The urge to live a purer and more natural life continues to seduce.
The story is an ancient one, at least as old as the Essenes who left crowded and corrupt Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago to go live in caves near the Dead Sea. The goal then was the same as the goal today—to experience a less complex and more spiritually.
So when a tragedy occurs among those chasing this primordial dream it is a double loss—both for those directly affected and for the notion that spiritual cleansing can be accomplished. Such a heartbreaking event occurred last month when Jennifer Logan, a 32-year-old Canadian, died at the Canto Luz Center in Peru after drinking a special tea, one designed to help her gain “clarity on her future path.”
Logan sipped the specially brewed potion, constituted expressly to help her vomit and defecate, in order to “cleanse” her body. Soon thereafter, presumably from the drink itself, she passed out and could not be resuscitated.
Canto Luz—song of the light—describes itself as “female owned ayahuasca retreat” dedicated to the ancient healing traditions (though it states it “is not a medical facility and does not claim to cure any disease or illness”). During retreats conducted in the 1500 acres of Amazon rain forest, a participant is given “access to tools for self transformation and healing through the intentional work with the plant medicine.” One such tool, apparently, was the cleansing tea.
Per the reports, the tea was not ayahuasca, a psychedelic brew made from local plants and a popular tourist draw. Authorities continue to investigate the death, according to Ms. Logan’s sister. Preliminarily, it is being ascribed to “pulmonary edema” a drowning ooze of clear fluid from the bloodstream that sometimes can enter into the lungs. This is a very unusual condition in an otherwise healthy 32-year-old, unless she developed a sudden heart problem.
It is unlikely that a satisfying explanation of the events will be forthcoming, though analysis of the tea ingredients is said to be ongoing. This cruel death of a young person feels even worse and more ridiculous set against the primness of the activity – sipping tea, the very emblem of civilized society, the daily respite of every man woman and child in the British Empire no matter where on land or sea they may be. But the sad truth at the heart of the tragedy is that nature is quite brutal, even—especially—in the Amazon rain forest.
For all of the well-earned complaints about how awful modernity is— and one need only see a strip mall in Florida or a quadriplex movie theater in a New Jersey suburb to feel the accumulated shame of humankind’s millennia of world dominance—what has lost on us 21st century folk is the cruelty of the elements, of the darkness and constant menace that we have beaten back.
It is, peculiarly, the singular achievement of the soft-core porn TV series The Game of Thrones that sounds this truth so well. There, darkness and unpredictability, confusion about whom to trust, stabbings and double-crosses and runs for the gold are the routine. Plus as the show reminds us, sort of, chemists once were at the top of the cool guy food chain back when poisonings, intentional or not, were the main daily fear (along with crush injury, wild animal attacks, and infectious diseases) for any king or wannabe king.
Add to the royal chemist the less desirable occupation of the food taster whose Secret Service-like duty was to throw himself into the line of danger every day by making sure no poison was in today’s meals. With the right chemist in your corner, you too could rise to the top—in the Thrones world, “every man a king” had altogether different connotation.
The reality is in fact quite pure and quite simple—nature is full of poisons as well as wonderful therapeutic medications and comparably wonderful hallucinogens. Sometimes all of these effects (or side effects) are present in the same leaf or root. Arsenic, for example, has proven an effective cancer-fighting drug, in the correct dose.
Surely compared to Diet Coke and now Milka-Cola, the notion of the natural idyll where streams and rivers flow and birds chirp and air is clean is itself restorative. But it is essential to remember that over, under, around, and throughout the wonders of nature lurk limitless cruelty and death, a crushing menace right forever at our door.
So before venturing into the wilderness in hopes of finding purity and calm, it is always good to remember a very modern adage—it’s a jungle out there.