Peruvian Shaman and Good Friends

We flew from Norfolk to Wichita, Kansas, and then Kathy’s brother, Chan (short for Chandler) picked us up in his very own plane and flew us to their ranch in Oklahoma. We had dinner at the Stage Coach Inn and I had Chicken-Fried-Steak for the first time. A big-time rancher and oil man Chan regaled us with stories of his recent visit to Russia. Back at the ranch, Chan took a while rounding up all the keys to the mountain cabin and the car, a very old Lincoln although in pristine condition and we were ready.

We were on our way to Colorado and her family’s beloved summer cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  I loved those wide open flat plains of Oklahoma. The late day light was phenomenal.  First night was in Lamar, Colorado. The next morning we drove in to Colorado Springs.

Kathy was a local Edgar Cayce and ARE follower and had moved to Virginia Beach in 1971 from Oklahoma. She was beautiful, eccentric, extremely smart (a master’s degree in mathematics), a heavy smoker and an oil heiress. We were long time friends, from the 70s, and I had agreed to accompany her to close up her mother’s mountain cabin in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Her mother had recently died and this was the first block of time Kathy had free to travel. She wanted to spend some time at the old cabin, go through the contents, purge, cry a bit and box up items to be sent back to Virginia Beach or Oklahoma. They were planning on selling it. She also wanted to reconnect with old friends.

I’d started Paraview, a literary agency a few years before and was stressed to the absolute max. I needed a break from trying to figure out the intricate, in-bred and old-world publishing business while traveling back and forth from Virginia Beach to Manhattan almost every week. I was sleeping on sofas, apartment sitting, begging, and borrowing space to work. Filled with anxiety every minute. This was an entirely new world and I knew nothing about the literary business when I started out except for reading one book, How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I’d sold a few manuscripts and was actually representing clients in this new publishing genre. It was called The New Age. I was obsessively driven to bring a new message to publishing: self-help, new consciousness, paranormal research and ancient mysteries to mainstream America.

Also, I had clients in Colorado. One that I definitely wanted to visit was Mother Tessa Bielecki, sort of a New Age nun with a monastery and retreat center in Crestone, Colorado. Her manuscript was titled, Teresa of Avila: Mystical Writings. Tessa was a pioneering mystic herself.

Kathy’s mountain cabin was right out of Mountain Home magazine, all knotty pine paneling, views of distant mountains and a river running nearby. Most of her childhood and early married life summers were spent in that cabin. She shared lots of memories. For the first few days we re-visited Kathy’s friends, her old haunts-restaurants, cowboy bars and shops. Everyone was happy to see Kathy and sad to hear about her Mom. It was very nice and easy going.

A few days later we were off to Crestone to see Mother Tessa. Crestone was a three hour drive south from Colorado Springs and then winding up the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, all the way to the tippy top.  Crestone is the highest valley in the U.S. We circled, chugged on through many switchbacks, the old Lincoln straining up mountain passes until we finally crested the tallest mountain and looked down onto the most ethereal high desert valley imaginable. Fir trees, juxtaposed with huge sand dunes, the sky a surreal blue, the air crisp and clear-it seemed we were very near heaven.

We arrived at Mother Tessa’s Spiritual Life Institute in the early afternoon. Mother Tessa was truly the gracious and loving mother of all she surveyed. She was in her early 40s-blond, blue eyed, and charismatic.  She was a most unlikely nun. She’d been studying International Relations with a focus on Russia at Trinity College but was always searching for a deeper spirituality.  While at Trinity she met Fr. William McNamara and they founded the Spiritual Life Institute.

In a fancy golf cart, Tessa took us on a short tour of the Baca Grande giving artist’s name and dates of the breath-taking art at every crossroads, sculptures, and fountains fronting spiritual centers. The atmosphere was so clear we could see mountains 50 miles across to the west and mountains 75 miles to the south to New Mexico. She said the valley was the largest, the size of Delaware and highest livable valley in the world. Crestone was home to an all-encompassing spiritual center, the Baca Grande, with many world religions represented: a Hindu Temple, a Zen Center, several Tibetan Buddhist centers and Tessa’s Carmelite Monastery also known as the Spiritual Life Institute.  Each center had a main building surrounded by tiny homes for staff and guests.  This extraordinary place was the brain child of Hanne (and Maurice) Strong and Tessa strongly urged me to visit her while I was in Colorado. Hanne and Maurice Strong were wealthy Canadians on a spiritual path.

