A new José Stevens Article

The Guatemala Test

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Sometimes, even after doing everything right, Essence throws curves at us just to see how we will manage them. This is the tale of such a test and perhaps an example of one way of managing it along with lessons learned. After an extraordinary trip to Huallay, the stone forest in the Andes of Central Peru, my daughter Anna and I stopped in Guatemala for a reconnaissance trip, to do the pre-planning before taking our two year program group there to work with Mayan shamans. In Peru our group had worked with the Q’eros, the powerful Andean Paqos or shamans who we have been learning from. After a series of wonderful ceremonies at fourteen to fifteen thousand feet, we felt strong and filled with light. Our hearts were open and our sense of connection to Spirit was strong. So Anna and I figured we would bring this good foundation with us on our research trip to Guatemala.

Arriving there just after the rainy season had begun, Guatemala was all mist and clouds with occasional moments of hot tropical sun. This was a trip to map out a Mayan adventure, to meet with shamans, plan ceremonies, transportation, hotels, itinerary and organize general logistics for a group of twenty. After a quick stop in Antigua, although quite beautiful, we wrote it off for our purposes as a Disneyesque tourist trap. We headed deeper into the Mayan land of mystery, Lake Atitlan, a true place of great power. After several days of scoping out surrounding towns, markets, and ceremonial places, we were ready to head out for Tikal, the great Mayan ruins in the North, and on to other adventures. Somewhat tired from our Peruvian trip and intense research in Guatemala we decided to take a day off and relax in Panajatel, a tourist oriented town on the shores of Lake Atitlan with great views of the surrounding volcanoes. We looked for a nicer hotel along the main street we could relax into and that is where this adventure actually begins.

Our room was on the second floor, away from the street where it was quieter, and as we checked in I noticed a woman who appeared to be a guest of the hotel sitting outside her room watching us. We entered, lay our luggage down, and since a strong rainstorm was taking place we settled in for a good nap. Earlier we had been to the bank and changed some money since we had more traveling to do and because the next day the banks would be closed being Sunday. I stuffed a good amount into my wallet and the rest I gave to Anna who stowed it in her luggage and locked it up, there being no safe deposit boxes in this part of Guatemala.

After waking from our nap and the rainstorm being over, we decided to go out and get a bite to eat and do some personal shopping in the colorful marketplace there. Upon leaving and locking up the room I noticed that, curiously, the woman was still sitting on a couch watching us. The hotel appearing secure I didn’t think much of it and we went out. The truth is we had a wonderful time that afternoon exploring, eating, bargaining, and finding great gifts in the marketplace. We even found a location to do some great prayers and connect in with the Spirit of that place.

About sunset we made our way back to the hotel and upon arriving, found the door to our room unlocked and entering found the room ransacked. Our belongings were scattered everywhere, the luggage lay open, the contents disgorged and it took only a moment to realized that the robbers had made off with all our reserve money, Anna’s reserve credit card, her driver’s license, her expensive video camera with batteries, microphone etc. and my I-phone. At first it appeared her passport was gone too but then we found it strangely under the bed. We determined that in their haste they had pulled out the contents of the document case and the passport had slid away out of sight without their realizing. An American passport is worth about ten thousand dollars on the black market. Obviously we were being watched over and protected from a worse fate.

Now strangely enough as we witnessed this chaos, damage, and loss, I felt oddly neutral. I quickly assessed the loss and it appeared to be about twenty five hundred dollars worth. Yet all items could be replaced and we were not hurt. The passports were fine since I had carried mine with me. Nevertheless I summoned the clerk at the desk to witness the robbery scene and this is actually where the greater part of the adventure began.

The clerk was horrified because this had happened on his watch and he stated that he would have to call the owner immediately as well as the police. In short order the owner arrived, a lean German man in his fifties who spoke good English and who we shall call Hans. Hans appeared very distraught and kept saying what a bad thing this was, that it was impossible, that in twenty years of hotel ownership this had never happened and it simply could not be. He asked what we had lost and when we told him he was even more distraught and kept saying over and over that as the hotel owner it was his responsibility to make it right, to see to it that we were compensated. I was rather amazed at this since I did not really expect any compensation. Nevertheless he said it was a matter of honor for him and that it was very bad for business for his reputation and his hotel.

