NOTE: I'm going to try to get this thing written as a whole, but will deliver it in installments until I do. Here's the first installment.
25 Years of Shamanism
I was asked to speak at the 2007 3rd Annual Conference on Shamanism in Iquitos Peru, as I’ve been asked the previous two years. This year, unfortunately, I had emergency surgery in the very hotel where the conference was being held just two hours before I was to make my presentation. As a result, I was weak, in pain, on painkillers and simply unable to speak.
Had I been able to give my talk, these are some of the points I would have liked to make concerning my very long—25-year—apprenticeship to the very kind and wonderful curandero Julio Jerena (spelled Llerena in Spanish).
Apprenticeship might be an exaggeration: I was introduced to Julio in 1985, the year after I drank my first cup of Ayahuasca with a curandero named Alphonso, and over the course of the next two decades drank with him sometimes once a year, sometimes 10 times a year. We had no structure—I’d never heard of an ayahuasca dieta until probably three or four years ago—and Julio never suggested I come and stay with him to drink regularly. I’d simply show up, and if he was available, he’d make me ayahuasca the following day, after which I’d generally return to Iquitos or head further up the Auchyacu, the little river he lived on some 212 kilometers upriver from Iquitos. But whatever I was doing, wherever I was exploring in Peru’s Amazonia, I always made a point of visiting Julio, generally at the start of a trip, but sometimes at the end as well. And during those three years when I lived in Iquitos, 1998 through 2000, I sometimes went to visit him once a month or more.
So it wasn’t a formal apprenticeship at all. I wasn’t trying to become a curandero: I didn’t want to live on the Auchyacu and fish for my dinner out of a dugout canoe like he did, while ministering the 20 or so families who lived on the river. They’d come to him with all manner of ailments: some brought their babies who were unable to stop vomiting; others came with bushmaster snake bites; still others brought their parents or spouses who’d lost their souls and with them the will to live.And Julio treated them all to hours of work with very little reward: a chicken here or there, some fish, a shirt, a baby piglet and other similar things. It was a wonderful life for Julio—made even richer by having several of his children and a sister live nearby on the river—but not something I ever considered.
Still, over the years it became something of an informal apprenticeship. We each looked forward to the other’s company and loved doing ceremony together, him running it, me being taught some of the endless lessons ayahuasca has to teach.
Now I’ve been asked to talk about the highlights of 25 or so years of shamanic work. That’s not easy. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of highlights. How do you pick one over another when so many helped me at crucial points in my life? I’m not sure.
Given that codicil, I’ll try to touch on several moments that standout, knowing that I’m omitting a lot of others that could just as easily be included here.
The first unforgettable highlight occurred during my very first ayahuasca ceremony. I was in Peru in 1984 with two great friends. We’d spent several weeks on the coast and in the highlands before heading to the jungle, the place that seemed to be calling me more than the others. With no roads into the jungle we took a flight into Iquitos, a city just north of the point where the Amazon begins being called the Amazon. It was quite an unusual town. City is more like it, because of its size, perhaps 150,000 at that time, but with very few paved roads and not much sense of organization it had the feel of a wild west town to this city boy.
There was some tourism, but not of the kind we were interested in: We wanted to go into the jungle, deep jungle like we imagined was there, and no one we spoke with seemed interested or able to do that.
Except for one fellow. His name was Moises Torres Vienna. He was short, dark and muscular. He had a tatoo of a woman on one arm and his initials—MTV—tatooed in a heart on the other. He said he could show us the real jungle.
For some reason, despite him offering us exactly what we wanted, I didn’t want to travel with him. Instead, I insisted that we take a riverboat up the river somewhere, where I was sure we’d find real indians and real jungle. Moises said that no one up the river or down the river would take us into the jungle. He said people were afraid of the jungle and only lived near the riverbanks. I thought he was crazy.
He wasn’t. In nearly ten days in a little town called Requena—an absolutely crazy place that requires its own story—we couldn’t find anyone to take us out under the canopy. They took us to their fields, which were sometimes a kilometer or so deep, but when we asked to go further we were always told that there were too many snakes, jaguars and Indians there. Not to mention tunchis—jungle spirits that would make you lose your way home.
Interestingly, on the day of our return to Iquitos, Moises found us and asked if we were ready to see the real jungle and maybe do something called ayahuasca. We’d never heard of it, whatever it was, and I still wasn’t keen on Moises, but he was apparently our only shot at going deeply into the jungle. Chuck and Larry were also only so-so on him, but then he explained that ayahuasca was an hallucinogen—"Like LSD," he said, roping us old hippies in effortlessly. We agreed to let him take us out.
