Chapter 23

REFLECTIONS TOWARD PILGRIMAGE

1991-05-03, Panajachel


"The metal on the typewriter has turned from a dull green  to  a 
sort of  high-gloss blue, the keys sparkle, glitter with 
highlights  .....  I sort of levitated in the chair, hovering in 
front of the typewriter, not sitting."

        'Songs Of The Doomed'     Dr. Hunter S. Thompson


"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have 
ended up where I needed to be."

      'The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul'     Douglas Adams

Sitting surrounded by unclimbable stone faces to my back, in front the wind-driven turbulent waves of Lago Atitlan. Out toward far sides of the lake, surrounded in mist, rainbow shades emerging from the waters and scaling cliffs, mountains and a volcano or two.

The mountains are dimly visible. More an outline, a tease in the mist. I've taken the last little golden drops of Liquid Sunshine Delicacy, the Medicine I left home with well over a year ago. Or was that a century. Perhaps a lifetime. Or several.

The curve of the mountains, one in back of the other, ghosts and whispers, remind me of home. My Home in Big Sur, and my spiritual family, Esalen.

I will be home soon. Since Coroico in Bolivia, I've felt the need to start this, a kind of summation of my experience till now. The tranquilo atmosphere that is Panajachel is a good place to begin.

My reflections today have that wandering feeling that merges past with potential in delightfully novel fantasy. My reflections are what may yet come.

I envision an emerging sweet play between myself and my sister. I see inclusion for my brother and father. I am rejoicing in the ties of family and the warm yellow color of love.

And at the same time feeling my own retirement from worldly necessity. As if the more I embody myself, as spirit, the less I'm inclined to the material.

This seems to be an ongoing process. And, what's true also, is the worldly necessity for resources to continue my journey! Ah ....... Well!

So maybe this is part of it, Huh.....? That the closer we come to understanding our mortality, the more vital this body emerges.

The delicious feel of crashing waves around legs, the hard stone against back, the aroma of blue and the green taste of that bird overhead? With the beat of the mortality drum, the senses, my senses become heightened, and hungry. I stay awash and revel in the glory of the day!

In a sense, encapsulating this year and many months Journey that became a lifetime of other Reality seems somewhat redundant. In truth, a major portion of the experiential process, much to my surprise, became intrinsic.

This is to say, without my overt awareness, my learning became absorbed in the body. A cellular, essential incorporation. The expansion of knowing, owning wisdom, becomes the emergence of Being. It's just there!

At the start, before my departure from my home to Mexico, the spark of idea and question was absorption in The Mystery. This manifested as a problematical desire to understand what for me have become diverse and varied aspects of Reality. In short; 'What is Reality?', 'What is Ultimate Truth?'

As is the nature of such quests, the more I experienced the more profound grew my confusion.

Now, being 'set free in the World', unleashed, as it were, in a new and unknown alien realm for me had a number of effects. The easiest to identify is the sense of open-endedness, opportunity, lack of constraint. Gone were the usual signposts, attachments, cultural and social identifications, comforts and icons.

Central and South America posed an unanticipated sensual inundation solely from the detail of moment by moment newness and reaction alone.

Herein lay one of my discoveries. That of course arrived with some surprise, disappointment, anxiety, frustration and finally acceptance.

That my direction, being primarily Spiritual, that of following the ways of the Shaman, had by necessity to include multi-faceted and diverse social, historical, cultural, dietary, climactic, political and familial aspects of the social systems I wanted to explore.

Added to that, the impact of each surrounding society, and on top of that, the impact of visiting cultures, the traveling Extranjeros.

To complete this, my own experiential integration of this whole web from whatever activity was in front of me. Nobody said Pilgrimage was easy!

I had been relatively apolitical in the U.S. for years. While maintaining quiet views on issues, I felt quite ordinary. The political process as a whole had become quite entrenched, redundant and stagnant. It seemed to require more effort and attention on my part with little personal satisfactory return.

So it was with considerable surprise, if not initial resistance, that I became more politically conscious almost from the outset. It was inescapable!

