For 3 months the Canto Luz chakra lay dormant waiting for us. The clearing work was done in November on lands of our neighbor. It was not that Canto Luz has no land for planting. Rather, we are guardians of primary forest and our neighbour’s once agricultural land is more ecologically suitable for food forests. (In Peruvian Spanish chakra means a cleared space used for growing food).
The first time I saw the land, I gulped. As if the jungle was creeping back in, the wild-plants were growing again, and there was a lot of woody debris to navigate. The task of planting Canto Luz´s Food Forest was going to be tough. We would place over 300 plants with 32 different species of fruit, vegetable, flower, medicine, bean, dye and fiber bearing plants in a span of just 2 weeks.
Come rain, shine or insect, the foundations for a food forest would be born.
To be charged with so much life is not something I take lightly. The ecological toll for clearing land, as well as the life of all the baby trees is serious business. I thought the rainy season would pass fast this year. El Niño always brings unpredictable weather, especially in Peru – droughts here, floods there. Our part of the amazon is wet in February, but the last strong el Niño year rains were short and there was drought. This year I worried we were too late to plant the trees.
But we set-up carefully. Not only do we use ecological principles and design practices, but we also welcomed a group of volunteer professionals to help us plant.
Our volunteers Hannah, Vince and GaChing arrived first, followed by Shane. Along with these volunteers Canto Luz local workers were busy helping to remove leftover woody debris so we could walk unencumbered through the plot. Our food forest is about a ½ hectare, which sounds big. It is actually “human-sized”, manageable with just a few pairs of hands and lots of sweat.
Ecologically we planned this food forest to manage soil. Forest soil in the Amazon is tricky and has a fertility that deceives. Voracious growth of plants, abundant water and beating sun are not all that they seem: nutrition for growth is locked up in the plants themselves and only released in a complicated cycle of decay. Here a cleared area has a couple of years of fertility, but if you don’t protect and build soils, a farm will fail or require chemical inputs. No thanks.
When we cleared, we didn’t burn. High oxygen burning, common to this part of the amazon, releases vital minerals like a big bang, and scorches all bacteria and fungal networks that help with nutrient cycling. When rain comes the nutrients are washed away, leaving empty sands and clays, and no top-soil to grow life.
As we cleared we left green-plant material on top of the soil right where it lay. The idea of this “green mulch” is to slowly decompose and maintain water in the soil. When the powerful Equatorial sun comes after the rainy season, we hope it will do just that.
We also utilized woody material. We have made hugelkulture-like beds of large sticks that over the next several years will decompose with termite action. Under the weight of green material that we will place there these piles will become a repository for black soil… one day at least – we just have to be patient. How patient? We are not sure. It’s a theoretical experiment we are basing on the black- organic rich soils (Tierra del monte) that are found around decaying tree logs in the jungle. These wood piles also provide spaces for small creatures to set up home.We did not pile all of our woody material because there was a lot of it. Some of it was burned in small piles, and the ash we saved and put in our aging compost pile with local Guinea pig manure, goat manure, and humanure. In a year this will be lunch for the hungry tropical trees.
Then we got busy planning. Vince, a soil expert, helped us map the soil at the chakra. We found there was mostly suitable soil, but quickly ran into a challenge – nearly half of the chakra was water-logged for part of the year, meaning that most species would wither and die from too much water. The question was whether to make a canal and try to remove water. In the end we decided to favor the water as it is. We planted palm fruits to mimic the watery palm groves found throughout the jungle, and would plant other local water-loving species, too. Nature knows, just follow.
We were ready to find the plants – Sourcing plants is no problem here as this region is garden central! We visited the local reforestation organization ARBIO to get advice and find plants – frijol de palo (a nitrogen fixing bean tree), moringa (the superfood salad green) and the tasty fruit trees cacao and copoazu (a local relative of cacao!). Luckily through our talks, we learned it may actually be (weather cooperating) the perfect time to plant. We hope for rain.Then we went to the local market and found even more trees and shrubs. Achiote for red dye and smudging… well-known fruits like avocado, starfruit, pineapple, mango, passionfruit, lemon and orange… as well as local fruit specialities like anona (DELICOUS!), araza, casharana, bread fruit, vitamin-c rich camu camu, and the cheesy flavoured noni fruit, which is very healthy. We also found flowers like toé, and medicinal plants like coca, tobacco, turmeric, ginger and lemon grass.
Meanwhile we visited our neighbours, and in the native community of Puerto Arturo we found yuca and bananas. Mariluz, Canto Luz staff, helped us find two types of wild taro root – this delicious tuber in the araceae family is boiled and becomes starchy just like a potato. We also were able to plant local varieties of cucumber and pumpkin.
Our favourite addition to our plant list however was planted by a wild-gardener. Imagine our surprise when in the middle of the chakra we found papaya growing! Who did it? It turns out the tayra, a wild weasel relative and omnivore, has a taste for ripe papaya, and while roaming the Amazonian countryside it defecates papaya seed from its previous meals! This happened through our chakra evidently, and we hope it will come again and again and again.
When we were ready to start the planting we put up a tent to protect the tools and compost. The compost was a mix of gathered forest soil collected from a rotting log, and types of manure and charcoal. We were ready to plant. Using our tree map we staked out the tree locations, planning for their eventual height, canopy size and maturation time.
But it had not rained for nearly a week.
The work was so hot, and we agreed that even by starting work in the early morning we couldn’t imagine putting new plants into soil under such hot sun. The thought made us all take a swig of water and ponder hard. The best plan was to start in the evening.
It was a good choice – Imagine the joy of beginning work hours before sunset when all of the sudden a gentle, cool rain begins. The new plants shone brilliant green, especially while we sang songs for them as they entered the ground.
We finished planting 3 days later in perfect timing because each day it rained. The rain allowed our freshly dug plants to drink, and set their roots in. Throughout the days, they each seemed perky with hydration, and some of the banana plants even started sending out leaves.
Now that we have finished planting, our next steps will be to continually care for this chakra until the plants age and plan other activities in relation to this work. It has been a long time coming but we will be also dedicating these fruit trees to our funding donors who offered support in the early day of Canto Luz. It is a dream and a promise come true. It is good to complete.
The day before we finished all our work we made an Andean despacho with the help of Juan’s father and Q’ero nation resident Lorenzo. When Lorenzo asked what we named the chakra, I told him, “se llama Los Nietos – it´is called the grandchildren”, and then I recalled a conversation I had with a neighbour. The neighbor asked why we did not plant faster growing food crops like rice or corn, and instead fruit trees that could take years to produce well. The reality is a fruit tree project is one for future generations. Of course we expect to eat from it, but the best years will be down the road. “Los Nietos” is quite literally for the grandchildren – both human and animal.
So, here is to food that feeds the future, and also to many more years of good work in this chakra with Canto Luz! We hope you can come visit. The papaya should be giving fruit in a few months… but you may have to share with the tayra!
Juan shares the story of creation of his painting ” Yemanja”, his inspirations, experiences of live painting during music festivals and, of course, his plans for Visionary Artist Retreat in Canto Luz.
As part of our preparation for the June two week retreat with Juan Carlos we have been having many conversations over Skype. The last time we met, I asked Juan several questions that some of our social media followers asked about Juan’s work and also about the Artist retreat.
– If the icaros (medicine songs/chants that are sung during the ayahausca ceremony) are an expression of the plant frequency through sound, how can you express same frequencies or messages through image?
JC: At the beginning, when I just discovered the plant medicine, and heard for the first, second, third time the icaros during the ceremony I began to feel the songs as tiny color dots growing, turning into fractals and very high energies. In the context of ceremony it is very important to understand that the icaros have the power to move energy, alter the vibration of our body and spirit. In the visions that came at that moment I realized that those colored dots were transformed into worlds and I was within those worlds. I eventually discovered that all these worlds are within me and I was vibrating within my own being. And so I could see how the plant songs, and their vibrations, translate through the sound into the image.
– Can you name some of your influences, not only in the world of plants, but perhaps artists or schools that have affected you?