We spent the next half-hour haggling over price until Moises agreed to $20 per day each. And the minute he agreed his demeanor changed. He switched from salesman to guide in an instant.
"Okay. Half now, half when we come back. I need to buy supplies and leave my family food money. We’ll leave at 7 AM. Sharp. I’ll be here with supplies at 6:30. Don’t bring much. You can leave your bags with the lady of the hotel. Bring your passport or a copy in case we run into soldiers."
"Do we need machetes or anything?" I asked naively.
"No. I don’t want you to get hurt."
He collected the money, shook hands, saluted and was gone.
"He’s going to be good," Larry predicted.
The next morning Moises knocked on our doors promptly at 6:30. "Good morning!" he called. "Time to go. Hurry."
He wore a tee-shirt and camoflauge pants with old military boots instead of his city outfit, and had a green rucksack from which the black handle of a machete was protruding. He was all business, telling us to hurry, collecting the things we were not bringing and having them put into a locked room behind the hotel lobby, then checking the rooms to make sure we hadn’t left anything. Satisfied, he stepped into the street and hailed two motorcars and gave them a destination.
We stopped at a market not far from where we’d caught the boat to Requena. Moises—who constantly amazed me with his ability to communicate clearly despite his limited English and my limited Spanish—pulled a large plastic ladies shopping bag from his pocket and began to stride through the market. The building was large and open aired, with dozens of vendors selling everything from fish and meat to fruits and vegetables, dry goods and breakfast. He turned to us and pointed to his eyes, and then our bags, signaling that we should keep our eyes open for thieves, then began picking up our supplies. He bought an empty quart bottle from one vendor and had it filled with aguar diente—"good quality, no kerosene," he said—from another. He bought a dozen .16 gauge shotgun shells, some fishing line and hooks, a bundle of black-tobacco cigarettes from a man who was rolling them, salt, toilet paper, sugar, tins of coffee, canned sardines, rice, ketchup and three huge pineapples.
He was a lesson in Third World purchasing: he knew what he wanted from each vendor and asked its price before he ordered. He didn’t haggle. He just walked away if he didn’t like it. Not angry, just walked to the next vendor. He double-checked each package and said aloud what he bought and what it cost, as if there was a calculator in his head, keeping the tally. He was quick but courteous. In minutes the shopping bag was full and he asked us if we were ready to go. We all said we wanted coffee, and he wove through the market and brought us to probably the only person in the market with it.
Coffee finished, he pointed us toward a wooden stairway built out over a steep bank. At the base of the 50-foot stairway, tethered to a post, was a floating dock with a one-room house on it. Around the dock were a dozen thatched-roof boat. Moises put his things down between Chuck and I, pointed to his eyes and then to the bags, then went to talk with someone at one of the boats. In a few moments he moved to another boat, pointed to us, nodded and then returned.
"Okay, let’s go," he started, then, looking down at his shopping bag, asked Chuck and I where the kilo of salt was. We didn’t know. Now that he mentioned it, I remembered it being on top, but it was no longer there. "Look. Eyes. Thieves," he said, berating us. He looked up the stairway and we followed his gaze: halfway up a young man held a kilo of salt and laughed at us, then turned and continued up the stairway.
Moises made a snatching motion with is hand in imitation of the thief and to show us how fast it was done. "Olvida," he said. "Forget it. But you have no salt now. If I say look," he pointed to his eyes, "look. Military style. The jungle is dangerous. One mistake…" he made a throat-slitting motion with his hand, then picked up his things and walked to the boat.
Chuck and I could hardly have felt worse. It was only salt, but we’d been standing on either side of the bag, not 24-inches from it at any time. The thief risked getting caught for maybe $.30 and he knew he could get away with it. It felt like we had "FIRST TIMERS" written on our foreheads.
The boat was long and narrow with benches on either side. The hull came up just to the middle of our backs, leaving an open space between it and the thatch of the roof. A few minutes later we were back out on the river.
It was a different river from our new vantage point: fishermen were close by and we could watch them throwing out the nets, or hauling them in with their bright, shining fish. We ran much more slowly than the slow riverboat, and crossing the river at the bends was a much more laborious process. But we only traveled about two hours before Moises was telling us to collect our things and the boat was pulling up to a bank.
