Cataratas de Guacamaillo – Photo by Will Spencer
Reflections from the Peruvian Jungle – Shadow Work and Healing
By Bernhard Guenther, May 16th, 2016
I have returned from Peru after our first Time of Transition Retreat (May 2nd – 10th, 2016) which I was hosting with Fred Clark Alvarez. It was powerful, intense, beautiful, transforming and healing. We spent two weeks (9 days with the group of 9 people) in the Peruvian high jungle at the Chirapa Manta Ecolodge in San Roque De Cumbaza (close to Tarapoto). There are photos I have posted on Facebook from the trip, full of laughter, joy, fun and dancing moments, local adventure trips and the beauty of nature. The inner child in each of us certainly had blast. However, what you don’t see in these pictures and has not been recorded visually (for obvious reasons) is the deep work we all did together during the 9 day retreat, individually and as a group.
There were challenging moments, as each participant was confronted with their own personal discomfort and fears, be it physically: dealing with the forces of nature in the jungle, the insects, humidity, heat, challenging hikes; the discomfort of being removed from things we take for granted in our “civilized” modern “first world”, and psycho-emotionally: the shadow, triggers and fears revealing themselves as they usually do when one is out of one’s comfort zone and habitual way of life, especially in the jungle, which intensifies it all even more. The jungle is a powerful teacher and tends to bring up what we need to look at in order for it be transmuted and healed and it also assists us in the process if we befriend the elements and forces of nature.
“If you have a personal relation to the forces of nature and can create a kind of friendship through this relation, instead of considering them as enemies and inexorable mechanisms which you have to put up with without being able to do anything, perhaps you could manage to establish a more friendly relation and have an influence over them. All depends on relation.”
– Sri Aurobindo
Fred Clarke Alvarez and I had designed a program for the retreat that reflects the “Hero’s Journey” based on Joseph’s Campbell’s work: leaving the “ordinary world”, crossing the threshold, going into the underworld, battling with “demons/monsters” within and returning with new-found wisdom, insights and healing. The intention was to do holistic work: body, mind, and spirit. Throughout the week I gave four talks, addressing the bigger picture (the hyperdimensional matrix control system and the shift/time of transition we are in), and tying it into the individual process of embodiment, doing shadow work, the alchemical marriage of the inner male and female and what is needed in order to anchor the higher frequencies and align with spirit/divinity within ourselves to find our own unique path and purpose for being here. All on an experiential level and not just based on intellectual information.
Each day we had exercises and practices to bring us back into our bodies, be it dance, hikes, swimming in the rivers, and various conscious embodiment practices. We also practiced Qi Gong in the morning to get us grounded and tune in with the massive jungle and the energies surrounding us. We had sharing circles almost every day and deep discussions as a group and between individuals. Each day we went deeper, layer by layer. You can’t force it and you can’t rush it.
Some days were challenging, others more light-hearted. As everyone started to get to know each other, people started to open up more, sharing their vulnerability and struggles, past trauma and challenges. Some people weren’t able to share things with anyone before because they didn’t feel save. Most of what we shared and experienced will stay in the jungle and between us. It’s a sacred container that needs to be honored. We all saw ourselves in each other as we shared and processed.
It was humbling and beautiful to see how people’s open vulnerability triggered the vulnerability in others and so the healing already started by simply sharing in person in a safe container. We cried and laughed together a lot. We heal each other and connect much deeper by sharing our most secret fears, vulnerabilities and insecurities if a safe space is created. It’s kinda ironic. Most of us yearn for intimate moments and deeper connections, but we are afraid to bring out within us that which will give and attract to us what we all want: true unconditional love and acceptance as we drop the mask of the personality we are identified with.
It’s all about holding space for the healing work takes a life on its own and you have to let go of control. It’s like steering a ship and we are all in the same boat but subjected to the waters and winds moving the ship; the balance of keeping the safe space of group integrity and honoring the individual process as we steer through the sometimes stormy waters.
However, looking back, it all flowed perfectly natural as it “had to” and the program Fred and I designed intuitively based on our work and experiences over the years did what we intended it to do, although we had no expectations. It certainly feels like we were guided and helped by assisting forces. Even the moments of intense processing and challenging situations served as incredible lessons and were initiations for most people, which become very clear throughout the 9 days with the group in the jungle and especially looking back. It initiated a deeper process within many participants that keeps unfolding and is different for each person.
