A new José Stevens Article

The Marriage of the Andes and the Amazon:

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During the month of October I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon jungle, visiting in sequence the Q’ero people in the mountains and the Shipibo of the upper Amazon. This amazing trip was only partially a result of long term planning. While the trip to the jungle was part of our long term schedule, the Andean part of the trip was, to be truthful, last minute. One of our students, Richard, had connected with the Q’ero people on a prior trip to Cuzco and became a godfather to one of their children. The child was now close to two years old and it was time for the important hair cutting ceremony that signals an infants initiation into the greater community. Until that time the child’s hair (whether male or female) remains uncut and uncombed and can appear quite scraggly. Because of high infant mortality it is unclear whether the child will survive or not. Between one and two years of age the child is deemed old enough to be received more fully into the tribe. Being the godparent, Richard was responsible to make the trip to Peru and cut the child’s hair along with the giving of proper gifts and financial support. He did not particularly want to make this extensive trip alone and asked my daughter Anna, my wife Lena, and myself a couple of months before if we would be interested in going. After brief consideration we decided that this was an unparalleled opportunity to visit a people we were very much interested in meeting, so we said yes.

As if by magic Richard met Carrie, an American woman in Cuzco who spoke Quechua and had worked extensively with the Q’ero for over four years. Her home had become the informal meeting place for the Q’ero during their visits to Cuzco. Not only was she very helpful in helping to plan the trip, but agreed to go with us to help translate. She helped to put together all the complex arrangements of obtaining horses, a cook, and staff to accompany us on a trip that was to carry us between eleven and sixteen thousand feet. In the end, our team included Richard, Anna, her husband Aaron, his sister Rachel, Lena, and myself and of course Carrie. Translated this team included two scholars, Anna and myself, one warrior, Richard, one artisan Lena, two sages, Aaron and Rachel, and one king, Carrie, making for a good rounded team. Fortunately the staff included servers, warriors and artisans so we were balanced out with expression, inspiration, action, and assimilation roles. Since we met priests along the way, all roles were represented in some way.

We spent a couple of days in Cuzco to acclimate and while there I stopped by a street vendor who had a tray of exquisite stones from the region for sale. I bought several including one beautiful and amazing crystal, two crystals actually joined at the base and covered in an extraordinary white calcite. This stone felt so good in my hand I just had to get it even though weight was a consideration.

We outfitted ourselves with warm woolen mittens, caps, and other cold weather gear even though afterwards we were headed for the jungle where these items would be useless. One crisp morning we all piled into a van along with our cook and several Q’eros that would be accompanying us. Needless to say, after we were all inside with our gear, much of which was strapped to the roof, we were smashed in for the six to seven hour ride southeast from Cuzco, toward Ausangate, one of the most powerful Apus or sacred mountains in all of Peru.

Q’ero land is remote, just south of Ausangate, an extraordinarily steep and rugged mountainous terrain, so rough that until recently there were no access roads. The route is the same as that traveled by thousands of people every year going to the Qoyllur R’iti festival, the most sacred of all the Andean festivals that takes place in June each year. After a severe hailstorm we drove past the sacred glacier where they gather the ice during the festival. After driving over a rugged fifteen thousand foot pass on a narrow dirt road through extraordinarily beautiful terrain, we camped for the night at the place we would begin our trek into Q’eros.

The Q’eros are a collection of communities living in a defined region in the heights of the Andes. There are many other Quechua speaking peoples with similar traditions all over the Andes but the Q’ero have earned a reputation for keeping the original Incan traditions alive and are the “go-to” people for learning the powerful ways of the shaman or Paqo as they are called in the Andes. While the Q’ero are willing to share their knowledge with all who are interested, they are quite private when it comes to allowing visitors into their terrain. We were made to understand that only six or seven outside groups per year had permission to enter and travel in Q’eros. So it is difficult to go without a special personal invitation. Thus we felt much gratitude for the good fortune to have this opportunity to visit Q’eros especially accompanied by Carrie, a woman well known by the Q’ero people as one of their supporters and helpers.

In Cuzco Anna had developed a sore throat and a bad cough that she realized she had carried with her from the states. Although we tried our best to keep it from spreading by the time we began the actual trek Aaron had come down with it and I had a burgeoning sore throat on the first day on the horses. This did not bode well for a trip to such cold and high altitude and a part of me was very concerned since the symptoms were alarmingly like the swine flu. I had to work very hard to take my mind off fearful thoughts and to focus on leaving all this to Spirit to handle. Eventually the fever and cough spread to Richard as well but did not spread further. It became obvious that those of us that had symptoms needed to have them for deeper reasons. Despite my illness the trip was so amazingly beautiful and powerful that I was able to override the symptoms of illness and enjoy myself anyway in a kind of extraordinary altered state that comes with high altitude, powerful terrain, and fever. We visited isolated communities, collections of stone houses with grass roofs surrounded by huge herds of llamas and alpacas.