We stepped out onto the tiny bow of the boat, then jumped the 4-feet or so from it to the soft mud below, sinking up to our ankles. Moises turned when we were off and pushed the boat back out into free water and they were off.
There were no houses near the bank, and we asked Moises where we were. "Survival camp. This way please."
There were several logs embedded in the mud that made a sort of trail up the bank and onto drier land, where a foot path was cut through an otherwise closed wall of young forest. Ten minutes into that and the canopy suddenly soared higher. "Jungle," said Moises. "Not virgin."
I guessed he meant secondary jungle, jungle that had previously been cut and had grown back. It was real jungle none the less, with tall trees soaring skyward, though there wasn’t much sky to be seen, only tiny patches between the foliage of the canopy. The air was humid and hot. In minutes I was as wet as if I’d been caught in a storm. Thick and thin vines hung from trees everywhere, and there was little ground growth, just a thick carpet of leaves and some young bushes and trees fighting for sunlight. Unexpected was the smell, a combination of fresh growth and decay, of living and dying, growing things and rotting vegetation. As we walked on the well-marked path I began to notice that every tree trunk had other vegetation living on it. Some had vines climbing on them, their fresh green leaves clinging to the bark in fantastic patterns; others were covered in thick moss or had air plants up in their branches dropping down 20, 30, 50 foot dangling roots that might have been the tendrils of octopii had we been in the ocean. Ants and insects were everywhere. Just stopping for a moment allowed me to see that the whole jungle floor seemed to be moving in tiny pieces.
"Pedro! Rapido!" It was Moises, interrupting my reverie. Chuck and Larry were already out of sight up a hill, and I hurried to catch up. A little while later we turned off the path and onto a narrower one, and a few hundred yards into that we came on a clearing with two buildings, both of them fairly small and low to the ground. Unlike most of the other buildings we’d seen near the river though, these were well built with thick planks painted Army green. One was a sleeping quarters for maybe up to a dozen men. The other was a small school house, but it wasn’t for children; this was a Peruvian Special Jungle Forces training center. The ground area around the buildings was well kept. Moises showed us the generator building behind the two larger buildings, and a latrine off a clearly marked path nearby.
There was no one else at the camp when we arrived and so we were free to look around. One wall of the schoolhouse was a sort of display of perhaps 30 stuffed animals that included a jaguar, an ocelot—a variety of smaller cats—a caiman, an anaconda, a tree-sloth, a couple of wild boars and a variety of turtles, lizards and fish, including several different colored piranhas. They were easy to identify with their narrow, meaty heads and the row of razor-sharp little teeth in their bulldog-like jaws. One yellow piranha had two-rows of teeth and Moises explained that the indigenous called that a yarawashi, though he added that much that we knew about piranhas was probably exaggerated. "They are no problem in the rivers. Only in small pools with not enough food. No hands in pools, no problem in the river."
I asked him where the kitchen was and he asked if I was hungry. I said no, I just wondered where the kitchen was. He explained there was none. "The kitchen is the jungle. It’s a training school for soldiers. Oh, and no television," he laughed.
He didn’t believe I wasn’t hungry, though, and took out his machete and walked to where Larry had put down the pineapples. He held one up by its stalk and snapped his machete, cutting off the sharp leaves, then snapped again and again and in 10 seconds had a perfectly cleaned pineapple ready. He handed it to Chuck by its stalk then did the same with the others. We asked Moises where his was and he laughed and disappeared down a path. We heard a whack, and he returned a few moments later with a long piece of sugar cane. He trimmed its outer hard skin expertly with his machete, then bit into its sweet core. "Cane," he said. "Like pineapple. The jungle is full of food."
Eating a whole pineapple while holding it’s stalk made it feel like some huge and dripping ice cream cone. Sugar slid down our chins and onto our hands. When we were finished we rinsed with water from a barrel outside the bunkhouse, then Moises took a bottle of alcohol from his bag and poured a little into our cupped hands and had us wash with that.
"Protection from insects that like sugar."
We did as told and wondered what his next trick would be. There wasn’t any. He had us leave our things and head back to the main trail and deeper into the jungle. He told us we were going to see a Shipibo curandera. "Shipibo," he explained, "Indian people that live close to Pulcallpa. Experts with ayahuasca. Not primitive."
We arrived at the woman’s house—a platform hut set apart from several others that made up the village, not far from a small running river, in about 15 minutes. She was a beautiful woman, strong and old, but when Moises told her what we wanted she said no, and no amount of pleading on Moises’ part would change her mind. We asked what she was saying and he explained that she’d told him we were dilettantes who had no business using ayahuasca.
