A Shamanic Experience in Ecuador
Editor’s Note: This story describes a powerful healing experience. However, some parts of the story are very graphic and may be uncomfortable to read.
Dear Readers: I decided to spend the Millennium celebration in Ecuador to learn from and receive healings from the Shamans who live there. The following is a description of one of the healing ceremonies I experienced.
I was in the Ecuadorian rainforest searching for Pachamama’s breast the night I died. Pachamama is another name for Mother Earth, and I was needing nurturance.
Beautiful, round breasts; succulent tenderness.
So close the heart-breathed path of ancient wisdom.
I wander free, lost, hungry, sad and aching.
My own lungs coughing up phlegm and false beliefs.
"Barking at the world" one Shaman called it.
"Ask the Vine of Death," she said. "Ayahuasca knows your soul and will show you the way."
As the sun sank below the rainforest canopy the Shaman prepared for the sacred Ayahuasca ceremony. Chanting to the Spirits of Air, Fire, Wind and Pachamama, he spit Trago over his alter and placed the precious bird feathers and bones just so. Satisfied that all was ready, he drank the hallucinogen— the Vine of Death—and prepared himself for the evenings rituals. Urged on by his wife, as ancient and aged as he, the Shaman would travel with me the night I died, hovering close when the Jaguar roared, holding my heart up to the stars while Pachamama drank my blood.
Sacred smoke touched the grass canopy above us. Dipping at the edge, it split into gray plumes as it slipped past the rough edges of thatch. It was time.
The Shaman motioned for me to stand before him and handed me Trago, Ecuadorian moonshine made from cane sugar—strong, raw and biting. I swished it in my mouth to cleanse the path for the Ayahuasca. Next, the Vine herself, made into a bittersweet liquid. One swallow and there was no turning back. Tipping the cup, I drank it all and finished with another swish of Trago.
"Take off your shirt and lie down," the interpreter said. I lay back on the rough-hewn bench—now cold and wet with the Trago of another’s healing. Halting his chanting just long enough to fill his mouth with Trago, now a sacred, aura-cleansing liquid, the Shaman spewed the alcoholic drink over my body. A cold and shocking beginning as it hit my skin.
Spirit beings continued to join the healing ceremonies, formally presented by the Shaman’s wife in her native Shuar language as if at a State dinner, The Shaman bent forward and placed his mouth over my heart. Sucking hard, he pulled grief and pain out of my body and vomited. I was overcome with guilt that I had asked so much of a 70-year-old man I did not know as horrible retching sounds accompanied his disgorging of my swallowed past. What courage, I thought, as he did it again and again. Sucking the negative energy from my heart, then my belly and my head, vomiting over and over until I thought I must sit up and pronounce myself healed to spare him from further pain. He would know better though. He was Shaman, already in deep communion with the Vine, already knowing how my journey would unfold.
Finally he stopped. I stood up and was helped back to my favorite hammock, the one I had slept in the past few nights. "No!" the Shaman shouted. "Tonight you must sleep in your bed." Already halfway into the hammock, I stood and immediately projectile vomited over the native impatiens at the edge of the clearing. "Ahh," the Shaman voiced his approval. Through the interpreter I was encouraged, "It is a good sign when Ayahuasca begins your cleansing so quickly and forcefully." My answer was to lean over and vomit from the bottom of my guts. "Amazing how much is still ready to come up after a day of fasting in preparation for this sacred healing," I thought.
Ayahuasca is no recreational drug. It is a knowing spirit, a liaison between the inner self and the spiritual realms, a teacher and guide. When a Shuar warrior has troubling dreams or a difficult problem, he first consults his wife or mother. If the problem is not resolved through the wisdom of the women, the warrior then consults a Shaman and asks for an Ayahuasca ceremony. The Vine of Death will give visions and share truth.
My cleansing continued, Ayahuasca now intent on releasing digested food and negative energy from the bottom half of my torso. My friend, Pricilla, stayed with me all night, neither of us sure when the visions would begin or what dangerous notions I might act out. Would I want to find my way in the dark down to the river or go on a midnight jungle search for my power animal—the jaguar? So far, I was content to lie in my bed and giggle.
After I was thoroughly cleansed physically and metaphorically, the Vine of Death became gentle, even loving. I felt myself being rocked as if back in my favorite hammock. First, I was gently rocked side to side, but then the angle shifted slightly, then shifted again. Over the evening I was rocked from all angles. "Your mother, Pachamama, rocks you and comforts you now as she always has. Never forget your deep connection to her," the Vine whispered inside my head.
I opened my eyes and felt alone, then remembered to close them again to reconnect. We had been told we could break our connection to the Vine simply by opening our eyes if the visions became too painful or scary. When ready to resume our journey, we need only close our eyes again.
Finally the visions began—hundreds of them all at once, in black and white and very faint, like worn out photographic slides. The only color was in the bottom left-hand corner of my internal screen where I saw one woman after the other dressed in different historic costumes, each leaning over something boiling on a stove.
"Slow down," I demanded of the Vine of Death. "The visions are too faint and too fast. I can’t understand the messages."
"No," was the Vine’s succinct reply. "This knowledge must be kept from your analytical brain or you will lose the depths of these teachings. Many in your land come to you for wisdom and your ability to connect with other realms. But compared to the Shamans here in Ecuador, you are yet an ignorant baby with much to learn about thinking through the heart.
"Your left brain easily overpowers your deeper wisdom. We will teach you to learn to think with your soul, not your brain. Only then will you understand what you are receiving tonight."
Pricilla helped me walk to a clearing to see the stars glimmering through the rainforest canopy. The moon now shining elsewhere on the Earth left the stars free to dance brightly with no competing light. The beauty was heart-rending. A few hours later when sunlight stole over the stars, I awoke fresh but deeply humbled.
Now back home in Raleigh, NC, I notice subtle shifts in my being. I frantically repaint my home, more aware now of how the vibrations of color affect me. While visiting with friends, words burst out of my mouth giving messages. Sometimes the words are harsh, but never are they pre-thought nor are they my own. Serendipitous events tumble one after the other each day. Where did such good fortune come from? Do I need to be more vigilant over my thoughts? I wonder, what did I learn in the rainforest? And I wait, knowing that my journey has just begun.