I awoke the first day to a prehistoric panorama of dense mist growing up from the valley below, thinning just enough to reveal the impressive fifty-foot ceibo tree that stood forty feet from the spot that had been designated as mine for the next four days and nights. Long root tendrils of chupaya, a bromeliad-like flower that grows in the high Andean mountains, dangled from nearly every open branch, creating a mystical scene straight out of Lord of the Rings.
I had journeyed to this spectacular mountain in Northern Peru with a friend, John Dorr, to participate in a traditional Native American rite called Hanblecheyapi (Vision Quest) with my teacher and friend Chief Valerio (Freddy) Cohaila. Now after several days of travel on planes, bumpy hot buses and on foot, I had the keen sense that a much different sort of journey was about to take place at the top of this magnificent mountain, with nothing to do but sit and “be” for the duration of the vision quest. My previous vision quest had dispelled any fears about the protocol of no food or water common to questing, but had also made me aware of how difficult it can be to sit with nothing but your thoughts for that long.
An Endless Stream
The entire first day was spent watching an endless stream of beautiful multi-colored butterflies of all shapes and sizes and contemplating the transformation in store for me signaled by their presence.
By the time the sun set on the first night, I was fully immersed in the rhythm of the plants and creatures surrounding my small patch of sacred space. Unfortunately, not even the power of nature in all its magnificence could save me from my own thoughts through the next two days and nights. Despite the peace and quiet, or likely because of it, the noise of internal mind chatter took over, rehashing recent events involving the breakup of a romantic relationship. The resulting fallout: an out-of-control freight train of consciousness that threatened to derail for most of the third day.
By the time the small group of supporters arrived with Chief Cohaila on the third evening with the visionary medicine Ayahuasca, which is a part of some of the vision quests lead by Chief Cohaila, I was exhausted with the internal struggle. Fortunately, having worked for years with Ayahuasca, this visionary tea from the Amazon, it was truly medicine for my soul that filled my consciousness and provided exactly the guidance necessary.
The Familiar Sensations
As darkness fell and I settled in to the familiar sensations of the medicine, the struggles of the previous two days faded into an amazing scene of the mountain on which I sat and the valley below, but from a very different time. Out of the trees that lined the ridge stepped a short, powerful man dressed only in a loincloth. After a short time of looking me over (although it felt like sizing me up), he announced that he had lived in this valley in the time of the Inka. He then proceeded to show me a running narrative of moments from his life as a spiritual leader of his village – ceremonies, rites of passage and offerings to the spirits of the mountain, land and water, caring for the crops and children, living and dying with the natural rhythm of nature – a stark and powerful contrast to the hustle and bustle of the life I lead today.
Just before leaving he said, “This is how you need to live, in honor of the spirits.”
Once the awe I felt at the gift of such a powerful vision subsided a bit, the spirit of the plant itself, whom those who work with this medicine affectionately call Grandmother Ayahuasca, arrived with another, more personally humbling message for me.
“Live every moment from your heart, ” she said. “You have a powerful teacher and mentor in Freddy (Chief Cohaila). Model your actions by his.” Then, uncharacteristic of the medicine, as quickly as the visions had started, they were done, leaving me once again to the silence and beauty of the star-filled night to contemplate and process what I had received.
IÂ´d love to say that the rest of the night was spent in peaceful reverie, but as lessons with Ayahuasca sometimes go, I very shortly got the opportunity to practice the guidance I had received as the madness of the mind-chatter returned with full force for the next several hours to the point that in relative desperation, I turned to my old friends – yoga and mindfulness meditation – to make it the next few hours till sunrise.
Just as the first rays of light came on the fourth morning, I fell into a short but beautiful slumber that lasted a couple hours. Thankfully, I awoke with an amazing sense of spaciousness and heart-centered love that felt like a much needed transformation of spirit. By the time I heard the drum coming up the hill and saw Chief Cohaila’s familiar form crest the ridge, I was filled with gratitude for the incredible opportunity to work with such a beautifully humble and wise teacher, for the opportunity to participate in such transformative rites and to be able to receive guidance from so many powerful spirits. After a silent trek down the sun-drenched mountain, picking up questers along the way, we made our way into the inipi (sweat lodge) where, little by little, everyone had the opportunity to share their visions with the circle of questers and supporters.
The sweetness of the feast of fruit after sweat lodge seemed a fitting end to a difficult, but sweet, journey of transformation on this mountain in Northern Peru.