She wasn’t entirely useless to us, though. She did let Moises barter for the use of two dugout canoes pulled up on the nearby bank for a trip to another curandero Moises knew.
With the help of two of her sons, who were also our canoe men, we got into the impossibly unsteady dugouts and began to head upriver. Moises told us to be still and they wouldn’t sink. I wasn’t certain: their sides were within an inch of the waterline, so the smallest motion would flood the boat. We traveled upstream perhaps half-an-hour to another village where we disembarked and walked up the bank to the home of someone named Alphonso. His home, like the Shipibo woman’s was set apart from the other huts in the village. A surprisingly fat woman surrounded by a handful of children told us Alphonso was out in his fields. Moises cajoled the woman until she sent one of her children to go get him and it wasn’t long before a bull of a man came walking out of the woods with two ramas of plantains on his shoulders. He wore raggedy clothing and an old painter's cap. His feet were bare, covered with small scars and thick calluses. But he had a radiant smile that split his face in half and showed a full set of teeth.
Moises greeted him like an old friend and told him what we wanted. As he did he made gifts of several of the items we’d picked up at the market: the black tobacco cigarettes, which Moises called mapachos, the aguar diente, the shotgun shells and some fish hooks and line. Alphonso took the presents with a grin and climbed the three-step ladder to his house, then told us to come back at eight that evening.
"Let’s go back to the training camp to rest," Moises suggested.
I started back toward the river, but Moises said the boys had already left and that we’d be walking this time, then started past Alphono’s house and onto a jungle path. It wasn’t very well used and Moises had to cut plants that grew across it. He pointed out trees covered in long spines, like thick porcupine quills with no bend that we were to avoid. There were muddy patches and places where large trees had fallen across the path that we had to clamber over. It was hot and sticky and there were plenty of mosquitoes and the jungle floor was frequently covered in tangles of exposed roots. There were several places were trees had been cut and served as single-log bridges over creek beds, and I slipped into the creeks more than once.
Along the way, Moises entertained us with a course in Jungle 101. He pointed out trees and bushes that were used for medicine, and cut several sections from a thick vine called pawfil chawki, then held them one at a time and had us drink the mineral water that dripped from the thin-straw-like tubes making up the vine’s meat. "Very good water. It will save your life. But don’t pick the wrong vine, it may be poison. Rule number one in the jungle: taste it. If it’s bitter, don’t eat it or drink it. If it’s sweet, eat or drink a little. Wait half-an-hour. If you’re not sick, go ahead and eat or drink."
He pointed out animal holes and tracks and droppings, a band of monkeys in the canopy overhead and several birds we would have otherwise missed. "Full jungle. You just need new eyes."
At one point just before we reached the Shipibo woman’s village where there was a single log spanning a 25 or 30 foot near dry creek bed that was probably 15 feet deep. There was a flimsy hand rail set up next to it but the moment you put your weight on it it gave way, so wouldn’t be much help at all.
Moises crossed first to establish it’s worthiness—to him it was just walking—then told us to follow, one at a time. Larry went first and though the log was narrow and rounded he was a terrific athlete and had no problem. When he reached the other side he turned and told me to just "put you chi in your feet and don’t look down. Just cross."
It wasn’t my favorite thing, but I managed, slowly, despite several near falls. Chuck was a little better than me but not much.
"We’re never going to do this at night," he said. "Especially stoned."
"I know," I answered.
The path from the Shipibo woman’s house was well used and easy walking. Back at the training camp Moises told us just to rest. He offered to make some tea if we wanted but told us that on days you drank ayahuasca you couldn’t eat after breakfast. "It interferes with the medicine," he said.
When we asked how we were going to manage the log bridges at night he said going would be the problem, but coming back after ayahuasca would be easy. "Ayahuasca makes the jungle your friend," he said. "It puts the jungle in your blood and lets you see in the dark. Don’t worry. No problem."
Despite Moises’ assurances, we insisted we leave early, while there was still at least a little light left to the day, and even then we moved slowly and carefully to avoid getting hurt. Moises thought we were hilarious and laughed at us the whole way.
We arrived at Alphonso’s before seven to find him at a small hut not far from the house where he was straining off a small amount of thick brown liquid from a big aluminum pot through an old shirt into a little pot. "Medicina," he smiled. "Bueno."
