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Surviving Miracles in Bolivia

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Recently I returned from The lake Titicaca region in Bolivia and Peru, more alive than ever. This is the story of a miracle, but then, miracles have become the norm in my life. This is not to say I take these events for granted or that I am not amazed each time something like this happens.

Rather I am ever more enlivened, ever more grateful, and ever more sure that this is the way life is supposed to be, and that anything else is a distortion of what is true. Here is what seemed to happen. I say seemed to happen because there were many of us involved and each one of us has a different perspective and a different set of impressions about the sequence of events that took place. However one thing is certain. All twenty-seven of us on the trip consider what happened miraculous.

The trip began in Puno, a small city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our itinerary included visiting the floating islands of the Uros people who live on the lake, then traveling to a special place for ceremony along the shores of Lake Titicaca. We then crossed into Bolivia to visit Tiwanaku, an ancient ceremonial site, moved on to Copacabana to visit the sacred islands of the Sun and the Moon. Returning to Peru we then flew to Arequipa and traveled by bus to the Colca Canyon region to see the Condors. As it turned out we were able to complete this itinerary even though the El Nino conditions and serendipitous events required us to change our plans daily throughout the trip.

We were most fortunate to be accompanied by Puma, our excellent Andean guide, and Enrique Sinuri, our wonderful Shipibo teacher and shaman from the Amazon. Although they did not know each other prior to the trip, these two made a wonderful connection and became a respectful team working together in ceremony.

It was only upon leaving for Lake Titicaca that we learned that shamans from all over the world would be converging to the lake to perform special ceremonies to awaken the Sun Disc, believed to be buried in the deepest part of the lake. There were rumors that the Dalai Lama himself would be present for this event given that the locus of spiritual power has moved from Tibet to Lake Titicaca. Of this disc there are many myths and stories about its true nature, exactly where it is, and how to access it. Puma was able to give us a great deal of information about the disc and how to work with it. From my understanding it is not necessarily a physical disc but a non-physical one that nevertheless can be felt, sensed, and experienced through interior senses. While the disc has been resting for a time, according to Andean prophecy, the time has come for it to awaken and begin to powerfully impact all of humanity. Its true purpose is to restore the ancient Andean wisdom about how to live appropriately with Spirit through the heart.

As it turned out, we would be completing our trip on the day that they planned to awaken the disc so we determined to do what we could to assist with the process. Of this I will say no more than that we had a powerful and amazing experience of the sun disc in the sky, in the lake, and in our hearts. The rest is impossible to communicate in words. This in itself was a kind of miracle.

After an amazing day of ceremony we crossed over into Bolivia to visit Tiwanaku but arrived in heavy rain, too late in the day to have adequate time to visit the site. Hastily we reworked the schedule with the bus company and agreed to overnight in La Paz and return the next day to Tiwankaku. Well rested, we returned to the site and experienced an extraordinary morning exploring the powerful and ancient pilgrimage site of an ancient civilization. We were fortunate to have an additional guide provided by the site who understood our orientation and who led us in a special ceremony to complete our experience there. Afterwards we all gave each other heart felt hugs and felt a deep connection to one another and the place itself. Tired and hungry we had a long lunch and just as we were leaving it started to rain. The plan called for us to retrace our steps to La Paz and then head on to Copacabana where we had reservations for the night at a good hotel.

My daughter Anna and I were sitting in the front of the bus and I noticed that the little jump seat in the very front next to the driver was empty so I called out that anyone wanting a good view could take turns sitting there. Tory, a Buddhist teacher from Colorado, volunteered and for some eerie reason I teased her saying, “First to the scene of the accident.” She gave me a not too pleased look.

As the bus headed out to the highway, spirits were high but most of the group were quietly processing their experience of the morning. The rain intensified and the bus began to navigate the steep terrain of the Bolivian highlands. We began to head down a steep hill with a long curve. With my elbow on the armrest, I was propping up my head on my hand and closing my eyes, and beginning to doze off.