JC: One of the biggest influences on my art is the Renaissance and its’ triangular composition. Through learning with plant medicine I have realized that the triangles are portals to the divine, both to the cosmos (upright) as to the Mother Earth (inverted). During the Renaissance they were shaping these triangles through the positioning of divine characters like the Virgin Mary at the center and the angels to the corners creating a triangular shape, and there are also studies of the “Last Supper” which shows the use of these triangular shapes. And so it began to influence my own composition, but more with shamanic themes, as I started making paintings with mother ayahuasca or the shaman in the center and animal and plant spirits as the sides of the triangle.
My art school (Escuela Superior de Formacion Artistica: Eduardo Meza Saravia) influenced me a lot in the sense of teaching me how to use the human anatomy. With art school models, I learned to draw faces, hands and nudes, which can be seen reflected in my art.
– In your paintings there are several influences of North American cultures such as the eagle. Could you share a little bit about this connection between the North and the South?
JC: The connection with the North or with other cultures has begun following the exchange of knowledge I had with people from other countries who had come to the Amazon following the interest in my art. I could feel their and energy, the energy of other cultures and ancestors, and within these energies came spirit animals like the eagle.
I felt that all of nature, all of the Earth is vibrating with energy and there is medicine in every place, in every plant, that not only the jungle, but every place on Earth has a guardian spirit.
I also want to tell you about the time I was in Quebec. Where the Saint-Lawrence river enters the mountains, that is precisely where beluga whales come to live. I was invited there along with other artists of different styles from around to create a piece of work inspired by that place. We got a tour of the city and a cruise along the canal visiting different places. Because of the sensitivity I have developed, I could feel the spirit of the water speaking to me. So the next day I decided to meditate on the canal bank. I was there for 2 or 3 hours and at some point, when I closed my eyes, I started to feel the presence of the whales and started to hear sounds, very particular tunes, like icaros. Very subtle sounds of feminine energy. I continued focusing on these beautiful songs and begun to see the worlds in the water with temples and castles. I realized that there are also a lot of medicine and many teachers, just like in the jungle, and that there are guardians and spirits of each tree, that each animal has its medicine and its way of sharing it with us.
To me all this was new, I was not under the influence of any substance, I was just meditating, but yet I could feel the presence of all the teachers of the aquatic world. That was how I began to create the idea for my work.
On the third night when I went to bed I had a very strong dream about the beluga whales in which I observed that the body of each whale turned into a mermaid. I was in awe. There were many female energies and among them were infants, children, youth, adults and elderly women. Some of them played music instruments while others danced. It was a whole aquatic tribe that lived in the body of beluga whales.
When I woke up I could relate this dream a lot with the Amazonian legends of yacoruna (water people).
It spiked my curiousity and I started asking the locals if they knew any stories from their ancestors about sirens or mermaids. They did not give me any exact reference to sirens, but yet they told me stories of goddesses of the water appearing during the time of the full moon. And just within three days of then there would be a full moon! That’s how I decided to paint the full moon and the female guardian spirits and eventually call the painting “Yemanya” – the goddess of the sa.
The painting “Yemanya” was fully influenced by the North and was inspired by the meditation close to the water and the connection with these beautifully singing animals.
– Is there a message in every one of your paintings?
JC: Yes. Every painting I do is born with an essence and a message inside: stories that my teachers have told me, my persnal experience with the Amazonian medicine, ayahuasca; there are experiences of dreams like my work “Yemanya”; prophecies of different cultures that I’ve been collecting from other indigenous groups. As in the prophecy of “the Eagle and the Condor” these are the times in which we live are for sharing our knowledge in order to find the balance as humanity. This is a prophecy which is already happening and I have great faith that it will continue developing.
– You do a lot of painting during big events. How does your traditional background combines with these new ways of producing art?
I do live painting at electronic music festival. At first it was a bit strange for me. Because when. I used to paint with the icaros, I had time to sing them, feel them, listen and then paint. With electronic music I wondered: What is going to come out of this? So I just allowed myself to flow and I discovered that electronic music also has its own kind of energy and so I create my art these festivals without any drug or hallucinogenic substance.
This type of work is more spontaneous because I dont have as much time as in my own workshop, I only have one or two hours a day to work on my painting because I have to flow with the music which is playing in that particular moment. The resulting painting reflects the energies that are more geometric and “electronic”, you could say also: much faster and more explosive! These paintings are different from the works that I created in my workshop and that have more detail, patience, studied anatomy, with more specific forms, accurate portraits of animals…
– In June 2016 you will be leading the Master Class and Visionary Artist retreat in the Peruvian Amazon, what are some of your intentions for this retreat?
JC: My intention is to share the different ways in which I have learned to look for inspiraton in order to create my art. One of these ways is the master plant hiponbequene, which is used by Shipibo people of Peruvian Amazon. This plant helped me to raise sensitivity to everything around me, be it close to nature or in the city, the hiponbequene helps me to transform my feelings into a visual expression in my artworks.
This is why hiponbequene is referred as the Artist’s plant, it is a plant that sparks creativity within the human being.
– What activities would you like to share during these two weeks?
JC: The first activity of the retreat will be a physical cleanse to prepare the body and the soul to receive the teachings that lie ahead.
For this cleanse I typically use the tobacco plant, which has many ways of use: plant baths, the purge and finally the extract of tobacco, which we call “chocolate in my culture. Each of these methods has its own ways and time of the day for its use. I give people a choice between these three methods.
In this way participants will clean not only their body but also prepare the mind and spirit, as the tobacco is a powerful plant that helps to re-order our energy circuits.
Besides personal creative time, there will be creation of a collective group work, where each of the participants will bring their own experience. We will also use natural objects, such as tree bark or rocks, to paint in order to integrate and caputure the experience during the ceremony.
I also bring meditation as part of these activities, to which I add different elements such as sounds of musical instruments, songs and aromas or sometimes only with the sounds of nature such as rain, wind and birdsong, learning what are the places or times when we can open the doors of our perception and thus find the inspiration that the artist lives looking for.
The purpose of the meditation exercises is to awaken the senses to learn to perceive the vibrations of the world around us. The retreat will be the perfect time for doing so because we will be working with plants teachers such as ayahuasca and hiponbequene, which make us more sensitive to everything around us. They also allow us to explore and develop new forms of perception through all of our senses.
Another purpose of these meditations is to eradicate the false belief that one needs to take ayahuasca to find inspiration every time one wishes to paint and express themselve artistically. Contrary to what many people think, I dont drink ayahuasca every time I want to paint. Many times I am out of my home in other countries and its enough for me to just sit near a river or to watch the sunrise in order to find the inspiration. I want to demonstrate and teach the participants many tools to discover the inspiration that lies within us.
– Since many people who have expressed interest in attending the retreat are artists who already have painting experience, what are some of the technical elements of your work that you could share?
JC: What I could teach would be a fusion of everything I have learned from plants, things like the use of white, black and fractals to bring a sense of very unique contrast to my visual works. I have learned to use the mixture of these light and dark colors to create the effect where the sense of luminosity can be observed with 3D glasses that help to perceive the depth of the work. I consider this new technique a part of my very own art and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to share it.
– Is there any message you would like to add to all those people who are interested in attending this retreat?
JC: I know that that everyone will come with a lot of desire to learn and I personally commit to deliver the best of myself and my abilities to share and teach. I want to remind the participants to feel confident that these worlds of plant teachers are medicine and pure inspiration that has been used by our ancestors since long time ago. Thanks to these plants our ancestors have been able to learn to connect with the Universe, with all those elements to which today we do not pay much attention, the wisdom of Mother Earth and its elements such as fire, air, animals, plants. They are our teachers and they also have a mission in this Universe to teach us to live together in harmony. My message to everyone who comes to share this time with us is to let them know they are welcome and that the wisdom of the plants is also here to teach us the way to continue our journey in this life, to be a better human being, to share our knowledge, in this case art, and to create truly from the heart.
Visionary Artist Retreat with Juan Carlos Taminchi will take place June 1-15th, 2016 at Canto Luz Centre for Research and Cultural Preservation in Peruvian Amazon. For more information you can visit the website with Artist Retreat Details
Or contact us directly by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
My Amazon journey through mercury poisoning to restored health.
