Just a small town boy… 

Just a small town boy… 

I first heard His Holiness The Dalai Lama speak in June 2017, where he gave a three day lecture series, for 3 hours each day, on Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta and the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva to the Tibetan Youth at the Tsuglhakhang Complex, HH’s Main Temple and residence in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, northern India.  So many long words… 

With little information on the official website, save for “Registration opens approximately 3 days before lectures begin”, murmurs start to spread around Bhagsu as the anticipation builds “have you done yours yet?” “Is registration open yet?”.  Registration must be done in person at the Dalai Lama security office in McLeod Ganj – a typically Indian experience of filling out your application form before queuing on musical chairs in a small modest “office” back-room, filled to the brim with rusted metal shelving, piles of stuff & things that encroach the already limited space. 

Central Tibetan Administration Office


After minimal/no scrutiny, you sit opposite one man and his laptop, who enters your details into the system and takes things into the 22nd century by taking your photo on his webcam. You then pay another man 2 feet away your 10 rupee fare as he prints off your snazzy black and white pass and slips it into a plastic sleeve, complete with lapel clip. Ooh’er. 

Access granted

The day had arrived.  Even though the teachings weren’t due to start until 8:30am, we’d been advised to arrive good an early to get through temple security – another classic Indian experience:  segregated queues for men & women, entering under the arches of a faux metal detector that seems to do nothing, or be taken any notice of, an obligatory bag search (no lighters, cameras or phones allowed), a second bag search 2 feet away, an intimate body search behind a screen and a 3rd verbal check “did you have your bag checked?”. 

Temple guard dogs

This spits you out at a set of back stairs that look distinctly like the wrong way, or an exit, but I press on with no other option and rise up into the Temple arena – a chaotic space that’s hard to grasp, and with no apparent epicentre. Where will the man himself be seated?!  

I’d imagined the Temple to be very different inside, like a huge auditorium with levels of bleacher seating, but this is India. The sea of Burgundy and Gold hits you first, crowds upon crowds of Tibetan monks seated, ready and waiting for their Teacher to arrive, without a piece of floor wasted. Next it’s the bun fight – where on earth are we going to sit? Every square foot was occupied with bums on cushions/mats, cardboard pieces that had been laid down days before, each with hand written signs denoting name & country of the intended occupee, and respectfully upheld, areas cordoned off like crime scenes with string and paper signs selotaped to them, reserving whole areas for “Japan”, “Korea”.  

Copious flat screen TVs are hung aloft for the benefit of the 90% of attendees who didn’t make it into the inner sanctum. Those still in search of a piece of flooring to sit on walk the pathways, earnestly scouring the landscape with eyes staring off into the distance. 

Climbing over a pile of flip flops & footwear deposited at the edge of a designated seating area for tourists, we manage to squeeze ourselves into some spaces in between spaces, me up against a tree trunk and a wall of Ghee canisters, and the others next to the edge railings. It’s 7:30am. 


I’m snuggled in next to Katherine, a Buddhist student from Wyoming with I-Ching tattoos and a shaved head. I look up to see the tree branches coming through the open air perimeter, and watch the monkeys jumping from branch to branch, bagging themselves an arguably better view than me. 

Katherine explains to me that she’s currently learning both Tibetan and Sanskrit to aid in her own learning and to satisfy her skeptical side. She was one of the clever ones who laid her mat down a few days ago, but she tells me she feels a little guilty that her meagre cardboard mat under her cushion could be taking up more space than she needs (for the record, it’s a perfectly reasonable 1 persons bottom size), given the Tibetans are masters of finding space for themselves, and their 3 children, where there is none. It seems she was fully expecting, and ok with, a Tibetan to squeeze into the 10cm that extended beyond her knees. 

His Holiness was to give this talk in Tibetan, so in order to understand him speak you need to tune a radio to hear the English translation. The frequency was ~93fm, and the sweet spot on my little 220 rupee radio was hairline, almost atomic level thin, and the reception flirtatiously fickle. Ah well, you get what you pay for right?

As plenty of people were still arriving, squeezing themselves in, the Monks started to served out small circular loaves of Tibetan bread to the crowds. Stacks and stacks were passed back, person to person and finally into my rumbling belly, which had fallen out with me since the 5:30am alarm. They even served Tibetan butter tea, a slightly salty & acquired taste, served into our own cups (that we’d been advised to bring with us), poured from large steel teapots. How civilised. 

The radio crackled an announcement that the Dalai Lama was on his way in, and the crowd started to stir. I stood for a moment to catch a glimpse of him on the nearest TV screen. Knowing he was in the same building as me, and not just an abstract collection of pixels on a screen in some foreign land this time, I couldn’t help but laugh and smile when I saw him appear, his little smiling, loving presence. I’d heard people talk of his epic rainbow aura and the effect it had on people in his vicinity, and here I was feeling it first hand – star struck maybe, I saw him being led by the hand, his 82 year old body slightly hunched over and smiling, greeting people like he was a member of their own family or as a friend. It was like Father Christmas had arrived, and even the general murmurs of the crowd seemed to be smiling too.

