They say confession is good for the soul.
It has been nearly a year now since my wife and I embarked on our first expedition to Peru. We sought a little adventure and a lot of healing. The medium for both was ayahuasca, the plant medicine born and practiced in the jungles of South America. It was important to us that this first encounter with the mother vine be as ceremonially authentic as possible, so we purposefully and intentionally pursued initiation in the Amazonian jungle and in the care of native Peruvian curanderos. For us, it took years to prepare for this trek, to do the work, and to set our intentions. The process was at times daunting, and we knew the culmination would challenge us in unforeseen ways. Yet, we embarked with some trust that we had prepared ourselves in body, mind, and spirit…or so we thought. Silly humans.
There is a commonly held understanding within the corpus of shamanic healing traditions that to become whole, to be healed, one must undergo a process of dismemberment, a death of sorts, whereby that which we are, or have become, is torn asunder allowing for the reassembly, or re-memberment, of our true Selves from the lost, abandoned, and forgotten soul-parts that lie within the shadow realm. To be sure, this is no small undertaking even for those steeped in the medicine paths that offer such journeys.
My wife and I had both completed the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition™ 5-Part Apprenticeship. Further still, I had been sanctioned by don Oscar Miro Quesada to teach this medicine lineage. It was assumed, or I should say “I assumed” that this whole dis-memberment/re-memberment thing was well underway and progressing quite nicely. I had even written an article which I submitted to The Heart of the Healer Writer’s Forum entitled “Intention: A Journey Not a Destination – Part 1.” I emphasized in that article the importance of setting clear, focused intention and surrendering to the process and outcome. Given the title, it was my “intention” from the beginning to write a “Part 2” filled with all the wonderfully delicious tales and tribulations of practicing what I preached, and make no mistake, there are some juicy ones. Nevertheless, the premise of the piece was that I needed to surrender and that this is a journey…a continuous process.
Enter 2020 and we all found ourselves engulfed in a global pandemic, the scope and magnitude not seen in a lifetime. Intentions shifted for many, including myself, from growth to survival. I lost focus on the powerful journey I undertook in the Fall of 2019 and the fact that the medicine was still in me and still working. I soon gained perspective on the pandemic as the arbiter of a Pachakuti, a global transformation brought about by an upending of norms at every level. However, my day-to-day existence was consumed by the roles I played as a professional counselor and community healthcare worker, not to mention my roles as a son, brother, father, and husband. My efforts to stay engaged in my spiritual practice and my shamanic work offered some solace, some balance, but on any given day I teetered on the edge of being overwhelmed. In the tumult I did not often think back on my experience before and during our trip to Peru, or on the personal lessons of surrender and intention about which I had written.
After almost seven months I stepped away from the fray for a few precious days and found myself alone in the mountains of North Georgia. The weight of the world’s myriad maladies had taken its toll on my psyche as well as my body. It was only then, at a little cabin, gently swaying on a porch swing, that I reflected on the time that had passed since Peru and I called to mind the last words of that article, “Now that’s a journey.”
And so, I pondered…
A year ago, in ignorance I sought to surrender and simplify my intentions as if that could be achieved once and for all. I wanted to further the re-membering and retrieve those aspects of my true self that had been lost to trauma and neglect over the years, again, as if that could be achieved all at once. I was frustrated that circumstance had once again re-directed my heart, distancing me from the simplicity and intentions set not so long ago. I strained at the bondage to corporeal intention. I had allowed myself to be consumed by the tyrannical ‘needs’ of physical existence. On the heels of a potent and transformational sojourn to Peru, I was gripped by the fear that the great cosmic potential of this 2020 Pachakuti would go unrealized for me. The surrender I found in the jungle during long nights of torturous ecstasy was missing in my day-to-day existence. I felt as though I were caught in a web of unrelenting schedules, responsibilities, and commitments. I experienced a regular bombardment of frenetic burdens that left me nearly numb to the emotional strain and the physical stress. I daily struggled with a sense that my mind and body were no longer my own, that they had betrayed me or I them. I existed in a state of suspended animation.
I thought about the words of Segundo, one of the Shapibo shaman who cared for us while in the jungle. He said to me, “David, the medicine is already in you.” I remember that his words struck me because I had participated in ceremony and physically consumed the brew only once at that point. He spoke in terms of “before you came to the jungle.” How could it already be in me? Granted, that first ceremony was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and in the throes of it hoped I never would again. The formal ceremony lasted four hours, and aside from one caretaker, I was left alone in the maloca for another ten grueling hours of uncontrollable shaking, heaving, crying, and sweating. With the few wits I had available, I desperately grasped at what possible good could come from this suffering and that misery was not my “intention.” As I was to realize afterward, however, I was given exactly what I asked for, what I set my intention upon: to be freed from all things that no longer serve me. For much of my life I had lived believing that I had to be stronger than the pain, a gift from an early childhood medical trauma. Not this time…silly human.
I learned and accepted that I no longer had to be stronger than the pain, that I could be vulnerable to it, aware of it, and changed by it…for the better. In many ways, the pandemic is pressing those same old wounds in me. I see that now. When Segundo told me that the medicine was already in me, I think that is what he meant. My resilience and intention can be, and perhaps are, the re-membered wounds of my past.
Now that’s a journey.
About the Author
An awestruck husband to an amazing woman, and grateful father to two phenomenal teenagers, David is a soccer player and coach, wilderness guide, counselor, teacher, and non-profit administrator. He has devoted himself to the walk and talk of living a sacred path. He completed the PMT 5-part apprenticeship under the guidance of Cynthia Greer, and more recently completed don Oscar Miro-Quesada’s Magic, Medicine, and Mysticism course. David holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Emory University where he specialized in medieval spirituality, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College. While at Prescott, he developed an original integrative therapeutic model called “Gaian Soul Therapy” that synthesizes ecology, theology, and psychology as a means of healing self, community, and the natural world through right relationship. He is a licensed professional counselor with certifications in clinical supervision and trauma. David works full-time as the director of a community mental health center near Atlanta and part-time as the owner and operator of the newly formed Burning Bear Healing Arts, LLC, offering psychotherapy, supervision, spiritual direction, and shamanic ceremonial healing. He lives and works in Decatur, Georgia, not far from his hometown of Stone Mountain.