We purposely did a lot of “ground work” to prepare for both, the sound healing and huachuma San Pedro Cactus) medicine ceremony later in the week, which we knew would initiate even deeper processing and healing. The huachuma ceremony in particular was very intense for some people and everyone had a different experience. The medicine brings up that which needs to be healed and transmuted. It only shows you what you are ready to see based on where are at in your inner development and “you” are not the judge of that. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s an initiation and the work continues. Integration work is imperative.
“Most of the deep healing work occurs in the weeks and months following the ceremony. During this integrative period, one “simply digests the flow of life at a deeper life. You begin to refine the composition of your own life in a wiser, more responsible way.” This manifests in noticeable changes in the way people treat themselves and those around them. “This is not just [while one is] under the direct influence of the plant — this is a transformation that brings about [long-term] change,” Lawler claims. “Most people will never quite be the same after this experience.”
In the aftermath of the huachuma ceremony, negative patterns in one’s life will often come to light: old habits, bad habits, bad company, bad environment, a tendency to linger unhappily in a bad relationship, a desire to repair a relationship without knowing how, etc. “This is a process that gives people not only deeper wisdom, but also a certain inner spiritual strength to accept and acknowledge the negative things that exist in their lives and to get rid of things, to purge those things from their lives,” Lawler says.
The curandero warns, however, that in the absence of careful planning and good guidance, huachuma can be dangerous. “If one does not bring respect to it — if one treats it as a drug, for example, and takes it too frequently and in unwise circumstances — then that can cause a shift in the way the plant works with the individual. Or if one fails to follow the guidance and lets the energy build up or bottle up, sometimes that creates a shock factor that can be very unnerving and unsettling to some people.”
“These sacred plant modalities are difficult paths that are lined with tests,” he adds. “The tests go specifically to your very weaknesses. The whole point is to help you strengthen your weaknesses and grow from that point on. What this results in is an exceptionally fast pace of personal development and evolution of consciousness. That process is facilitated as much by how you do it, where you do it, and why you do it as by the plant itself.
A praying mantis came to us in the evening at the end of our huachuma ceremony. It was magical and the animal symbolism was perfect. She stayed with us for about 20min, moving very slowly and blessed us with her presence and grace, looking at us attentively. The word “mantis” is from Greek and means “prophet”, referring to the mystical or spiritual powers to transcend the challenges in our paths.
“Stillness, Awareness, Creativity, Patience, Mindfulness, Calmness, Balance, Intuition, Patience. These traits have lead the mantis to be a symbol of meditation and contemplation. The mantis never makes a move unless she is 100% positive it is the right thing for her to do. This is a message to us to contemplate and be sure our minds and souls all agree together about the choices we are making in our lives. The mantis is a symbol of stillness. As such, she is an ambassador from the animal kingdom giving testimony to the benefits of meditation, and calming our minds. She asks us to hear the still small voice within, our connecting to our own divinity.”
We had immense support from spirit, the jungle and the elements. It was such a humbling experience to really feel and know that we are supported by assisting forces and the forces of nature, the spirits and animals of the jungle, our ancestors and our divine higher self. This became very clear to me during both ceremonies when I was doing individual healing work with Fred. I felt so grounded, embodied, and protected by the jungle without any fear, being in the “zone”, but it was not “me”. I experienced myself as “vessel” for spirit to work through as I laid my hands on anyone needing assistance and Fred was playing his instruments and singing, initiating the healing process within each person, whoever we worked on. I deeply felt the pain of anyone I was touching and as the person processed and cried, I cried as well. I experienced my own healing by doing this work as well. The way Fred and I work together in our combined healing work is so in sync and perfectly timed, communicating telepathically without words. I have no words for it and I’m humbled and grateful for the great mystery of life and all that is, the great “unknown”.
And that is the key and most important part of healing work: A “healer” doesn’t heal you. A healer is someone who triggers within you, your own ability to heal yourself. Your own body knows what to do and it is always striving towards wholeness and healing (on all levels: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) if given the space to do so. You have the power all within yourself and you are your own healer, even though we all need assistance sometimes (asking for help can be very challenging for some people) to have the space and safety to let it happen.
We cannot do “self-work” on our own all the time, especially since we all have blindspots and triggers that only appear in relationship. By “relationship” I don’t mean just romantic, but our relations to everyone because relationship is all there is: how you relate to everyone and anything in your daily life, the food you eat, the streets you walk, the nature surrounding you, the situations you find yourself in, the people you meet and interact with, any “thing” you have, how you relate to yourself, etc. It’s so easy to resist and complain in our daily lives and find fault in anything that is not the way we “like” things to be, most often based on our conditioned preferences (resulting in shadow projections), our self-importance (identification with our personality/ego) and our social/cultural conditioning that has removed us from nature and who we truly are. Doing this kind of work in the jungle is also a serious reality check for our first world privileges.