The political activity that had a direct effect on me, or that I witnessed, was just about everywhere. From the attitudes of governments, the nature of 'economic aid' and the uses that 'aid' was put to, the diverse living conditions among the Indigenous, and governments' treatment of these tribes. From availability of food and sanitation, to the presence and temperament of military.

I began to form opinions and beliefs.

I also began to introspect. To look at myself. Why was I even allowing a political consciousness to emerge? This seemed out of bounds for me. Diversionary, not to mention potentially dangerous.

It was inevitable. And yet, what did this, a political awareness, have to do with the 'Ultimate Nature of Reality'?

It seemed levels and levels above. And yet, the political actions of government created direct and material impact.

Many times during the ensuing months, I encountered native tribes, some buried deep in the Selva, where the priests or leaders, having little contact with other groups, mysteriously had a rather significant if not wholly mature grasp of not only their particular society, but of the machinations of the outside world, that other Reality for them, as well.

When I am swimming in some piranha-filled rivers, walking in unknown deep jungle forest inhabited by a multitude of animals, or sleeping in front of some indigenous hut under the stars, I feel at home!

When I can dig my hands into sweet rich black Mother Earth, smell the aroma of a thousand different plants and processes newly arrived with each step, see the colorful plumage of a parrot flying overhead, the fluorescent green scales of a caiman, the unfolding beauty of a wild orchid, taste the sweet purity of a high mountain river, hear the somber tone of the bell-bird or the myriad night sounds of insects, I feel at home.

My consciousness of this world, native, original environment and ecology is expanding. This is a singularly individual experience. This leads me in a path to want to live with the Earth. Not to subdue, challenge, conquer.

There must be a natural way of existence that maintains the self, as a creature of, and the ecology as, supportive blessed Mother, Giver of Life!

The sand under my feet sends tickles of vibration up through my legs as the suns brightness slowly turns my body a golden brown. It feels good to be alive today.

With this spirit of growing awe and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of this planet, I am awash with sadness and feelings of loss when visiting the jungle and encountering wholesale destruction of the land.

In Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and virtually every other land the savage unconscionable incursion of a 'modern' world, hungry for resources - for oil, cattle, wood - has wasted and disrupted enormous areas of a fertile, nurturing planet.

The personal impact for me is tremendous when viewing and experiencing this wanton destruction first hand. It seems to me we must find a way to live in harmony with the Earth, our nurturer and provider.

I'm 'homeless', a vagabond, possessions all on my back, constantly on the move; "It's Tuesday, this must be La Paz?" necessitates a certain flexibility. Radical change in diets, strange food and unusual beverages make adaptation a necessity.

From frijoles to yucca to maize. From places with a dearth of vegetables to places inundated with cacophonies of fruit drinks. My nutritional changes, intakes, times for meals and decisions around what and how to eat changed constantly. It is discovery and challenge!

As is the cultural diversity. An almost constant monitoring of that subtle balance between observing and incorporating the norms and being 'different'.

The best way I know to understand the life of a people is to live it, as much as possible.

To that end I found Spanish an invaluable aid in verbal communication. With somewhere close to 100 different indigenous languages and dialects between Central and South America, for the most part, Spanish was ubiquitous in all but the most remote pueblos.

The thing that strikes me in a sense as grievous, in another sense as simply the way of the world, that is to say, change, is the inculcation and assimilation of the conquering Spanish culture amongst the Indigenous.

For me there is a disappointment and a sense of loss, of not experiencing original tradition in many places. This appears over the spread of peoples from Inca to Mayan to Queche, Quechua, Azteca, Aymara and a hundred more. My frustration has been about the failure to 'get to the roots'.

In many of these cultures, the traditions have been maintained through dress or food. The religion or spirituality in many cases is a mixture of ancient Earth-based belief overlaid with faith in the Virgin and the Catholic Church. And I begin to wonder if there is such a thing as purity anywhere.

At any rate, when I can immerse myself, to whatever degree, in the day-to-day life, food, dress, manner, thought and worldview of a different heritage and people, to that extent I alter my perception of Reality. This is to say, I look with New Eyes.

