Thursday, November 25, 2010

Well, Alright. It's Thanksgiving!

Well, it's Thanksgiving. Already, if you can believe it. Whoosh! and another year zips by. Tomorrow I head out to New York City, hometown, to see the family and reintroduce Marco and Madeleina to all the wonders: good street hotdogs, the American Museum of Natural History, FAO Schwartz toy store, the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, Central Park, our old building, Chinatown and on and on. My sister Reg will take Madeleina and Marco to a Broadway show and Madeleina to get a manicure/pedicure. We'll have a big family dinner on Sunday and they'll come to hear me talk at Webster Hall on Tuesday. We'll bump into old friends, make a couple of new ones. Have not checked the weather but Madeleina and Marco are definitely hoping it snows at least a little.
So I'm getting juiced up about it. It's gonna be really fast but that's okay. Eight years has been a long time to be away from New York. I've adjusted to Texas well, I think, and I love my work and our little house here, but damn, it ain't the city. No handball courts here. And no bike riding because there are no shoulders to speak of on the country roads around here and the speed limit is 60 mph on every two-lane blacktop. I always loved riding in the city. I was careful but carefree. Just look at the drivers I was coming up on to see if they were going to make a move on the wheel--hands get tense and they turn their heads before the move is made. So I found riding there fantastic. Not here.
The day is a bit strange. My wife/ex-wife Chepa's boyfriend decided to come in at the last minute to be with her and their two babies. So that group is at her house. Italo's Sara went to see her grandparents in Oklahoma and took little Taylor Rain with her, so she's up there. Italo, Marco and Madeleina are over here for turkey. We've never been this discombobulated for Thanksgiving before. It's okay, but a bit strange. I'll make sure the gang goes to visit Chepa later today so she doesn't feel forgotten about by them.
Of course, her having to cook a turkey has already produced at least a moment of hilarity when she called me to ask how to do it and what she needed to do to make stuffing and what else to serve with it. She'd bought the turkey but nothing else--it's not a traditional Peruvian dish so it's something I always made and she's clueless on it. So she's on the phone asking questions about the meal she's gonna make for her boyfriend. Ah, well. I wound up sending Marco over to her house with a couple of onions, a head of celery, stuffing, chicken stock, cranberry sauce and peas. She'll probably send him back for some potatoes, yams and a stick of butter.
There is lots to be thankful for this year. More than you want to hear. The kids are healthy and my granddaughter Taylor Rain arrived. The flesh eating staph infection in my legs didn't cost me my legs. My cars are running. My book came out and some people are actually buying it. Madeleina is playing Moondance on her flute. I'm going to see my family. I wrote great stories and won great awards. My mortgage managed to get paid every month. I had two great groups of people out in the jungle with me and had Madeleina along as well. Boots the wonderdog got his ears fixed and isn't crying anymore. I lost a few pounds. Now, if I could just end wars, prejudice, unfairness, the war on drugs, sickness, hatred, greed, sloth, and the rest of it, now that would be a really really really good year. So I failed a lot, I guess. But I'm still happy that things weren't worse.
And for you all? I hope you're near people you love and if you are that you remember to tell them and hug them and hold them tight, okay?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas Shopping, The Book

Well, in all selfishness, a friend of mine just ordered three copies of my Ayahuasca in My Blood from me that he plans to give out to friends as Christmas presents. Cool. He suggested I pass the word that they might make good presents. I think I've already suggested you all--or demanded that you all--purchase lots of books for Christmas. But here is the thing: If you order them from my website,, and pay via Paypal--Just use my site link or my email address--I can sign them to whomever you want and then send them out gift wrapped if you like. Madeleina will get a cut for gift wrapping them and getting them addressed and such. Just an idea.
Hope you're all having a wonderful late November day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New York City Next Friday!

Okay, well, come next Friday I am off to New York with Madeleina and Marco, two of my kids, for 5 days. We'll see family and friends we have not seen for 8 years and then on Tuesday, Nov. 30, I'll get to speak at the Ayahuasca Monologues at Webster Hall at 125 E 11th street. We'll be in the big room, which has been used by the Rolling Stones, among others, and I'm told to expect 300 plus people there. So I'm psyched. Get to talk about my book and my trips and all that jazz.
On the other hand, I dreamt that I was there last night and when I got ready to speak someone started hammering behind me. So I waited till they stopped. Then I started to speak and a band with two base fiddles began to play and then stepped in front of me.
So I went to the organizer and asked when I was going to actually get to speak. He told me not to take it so hard that I'd caused a massive exit of people from the hall but that I was just too boring. And no, I wasn't going to get another chance to speak.
I hope it goes better in the live version.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just a Quickie

