In July I spent two weeks in Peru leading a yoga & shamanism adventure with my dear friend on the spiritual path, Kay Dougherty. This was Kay’s 6th trip to South America to study and work with her mentors who are Celestial Shamans of the Andes. Most folks hear “Peruvian Shamans” and immediately conjure an image of botanical wizards from the Amazon with their healing plants like Ayahuasca and San Pedro. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about check out this brilliant travelogue by Kira Salak.) The Celestial Shamans are another breed within the Andean Cosmology and tend to source their medicine not from herbs and plants – though they do that too – but more from supernatural mountain spirits and distant stars. Intrigued?
More and more spiritual seekers in North America are looking south for experiential wisdom from the indigenous cultures of Central and South America. The Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Peru cemented this trend. Many of us who study yoga have long looked to the esoteric traditions of India to inform our spiritual vision. While I continue to study and practice and teach the Goddess lineages of Hindu tantra, I also see deep curiousity in the faces of my students every time I teach a yoga class and bring up the subject of Peruvian Shamanism. Kay and I were blessed to take 21 visionaries with us on this sojourn, and we met countless more on our travels. Folks are looking for more than an exotic vacation, they are looking for the wisdom & power & a profound spiritual connection to the planet we call home. The Celestial Shamans with whom we lived and worked over the course of our travels gave us just that. I’m sure that I’ll be processing and downloading the experience for many months to come. This summer I haven’t been blogging much because frankly, I’ve been meditating more than ever in my free time. My experience with the Shamans blew open worlds of beauty inside me that I’m just starting to understand. I’m ready to emerge now and write down some of my thoughts from Peru.
Today more than any other day in recent memory, the Earth is reminding us just how powerful she is. The entire City of New York is going on lockdown as Hurricane Irene approaches. Tomorrow at 12p the MTA will suspend all rail, bus and subway lines. Shit. Close down the city that never sleeps? This is monumental. Some of my FB friends are inviting me to 60 hour underground dance parties at fortified locales deep in Brooklyn for the weekend. In another life, without a kid… hell yeah. Have fun, ya’ll. I’ll be thinking of you fondly. There’s a swell of adventure in the air. And also dread. With the big anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching and the earthquake 3 days ago that sent my Harlem townhouse apartment rocking and rolling like a giant ship at sea, folks here are anxious. Many of my most advanced students fell out of tree pose this week, laughing uneasily at their own lack of ease in what they consider an easy balancing pose.
For all the power that flows through this vibrant city, nothing and no one is more powerful than the ground we stand on. Though we’ve civilized this land by enshrouding it in cement, the land below our sidewalks holds the memory of what it once was – the most biodiverse nook on the eastern seaboard. Manhattan island is situated in a pleasant vortex in which the flora and fauna from the great northern as well as southern forests converged. It was once a brilliantly diverse natural environment.
I’m not necessarily bemoaning the loss of that. I love culture. I love urban life. And I like to think that that myriad diversity, though thoroughly built up, still exists here. It lives not in the landscape of trees and plants but in the radical diversity of the people who call NYC their home. Of COURSE the diversity of humanity would make a home on the most biologically diverse launchpad in the New World. Consciousness always aligns with itself. Just last night I met a young fellow from Los Angeles, the new boyfriend of a dear old friend, who had never visited New York before. When I asked him his impression he said, “The coolest thing about New York is how you’re all in it together. In LA I avoid certain neighborhoods because the people there are different, not just racially or economically mind you, but just different. Here you might see someone totally different than you and engage them in a meaningful converation. I’ve done just that a few times today already.” [glee in his eyes as he registers that reflection] “It’s exhilirating! It’s just really, really beautiful.”
I couldn’t agree more. Anytime you crack your own shell and receive a shared experience with someone who’s so totally different than you – well, it just feels good. It feels good because, as I would say to my yoga students, it’s the source of you really are. And we humans have a profound desire to connect with our source energy. Your life after all is the fruit of loveplay. I’m not gonna go explain the birds and the bees now, I’m sure you get it. Desire isn’t just something you have, it’s literally who you are at the source of your life. And you know what’s crazy? A lot popular yoga traditions run around spouting a fundamental belief that desire is the cause of suffering, that desire is a big old problem, a “bad” thing you need to solve or get past. I wouldn’t go there if I were you. Desire is the thing that’s going to heal you and heal this planet. Let’s all get better at our desires, not expunge them.
