If you’re a seeker, you know there’s nothing like the wonder, the confusion, the adrenaline rush of new beginnings; nothing like the moment your heart alights on something (or someone!) new and time begins to telescope from your present moment into distant and suddenly possible futures.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re twenty-two or eighty-two, whether the journey you’re beginning is spiritual, emotional, or physical. (more…)
The Amazon was never on my bucket-list. Fist-sized spiders? No thanks.
But when I was asked to join a shaman and a botanist in the Peruvian rainforest to lead a trip for ACEER (The Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research), I couldn’t say no.
It wasn’t because the Amazon rainforest is home to more than 40,000 plants and 430 mammals. Or because it’s considered the lungs of the earth, producing about 20% of our oxygen.
I decided to take on giant mosquitoes and a hundred percent humidity because I was a little obsessed with the mythos of the shaman.
To be clear, I was not obsessed with Americans who have studied shamanism. I was a member of that tribe already. Standing around a fire and calling in jaguar energy felt like wearing clothes that pinched in some places and gaped in others. What did I know of jaguars? I wasn’t sure I’d even seen one in a zoo.
So the chance to teach beside a for-real shaman? Irresistible.
I worked myself into quite the pre-trip tizzy, shopping for mosquito-proof clothing (hint: there’s no such thing) and shoes which would be light and comfortable while still protecting my ankles from snakes. And since I was going to be teaching, I aimed for clothes which would look respectable while soaked in sweat.
When I arrived in Peru, I quickly realized I’d put a lot more effort into my wardrobe than Don Antonio. I’d finally met a for-real shaman and he dressed like an American grandfather about to hit the shopping mall. I loved him immediately.
Don Antonio was generous with his small stash of English, telling me stories of his grueling and often lonely childhood training in the jungle. As a child and teenager, he wished more than anything to be normal, to play soccer and laugh with his friends. When he was old enough, he escaped the family shaman business by joining the army.
But eventually the jungle called him back.
Whatever you may think when you encounter the word “shaman”, erase those thoughts from your mind.
Imagine instead someone who finds joy in the smallest thing, who observes patiently and kindly, and who doesn’t bind himself with unnecessary rules.
While we were traveling, I got a urinary tract infection. Don Antonio delivered cucumber juice to my room each morning to cool the burning. But despite traveling through the largest living pharmacy on the planet, there was nothing on hand which would clear the infection. For me, taking an antibiotic is always a decision; in this situation it seemed cosmically ironic.
As I sat in the mess hall contemplating the white capsule, Don Antonio joined me. He took the capsule in his hand and focused on it for a few moments before closing my hands around the pill. He put his hands over mine. “You take,” he instructed, smiling infectiously.
I knew in that moment it wasn’t about the pill; it was about the energy I put into taking it.
I also knew I’d learned more from being with Don Antonio for a few minutes than I had from years of study.
So I continued to watch.
I studied him in the back of the boat, making microscopic movements with his fingers and chuckling to himself. He caught me watching and nodded toward the trees. I scanned the treeline, baffled.
It was a few days before I realized he was imitating the sloths, perezoso in Spanish. They hung from branches high in the canopy, the moss growing off their backs blending them into the foliage. Sloths do move, but you’ll need a huge dose of patience to see it.
Don Antonio imitated their slow-motion movement, amusing himself for hours as we toured up and down the river.
When I returned to the States, I spent a few days imitating my dogs; I’ll still “get in the skin” of any animal I want to know better by mimicking their movements.
Yes, there were ceremonies, but they’ve flowed from my mind like the water of that mighty river. What has stayed is the joy, the patience, the deep respect and observation, and the sense of being “one with” and “part of.”
I’m still obsessed with the idea of the shaman, but I know now they wear many faces and labels. I see a shaman’s joy in a photo of the Dalai Lama and deep respect in the eyes of my dog’s veterinarian. The herbal world has many women who exude “one with” and my carpenter embodies deep patience and care.
Being a shaman is about taking the time to know deeply. It’s a gift which lives like a seed in each of our souls.
Tell me, what bit of the shaman lives within you?
Soul speak… wisdom whispers… spirit song…
Here’s my experience (let me know in the comments if it matches with yours!):
My soul speaks in short phrases and brief hints during my everyday life. It appears as an intuition or a brief flash of knowing: I get hints from the animals and plants that cross my path or a card I pull from my tarot deck.
But when I take some time out, go on a retreat, disconnect from the daily, and step firmly into mythic time, my soul blazes forth… and she hangs out, fully present, for days and weeks, basking in the after-glow of intense connection.