Nothing converts you into an environmentalist and a naturopath quicker than your own illness. A journey of working in contaminated area of the Amazon have taught me a lot about environmental pollution, social and economic effects of illegal gold mining, devastating effects on human population of Madre de Dios region of Peru and took me on a joyful ride of at home chelation that took my levels of mercury from whooping 9.35 ug/g to 0.7 ug/g.
I will try to keep this post as personal as possible, since I often share relevant information and links publicly anyways. I will share some of my resources and methods, but in no way I claim to operate as a health practitioner or advisor. This is strictly my own personal story and experience.
When I first moved to Puerto Maldonado, region of Madre de Dios, from Cusco, Peru to begin the construction on Canto Luz I have not yet heard about the devastating effects of mostly illegal gold mining that is happening in the region. Being a vegetarian at the time, I quickly realized that living in a small jungle town without an access to my own kitchen the only available food for me in restaurants would be rice and potatoes, so I decided to add fish to my diet.
There are so many amazing Peruvian fish dishes – sudado, patarashka, ceviche…and the Amazon rivers are full of delicious fresh fish – paco, dorado, paiche, doncella… It all sounded so good that I went ahead and had fish on a daily basis every time I would come out to town from the forest, at least every 3-4 days. That continued for at least 6-8 months.
At that time I didn’t know that 9 out of 15 most consumed fish species in the region carried extremely high levels of mercury that is being dumped into the local eco-system as a result of mostly illegal artisanal gold mining activity.
If you have ever been to Puerto Maldonado then you also know that it is impossible to spend more than a week in the city without witnessing gold miners and everything that has to do with their activity – there are gold buying shops everywhere around the city, stores selling equipment necessary for mining – giant tubes and diesel water pumps, there are makeshift sludge sifters set up all along the river Madre de Dios, even though the biggest mining regions such as la Pampa or Huayepetue are far away from the city.
“The small mines look like deep pits in forest clearings, up to 10 metres deep with debris and mud at the bottom. The miners cut down a small stand of trees, dig away the top layers of soil and blast away at what remains with high-pressured water. They transfer the resulting slurry into an oil drum and add mercury…
The mercury binds to any gold in the mud, which the miners filter out with a pan. The nuggets are dried and heated, releasing even more mercury into the air as a vapour.” (LINK)
I started paying more attention and began doing research online. The first article that really sparked my worry was reading about Carnegie Institute Mercury research project (LINK)
By that time, summer 2014, I was definitely feeling something was up – I felt very moody and often depressed, in spite of my life being pretty awesome at that moment, I had very little energy, often having hard time completing the work tasks of the day, “reactive” and “overly-sensitive” could have been the words to describe me.
I decided to do a hair mineral analysis test through Canalt lab in Ontario, Canada. The results came back shocking – 9.35ug/g mercury concentration (with 1ug/g being considered within acceptable range). I tested Canto Luz ground water in the Canadian Lab ( clean results!) And I also tested several of Canto Luz employees and even a cat to determine whether it was safe to be where we are. After the results were analyzed, the conclusion was taken that the source of contamination was fish and as long as it is not consumed everyone will remain safe and healthy.
After doing more online research I realized that at these levels of mercury toxicity I would be looking at fetal brain development complications if I were pregnant, Alzeimers and Parkinson disease for myself later on and I wont even mention kidney, liver and other organ damage.
The more I looked around the more I could see it happening around me. There is absolutely no awareness of danger of mercury among population of Madre de Dios region. A flat out denial of such reality is often chosen, since gold mining is a significant income provider in the otherwise cash poor region. Even in full knowledge of health risks local communities don’t have many opportunities to avoid eating contaminated fish or consume river water. We are talking here about riverside indigenous and mestizo communities whose staple foods are river catch, wild game and small crops of yucca and plantain.
Soon after meeting Claudio, one of Canto Luz first employees, he introduced me to his youngest out of 4 children – 3-year-old son Shosho. The boy was very little and hid behind his mother’s skirt looking away from me. When I tried to say Hello and speak to the child, Claudio said: “ Oh, Señora Mariya, he doesn’t speak yet, he is a little bit slow ( retrasado is the word Claudio used in Spanish).
This turned out to be a common story that I witnessed time after time when meeting local young mothers with their toddlers.
Without going into never-ending statistics, these are just some of the striking facts:
8 out 10 people in Madre de Dios region have levels of mercury elevated between 5 and 500 times the norm. The most vulnerable population, Women of Child Bearing Age, had the highest average mercury levels.
Estimated 42 tons of mercury gets dumped into the aquifer each year by approximately 30.000 (!!!) artisanal gold miners working in the area
60% of the species of fish sold in in Puerto Maldonado had mercury levels that exceeded international mercury concentration limits for fish.
In 2010, Peru’s former Minister of the Environment, Antonio Brack Egg, estimated that miners had already cut down over 370,000‐acres of forest. By now, 2015, this number has grown exponentially.
The pop-up mining towns are self-governed outlaw territories where police doesn’t set a foot. Justice over thieves, or anyone who might be even suspected of theft, is often performed in the most brutal and murderous manner as to set an example to the whole community.
Every mining settlement is surrounded by similar makeshift brothels where girls, often as young as 13, work in deplorable conditions. Some of them come on their own will from other regions of Peru, usually in secret from their families, but some young girls from indigenous communities are in one way or another forced to work by people running these “night clubs”
The deeper I went in the more hair-raising facts I was discovering. In summer 2014 the environmental disaster stroke close to home – the matter became a very personal issue, a battle for my own health.
Luckily, I had a good support of people close to me who were knowledgeable nutritionists, alternative medicine practitioners and just inquisitive folks. After lots of research online and quite a few trials and errors I had designed a chelation protocol that I followed for a year on and off.
I used 5 boxes of Medicardium EDTA chelation suppositories.
1 full dropper of cilantro tincture followed 20 minutes later by 15-20 grams of chlorella mixed into my daily smoothie that always contained healthy whey, 3-4 Brazil nuts (source of selenium) and other immune boosting foods and antioxidants such as wild blueberries, sea buckthorne oil, pine bark extract, ashwaganda…Chia seed for high fiber content that helped to get all that stuff moving through intestines.
I supplemented all trace minerals that were taken out by chelation protocol. Thorne Citramins II were my choice.Daily Multivitamin with full spectrum of B vitamins. Pro-biotics. Exercise and sauna for regular detox.
I started noticing improvements right off the bat. However, completing the whole process in a slow and fully integrated and supported manner took me a year.
Yesterday, I received my test results and saw the proof of my efforts not being in vain. What a relief!
Now, looking back at the past year, what has it brought into my life?
I have become a fervent speaker on the subject of mercury contamination and dangers of illegal gold mining in Peru. I have shared this information personally with our guests who can witness and connect to the beauty of the Amazon that is being destroyed. Watching people literally dying for gold.
The medicine work that we do in Canto Luz helps to awaken humanity and open people’s eyes to the atrocities that we collectively perform on Nature, of which we are one, in our greed for Power (money and gold being attributes of it).
I have gotten my personal physical and mental health on track. I learned about what my body and my soul need to strive. I personally motivate and encourage everyone I meet on my path to invest into themselves, to be the highest manifestation of their spirit’s creation.
I have gotten into a regular exercise practice that includes yoga, complex movements and kettle bell strength training. As I want my body to last me well into the old age, so I can continue to work, create and share my energy.
Canto Luz continues to promote more sustainable economic activities in the region ( such as Brazil nut harvest and product development).
We continue to physically remove gold miners off Canto Luz land and are in ongoing legal battles in order to hold on to our 1500 acres of land that we protect from deforestation and contamination.
Canto Luz forms alliances with neighbouring landowners in order to collectively strengthen land management and reduce invasions by miners.
If you are reading this blog you might know me personally, you may have been following my posts online, may be I am a friend of a friend. In any way, I am a real person that you may have a connection with, I am not a far removed symbol of third word starvation and destruction.
I could be You. Canadian Tar Sands could be your Amazon. Round Up could be your mercury.
A reflection on terror and longing, and finding a way through the heart
I want to share my personal journey of this year working with Canto Luz. It is something hard to sum into words, and so intimate, that I feel vulnerable. But vulnerability is some of the best medicine – also a big part of working with medicine – and it means a lot to me to share.
