Richard Grossman, L.Ac., O.M.D., Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission
We are all gathered in a large outdoor circular building called the “maloca”. It’s 9:00, time for the evening ceremony to start, and G., our leader, is snoring. But it’s okay. Somehow the snores blend into the music of the jungle: the frogs, crickets, cicadas, night birds, and other sound that are beyond my ability to recognize. It’s beautiful.
Like G., we are all lying on thin mats on the ground. At the center of the room, next to the large ceramic pot containing a roll of mapacho, jungle tobacco, three candles are waxed to flat stones. Above us, the beams and posts that support the palm frond roof move with the flickering light. Sometimes it seems like the beams all move along with the night music. Occasionally a mosquito buzzes by, its harsh whine interrupting the tapestry of the night creatures music. Occasionally a few whispers break the silence, punctuated by gentle laughter. The night is warm and humid, as are most nights here in the center of the Peruvian Amazon. Occasionally a breeze moves through the trees and a branch falls. I close my eyes to rest, knowing that soon G. will wake up, or one of his assistants will wake him, and we will begin another ceremony.
Fifteen years ago I had my first experience with such a ceremony. Not in the jungle, but at a house in the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the ocean. Then night music was only crickets and the sound of an occasional car or airplane going by. And I was afraid. Terrified, really. The unknown does that. And this was to be a journey into the unknown. I had watched as my friend and guide carefully measured out a dose of the ceremonial medicina. He handed it to me, and I gulped it down: a one-way act of complete commitment. Now, whether I wanted to or not, I was going to enter a deep, and totally new, healing space.
I lay down on the floor, on a comfortable mattress in the center of the room, flanked by tall speakers playing soft and soothing music. And I waited. And waited. Eyes closed, I began to see things: patterns of light and energy moving in time with the music. The fear dissolved. Multi-colored and multi-dimensional swirls of light/sound all blended together. It was almost seductive, drawing me in deeper and deeper. This continued for about half hour, and then a thought came to my mind: “This is too much.”
I felt a tightening in my stomach. Fear. It was too much. Too strong. Sucking me into a world, a dimension I didn’t know. But there was a strange familiarity to it all, as though, illogically, I had gone through this before. I could have stopped it with my will, but there was no choice. Not if I was there to heal. So I went into that world though I could have stopped it with my will had I let my fear control me. Though really I had no choice because I was there to heal, and stopping it would have stopped the healing.
I felt a tightening in my stomach. Fear. It was too much. Too strong. Sucking me into a world, a dimension I didn’t know. But there was a strange familiarity too it all, as though, illogically, I had gone through this many times before. So I went into it. Memories rose up. Childhood pain. Traumas, both remembered and forgotten. The day my dog died. I was six. I had never cried. Never even realized then what it meant for death to come to something I loved. Now the tears came. My beloved uncle, who had a heart attack and died while showering. More tears. The bicycle accident that caused the loss of my index finger at five. Ambulance sirens. Pain. Fear. Terror. More memories and pain than I could handle.
And then, something miraculous. I heard, as though from outside myself and within myself at once, a soft voice. “Trust and Forgive,” it said, over and over. “Trust and Forgive.” So I trusted. I forgave. And I felt those wounds and memories relax and lose their emotional charge. Then…back further. Through birth into . . . what to call it? Past lifetimes? Collective memories? Imagination? But real…oh, so real. A concentration camp in Germany. Walking with others to the gas chamber. The smell of burning bodies permeating the air I was and wasn’t breathing. I wanted to run away, but there was no where to go. There was nothing I could do. My fate was to walk into those showers, to breathe in the poison gas, to become one of those burning bodies. A small part of me knew that this wasn’t really happening. I could still feel the mattress under my back, still hear the music and crickets, still knew that I wouldn’t be gassed and burned. And it was still so real.
I thought I would open my eyes. End the experience. Talk to R., who was guiding me in this ceremony. But I knew that there was more to learn and to heal. And then I was back there again. And again I heard it: “Trust and Forgive.” No, I thought, I can’t. This is too horrible. “Trust and Forgive.” It’s impossible; no one can forgive this. “Trust and Forgive.” But I don’t know how to do that. Or maybe I do. Maybe I have to. So I did. I forgave and let go. And trust? Trust what? Trust this insane vision? Trust myself? Trust my ideas? Trust my religion? Trust God? “Just Trust. And Forgive.”
So I did. I let go, at the deepest cellular level, of the pain and the fear; of the hatred and the anger. And I somehow recognized these memories and feelings. They were subtle, almost invisible, always in the background of my life, like glasses you wear daily and forget you have on, or the distant highway sounds that you no longer hear. Yet always there, always coloring, like an invisible shadow, the way I had interacted with and seen my world, perhaps since my birth into this life. I opened my eyes to talk about what I was experiencing. Or tried to. Only a mumble came out. I managed to ask, “How long?” It had not yet been an hour. I closed my eyes again; back into the vision, into that all too real vision. And I let go, relaxing completely into the unfamiliar feeling. Breathe. Relax. Trust. Forgive.