Being above tree-line, the terrain is barren and rocky with strange thick mists swirling down around the jagged peaks sometime completely obscuring everything and then suddenly lifting to reveal exquisite mountainous terrain. Without a guide one could easily get lost and die at these altitudes, something the Q’eros warn about, that could happen to those not accompanied.

Eventually we came to Toribio’s village nestled in a rugged valley surrounded by huge Apus all around. Here we participated in a wonderful despacho ceremony to thank the land and ask for our safe passage through Q’eros. A despacho consists of many items gathered together in a special arrangement, prayed over and then burned as an offering to the spirits of the land. There are hundreds of different kinds of despachos but this one was a simple one of gratitude and request for safe passage. Several Paqos participated with us in carrying out the despacho and as the offering was lit the rain stopped and the clouds lifted to reveal the expansive beauty of the land. I couldn’t help but notice how the offering had an immediate impact on the weather and conditions of the mountains.

These Paqos know their trade and have power way beyond what we may think is possible. The Paqos of this region are known for their power and supernatural abilities such as teleportation, ability to become invisible, conduct alchemy, and perform miracles of healing. Some Q’ero shamans have responsibility for helping to balance the energies of the entire planet, however, these are subjects way beyond the scope of this article.

Here in this village we participated in a haircutting ceremony for Toribio’s brother’s child. Modesto, a wonderful humble man who in his childhood had been hit by lightening, is also a Paqo. Modesto has hip displacement and walks with a rolling gate that makes his ability to navigate the mountains improbable. Nevertheless several days later we met him miles away ambling along as if nothing hindered him at all.

During the hair cutting ceremony the Paqos singled out Lena as the chief participant and made much of her presence giving her gifts and fawning over her. In my experience this pattern has been repeated many times over the years. Indigenous peoples love Lena and respond to her not only favorably but they often elevate her and recognize her for her power. On the other hand part of the pattern is that they usually ignore me altogether and I feel completely overlooked until I earn their respect over a long period of time. While I am used to this pattern I was surprised to see how I was still not over the havoc it plays with my self-esteem and the old self-deprecation feelings that arise. I wanted to celebrate the powerful occasion and rise above these petty feelings I thought I had left behind but try as I might I was plagued by the same old pattern. I felt diminished and shunted aside, clear evidence that I had not cleared away enough of my own personal baggage. Here again Lena was being honored and even after all my hard work, my introversion relegated me to the sidelines. I felt fatigue, anger, resentment, self-loathing, and a host of very unwelcome feelings that I would love to vanish forever, made worse by the fact that I know these are all projections and have nothing to do with what is actually happening. What I longed for was an open heart and what I got was one shut down tightly. No matter where I went, I could not escape my old process, especially here in Q’eros where nothing can hide. And so my process went, sometimes severe, sometimes just behind the scenes.

According to the Q’ero the mountains are filled with spirits and powerful Apus who guard and look after their communities. One has to be very watchful of their thoughts while traveling through these regions because they may attract either good fortune or dangerous outcomes. I can say that my own experience there verifies what they say. My most difficult challenges came at night as I struggled with my health fears and other subconscious fearful material that seemed to be dredged up by the rugged mountain Apus. Deep insecurity, self-deprecation, anger, and victimization all visited me in the middle of the night at camps sometimes exceeding fifteen thousand feet. From my conversations with the others I realized I was not the only one having these challenges. Whatever needs to be cleared tends to get pried loose and causes havoc on its way out. Strange epic dreams seemed to characterize the nights along with visitations from mountain spirits appearing as old Q’ero men or women, rock creatures, or crystalline beings bearing messages. Lena and Anna both had amazing visitations from these Apu beings along the way.

After several days we arrived at the Q’ero festival site located in a huge beautiful area where five valleys converged. We had dropped in altitude and the weather was clear and warm. Here we made camp for two nights and I welcomed the rest. Here also we were invited to climb up to some Incan ruins high above our camp where we held another despacho ceremony and were invited to sing as part of it. Although I was terribly feverish at this point I sang my heart out and cried at the beauty of the occasion. Later we were told that outsiders generally do not get invited to this particular place and we all felt awe at the good fortune that had come upon us. Among the many Apus that surrounded us, were the two that the Q’ero regard as protecting the whole world.