Tessa’s personal hermitage was tiny, quaint, cute and cozy.  It was a perfect mountain chalet in miniature.  At the Institute’s main building we had dinner-all grown on the land and all organic.  A young and very animated man writing a paper on the Carmelites for his anthropology class at Colorado State entertained us with his research.

Afterwards we listened to an audio taped homily from Father McNamara of their Nova Scotia Retreat Center. The mass was led by Father David (who happened to be born Jewish) and a very handsome fellow. Afterwards we had a song. It was a very moving, very sincere and heartfelt service.

Kathy and I stayed in a tiny guest house for the night.

The next morning I called Hanne, developer of Baca Grande and after a long conversation, she said to come and visit. She said, “I have a strong intuition that you are here to meet this Peruvian Shaman.” She also wanted us to meet a Tibetan doctor.

Tessa had given me an article to read about the Baca Grande which I read to Kathy as we drove over the Hanne’s home. Basically, it said that in the 1970s Maurice and Hanne Strong purchased 10,000 acres of the Baca Grande valley. It was generally known that for thousands of years the land had been used as a place for ceremonies and spiritual healing. In keeping with this tradition about 1,000 acres were initially separated and given to the Carmelites for Nada Hermitage; Aspen Institute; Lindesfarne, Mountain Zen Center and Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang Tibetan Project, Haidakhandi Universal Ashram and others followed.

The article continued: “Baca was to be a place of retreat; where seekers can reach awareness with the guidance of great masters; a place where wisdom traditions of the world can be preserved; a setting for interfaith dialogue and engagement; and a unique opportunity to live in harmony with nature by establishing and teaching sustainable living practices.”

It all sounded wonderful to us.

Hanne met us at the door in a flowing red cotton dress and cowboy boots. Hanne is a very down to earth Danish woman in control of the universe; especially her own Universe of the Baca Grande Ranch. She was abrupt and harsh with everyone but otherwise fine. No one seemed to take offense.  It seemed to be her normal mode. She was beautiful, blond and tanned.

After a short hello, she sent us up to Lindesfarm, a Zen Center to meet with the Tibetan doctor. His energy was charismatic, warm and loving. He spoke English, German, Italian and of course, Tibetan. He seemed worldly wise and comfortable in his skin.  We talked about the Dalai Lama, about changing consciousness, and what a gorgeous place Baca Grande was. We shared with him readings from Edgar Cayce and explained what the ARE (the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach) researched. Gizala, a gracious German woman ran the Center. We walked back down the hill to Hanne’s in a cocoon of love. We settled in to chat with Hanne and her friends.

Soon after, Mark, another spiritual leader at Baca Grande, bounded in, full of energy and excitement.  He came to tell us about Emilio, the famous Shaman from Peru. He said that Emilio was resting because he had just flown in from Italy. Later Emilio would create and execute a break-through shamanic ceremony for us. He would also explain what all the important symbols of his Shamanic practice meant – snake, jaguar, owl, at the ceremonial site. We would experience a shamanic ritual and a blessing.  Sounded good.

So at 9:30 that evening people started pouring in – eager to experience this Shaman’s medicine. Kathy had decided not to participate then-changed her mind and said yes. Hanne fixed us a meal that we couldn’t eat. Very strange food-we couldn’t even figure out what it was. Kathy finally said that she just wasn’t up for it and was staying behind.

I decided to participate in the ceremony because I was hoping and praying for a break-through; some miracle of self-confidence, some knowledge to fall into my head to relieve the constant anxiety. I was looking for a little enlightenment in the mysterious, wicked and strange publishing business.  I went with anticipation and a prayer in my heart.

Six of us in each of Hanne’s two four-wheel drive vans stocked with blankets, pillows, and trash bags (never was sure what they were for) and us – we provided the courage. This process was to last from 10 PM until 6 AM. As we drove up to the top of a nearby mountain it started to rain. We sat in the van. It  poured.  In the high desert country. Then it cleared off and the stars came out.  It was an astounding night sky with a zillion stars.

Emilio, the Shaman was intense. He had long black hair, heavily lined dark brown face that was Oriental looking; he seemed exotically primitive and he smoked continuously. He had an old beat up peaked hat, a beautiful multi-colored woven South American coat over his shoulders and heavy boots.  He spoke no English. A young man was with him as his interpreter.