But one of the most struggling things is for people to “go there” because real shadow work and confronting your fears (most of them unconscious) and stored trauma in the body is not a walk in the park, far from it. We can read books and quotes about it and may understand it intellectually but the work itself is painful, scary, messy and requires immense courage, but not the courage of being “tough”. It’s the courage to not resist discomfort, not escape into the head or back into your comfort zone, but to be vulnerable and feel it all in the body, for the healing only happens through the body, beyond any intellectual analysis.
“Real shadow work does not leave us intact; it is not some neat and tidy process, but rather an inherently messy one, as vital and unpredictably alive as birth. The ass it kicks is the one upon which we are sitting; the pain it brings is the pain we’ve been fleeing most of our life; the psychoemotional breakdowns it catalyzes are doors that have shown up year after year in our dreams, awaiting our entry. Real shadow work not only breaks us down, but breaks us open.”
– Robert Augusts Masters
That’s where the rubber hits the road when it comes to self-work and the internal alchemical fire for transmutation gets ignited through the friction of discomfort and “conscious suffering” as Gurdjieff and many other teachers have talked about, without resisting it, escaping it, nor projecting it outwardly by blaming others or your situation. It requires incredible self-ownership and responsibility for everything you feel.
The only way out is through and there IS light at the end of the tunnel as you realize on a deep embodied level (not just intellectually) that any fear you have had was just an illusion and didn’t reflect your true self, or that you have taken on stuff that is not yours to carry; that you always did the best you could at anytime of your life based on where you were at. Forgiveness for self and others plays a big part in it. That unconditional acceptance of what “is” opens the space for healing on much deeper levels.
For example, you may have intellectually realized what your “issues” are, but as long as it’s not embodied and released through your body and felt deeply within you, all you create is a mask, armor and buffers (mostly unconsciously) to avoid facing yourself, while believing you have already worked through your “stuff”. As Gurdjieff said “you have to pay with yourself” and no one else can “pay” or do the work for you. The same goes for knowledge and information. You can “understand” things intellectually from books and writings, but you can only apply Knowledge if it’s truly embodied and hence live it, as opposed to just having a mental idea about it. Life taught me that the hard way too.
Discomfort is medicine and a profound teaching as well if we don’t resist it. It’s the only place where true healing happens. It also requires faith and trust and most of all letting go. Personally speaking, the retreat was a big lesson in gratitude and humbleness for me; to be utterly grateful unconditionally for every moment, the beauty in simple things and how nature teaches us every moment of how to “be” if we can tune into these frequencies and energies that are hidden from us long as we live from the “head” or fight/resist what “is”. The moment we resist the presence, which is all there is, and get into our heads (the tyrant within) we lose the connection, the source that loves us unconditionally and nurtures and assists us in our individual healing process and this earthly experience during this time of transition.
“Finding peace in the midst of our commonplace chores and activities is not always easy – and there are no short cuts to it. Peace is not a matter of stress management; it is more than the absence of anxiety. Peace is a full acceptance of the whole of your life and an engagement with the whole of your truth; it is what opens you to transforming the present. Any parts of you that are chronically not at peace – any parts that carry judgment or plans or resentments – cannot be made to conform to peace, or go quiet: they live in the body and have to be processed by its fluid intelligence. You cannot join the present until you offer your entire body to the present – so that the felt self can come to rest in the pelvic bowl, quickened to the subtle stirrings all around.”
– Philip Shepherd, “New Self New World”
Inner work is imperative in this day and age so we can embody and anchor higher frequencies as we align ourselves with Divine Will and become conscious transducers for spirit to work through and transcend the matrix, in particular the hyperdimensional control and manipulations. We can complain about the world’s “issues” until eternity (which sometimes starts to sound like a “never-ending flushing toilet”) but nothing changes if we don’t go where true change happens and it’s also where it can get really uncomfortable: within and into the body. At the same time it is also important to understand what is happening on a bigger picture level beyond our personal processes and 3D Matrix distractions, political and otherwise.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own stuff (and suffer mechanically in self-pity) or the world’s miseries if we forget what it is all about and what we are here to do as embodied sovereign individuals, which is really about “being”. That process has profound effects on the outside world (which is not really “outside” or separated from “you”) with regards to reality creation based on your internal healing process as you are clearing your vessel for higher energies to anchor themselves, reconnecting you to who you truly are. Know that you are loved and assisted at all times and know that no one can take away who and what you truly are.
For more info about our Time of Transition Retreats go HERE.