Archive for November, 2008

Three Shaman and Healing Medicines

November 16, 2008


With my new friend, Martin, I left from Lima by plane for a one-hour trip to Pucallpa, a river port city of some 200,000 people. There we met our teacher, a traditional Shaman, Teo, and his wife, Marina. Along with Eli, a South African globe-trotter seeking a new homeland, we headed up the Ucayali river for a four-hour trip in a 25-foot, $400 wooden boat powered by a 40 horse Sazuki outboard. The sounds, sights and smells of civilization faded quickly as we moved into the jungle of the backwaters of the Amazon.

Here’s a video of some of the photos I took around the town and on the river.

We arrived at a small muddy clearing on the riverbank that passes for a loading dock, scrambled up the muddy bank and walked a half-mile along a mud road to the little village of Nuevo Salon. Here the Shapibo people, who still speak their own language among themselves and Spanish only with outsiders, continue to carve out a basic living just as they have for hundreds of years. They grow a loving interconnected community supported by the fruits of the jungle and the gifts of the river. They are a people described by Martin as “very lightly incarnated,” barely distinguishable from their surrounding habitat. They are not far removed from the nature that surrounds them, feeds and clothes them and, in ceremony, guides and heals them. Their separate egos overshadowed by devotion to those in the community, they live in harmony with the natural world and communicate with it both in their prayers and through listening to the “voices of the medicine.”

We three have come for a two-week cleansing of body, mind and soul. I don’t know it yet but I am about to work with a true healer. Teo, who holds a university degree in education, is skilled in the traditional arts of plant medicine and how they are best combined to address an individual’s issues. He has the gift of seeing into the energy systems of those he treats and discovering where the blockages are and how they might best be cleansed and removed. In addition to plant medicine, he brings healing through song and prayer, which flow through him during healing ceremonies, that can last a few hours or through the night. His songs and prayers along with his taking negative energies from those he treats into his own body and then passing them through, continue interrupted only by brief rests every few hours. Teo’s energy was amazing to witness and even more amazing to experience directly. I was privileged to experience six of these ceremonies with Teo and two others prior to my going to the jungle. Each was a flooding of loving energy coming my way from gifted selfless healers, the unfolding process facilitated by the natural wisdom of sacred healing plants.

Over the coming weeks, I will be treated with a host of medicinal plants – breathing in their vapors, absorbing their energy through gentle baths, standing in their smoke and drinking their juice and derived potions. I will meet sides of myself that I had forgotten, both the dark and the light through the spiritual portals of the shaman’s world and through some profoundly deep physical purifications of the body. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

My first two experiences, or ceremonies as they are referred to in this tradition, occurred literally in my backyard, one in the home of my host, a well-respected Shaman in his own right and the second in his ceremonial temple. Both of these ceremonies were conducted by a Shaman brought in from the Iquitos region of the jungles of Peru. He was engaged by my host to help resolve some of my host’s personal issues. The recommendation could not have been better. I was about to be given the opportunity to work with a true shaman’s shaman.

My first encounter with ayahuasca, the most potent of the shaman’s medicines, was an easy one with lots of beautiful lights, patterns and visual stimulation, amusing body distortions, a few basic insights into the nature of life and how I fit into it all, brief visits into the pain of my personal past, some light grief. During the closing, I clearly experienced the shaman’s breath into the top of my head extend down into my heart center. A deep blessing and opening. I left the four-hour ceremony on a high with lots of energy and strong feelings of connection with all things and appreciation for the many gifts of my life. I needed little sleep that night, and the next day I felt great, calm, peaceful and receptive. I came to learn as I met other travelers on this ancient path, that such a peaceful, easy journey is not unusual for a first-timer.

My second ceremony came two days later and offered quite a different experience from the first. I was and still am convinced that I met and tasted death. At one point about 30 minutes after drinking the medicine, I was laying flat on my back watching my body grow cold, unable to even lift my head or to speak. I had the clear realization, or to use the language of this tradition, the medicine told me that this is how it is to die. It was also clearer to me than ever before that I am not my body. Reassuring insights followed quickly by the understanding that now was not my time to cross over and without help I may well do just that. I asked for help from the spirits of my ancestors, those of the plants I had ingested, the surrounding mountains and from the healing spirits I work with from Brazil. A dozen or so spirits appeared around me as glowing ghostly figures. I felt their support as I grew stronger and within a few minutes, was able to make it to my knees and then gradually to my feet and with great effort, place one foot in front of the other in order to leave the temple. I spent the next 90 minutes in the bathroom clearing from both ends what I would come to recognize as stored emotional pain that was trapped in my body. It took the rest of the night and most of the next day to return to a quasi-normal level of functioning.

A week later I left for the jungle and a two-week emersion into the world of ayahuasca and plant medicine shamanism. The first two ceremonies, while emitting unconditional love the likes of which I have never experienced, were basically cleansing ones for me, releasing the pain I had stored away from 20 years of sitting in others’ suffering as well as pain I had not opened up to from my own past. So, there was lots of time spent in the primitive outhouse, or purging into the bushes and most of the time, sweating profusely. I had the loving support of Teo and the rest of the community, especially the women, who would take turns helping me with steam baths for my legs and preparing plant medicine of many varieties for various purposes.

The third ceremony was a welcomed turning point. After a little purging, I began to embody an energy that I had not experienced moving through me since my teens. At one point, Teo worked on my back and shoulders and I was breathing so deeply and powerfully that it felt as if I were literally drawing the breath through the feet and toes and out the top of my head, an image I have worked with for years in yoga and meditation but had never actually experienced before this night. I felt completely connected with All of existence and open to the love and light that forms the foundation of reality. A deeper and more profound connection with the non-dual space than I had ever tasted before. I needed no sleep that night and only a little the next day.