For me, those are my happiest moments to be alive.
I was sorting through some papers this week and found a letter that I had written to a woman whom I met on a retreat back in 2011. The lush language, the deep sense of connection, reminded me of the importance of retreat time for soul nourishment.
The letter is a little intimate, but I wanted to share it with you as an invitation and a portal to your own soul’s speak:
Dearest Sister-Spirit, Keeper of the Rose Gate,
You have been in my thoughts these past weeks and it is in my heart to send you a gift, a shaman’s gift, to support your soul as you have supported mine. I made a choice a few weeks back… but something still didn’t feel right. I have had the sense that there is something I must do to bring balance to our relationship and sending the gift I had chosen wasn’t it!
So I have waited and pondered. I’m on turtle-time and since our weeks have been rain-filled, I’m wallowing in the mud. 🙂 And then today, I found the thread (quite literally!) of what I needed. Fabric. Weaving. Woman’s work. I thought perhaps I was to make you a medicine bag and tried that thought on for size. Hmmmm… maybe. But out of what would I make this bag?
My thoughts alighted on a beautiful piece of indigo hand-dyed silk that I had stashed away years ago. It was made during a fabric workshop I took in Maine. Most of the women were working with chemical dyes, as this was the teacher’s inclination. But a few of us, who were invariably seen as rebel souls, started exploring plant dyes. We worked together to make vats of indigo and played with plants we found in the woods and along the shoreline. At the end of the class we gifted each other with bits of this and that. This piece was one such gift.
As I unfurled the fabric that had been folded away for so long (seven years this summer) my gut did the dance that told me that this was the right choice. I began to fold it so I could wrap it for you. But something was still feeling not quite right. So I unfolded the fabric and studied its designs.
This piece was made by knotting and twisting and sewing different areas. The patterns created were unplanned. I noticed a human form with what looked like rays of energy radiating from it, repeating along the top edge of the fabric. Then I noticed that the cloth mirrored itself along the center line, that it was actually a piece and its sister; similar but different, the indigo dye moving in each half differently. It all clicked into place: I would send you half and use its twin as an alter cloth and memory keeper.
And so, my sister, I gift you this beautiful cloth, dyed by loving hands in sisterhood with Mother Earth. Her twin will stay with me.
I wanted to share a story with your inner shaman:
On the last morning of the retreat, when we slipped into meditation, I heard a voice calling “Inoura, Inoura!”. There’s a character from a movie I like (“Serenity,” do you know it?) named Inara, so I thought I was having movie flashbacks. But the voice came closer and closer, calling, until he was leaning over me. He picked up my hand and wrote in my palm with his finger, then blew it in with his breath. He repeated this in the other palm, then on my forehead (upon which bloomed a flower of golden crystals), my heart, my sacral, and root chakras. I tried to see him, but when I looked at him directly he shifted to Bear.
Later in the day I wondered what Inoura meant. Dawn immediately came to me.
At home in PA in the bath tub, a bite that I got while wrapped in the Buffalo hide pulled up on my skin. It formed a red ring with a dot in the center like the astrological symbol for the sun. I came downstairs and looked up Inoura to see if it was actually a name. I found that Noura is Arabic for light.
It seems I was given a gift of light, and you were part of that. I thank you from my heart.
Back in Mundania, magic has been afoot! I keep being gifted with gardens! First was the empty lot near my store that was given to me to garden, then a friend’s mother called to have me save the plants in her garden before she sold her house, and then a student had me come walk her family’s land so that we can start to put in gardens there. It makes my mind buzz with words like grow and verdant and fecundity.
I walked the woods last week with the Chief of the Lenape Nation and learned that many of the things I do and the ways that I teach are similar to the Lenape. It made me feel like the land has a voice and even if I don’t hear it clearly it still insinuates itself into my thoughts. Chief Red Hawk asked me, jokingly, if I listen to the same Elders that he does. I’m starting to feel that maybe the answer is yes.
But all that doesn’t keep the regular parts of life from happening the way life does. There have been classes to teach, clients to meet with, a wedding to attend. I’ve been on a crazy crystal buying spree and want to scatter small stones throughout all these gardens. Today is my day off and I am focusing on cooking (for real). I’m started a soup stock this morning and it’s coming along nicely. Another few hours and I’ll start throwing in the veggies. Right now, I think I’ll pack up your gifts then read for a while.
I can’t quite convince myself to go work in the garden… it’s been so muddy and I’m kind of enjoying being clean for a change….
Tell me: how does your soul speak to you? Tell me about the voice you find deep in yourself when you are away from the distractions of the daily.