[These excerpts are from BURNOUT, Book 1, Burnout to Bliss series.]
From Part III, Vision Questing Somewhere in Mexico:
Meet the Shamans
Weary of dancing in the intense desert sun, I sought shelter in my tiny tent way over there, with desert bushes behind it, intending to write in my journal. Unfortunately, my hand was too sore from all the places I got stuck by cactus thorns in the pursuit of those desert emeralds. But the quarter-sized blister on my heel reminded me at least to make a note about what to bring the next time: “THICKER SOCKS.”
Instead of writing, I borrowed a cassette player and listened to Prenda’s taped lectures about these people, their tradition of using peyote, and the path of the shaman. Despite my wounded hand, I managed a few notes.
They are a small tribe who split off from the Maya, one of two main tribes of Indians remaining in Mexico. A joyful people, they celebrate with a number of annual ceremonies. The Parched Corn Ceremony happens from February 15 to May 15.
Our trip was planned to coincide with it.
Unlike the Indians, we did not fast for two weeks, nor did we walk 30 days to get to the site, a parched cornfield and holy mound in the desert, several hours from a tiny village located somewhere in the high desert. We seekers of the path, as soft Americans, fasted only two days, if that, and rode whatever we could hire instead of walking. And, whereas they painstakingly carved fine works of art, we made prayer arrows by decorating sticks with yarn and feathers.
I learned that these shamans cared for the emotional, physical, and spiritual being of their tribe and that they are called to service – they can speak with animals.
In their early training, the shamans get their visions from peyote; after that, they don’t require the cactus to go to “the window between worlds.”
I can relate, because I did acid in college and don’t need to do it again!
Now the voice on the tape had my attention, and I scribbled more and faster, because I didn’t want to miss any of this, especially now; he was talking about their use of peyote! I took more notes…
The shaman guides us to access other states during apprenticeship – drumming opens us up to our greater self: healing, guidance, the pulse within us. By drumming, chanting non-English, unintelligible sounds that the mind can’t follow, it’s left behind; the mind doesn’t pass through the neodica (window); you can pick it up upon your return. Yoga doesn’t talk about a round trip, shamanism does. Raja yoga points to the temple “up and out,” but shamanism is a round trip.
I learned that peyote was well accepted and familiar to all among these people. Even children are initiated. This tribe has no fear of it, because the experience is such an integral trip. There are no bad trips. They use it well. In fact, they are some of the healthiest, happiest people in Mexico. They are constantly joking and wonder what’s wrong if you are not. Their pace is one of laughter, humor and joy, day and night: the dopamine track (pleasure pathway in the brain).
I found myself thinking of life back home and our all-American pace – work quickly, intensely and seriously before you get to laugh, and that’s only on Fridays, after work, with a beer. These Indians do it differently.
They have evolved to the place where happiness and laughter is just normal behavior – bright colors in their art, joyful songs, happy. Prenda stated that “We’ve (Americans) had 20 years’ experience with this culture (hallucinogenic plants). They’ve had 2,000 years practicing the art of happiness and acceptance.” He suggested that learning how to model their perspective could be important to our (Western culture) survival since our culture is juiced up on epinephrine, the “excited track.”
Prenda evidently believed that we could switch tracks. That it was not too late.
Sadly, I doubted that. In my brief travels, my observations have indicated that whatever is happening, no matter where it is, in the Western culture it’s a steam roller on the epinephrine track.
On one of the taped lectures, Prenda told a story about an incident that occurred in the ’70s, when he gave “window pane” (a type of LSD) to his grandfather, Don José Matsuwa, the revered, ancient shaman.
Matsuwa said it was very much like peyote. In fact, he couldn’t believe acid was illegal in the U.S. He was baffled and asked his grandson by marriage to take him to New York City to find out why. When the old man saw the bustling bees of suits flowing in and out of the World Trade Center, the reason for outlawing drugs became apparent to him – Americans were just too uptight to handle it. But he was relieved upon traveling to Esalen, Big Sur, to see that the entire country wasn’t caught up in the fast track, and he offered prayers to the ocean on our behalf.
Offering prayers is a frequent and prolific activity by these Indians, according to Prenda, who stated that “When we pray, we are to offer thanks first, and many gifts, like candles, cookies, chocolates, prayer arrows, and then, maybe, ask questions.”
How quaint! I thought. By contrast, our culture demands answers first, and then, maybe, says thanks.
In discussing the differences between our two cultures, Prenda talked about the “Collective Consensus regarding high tech” versus the shaman’s view that the world is a living being, mother earth. His comment reminded me of Lovelock’s Gaia theory which was depicted beautifully by Peter Russell’s video, The Global Brain.
Prenda stated that the vision quests heal the collective spirit of the community.
The shaman brings the people together to dance and sing, to celebrate life, to pray for Mother Earth and Father Sun thereby renewing relationships between each other and with the elements of the earth. All techniques used by the shaman – drumming, dancing the client’s spirit guide, and chanting – are leading to that end. Family, extended family, engages in celebrations and ceremonies and extends them to others.
That reminded me of our family gatherings and reunions in Texas!
But he also noted that even this happy tribe sometimes has social issues and that’s why the ceremonies are so important.
Prenda stated that “The apprenticeship makes this clear – that gods and goddesses are right here, waiting to help, and that we are advised to get out of the way.”