Meanwhile the police took forever to come and after finally arriving they took many photos of the room and interviewed each of us. At first none of them including Hans knew that we could speak Spanish so they thought that we could not understand them. This led to some interesting aspects of the story. The police obviously did not believe we had locked the room and commented that we had probably left it unlocked until I pointed out a large screwdriver the thieves had used to break in. Meanwhile Anna was busy on the hotel computer trying to cancel her credit card. As all this was going on, Han’s upper class Guatemalan wife showed up carrying a rottweiler puppy of just eight weeks. She instructed her husband that he must compensate us for all the losses and she kept mentioning mil dollares, a thousand dollars, as the sum he should pay us.

Now it turned out that the robbers had already tried to use the credit card eight times in just a few hours but failed each time except for buying a tank of gasoline. It was quickly established where the gas station was and someone was dispatched to interview the gas station attendant who stated that the people using the credit card had commented about how cheap gas was in Guatemala and how much more expensive it was in El Salvador. Then it was noticed that the guests in room six had vanished but left their TV and lights on to make it seem like they were still there. The woman watching us as we checked in was part of a couple of El Salvadorans who had robbed us. It was a sophisticated inside job and they had scored.

About this time it was announced that we would have to go down to the police station to file a report but we were also starving having had no dinner and it was getting late in the evening. Hans invited us to the restaurant next door, an establishment that he proudly said was the best place in town and indeed it had cloth tablecloths and napkins with two wine glasses per setting. Not wanting to take advantage of Hans I ordered something modest and a beer as did Anna. Hans began to wax eloquent saying that he owned the entire building and that he used to own the restaurant but gave it to a partner, another German man. As we ate he drank shots of tequila but did not eat. Meanwhile the police had entered to enjoy a meal on his dime. Obviously the police and he knew each other rather well and there seemed to be some tension between them.

As Hans tongue loosened he began to swing rather oddly from one thing to another. He badly wanted us to know how successful he was telling us that each fancy dinner plate in the restaurant he had brought personally from Germany and they cost one hundred dollars apiece. At one point a couple entered the restaurant and he remarked to us that they were the richest people in Guatemala, owners of a Central America chain store similar to Walmart. He made a great display of going over to them and greeting them. Then returning he began to growl threateningly about how he was going to catch the thieves and when he did he would kill them. I started to feel very uneasy. He went on to say that in Guatemala if you were caught for a crime like this the police would likely kill you before you even made it to jail and if you went to jail the conditions were so bad you would not survive. He said he knew a hit man in El Salvador who could find and eliminate anyone. Meanwhile Hans was becoming quite drunk although I hadn’t noticed him drinking all that much. He then said that he had one incident before but it was just a tourist trying to cash in on his insurance. He looked at us threateningly as if implying that we were trying to do the same thing.

I deduced that Hans was a young soul warrior who was caught between his desperate need to appear successful and wealthy and even magnanimous and his terrible reluctance to part with any of his money. He began to say things like, “Nobody F—s with Han and he would give us hard stares. I realized at that point that somehow in his mind we had become the enemy and that he was trying to intimidate us by threatening us so we wouldn’t cause him any trouble. It then came out that he was terrified of the police report that we were about to file because this would cost him a lot of money. They would shut down his hotel for a month until all the paperwork was done etc. We began to notice that the police did not like him and they were going to stick it to him. He told us that if we could come to some kind of agreement, even though we could write what we wanted in the report, it would be better if we could say that the robbery happened on a bus or somewhere else. I said that the police already knew it had happened there at his hotel but he said that did not matter. With the proper arrangements (bribery and payoffs) the police would accept any story we told them and they would make that official.

Anna and I looked at each other and realized that we had entered into a local political quagmire and that we were being squeezed to do something illegal to benefit the hotel owner and we did not have all the information about what was really going on. Perhaps we had stepped into a big old karma. We did not know how corrupt Hans was but it was clear that in his twenty years in Guatemala he had learned the game. Who knows what he had done and what the police had on him. We also did not know how corrupt the police were but it was becoming evident that indeed they were massively corrupt too. I quickly tried to evaluate what should we do and questioned if our safety was at stake? Both Anna and I began to call in our allies and helping spirits because we were out of our league here.

Once again Hans’ wife came over to the table to say that he should just pay us mil dollares so they could all go home and go to bed. He was careful to tell her that he was going to pay us but he did not mention to her any thousand dollars. In his drunken state he had forgotten yet again that we could speak Spanish and knew what his wife had said. So finally he got down to it after more braggadocio and more indirect threats. He said, how about if I absorb your hotel room cost, pay you four hundred dollars, and pay for your dinner and we call it a night. You tell the police it happened somewhere else.

