Chapter 11


1990-10-25, Quito

"The river is everywhere at the same time. At the  source,  
the mouth, the  waterfall, the ferry, the current, the  ocean. 
The present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, 
nor the shadow of the future."

                  'Siddhartha'    Hermann Hesse

"...  He knows he has somehow caught sight of the great 
flapping beast and is somewhere beyond this side of the screen 
and into the true old full bare essence of the Thing.  ... He is 
onto what is popularly thought of as Enlightenment . .. "

         'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'     Tom Wolfe

I'm walking along the Rio Yambala, dipping in, stepping from rock to stone, the water glows and sparkles, moving continuously downstream, timelessly.

Cascades and pools form around the rocks, constant sound, sometimes a roar, other times a soothing gurgle. In those hidden catch-pools obscured by the overlapping branches of lazy trees, silence. The water is cold and clear. It is refreshing to drink from its depths.

Charley says when things get too heavy, go dunk in the river.

The trail, a worn dirt path studded with stones, quartz crystals, part of some ancient Incan by-way, winds along the river, leading upstream. To the left, scattered fence-posts supporting barbed wire. The other side of the wire - pasture, fields and crops.

To the right, the river. Up half an hour on the trail, it splits. Off to the left, up to steeper mountain land, dry brush, sunlight and the higher peaks.

You can get lost up the trail, wandering for hours in Consensus Reality, or otherwise. Depending on the nature of events it is often best to follow the water.

Valley Of The Spirits

I leave Quito early, 6 a.m. on a flight south. One short stop in Guayaquil, then down to the airport forty-five minutes out of Loja. A taxi, transfer to bus and by one in the afternoon I arrive in Villcabamba. It's the end of the line for the bus from Loja.

Villcabamba is a sleepy little town nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains. Walking toward the square there are a few siesta nappers lying on wooden benches, not many others. A couple of tiendas, two or three restaurants, two hotels in town and two a ways out.

I'm looking for a ride to Charley's Rio Yambala Cabanas when a motorcycle rolls up to the square saddled with two Gringo-looking types. Fate continues to guide my footsteps. The driver, tall, Marlboro Man lean, short blond hair, a quick smile, the look of an old range cowboy, introduces himself as Charley.

The drunken passenger, Gregorio, staggers off. I purchase some food and supplies, and with backpack and supplies in arms, ride the back of the bike as Charley heads up a mud-covered gully trail fifteen minutes out of town to the Cabanas.

It's a relatively solitary spot, a few homes with farms sprinkle the mountainside. The Cabanas are three rooms, a kitchen, privy, a mangy dog and a farm.

Arriving at the Cabanas I'm greeted by another surprise. Paul and Joanne. We had met a month and a half earlier, briefly in Otavalo, again in Banos and for a third time synchronistically in Quito and had casually mentioned meeting in Villcabamba. Thought I would miss them with my involvement with Don Emilio. They arrived a day before I did.

Paul and Joanne both are tall long-haired blond Australian/Canadians traveling Central and South America, buying traditional costumes and jewelry to sell back in the modern world. Certified Deadheads with open hearts and a backpack full of Grateful Dead tapes.

There is a small tight expatriate community here. Drawn by the purity of the land, opportunity, open space and rich soil.

About twelve years ago a group of spaced-out Sixties Hippies following a self-proclaimed diet mystic named Doctor Johnny Love-Wisdom settled in Villcabamba and created a commune. Maybe fifteen to twenty in all, eventually the commune broke apart and many remained to build farms in Paradise.

The settlers I meet, free spirits with a commonality grounded in communion with the planet, bring back memories for me of El Sur Grande, Big Sur. Individuals intoxicated by freedom and dedicated to the Land.

The valley is famous for the longevity of its citizens and for Cactus. A wide variety grows abundantly. One variety is San Pedro. The Indigenous call it Agua Coya.

A medicinal beverage is made from the cactus, quite psychoactive, and to many, spiritual. The natives are becoming increasingly sensitive to touristas swarming in just for a hit and raising hell in the hills.

The day after I arrived we set out with empty daypacks and machete in hand. Walking the trails, we occasionally stop at houses to meet and chat with the Gringos. High on a bluff, overlooking a stream, forty feet up a steep climb we find our treasure.

San Pedro is a tall straight cactus. Sometimes many branches. Legend says the ideal size has seven ridges. You can use six ridges or more.

