Out from Under the Divine Thumb of La Medicina: Part I
I just ended my extended dieta (period of fasting) following an amazing journey to Mushuk Pakarina at Llucayanacu on the upper Huallaga river in the Peruvian Amazon (downriver from Chazuta, Peru). The reason for my trip was to do some very deep, personal healing work – for me, a kind of rite of passage according to Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” While I had some specific intentions going into this work, I harbored no illusions that “La Medicina and La Madre” wouldn’t do with me what they wanted – regardless of my thoughts on the subject. And they did.
Let me be perfectly clear; I support the sacramental and therapeutic use of certain “sacred medicines” in the context of physiological, psychological, and spiritual healing work. This has been a firm belief and characteristic of my entire life (I’m 45). This inclination can be attributed to a long personal history influenced by intelligent, adventurous parents and older siblings, Eastern philosophy and the martial arts, Carlos Castaneda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Jung, Steiner and various authors dealing with shamanism, yoga, and ‘the mystical’, various religious mystical traditions, a dedicated (going-on 10 years) yoga practice (the 8 limbs), the study of Buddhism and Hinduism, travel to exotic locales known for their temples and their “power,” experiences with various healers, teachers, and gurus, a propensity to accept the therapeutic benefit of facing my deepest fears (shadow work) by means of various practices including the “sacred medicines,” a profound respect and affinity for a number of our esteemed and eminent elders (e.g. Dr. Albert Hoffman, Alfred M. Hubbard, Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith, Myron Stolaroff, Stanislav Graf, Gary Fischer, James Fadiman, Dr. Leo Zeff, the Shulgins, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, etc.) from the 50’s, 60’s, and on through the present, and a profound respect and affinity for the indigenous cultures (I am proudly part Native American Indian), their healing practices, and their spiritual beliefs and cosmologies. A good friend, soul sister and intrepid explorer once said, “This work isn’t for everyone, but it is for us.” Amen.
Let me also be perfectly clear about this work; It aint easy. It’s probably the hardest personal healing work I’ve ever done and the Curandero Vegetalista, Orlando Chujandama, with whom I worked, is very honorable, compassionate, skilled, and traditional. With him there are no shortcuts. If you want to do the work, you have to travel with him into the jungle and follow the traditional dieta. No single sessions, no commercial or modern creature comforts, no organized, large group tours, limited English, gringos few-and-far-between, etc. It’s the indigenous, isolated, traditional way and it has been done this way for thousands of years. I love and respect that immensely (except maybe the bugs). And it’s not what I would consider representative of the recent popularity of “Ayahuasca Tourism” as can be easily found downriver in the Peruvian Amazon jungle capital of Iquitos, although I’m sure you can probably find estimable, native traditionalists there as well.
The reason I have pursued this work and these interests is quite simple (and La Madre taught me this and made this very clear): I need to work with the big three – the core causes of suffering (dukkha) – grasping, aversion, and delusion – and the deep-seated fear of death and ‘the great mystery.’ And the main reason I need to work with these is because WE ALL NEED TO WORK WITH THESE. We need to because we are human beings. And I accept this work as part of my divine healing path and my life’s work and lessons. I want to be able to face all the things in this life, good and bad, and do so from a place of deep serenity and compassion. And I have to do the hard work to help integrate and heal my unique traumas. We all do. This just happens to be part of my unique way of responding to my particular history of traumas and doing this work. It is my unique honor and privilege – and I honor and accept yours – whatever they may be. No preaching or judgments here (hopefully - or at least as best that I’m able to at this time). I have to mention that synchronistically during my dieta in Peru, I was reading Stephen Cope’s brilliant book, “The Wisdom of Yoga, A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living” which is a beautiful and powerful study on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the full 8-limbed path of Raja Yoga. Get it. Read it. It absolutely sings.
I have been thoroughly “pissed-off” for nearly two weeks since having returned from La Selva (the jungle). The interesting thing about this version of being pissed-off is that I am talking about the holding of that particular energy – but without the emotional attachment that typically accompanies it – and usually results in an explosion of rage towards someone. The medicine I dieted on made me feel as though there was a current of power (rage?) that was coursing through my body – vaguely similar to a feeling of having knocked-back a couple of triple espressos! Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………. And the feeling of a very subtle but powerful vibration in my chest / solar plexus region that made me feel as though I had untapped reserves of power (although I’ve been physically and emotionally exhausted since having returned). This has been a very strange confluence of feelings to say the least. The medicine was Chiric Sanango and the ‘facilitator’ was La Madre – the sacred master plant teacher, Ayahuasca.
Another aspect of this work – at least for me during this experience – is that NOTHING was clear. Everything was unidentifiable and churning just below the surface. The clarity I was so desperately seeking was simply not forthcoming. Only just now, as I write these words am I able to see in hindsight certain insights, certain lessons. It was a long exercise in faith and the ultimate exercise; not knowing IS knowing. And the word of the day is “processing.” I will be processing this experience for a long, long time.
I have been thinking that La Medicina has been making me face all the bullshit in my life from a completely “uncluttered” perspective. The energy that is in me – and that was particularly strong the last few weeks – has “propelled” me into decisive action in some ways, and into a depression of difficult realizations and continued introspection in others. It’s the stripping away again I think – and the clear perspectives on the aspects of suffering I wrote about earlier. And I have become acutely aware of the difference between simply paying lip-service to the desire to make changes – and actually doing the hard work necessary to effect those changes. I need to meditate regularly and consistently – and I don’t. I need to practice (Ashtanga yoga) six days a week – and I don’t. I need to develop a consistent Pranayama practice – and I don’t. I need to make changes in my relationships and living situation – and I don’t. I need to spend more time in nature – and I don’t. I need to pursue work that is fulfilling as opposed to draining – and I don’t. I need to write more consistently and often – and I don’t. etc., etc., etc. La Medicina seems to have “forced my hand” in some aspects – and simply made others clear, un-cluttered, and un-muddled. The best way I can describe it is that my bullshit tolerance – in others AND myself - is much, much lower than before. This is a difficult situation to be in. Our world and our lives tend to be full of bullshit with which we must constantly negotiate and compromise with (or do we? SHOULD WE?). La Medicina appears to say “NO” to those compromises – and that’s tough to take and a tough place from which to operate. But it is the authentic place – and therein is the lesson. Crystal clear. Difficult. Brutal. Brave.
Deep truths are self-evident. And healing and curing are two different things as I’ve come to understand them (blessings to my soul brother Abdi Assadi). Healing is a life-long process simply because we are human beings. And my experiences of truth in the approaches that I take are felt deep in my core being, deep in my bones, by way of experience. I don’t have the eloquence to explain them any other way. La Selva (the jungle) and La Madre “spoke” to me in ways that are beyond words – she stripped those away and left me with feelings and impressions – and in the stripping-away, the insights or information were given the freedom to organically emerge in me during my time of isolation, during deep introspection, during communing with nature, during meditation and Pranayama, during Mantra Japa, during prayers, during my dreams, during stream-of-consciousness journaling, and during just being in the present moment, deeply breathing. And as I understand it, the medicine stays with you and continues its work in you and through you. I feel this to be so and I take great comfort in that. I feel blessed to carry the essence of La Selva, La Madre, and of a sacred healing tradition that extends-back through time immemorial.
“If you see your path laid out in front of you -- Step one, Step two, Step three -- you only know one thing... it is not your path. Your path is created in the moment of action. If you can see it laid out in front of you, you can be sure it is someone else's path. That is why you see it so clearly.” -- Joseph Campbell
…to be continued
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All my love to the beautiful beings who have helped and currently help me find my way along the path. Without the love, support and guidance of several amazing individuals - I probably wouldn't be able to manage assimilating - in a healthy and discerning way - the experiences and lessons that I've had. You know who you are...