It was just me and 12 strangers.

After the rain, it was cold, dark, damp and we were told to make a big circle sitting about 10/12 inches apart and focus in silence and meditation while our Shaman created the right conditions for the spirits. We were each given a little pillow to sit on.

While Emilio was chanting and whistling he placed various totems or symbols in particular alignments to the universe. He’d pick up an object; hold it up to the sky, then bowing to the four directions, then straight in front of him while he lectured in Spanish about the meaning of this particular totem.  We understood nothing of what he said, but the rhythm and energy was penetrating.  Emilio chanted, sang, whistled (and a damn good whistler too) and prayed for the energy of all the healers to come to attend our ceremony. Of course it was all in Spanish and none of us could understand a word. He’d sing-song talk and whistle about 10 or 15 minutes while holding up each stone symbol; a jaguar or a snake praying to the four directions for each symbol and covering it in smoke and he did this through many symbols.

After this long explanation, he’d turn to his assistant, this very young translator and the translator would turn to us and say: “He is praying for all the healers to come.”  Nothing more.  I’d wanted to know exactly what he was saying-word for word. The Shaman was so sincere and his dedication pulled me in, the hypnotic chanting and then his translators quick English extremely abbreviated translation pushed me away again.  I was not comfortable in this situation: far from home, no one that I knew, listening to chanting about what I had no idea and it was very cold.

Sitting there on the cold damp ground I cast around for support. I caught the eye of Tim, sitting next to me: a regular looking guy, clean cut, well dressed and as I found out later a psychologist from Boulder. He leaned over to me and I whispered in his ear that this was my first time and I didn’t know what to expect and was a little scared. What was going to happen? He whispered back giving the lowdown on drugs, what to do and what not to do.

“Drugs,” I quietly shrieked, “what kind of drugs?”

“Mescaline-I suppose.”

Mostly, he said I was to “go with the flow” and “don’t hold on to the negative.”

He had two children and loves being a father and this was the first time in years he’d done drugs. He seemed anxious, nervous and apprehensive whispering to me how excited he was and about what he hoped would be a breakthrough for him.

I told him that I’d been in many ceremonies and prayer circles and mostly it was chanting, praying and drumming.  I told him I’d never done any drugs.

He seemed shocked.

So after many, many prayerful ceremonies we are asked to stand and Emilio brings around a dish with a spout on it and the translator said to sniff from it.  Emilio held it up to my nose, turned it up and whatever was in it just poured right down into my nasal passage. Not really a “sniff”. What a cold, weird sensation and I didn’t like it, but sure cleared my sinuses. We all sniffed a combination of what we were told was tobacco juice and herbs.  As he moved down the line, people started to mill around, breaking out of our perfect circle chatting with one another and smoking pot and cigarettes.

Then Emilio called for our attention, getting us back into our circle. After much praying and offering to the spirits with a wine bottle that was repurposed for mescaline. The Shaman came around again and each of us got a little sip or a big sip. Then another round of prayers and offerings to the spirits and then another round of the wine bottle. It didn’t taste bad, sharp, and raw and not exactly what I’d expected. I had noticed that Emilio had been drinking from that bottle the entire time we’d been there.

I had the first dose and then another. I was ready.  It was mescaline, I was expecting to be transformed, to see lights and have experiences. But nothing happened. Nothing at all was happening to me. After a while we had another round. Again, nothing happens. I am scouring my conscious mind, my super conscious mind and even looking deep in the subconscious, but nothing. I was dizzy. That’s all. My new friend Tim asks me if I can see the horses galloping across the sky. I look but see nothing. Most people are wandering around and are obviously having fabulous experiences. So I sit on my little pillow.

Finally the young interpreter comes over to me and asks me how am I doing? Since it seems I am the only one still sitting in the circle as the others have wandered off and seem to be in conversation with another world.  I tell him, I’m fine but I am not having any “experiences.”

He goes over to Emilio and they confer. Emilio walks towards me, looking at me intently; he is studying my energy I’m thinking, looking around me, above me and, now he looks down at the ground, for a long time. I am wondering what the heck he is doing. Then he and the interpreter exchange questions, it seems, for a while, totally ignoring me. Serious faces, lots of back and forth, almost arguing.