A thousand thoughts were going through my head. I knew that the trip insurance would not cover lost cash and they would depreciate all the equipment lost after a large deductable was subtracted. The truth is we would end up with nothing. I considered the very limited funds we had left and how much we would need to finish our trip. I was also aware that Hans was by this time very drunk and I had sized up his character to be quite suspect. It would not be good to piss him off and try to ask very much money from him since being a young soul he identified closely with his money and did not want to part with it even if his wife knew they had plenty. But he was also asking us to lie in the report to save his hotel a lot of trouble with the tourism department. So I made my decision. I said, “We have little money left to finish our trip. Our credit card has been stolen so we can’t pull any out. We need five hundred dollars to be able to finish our trip. So if you give us five hundred, cover our hotel room and the meal tonight, we would really appreciate it, and we will tell the police whatever you want.” He replied, “I’ll give you four hundred.”

And I said, “No, we really need five to make our trip happen.” With this I could see the terrible pain in his eyes as he realized he was going to have to part with one more hundred dollars. On the other hand I was not asking for so much that he would consider it worthwhile making us disappear. So he agreed but said he did not have the money with him. He had it at home. Not wanting him to vanish on us I said we could go to his house first on the way to the police station to file the report. I prayed it was not far to his house as he staggered from the restaurant stone drunk. The ride was nothing short of terrifying. Being Saturday night the streets were filled with revelers and other drunk people. My worst fantasy was that he would run over someone and kill them while we were riding in his car and then we would all end up in a Guatemalan jail to rot or be raped and murdered.

I realized that this was like a passion play somehow unfolding before our eyes. We had stumbled into a series of events that were beyond our control and there was something significant about all this that I could not yet fathom. Anna and I had very little opportunity to interact so mostly we communicated through glances and eye contact. Although on and off terrified on the surface by the dangers of the experience, deep down both of us felt calm about it, even an amusement. Yes, we were truly having an adventure, perhaps even a misadventure but I kept thinking that if we survived it what a great story it would make.

Arriving at his home I was not surprised at the splendor of his estate. As we strolled by the gardens and huge swimming pool he said, “People think I am a wealthy man but I am not really rich.” I then asked what all the buildings were on the grounds and he couldn’t help himself. “I have ten large houses here that I rent out in addition to my own house.” Although he did not want us to think of him as rich so we would not squeeze any more money out of him, he had to report his significant holdings to us. Clearly this was one very wealthy man who had reported throughout the evening that he came from a very well stationed German family and wanted for nothing. He made a point of telling us his new rottweiler puppy had cost over seven hundred dollars and came with papers. We heard a long story about puppy breeders in Guatemala who catered to the wealthy and how he was lucky to get this one for so cheap. As we entered his home more rotweilers came out to greet us along with the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen. Fortunately for us they were friendly but clearly it could be otherwise if not accompanied by Hans. We waited as he tried to remember why we were at his house. I reminded him about the money he had come to get. Very displeased he agreed and went to get his wallet that turned out to be stuffed with hundred dollar bills. I will never forget how reluctantly he withdrew five crumbled bills and handed them to me as if he were giving me his last dime. Anna and I kept talking about how wonderful his dogs were figuring that this would distract him and put him in a better mood. He clearly loved his dogs.

On weaving our way back to the police station in his car we had to remind him a couple of times where we were going. When we arrived his wife was waiting for us and she asked him. “Did you give them the mil dollares?” and he said evasively, “I paid them.” The police lieutenant that we had been dealing with, sitting in front of his computer, asked me, “Have you come to some kind of agreement?” I said, “Yes we have.” The policeman said, “Is it to your satisfaction?” I said, “Yes!” He then said, “Where shall I say it happened?” “On a bus.” I said. He did not blink an eye. After about forty five minutes the separate reports for Anna and I were done. Hans and his wife had to drive us back to our hotel and this was the most dangerous and terrifying ride of all going at breakneck speed through small streets but we made it without smashing into anything. Stunned by the entire episode we fell into bed at midnight facing a four thirty AM wake up call for a three hour shuttle that would take us to Guatemala City and then a nine hour bus ride to Tikal.

We had more adventures in Guatemala but this is almost the end of this harrowing tale within the larger adventure. Both Anna and I continued to be puzzled by this series of events. What the hell was this all about? What were the lessons? What did we miss if anything? Did we behave properly under the circumstances? I thought so, but one never knows. Maybe I should have refused any money but then we might not have experienced all that we did. It seemed important that Hans should at least keep his word after promising to compensate us and as the price for lying for him. The reality is that it was not a lie because the police were completely complicit with it. In other words it was expected that we play the game.