I felt a warmth on my skin, and as I turned around I realised the wall we were sat against sectioned us off from a room full of blazing pujas, their collective heat coming through the window I was now gazing through.  A wonderful sight, just for our little corner. 

As His Holiness settled in got Mic’d up Madonna style, we settled down and tuned in.   In Tibetan, the Dalai Lama speaks with such great speed and clarity, his voice rising and falling in pitch, conveying the intelligence, humour and passion of a well-read scholar of logic, fine arts, medicine, Buddhist philosophy, poetry, drama and astrology that transcends the language barrier.  

Listening to the English translation, whilst doing his very best the translator did little to lift the speech off the page or add intonation, and ohhhh how I wished I could understand Tibetan just for a moment, to be able to hear him speak in his native tongue with his loving humour, but it’s impossible to remain anything but happy in the presence of His Holinesses. 

Of course Lhamo Dhondup, the Tibetan farmers son from a small hamlet in Taktser would eschew such adoration.  Despite being a governmentally appointed reincarnation, recognised through prophecies, visions, extraordinary occurrences and tests as the 14th Dalai Lama at the age of two, this insightful, compassionate, humorous and marvellous person remains humble.  As far as he’s concerned he’s a simple Buddhist monk, a human being like all of us, with the same potential, showing us what we’re all capable of if we put our minds to it.

Advertisements

Lost & Found 

Lost & Found 

When it comes to packing for holiday I can be a major procrastinator.   I’ve been known to take days, putting clothes, stuff & things into piles as I figure out what I need, wheedling it down the essentials (and probably not so essential), inspiration often hitting me at 2 in the morning of some gadgety thing or other or item of clothing that I need to dig out, #swissarmyjess. 

Might Needs and What Ifs have been the death of me.  I’ve packed and over-packed for holiday so many times as a result, only to later curse the extra weight on my back, or the lack of space in my bag each time I’ve unpacked and repacked the 3 pairs of shoes I didn’t need, or tried to stuff that bulky jumper back in because, you know, “I might want to go trekking in Nepal” or “what if it gets cold in India?”.

Back in 2016, with only a rough idea of travel plans and a 70ltr bag already bursting at the seams, I was forced to go with the Knowns:  to only pack for what I definitely knew I was doing or weather I was expecting, instead of the usual Swiss Army Jess M.O. of packing for hypothetical scenarios, borrowing worry from a future as yet unknown.  Having said that, the notion of Indian heat is a hard one to grasp when you’re in England, in a cold, slightly damp-ridden flat in London, in January, so there was bound to be some mistakes.  

I was the girl who had all the gear for every eventuality, and I’d get a kick out of being prepared for everything.  Letting go of What Ifs and Might Needs was hard for this Girl Scout at first, but has become so liberating, almost addictive – I’ve culled my bag of non-essentials and spent items several times over, leaving little bits of me behind all over the world.  

It made my load lighter, both physically and philosophically, relaxing my fervour for perfect preparation, made me resourceful (if I’m cold, just wear everything I own), forcing me to make do with what I have (which in most cases turned out to be just fiiiiine), to borrow from fellow travellers, and it’s led me to plunge my grateful hands into the Lost and Found bin. 

LOST & FOUND


Most hostels have these tucked away somewhere, and have so often been a treasure trove. The bits and bobs left behind fall into a few categories:

The Rejects: Stuff you’d never be seen dead in, and frankly who on Earth ever bought that, let alone wore it! but proves useful for trashing at Holi festival, or sweating into at humid Lumbini Vipassana retreats.

The Randoms: the unexplained and niche, like a fully reinforced and functioning motorbike jacket, and an apron… true story.

The up-cycle candidates: usually with some kind of defect, like a small tear that can easily be fixed, a small mark that can be overlooked/washed out, or shape/size that can be adapted with chalk & scissors. As my Mum would say, I am my Grandmothers Grandaughter.

The Winners: perfectly fine reusable pieces that have been left behind, either by mistake or necessity, like no more room in the bag. 

Casting shame and judgement aside, delving into the Lost & Found has yielded me extra layers when I’ve needed them, a head torch, a replacement pair of flip flops, a fresh pop of colour from a pashmina, fresh tee-shirts that I’ve adapted to suit, leggings to wear to death and throw away, warm socks for trekking, new shorts that just needed a few stitches, guilt-free fashion faux-pas, like the AliBaba (nappy) trousers I wore for a week in Pushkar (guilt-free because I DIDN’T buy them and therefore can relinquish any responsibility for style choice), “clean” clothes, a fresh wardrobe, all with no attachment – I didn’t have it in the first place, so I can just bin it, leave it behind or pass it on – and all for free/exchange. 

I’m pretty useless at shopping too, so the Lost and Found bin does me another favour, taking all colour and style selection totally out of the equation as the procrastinator in me breathes another sigh of relief, leaving me time to worry about other things, a fatter wallet and a much lighter load on my back. 