That night I succumbed to a severe fever and crashed in my tent sweating furiously throughout the night. I no longer had fight in me and strangely all my fears left me as I lay, sweating. I gave up all resistance to being sick. I figured the mountains and the Apus would have their way with me and there was no use fighting it off any longer. My process was dead meat. The next morning, although very weak I felt amazingly better and remained so for the rest of the trip.

There are so many things that happened and that we experienced there I can only recount a few of them in this article. As you shall see, in retrospect the trip happened exactly the way it was supposed to.

After returning to Cuzco we prepared ourselves for the radical shift to the jungle where we would meet with a group of students for intense ceremonies in the jungle. We flew to Iquitos and welcomed the heat and humidity of the jungle after the icy cold of the Andes where we had to chip ice off our rainfly every morning. After a day in Iquitos visiting the markets we loaded onto a river ferry for the six hour trip to our camp, an equisite jungle site close to the confluence of the Marinon and Ucayali rivers, where the Amazon actually officially begins. There we participated in an intense series of ceremonies overseen by our Shipibo teachers and friends.

During the ferry ride into the evening we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I can remember. The great cumulonimbus clouds forked out lightening all around as one by one the clouds turned orange and then pink with the sunset. The blue sky turned indigo and stars began to reveal themselves. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders and an ineffable happiness surround and interpenetrate me. I cannot remember being so happy in a long time and felt that I had truly come home surrounded by people that I love.

While the Andes are barren, rugged and masculine, the jungle is succulent, damp, and intensely green, a lowland feminine polar opposite to the heights of the mountains. One could not imagine a more opposite terrain to the cold harsh beauty of Q’eros. There in the jungle we lay in hammocks throughout the heat of the day and sang out the nights in ceremony. I felt the power of the Apus downloading into me during the ceremonies night after night. After a week we returned to Iquitos. Where we started with sunset on the ferry, we ended with sunrise on the Amazon, a time of great birds, cool breezes, and early morning mists.

Some of the group were returning to Lima for the long flight home and the rest would go on to another jungle location to do some intensive dieting with plants. It was very hot without rain so our dieting was rendered more severe as we could not drink water from early morning until close to four in the afternoon. Each morning we would trudge off to a beautiful Maloka in the nearby jungle to drink our various plant potions and spend the day in hammocks, processing the plants. Some of the group were just starting their diets with tobacco while others had completed tobacco on former trips and had moved on to Renneqia, Bohuasca, and even Camalonga. Each plant is taken from seven to eight days before moving on to another one. Nevertheless all subsequent plant drinks contain some tobacco in them so tobacco is the foundation plant for all of them.

I was finishing up Bohuasca and beginning Camalonga, a camphor plant tasting rather like mothballs but one that would give a powerful pattern of protection when working with serious diseases and dysfunctions in other people. While the plant is not at all hallucinatory it produces a kind of deep reverie or state of meditation that lasts many hours. Some of that time can be spent meditating, reading, or listening to music on an I-pod. Each day I read a little from the works of Patanjali, Gregg Braden’s Fractal time, and Tom Kenyon’s Magdalen Manuscript about the balance of the masculine and feminine.

On this day, as usual I set up my mesa on the floor next to my hammock. It consists of a woven woolen cloth containing various healing stones I had received in Q’eros plus my pipe, Agua Florida, and my feathers. The Q’ero paqos mostly use stones in their mesas because this is what is in their environment, a masculine set of tools. The Shipibos use plants because that is what they have in their environment, mostly feminine tools although there are exceptions to both. I decided to marry the two, stones and plants and use both during my dieting. I could lean out of my hammock and pick up various stones to contemplate during my day of dieting with a plant, an experiment that produced far-reaching outcomes and big downloads of information. On the fifth day of the Camalonga diet and my seventh overall day, I received a particularly big dose of the brew from Herlinda who chuckled as she handed me the glass. She sang over me, blew an Icaro into my tobacco and Agua Florida as she and the other shamans did every morning. Getting it down was rough and I had to chase it with a drop of Agua Florida to avoid instantly purging it up.

I did an hour of meditation sitting, and then unable to sit up any longer, retired to my hammock as the heat soared and I poured sweat from my body. To get the most mileage I used some self-hypnosis to put myself deeper than ever. I received the message that I should pick up the connected crystals covered with calcite that I had purchased in Cuzco and described earlier in this article and should place it on my tan tien (navel). Instantly I was led to contemplate the imbalance of my masculine and feminine sides.