My vision is enhanced by the experience, the alternative way of touching and receiving the world. Opportunity is unveiled and I expand my capacity to acknowledge other meaning. And to accept!

Yet the physical adaptation of the body to this constant change is hard. The constant dietary change, varied lodging and bedding from grass huts to sand beaches to tents to small cramped hotel rooms and boats bobbing in the water.

The climatic changes. Mountains, thin 4000-meter cold air, stifling sea-level Caribbean nights, storms, rain, polluted cities, jungles filled with exotic sound and smell. And the constant motion. Jarring busrides and long interminable tiring crossings and passages.

Only to arrive in a new, unknown place. Along with baggage and hunger.

There have been times I have felt the futility of this constant jostle. There have been times I felt like stopping, then giving up. What was I gaining? And I found rest and quiet a blessing.

There are places one finds, like Panajachel, or Banos, or Villcabamba where I felt, as a traveler, welcomed. These small havens seemed ideal for a road-weary traveler to stop, rest, and enjoy a few familiar amenities and familiar food.

There always seemed to be small enclaves of Americans or Europeans settled.

I needed this as much as I needed to be thumbing a canoe into deep rainforest, riding beside vegetables and pigs being carried to market. I needed recharging.

I have begun to wonder if there are any sober non-alchoholic Curanderos left. The frustration and disenchantment for me is my experiential perception that the common day-to-day use of alcohol is virtually endemic throughout Latin America.

This includes everything from beer, guarapo and chicha, being slightly alchoholic, to the very strong trigo puro, virtually 100% pure cane jetfuel.

It's in large cities and in the small pueblos. The image that comes to me constantly is that humiliating destruction of humanity among the North American Indigenous.

I agree with what Ernest Hemingway finally concluded: That the image of the 'Noble Savage' is more illusion than reality. Yet I can't help but wonder how incursion by the 'Modern World' has contributed to the fall.

While I experienced and accept the use of alchohol in ceremony and ritual, for example the cleansing purges with chicha among some Quechua tribes, I had the feeling sometimes that the ritual was also an excuse to drink.

So, this leads me closer to what I believed to be my original quest. Leaving the world of the Profane, entering the world of the Sacred. Ultimately, these all become one.

As an all-encompassing aspect of native spiritual belief, my experience among all these cultures is that the beliefs are primarily elementally based.

As I immerse myself in ceremonial wisdom I can feel the strength and cunning of the Jaguar spirit, the insight of the Night Owl spirit, the quiet awesome might of the guardian mountain and the nurturing life-giving energy of Pachamama, Mother Earth.

These are real for the tribes, and in a real sense permeate the everyday world, even when unspoken. I feel I barely touched on Tribal Memory and consciousness, yet came away incredibly changed. Transformed.

Intellectually I can try to classify the presences as spirits, or demons, hierarchies of gods, ghosts, forces of nature. Who knows?

From an immersion and feeling level, my awareness is of other consciousness. Manifestation depends on cultural group consciousness.

The reality of this 'other' for me is undeniable, once experienced. The manifested form depends as much on my blood as the expressed beingness of existence. Which is to say, when crossing the veil whatever occurs may be an archtypal exploration. My understanding, in a profound sense is the acceptance of communication and connection.

How is it I come to this? Is it in the cleansing rituals, the Ceremonia de Limpia of Don Antonio and Don Emilio? The teachings of Celso, the joyous celebration to the gods of Chan Kin Viejo? Is it the diving into unexplored realms day and night under the guidance of Maestros?

One of my fascinations, and a key I believe, are the various stories and legends among tribes, of creation, transformation and death rites. And symbolism.

Among the numerous and diverse indigenous tribes, creation stories are as colorful and unique as the people themselves. There do tend to be similarities, and these are often grouped around environmental and geophysical lines.

Almost all are element based. For example, people living in highlands or mountainous regions may have a story involving the Original Mountain and Gods coming down from the sky.