Two roads diverge in a forest, and I – I took the one less travelled by, with no expectations, no attachments, into the unknown with a “roll with it” attitude, and that has made all the difference.  I just had to let go of a little part of me that was no longer serving to find my way.


Like this? Related blog posts to “Lost & Found”:

Invest Wisely

You Can Go Your Own Way

7-Bullet Sunday: day 443

7-Bullet Sunday: day 443

What’s it been like being me for the last 7 days? 

1.  This week has all been about exploring Rajasthan.  They say: “A northern Indian state bordering Pakistan.  Its palaces and forts are reminders of the many kingdoms that historically vied for the region.”  We say it’s the land of Kings, colour, and one of the most stunning states I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing.  A new music style, new foods, a different kind of people, the palaces and the forts, the madness and the heritage all combine to make a heady mix that continues to surprise and delight.  

2.  All aboard the Ajmer Express, we leave Jaipur and head east destined for Pushkar.  All of us still slightly stained with hints of the Holi rainbow on our skin, hair and anecdotes, we embark and sharpen our elbows to battle our way on to the General Seating carriage (read: sitting on luggage racks and perching on edges).  

As that familiar sound and rocking motion of the clickety clack clickety clack clickety clack sets in I can’t help but be rocked into snooze mode.  As my head is gently rocked from side to side I ruminate that this is where the idiosyncratic Indian head wobble originated from, or at the very least this is the best platform to practice it. 

3.  Pushkar, or KarPush as it’s become affectionately mis-coined by my Yankee Doodle Dandy Hannah, is a welcomed change of pace from Jaipur.   Higgledy piggledy streets, cafes and treasure trove shops hidden above steep stairs and behind secret doorways, one could very easily lose themselves, their minds and their shopping budgets in Pushkar, how wonderful.  A place of evening madness, falafel, frolicking monkeys, cruising cows, sunsets from Temple tops and over sacred lakes, it’s the kind of place where you just want to say Yes.  

4.  Peak Decisions:  Spending quality time with Clay and Naomi (off’ve India circuit 2016), I feel so lucky to get the rare chance to reconnect with those good eggs twice in my adventure.  Talk turns to conquering Everest Base Camp in Nepal – a once in a lifetime opportunity and 17k ft – a decision that demands a healthy respect before undertaking it.  

As Winston Churchill once said: “we must not lose our faculty to dare“, so I say Yes!  and book my flight to Kathmandu.  Team Everest Base Camp is confirmed for April 2nd: Clay, Naomi, Jess, Hannah and a delightfully exciting surprise last minute entry, Natalie!!! from Kranti Yoga (and Stockport, c/o Singapore, Perth, the World).

5.  We take a local bus from Pushkar to Jodphur as the Rajasthan adventure continues.  The landscape getting more and more sparse and distinctly more desert’y as we head even further east.  A bone rattling 5 hours later we arrive in the Blue City, and an instant feeling of calm descends.  Our hostel, HostelLaVie, is an astonishingly cheap 450 roops per night given we’re situated in the heart of the ancient city, with the Mehrangarh Fort towering over us from our stunning rooftop view. Oh Rajasthan, you’ve done it again.

Tiffin and sweets
​​​

​ 


6.  Food glorious food!:  with new Rajasthani dishes on the menu and eager appetites, we excitedly sample the delights of dishes like Ker Sangri, a dish made from ker berries and sangri beans from the desert, and Gatte Curry made with dumplings.   The tantalisingly novel flavours inspire us to take a home schooled Indian cooking course, Cooking with Aastha, helpfully arranged by our friend Vicky from Ravlas.  4 hours of learning to make the perfect masala chai, malai paneer, okra and potatoes, gatte curry, chapati, paratha and lassi for 6 people with our wonderful Indian Didi, Aastha, cooked modestly and effortlessly with minimal utensils, mess or wastage – a far cry from the bomb that usually goes off in our kitchens amidst several gadgets/brand names.  Both humbling and educational, we sit to eat the fruits of our labours, where else but on a double bed! cross legged with the children and Grandma staring on.  

All you need is Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Spicy Paprika, Tumeric, Coriander, Garamasala, Garlic and Chai

7.  Bordering Pakistan:  heading further east we arrive in Jaisalmer, the golden city, and I find myself once again near the border with Pakistan (the last time being in Kashmir 12 months hence).  Jaisalmer is an instant hit, with its Golden city, Turbans, and the promise of camels and desert safaris.  We tour the Jaisalmer Fort as the sun sets, a much more alive space than previous forts we’ve visited, home to families, restaurants, cafes and Wallahs of all kinds.  We spend time slowly and intuitively treading it’s windy, bustling narrow streets, taking chai and talking shop, dodging motorbikes, letting the wind blow us whichever way she chooses, and celebrating beautiful friendships from her rooftops.    