And suddenly, with the forgiveness, I was out of the death camp. But the Journey was just beginning. Rome. I was a woman. Tortured. At the bottom of a latrine. Tied down, slowly being covered with feces. Screaming. Though no screams came out of my mouth there in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was horrible. Smelled horrible. And then, again: “Trust and Forgive.” And when I did, it was over; there was peace. But there was so much more: Tortured in the Inquisition. A slave about to be locked, alive, into a tomb in Egypt. Places and times I didn’t even know or recognize from the history I had studied. So many times humans have tortured and killed one another. All of it locked, somehow, deep within me. I could tell that the medicina didn’t create these visions; it just shined its light into those inner corners, crannies and hidden caves – where I didn’t want to go – so that I could see what was already, what was always there. So I could let it heal, help me heal.
I am back in Peru, in the maloca, G. softly calling my name. I go and sit on the mat in front of him. He carefully measures a small cup of the medicina and hands it to me. I hold it to my heart, as I always do, and voice a silent prayer: May this Journey show me what I need to see. May this help me heal that in me which needs healing. May this ceremony be not only for myself, but may it be for all who are suffering, all who have suffered, all who may suffer in the future. I drink the earthy, bitter tasting brew in one fast gulp, return to my place in the maloca, rinse my mouth out with a sip of water, and wait. Each person in turn is called up to receive the medicina. Each in turn returns to their mat and sits, listening to the magical sounds of the jungle creatures, tuning into their inner worlds.
Then, unexpectedly, I have a strong bout of coughing. I’ve been doing that for about a week, probably a combination of breathing in the diesel fumes that are so common in third world cities, and sleeping in the Andes without enough blankets. Tonight this one spasm of coughing continues and multiplies, painful and deep in my lungs.
I scan the other people in the maloca, especially those who have traveled to be with me in the jungle. Eight in all, all so different, all who trusted me enough to come on this Journey: a yoga teacher, a psychotherapist, a photographer, a nutritionist, a woman who has suffered from chemical sensitivity and fibromyalgia for 10 years, and others, all different walks of life. Some have had difficult times in the last two ceremonies, as repressed areas of their pasts began to come into awareness. It is to them that I send out a silent prayer of good intention, for their healing and deepest good.
Time passes. L., the woman with the fibromyalgia, is having a tough time. “I’m dying, I’m dying” she keeps moaning. Others are affected by this. One shouts out to me, “Please, do something for her. Help her.” Yet I knew that she has to go through whatever she is going through, that she isn’t dying, at least her physical body isn’t dying, just the part of her that holds onto her illness. And that this is the medicina taking her to a place where she can go through the cause of her illness to find real healing.
A few weeks ago, during a ceremony with an elderly Shipibo shaman in San Francisco Pucallpa, another woman, D., was struggling. A long-time healer, experienced with medicina, she was surprised to find an area of deep darkness and suffering still within herself, and it frightened her deeply. The shaman worked with her for at least an hour, mostly comforting her as the medicine did its work. Finally she got into a better state. “Porqué tomo? (Why do I take this?)”, she asked after a few minutes. “Para curar” (to heal), he said, softness, love, experience and understanding in his voice. “Solamente para curar (only to cause healing)”
Here in the ceremony, I am coughing strongly and regularly. Breathing is beginning to be difficult, and I wonder if all of the fumes I have breathed in are trigging an allergic asthma; not a comforting thought to have when I am hours away from the nearest hospital or doctor. From very far away I hear “Richard”, very softly. I think I am imagining it, but then again, even softer, “Richard”. It is G. calling me to come to him for healing. Again, I sit in front of him. He starts singing. His song lasts about 10 minutes. Then he blows mapacho smoke from his pipe over me in an ancient ritual of cleansing. After he is done I go back to my mat, sit down and take a deep breath. No congestion, no cough. I try it again, still no coughing, not then nor for the rest of the evening.
The next morning I notice that L. is glowing, a large smile on her face. I start laughing, one of those laughs that comes from deep within the heart. I ask her to tell me everything. I can’t go into details here due to confidentiality, but essentially she says that she was able to let go of an issue that has been bothering her for 10 years. That she realized that her illness was a direct result of her inability to forgive someone from her past. And that the night before, in the midst of all of her suffering, she understood that the suffering was her own creation. That no one and nothing else had created it. This allowed her to forgive and begin the process of true healing. This healing path is not for everyone. It is a path for those who are willing to heal, to look at and confront their deepest wounds, and to forgive themselves and others for everything. To let go of that, even of those cherished wounds, pains, and injustices which makes us who we think we are, blinding us from who we really are.
In a meeting with G. the next day, I ask him what he had done to me. Very simply, very humbly, he says that he had sung an icaro (healing song) to my lungs, and my lungs heard the song and let go of their illness.
Weeks after we return to the U.S., L. comes to see me. Her fibromyalgia and chemical sensitivity are not fully gone, she says, but they bother her less than they have in years.
Why do I do this? Why do I take people into a foreign country, into the jungle, to be bitten by mosquitoes, to live in an environment that can be uncomfortable and challenging, to take strange herbs, to confront their most fearsome inner demons, to work with shamans who embody an ancient healing tradition? And why do they come with me?
Para curar, solamente para curar.
Richard Grossman is the founder of Heart Feather, a healing travel experience. He is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine with over 30 years of professional experience. He is also a sound healer and the creator of soundJourney, a multi-instrumental sound healing experience. He has lived and traveled in China, India, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, and has worked and studied with healers and shamans from many diverse backgrounds. More about Dr. Grossman and his work can be found at www.acudoc.com, www.soundjourney.com or www.heartfeather.com