So it's Friday evening and I'm cooking dinner. Last night we had thick pork chops sliced open to make a pocket that I decided to stuff with roast pecans sauteed in garlic and olive oil, then mixed with swiss cheese. Topped with nice gravy. Madeleina wouldn't have any of it. "Just take the stuffing out of I will be throwing up all over you," she said.
"Why? This is great stuff!"
"You might get away with that in New York, but not in my stomach."
Ah, well.
Italo came over today, had one of the chops and demanded to know why I didn't make them like that when he was growing up.
"Because you would have acted like Madeleina. You would have thought it too grown up and refused it. Like you refused a lot of stuff."
"Like what?"
"Like lamb vindaloo, like roast duck, like stuffed zuccini, like most fish, like calamari, like....."
"I get your point. But I would have loved this and now you cheated me out of 25 years of this and I'm gonna tell you that I resent it."
"Sure, buddy. If you really mean that, look in the back of the fridge. I think there are some eggplant stuffed shells you refused to eat just last year...."
"Oh, really? You think that's touche? That's nothing. Give me another pork chop and we'll talk."
Then this evening Madeleina announced that I'm a bad grandpa.
"Remember that time you picked up Taylor Rain and she was holding onto the chair and you picked her up and the picked up the chair? We were all screaming at you to stop..."
"Well she was bonding with the chair. Who was I to put a stop to that?"
"Right. Wrong. Don't even go there dad. I'm bleeding and that makes me right."
"No, it makes you invincible but not right."
"Look. All I'm saying is that you lean over the baby. Too much. And I don't care if you can't take criticism. I'm in the mood to give it. And if you don't like it I guess I'll just kill you while you sleep to put the rest of us out of our misery."
"You don't think that's going a little far on the hyperbole scale?"
"Whatever, old man. Just remember, you're getting slow and I'm getting faster every day. Won't be long..."
"Thanks for the notice, girl."
"It's only fair, dad. After all, you're the one who made me who I am..."
"Well, I'm a prey sort of way..."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Madeleina for the Millionth Time, but Never Enough

How many times have I written about my beautiful Madeleina on this blog. A hundred? It may seem like a lot to you all but it's never enough for me, given who she is.
Lately she's been crabbing about not wanting to go to school, about how all the kids there are too dumb to talk with, too narrow minded to hang around with, or just too boring. I think that just means she has no friends this year and hates that. So I'm trying to encourage her to see some good spots. I recognize that most of her peers have not had the upbringing she has. I also recognize that she really is smarter than most of those kids, and more well read, and more well traveled and all that. But, I remind her, there must be someone who's as clever as she, or someone who, like her, makes up songs. There must be someone who's funny.
Well, I'm sure there are, and I've put it to her to find that interesting trait that will make someone appeal to her so that she's got a lunch buddy or someone to hang with after school if I'm late. Not that she helps with the outlandish outfits she wears. Yesterday she wore a children's sheet that Chepa had made into a long halloween skirt, striped socks, and a blouse I never saw because it was covered with another skirt that she put over her head and let drape on her shoulders.
"I look fabulous, don't I?" she asked.
She looked ridiculous, but I told her she looked great. But that she should look in the mirror just to double check her choices.
"Dad, those kids are so dumb they won't even notice that I'm dressed like an insane old lady who has two skirts on."
"Darling, they might very well notice and then stay away, the way people tend to stay away from crazy old ladies."
She wore the get up anyway and came home complaining that she hated school because the kids are so dumb.
I let her rant.
This morning she came in to the office and lay down on the couch at 4:45 AM. I was up early and it was beautiful to have her sleeping just behind me.
At 7 on the dot she got up, stood in the middle of the room and announced, "I hate school. School is for losers..." and then she pointed a finger at me. "Losers like you."
And then she went off to get dressed.
When she came out she announced that the funny people at school weren't really funny, they just wanted attention. And the smart kids were smart, maybe smarter than her, but all they talk about were things she finds boring, like television shows and junk.
"What I want is to go to a school where people talk about being spies. I want to be a spy. I want a hook I can throw on top of a building and then climb up a rope attached to it. And I want to be a singer. A famous singer and secretly a spy. But then everyone would be jealous, wouldn't they? And they'd try to kill me. Assassination on stage, during a brilliant performance. Oh, god, why? Why do I have to die?"
There's just not many places a conversation can go after that. So I went off to make her a tuna sandwich while she practiced her dying swoon.

Another Ayahuasca Post

When I posted my last piece on ayahuasca, a friend who read it wrote to ask if ayahuasca was used to clean up the "kinks" in people's lives. I think it's more than that, much more profound than that. So here's what I wrote her in response.