Scooter Tetris

Writing this from the window seat of HostelLaVie Jaisalmer, with an hour to go until we leave for our overnight Desert Safari, camels, and a night under the stars, sending lots of love, light and hugs to my Dearest most incredible Ma on Mothers Day.  If Rajasthan has showed us anything thus far, this promises to be a night of wonders where anything is possible (but not always available).

Namaste. 

I return to India 

I return to India 

Gratefully, I was once again inhaling the blessed air of India as I stepped out the doors of Mumbai airport.  The chaos immediate, and the “fit” palpable.  My first mission was to sort out a taxi to my Mumbai welcoming party, and Peruvian Ayahuasca family, Pooja and Rishit, weathering the storm of willing volunteers for the job to choose from, of course. 

Once arranged, my driver saw something in me and offered to read my energies for free, as it should be done, so our departure was delayed as he did so, from the back of the cab.  Turns out he was an ex-employee of the Osho Ashram in Pune!

OH INDIA, YOU’LL ALWAYS BE MY LOVE AFFAIR

This, my first taste of a familiar and beloved land, a reminder of all I loved about India, and a foretaste of what might be to come over the 6 months ahead.  It’s why I felt compelled to return East almost exactly 12 months to the day, same packaging but much changed contents, this time with a renewed sense of purpose.

Two days before I had been in Medellin, Colombia, with a freshly squeezed shiny and new 6 month Indian visa stuck in my passport – the ink barely dry.  Now, here I was, in the madness and melee of India – it was an amazing feeling to be back, made all the more surreal because I’d been in suspended animation from travelling for about 4 days to get there, taking 2 buses (Salento-Bogota, Bogota-Medellin), a last minute passport pick-up in Bogota, 4 flights (Medellin-Fort Lauderdale-Chicago-Abu Dhabi-Mumbai), 3 connections, a 12 hour time difference to get the better of, 2 taxis, 1 whatsapp blunder that almost blew the whole surprise, and finally a 5am arrival at my hotel in Pune.  Great anecdotes are a numbers game. 

There’s only one thing that could have prepared me for such ridiculous mileage and endurance, all for a good cause… ah Dumball… 

For the last 10 years I’ve been involved in the Dumball, a “fancy dress on wheels” charity rally that brings a rather splendid kind of people together, where we drive bangers for ridiculous amounts of miles on challenging routes all across Europe, Morocco and India to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust.  It’s not only given me the most incredible experiences in the name of a good cause, but also a family of friends of a distinct and different calibre – the kind you know inside out, from red mist to purple haze, the kind you can trust to come running if ever the sh*t hit the fan,  probably to laugh and take photos, but there for you till the end.

The Dumball returned to India for the second time in January 2017, which was to be the first rally I’d miss since 2007.  FOMO is one thing, but knowing that all your favourite people are all together in a country you love and you have the chance to see all of them at once after 12 months absence, PLUS you can surprise them all too, is an entirely different thing.  Then, the question really isn’t Why? but Why the hell not!      

So I did, and it was glorious.  

Stood at a non descript bus stop on the side of the road in Pune at 8.30 in the morning after a few hours kip, a convoy of dusty, sweaty, colourful Mahindra Jeeps rounded the corner towards me.  Knowing each car was filled with friendly souls that I’d soon be able to touch and squeeze in real life meant I could barely contain myself, and local pedestrians passed me by, ackowledging my huge grin with intrigue.  As the infamous Blue Squadron slowly came to a halt, each car pulling over no doubt with some confusion inside as to the ad hoc stop in the middle of nowhere, I searched for those all too familiar faces, beaten only by the glare of the early morning sunshine on the windows.  As the news slowly spread down the line suddenly my wait was over – I had dear friends running towards me, and the best group hug anyone could possibly wish for.  



UNEXPECTED TURNS

With that, I gate-crashed Dumball 2017 on the final leg, and hitched a ride to Goa.  Not a bad start.  My friend James told me, “India has a way of doing with You what she will”, and as it turns out She had a little unexpected surprise in store for me, involving a little puppy we like to call Mr. Biscuits.  

Some of you may have read my recent blog Steve Appreciation Society so you’ll know precisely how stray dogs or “Steves” have been a consistent and integral part of my travels in Asia, Central America and South America over the past year.  

The Indian culture is very different to what we know in the West.  Here, street dogs are tolerated but are also considered vermin, kicked, shunned, and so they live a very different life compared to our pampered pooches – but that’s the way things work here, and you just have to accept it through some Western gritted teeth.   

All that being said, I have a very special Steve story to tell.

THE TAIL OF MR. BISCUITS 

On a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Pune and Goa, I found an abandoned and near starved to death 2 month old puppy, all skin and bones, severely dehydrated and malnourished.  Standing not much higher than mid calf on some very unsteady and skinny pins with a protruding rib cage, stomach entirely concave, hip bones visible, sores on his fur but with the most gorgeous eyes, I beckoned the little dude towards me.  