The jungle is full of life, every tiny inch has something moving. When I first arrived more than a year ago, loneliness felt impossible since all around me was teeming with creatures and vibrant with an almost seething life-force. Even spirits live in these wild places, and will visit you if you ask, as Mariluz taught me how.
As a botanist, ecologist and gardner, to me, the jungle is the epitome of fascination. But it soon became more than that. As weeks turned to months, the more time I spent here, the more it became a mirror. Weeks of being alone with just one or two other people started the process of unpeeling from myself, as the jungle, in all of her power and wisdom, began reflecting me my most inner longings and terrors.
In the jungle, I experienced the tiring yet exhilarating dance of duality within my being – played through light and shadow, past and future, body and spirit, apathy and action, female and male, and wisdom and ignorance. Everyday became a new lesson on how to unite these desperate forces. And in the jungle, there are no places to run to that don’t lead you back to yourself. So I faced myself, I faced my terror and delight. And I tried to find the center.
Terror. I say terror, and I want to explain what I mean. It’s a strong word, but it’s important to describe. Terror is any pure fear of what is unknown, unseeable. It is also the clawing sensation we carry, which from the inside feels as if something is terribly awry. Sometimes it is, depending on perspective. Terror is the realization of the unbridled, frenzied destruction of the earth and people. Terror is the hunger of longing that both eats and devours the self, the other, and nature. It is the unprepared meeting the great mystery, complete with dancing demons and a dose of Self hatred.
I come from the place where prairies flank the foothills of the Rockies. To describe my childhood relation with natural world, I would use the word “simple”. The landscapes I knew growing up were open sky, forests of pine, spruce and aspen, the roar of 80km/hr chinooks and deafening quietness of winter – that sound of a forest blanketed by 4m of snow. It was like this for 20years, until I moved to the coast to study ecology and ethnobotany.
Seven years ago I studied in an undergraduate research station in an isolated part on the west coast of Canada. This was one of the first conscious times in my life when my relationship with nature become anything but simple, and explainable through science. I was struck by the terror of wildness. Here it was projected from me as the ocean.
That day, I went out on a boat in fine weather, on a small 4m vessel with outboard motor. We moored to gather information about an intertidal section where algae was exposed to air. It was summer solstice in the northern hemisphere and the tides low. We took a break to enjoy the water in the sun before we began to head back, but it was at this point the weather changed. Wind, direct from the open Pacific Ocean picked up. The waves grew. The color shifted as blues became grays.
And the ocean become bottomless.
Of course, we were not going to die, not that day. We made it safely back to the station. At the helm was my wild-research partner whose eyes became alive like the sea as she navigated roiling waters, determined. Though as we docked, what did not leave me was the sense of terror and peril – every hungry mouth of the wild sea snapping at me. Terror and fantasy to consume me alive. The raw power of nature, and the raw power of my story and fear, still miles from easy help.
The mother ocean is at once both creation and destruction. How can that be? Duality is one of life’s great paradoxes. The jungle has also brought these teachings to me. The jungle, for me, is like the ocean. And if you have ever been here during an immense storm, or, on the most serene morning at dawn … You will experience just some of her extreme faces. She is both the cradle of life, and the chopping board of death and decomposition. Sometimes, in the isolation when my guard was down and my layers peeled back, she even showed me how I am the cradle and how I am the knife.
In the jungle, in the wildness. I became the longing and the terror.
My terror and my longing only started to grow. Loneliness become devouring, and devouring became loneliness. To suffice, I made elaborate despachos that I learned in the Andes from Juan´s and discovered I spoke to trees. What was once considered a crazy myth inside my culture became reality. Spirits walked through my room. Trees talked back. Plants told me secrets, laughed at my ignorance and let me console in them. And all the while, as I went deeper, I hungered for the movement on the projects of my heart – work on sustainability initiatives in the region. I planned and made meetings. I hoped to make friends in the city when I had off-days to go and restock supplies, wondering as I knew, where I could find more a sense of belonging and people to work with in a team. When few appeared, and when meetings were cancelled, weeks turned to months and I retreated to the forest. The forest in the dungeons of my mind became both solace, and place of devouring. Friend and enemy. Just like me.
The forest became personified, anthropomorphized, and a mirror to the wheels of duality that turn us in circles and cycles.
On the second last day before I left (at the time of writing, I had been out for two weeks healing from dengue) we cut down a tree outside the casa grande. I made a despacho to ask it permission. I sat at his base for half an hour before I started and we talked. The immense pashaco negro told me it was over 500 years old. I said he didn’t look that old, and he laughed at me, and said “rarely do you humans count the young years when us trees are just sprouts in the shade”. I told him we needed to cut him down, that he was probably rotting from the inside and that in a windstorm, if he fell, he could crush and kill us. He laughed again, and said he would fall one day. I began to cry softly at his roots as I asked him to help us, and I prayed for us humans, hoping we could remember some of the good ways we once were and keep all those new lessons we’ve learned – all to become better. The tree became a symbol of humanity’s struggle both against and with nature. As I quieted and listened, he listened back.
Then I prayed that we could survive alongside the breaking-at-the-seams Earth. That we could become stewards of the Earth, and worthy in our culture of eating the Earth’s foods, seeds and animals. I started the despacho at his roots in a hole. It took 5 hours to burn to nothingness.
That night I saw a vision in one of my dreams. I was in a house, and I went to look through a window looking-glass. Behind the window was an ogre who deplored me, told me one from a series of holy-people had chosen me. A woman dressed in full Andean paqo robes stood up with her baby, she was elaborately dressed in the finest alpacas and held a magnificent wool accordion with her baby. Her hair glowed as if illuminated. She told me “the sacred is in design“. I was surprised, taken aback even, and stood back from the looking glass. When I looked back through, the room was empty. The place where the ensemble of saints and holy people, and the ogre, was shuttered.
The next day when I woke up, the mood was already tense. This tree was massive, and had been on our list of dangerous and risk trees for several months. It needed to come down before the seasonal wind storms arrived, and all five of the forestry experts who had visited us as consultants agreed. It weighed many tones, and had an elegant, but unstable, arching canopy at a 90degree insertion angle to the trunk. It was one of my most studied trees, because I saw it every day from my window and had gone there many times to sit and think. Tiny insect holes bore into the naked trunk. We planned to use all the wood, with no waste. We found later, it was almost hollow inside.
The three men were ready, but obviously on nerve. The work lasted from early morning until dusk. They used heavy-cables to anchor and pull the tree on the desired path, after Miguel climbed over 40m up into the canopy to help secure them. When Claudio started the work on the chain saw, I was asked to leave the house. The risk of the tree falling on the house was not small, but the team were experts, and they knew how to work within risks to find the outcome they needed. This was a job to increase everyone’s safety, and the men were serious and respectful. Still, the chance for disaster was very real. The jungle is not predictable or controllable. But there is something in design…
I readied my camera hoping to include the film in our coming documentary on artisanal logging practices here. My tripod and camera were in a far corner, far from where I thought the tree would fall. As Claudio began sawing, Miguel tightened the heavy cables. The tension in the tree shook the canopy. Everyone was praying or smoking Mapacho. Suddenly there was a ripping sound, and the cracking that still to this day fills my bones with the same terror that the ocean did. A clawing terror. The weight of wood falling through wood all falling through heavy air.
The sound of the world falling down.
I watched from a place I had ran to, and saw how the tree did a full 360 rotating from it’s breaking weight. It kicked far from is broken pivot and swung towards the house. The falling came. The falling arrived. Right on top of my camera.
I will never know if the images I received when I spoke to plants, like this now fallen tree, were real or figments of my intelligence. How can you know? But many experts say we can indeed communicate with plants (see Stephan Harrod Buhner), and that we can communicate with spirits. When I asked the tree if he was ready to die, there was silence. Acceptance. Neither yes or no, just acceptance. It took me 2 days after the dream I had the night before we cut to realize I was getting a signal: The despacho from the day before had been complete, hence the Andean paqo. The blessing was full: the holy woman was like the mother Mary and her babe. She told me “the sacred is in design”. The tree fell and missed our house by meters. No one was injured. My tripod was destroyed, but the camera untouched. The video was not recorded. Testament that perhaps no moment can be captured and replayed, but only experienced.