Many American also believe that to be true.
This man who spent his lifetime studying spiritual concerns had created his own path to enlightenment as suggested by Buddhists, drawing from eastern mysticism, the drug culture led by Dr. Tim Leary and Ram Dass (not to be confused with Ram Das, the East Indian spiritual master), and the shamanic practice including peyote of his shaman grandfather who was his mentor.
I found myself smiling. “No wonder we got along so well!” I thought.
Something that really stood out for me, listening to Prenda’s lectures, was the fact that all shamans in this tribe stand between two worlds. They are the mystic healers for their people but they also have a trade. For example, his wife, Silve, and all the members of her family are shamans, but they are also artists. They sell their art-work to help support the tribe.
Because my mind spins lots of plates at once, I stopped the tapes to add more things to my list of what to bring next time: lightweight leather garden gloves (protection against the cactus thorns), a double-edged knife (think Davy Crockett), Birkenstocks (slip-on shoes with good soles and no backs), sweats (thick ones, bottoms only), safari-style pants with pockets for money, passport, etc. and a lightweight fishing/hunting style vest with pockets. I also listed an inflatable sleeping pad (boy howdy, unless you’re in the cornfield, that ground is hard!). And gum – lots and lots of gum. When you can’t brush your teeth because there’s no water, gum can be really nice, not only for yourself but anyone nearby! I wanted a long-sleeve shirt to protect me from the sun, shorts, a fanny pack for glasses, and lip gloss. And, flashlight and toilet paper, a duffel bag for my tent, ground cover, mattress, sleeping bag, straw hat, and a manicure clipper and emery board.
Boy, did my finger nails grow! Never in my life had I had such nails! Liquid biodegradable soap would have been nice for those rare occasions when we did have a little water, since it uses less to rinse. Or, hey, maybe someone has invented waterless soap by now!
Having satisfied that part of me that likes to be prepared, at least by planning on paper, I returned to the taped lectures and listened to something about healing.
The first thing I heard was, “IF healing is in order … but maybe the illness needs to be experienced for a while.”
Wow! So they knew that healing was not always in order, not always the best choice by the healer.
I liked that idea because it left healing where it belonged, in the lap of the one who has it, the one who wants to heal it.
Didn’t Jesus say in the Bible, “Physician, heal thyself?” and, “By your faith you are healed?” Isn’t that related? And, that perspective is also in line with the position of many alternative therapies and metaphysical writings about healing, like Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Yourself, which posits that habitual thought patterns create our physical conditions. She also gives counter thoughts, affirmations, to change that programming.
The tape went on to describe the shaman path. Potential shamans are tested for sincerity and desire – are these strong enough to guide one on the spiritual path? Then he hit a nerve when he said, “What you see [around you] is what your original desire was, now manifested and part of your life.”
From this I inferred that at one time I had wanted to be a teacher. I manifested it. That’s my life now. I thought about my desire to write and how that passion obviously wasn’t strong enough to carry me the distance, since I bailed out after only 10 pounds of rejection slips! Only 10 pounds! Wimp!
I also thought about my challenges at the college, how weird it was that the only person on campus who blatantly didn’t like me happened to be my department chairman, who, please recall, at one time had been a close friend! In what way was this situation related to any original desire I might have had? Perhaps my original desire was to be okay to be alone, to accept my path. That made a bit of sense, because there, in my department at the college, I was essentially alone, and I supposed that I was generally satisfied with that arrangement – most of the time, anyway.
Regarding family, my original desire must have been to be okay alone, to accept my own path, because I am and I do – that is, I was not married at this time, and I believed I was okay with that. I knew I was okay being alone on this trip.
This was especially true on the first night.
________end of Chapter 10________
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About the Burnout to Bliss Series
Book 1, BURNOUT — How a Desert Lizard Restored My Faith, was written to help educate others about extreme burnout. I wanted the reader to feel what I had felt in that time — a kind of madness that included psychotic visions which might occur even while I was teaching — and the chaos of doing my job while trying to understand what was happening through the lens of a spiritual seeker. I tried to achieve that by grouping events by topic rather than writing the entire book as a timeline story of this happened, then this, and then this.
The first get away from that extreme situation was to a “sanctuary” in California as related in Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY. That get away apparently was presented simply to heal myself enough to take the next step.
In Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY, I wanted to share the experience of “loss of self” — like not being able to do even familiar things like riding a bicycle after extreme burnout — and how I fought back, how I got my self-confidence and self-esteem back. That led to wanting to show others how they could make whatever change they wanted to make, so it ended up being written in two parts.
The real story of the ego surrendering control began when that sanctuary was no longer available and I became like The Fool (Tarot card, pictured here), jumping off a cliff with a tiny knapsack and a little dog for company…
Book 3 is a full-length book, currently sitting at 70,500 words. It’s a tale of trusting God (or the Universe if you prefer), of letting go and trusting that life is good and safe and that all my needs will be met even before I realize I have them. It is the final story of an awakening experience, my two-year journey with one modest paycheck and no plans that was launched with BURNOUT. (Working title is “Practicing SURRENDER.)
Want to know when Book 3 is out?
Click the BURNOUT TO BLISS tab on the far right at the top of the page and scroll down, and then follow the directions OR simply click the link below:
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Next: Chapter 10, Camping with My FEAR and Ancient Shamans
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi