1 Tell a friend

Bob Hanna SameIt was the eve of summerís solstice when over twenty of us gathered in a small clearing beside a lovely pond. We came to participate in an ancient Peruvian ceremony where we will drink San Pedro, a benevolent cactus used for over 4,000 years for healing, divination, and expanding consciousness. Our ceremonial maestro, the curandero, (Spanish for healer), meticulously prepared the San Pedro with the rituals, songs, and prayers taught to him by his elders. Throughout the ceremony, the curandero is responsible for actively maintaining a sacred space conducive for healing while simultaneously keeping away mischievous and harmful spirits who feel compelled to join our circle.

The curandero, a fairly young Caucasian man dressed casually in black, sat meditatively before his mesa, or altar, which was purposely arranged with an assortment of stones, crystals, feathers, candles, bones, swords, and other ancient artifacts. The mesa, his cosmic ground, allows him to communicate with other unseen worlds and spirits, including his ancestors and teachers, the apus (mountains), and the plants. While we settled into our seats beneath a darkening sky, I was comforted by his confident, yet humble, presence. I anxiously waited for my turn to approach the curandero and drink the bitter brew of San Pedro.

Iíve worked with plant medicine a few times in my life. My prior experiences with San Pedro came with mixed results. Although I was ready to accept whatever happened, I wished for a transcending, mind-blowing experience that would once and for all allow me to shed lifelong burdens and to live anew in the world. Yet, I was not surprised when this did not happen. Although grateful to participate in a ritual that radiated such beauty and depth, I typically struggled through the ceremonies with fatigue and physical discomfort, often feeling sick to my stomach.

The surging nausea could be overwhelming and I sometimes forcefully vomited. Vomiting is expected to happen at these ceremonies and considered a form of healing since hucha is released. Hucha is heavy, dense energy that accumulates in the energy body over countless years, and sometimes lifetimes, of bad habits, toxic emotions, and not living in right relationship. To this end, each participant has his or her own bucket for vomit which is inconspicuously collected at the ceremonyís end and returned as an offering to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, whose composting nature converts the hucha into new life.

Given my recurring physical challenges with San Pedro, I sometimes doubted whether working with plant medicine was the right path for me. The curandero assured me that the plant medicine was beneficial for me and to remember that San Pedro works in mysterious ways, speaking differently to each person. I trusted the curanderoís wisdom and yet accepted that tonight I could again fall ill. Still, I hoped my weeks of preparation, which included eating a wholesome diet and refraining from a few of my bad habits, would reward me with a transformative experience.

The ceremony began at nightfall and continued throughout the night, ending just before first sunlight. In the absence of Sun, it is believed that the dark spirits of the world are more active. There is an expression, ďAs without, also withinĒ. We each sat within our own inner darkness and prepared for the possibility of meeting our personal demons. The curandero reminded us that we are called to brightly shine our inner light so that the true nature of these dark forces are revealed to us and then transformed.

One by one beneath a star-filled night, we approached the curandero and kneeled in reverence to the sacredness of the moment. After quietly saying prayers, the curandero handed me an ancient wooden Incan goblet adorned with mysterious carvings. The goblet was mostly full and I winced at the pungent fragrance of San Pedro. Raising the cup to my third eye, I evoked prayers and intentions of gratitude and healing. Then with as much conviction as I could muster, I hastily gulped down the sacred medicine and returned to my seat in silence. As I tried to shake off the strong, repulsive aftertaste, I did my best to settle into a meditative state and wait patiently to see what will come.

It is not long into the ceremony before I again felt a relentless physical discomfort that hinted of a coming round of purging. I leaned back in my chair and breathed deeply in hopes of some reprieve from the nausea. I was restless and tired, and could not sense anything significant about my experience. I feel unsettled and uncomfortable. Damn. Here was am again, stuck, without ground or purpose. As the curandero sang and shook his rattle, I wondered, ďMaybe working with plant medicine isnít for me?Ē

I was shaken out of my misery by the unusually loud and violent purging of a man whose experience was clearly worse than mine. His gut-wrenching cries echoed about the valley and were a welcomed distraction from my own discomfort. I felt empathy toward his plight, which seemed unending. The curandero eventually asked this man to come forward to the mesa. The collective circle was transfixed on him as he stumbled across the inner circle, his face a pale white and his body depleted. The curandero greeted him with compassion and told him that he was brave to do such good work. The curandero then proceeded to skillfully use his staffs and stones to clear away the hucha that was present in his heavy energy field.