The terror remained in me for days. The feeling of the wood crashing through wood. The visual of the death. Like many images and smells of my life, especially images of death, my flesh hangs on them. I feel them in my bones, rattling in my dreams. As the tree shows, Death is nothing to be controlled. Not with cables and not with preventatives. When it’s your time being close to a hospital will not save. The only way to escape is not to live. The paradox in this is terrifying, and liberating. The tree shook me deeper to my core.
It’s no small wonder that since then, the next day after I left, I contracted dengue. It took several days to develop, but it was a fever that entered my body and made all the bones feel as if breaking. It was tiredness so complete I could not even sleep.
As I have laid on my back for the last 10 days, I have been asking myself daily what does it mean to be on the middle way, especially here, as I live in the jungle. The sages have written at length in some of the world´s great philosophies and religions. For me, as I have been painstakingly learning, the middle path is one where hunger is fed by the heart.
Hunger comes from many things: physical needs of the body and spirit, and non-physical desires and disgusts of the ego. My hunger has been both longing and terror. I can not count how many times I wanted to run away from my discoveries here, especially ones about myself. But I knew enough that if I ran, I would arrive again, exactly where I left-off.
Instead, I have to face it. Accept it. Hold duality as close as I can, right to my heart.
It is here, in the heart, it can be held in the wisdom of compassion. In compassion we are wise, in the heart we are present. From this place we can act wise, and build a culture that feeds.
I don’t know how long it will take to fully live these teachings. Or how long it will take till I can hold my terror and my longing, just as peacefully as the mother paqo held her babe. I don’t know if I ever will. But I can not run.
And so, as the trees live and fall in the forest, I stay to listen.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”John Lennon
In Spring 2015 I was contacted by Mark Spencer, University of British Columbia student, researcher and project manager, asking if Canto Luz would be open to hosting his research Brainstorming with Nature.
Mark came as a guest to Canto Luz in 2014, where he was introduced to the Ayahuasca for the first time. We were happy to see that the seed planted during his visit have sprouted through inspiration and flowered in Mark’s professional life, directing his attention to innovative ways to contribute to the positive change in the world.
Mark’s proposal was to determine if novel ideas and personal pathways to transformation beyond the self can be uncovered and inspired by way of guiding participants’ ceremonial intentions on how they can contribute to making the world a better place.
Participants will engage in a 6 day retreat at Canto Luz Centre for Research and Cultural Preservation (www.cantoluz.com)in the Amazon rainforest and partake in 3 ayahuasca ceremonies led by a 20-year veteran mestizo ayahuascquera Reyna Luz Edery Flores. The dates for the retreat are July 28th– August 3rd, 2015.
At the beginning of each ceremony, participants will share their intentions with the group and focus on an intention that drives the individual experience of the ceremony. Participants are free to choose their own intentions the first two ceremonies for their own independent purposes. The third ceremony will be for the research project and based on the intention of illuminating how each participant can make the world a better place in their own unique and individual way.
The research will be conducted unobtrusively and aligned with the caring atmosphere of Canto Luz. This one-time pilot study will be conducted in order to assess viability and experimental design in advance of a proposed 5-year PhD project beginning in 2016.
In order to better understand Mark’s work, I asked him several questions.
What is your general area of academic interest in your field?
I’m interested in seeing how Ayahuasca might help individuals develop innovative ways to initiate positive change in the world.
When we look into the historical record, we find that previous civilizations collapsed due to the same factors we are experiencing now on a global scale – primarily depletion of resources and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. I think all the signals from the environment are adding up to a point that it is obvious that we are in trouble if we don’t make fundamental changes to our society. As the realization sets in that our current structure of domination over nature is leading us to our own ruin, a tremendous opportunity is opening up to promising new ways of thinking about and doing things.
I view Ayahuasca as both an ancient high-tech tool and a gift from the Earth, which can connect us to the nurturing, life-giving energy embedded in nature – which wants us to thrive in concert with the rest of the planet. Ayahuasca could help both break the social conditioning that is holding us back as well as help us brainstorm new ways of doing things.
What inspired you for this research?
I studied international development and have travelled a fair bit. I’ve seen enough poverty and environmental degradation to realize that the problem is structural and too vast to conquer under present conditions by piecemeal efforts. I think across all fields people are working hard on solutions but it often feels like trying to plug a volcano with cork. As we deplete the resources that sustain global civilization without updating our approach, this problem will become that much more challenging.
As an example, instead of working on a project to help a single village in a particular country have safe drinking water, I think a more fundamental shift must occur. I would rather contribute to a transformed mindset in which it is simply unacceptable that anyone does not have access to safe drinking water because we realize we are all essentially the same but having experiences in a particular body. It is not that we don’t have enough money or resources to solve these types of problems, but rather our priorities and efforts are skewed by a rigged system towards building and doing things for people that already have a lot.
I also believe that we cannot afford to rule out certain tools like psychedelic drugs to help us overcome our global problems because they are on a naughty list created by a central bureaucracy. It is this type of thinking that allows the status quo to continue against our long-term interests. Can drinking psychedelic drugs in the jungle help ‘save the world’? Of course that sounds ridiculous on the surface, but to those who are familiar with the power of Ayahuasca, it is not such a crazy idea. Nature is fractal, so I hypothesize that if an Ayahuasca ceremony can help heal the individual, it could help heal society as a group of individuals.
Why did you choose Canto Luz?
Last year I started to feel a bit beckoned somehow to go to Peru and do it. And I actually found Canto Luz because I wanted to do the ceremonies in an authentic jungle environment and to combine the trip with a visit to the sacred valley in southern Peru. I got lucky and was drawn to the right place.
I want to return and work with Canto Luz on this project because they are like-minded people who support research and are doing work to bring attention to local issues like illegal gold-mining, which is poisoning the Amazon with mercury.
Furthermore, I think the shaman Reyna is a master of her trade. Singing icaros is a critical aspect of the ceremony, which all shamans perform but to differing standards and styles. For me it was powerful and quite an incredible experience and I think her style is a good fit. Born into different circumstances, Reyna could be selling out concert halls in Europe but what she is doing from a hut in the jungle is helping people and by my calculations more important.
What was your experience with Ayahuasca like?
I discovered first hand that there is this mysterious natural energy embedded within ourselves and connecting us to everything else. It changes how one thinks about the world in a fundamental way that could help us re-evaluate what our cultural programming has told us we should spend our lives thinking and doing.
How do you see it applicable to real world? What can the results help us do/understand/learn etc?
Ayahuasca is referred to as both a medicine and a plant teacher. I think the medicinal benefits of Ayahuasca on mental health are well documented and broadly accepted by the academic community involved and by countless anecdotal experiences. I think the concept of plant teacher is far less explored and is an incredibly interesting aspect.
In terms of how I think Ayahuasca can help, I like to use Bruce Lipton’s analogy of the cells of the caterpillar being like humans in the ‘super-organism’ of humanity. The caterpillar is the growth and consumption phase we are at the end of now. When growth can no longer continue, so-called ‘imaginal cells’ in the caterpillar signal to it that it must transform. These imaginal cells eventually influence the rest of the cells and then all the cells work together to turn themselves into the butterfly. Through efforts like this project, through the potential ideas and actions of individual change agents involved, I think we can increase the rate of formation of other imaginal cells in the population and thus increase the chances of creating the butterfly society. With this analogy, we can see that the despair of our times is also hope in that with each worsening problem, the rationale for change becomes ever more apparent to everyone.
I think because Ayahuasca reliably delivers natural-focused experiences, that it comes from the critically important lungs of the planet, the most bio-diverse region on earth and as a product of indigenous technology, it is a good candidate to help us both heal our relationship with the earth as well as between cultures. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the very seeds of our salvation are kept alive today by shamanistic cultures were nearly wiped out around the world, and who are most aligned with our universal roots. The sooner we realize the critical importance of indigenous culture to our human family, the sooner we can emerge from a long period of conquest, exploitation and division.