At first he shied away fully expecting a kick, but with a little encouragement he wagged his bony tail, dipped his head, licked his lips and came towards me, and without hesitation I bundled him up in my arms and into my heart.  

With little supplies on board, the only thing we could offer him was biscuits.  As he wolfed them down, the nickname “Mr. Biscuits” was coined, and stuck immediately.  

On the Dumball time is precious, so all too soon we were ready for The Off, so I had to make a decision, and I decided to save Mr. Biscuits – at the very least to get him the hell outta there, feed him back to strength and deliver him to a rescue centre somewhere in Goa:  I had the time to do this, and I knew from past experience that street dogs on the beaches have pretty much the best life in India, which had to be better than leaving him by the side of that road to an uncertain fate.

TWO HITCH-HIKERS TOGETHER 

So, just like me, Mr. Biscuits gate-crashed a Dumball, hitched a ride to Goa, and into the arms of 130 (give or take) sympathetic Dumballers who showered him with love.  

As time passed, Mr. Biscuits became less street-dog and more loved, to the point of no return frankly (who couldn’t fall in love with those eyes), and I had to make the ultimate decision. 

Street dogs, or Desis, like Biscuit are ownerless scavengers who have been free-living these continents for 1,000’s of years. An abundant and fertile population leads to abundant breeding – many secure a safe territory to survive, but plenty become abandoned, alone, malnourished, sick or injured from attacks by other dogs or traffic accidents. 

The charitable infrastructure to help those animals is meagre, but growing and needs support. The Indian culture is also very different to what we know in the West, so rehoming or adoption was highly unlikely.  At best, I had to find a hostel or restaurant owner who wouldn’t mind “keeping an eye out for him”, and I grew uncomfortable with that uncertainty.

So I made a choice: to save one, to give him a better chance at life, safety, security and love on a permanent basis – now, he needs your help to start a new life the UK. 

To do that I need to raise ~£2.5k to cover the vets bills and various bits of paperwork and administration.  If by some miracle I smash my target, I’ll donate the extra funds to the Animal Rescue Centre here in Goa. 

Click here for the Crowdfunding Website

It’s been 42 days since that fateful day, and I have much to update you on… till next time! 

You can follow his journey on 

instagram: @thetailofmrbiscuits

twitter: @mrbiscuitstail & 

Facebook: https://facebook.com/thetailofmrbiscuits

 

Life Authentically Lived

Life Authentically Lived

My First Shamanic Experience

…happened when I was 12 years old.  It involved throwing some amateur dance shapes in my room (big fish, little fish, cardboard box, you know the drill) with my best mate Claire, as we titted about listening to the psychedelic beats of 90’s indie-dance band “The Shamen” pumping out my Phillips Stereo, off’ve Argos.

We were definitely cool, and obvs ahead of our time compared to the other village kids, but in spite of those parochial dilusions I could feel a palpable sense of change, of moving from one stage of my life to the next.

24 years later and I’m in deepest darkest Peru, discovering what Shamanism is really all about – the world of South American Shamans, learning about entheogens & plant medicine, and experiencing changes and paradigmatic shifts of the most natural kind.

Lets start at the very beginning with some explanations.

Shamanism is any practice of healing and divination that involves the purposive induction of an altered state of consciousness. Visionary access to otherworldly realms and beings.  Plant medicines, or entheogens, have been used in ancient traditions unique and native to the Shaman of South America for over 5,000 years.  They’re regarded as embodiments of conscious intelligent beings that become visible in special states of consciousness, who can function as spiritual teachers, give you expanded perception and divination, the ability to hear more vividly, to see into other visible worlds or dimensions, and to obtain otherwise hidden knowledge. 

NOT A DRUG
An important thing to mention at this point is that whilst they’re psychactive (like psychedelics or hallucinagenics), plant medicines aren’t recreational drugs to just get high maaaaan.  Entheogens are pure, natural medicines used in religious, shamanic, or spiritual contexts that often induce psychological or physiological changes.  You need a safe environment with experienced facilitators, and upon taking these medicines it becomes very clear that they have a soul, that they want to tell you things, and that they should be met with courage and respect.

  • Entheogens: Connecting to the sacred within
  • Psychedelics: Mind manifesting
  • Hallucinagenic: Vision inducing 

Natural entheogens come in many forms, the most well known being Huachuma (also known as San Pedro), Ayahuasca, Kambo, Psilocybin, DMT & Peyote.  Here, I’ll be focusing on my experiences with Huachuma and Ayahuasca.      


My Second Shamanic Experience – Huachuma

…happened when I was 36 years old, drinking Huachuma high in the Apus of the Sacred Valley in Peru – a perfect setting for a gentle and beautiful medicine.

The Peruvian indigenous language, Quechua, is so rich and meaningful: “Hua” means to cultivate or furrow, “Chuma” means mind, so Huachuma literally means to cultivate the mind.  Huachuma is one of the four most sacred plants of Peru, along with Tobacco, Ayahuasca and Coca. It’s a member of the mescaline family, a psychoactive alkali that occurs naturally and has hallucinogenic properties.  Andean Shamans have been preparing and using Huachuma for at least 3,000 years, to stop the stream of thoughts and reconnect us to the presence that emerges in the stillness of nature.  

