Two weeks ago I was in the Amazon jungle, a 90 minute, sputtering boat ride up a winding, muddy river from a frantic Peruvian town to a remote village of the Shipibo people. Two weeks ago I was lying in a hammock inside the cone-shaped ceremonial Maloka, sweating and dazed from the unrelenting heat, but more so from many days of mostly fasting from food and water, and from drinking unbelievably bitter and potent tobacco juice and from the daily smoking of many huge "mapachos" - thick cigarettes made of jungle tobacco, at least seventeen times for more potent than Marlboros, but with none of the 599 added toxic chemicals. I was half-listening to the unending cacophony of life-song that is the jungle - warbles, coos, caws, chirps, sighs, trills, tweets and sudden frantic flutters - but mostly I was dazed and dreamy, as I was being fed vision after vision by the Spirit of Tobacco.
I've always despised tobacco. I grew up in a smoking household and constantly felt I as suffocating. Thirty-three years ago when I stepped onto the shamanic path, one of the t things I learned was that so many people seemed to use tobacco for ceremonial purposes. I tried to honor that, but never understood it.
As Jose made his way around the circle, blowing smoke on each student, I was 100% certain I would barf on him and my study with him would come to an inglorious end. He blew smoke on the person next to me and as it wafted across my face, I began to sing that guttural song of the coming-puke. Then he stood in front of me and blew smoke over the top of my head, down my font, then down my spine, then a thick stream into my hands. And, as if a cool breeze had poured over me, every sickness I was feeling vanished instantly. Jose calmly moved on to the next student while I stood, stunned and delirious with what I have grown to lovingly call "Shamanic WTF."
I realized that the Spirit of Tobacco, which many shamans call the most powerful plant ally on earth, had begun a conversation with me that day, making clear just who I was dealing with, and how careful I'd better be. After that experience, then after almost 18 months of slow, careful, hesitant work with Tobacco, I found myself lying dazed in a hammock in the Amazon jungle, drinking and smoking it, having it clean me out whooshingly through a every orifice in the humna body, in order to open me, having it merge with my spiritual DNA, and having it speak to me.
Then Tobacco came to me with green and yellow light beams pouring from his immense face that looked like if a wrinkled tobacco leaf were also a spiral galaxy. I relay this to you word for word, just in case it is a message that can help you:
The time to begin is always now. Simply let go of regret. I don't carry regret, and you don't need to. Begin now. Take any small step into power, into beauty, into ecstasy. Medicine is everywhere. Every small step is appropriately big. Electrons are huge on the quantum level. Stop measuring your progress. Just look for what you truly love and step toward it. Ask what you truly love. Step toward it. Spirit has been working with you your whole life, and before this life, and after this life. It has been tutoring you in the timely fashion you need. When you are ready, it has always delivered the next step, the next teacher, and the next opportunity. Spirit never gives up on you, it's never disappointed in you. You are exactly where you need to be in order to become open to the next gift Spirit is handing you. Relax. You are surrounded by love and support.
Twenty years ago, the Reindeer came to me when Ailo, the naodi (shaman) from the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, stabbed me in the chest with an antler. I have spent years worrying how a non-indigenous person like me - a mere suburban white boy - could dare to believe, or say out loud - that Reindeer had adopted me. But weirdly, over the years, the Reindeer of the frozen Arctic and tobacco from the sweltering Amazon have a lot in common, and have always delivered the same message to me: Don't be afraid. Let Spirit work with you when it comes. Ask for it to come. Receive. Trust.
Ailo said urban westerners seem to spend a lot of time obsessing on our failures and traumas. He said we ride our traumas like horses, everywhere we go. He said we spend so much time tuning our instrument to disharmony because we haven't been taught to listen to the harmony and tune ourselves to it. Even our religious traditions tune us to the disharmony of guilt and shame and obedience and failure. This is why he stabbed each of us in the chest with the antler, so that the Great White Reindeer could come to shatter us open, to teach us to re-tune ourselves. And you know what? She did.
And so, my journey goes, asking, receiving, being opened in various ways, and following what calls to me, what I love. Step by small step, I go.