In the lowlands and forests, typically animal-based legends. "The World Creating Jaguar", or of First People sprung from the ground. Near water, the Mother Anaconda creating Earth.

There are the beautiful transformation legends. Many are recounted in songs, or ritual incantations recited by Shamans. These are handed down for generations, an oral tradition.

They live on today in the recognition of the Jaguar Shaman or the Boa Curandero. In some groups such as the Aymara, only the highest level of Healers, Ch'Amakani, may still effect the physical change.

Transformation implies taking on the representative power aspects in a symbolic way, if not physical.

The symbolism is powerful, evocative, transformative. The appearance of a Jaguar emerging in awesome power from the heart of a mountain in an Ayahuasca dream state. Lines of gaping death skulls carved out of stone on temple faces. The rubbing of ancient Incan thigh or jaw bones and smooth stone against skin in ritual cleansing. The "Owners Of Darkness".

And some of these symbols demonstrate significant crossover among cultures. The serpent, symbol of wisdom, forbidden knowledge and continuity. Blood sacrifice for purification, transformed in the church as the ritual wine.

Incredibly, we have the cross, ancient symbol of the 'World Tree', connection between heaven and earth. It became an open invitation for the church and Spanish to walk in and conquer the Mayans. They recognized the symbol of religious authority and felt akin.

This world of symbols intrigues me. I am enchanted by the powerful force inherent in this other Reality. At times I see with the eyes of the Hawk, truly! I scale the summit to the Hall of the Mountain Kings, both figuratively and literally. I immerse myself in the cleansing waters of the sacred rivers, and wash away pain and despair.

I want to dig my hands deep into the black fleshy soil of Pachamama and feel a lifeforce, and at the same time, a rush of sexual energy erupts in my body. Bastante.

Which oddly enough leads me to Sacred Medicine. The ritual use of Reality-altering plants. Hongos Psicodelicos, San Pedro Cactus, Florifundi, Ayahuasca or Yaje. Even the humble Coca leaf.

The most unique, at least at this point possibly due to novelty, of the spiritual plant medicines to me is Ayahuasca.

Also known as Yaje or Santo Daime and by other names, this plant opened doors not previously revealed. With time and training I consistently experienced clair-sensual or psi-sensual activity.

Shamans claim to 'see' the spirits of the jungle animals like the Jaguar in Ayahuasca visions. Friends of mine from other cultures having taken the drink claimed they saw the Jaguar when guided through this other realm by experienced Shamans. I never did.

Yet what I found was another door inside. As the deep trance-invoking power envelops me, the World opens up in a crystal clarity beyond anything imagined. It is as if all the wispy, smoky curtains of distraction become swept away and the Real emerges as pristine and pure.

The exquisite play of revealed possibility is terrifying and seductive and I am swept upon gray winds, caught in a whirlpool of infinity while upon my body the maelstrom forces a purgation so powerful I have no option but to surrender to be renewed.

All the while, the gentle Maestro, Don Emilio, chants, guides, directs and sweeps me in directions of worlds unfolding.

My submersion in the spiritual, crossing the gate into the sacred, through the guidance of teachers, both human and plant is profound. The challenge is to describe what has been called 'The Indescribable Experience' through language which is at once inadequate to reveal and desiring to convey a semblance of that totality.

I surrender to the moment, open to the present. I am transformed with fear and yearning into that other, withdrawing into the sea of passion, shedding the flesh-colored skin of confinement and embrace the aspect of a God.

What was gnawing at the surface of consciousness comes center stage into the spotlight. What dwelt in caverns and closets beneath the surface is evicted and called forth to make an appearance.

The consciousnesses of other sentient existences, aspects of 'The Other', aware of my state, make themselves known. I dance in the Sambhogakaya and glimpse the Dharmakaya with longing.

In the words of Don Emilio: "To drink Ayahuasca is to cleanse, to see, to become aware of the Spirits around you".

I have come to believe it is a necessary and an unnecessary part of the exploration, of the emergence. I am also confirmed in my belief that a teacher, one who knows, is required.