The ayahuasca cleans you out physically, but only in that it eliminates parasites and worms and such--very common ailments in a place where sun-dried fish might get wet in a shower, then dried a second time, then wet again, then dried again---a hotbed for icky stomach stuff.
But ayahuasca primarily cleans out your emotional closet. It can make you relive the bad stuff you've done--I know you haven't done any bad stuff, but a lot of people have been petty, or lied to their girl/boy friends at some time. And it sometimes makes you relive those moments a hundred times--and then lets you eliminate them. And you also get to eliminate the angers and resentments you carry around, even if you're not aware of carrying them around. You just see them, deal with them, and then let them go.
Part of the way I think that's accomplished is because ayahuasca also lets you glimpse into the spirit of things: of trees, of the sun, of rocks, of a mosquito--lets you really glimpse the enormity of the whole damned shebang, or at least a much bigger slice than we normally get to see. And in that enormity, when we suddenly remember a former friend who we resent because they did something bad to us, well, it's so small in comparison to the really really big picture we're seeing at the same time that we no longer feel we have room to keep that resentment in our hearts, or those hurts in our soul. So we let them go.
Do people think it's for working out kinks in their lives? I don't know. Most of the people I deal with have never done it before but have an inkling that the world is as big as it is in their dreams and want to see that while waking. They, my clients, are also generally people in a crisis, whether they know it or not. People whose marriages are breaking up and they don't know why sometimes get to see that They are the problem and glimpse a way to fix themselves that might in turn fix their marriage. Others are at an age where they wonder if there is any meaning to living any more after the kids are gone and such. Others just want to see if there is a big picture at all.
Ayahuasca can be the key that opens those doors. Of course, the people have to make the changes themselves. Being shown alternatives doesn't just make your life better. It just means you see that you have choices where you didn't see them previously.
And for some people, like one fellow coming on my Feb trip who has already been with me, well, he just wants more of the kind of learning he was given by the medicine. He feels there is more to get. He was a big hunter and after the trip with me found he couldn't hunt anymore. Just lost his taste for taking a life once he saw, really saw and felt, the value of life. He's already an emergency room doctor, so he already valued life but didn't understand that the deer he was killing for food and sport were as vital to the whole skein of things as he did once he had the medicine.
So it's bigger than "kinks". It's really about affirming the hugeness and brilliance of the whole universe in everything that makes that up. It's about learning how small and petty we are, but at the same time how vital we are to that universe. It's about being allowed to see, or glimpse, the living spirit in everything. And something like that doesn't just work out kinks, it resets your soul.
At least that's what I think.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Shamanism and its Possible Effects on the World

A friend of mine recently posed four questions regarding shamanism. They're not really my style of question, so they made me think a little. Well, I read over the questions and answers today and think they're okay. Not brilliant, but worth a read if you've a few minutes. So here are the questions, with my answers below.

1) What impact on the world do you envision with this renewed interest in Shamanisitc/Toltec knowledge?

2) What results have practitioners seen in their lives through the practice of energy work, and Toltec/Shamanistic knowledge?

3) How do you feel about the blending of the indigenous world, and the world of modern man?

4) What do you see as the role of Toltec/Shamanistic knowledge and practice in the future?

1) Impact on the world is a big phrase. Yet not unattainable, as we've seen with the movements personified by Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson, as well as the movement toward (nearly) worldwide abolition of slavery, the women's rights movement, the gay rights' movement to name a few. In all of those movements, there were cathartic moments and catalytic personalities. The moments seized the attention of huge groups; the personalities were able to understand that someone needed to step to the fore and declare that those moments would become movements and not remain isolated events.
When we think about shamanism in the 21st century, we can see that there has been a build up of interest from the west in ancient traditions that can be traced, most logically, to the earliest work of Carlos Casteneda. But Casteneda never assumed the mantle of public leader of a shamanic movement. Nonetheless, interest in shamanic tradition has grown considerably during the 40 years since Don Juan Mateus was introduced to the Western world, and is getting close to a small but critical mass. Within the next few years there will be an opening for someone with the right credentials, courage, conviction and charisma to step to the fore and bring shamanism out of the shadows and into mainstream awareness. Tim Leary did it with mushrooms and then LSD, but his appearance was early and he was both marginalized and criminalized. The time is certainly more ripe today because of the number of people who have been introduced to shamanism since Leary's era.
What will their message be? If it were me it would be one of sharing the knowledge that there is life in everything. Which means intent, will, desire, memory. But that's easier to say than impart. But to me that is the central tenet of shamanism: Awareness that everything is sentient. More than that, that the sentience can be communicated with by broadening the bandwidths of our senses. For many of us, that's required the use of sacred plant medicine, and there is little liklihood of getting the whole world to utilize those medicines. But someone who knew how to impart that knowledge, someone who was a consummate shaman, could really bring that awareness to fruition, well, I think we humans would completely alter the way we interact with not just each other but with everything we come in contact with.
What change would that have on the world? It would be unimaginable. Just think of the flowers in your home and how they grow in a positive atmosphere, as opposed to flowers growing in negative spaces. Now imagine everything in the world reacting to that positive energy. And awareness of the sentience of everything almost automatically produces interaction, positive interaction with those things.
A lot of us already try to "grow the world" and "grow with the world", and there have been positive changes from that work. But we are all still moments. We need to make it a movement to have a lasting and powerful, and powerfully positive, impact on the planet.

