Life with the Shaman

Various and sundry observations about being a shaman, traveling to study and work with shamans, learning and sharing new healing techniques, all there is to know about shamanism!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Speaking to the Sacred Mountains

This past summer, 16 intrepid sojourners traveled with Katina O'Neil and me to the Sacred Valley in Peru. We had all been called by the Apus, the sacred mountains, to come and connect with them in person.

Despite labeling it a "gentle" journey, there was nothing gentle about it! The Apus had their own agenda about what each of us could and could not tolerate. To say that we were pushed beyond our limits is an understatement. Each of us found one or more special apus that spoke directly to us, literally downloading information we had come to receive.

For some the medicine journey was extreme. They were literally turned inside out, as their fears, expectations, issues rose to the surface. This manifested in stomach aches, the usual Montezuma's revenge, splitting headaches, constant nausea. Doesn't sound pleasant, does it? But Mother Earth and the Apus knew what was best for us. By making us sick, in one way or another, we were forced to slooooowwwww down, something many of us do not do regularly. It also forced us to examine, possibly for the first time, those underlying issues that we so carefully hide from ourselves. We don't like looking in the mirror of our soul when it is held up to our face not always by our choice. Yet we cannot avert our gaze. The need to explore, learn, remember, reconfigure is there.

The mountains are formidable. Rising anywhere from 19,000 to 21,000 ft up to the heavens, snow covered, standing strong and commanding, there is no avoiding their hypnotic power. They mesmerize by their sheer magnificent presence. Small wonder that so many of us felt overwhelmed.

Some Apus called us gently, offering healing to the wracked body, the disjointed spirit, the awakening soul. Wakay Willk'a was such a mountain. We traveled up to 16,500 ft, sitting on a plateau where she loomed large before us, blanketed with snow, clouds drifting by and covering her peak. Many say she is really a "he" mountain. Yet for me, Wakay Willk'a has always presented herself as a luminous ginger and golden colored jaguar, a feline protecting her brood. That's how I feel in her presence, that I am part of her brood, and she offers me the deepest, most comforting protection possible.

At this gentle nurturing mountain, we did personal despachos (offerings for Mother Earth) for our own healing. No need to heed a perfect protocol in creating the despacho ... each person created from their heart and the mountain responded with a warm embrace. Those who struggled getting up the mountain found themselves literally wanting to skip down it, for so she had changed their interior landscape. For others, the healing came later, in an Aha moment that redefined existence.

For other sojourners, Apu Pachatusan held a strong pull. Overlooking valleys on two sides, this anchor of the Inkan empire beckoned many into its lair. First we saw it from a distance while standing on a promontory from where we could see nearly all the sacred mountains. Pachatusan, with its three peaks, looks not unlike a sleeping dragon. And ferocious it can be when awakened! Several called to the mountain, and the dragon awoke, breathing fire into their soul, igniting their passions once again.

Each apu has its underlying mythology associated with it. And not unlike those books that tell you what each power animal "means', the mythologies create certain expectations. Happily, this lively and inquisitive group chose to connect with each apu on their own terms, asking what the mountain had to offer them individually, not what it offered to the community collectively. That willingness to be open to hearing a new voice, exploring a new thought, attending to the skin prickling that signified a new awareness.... ah, that's what made this group truly connect to the very heart of each mountain.

We all learned more about Peru and her exquisite sacred mountains, how could we not? And in turn, the mountains taught us about ourselves, about our fears and about our incredible strengths and willingness to overcome those fears.

That is the power of the Apus.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

The Amazon and all its glorious heat!

After the Shaman Dialogues, several of us did a post-conference trip to the Amazon jungle. I had been years before, but to an area farther north of Iquitos. This was to be the jungle southeast of Cusco, closer to Argentina.

When I talk about heat, I mean heat like you will never experience unless you go there yourself. 98 degrees outside, with probably 98 - 100% humidity. To say it was a sauna is an understatement! Needless to say, the ecolodge where we stayed had no need of "hot" water. The water for showers was very cold, but in that heat it felt wonderful!

Despite all this grumbling, the Amazon is truly an amazing place. To be in the jungle is to be surrounded, enveloped, nurtured, caressed by Mother Nature in ways we don't normally get to experience. The plants are huge! For example, we took a hike one day and passed a 600-year old tree, which the guide said would live to 1000 years. One of the root areas of the tree was taller, broader, bigger than all of us together.

The macaws were beautiful, and to see them flying free, rather than caged in a zoo, was a sight! Not just one, several of them made their home at the ecolodge. Understandably, since they got food every day!

Thankfully on our walks we no saw no slithery snakes, no weird animals, no jaguars, nothing scary. The only strange thing was to have the guide open what looked like a nut from a tree, and inside there was a larva, worm type thing. Apparently they are quite "yummy". When I say this was strange it's because one of our gals decided to try it. EWWWWWW! I could barely watch her eat it, yet she did with no side effects. No way I would do that!

I do love the jungle, but I truly believe I am done with trips there. Way too hot for my body now, and I've "been there, done that."

Working with a Medicine Woman

One aspect that turned out in my favor this summer in Peru was my ability to speak Spanish. In the picture you see Doña Bernardina, a powerful healer from the Lake Titicaca area. As it happened, at the Shaman Dialogues, there was a day when it was possible for the participants to receive healings from the shamans. I had offered to help translate for them, and got to work with Doña Bernardina.

WOW! In one day, I probably learned more about shamanic healing than in years of study!! She was so patient with me, helping me to understand the Quechua names of things, how to do coca leaf readings, ways to create despachos (healing and offering bundles that are given to Mother Earth), how to do egg clearings on a person and then how to "read" the egg!

It was amazing! I was so humbled by her knowledge and her abilities. Here is a woman from a very poor area in Puno, near Lake Titicaca, who received her knowledge directly from the Apus. Her coca leaf readings were spot on - not the usual vague "you've had an accident recently...". She nailed the details, the dates, the type of accident, the effects, the soul loss, the trauma... you name it, she knew it, just from tossing the coca leaves! I was absolutely overwhelmed watching her. Imagine her clients too, being told specifics that they hadn't divulged at all!

And best of all was the healings she would do after finding out what was wrong with the person. Invariably, everyone on whom she worked felt instant relief in all areas (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) and this relief continued after the session.

A privilege for me to know her, and to work with her. Again, what can I say except WOW!

Shaman Dialogues July 2006

I just had a wonderful month in Peru! My colleague Katina and I attended the Shaman Dialogues, a "conference" of sorts that included shamans from many parts of Peru. It was amazing to learn directly from them, and even more powerful to go to various spiritual sites and do ceremony with the shamans.

What I found exhilarating was that of the many shamans that were there, 4 of them were women, and at an incredibly high level of knowledge. Let's say they were the PhDs of the shaman world. Actually, in most cases, they were either hit by lightning, or rendered unconscious somehow, and "called" by the Apus (mountain spirits) to become shamans.

The women in the picture are Doña Maria and Doña Laura, both altomesayoqs, which means they are about as high as one can go in the shaman world, without being fully and totally enlightened, sort of like the Buddha.

We learned about the different mesas (medicine bundles) each carry, how they use them, how they add or take away items from their mesas. We also learned some healing techniques, which was fascinating for me.

This conference lasted six intense and wonderful days! Hopefully they'll do another one next summer.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A trip to the jungle

I'm very excited to be going back to the Peru and to the Amazon again this summer! I've been there many times, and except for Lima, I love Peru! The Amazon is amazing! It is truly like being surrounded by Mother Earth, all lush and nurturing.

In the past I've been downriver, which always confuses me, because as you look at in on the map, you're actually going up. But that's just how the Amazon River flows before it exits out of Brazil in the Northeast.

This summer I'll be closer to where the Amazon actually begins, which will be very interesting. My recollections of the jungle are heat, heat, more heat, and heat. Fortunately at Don Agustin's place (one hour walking inland after a 3-hour boat trip downriver), there is a beautiful convergence of two very cold streams in which we bathed and hung out every day. Not too deep, just enough to keep the incredible humidity at bay. Don't know what it will be like this summer.

I do know that I am going armed with my trusty homemade essential oils bug repellant. In 2001 when I was there, I was the only person NOT bitten by mosquitoes, even those who had used DEET were bitten. I'll prepare my little remedy again and hopefully be just as lucky.

These pictures are of me and Don Agustin Rivas, world reknown jungle medicine man and ayahuasquero. Speaking Spanish really helps, as he doesn't speak english really well, though he does seem to understand a fair bit. He and I got along famously, and could crack all sorts of jokes in Spanish. He's a witty man, and incredibly knowledgeable about the jungle.