Now it is worth noting that several days earlier in ceremony I had asked the shaman to work on balancing my right and left sides because I had been having problems with my left side: an ear ache on the left, a stuffed up sinus on the left, an ache in my left shoulder and so on. This is a chronic situation that I have had for years. At eighteen years of age I hurt my shoulder and back on the left side and due to several auto accidents have a vertebra out on the left of my neck and so on. Several years ago shingles appeared on my left back and chest. So I knew an imbalance was up but never had any clarity on it.

I received an internal message to count back lifetimes to find the one where these conditions started. I started counting back and reached twenty seven when I stopped and saw a miserable man who abused women out of fear of them and loathing for himself. I won’t describe the gory details of this life but let us say it was truly terrible and left my psyche with long term scars and a decision that I simply could not forgive myself for what I had done. This began a pattern of lifetimes where I could not get comfortable with the feminine and the imbalance grew. Feeling such guilt and making the decision not to forgive myself created a dynamic that the feminine within me appeared to be slowly shriveling up and dying from neglect. I saw that the woman on the left side of my body was shrunken and abandoned, desperate for nourishment, love, and protection. The male side was equally wounded and could not make progress without his other side that he was so afraid of. There they lay in my body side by side, wounded and unable to communicate, stuck in a stalemate situation. I was shown that the situation was mine to heal and that the decision to deal with it was also mine alone. I could neglect it and it would continue or I could set things right and hop on the road to healing. I was shown that for sure I could make no more progress in my spiritual path without moving on this.

I contemplated their desperate plight and felt the deepest compassion and sorrow for their situation. No one was at fault, no one was to blame; they were both just stuck in time. Since the male needs to move first with action, I reached over with my right hand and gently held my left hand, a first step in reconciliation. At first the left was frozen but then there was a barely perceptible response and then little by little each side had many things to say to the other ,and as they did so, they forgave each other. Each side was desperate for the love of the other and with time they moved toward each other with great desire and determination. This process took a number of hours and was deeply and powerfully moving. After much work had been done I was told to look at the stone I had been holding on my tan tien. It consisted of two distinct crystals joined at the base. One was longer and clearly the male while one was shorter and clearly the female. The longer one looked as if it were protecting the shorter one. In actuality they were one. I was told it was no accident that I had bought this stone, that this had been arranged by my essence way in advance. I was then shown the grand scale of events that culminated in this healing of my two sides. First came the trip to the Andes, the Q’ero land of stones and the masculine. There of course I got sick since the masculine side of myself was sick from being isolated from the feminine. I also had all my demons arise there because they needed purging. I repeated the pattern of feeling overshadowed by the power of the feminine represented of course by Lena and her being so welcomed by the Q’ero and my feeling of being overlooked. This was the guy from twentyseven lifetimes ago rising up with his pain.

The next step was to go to the jungle, the great dark feminine, where I felt overjoyed and where such intense work had to be done. The life giving moisture and succulence of the feminine were like manna to my soul and to the feminine side of myself. I prompted my intellectual center with readings from the Magdalen Manuscript, a book I had not even brought with me but that was given to me by my friend Pat, a woman, who suggested I read it. Clearly she was in on my healing conspiracy as well. Herlinda, a woman shaman, gave me the huge dose of Camalonga to push through the big internal work I had to do that day. Under direct subconscious guidance I picked up the marriage crystal and worked with it without knowing why. My inner guidance laughed at the grand scale of the plan that had been carried out under my very nose without me catching on until the very end. Spirit revealed to me in no uncertain terms that my personality is absolutely not in control of my life but is the last to know what is happening. Not only is my personality not in control but the thing I have learned to call reality is actually just a big passion play, an elaborate dreamscape where I can play out grand scale dramas of getting lost and finding my way home again over what appears like many, many lifetimes but is actually just the blink of an eye. What other dreams are being played out even as I write this? What dreams and dramas are being played out under your very nose that you have failed to notice because you are so caught up in the details of your life as I have been?

Let this be a reminder that the large scale events of the planet at this time, the imbalances of climate, economies, religious strife, political events, and so on, are just a big drama unraveling to teach us in a way that we may learn to wake up. They are dreams and they are orchestrated by parts of us so much more powerful than our surface personalities. All is well and all will be well because we are in very good hands. Our job is simply to see, to listen, and to respond willingly to what we are being shown. There is only healing to do and absolutely nothing to fear.

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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.