When the liquid was ready he covered the pot and carried it to his home. He invited us up the little ladder and offered us seats on small benches he’d put out for us. He told us we’d drink when the medicine cooled down and it was time.
I looked around the platform: there was a small walled off section that I figured for the bedroom, though there were also several white mosquito nets hanging in the open platform area as well. All of his childen were already sleeping.
The night bugs were awful and our repellents were worthless. Alphonso watched us for a few minutes, then laughed and promised that after we drank ayahuasca the insects wouldn’t bother us. Moises reiterated that we were not to be surprised if we got ill, and showed us where we were to go to vomit if that happened. He pulled a handful of hard lemon candies from a pocket and gave us each a couple to clean the taste out of our mouths if that happened. He also said that we might not like the taste of the medicine, but that we should drink all that we were given at one time.
Alphonso suggested an hour of silence before we drank and we sat quietly, listening to the sounds of nearby chickens and the rustle of night animals foraging in the brush.
When the hour was up Alphonso retreated to a corner of the house and returned with the small pot, a serving gourd, the aguar diente and mapacho cigarettes we’d brought, a small bottle he said had camphor and gasoline, another labeled Agua de Florida and a sort of fan made of leaves which made a percussive sound when shaken. He placed all of the articles carefully on the platform floor in front of him. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Si, professor," answered Moises.
Without any more fanfare, Alphonso lit a black tobacco cigarette and began to chant quietly. Moises had us form a semi-circle on the floor in front of him, although he didn’t join. "Watcher," he said, pointing to his eyes and then us. "Someone has to look out for you guys."
It was unsettling to realize that we were on our own with Alphonso but he reassured us that someone always had to watch if for no other reason than to make sure no one left the circle.
Alphonso ignored us and picked up the little pot. He took the lid off and blew smoke into it while he chanted. Then he filled the little gourd—it couldn’t have held more than four ounces, and passed it to Chuck. Chuck drank and made a face as he did, as if he’d just bitten into sour fruit, then passed the gourd back to Alphonso, who handed him the bottle of camphor and gasoline and told him to hold it to his nostrils and breath deeply. When he was finished with that Alphonso told him to cup his hands and then poured a little of the Agua de Florida into them and had him wipe his face with it. It smelled like sweet oranges, a cheap aftershave.
I suddenly found myself anxious. What did I know about these people. Yesterday I thought Moises was a smarmy little huckster. Had anything changed? Who was this fellow Alphonso? What the heck were we drinking anyway? For all I knew it was poison. Or even if it was an hallucinogen, what if I had a bad trip out in the middle of the Amazon?
I pushed those negative thoughts aside. Chuck drank. I’d drink, and when the gourd was passed to me I put it to my lips and did. The liquid was thick and warm, the consistency of spit, and it tasted like burned grapefruit infused with dank smoke. I nearly choked. I didn’t though, and inhaled the camphor and gasoline deeply when it was passed to me, then rubbed my face with the orange water. Its smell kept me from throwing up right then.
Alphonse was the last to drink. Afterwards, he invited us to each take a few of the black tobacco cigarettes, then he blew out the candles, putting us in a pitch dark. Nothing happened. We were just sitting in the dark, listening to Alphonso chant quietly to the rhythm of the leaves he shook. Then, suddenly and without warning, Alphonso leaded over the edge of the platform and began to vomit. I’d never heard a sound like the sound he made. His vomiting sounded like a rushing river washing through the jungle. It came in waves, louder and louder until it had the clarity of a mad spring, but it came from deep within him like molten lava making its way boiling up from the depths and exploding out of him. It drowned out all other jungle sounds, moving, powerful, thrilling; long after he could conceivably have anything left in his stomach to eliminate his rich sounds echoed off the jungle walls. I wondered if Chuck and Larry had heard the same thing I had.
And then suddenly I realized that I too was beginning to vomit. I lunged for the edge of the platform and let heave, though my own was much more ordinary than Alphonso’s.
Through with being sick, Alphonso began chain-smoking the awful cigarettes and had us do the same. We were told to make ourselves comfortable and we took positions near one another on the platform. Only Moises stayed alert, assuring us he would maintain watch over our external world. "Just relax and don’t try to see or do anything. Enjoy the night."
Alphonso changed the rhythm of his fan and along with it his chant. It was an eerie song full of Spanish and Latin and what sounded like Indian dialect, but it was somehow a clear and beautiful, repetitious, thrilling, powerful.