I was engrossed with the drama of this manís journey and was most curious to see how the curanderoís efforts would affect him. Wrapped tightly in a woven blanket, I instinctively moved to the ground in front of my chair, and began to offer my prayers for healing. Amidst the pulsing nausea that seemed to only further intensify since the man approached the mesa, I was surprised to feel a new vitality arise within me. My fatigue suddenly dissipated and I felt a heightened sense of energy that allowed me to deepen further into a meditative state.

It was in this moment that I then experienced a most remarkable insight that forever changed my life. I recognized that my worsening physical discomfort was not simply about me. Rather, I realized I was actually feeling this manís intense energy, which led me to deduce that I was also feeling the hucha of others in our circle. This simple insight shifted my perspective from that of an observer to an active participant in the ceremony. I was amazed that my presence and prayers were actively contributing to the process that was unfolding. Although I sat quietly in my defined space, I was still engaging with others in the circle and had something valuable to offer to the healing of this man. My simple presence and attention mattered.

My realization blossomed as I reflected on the countless years of feeling alone, bored, and void of purpose. I saw how I bought into the illusion of separateness as if my being was somehow distinct with solid boundaries that kept me apart from other living beings. Yet, how could I not believe this? The idea of separateness and the right of the individual were foundational beliefs of my culture. While I certainly experienced moments of connection and intimacy with others, I only considered myself temporarily joined and destined to return to my definitive self. Within this sacred ceremony, however, I came to know myself as more fluid, permeable, and intertwined with the energetic nature of all living beings.

I came to define this moment as an awakening in my life. I perceived who I was and my place in the world in a fundamentally new way. There truly was no alone as I delighted in the truth that I am constantly dancing with innumerable beings, seen and unseen, with whom I share this existence. With a healthy dose of presence, engagement, and love, I can intentionally direct my energy to positively affect others while also remaining open to receiving thier gifts. My awakening invited the real possibility of having personal relationships with animals, trees, plants, mountains, rivers, and the wind. This discovery tapped into my lifelong yearning to know nature more intimately and I recognized that I now knew how to do so.

Following my awakening, my experience in the ceremony was blissful. I felt strong in my body as I sat cross-legged, rooted upon the earth. My mind was extraordinarily quiet and my senses were highly acute to my surroundings. As night slowly gave way to the coming dawn, I delighted in the symphony of frogs hidden about the pondís marshy banks. Though I had not shared a word with another person since the beginning of the ceremony, I felt a special bond with everyone in the circle. A natural smile washed over my face and I savored the profound sense of awe and gratitude I felt for this moment and my life.

The night sky slowly turned brighter shades of blue and we celebrated the rebirth of the sun. The curandero commemorated the moment with a special song that filled my heart with joy and grace. He offered prayers and anointed us with Florida Water, purifying us after we endured the dark night. And then, always one of my favorite parts of the ceremony, the curandero gave each of us a freshly squeezed citrus drink, topped with fresh flower petals, to nourish our bodies. We then stood up, grounded our feet into the earth, and together chanted the sacred directions. We then closed the ceremony by blowing our prayers and teachings into the center of the mesa to be sealed for all time.

I walked to the pondís edge and breathed in the beauty before my eyes. A soft mist hovered over the pond and the mountainís reflection was crisp on the tranquil surface. There were no words, only presence. I felt part of the sacred oneness that is and always will be. My journey transcended the self, even if temporarily, to experience a more primal belonging to the universe. A friend stopped beside me and looked lovingly into my eyes. We shared a warm smile and then returned our gaze upon the magnificence before us. I truly felt lucky to be alive.

I am wise enough to know that life is not like a movie where any given moment has the power to instantaneously transform a lifetime of bad habits and misery into a person who is forever benevolent and happy. Rather, I understand that the teachings I received from the ceremony are like seeds that are now my responsibility to plant and care for in my life. These seeds will need daily attention so their roots grow strong, opening the possibilities of changing how I live my life and ultimately, who I am. I believe that any sustained personal transformation requires many things from us, including greater awareness, clear vision, self-discipline, a supportive community and a healthy environment. My awakening was only the beginning.

The time has come for me to learn how to best live my life, to live as if what I discovered in the ceremony and throughout my life were true in all my waking moments. I will need the courage to face my fears, insecurities, and apathy, and to see them for what they are, lies and illusions. I must allow my old self to die and nurture a new way of living in the world. Once awakened, there is no turning back. Yet, I am comforted by the truth that I am never alone. I only need to lean into the sacred circle of life, give of myself, and all shall be well. Namaste.


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