I was sick, and now I’m healed. Two years ago I came to Manu, in the Amazon jungle of Peru to heal with medicinal plants. I had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation of the tissue and joints, resulting in pain and fatigue. The disease gets worse over time, eventually causing bone erosion and joint deformity. My doctor told me if I didn’t start medication right away, I could be in a wheelchair soon.
My life was falling apart
Prior to coming to Peru, my life had fallen apart twice. It started when I got diagnosed with RA in 2011. A couple years after that my husband left me, saying I had changed. I was no longer the energetic, adventurous woman he had first met. And he was absolutely right, I was dead inside. My whole body hurt and I was paralyzed with fear. I had deep fears that my body would fall apart, fears of the future, and fears of what my life had become.
It seemed as if overnight I went from living an active life of rock-climbing and hiking, to barely being able to use the stairs.
In reality, this disease had been creeping up on me for years, until I had a debilitating flare, which led to my diagnosis and subsequent med-popping. I couldn’t hold a pen. Food shopping and simple errands would drain me for the rest of the day. I had trigger finger in all my fingers and all my toes.
I started popping meds, and then more meds in order to get out of bed
First was prednisone, which initially gave me a much-needed boost of energy. It also depleted my bones of calcium, resulting in another diagnosis, this time of osteoporosis. This, in turn, required a medicine that I had to take intravenously. I began giving myself a weekly injection in my stomach for pain and inflammation caused by RA. Over time I needed medicine for low thyroid, vertigo, and migraines.
And so I went to the jungle to work with medicinal plants. Things would never be the same.
When I got to the jungle I immediately got off all my meds and started a shamanic “dieta”. A dieta involves drinking a tea made from plants or trees from the jungle. During the process, you also must follow a simple salt-free and sugar-free diet, while living in isolation, immersed in nature. No reading or music are allowed. Some journaling is okay, and lots of time in the river, listening to the rain, watching the trees is highly encouraged.
Western medicine says that RA is incurable, but my blood tests are now normal. I’m symptom-free, pain-free, and I’ve been off all my meds for two years now. The jungle diet worked in ways that nothing had before.
Making sense of my miraculous jungle healing
It’s difficult to talk about how I healed, as things are constantly changing, and still unfolding. The more I try to understand, the less I know. It only becomes more mysterious and unexplainable. I’ve been living on-and-off in the jungle since I did my dietas. I’m not a teacher or a healer. I only have a story to share.
Changing involved some blind faith, and showing up when I had to. It involved trusting myself and tapping into something much bigger than me. And there is nothing special about me! Anyone can make true healing happen.
In Manu National Park I was given the time and space to work through issues on my own, immersed in nature and often in solitude. At the same time, I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of the core group of people helping me. I was shown that there are things that we simply don’t talk about, and definitely don’t brag about. I was shown to respect the plants, to respect the jungle. When I needed it, I was always offered a smile, a joke or some wise words.
Deep healing in the jungle is an inward journey
When we work with the plants in a shamanic dieta, it is a journey inwards in order to find our true selves. It’s a cleansing of emotions, memories, attachments and past experiences. It’s about breaking down the ego. It’s meditation. All these lessons I am still trying to fully understand, as the layers run deep. I’m reminded again and again, that I know nothing.
The journey inward has no end. I may be healed, and I had a deep spiritual breakthrough, but the process of breaking down the ego takes time for all of us; a lifetime, many lifetimes!
There are many buzzwords in our contemporary culture: awakening, upgrade, activation. What do these words mean? As soon as we define our experience, we get locked into that one way of thinking. In the end, I think it’s not the definitions we have, it’s how we choose to live.
City life to jungle life: a total shift of mindset.
I had a psychotherapy business in San Francisco, which I closed down when I first came to Peru. My brain felt lighter and more spacious for the first time in years, as I was relieved of the constant mental thoughts of running a business. In the jungle, we are often without internet and even electricity. I don’t have a TV. Life is simple and slower, more in tune with nature. It feels more fulfilling.
Healing also involved learning to be patient, which is something I still wrestle with. As a foreigner in Peru, I have a different mindset. I come from a culture that values multitasking, watching the clock and having a sense of urgency.
When I was sick in San Francisco, I was constantly looking for ways to feel better, to decrease the constant pain and fatigue. It could get overwhelming meeting so many people who call themselves teachers, experts, healers. It seems that people are quick to adopt these labels. I would research information online for alternative treatments or diets, that would often contradict something I had read a day earlier. I know that frustration. It’s good to be skeptical. But don’t give up.
The challenges and triumphs of healing
Along the way, there have been highs and lows, challenges and triumphs, and an ongoing struggle to maintain a balance between the two extremes. I’ve been inspired by so many people, found incredible guides and made new friends. I’ve had dark days and experienced loss. I thought about quitting more than once but ultimately kept plugging along. And now I see it’s all been part of my journey and part of my healing. You can’t have one extreme without the other. Every challenge has served a purpose, ultimately helping me to heal.
Today I’m free of doctor visits, blood tests, and medications that were once part of my daily life. When I’m out hiking, or just walking upstairs, I remember how it used to be. I’m still friends with my ex-husband. I couldn’t see it at the time, but him leaving me was the biggest gift, as it opened the door to a new life, a life without disease.
I’m grateful for everything that happened and everyone involved. For my family and friends for their unwavering support, and of course to the curandero (healer) that guided and supported me, Javin.
None of this would be possible without him and the incredible powers of the medicinal plants. It also shines a light on the critical importance of conservation of the Amazon, which is at risk from illegal logging and mining. We need to protect and preserve the traditions of the indigenous Machiguenga and Harakmbut who live in Manu, as they hold the knowledge of the plants.
My healing wasn’t just for me, it’s for everyone. It shows us all that anything is possible.
If you are interested on dieting medicinal plants, or what to know more about jungle healing, please visit the website for The Sandari Healing Center.