The Shamans I studied with in Peru said that in order to heal yourself, the first thing you need is a desire to do so. Add to that a belief that you CAN heal yourself and you’re well on your way. The brand of Shamanism I studied is “Celestial” – that is, unlike their Amazonian counterparts who source “Botanical” wisdom from the healing plants of the soil, these guys draw source wisdom from a mountain cosmology that plugs into other planets in distant parts of the Universe. Trippy? Hell yeah. Add to that, all of these guys (and ladies) BECOME powerful Shamans by getting struck by lightning. That’s right. They don’t necessarily go LOOKING to get struck by lighning, but when it happens they get a download of information into their subtle bodies that can takes years to unpack and learn from. This is like their initiation. And it takes the whole Indian notion of Shaktipat, the power of the Universe that “crashes” into you and steers you toward higher level of consciousness, to a whole new level. A literal one. These Shamans also liked to tell us that we deliberately CHOSE planet Earth as our home on which to embody because she is such a wonderful place to evolve and heal. These people were the absolute most grounded and earthy beings I’ve ever known, each of them living very close to their agrarian roots, and not nearly as Nu-Agey as I may be making them out to be here.
Every morning they encouraged us to cultivate a subtle connection with that day’s particular landscape – by simply asking. Out loud. Arms outstreched. It went like this: “Good Morning, Pachamama. [Mother Earth] It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Good Morning, Father Sun. It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Good morning local spirits of this land. It is I, your brother, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me.” I felt kind of hokey the first day, but then I realized that the landscapes actually WERE receiving me, opening me to deeper spaces in meditation than I’d ever experienced – teaching me about my fears and foibles, embracing me so spaciously that some of my old thought patterns seemed to dissolve as if by magic. I’ve kept up this daily practice here in NYC, and though it’s hard to quantify the result in tangible day to day results, the practice – asking to be received – daily – full name – has shifted my feeling for the local landscape. I love it more than ever.
Here’s my meditation journal entry from Aug 10, 2011 : Today I saw NYC and the counties north of the City from like a Google Earth, bird’s eye perspective. Very cool. Felt like I was flying above the Earth! Amazing feeling. Saw all of the reservoirs that supply our drinking water. Then suddenly it was like the first layer of the earth got lifted off and I got to see all the intricate underground water systems that flow south toward NYC. Millions of branching currents, twisting and winding south. The Hudson River. A voice (a woman’s?) entered my mind and explained the magnitude & beauty & complexity & scope of these systems, more to awe and inspire me I think than anything. It seemed pretty sophisticated, her explanation, but I don’t remember any of it. It was like a total download from my cuya. [more on cuyas, sacred stones from Peru, in another post] Then my bird’s eye view honed in on my immediate neighborhood in Sugar Hill. The voice said, “There’s great stress on all of these water systems right now, especially near your own home.” Bang. Eyes opened. Fuck. I hate when meditations end so abruptly.
Two days later, on Aug 12, there was a massive water main break 2 blocks south of me. The original Croton reservoir line runs straight down St Nicholas Ave (my street) from the Bronx and further up, the Catskills, and it basically blew up and made a HUGE sinkhole. Folks south of me have been without gas pretty much ever since. Several blocks are closed down and the holes in the streets are EPIC. I’ve peered down them. Ancient infrastructure. Literally hundreds of men have been working on it round the clock. Including lots of engineers in suits and ties and grave faces. Tents and catering for the workers (I stole an apple) and men with blueprints shaking their heads. Then the earthquake this week. That day I asked a worker how it was going. “Between me and you bro? This town’s held together by one giant fucking bandaid and it’s about to fuckin’ tear. But fuck. Where the fuck else you gonna live, bro? Right? Tea Party’s ruining this country. At least we’re safe from those fuckin’ loonies here. Look at us, bud. Two white guys in Harlem. Safer here than fuckin’ Tea Party Land. Fuck that.” He smiled a big Irish grin and I laughed my ass off (the Queens accent killed me). And I thrilled in a very human connection with someone whose life is so very different than mine.
“Good evening, Mother Earth. It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Please protect my family from the approaching storm.” The greatest healer on this planet is the planet herself. All we have to do is desire to love her more and better. And she will continue to give us everything we are, and everything we need.
Irene is a name derived from the Greek word εἰρήνη (eiréné) meaning “peace.”