WHY DO IT 
Drinking Huachuma is a personal journey of discovery of the self and the universe.  She increases your sensitivity, to receive love, to start to heal, to expand into clarity, health and vitality, to thrive, to open your third eye and reconnect with your intuition.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Ceremonies start in the morning and go throughout the day, lasting up to 10 hours or more.  It’s necessary to do a preparation dieta for at least 24 hours before, purely to get the best out of your experience by clearing your body to allow the medicina to do its work, unobstructed.  This means no caffeine, no citrus, no alcohol, no red meat, no pork, no sugar and no salt.

My Experience… 

With Huachuma there was no trip as such, no hallucination exactly, it was a very gentle and caring experience.  The medicina began to work, swathing me in a warm blanket of peace & tranquility.  Surrounded by the rolling hills and distant Apus of the Andes, a landscape full of vivid colours, I felt a deeper connection with and gratitude for mother nature.  

Sat a’top a hill with my sister from another mister, Nicole, the medicine brought on lucid and insightful conversation, an exquisite closeness between us, deepening our compassion for ourselves and others, and finding closure on some unresolved issues that were having negative impacts on our lives.  I think I had a smile on my face the whole day… the kind that makes your cheeks hurt.  

I highly recommend Casa De La Gringa, or Kevin Santillo (on Facebook) for Huachuma ceremonies, both in the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru. 

My Third Shamanic Experience – Ayahuasca

…happened when I was deep in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, drinking thick Ayahuasca medicine by candle light, blessed and administered by a traditional Shipibo Tribe Curandero, in a round wooden hut surrounded by nothing but darkness, the sounds of the Jungle and enchanting Icaros.  

Want to learn more about plant medicine and the amazon rainforest? Click this video. 

Ayahuasca goes by many names; ‘the vine of the soul’, ‘spirit vine’, and ‘vine of the dead’ are all translations of the word.  Madre Ayahuasa is unique amongst plant medicines because its prepared from a combination of two plants: ayahuasca vine is boiled together with the leaves of a shrub called Chacruna, giving a sacred drink of psychoactive character that is consumed in a ritual ceremony, leading to reflection and cleansing.  The psychoactive effects of Ayahuasca can be attributed to the Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the Chacruna (a substance also produced by our own body and responsible for our dreams).  According to healers, Chacruna’s in charge of painting the visions whereas the Ayahuasca vine is the one teaching beyond those visions.

WHY DO IT
This brew has been used for more than 5,000 years by the shamans of the Amazon as a way to reach amplified states of consciousness.  It’s viewed by some as therapy, by others as a portal into one’s subconscious, and most people claim that ayahuasca enables the drinker to experience intense revelations, moments of spiritual awakening, clarity, understanding where your blockages and obstacles are, to wake up to what you need, what other people need, more awareness of the world around us.

WHAT TO EXPECT
As with Huachuma, its necessary to do a dieta but for at least 72 hours, more if you can. The cleaner your body the better.  This means no caffeine, no alcohol, no citrus, no smoking, no red meat, pork, sugar or salt.  Ceremonies will differ depending on where and who you do it with, but generally they can last up to 6 hours, and are conducted at night, in silence.  Your Intention, Expectation, Motivation and the Environment (set & setting) are going to be the most important determinates of your experience, while the medicines plays the role of a catalyst trigger.

SHARED VISIONS
A truly fascinating phenomenon of Ayahuasca is that people (myself included) have reported seeing or experiencing the same things during ceremony.  For example visions of the same Creatures, Beings, feelings of being operated on, probed, or seeing the same entities or spirits in the room, the list goes on.  Shared visions like these between unique individuals imply a shared dream space, that Ayahuasca is our teacher, a medicine with a soul that opens doors for us to access another, shared, dimension by helping us tune into the right vibration.

My Experience… 

It begins with silence.  A single candle illuminates the safe sanctuary of the Moloka.  The only sound is the jungle: bats, frogs, insects, the river flowing.  I receive the thick, dark mollases-like medicine from Maestro, trying not to gag whilst setting my intention and asking Mother Ayahuasca to help me.  After everyone has received their medicine, the candle is exstinguished and we’re plunged into darkness and stillness. I sit, alert and with concentration. 

I enter into a dreamlike state, losing all concept of time and space.  It’s like that moment you crawl into bed and feel yourself surrounded by warmth, darkness and peace.  Few distinctions between then and now, real or imagined, it feels like I’m drifting in and out of a dream.   

At a critical point a new reality begins to filter in and the mareado (the visions) begins.  It starts with stars, constellations, then a swirling, swaying mass of kaleidoscopic geometric shapes flows around and through me, softly exploding and imploding, changing so rapidly that I am unable to verbalise a description. 3D unfoldments of realities of extraordinary beauty and complexity, beyond colours and geometric shapes.  Sometimes it makes no difference whether my eyes are closed or open, the same visions persist. 