Paul and I climb the bank and begin cutting lengths from the plant. Watch out for the spiny stickers. They hurt. We fill three daypacks with cut lengths, then return.

Now here come the instructions folks. Listen carefully. The layer you want is bright, almost fluorescent green. It's just below the plastic-like outer skin. Below that is a useless white meat.

The skin is cut with a knife, then peeled like a mango. Be careful about the spines. They need to be removed along with that white-ish cotton-like material just below them. Local wisdom has it that those spines contain strychnine. It's not pleasant.

Carefully cut the green meat into strips and put this into a pot. This is a long, tedious process. Patience is rewarded though. Fill the pot about two-thirds full of water, cover, then set to boil.

Cook for two to three hours. Pour the light green liquid into another pot. Strain the cactus-pulp through cloth. Wrap the meat in the cloth, squeeze the juice out into the pot to boil, then put the cactus back in the soup. Cook this for another hour, then repeat the straining process.

After the last straining, dispose of the cactus, cover the pot, maybe add a cup of water, then boil this down to a thick green soup. Another half hour.

Let it cool and it's juice.

I drink my first quarter cup the day after my arrival. Immediately I feel a tingling spread through my arms and legs, energy coursing throughout my body. This is strong Medicine.

Dark green, thick, an extremely sour taste. Paul and Joanne begin to surrender to the hallucinogenic effects within thirty minutes. They also surrender to nausea and vomiting.

Being used to Ayahuasca, although feeling the San Pedro throughout my body, I maintain a clarity, and after an hour, drink another quarter cup.

We leave the Cabanas, then the planet, and soon are out past Pluto, into another Galaxy.

Well, I don't know about you, but when I'm about to jump into strange substances, I experience some moments of hesitation, awkwardness, yes, a little tremor along with anticipation. We do a brief ritual, and with commitment, I partake of the first offering.

After drinking the second cup I begin to perceive the various colors and different shapes of things that Paul and Joanne were so deliciously describing after their first. The enhanced perception comes on slowly, creeping up, and within two hours I'm fully into it.

Leaving the Cabanas, I walk up the path, stopping at various points along the river to wade in and sun on the rocks. Meandering in that lazy day descanso kind of flavor, a cross between strawberry sorbet and walnut ripple.

The water feels nourishing and grounding. I keep stepping in, feeling the swirling coldness around my feet and up above my knees, firmly attached to the planet with those slippery yet firm grasping tendrils, like magnets. My body has mysteriously expanded and it's the water that keeps me anchored.

The birds' warble-and-tweet becomes sharper with a sweetness that caresses the back of the neck. The water, a relentless rush. The trees, rocks, butterflies, all painted a vivid multi-colored relief. Deep body sensations, senses heightened.

I need to dip my head in, fill my mouth and drink. Mother!

More than elevated, transformed into entirely new functions as my body expands into the surrounding landscape and becomes merged with all and everything. Not seeing the butterfly - becoming flight. Not contact with the river - becoming flow. Not smelling aroma from the flower - becoming the softness of the petal. Not tasting the earthy gritiness of farmland - becoming the corn.

Time is on my mind today. The relentless, continuous flow of the river, like the Tao. Even that becomes a body sensation, an immersion in the waters of Time. Hanging onto the past, carried forward into the future by a momentum like riding a wave, floating still in a tidepool, absorbed in the very fabric itself. What would happen if we could stop Time all about us?

Reflections of the past merge with projections into the future like some crystalline cosmic mirror revolving inside my body, hung like a gyroscope and spinning fast or slow with a motion of its own. The mirror simply reflects all that happens Now, and simply creates linearity through motion.

Somewhere just ahead in those waters, connected through the rushing current to my present state I know that Paul is motioning to me to notice a blue and gold butterfly and that Joanne is about to jump into the stream, just as I turn my head to respond as Paul opens his mouth, and Joanne is in mid-leap and the chill that strikes her body registers in the back of my neck just as the reflection of sparkling blue and gold blinds me momentarily to all else.

Paul hands me a smooth stone from the river. As I stare at it for minutes, I begin to see. Bodies, shapes, changing colors.

There it is, the thing that Don Emilio has been trying to show me in the stones he uses for the Limpia! I begin to see clearly, and an irrational understanding surfaces of how to perceive the stone's surface textures, colors and vibrations! An immediate gnosis of how the rock portrays the human body creates a sense of delight, like discovering the soft aroma of a newfound rose.

And I know, somehow, this is what Emilio sees when he reads those smooth stones. An unanticipated lesson.

