MY PATH ILLUMINATED
The candle is extinguished. My eyes slowly adjust to the darkness and the sounds of the jungle that surround me. I am in a maloka, an intricately thatched roof ceremonial dwelling, participating in an Amazon Plant Medicine retreat in Peru. I am about to enter into my fifth of six ceremonies over the course of 12 days on a retreat led by Dr. Joe Tafur, a Colombian-American medical doctor and Martina Drassl, trained in Somatic Healing. Both Joe and Martina spent many years apprenticing under Ricardo Amaringa, a Shipibo shaman who is one of the most skilled healers of his generation.
This journey began to unfold for me when I attended an event at Banyen Bookstore in Vancouver where Joe gave a talk about his experience in Peru. As I listened to him speak, I was impressed not only by his story but by the honest and down to earth way that he expressed himself and the bridge he represented between science and spirituality, western medicine and indigenous wisdom. The thing that stood out most for me was that he addressed what I too fully believe, that Western medicine, while beneficial in many ways, does not address emotional or spiritual levels of healing. It is so clear to me that many of the illnesses prevalent in today’s society come from emotional and physical traumas that we experience in our lives. He also spoke about his experience of witnessing people being healed through the use of Ayahuasca, a plant medicine that can induce visions and altered states of consciousness, for things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, migraines, chronic illnesses and addiction. After his talk I went up to speak with him briefly and bought a copy of his book, The Fellowship of the River: A Medical Doctor’s Exploration into Traditional Amazon Plant Medicine and he signed it, “I love the Amazon like you”.
In the days and weeks that followed, undeniable synchronicity jumped out at me like flashing neon signs as I poured through the pages of his book and in my every day life, all pointing me in the direction of returning to Peru. It had been 7 years since I left. Five months later, I found myself deep in the Peruvian Amazon participating in his Amazon Master Plant Retreat. Not sure what to expect but beyond certain that the Universe had done everything to guide me there.
The darkness envelopes me. I begin to center myself and connect with my intention for the ceremony. I sink into my mattress, my bucket for purging nearby, surrounded by others embarking on this journey alongside me. I wait for the medicine to take hold.
People from around the world make their way to the Amazon for experiences like this, to connect with shamans and plants that have the capacity to heal on deep physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
In a MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) podcast with Zach Leary, Joe explains that in Peru, people of ancestral Shipibo culture use Amazon plants including Ayahuasca for healing purposes. It is not considered counter culture but rather one of the most integral and conservative aspects of their lives. Ayahuasca ceremonies are done with children and grandparents present and although not legalized in North America, people in the Amazon have been using these plants for healing themselves, their families and their villages for generations.
The first three ceremonies were very embodied experiences for me. My whole body rocked and vibrated to the sound of the Icaros that the shamans sang. It felt as though my entire being was being cleansed on all levels. My fourth ceremony was difficult. I cried almost the entire night as feelings of intense sadness and grief overcame me. It was a heavy experience but with moments of beauty. It was exactly what I needed as it brought to light emotions that I didn’t know I had. It felt as though exposing them gave me insight into areas of my life that I still need to work on in order to set them free.
I was nervous coming into the maloka tonight, unsure of where the medicine would take me but this particular ceremony connected me with my life purpose in a deeply profound way. It gave me clarity about the direction I want to move in, filling me with a powerful feeling of intense passion and purpose that left me bursting with happiness and pure joy.
I had three visions connecting me to Amazonian, Andean and Inuit cultures. Each vision reaffirmed for me that my passion for learning about living indigenous cultures was guiding me towards my life purpose. I saw myself connecting with leaders in these communities to offer experiential opportunities for people who like me, have the desire to learn about world indigenous cultures, respectfully and on their terms. I saw that through these experiences, I could create a community of ambassadors for the protection and preservation of their land, knowledge, culture and way of life.
I will never claim to be expert on these cultures for they are not my own. I see my role as that of a connector, to connect likeminded people so that together we can have an experience of cross cultural learning and a deeper understanding of cultures that are different from our own. There is beauty in diversity and discovering that there are many ways of seeing and understanding the world.
My first vision took me into the Ecuadorian Amazon where last year I led a small group people on journey to a village called Sarayaku. It was there that I connected with Jose Gualinga, a leader in their community. Jose is a true modern day warrior, a strong and courageous defender of the Amazon rainforest. He has put his life on the line for the protection of the Sarayaku territory, his culture, his community’s way of life and for future generations. He is one of the smartest, most eloquent, poetic, fierce and inspiring men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I am grateful to call him my friend.
As my visions began to open up, I saw Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace whose acquaintance I’d made living on Cortes Island in Canada while working at Hollyhock, an educational retreat center that he co-founded over 30 yrs ago. Rex has just recently begun speaking out about a court case that is holding Chevron accountable for one of the largest oil spills in history which took place over 20 years ago in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A topic that I am deeply passionate about as it was the focus of my University thesis almost 20yrs ago. Rex is a new voice for indigenous people in the Amazon as he stands in solidarity with them, bringing his high profile persona, his depth of experience, his heart and his connections to help expose this atrocity so that justice will be served to those affected by this major environmental disaster.
In this vision, I felt intensely the powerful importance of bringing Rex and Jose together. It had previously occurred to me to invite Rex to join me on this trip but the message I received in ceremony was that inviting Rex to join me in Ecuador was not an option but my absolute duty. I saw the three of us as a powerhouse, like a holy trinity, and a united voice to express to the world the importance of the Amazon and Amazonian cultures. “Don’t FUCK with the Amazon”. This message kept repeating itself over and over and over again in my mind. I laughed out loud and wanted to scream it from the top of my lungs for everyone in the world to hear!
As I sat cross legged in the darkness at the end of my mat, the sound of the Icaros filled the air. Shamans say that these are the songs of the plants speaking through them. My entire body shook, rocked and vibrated hard to the sound of the Icaros being sung in the maloka that night by Shipibo shamans Ricardo, Felacio, Miguel, Alfonso, the angelic voice of Martina, and Joe. I will forever be haunted by the beauty of this moment. I was completely blissed out.
I soon moved into my second vision in which Puma, a world-renowned Andean medicine man appeared to me. I’d never met him but he kept showing up for me over the course of the past two years as I began considering leading an Andean Pilgrimage to Peru. His name kept appearing in books I’d bought, documentaries I’d watched, indigenous wisdom symposiums, and tonight, he came to me in my vision.
Trained by his grandfather in the mastery of Andean ceremonies and rituals starting at the age of 6, Puma has become a leader in his community of Chinchero and speaks globally at international gatherings about the importance of his ancient Andean lineage which connects us to Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus (mountain spirits) and traditional Plant Medicine.
It was clear to me that I needed to connect with him and that my second ‘holy trinity’ was a partnership between him, myself and my longtime Peruvian friend Angel who owns and operates a travel company that focuses on healing in connection with Andean masters and Amazonian shamans. A few days later, I had dates confirmed to meet with Puma and Angel in Cuzco.
My third vision transported me to the northern Canadian Arctic. I found myself sitting in an igloo, seated across from an Inuit elder. His face round like the moon, weathered from age with a big smile and sparkling eyes. He was wearing a parka with a fur lined hood and sat across from me smiling. I asked that I be guided to find and connect with this man in the future.
As a new entrepreneur, I find myself sailing into uncharted waters. My sense of adventure and the importance of the message is driving me full force ahead. I am hungry for a deeper connection with indigenous elders, world cultures and ancestral knowledge. This wisdom and understanding of the world is too important to lose. As I embark on this journey, I move humbly with reverence and determination, in an effort gain a deeper understanding of this knowledge and to share its importance with the world. A world that is continually causing us to become disconnected from ourselves, our families, nature and spirit.
Back in the maloka, my mind goes back to my first ceremony. Joe is sitting across from me in the darkness. All I can see is the outline of his body as he sings his Icaros to me. Two words from his song feel as though they touch the deepest part of my heart, “Ilumina Camino”. The next morning he tells me that these are words that his Colombian mother says to him. He asked Ayahuasca to illuminate my way and by the end of my fifth ceremony, I believe she did.
To me, the future is bright. I feel blessed to be able to bring my work and my vision to the world and am so grateful for all the deep personal and professional connections that I have made along the way. May the light continue to illuminate our path and as Gibrán Rivera, an internationally renowned master facilitator who teaches at Hollyhock said,
We are our ancestors wildest dreams.
What are we going to do with that?
LEARN MORE about my Peru Pilgrimage with Puma (May 23 – 31, 2018)
LEARN MORE about my Journey to the Amazon with Rex Weyler (July 11 – 20, 2018)