Why were the police so upset with him? What did they have on him and what was he paying for them to leave him alone? The mystery remained with us for the rest of trip. One thing was clear however. We had run into a very wealthy young soul who was deeply insecure and identified solely with his money. Yet here was a person who remained deeply unhappy, filled with rancor, revenge, and hatred. Someone deeply involved in a corrupt way of life who, when faced with a threat to his security, would resort to almost anything to put things back under his control. And yet in a childish sort of way, he felt compelled to at least partially keep to the appearances of honorableness.

Even so we both found it possible to forgive him his shortcomings and recognize him as a face of Spirit, just a confused one. In fact the police and all the characters of the play were also faces of Spirit that were helping us to learn something important. It was OK.

A week later we were home safe and sound but a little worse for wear. We hit the ground running as usual having a five-day retreat to carry out immediately at Eagle Bear Ranch. Both of us agreed that the event was not quite over. There would be more. We thought maybe it would have to do with dealing with the trip insurance that we had taken out. But that was not it.

During the beginning of the retreat Anna had a dream that she was back on the shores of Lake Atitlan and she could feel the immense power of the Mayan lake. She heard the lake speak and it told her that the robbery event had been a test and it was not over yet.

Later we did a drum journey and Anna had a sudden profound and unexpected experience. When the drumming began, a Quetzal, a bright sacred Guatemalan Bird, showed up and asked her to follow it. She followed the bird as it took her down a very bright tunnel. She traveled for a long way before popping through into a strange, fuzzy dark kind of place. After looking around her and not being able to see her surroundings clearly she asked the Quetzal where he had led her and he said, “You are at the bottom of the lake.” Remembering her dream about the power of the lake, she said, “What is the source of the power of this lake? I would like to meet it.” The Quetzal then said, “Look down.”

She looked below her and saw a strange square opening in the lake floor below her and the Quetzal indicated that she had to go down through the opening to find what she was looking for.

Anna ten asked the Quetzal if it was coming with her and the Quetzal told her that no, she would have to do this part by herself. She bolstered her courage and went down through the strange hole popping into a dark cave-like place. The energy was intense and somewhat scary. Out of the dark came a grotesque frightening lizard like creature that stood staring at her in an intimidating way. She felt like turning and running but instead held her ground and stared back at the creature and announced, “My name is Anna Stevens. I am a daughter of the Great Spirit. I came here because I wanted to know the source of the power of this lake.” The creature continued to stare giving no answer. “Don’t worry, nothing can hurt me.” Anna said to herself.

Suddenly The creature transformed into an extraordinarily beautiful woman who said, “Congratulations. You have passed the test.” With this Anna felt tremendous relief. In other words we could not be introduced to the source of this Mayan power place without meeting some kind of a test. Would we freak out? Would we take the events personally? Would we deal with the situation unreasonably or unfairly? Would we whine and complain? What would we do? Apparently we did what we were supposed to do and played our parts well and it was through Anna that we found access to the powers of this land. The beautiful lady then asked, “Is there anything you would like to ask me?” Anna said, “Yes, will you agree to protect and support any group we bring down to work with the power places of the Maya in Guatemala?” “Yes.” She said.

We had just received an extraordinary gift, protection from any harm for all our travelers for all future trips. This was better than any insurance policy with all the small print making it worthless. For this the test was well worth it with the bonus of having many lessons.

What were the lessons? As far as I know these are them.

1. Observe and discern but don’t judge.
2. Forgive everyone as events are unfolding and see all characters in the play as the face of Spirit.
3. Treat all characters with respect no matter what.
4. Just because you have had high times in one place does not necessarily mean you are off the hook for the next place.
5. You must form new relationships with the helping Spirits of each place and pass their tests if you want something. The helping Spirits of the last place will not necessarily be able to help you in the new place. They are for that place only.
6. Keep don’t know mind.
7. It’s not over till its over.
8. The catalyst for the lesson is not necessarily the main event. It just sets the play into action.
9. What you lose is not important. What you gain is.
10. Being in control is not always possible or even desirable but keeping your wits about you is.

Other considerations:

• After the trip Anna told me her video camera had been malfunctioning and it was going to cost a lot to fix it. Her camera vanished.
• I had recently read an article about how cell phones are suspected of causing tumors. My cell phone vanished.
• $500 of the thousand dollars was recouped. The rest was the price of admission to this adventure.
• There may be more lessons that we don’t yet know about.

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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.