Otherwise the experience may become, in the words of the Cosmic Bandito, "Just another example of something". That in itself may be O.K!

I believe each of these Medicines, mostly organic, a few synthetic, work at what are basically different Chakra levels.

For example, Ayahuasca on the 7th chakra, LSD on the 5th and 6th, Ecstasy on the 4th, Mushrooms the 3rd and 2nd. San Pedro, a potently spiritual Medicine, may be 6th Chakra.

These are powerful tools, potent brews. Among most of the indigenous that still use them, they are treated with respect and reverence. Usually in a ritual setting, seldom abused. Alchohol or other drugs may be used as a distraction or to feed an addiction.

These, the sacred Medicines are teachers. They open the Encyclopedias of Knowledge of this World and Beyond. No monkey rides the back with these. Simply respect, fear and reverence.

In ancient times, these 'Savages' knew what was Good Medicine!

I pray to the Great Gods. I invoke the royal presences of Freud, Jung, Reich and Perls, and ask for mercy. I call on the deities governing bodies, high priests, all the numerous certification boards to have leniency. For I have sinned!

Travelers are a queer breed. Many out hoofing the rumbled path in search of something. Knowledge, the sights, cultures. Maybe a cold beer?

The gratification for my heart lies in some of the intimate connections I've been fortunate to make. Some of these are with seekers, some are seeking help. At times, for my own experience and growth, I've availed myself. I call this Exploration. Some call it Therapy.

In making myself available for others, I receive the gift of exploring myself and growing and expanding my capacity to help.

This at first seemed frightening to me. Yet more and more I felt myself emerge, my talents and sensitivity emerge. I was blessed with opportunity to utilize talents in Bodywork, Breathwork, Body Movement, Meditation, Gestalt, Tarot, Altered States, Ritual and more! And I have grown.

Hermann, the drunk Yatiri, claims he was 'Struck By Lightening'. I have heard similar claims by other Curanderos.

This is as much a figurative as a literal affliction. It is the stigmata of the 'Wounded Healer'. It is the Mark, the glowing fluorescent neon sign proclaiming this entity, this person, is different. These Shamans are somehow outside the conforming bounds of the society of which that they are a part. They 'see' differently.

Whatever it is, this 'Wounded Healer' who stands outside also stands in the center, in the midst of a chaos of emotion about him. Fear, repulsion, respect, awe, discomfort, belief.

I have begun to feel the taint of this. As a being formed and developed in a western society, yet looking at the world through different eyes. An experience and experiential sensation that perhaps is foreign to my contemporaries.

The doors to perception are not clearly marked and my friend, Wolfgang, repeats in my ear, "Enlightenment is Relative!"

More and more I stay filled with Joy! As I am walking this road, to wherever it leads, I find myself more accepting of myself, and accepting of 'what is' in relation to me. This does not feel like the surrender of helplessness, rather the knowingness, a deep acknowledgment that 'I Create'.

I still feel, in cloudy, shadowy moments, a fear, an apprehension and uncertainty as to where I will land, what I will become in the world. Moments of doubt and pain. Yet less often.

More and more I am coming to believe we are all Gods. This seems to me a strong statement!

A strange, maybe deluded statement. Yet, there it is. The essence of this is the belief that I, and each of us, have an ultimate, profound and inherent ability to create our Reality. Both good and bad.

With respect to ourselves, we create our inner world. With respect to others, a consensual, outer, world. It is our ultimate responsibility.

My belief may change over time, yet here it is for now, and seems neither mystical nor esoteric. It is just 'What Is'.

I am leaving Latin America, for now. I am on my way back to a different Reality, only shortly. This phase of the Journey is coming to completion. Another awaits in Asia. I am looking forward, in anticipation, all the while knowing I will be back to explore the richness here.

I feel full, and still inquisitive. Integration will take time. adventure is now and in the next step, my next movement. And a smile drifts caressing my consciousness with the words of a famous Shamanic Traveler, Buckaroo Banzai; "Wherever you go, there you are!"


Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman


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