of the world, but staying connected to the, to the ways of the forest.

And really, that’s it. It’s not to develop anything. It’s not to do anything. It’s just to keep this piece intact. And it’s very hard because people come, they steal the trees. They, you know, it’s hard. And life in the jungle is hard. And people are very poor. And they don’t have access to transportation. And transportation is very expensive. The cost of petrol is outrageously high. It’s outrageously high in the very area where the oil companies are drilling for oil and taking their land. 

And so, I took stewardship of the land in 2006, and then several years ago we shifted from it just being me- It was a project where I tithed a portion of my income to support it, and then that was no longer viable for me, and so we opened it up to the community. And so that’s where we are now. We are at a precarious point however, as a result of the pandemic. It really- I mean, all the medicinal plants were basically poached and stolen. And the people are very hungry and poor and desperate, and they know, hey, there’s a little bit of ayahuasca growing over there and then they sell it and I get it, I totally get it. It had never been fenced, but now it’s in the process of being fenced. 

Jon Reiss

The 74 acres.

Sitaramaya Sita 

The whole 70 acres. So, it’s a massive project. And then you get the stakes, you go away for a day, you come back, and someone stole those. So, it’s just, and you know, it’s sad and it’s tragic and it’s dramatic and it’s funny and it’s all the things.

But yeah. So now because of the cost of goods and supplies and transportation is very high, and then inflation in Peru is off the hook, it’s been very hard. And also personally, because people here were hit by the pandemic and inflation being high here, donations have not been coming in. However, the approach now is we’re hoping to develop five or six corporate sponsors that just donate $1,000 a month each, and that would take care of everything. And people can still donate and, you know, have connection with the family and support, you know, Elena going to college and the other students going to school because school isn’t free there. Like, there’s just so many costs and so many difficulties. And-

Jon Reiss

Is there a website?

Sitaramaya Sita 

oneacreproject.org 

Jon Reiss

Okay.

Sitaramaya Sita 

The other thing is the land itself had never been titled before because if you think about it, the Amazon rainforest who owns it, right? Indigenous people didn’t have titles because they didn’t need it. Like nobody owns this land, we can’t own the land. 

So, we’re at the final stages with the Department of Agricultura, which we had a very difficult time with up until a year and a half ago because it was all corrupt. And then the corruption was finally uncovered, and those people are out and we’re now getting some movement toward the final stages of the title being issued. Then we can go to the government of Peru to get private conservation status from the government. And that all looks very favorable, but it’s also coming at a time when the finances are at an all-time low. And it breaks my heart. So yes. And anybody who’s listening to this that has an interest in it and is interested or knows of a corporate sponsor and I think that’s the way to go. 

Jon Reiss

Right.  And do you feel like some of the tourism, kind of like ayahuasca tourism?

Sitaramaya Sita 

There’s ayahuasca tourism. There’s tourism for people just to be in the Amazon but also too, development. Right? There’s a Honda plant. It’s yeah.

There also is a real desire and dedication on the part of Indigenous, all the Indigenous people I’ve met which have been many because I’ve not just, I’ve traveled throughout the Amazon, to help preserve this earth. And they know, like unless they educate us, the people who are really trashing it, there’s no hope. 

Are there people who just want to go and drink ayahuasca and are only thinking of themselves? Yes, but I do think that those same people wind up being a little bit more compassionate, and that the medicine helps them to- oh, right. See beyond just themselves. To see, yes, I’m one of these 8 billion people on the planet. 

So, I think that there’s a balance. And I think that the amount of tourism and the amount of impact or adverse impact that seeking plant medicine is having can be inflated. And so, there are lots of organizations out there, Iceers and others who are really looking at this very carefully. And Iceers in particular, who have worked very closely with indigenous organizations and councils. 

I believe ayahuasca tourism isn’t what’s creating the difficulty in the region, in the Loreto region, I think it’s a lot of things. It’s politics, it’s economics, it’s inflation, it’s oil companies, it’s population expansion. 

And yes, are there a lot of ayahuasca tours there? Absolutely. And I believe that more and more of the retreat centers are indigenous owned. And for them, it’s like they’re sharing their ancestral knowledge in a way that they want to, on their own terms. 

Jon Reiss

That’s great. Good. All right. Well, thank you so much, Sita, for sitting with me for this time and telling us your story and any last words, anything that you were hoping to say that, you know, didn’t get said?

Sitaramaya Sita 

I don’t think so. I think what I’ll just say is  to be intentional, to be mindful. And if you are planning to entrust somebody with your consciousness and with your body, to really check them out, and maybe even more than you checking them out, make sure they are asking you lots of questions to make sure that you’re a good candidate, a good participant for whatever it is they’re offering.

And to be intentional and to be respectful. First and foremost for yourself and then for, you know, all of the elements of this great ecosphere that we all together call home. 

Jon Reiss

Thank you so much.