The next few moments are still somewhat confusing for me because although I had my eyes closed I somehow knew exactly what was taking place. A collectivo, a van packed with Bolivians, was passing a series of slower collectivos going uphill on the mountain curve we were heading down. By the time he spotted our bus heading toward him he did not have time to finish passing so in his effort to get back in his lane he crashed into the collectivo he was passing and head on, he crashed into the drivers side of our bus. I remember hearing a tremendous sound of impact and before I could open my eyes the huge front windshield of the bus exploded and I felt like someone was tossing a bucket of popcorn onto my face and body. When I opened my eyes I was covered in sharp fragments of glass and the front windshield was completely shattered with shards of glass hanging like stalactites from around its rim. It was totally evident that safety glass was not used in Bolivian buses. The bus was still moving but very slowly now as the driver fought with the steering wheel to bring the vehicle to a halt before it could slide into the deep rain gutter and turn over. I could see blood on his face but fortunately as it turned out he had only two minor cuts above his eye and on his chin.

I quickly looked to see what happened to Tory and saw her stand up shaking voluminous amounts of glass from her hair, face, and body. She had her eyes tightly closed and was concerned she had glass in her eyes. Glass shards had penetrated her seat all around where she had been sitting but none had penetrated her body. Again as it turned out she had no injuries other than two tiny punctures on the backs of her hands. I looked around to see about the other passengers. Everyone seemed to be in a state of shock shaking the glass that had flown at eye level everywhere in the bus. One of our passengers received a slight cut to the bridge of her nose and was beginning to bleed a bit. Other than that there were no cuts, broken bones, or injuries to anyone in the bus. Although Anna and myself had received a massive shower of glass to our faces and bodies neither of us had the slightest scratch on our bodies, even as we shook out all the glass that had gone down our necks under our clothes.

I staggered off the bus still shaking glass off me and miraculously the rain had almost stopped coming down. Cars were stopping and within minutes, mysteriously two ambulances came out of nowhere and carried off two of the passengers of the collectivos. We were later to hear that there were no serious injuries and the passengers were mostly treated for shock. Most of our passengers disembarked and moved away from the bus to get the fresh air and freedom of the outdoors. Enrique produced a mapacho (jungle tobacco) and began smoking it to clear the Susto (trauma). Soon everyone was blowing mapacho smoke on themselves and each other to heal the shock. This was the first time I had had the opportunity to use mapacho so immediately after a trauma and was quite impressed at how well it worked.

Our driver had the presence of mind to call the bus company immediately and order up another bus from La Paz, a process that took about an hour and a half. As I wandered among our group I was amazed at how clear everyone was. Many were laughing and joking and commenting on the absolute miracle they had just experienced. Some few got the shakes and became tearful as the shock was released in their systems. No one freaked out, no one lost it and got hysterical, no one got angry, no one was injured badly, and most of all no one died. The other bus arrived, we transferred the luggage, and as we drove off the rain started back up in earnest. Our whole group gave our former driver who stayed with the wrecked bus, a round of applause.

The drive to La Paz was quiet as everyone was busy processing what had happened. The El Nino driven storm intensified and I had to negotiate constantly with the bus company on the cell phone as to what we should do. We had reservations in a hotel in Copacabana but that was a long way off and involved putting the bus on a ferry to cross a body of water. We could spend the night in La Paz but we had no reservations anywhere. Finally it was determined that we again change to a bigger bus in La Paz and make haste to Copacabana that night. Arriving in La Paz we again waited for another bus. This began a further odyssey that tried the limits of our intrepid travelers. Having no restroom aboard our bus, we devised a makeshift one with plastic ponchos and one by one members of our group slipped out of our bus onto a busy La Paz street to relieve themselves in the gutter. No one cared, not us nor the locals. It was business as usual. The storm intensified still more.

Transferring to the bigger bus, but without heat, we headed off into the evening toward Copacabana on a highway that was mostly underwater. All the streams we crossed over on bridges were roaring torrents and some stretches of the road had turned into a river. The sky became so dark that we had to use the headlights to see while the assistant to the driver regularly wiped the inside of the windshield with a towel so the driver could see. At times the rain turned to slush and I could see heaps of hail piled on the roadway to either side of the bus. It was not the easiest thing sitting in the front seat of the bus during this journey after the trauma of the accident but there was no other viable choice since it was up to Anna and I to negotiate with the driver and inform our passengers of current events. This was an excellent opportunity to practice “Be here now” and “Fear is never justified.”