Emilio takes his feathers and brushes my aura. He whistles around my head. All the time they are conferring. He obviously asks the interpreter to run and get his pipe because he does just that. Emilio takes big puffs of smoke and blows it around my body. They talk again.

Finally for the first time since the discussion began, the interpreter speaks directly to me: he asks me if I meditate. They are looking at me intently. Yes, I do and have been since I was about 17 I tell them.  He and Emilio talk more-finally the interpreter says, “The medicine acts on the blockages in your chakra system and you don’t seem to have any blockages so you can go back to the ranch if you like.” And they turn their backs and walk away murmuring quietly.  Leaving me standing in the high desert at 2 AM with an intense headache.  I’m cold, extremely disappointed and tired.

I walk down road and find the van, get inside and try to sleep but sleep is impossible.  Eventually, the group finishes and we drive back to Hanne’s just as the sun is coming up. I am exhausted, have a severe headache and wish I’d stayed with the Tibetan. That Tibetan doctor was the sweetest, nicest man.

I was so ready to get out of there. I was disappointed and felt terrible. Kathy drove us back down the mountain and when we got to her Mom’s cabin, I went directly to bed. By then it was 2 in the afternoon and I slept until 7:30 that night. While sleeping I dreamed I was picking out jewels, great big emeralds, rubies, sapphires and perfect diamonds.

Kathy and I thought that was an excellent dream and much better than the Peruvian Shaman’s medicine.

The Shamanic experience was an absolute realization for me that drugs were never going to be my process of opening up. Until that night I had never considered psychotropic drugs as a path, but because of the synchronicity of our visit and the Shaman, I thought that maybe, it might be a message for me. Plus, there was Hanne’s intuitive hit that was why I was visiting. And I thought that maybe I needed an extra burst of energy, a push over the edge to get a clearer picture.  Although I knew deep down that my meditation practice, which I’d started when I was very young and taking yoga, was my solid foundation. Now that I was traveling constantly, living here and there, I had stopped being so dedicated to my morning meditations.  I resolved to get my practice back on track and I did.

That Colorado trip was exploratory-yes, in oh so many ways.  We met with many extraordinary researchers and lecturers in the field. One was the brilliant Adam Trombly.  Adam was an inventor and at that time he was the director of Project Earth for the Institute of Advanced Studies in Aspen. He patented the “Closed Path Homopolar Generator,” an energy generator. He told us about the ozone depletion, the oxygen depletion, multi-nationals and what the FBI did to him after a Russian KGB Agent tried to buy his generator directly from him and about how his father was killed by the Derrick Incident in Maryland and how funny he it was that George Washington cultivated hemp.  He laughed and laughed.

Kathy and I responded with sort of a sad but nervous laughter. Later I told Kathy as Kahlil Gibran says, he loves overmuch. He was and I am sure still is, truly a genius.

Kathy had wanted me to meet Hanna Kroeger. She had a health food store in Boulder. Born in Turkey, Hanna was trained as a nurse and during WWII while working at a hospital she began using herbs and special diets, baths and massages for her patients.  She made her own herbal combinations at her kitchen table for years and slowly Kroeger Herb Products were sold internationally. She was the mother of the new herbal medicine and she wrote, she lectured; she taught and was always working to help people to help themselves. She was a force of nature; always on the move, making tinctures, talking on the phone, telling assistants what to do, all the while entertaining Kathy and me.

On our flight home, I realized my anxiety was because of my fears: fear that I’d fail in my quest to bring this life-changing information to the mainstream public; fear that I’d fail all these extraordinary pioneers, researchers, teachers of new consciousness and new psychological processes, authors of self-help manuscripts, many who’d given up so much to be able to step out of the locked-in belief systems and bring new ways of living life and looking at death.

I felt a heavy burden carrying all their hopes and dreams and my own dreams, too. When I couldn’t sell a manuscript that I believed it, it often was more disappointing to me than to the writer. More often that I care to remember, writers would say to me, when I informed them that I’d been unsuccessful in getting an editor at a big publishing company to take on their project, said to me, “You know I didn’t think it would sell, but I thought I’d put it out there and see what happened.”

Kathy and I talked all the way back to Norfolk about my work, her mother and how complicated life is if you’re paying attention. Kathy was a dear friend and a blessing telling me that it was all as it was meant to be and that I’d be successful because my heart was in synch with the universe.

I was faithful with my meditation practice thereafter.