As the visions continue, I can also feel the medicine at work within me, clearing out the bad energies, opening me up, opening my channels to receive, to release.  I have wept, I have purged, I have felt her surging into every cell of my body to the end of every extremity like electricity coursing through my veins to the point of discomfort, tensing up, fighting, but cleaning out all the crap that needed to be expelled from my body by whatever means necessary. 

At a point in every ceremony we’re each called up in turn to come to Maestro for limpia (cleansing).  The effects of the medicine are strong at this point, so prising myself up from my bed to walk even the short distance was a wobbly challenge.  Sat crossed legged in front of him like a child, I am engulfed by smoke as Maestro blows mapacho smoke to cleanse my mind, body and spirit.  He then takes a branch of leaves and begins singing Icaros, songs to the spirits and the medicine, to clean me further, whilst shaking and patting the leaves all over my body.  The combination of the beautiful sounds of his voice, the enchanting melody of the Icaros and the earthy instrument used to cleanse me is the most shamanic tribal experience I’ve ever encountered, and it sends me even deeper into my mareado.  

Past traumas, issues I didn’t even know I was carrying or that needed addressing would float to surface.  If I questioned too much instead of letting go and trusting in the medicine, my visions would subside, like a subtle finger on lip ushering me to be quiet, to listen, to learn.  Messages came to me loud and clear in a voice that spoke in a language I understood, knowledge and information contained in the core of the experience swept through me.  Afterwards I feel lighter, reborn, with more energy, more acceptance, more knowledge, more awareness.    

THE PURGING
It’d be impossible to talk about Ayahuasca without mentioning the feared or dreaded purging, or La Purga.  It’s probably the thing I’ve heard that puts people off the most: the vomiting, the diarrhoea.  No one likes feeling squiffy and I’m not going to lie, it can be a bit strange at first being in a room full of people, all of you puking at various times in the dark, some sounding like they’re having an exorcism, but from experience I can tell you that, in time, you come to welcome and recognize the purge for what it is – a purification of body, mind, and spirit, a release – it becomes easier to accept, because the purge is there for a reason.  It doesn’t have to be so bad either.  The purging can come in much gentler, subtler forms such as long exhalations of breath, yawning, crying or weeping – all ways in which your body is letting go, expelling bad energies.

WHAT AYAHUASCA TAUGHT ME
I believe Ayahuasca came into my path to cleanse me, to open me up, to remove confusion and to give clarity, and to reflect back to me all the important work I have done in the core of my soul – I needed to look back over my journey towards my truth, to recognize my heritage, to deepen my connection to nature, to realise my potentials and to believe in myself.  I needed to immerse myself in self-acceptance, gathering up every part of myself with love, gratitude and forgiveness – the kind of nurturing praise and acceptance that a mother offers a child.

Ayahuasca’s essence is her capacity to heal through empowerment, and at her heart is a compass that unerringly oriented and directed me down a path of simplicity and truth, and there is nothing more satisfying than the hard won fruits of simple understanding.

Ayahuasca helped me to draw back a curtain.  It was about letting go, respecting the medicine, trusting that Madre Ayahuasca knew exactly what I needed, which wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, to reveal hidden knowledge and inner wisdom.  It’s as if I’ve taken the red pill – now I know there’s more, I know I’m more, and I can’t go back.  I’m a more conscious and aware person, with a much lighter load and my feet rooted to the ground.    

LIFE AUTHENTICALLY LIVED
With lasting positive influences on both physical and mental health, Ayahuasca is a symbolic ally of the human species.  Just how the discovery was made, and who was responsible, we may never know.  All that we can say is that this particular combination of plants is an undeniable and profound mystery, and nothing short of a blessing from nature.

Plant medicine puts more awake people on the planet, pushing humanity and collective consciousness forward.  Life is a mystery to be lived, and the mystery is alive in the here and now, on the other side of the barriers of our courage.

“We’re on the brink of the adventure that we left the trees for – it’s in our hands, keep the faith, explore the edges, real invocation of spirit, pure challenge, pure self-authentication.  Life authentically lived.”  

Terence Mckenna

If you have time to make it to the Sacred Valley then I highly recommend Bety and Peru Shamans in Cusco.  However, there’s nothing quite like drinking the medicine in the Jungle where it comes from, and so I highly recommend Santuario Healing in Pucallpa.  I even wrote a song about them:

Want to learn more about plant medicine and the amazon rainforest? Watch this video for words from the Maestro Enrrique himself:

This initiative is to help Protect the Amazonian Rainforest and the Santuario Huistin Community where I did my ayahuasca retreat in December. 

Donations of any kind, be it your eyes, your ears, or the sharing of any wealth you can spare is gratefully received: just click here to Protect The Amazon Rainforest

The “New Years Resolution” business model is flawed…

You are not a bag of inadequacies to be critiqued or compared at an annual review meeting, your life is a mystery to be loved and lived for what it is.  Instead of making resolutions to Be Better, better to simply drop the mindset of negativity, of must do better, that no longer serves you.