How will it be beneficial for participants?
I think so many people are motivated to make the world a better place but might not know where to start. I hope this experience helps to reinforce and build on something they are doing already and/or illuminates an idea and points them in a new direction that aligns with their skills and potential.
To give some idea of possibilities, perhaps the leading precedent project to this one was undertaken 50 years ago in California. In the study, “Psychedelic Agents in Creative Problem-Solving: A Pilot Study”, 27 male participants in various professional careers (particularly engineering) and were asked to bring with them a problem they were working on for at least 3 months as well as a desire to solve it. They focused on this problem while undergoing clinical sessions of LSD and/or mescaline and following. Virtually all participants produced highly creative solutions and several new inventions and novel ways of doing things emerged. While LSD and mescaline appeared to have aided in mechanical creativity, I think Ayahuasca is a good candidate to help us re-integrate with the earth in creative ways, well worth investigating.
Brainstorming with Nature Study will take place at Canto Luz July 28th-August 3rd, 2015. All research participants will receive a 250$ discount off the regular retreat price to compensate them for their time. If you wish to participate in the study, you can e-mail Mark Spencer email@example.com or contact Canto Luz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is a story of one of Canto Luz guests. As the woman was sharing her very personal story with me, I felt my hair stand on end. I felt it was an incredible story to be shared and asked her for permission. I am copying her writing with no editing.
I have to tell this discovery as it happened after the retreat.
It mostly shows that the Ayahuasca working with us doesnt stop after the ceremony. It really stays with us helping to reveal truths and show the way.
I asked Mother Aya before the last ceremony to help me in erasing all karmic patterns from my childhood past or the family lineage even in my past lives.
When we arrived to Lima with J., in our hotel the bedsheets had a nice cover on it, i fell in love with it the minute i’ve seen it. Its like i recognized it from somewhere or something. I just couldnt take my eyes off of it. I searched for the same material patterned tablerunner all over Lima and i couldnt find it.
Next day we went to Pachacamac pyramid ruins, and i photographed a picture of a reenactment without knowing what it is.( 5 days later i checked my camera and this picture was the mom and dad of Beatriz Clara Coya inka princess, when she was 5 yrs old)
On the same day we went to Plaza St.Martin where they already started some kind of protest and we quickly turned onto the next street. We found a peruvian mineral and crystal museum! We both love minerals so our plan on visiting museums just got better!
We went in and after half an hour amazement and high vibration in there ( we also got scolded for taking photos) we arrived in the last room where the woven materials were. Thats were i found a picture of a painting from Cusco. It said a Palla( Noble lady in inca language).
Her name was almost identical in spelling my my own first an last name ( Edited by M.G. for privacy)
We were in shock and we of course took a picture of it.
We were joking maybe its me in my past life.
We went back to the hotel and realized we have the same bedcover i fell in love with as the noble woman on the picture. (that was their specific noble clothing)
We reenacted the photo by taking a photo of me wearing it. Scary freaky total resemblance. Even the neck… everything. Was it possible that i was her in a past life?
No wonder all my childhood i felt like im different and almost like a royalty, not understanding what i was doing in the family i was born into…
I looked always more native than any of my family members. I wanted to adopt a native child from south america from when I was 19!
My string of french and spanish boyfriends, my love/hate affair with the spanish language…
All these little things…
We started researching who is this noble lady, researching the oil painting. it turned out she was Beatriz Clara Coya an Inca princess…
She was the granddaughter of Cusi Huarcay emperor, Daughter and heir of Sayri Tupac, she inherited all of the Inca empire with all riches as an infant. She was the richest princess ever! She was 8 yrs old when she was forced into a marriage with a spanish man Cristobal Maldonado, who raped her so he could claim her and steal her for her riches. After that her mom hastily put her in a convent and the marriage was annulled. Where she spent her life until the spanish king gave her away as a gift to Martin Garcia de Loyola a spanish knight, who battled the incas and won. Later he became the governor of Chile…
She only married him after 18years of being his “gift”.
By that time she had a daughter named Ana Marie Lorenza de Loyola with him, Who married into the Borja family.
Theres an original oil painting in Lima , next day we went to see it in Museo Pedro de Osma. We were so thrilled with lots of goosebumps!
We found her mom too and the whole Inca lineage. She was the last Inca princess.
We went to Huaca Pucllana Pyramids in Miraflores where they used to sacrifice mothers for fertility. J. felt an urge and walked right into the middle of the sacrifice square as i looked at her in awe. Later we laughed we were here back then together and in a way now, she also sacrificed her motherhood for 2 weeks to accompany me on my fertility cleanse quest.
J. kept referring to the little Inka who holds the feather fan on top of the Inca princess as her in past life. I found it super funny. Who knows how life brings you to understand the little vortexes that connect to one big truth.
The story of this princess has similar traits to my childhood in some way. this shocked me when i was reading about her.
I was sexually assaulted around 5-6 and on and on ( i barely remember any of this but all regression therapists and even mediums read this info of me), and terrorized and beaten up repeatedly by my dad.
My uncle sexually molested me too but i kept it secret. My mom whenever i ran away and asked her to help me she would always bring me back to the source of my terror : my dad. I guess she was in a victim mode too.
I asked what is the lesson i need to learn from all this and Beatriz Clara Coya’s life, the similarities, and how do i fix it?
it takes time to sink in and the realization that its not about me. This is way bigger than just me being a victim in the past. its about all indigenous women being victimized and raped and enslaved in North, Central and South Americas, they had their power forcefully stripped and terrorized. Its a collective victim suffering pattern that to this day i see on the streets of Toronto, or Manitoba or name it. The native men feel they failed, back when they been enslaved and conquered so they drown themselves in alcohol and streetdrugs. They are still in victim mode. Same as wome in prostitution. Just like they been raped back then when the spanish and french arrived to colonize.
They been reenacting this over and over again for lifetimes.
This is my conclusion.
How to stop this pattern? I only know I no longer feel like a victim from my childhood, for i understand this goes way back into past lifetimes. And i have a choice to stop feeling like a victim because this is now, and the future stems from right here and now. I am free!
I wish i could somehow tell this to all indigenous women on the streets, and as a matter of fact all Women on Earth who are suffering right now, not knowing that they hold the power inside.
Some time ago I was asked by one of our guests if it was possible to have a romantic relationship with plant spirits or ayahuasca. That person had an intense experience during one of the ceremonies, where they felt that the ayahuasca wanted to marry them.
There are many legends among native people of the Amazon about humans having romantic or sexual relations with other-than-human species such as trees, dolphins and others. ( read Here). The work with the medicine and the ayahuasca itself are often described as jealous – demanding sexual abstinence for long periods of dietas.
As a reply to our guest, I want to share a story from my personal experience, a story that is one of the most far out experiences (of recent years).
At the time, I was going through the healing process after a separation from a man, which came with intense feelings of betrayal and heartbreak.
I was spending time alone in Canto Luz without guests or retreats.
It was the end of the day and the daylight was gently slipping away as I went out for a walk. It was almost the end of my visit to the forest that time, and I felt deep calmness and peace, wanting to walk through my forest, sing and connect to it before saying goodbye.
I was walking down the path, when I felt one specific tree calling to my attention. It was a Huacrapona palm. I came to it and saw a spirit of a man. Something compelled me to wrap my arms around the tree and hug it. As I closed my eyes, I felt I was wrapping my arms around a strong man’s waist. I had a storm of emotions rise in my heart, but one particular called my attention – mistrust. I just couldn’t fully give myself into that embrace. My heart was closed and I was full of fear. I thought: “ Wow, Mariya, that’s no good. You cant even hug a TREE!!!”. After a moment of pondering, I figured holding a tree was safe enough and just dove into it. I pressed my whole body into its trunk and suddenly felt something crack inside me. That very same moment tears starting pouring, a cry came out of me that I haven’t experienced in weeks, being exhausted from crying. It was a powerful cry, the kind that comes with hiccups and stuffed nose. After it stopped, I felt relieved; I felt being held by a man, safely in his embrace.
I smoked a mapacho cigarette and offered smoke and tobacco to the tree. I continued on my walk with a lighter heart, singing.