I move away from the water, again on the path. It's more difficult now. The water was grounding, primal, secure like being in the womb. Steps on the path, difficult, unsure. Trees move to an unseen rhythm all about, and the scenery is strange. The mountains are undulating fields of color that won't stay still.

Cows perched precariously on the hillsides slowly amble across those thin trails, graze absently up on the steep sides of the mountains, balance precariously on thin hooves planted sideways to the incline, look about to topple and roll. I find out later that occasionally they do slip and tumble into sirloin steak.

I move up into tall grassy pasture, dry open field and sunlight. And it's there, in amongst the snapping cackle of dry weeds, hot rays searing my skin, boiling to the surface the thing that had began to build in the water. No escape from it. My own personal ....... Shit.

I'm sinking deep into it and about to drown. I remember that, a short time before Villcabamba, I was involved in a brief and intense love affair, and know I need to tell the woman I'm now involved with. I had not realized what this schism would eventually trigger until the San Pedro.

The dry smell of burnt earth and danger whispers through my nose, and skin that suddenly stiffens as hair rises in alarm from being thrown into a desert wilderness in the midst of nowhere, that hot cow pasture, as I sink into a spiraling vortex of grief and loss. Lost within myself. Not much guilt here, more a sense of ripping apart.

Feeling shattered as surges of obstinate clinging vie in an inner turmoil with the choking hands of abandonment coiled around my throat. As if in an unreal way: 'If she cannot accept me the way I am then a part of me will die.' And knowing that is merely the surface reaction; much deeper lies the swirling cauldron of personal identity confusion and that's what's cooking.

I'm trampling through the dusty fields of Death and am terrified.

Up in that desolate field, under the blazing sword of the sun, I face a gasping understanding surfacing in my consciousness that I will never return to the normal world again. Not ever.

Paul is ahead of me walking slowly, evenly, ceremonially and Joanne is stepping silently behind, and from a nether region, deep below rational cognition, I now know who they really are.

And I know all of a sudden the reason I came to Villcabamba. To Die!

They are the Custodians, leading me to the end of my life. I will never come back. They appear so gentle, silently angelic companions, guiding me across the river Styx to the mysterious Beyond.

Not wishing to ruin their trip, heroically bearing all of this trauma in silence, I need desperately to get back to the river, to return to the solace of the womb.

We leave the open field and head once more for the water. Again I'm in the river, dunking my head.

"Mother, Savior! Wash me clean! Take this pain from my soul!"

Hanging on the wind, Charley's whisper: "When things get too Heavy, go dunk in the River!"

The water shocks and revives me, dissolving the internal earthquake in a frigid catharsis of pummeling waves. I know that for now this is enough, and that I am not finished yet, there is more to come. I'm halfway home.

Slowly working our way back downstream we return to the Cabanas. Once on the veranda I squat with my back to a wooden post for support and relate my strange journey to my friends.

Paul grabs buckets of water from the bath and pours them over me! I'm howling like wolf, feeling cleansed and wanting more.

The journey lasts ten to twelve hours. This is heavy Medicine. Saint Peter can be beautifully revealing, and terrifyingly truthful. As the sun sets we prepare food, eat, listen to the Grateful Dead and watch the rainbow-colored sunset.

I feel thankful to be ALIVE! And know I am not finished, yet.

A day of rest, recovery and preparation for the next session, tomorrow.

A Mission

Charley drops by in the morning and asks if Paul and I want to travel to town with him to pick up some supplies. Paul goes, mentioning that I am on a Mission for the day.

Yes, a Mission!

A lazy, sunny day. Joanne is lounging quietly on the porch, engrossed in a book. I pour a third of a cup from the pot of Cactus juice and with a sigh of apprehension and anticipation swallow the Medicine. The amount is a little more than my first cup of the previous journey. And feeling the substance in my body I decide not to do more today.

Hanging around the Cabanas, cleaning up a little, walking among the papaya, banana and coffee plants for awhile, I watch the ants crawl about ambitiously carrying their heavy loads, and the hummingbirds zinging into flowers, and let the Medicine settle in. Then Vaya A La Rio! It's off to the river.

Today is a day of joy and celebration. Also, a little more insight and clarity.

Following the river upstream, coming upon a familiar spot and moving down slowly from the path, pushing aside layers and layers of leaves and branches, emerging on the rocks, by the water. Just sitting, watching, absorbing.