The night grew peaceful. The mosquitoes stopped bothering me. And then, suddenly, an image appeared before me, within me: A bird flying over show-crested mountains, a huge brown bird with dense wings tipped in white. I was looking at the bird from a great distance one moment, and the next I felt as though I was merging with it. I began to see from the bird's perspective: my sharp eyes picked out the most minute details from the landscape. I flew over a range of mountains, searching for something—I had no idea what. I only knew that we were travelling with such speed, such airlessness that in moments we had traveled halfway around the world. Oceans passed beneath us, islands were inspected and passed and great stretches of land appeared and disappeared behind us in what seemed an instant.
I found us slowing, peering into a stream: I could see blue and green fish in the shallow water moving slowly from our perspective. We were thousands of feet above a mountain stream and I could look into the stream and pick out fish scales: the colors were unimaginably rich! And then, suddenly we, the bird and I, tipped off the face of the earth. Down we raced! Nearly visionless we plummeted toward the stream! I don't remember any feelings of fear: I knew we were hungry and wanted a fish; we split the water with the tiniest of splashes and in an instant were headed skyward again, the fish in our beak split in half, unchewed, the pieces sliding into my stomach whole.
I thought it an unusual way to eat: the moment I did, the minute I thought of myself apart from the bird I was back in Alphonso's house, sitting on a platform with my friends. How sad that my flight was over. I tried to bring the image back, tried to fight my loss, but nothing except blackness filled my mind. No images, nothing. I wanted desperately to see with my new perspective!
Only when I let my desire go did the image return: suddenly I would be flying again, with the bird or some moments just below it, admiring the arrangement of feathers and realizing that each feather moved independently of the others; each hair on each feather seemed to be controlled by an act of will, by separate muscle. I'd never thought of a bird as so complex before; and then, of course, the moment I thought that way I was back at Alphonso's home with that incredible longing in my stomach.
Twice during the night I was able to direct the flight of the beautiful bird: the first was to see Clare—my estranged wife—in Los Angeles. Instantly on thinking of her I was in her room, hovering on her ceiling. I watched her making love with someone new and nausea flooded me—there was a saving grace in the jealous rage: my ego brought me back to the jungle hut, away from the unexpected and awful sight.
The second image was of our—my—apartment in New York now that Clare was in LA, and of our friends who were staying there while we were gone. There was a comforting quality in the scene, two friends sitting in the living room, reading. But something was different—I realized our furniture had all been rearranged. (On returning home, I found that it had indeed been rearranged.)
At one point, when I thought the vision of my bird was returning something happened, and instead of soaring, I found myself reduced in size and moving about a birch tree. The start of the image was like looking through a camera lens or a pair of backwards binoculars: I saw the birch at the end of darkened cone, opening up onto it, and then I traveled through the tunnel. The vision zoomed in on one of the birch's burls and I saw thousands of ants moving around. But I didn't just see ants. I saw ants in such detail that I could study the way they worked, how their bodies moved one section at a time, could see them holographically; red and black ants moving on the same burl, working side by side on different tasks. I was so close to them that I could count the hairs on their bodies. I was unimaginably small; so tiny that the rings on the burl seemed like vast plains before me.
There were other images too, but they were less clear. Some of them appeared and disappeared with such speed that I simply hadn't time to focus on them.
And then suddenly I heard talking. The others were saying they weren't having much effect from the drink and all they were feeling was ill. I protested but was overruled and in a few minutes we prepared to leave.
I threw up once more, this time effortlessly, after I'd stepped from the platform. We thanked Alphonso and left his clearing and started back to our camp. We walked in silence for some time, and then Chuck and Larry began to grumble that it had been an effectless night. I laughed to myself. It had been a most incredible night. Moises laughed too, and pointed out that none of us were using our flashlights, even over the log crossings. "You don’t need light," he said, "when the jungle is your friend."
Later that night while I slept I flew with my bird all over the world, seeing cities and mountains; pulling fish from the sea and resting on small ocean rocks; crossing vast dunes and peering into thunder clouds.
For my friends it had not been a visionary; I felt differently. I felt as if I’d been given an extraordinary glimpse into something possible that all the drugs and drinking I’d done had never been able to show me. I felt like me in my own skin and I liked it. I wanted to learn what Moises knew, what Alphonso knew. I knew I was a bumbler, would take a long time to learn, but I felt it would be worth it. This was what people were talking about when they said you know when you find your path.
That was my first extraordinary experience with Shamanism.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
NOTE: I'm going to try to get this thing written as a whole, but will deliver it in installments until I do. Here's the first installment.