That night I had two interesting dreams. In the first one, we had a new man living in la Casa Grande, our staff house at Canto Luz. I realized it was the spirit of the Huacrapona tree “moving in”. In the second dream, I saw myself, which probably never happened to me before in a dream – to see myself from the other’s perspective. I was at a party, someone’s wedding, I was wearing a beautiful dress and I looked radiant, happy and stunning. I realized that I was seeing myself through the eyes of a man in love…that man being the spirit of the tree.
I woke up with feelings ranging from amused to bewildered…I now had a tree spirit in love with me.
It was the last day in Canto Luz and me and Cassandra were absolutely alone, with no other staff, guests or workers. The day started well, with lots of sunshine and happy vibes and plans to do a major kitchen cleanup/organizing…
As the day progressed, both of us increasingly started feeling sluggish, leaving things half done, going away in the middle of a task, just feeling generally off and almost sad, with no particular reason. As I was standing by the outdoors sink doing dishes, a big palm branch fell just a meter away from me. Cassandra exclaimed: “ That’s it! He doesn’t want you to leave!”
We realized that the tree didn’t want me to leave the next day and that there could be other kinds of accidents that would prevent me from traveling. I also felt that, even in a strange way flattering, having a tree spirit in love with me would prevent me from forming relations with human men.
I needed to do something about it.
Cassandra and I went to put a candle in our forest altar, we smudged ourselves with White Sage brought from Nevada and also swept, cleaned and smudged the maloka (the temple).
After that I went to the Huacrapona tree, offered him mapacho again and thanked him for the love given and the moment of being able to let go of some of the pain I was carrying and said: “You have to let me go”. (basically giving “ It is not you, its me” speech to a tree!).
I also took a plant bath with aromatic herbs from around the forest to clean up the energy. The weird energy lifted, that night I didn’t have any dreams and left Peru with no problems.
Upon further research about the tree, I found that one of its names is “El Consolador de la Pachamama” – “The consolator of the Mother Earth”. I felt that it was exactly the experience it offered me – a consolation in a moment of need.
Up until now, this remains one of my most peculiar, puzzling and also heartwarming experiences. The Universe conspires with us, there is help and support available to us in many forms, the Nature is alive, breathing and feeling organism that is interconnected and entwined with our own human experience. The force that unites all that is living is Love.
Light in the jungle rainy season is sometimes low from the clouds, but this is the season to plant fruit trees. Canto Luz is 3.5km into the forest from the River Piedras, and the path winds through very beautiful primary jungle. When I first arrived in January 2014 I noticed how the buildings were scattered here and there in a well-layed out manner. We have listened to the land, watching how our presence has affected the jungle around us and taking time to clear the jungle floor and build, while still maintaining key species and fallen log architecture.
The plants are our neighbors, and in a place with such abundant biodiversity we have a lot of new names to learn. Marie Luz is a woman who works with us from the indigenous community Boca Pariamanu, up the river. She knows many plants for their medicinal and utility value and speaks to how special it is here, “nunca necesito andar lejos para encontrar lo que busco” – the plants she needs are right here, within a 20 minute walk of Canto Luz! For that reason, that this place is less disturbed by humans, we continue with this heart looking to root in here, taking residence and stewarding the land.
Now that we are more established we have started planting fruit trees and some food plants, like turmeric, ginger, yucca, banana, chili and passion fruit. It’s vital to steward the land with care, and so we have put a lot of attention into where and how we plant. Whether it is the tree babies that will become towering 30-40m tall giants like mango, brazil nut or mamey, or whether it is the small trees of star fruit or the oil-rich Sacha Inchi vine, we have been making sure to really fit-in here, in our new home, by getting to know our neighbors and their abode in the best way – patiently and with respect.
From our crowd funding campaign we received over 40 donations from people for whom we are going to plant a tree. Finding those spaces is a slow and important process, making sure we are giving the trees what they need, and finding the perfect place for them amongst the other beings here in the forest.
With the rains arriving again in the coming months here we will be continuing our planting work, adding to the 15 fruit trees we have already planted. In five to ten years these trees will be giving back, offering delicious after ceremony fruit salads to our guests who come to stay, and fresh fallen fruit, which we will be sure to share with the residents of this forest home – our gracious neighbours.
It has been a long time since I had a luxury of taking time off to do a plant dieta, so when I looked at the calendar and saw that I have just enough time between guest visits in October, I decided that the time has come for the next learning step.
For my dieta I chose a Huacapu tree, a tree that I was going to dieta even last fall with Enrique, but wasn’t able to due to time restraints and change in travel plans.
Huacapu is a hardwood tree with strong anti-tumor properties (http://www.rain-tree.com/huacapu.htm) and is considered a powerful spiritual teacher of the forest. Conveniently, we found a freshly fallen part of Huacapu tree and could cut a large branch for preparation of the medicine.
It was my task to get to know it and to learn its properties on myself.
I drank two doses of the medicine – one in the morning before breakfast and the other at night before sleep. I took my first cup early in the morning, right before walking over towards my tambo ( isolated hut in the forest where one retreats for the duration of the dieta). By the time I got there,which took me about 3 minutes, I already felt the effect of the drink – somewhat dizzy and whoozy and I felt like lying down. I felt my mind spinning and whirling, spewing out perfectly narrated life stories of unknown characters…
I laid down under my mosquito net and fell asleep. I woke up from the noise of someone just behind my tambo’s wall thrashing around and making lots of noise. As we have been dealing with some invaders, I took my machete and walked around cautiously. I saw a tall Peruvian man, dressed in yellow clothes and yellow safari hat, cutting down plants with a machete. I asked: What the hell are you doing? The man answered: This is my land and I am harvesting my plants.
When he saw my apprehension, he took his machete and broke it in two as in saying he doesnt mean harm. To show that I am also not going to hurt him, I took my own machete and also broke it in two.
The man looked at me and said : You have strong visions.
At this point I woke up, and realized that it was a dream…for the lack of a better word for it.
Dreams are one of the main channels the plants without psychoactive qualities use to communicate with us and are a great tool for learning during the dieta.
Upon waking up, I was amazed by such fast connection to the plant. What it felt like, is that after living in deep jungle for almost a year, I was already in such close contact with its spirit that it didn’t take me customary time to adjust to the forest life. Living in the tambo was very easy this dieta – I felt at home, completely free of any fear of the dark woods or the spirit world. So even though my dieata was a pretty short one, just 7 days, it felt like much more work was accomplished than during any of the other previous times when I was still a visitor to the Amazon.
Our life in Canto Luz is a calm one, but definitely not slow, I am usually surrounded by people, taking care of the visitors, overseeing the work done at the center and just generally being busy, not having time to really sink into my own head. Because of the existing pressure to be or to appear happy, that exists in our society, I felt like I had no space to allow myself to feel sad over certain events in my private life, something that I needed to feel in order to heal.
I have been waiting for this opportunity to really be alone with myself, my feelings and my thoughts. I wanted to allow myself to go as deep as possibly, without holding back, and through this process nurture myself back into emotional health.
I also set myself up for the task of taking better care of my body during this dieta by eating well and staying active. I realized that often I malnourished myself as a result of not wanting to eat the bland food – boiled rice and plantain, slowing my metabolism even lower by hanging in a hammock all day. I usually would come out of the dieta starved and with no energy, after losing too much weight too fast . So this time around I made a daily exercise of eating my plantains, as they provide majority of the nutrients, and also, being rich in tyramines, help to balance the mood.
Every breakfast, lunch and dinner I would do the exercise – walk around with a boiled green plantain and a cup of water. Biting off a piece and chewing the cardboard like flesh until it became a mush, then washing it down with water. Repeat over and over until the never ending plantain was done with for good.
I also went for at least two hour walks once or twice a day, walking new and familiar paths and feeling the joy of being in the forest.
The first night in a tambo I kept being woken up by a male voice calling my name, I woke up at least 4 times during the night. The calling of the tree was clear, I was to ask it to teach me how to work with my visions, to learn to navigate and guide them to find the answers I am looking for.