It's easy to just 'Be', immersed in existence, stretching out those sensual tendrils on the outside merging in sound, aroma and taste. On the inside, away from the periphery, a profound stillness.

A symphony of multi-colored butterflies continues to weave to and fro, between trees above the rocks cascading in a garden's delight of color, rainbow and sparkle. Dipping feet in the cool rushing water, laying back on the rock feeling the hard surface like a firm support, bathing in sensual delight as the World Stands Still.

Eventually, it's time to move on. Gravity beckons to yet another place. Bidding Adieu, I meander along the path. And shortly discover a new, promising outpost. Again in the center of the stream.

I settle down. There's a large rock I can lay upon. Rain sets in and it washes over me from above even as the river caroms over my dangling legs, and I want to come closer to closure on the Process begun a day before.

An internal dialogue ensues as the focus of my attention shifts around a bend in the universe and what is perceived from a new window is my internal state. What caused such agitation the other day, my relationship, is really exclusive as an active agent, yet surely the catalyst. Where this leads me is a deeper realization of a more personal struggle.

Part of my core, my essence has been bound up with Jayme, or rather the image. Identified with being in a steady relationship and now confronting an uncomfortable realization: that true relationship may be impossible for me.

Yet again there is the vortex of unraveling awarenesses that the Medicine opens up inside as my sensual awareness expanding outside supplies an even deeper level of confrontation. Like a whale charging for the depths I instinctively submerge beneath the iceberg into a new realm.

Love and freedom, commitment and entrapment. Finally, closing avenues and experience. I wrestle with the dualities of longing/desire and suspicion, fearing to be trapped. I desire total freedom and exploration without constraints, not fully understanding what that all means for me. Not believing really that I can have both, just live both, effortlessly.

Who really is trapping and who is trapped?

I sense this is a kind of ego game, or rather, ego trap.

I want to come to a place of acceptance of who I am, and recognition for my partner. Acceptance of how I move in the world, whether with someone or apart. And I am struck by the futility and uselessness of this Inundation/Abandonment game I have become absorbed in playing, this pull-you/push-me carnival bumper-car ride that has proven so tumultuous.

A whisper of realization surfaces, of the cruelty of it all, and the farcical nature of identification with any one thing or another. It's just plain humorous in a way, looking from the outside in, a shell game for children with no more substance than the energy I give it.

In this state, feeling unity with the spirits of Life and Earth around me, I shift in a surprising way, an unanticipated emergence that raises consciousness above the Nirmanakaya, the physical manifestation.

Reaching toward Unity. Abolish the games, come to the level of acceptance. It's just there, right in front of me, above my head, to the side, just reach out and touch it like it belongs and is a part of things. That tangible.

Unity. And I'm feeling a dizzying kind of absorption, my heart is heaving, straining against my ribs, as the energy fueling my reaction heats my breath and expands throughout my body. Love. For Self and for others. Love.

A deep appreciation for my partner, for Jayme, strokes my eyelids and tears of gratitude drip gently as I realize what spaces her presence has brought for me.

I dunk my head in the coldness. The Waters. Thank You, Mother! Cleanse me!

I walk on, along the path, upstream. The rain stops, sun pours over the undulating hills, alive with color and fragrance, so natural, even the trees understand. Alive with poetry and wisdom. Alive with understanding.

I emerge glowing, back to the river, life-affirming! Shouting now. LIFE! LIFE! LIFE!

I fall into singing loudly, strongly. Time and the waters flow.

I'm floating on the winds of the Sambhogakaya. The subtle Reality above material manifestation. Treading the currents, becoming aware of the Dakas and the Dakinis and all those gods of the other regions only whispered of, never seen, and they are surrounding me.

What seems magical on one plane appears all so natural now, like going out for pizza. Even the murmuring whispers, bestowing gifts of wisdom and blessings, are comprehensible.

Knowing I dance in this land more and more and aware of my previous sensations and feelings toward Love and Life, I ache to strive toward the Dharmakaya, the ultimate Unity, where duality ceases. I sense intuitively that I had crossed over, if just for a moment, and felt a taste, just a sprinkle on my tongue, like a tease, and more than that, a confirmation.

I wonder how to return, how to get There, from Here?

The sun is starting to set, slowly. I'm wandering back to home base, feeling alive, free, with a sense of nourishment, and wanting to see my friends. It's been a full day, fulfilling, not over yet, and slowly winding down. Perfect. The Perfect Day.

That night, among friends, I feed on fruit and other nourishment, I dine on Love and Gratitude.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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