Give yourself the gift of compassion, humility and self-acceptance: you are perfect just as you are, and everything is happening just as it is meant to.  Take a look back at the last 12 months and write yourself a list of what you achieved instead of how you could improve.  Write yourself a Thank You letter – no one has to see it, just you.

Embrace all that you are with humility, and by letting go of that which no longer serves you, create the space for that which makes your soul sing to flood in.

HUMILITY

“In order to own the light within us, first we must become willing to explore the shadow –and the bigger the light, the bigger the shadow. This exploration requires humility. Humility is a lifelong process. It begins with willingness. With courage. With vulnerability. It requires that you take a searching look at all that you are. Not just some of you. Not only the pretty parts. The light, the shadow. And everything in between. All of it. What comprises the shadow? Your past wounds. Your unfinished business. Your incomplete experiences. The sadness you didn’t cry. The fear you didn’t feel. The rage you didn’t express. The gripes you allowed to accumulate inside you. Self-hatred. Unworthiness. This is the undigested content that makes up the shadow. The shadow is anything you have been unwilling to embrace as part of yourself. If we are humble, we own all that we are. We bring our baggage into the light of awareness. And when we are able to do this, we become profoundly free.”

It is not about Doing Better, it’s about your state of Being.  Life is about creation, not discovery: To Be whatever you want to be – your highest aspiration for yourself – and to produce the right and perfect conditions within which to create the experience of that.

Make a life, not a living

From certain states of Being will spring a life so rich, so full, so magnificent and so rewarding that worldly goods and success will be of no concern. 

Begin at once to imagine your life the way you want it to be and move to that.  Check every thought, word and action that does not fall into harmony with that, and move away from those.

  • Align your thoughts with your highest visions
  • Align your words with your grandest ideas
  • Align your actions with your best intentions

Create opportunities to Be, Do & Have what it takes to know who you really are. You are free. Infinite. Infinite. Infinite.  

What will you choose to Be? 

Be Happy!

Quotes from “Discovering Your Soul Signature”

13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful

7-bullet Sunday – day 345

7-bullet Sunday – day 345

What’s it been like being me the last 7 days?

1. Tambo – coming out of the jungle after spending 8 days alone living in an isolated palm leaf hut, eating nothing but rice and potatoes delivered twice a day, and drinking Tree medicina prescribed by my Maestro: Sapote Renaco.

Stood inside a 600 year old Sapote Renaco tree
Imbibing the strength of the medicine, listening entranced to the sounds of jungle, reconnecting with nature: a truly awakening experience.  Stillness speaks, and in the simplicity is the truth.

My Tambo hut – home for 8 days

2. Final Ayahuasca Ceremony at Santuario, ¡A qué grupo! So full of love, feeling reborn and transformed by nature and this ancient curandero practice, and so honoured to meet such a bunch of beautiful souls.

A que grupo!!

3. Writing my very first song, and getting to sing it to Maestro at close of the last ceremony – honoured to take the stage, and even more proud to get a round of applause and praise from Maestro himself! #bashful #humble #proud.

 

4. Leaving the sanctity of Santuario much changed and with new additions to my #globalfamily, with full intentions of returning and with a new connections both to myself and Mother Nature. Gracias la selva! Gracias Santuario!

5. Arriving back to civilisation and the poshest hotel I’ve stayed at during my whole trip – the Manish Ecolodge in Pucallpa. Enjoying/remembering the tourist perks, but wincing at the price tag.

Plenty to catch up on from being off-grid for 21 days, blue squad catch up (TLDR), the all important calls back home to much loved and missed ones, and some goodbyes to new and dear friends – not long my friends, we will see each other again.

Friends are the best

My thoughts turn back home and to the ensuing festivities as I spy a Christmas tree in reception – first one this year, and my oh my how this year has flown by!  This time last year…

Christmas in Peru

6. Hitting up the Peruvian bus networks once again, opting for a punishing but cheap 48 hour 2,000km bus ride from Pucallpa – Lima, Lima – Mancora for £60, instead of a 7 hour £200 flight, to get me back to the Pacific coast after a long time inland. Buses, buses, speed bumps, speed bumps, corners, corners, loving the inexpense but missing the ease of cheap long-distance travel of the India Railway.

I decide to spend the dinero I’ve saved going by bus to treat myself to a nice beach side apartment for Christmas instead. #Winning.

The 2:30 Tepsa: Lima-Mancora
7. Heading back to the Ocean and the beach town of Mancora. By morning I’ll be swimming in the Pacific, giving kite surfing a go, watching the sun rise & set with the sand between my feet. Bliss. Not a bad way to spend my last days in Peru.

Mancora Soul

Writing this from my sleeper seat of the Tepsa bus Lima-Mancora, with the warm  afternoon sunshine in Lima, once again, streaming through the window and striking my face.