The ceremony the next night carried me deeper into the blockages of my past and especially the pain my ignorance had brought upon others. There was a lot of grief and emotional release. I felt drained and slept and rested for the next two days. The remaining three ceremonies were a mixture of purging of my past pain and delight in the open connection with the Now and all the Loving energy that is available in it.
During these two weeks, I was overwhelmed by the loving presence and selfless support of Teo and his community. Their songs and prayers offered up close and personal in ceremony were the most powerful I have ever experienced, beyond my ability to describe in words. The ceremonies carried me to another world, one where I was not separate. The love I experienced did not have a human source nor was it limited or distorted by ego. As the breath of prayer and song touched my body I felt connected with a love beyond the mind, beyond the body. I recognized in those moments that this love was within me and that clearly, I was this love.

We will have to wait to see what the long-term fruits of these experiences will be. For now, I feel a greater sensitivity to both the pain and the wonder of the world I inhabit, a sweeter closeness to those who share my bus rides, a heartfelt connection with those trapped in fear and pain, a more profound appreciation for the wife that shares my life, a gentle wonder at the simple gifts of existence. I pray that these seeds will flourish and be shared with others whom I meet along the way. Si Dios quiere (if God desires).

Here’s a short video made from some of the photos I took related to the ceremonies.

Here’s an audio recording that I made during one of the ceremonies.

Here is a link to Wade Davis’s site. He’s a Harvard Anthropologist who spent much of his time working with Shaman. In his two TED videos (see lnks on his page), he speaks to the importance of protecting the remaining cultural diversity. I think you will enjoy them.

You can learn more about Teo and his work at this website

Que te via bien! Juan Estaban



Still Settling into Peru

November 16, 2008

November 11, 2008

Hola, friends. John and my settling into Peru continues. As I write, John is in the jungle somewhere is Peru, about a four-hour boat ride from the city of Pucallpa. He left on Oct. 27 with a British guide and another tourist to spend two weeks with a shaman in his small village. John has called twice from a pay phone to report that the experience has been rich and supportive.

Before John left, we purchased our first appliance. For 6 soles, about $2 US dollars, we now have a washing machine. It’s a man-powered contraption. Some people would call it a large bucket. I put in water, a little detergent and clothes and then get to rubbing, soaking, rinsing and wringing. The woman from whom we made the purchase told us the bucket also doubles as a seat. She gave us a small cardboard wedge to use to keep the lid from becoming stuck when using it as a seat. As shown in this woman, we are finding the people here to be open and helpful. Here I am showing off our new appliance.


Here John is on the porch testing out the chair option. He reported that the seat’s lacking a back had limitations, but the wall sufficed just fine.

I must sound weird, but I enjoy washing clothes by hand, rubbing out spots, wringing and hanging the garments on the clotheslines John rigged upstairs. (John adds a squishing grapes cycle in which he puts clothes in the bottom of the shower and treads on them while showering.) I also like being aware of the water I use and finding ways to reuse it, for example, by washing a new load in rinse water or using soapy water to mop floors. In two days the clothes are dry and I believe, accurately or not, cleaner than when I used an electric machine. More than anything, I’m enjoying the slower pace in Taray that allows the time and patience to wash clothes by hand.

We’ve also noticed a few other conveniences. At our apartment complex in Tampa guests checked in at a security post. Here Oro acts as our security system. He is a black and gold dog with an intimidating bark but a good disposition. I like that he doesn’t leave his property or even approach the dirt road that runs past the property. Yet he is fierce in protecting the houses. John made friends with Oro our first afternoon in the old-fashioned way by sharing food with him. After a day in town we returned home at nighttime. With our headlamps piercing the blackness of nightfall, we approached the property to Oro’s persistent bark. I watched fear rise in my chest and wondered if I could relax before Oro reached us. Surely he would sense my fear. Near the houses, he did approach us. Recognizing John’s voice, he stopped his barking, lowered his head and wagged his tail. We were in. We still feed Oro bread or peanuts when we arrive after dark to say  thanks for his good work.
We also now have Peruvian cell phones. While we can no longer surf the net, Google maps, check email or have 6 GB of music and video at our fingertips, we can call or text anywhere in Peru and have a reasonable expectation of reaching the person. This for $30 and no monthly charge, only a 15 cents per minute fee. The phones also have a terrific flashlight.

Another convenience we have is not having to set an alarm clock. If the light from skylight doesn’t wake us by 6:00 a.m., the rooster who lives on the adjacent property certainly does. He goes off around 4:30 a.m. with the first hint of daybreak. By crowing about every 20 minutes he also saves us the effort of hitting the snooze button. By 6 a.m. his cockle doodling has penetrated our REM sleep sufficiently enough that we surrender any notions of further rest.

This morning during a bout of insomnia, I assuaged my mental alertness (and coped with the darkness and chilly temperatures) by journaling with candlelight and warm tea. Finally at 4:15 a.m., I noticed daybreak as the sky above the high mountains emitted its soft light. And in twenty minutes morning was here; the rooster crowed and birds whistled. It occurred to me then that the rooster was on to something. What a rich of part of the day I’d been missing!

This morning is special in another way. John is to return from his two-week trip in the jungle. I anticipate that we’ll have stories to share with each other and you about the inner journeys we experienced during our time separated in Peru.
Wishing you peace and love,