2) What impact has shamanic work had on the lives of its practitioners? I can't speak for others, and when I speak for myself it should be noted that I'm probably the worst student of all time. That said, simple awareness of the life in everything has had an enormous impact on my life. There is a level of communication with things normally considered inanimate that is just fantastic.
For instance, my trucks love me being proud of them. I've one truck that has a short that keeps the "check engine" light on. It's been on since I bought it in 2006. Which means I can't pass my annual inspection. So when I go for the inspection, I fail. And then the truck and I have a talk and I explain that it won't be able to be a truck and do truck things if it doesn't let me pass that inspection. So I ask it to please shut the light off at some point during the 30-day grace period a failed-inspection gives you to repair the vehicle.
And my truck, understanding that it wants to be a truck, and not a lawn ornament, has always responded by shutting the "check engine" light off within a couple of days of the failed inspection, just long enough to pass inspection, at which point, generally while I am driving away from the inspection station, the light comes back on and stays on for another year.
But in the course of a day there are probably a dozen things attributable to shamanic practice that occur. Parking spaces that open up at the right second, freelance work that appears out of the blue at exactly the right time, things like that. Now, the other side of the coin is that you can't be asking for things that benefit you directly. I can't ask to sell a million copies of my book, or for the spirits to bring the perfect woman into my life. Those are selfish things and shamanism and selfishness do not mix well. Other than the car insepction, of course.
On other levels, the practice, however imperfect, has helped allowed me to make the best of a bad family breakup and turn it into a wonderfully positive experience for all involved. Not perfect, but still full of a whole lot more love than anger and resentment. And I don't think I could have helped make that come about without that shamanic practice.

3) Blending the indigenous shamanic world with out modern world? I think there are pitfalls. I think there are problems when westerners raise simple healers to the position of guru. I have never met a real curandero, a real shaman, who thought they were anything more than doctors who worked with spirit helpers and the spirits of plants and other things to effect healing on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues affecting their patients. So telling them they are amazing beings for being able to make it rain, or to stop raining, for instance, can confuse them, can throw them off balance. Add to that relatively enormous sums that westerners pay to use those curandero's medicines or to study plant medicine with them, and you can really throw off the balance of a healer's life. And you can throw off the balance of whole communities which have always depended on that fisherman/curandero who might no longer have time to tend to their needs now that he or she is in such demand by westerners.
There is also the positive: when westerners show respect and are willing to pay real money for the work of a local healer, that generates interest in learning to heal within that community. Many healers now have several apprentices where just five years ago they had none.
Next, there is also the negative of westerners coming back from indigenous or mestizo areas of Central and South America thinking they have shamanic knowledge and trying to pass it on when they have learned nothing, and so have nothing to pass along to their students.
On the other hand, I think there are enough honest western students working with shaman in Central and South America--people who are also aware of their impact on the communities with which they work--that I hope and trust that the wheat will separate from the chaff.
There really is no going back. I was certainly one of the first to talk about ayahuasca use in Peru--not the first, but the first who wrote an accessible article in a national magazine (High TImes, June 1986, I think) about ayahuasca, and I've had to live with whether that was a good or bad thing ever since. How it turns out, well, we'll see. I hope it turns out positively for most involved.

4) The role of shamanic knowledge in the future? That's not something I've ever spent time on. I think that once a person is aware of the life in everything, they can begin to access the spirit of everything. And once they can do that they can interact with those spirits. I'm talking about the spirit of the creek, the bricks in your house, the hundreds of spirits roaming your kitchen. This universe is full full full of life and life force. The roll of shamanic knowledge for us westerners introduced to those spirits is to spread that knowledge, make communication easier. And if we can do that--a big task, no doubt--then the way people interact with the world and the spirits of the world and universe will change, automatically, from one of dominance to one of cooperation. And when we, mankind, begin interacting with the world, rather than trying to dominate it, well, I think mankind will be better off. The world and its spirits don't really care if we do, for the most part. Trees will be here long after we're gone, and so will stones and bricks and clouds and the moon. So it's really up to us to take an interest if we are to make the friendship of those spirits. And thus far, for most of us throughout mankind's short history on this planet, that effort has not been made. Which has left us losing out on so much we might have learned. Who knows what we have missed simply by not asking a plant what benefit it might have for mankind, rather than saying "tree, chop it and burn it for fire."
I think the universe has all the secrets of the universe. And our arrogance in trying to continually conquer the universe rather than communicate with it, has kept us from being taught those secrets. And how delicious they might be!