I pushed the shaman’s bedroom door open and my buddy Aarron, the painter, followed close behind.
Inside the dark room, there were no windows. On one end of the room, against the wall, lay Juanma’s seat designated by a threadbare blanket covered with various ceremonial items. Pre-Columbian figurines stood on the corners of the sacred space. Also present: bundles of dried flowers and herbs, a small, neat pyramid of hand rolled cigarettes, pillows for Juanma to sit on, and one laid against the wall for his back. There was also a small drum and maracas with geometric carvings on them in the ancient tradition of the Shipibo tribe. Last, but not least: a one liter vessel of dark, viscous liquid in the center of the blanket with three cups surrounding it.
Juanma lit candles and placed them around his blanket revealing a bit more of the room. In the corner, were neatly folded blankets with several pillows on top of them for me and Aarron.
Aarron picked a spot next to the door, while I chose to sit more directly in front of the shaman.
We had fasted the entire day except for tea. It was probably easier for me because I had the flu and an eye infection that was probably bacterial conjunctivitis. I had not been hungry. I’d barely made it here.
In addition to fasting that day, Aarron and I had not had meat, alcohol, salt (for the most part), dairy, sugar, caffeine (this was the hardest by far), or chocolate for nearly two weeks. In Cusco, Peru avoiding all of this was a hell of a lot tougher than back home in Los Angeles where even heroin addicts didn’t eat gluten and all the grocery stores accommodated this. L.A. and all its values seemed far away at this particular moment. I was concerned about my eye infection. There was no doubt Aarron was correct. I should have been at the hospital. But something out of character told me that this opportunity was not to be missed. Not for anything. So, I obeyed my instinct which seemed bizarre, even to me. Normally I was the kind of person that, not only would have been at the doctor’s office – it would have been a Beverly Hills doctor – and he/she would have graduated from Harvard Medical School.
But here I was.
In some strange jungle shaman’s apartment at night, with rain pouring outside which we could still faintly hear.
Juanma sat down cross-legged, ran his hands through his hair, centered himself, literally and metaphorically, and took a deep breath.
His dark pupils shone in the candle light. He muttered something in another language for several minutes in a kind of trance state. He then lit a cigarette and started puffing on it vigorously, exhaling the smoke over the figurines and over the ayahuasca. He was blessing the brew for us.
He got up abruptly and sat down next to me.
“What are you looking for?” he asked me.
“I’m not on my correct path in life. I need to find a path with purpose.”
“You will find it,” he said simply and got up and walked over to Aarron.
There was something reassuring in his statement. I stared at the vessel of ayahuasca liquid on Juanma’s blanket. How could some concoction made out of vines from the jungle cause people to literally lose their minds? And would their minds come back in tact? Could you break the mind with this stuff?
Juanma’s conversation with Aarron was quite a bit longer than mine. I didn’t even wonder what it was about. I felt totally present. I didn’t need anything. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. My entire life had led up to this moment which was always going to happen. All roads led here. It was invigorating. No desire of something in the future, no feeling inadequate, just the profound realization that if you can’t feel fulfilled right now, no material items or accolades were going to make it happen. Feeling right about the world, and oneself, was one hundred percent internal.
Juanma walked to his station.
He picked up his cigarette and started blowing again. Like a dragon. Seriously. For a second I thought he was a dragon.
We were going to drink.