Our passengers had the opportunity to huddle together in their seats to keep warm and the hours passed with snacks making their way around the bus in a spirit of sharing and camaraderie. After many hours we arrived at the ferry in the dark and the rain mysteriously stopped. We transferred to motor boats and crossed the water to the other side where a stall selling hot coffee and tea made a brisk business from our shivering group. The bus arrived on its own barge and we headed out on the last leg of our trip and the rain began to pour down in absolute torrents. At this point I felt a strange determination that after coming so far we were not going to leave the bus and get soaked in the rain. I could see that we were arriving at our destination and that within five minutes we would arrive at our hotel on the shore of Lake Titicaca. So I just applied a technique I had learned on an earlier trip with Puma, talked to the clouds, thanked them for their moisture and explained to them that we had been through a lot that day. Could they please see to stopping for a few minutes while we unloaded and got into the hotel. Then I offered them coca leaves. Within 30 seconds the torrents of rain ceased and we arrived moments later in dry conditions. Everyone got off, amazed that the rain had stopped, got their luggage, checked in, and dived into a gourmet meal prepared ahead of time by the hotel. It was 11 P.M.

This procedure for altering the weather may be practiced by anyone who so desires it. There are four ingredients: 1. Start by addressing the weather with sincere gratitude and appreciation for its gifts. 2. Tell the weather what is wanted. In other words give it some instructions for an altered scenario. 3. Make an offering of coca leaves, tobacco or whatever else you have. 4. Expect results.

The next day we went by boat to the island of the Sun and hiked to the moon temple where we had the opportunity to do a Susto clearing ceremony. Susto means a fright, shock, or trauma in Spanish. Although we had smoked our mapachos at the site of the accident, shock must be processed by the body first before it can be entirely released. Therefore one must wait a good twenty-four hours to remove susto. This is also accepted protocol in the practice of EMDR, an eye movement desensitization technique used in western psychology. The susto ceremony had several parts and included the Mayan practice of shaking out the susto in a kind of skeleton dance and hitting the ground to clear it. Then Enrique sang a susto clearing icaro and Anna and I helped him in blowing Agua Florida on everyone’s head to clear out what was left of the shock patterns. We gave thanks to Spirit for helping us and protecting us and we were done. After that everyone seemed fine.

There is no way to adequately describe what happened for us on the Islands of the Sun and Moon other than to say it was a once in a lifetime experience. On the Island of the Moon once again we were graced by a giant halo around the sun while doing our ceremony there. Returning again to Peru we flew to Arequipa and headed for Colca Canyon, hot springs, high Andes, vicunas, alpacas, and llamas. While few condors were sighted at this time of year, one gave our group an incredible display to make up for the small numbers.

As a final test, on the way back to Arequipa by bus, many of the group fell victim to a fast acting stomach flu complete with vomiting and dizziness. Fortunately this passed quickly for most and the final evaluation by many was that they would not have traded the trip for anything and for some it was the best trip they had ever taken in their lives. How could this be? You had to have been there to know.

Back in Lima Anna and I parted ways with the majority of the group. Strangely enough we had made an error in our return ticket and booked it for the next day instead. Interestingly this turned out to be no error at all for it gave us the opportunity to visit Herlinda, our Shipibo teacher and friend, who was in Lima and had been gravely ill for a month with residual complications from diabetes and cancer cells in her abdomen. On Valentines day Anna and I worked on Herlinda in a tiny hot little room where she had been staying, cared for by her family members. She did not appear to be in very good shape at all. She was listless and as they say in Spanish, “Debile,” or weak and unable to walk more than a few steps at a time. She looked like someone in advanced stages of cancer. Together Anna and I rolled up our sleeves and went to work singing, blowing smoke, working with our mesas, calling in the allies, removing the hoocha and bringing in the chi. Before long we were dripping in sweat and the room was feeling better. Eventually we got Herlinda to laugh and the work seemed over for that day at least. Herlinda is in a major Pluto transit, one of the biggest of her life, and will be for several more months. She is confronting some major personal lessons and it is unclear to us how things will turn out for her. All we can do is what we can to help her and send her many prayers. The rest is up to her. This is a time of great instability with many changes for the planet so we must be prepared for whatever comes. My personal wish is that Herlinda learns what she needs to from her health crisis, recovers, and lives many more long productive years of service and happiness.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.