During all 7 days I felt a strong presence of the Spirit around me. Even though I was preparing myself for emotional times, my mood had been very balanced and positive. Every day before falling asleep and drinking my medicine, I would call upon the tree spirit and ask my questions, ask it to show me the answers, to teach me to see.
The dreams were the keys to interpreting what it is that I needed to see. I was repeatedly receiving the answer that I didn’t want to hear, the answer that I didn’t want to accept. I tried cheating by asking for the same thing over and over again, just changing the words….but the same answer kept on coming, also shown from different perspectives. The situation into which I was inquiring, was shown to me from the viewpoint of every person involved, through their own emotions and actions. I spent days meditating on the information received and only by being able to see that at the core of the event lay the same issue and there was no way around it no matter from what point viewed, I was able to move on, to accept with my heart what I already knew with my mind, to release and to let go.
Once this was done, I felt the biggest task of the dieta over. I spent the rest of the time connecting to many loved ones all around the world. I heard songs sung in the circles, the sounds of the hand drums, a guitar…many voices and many friends visited in spirit.
During my daily walks, I heard voices singing in the forest and begun following them. Once the melody came clear to me, I was able to concentrate on my inner experience of the dieta and to channel it into the lyrics.
By the middle of the dieta I lost sleep. Literally. I felt so much energy circling through my body I was barely able to sleep. It felt like I had electric current running through me, the thoughts coming so clear, my body and soul full of energy. I also felt extremely excited, in high spirits and ready for action.
My dieta finished with the ceremony. As always, the ceremony after a dieta was extremely powerful. I was visited by the spirit of Huacapu once more, this time presented as an old rasta/Moroccan man with long grey hair and beard. I felt the strength the plant has given me, the new found strength and power. I could use the newly learned abilities and the songs were coming out strong and ringing in the high ceiling of the maloka.
After coming back from the dieta, I spent a few more days at Canto Luz and then needed to come out to town to buy supplies and to say good buy to Sara who was traveling. As usual, being back in the “human” world after a strong dieta is confusing, its difficult to concentrate on what is going on and to make sense of it. The magical and mundane realities cross over and sometimes it feels like im looking of double exposed images. The underlying currents are more visible and as always the common unawareness of them is puzzling me.
I am going back to the forest tomorrow where I will have more time to really come back into my body. There is a lot of work ahead and busy few months at Canto Luz, full of visits. I am grateful for the life I have, the friends who surround me, my family who supports me, the forest that feeds and teaches me. I am enjoying the results of the work being done, of the new level being taken up. The energy, electricity, strength, love. For all that was, is and will be.
Before going on the dieta I pulled a card, while asking for more insight into what is coming. From the Alister Crowley Thoth deck I pulled out the major arcana card LUST ( called Strenght in traditional tarot)
Courage, Strength, Energy and Action, une grande passion, the use of magical power. There is in this card a divine drunkenness or ecstasy. The woman is shown as more than a little drunk, and more than a little mad; and the lion also is aflame with lust. This signifies that the type of energy described is of the primitive, creative order; it is completely independent of the criticism of reason. This card portrays the will of the Aeon. In the background are the bloodless images of the saints, on whom this image travels, for their whole life has been absorbed into the Holy’ Grail. “Now ye shall know that the chosen priest & apostle of infinite space is the prince-priest the Beast; and in his woman called the Scarlet Woman all power is given. They shall gather my children into their fold; they shall bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men.
“For he is ever a sun, and she a moon. But to him is the winged secret flame, and to her the stooping starlight.”
This sacrament is the physical-magical formula for attaining initiation, for the accomplishment of the Great Work. It is in alchemy the process of distillation, operated by internal ferment, and the influence of the Sun and Moon. Behind the figures of the Beast and his Bride are ten luminous rayed circles; they are the Sephiroth latent and not yet in order, for every new Aeon demands a new system of classification of the Universe. At the top of the card is shown an emblem of the new light, with ten horns of the Beast, which are serpents, sent forth in every direction to destroy and re-create the world.
In the last month I have felt a new feeling coming over me, – clarity, clarity as to who I am, what I do and what is happening around me. I wanted to share this story as by now I feel a certain level of intimacy with everyone who is reading my posts. Today’s blog will be sort of a page of my diary.
As you know, I have been living and working in the deep jungle for the last 9 months. In the last three months we have also done a lot of intense plant medicine work – 30 ceremonies of 3 months. Not a feat I wish to repeat any time soon, in fact I am really looking forward to the downtime that’s coming up this month. But as this intense work was happening, I couldn’t help but feeling frustrated – I felt that I hit a plateau, that I wasn’t moving forward, I was not receiving new teachings or new songs….
I felt that way up till the moment when my foot touched North American ground. And then….KABOOM!
When you live in the forest, you become one with it, your energy is aligned and everything flows smoothly. That’s why the energy built up didn’t feel so intense. But as soon as I was out of the Amazon, on “civilized” ground – I immediately realized the effects of such intense work done in the rainforest.
Clarity. I started seeing this infinite grid of time and space joined by our decisions, seeing the flow of cosmic energy through that grid and to be able to view the time not in its linear form but to perceive the events that affect our past as much as the future.
As such clarity came in, there was no second guessing about anything and no opportunities to take an easier path just to avoid making a difficult decision.
In the last few months everything in my life sort of felt like it was happening before I was ready, I felt that I needed to catch up all the time. But I realized that I was aligned with the Universal flow, which was making all the transformations extremely fast. Watching my thoughts materialize and my dreams coming true.
But you must be ready to act upon the information received, like a warrior.
When you step onto the plant medicine path, at some point you will be faced with a question: Do you want to know? Do you really want to enter?
It’s a doorway to the knowledge and it often leads through fear, pain and near death experiences.
After I said “Yes” to the plant, I made a lifetime commitment to this path and now I often feel that I as much follow as am being lead by something bigger than myself.
This path has been chosen long ago and I felt like I had a choice to either surf the wave and move along or dig my heels in and be dragged….
When you become acutely aware of this grid of possibilities, cause and event chains, reasons and connections between everything, the clarity you receive often comes with a price tag, as everything, – you see things you might wish you didn’t see.
I had to make some painful decisions upon seeing the whole picture this summer. I had to leave a loving relationship, in order to save the love and in order to continue walking on this path, to expand and also to let my partner grow in his own way.
Following this path often I find myself in unfamiliar places, often alone, as a trailblazer, making a path on which I can lead the ones who come after me.
Being a woman walking on this road can make personal relationships very challenging. The intensity of this energy attracts many and I need to protect myself from being used just for that. The strength of emotions scares away even more…Never mind the fact that it is generally very disconcerting when a woman you just met tells you that half of her friends are trees and two headed snakes….
The strength gained by me on this path has given me the ability to take care not only of myself, but also of everyone who is coming to me for healing. The experience that I have gained, allows me to provide counsel, support and to love. And left me longing for the same…
The plant medicine strengthens the connection with the Heart, with Love. I am a student of Love. And learning Love is letting go, facing fear, shinning bright.
To be able to see into the root of any situation with heart and letting Love being your guide. Doesn’t mean to shelter yourself or loved ones from any experiences, but being selfless in choosing when letting go of someone is actually an act of Loving. Knowing also that not everyone is ready for ultimate Love and accepting their fear with compassion. Not allowing the fear of being hurt to stop you from diving deep.
That’s what I do, I follow my heart. Making that decision gave me the biggest gift of my life – peace of mind. I never have to second-guess my choices, when you follow your heart, there are no regrets in the future. You don’t need to think if you made a mistake or no. Of course, I get hurt…but I fall, I get up and I fly up even higher, knowing that I always did the best I could. These choices lead me to many places, and often left me with scars in my heart, but having a calm mind when I go to sleep is the biggest gift I could ask for.
And I know that when I am old, I will have a collection of great stories. And what is life if you don’t make a story out of it?
No doubt. No fear.
I am going back home to the forest to step into the full power of the Jungle Queen, the Fire Keeper, the Wisdom Keeper. I will let the winds of Freedom blow in my hair, I will ride the wave of Inspiration and will share my wings with anyone who wants to fly with me. Sing the song of Light into the night, to bring the light of Day, so clear and bright, full of new Dreams!