What plagues have infected the modern minds? Why the dead are the ones to teach us something about life? What we can learn from our ancestors about validity of time and constant impermanence of our existence? After many years reading Carlos Castaneda’s books about Mexican shamans, I was dreaming of finding my own Juan Matus in the vast and magical land of Mexico. The right path lead me and I was high in the mountains, in the Mexican healer’s stable with hanging goat skins and horns. He was about to perform one of his rustic healings.
It happened just after the Temazcal ritual. It was getting dark, and in the shadows of the coming night many small lights lit up. Maybe it was duendes travelling through the mountains, or just a shiny insect called luciernaga, which shows up when the last rays of sun hits the ground. No one knows. But finally it didn’t matter, it was just a human-made definition. I was sitting in the attic of the El Brujo’s stable.
What was the meaning of those third door in Temazcal ritual? The hottest round in indigenous sauna, so-called the round of dead when a person gets close to his own death to prepare for the rebirth and healing of the soul.
Why the dead are the ones to teach us something about life? I was sitting with my friend ready to have a talk.
Spirits and problem of existence
One of the plagues that infected modern minds is the eternity. The main reference point of people’s lives is the subconscious idea that they are going to live forever. Which definitely they are not. But their actions, desires, aspirations are trying to prove differently.
Only the feeling of ever present death makes people wise. The simple wisdom that is dwelling within death – is the fact that we are impermanent. Actually nothing is permanent, except the death itself. The only stable and serious thing in everyone’s life.
The old cultures knew it, we are the ones to forget it. In the culture of forever, death has become a taboo, a thing that no one mentions or talks about, a thing that is hidden deeply in the dark corners of social realm.
Nothing new. Memento mori. But even though it is easy to understand the simple truth on the mental level, it is very hard to actually feel it and live accordingly. Most of the people feel it only at the moment of death. It is said that this moment reveals the true essence of life. Some ancient beliefs even tell that a person can experience the knowledge which is beyond the mundane understanding. This knowledge can only be revealed when the main bond with the world – the body – is gone. People who survived close-to-death moments also talk about unusual experiences exceeding their understanding.
Rituals which connect the person with the dead, help to tune the consciousness accordingly. Remembering the book “Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castaneda, in one of the lessons Don Juan told that death is constantly stalking us. It is always levitating over the left shoulder, at the distance of a stretched arm, waiting for the time to tap a person on the shoulder and take him with it.
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel that everything is going wrong & you are about to be annihilated, turn to your death & ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong. That nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you – I haven’t touched you yet.” – Journey to Ixtlan
A person should always live feeling the presence of death, because no one knows if this particular moment isn’t “the last battle on Earth”.
Me and my friend looked at each other. We were sitting on the wooden floor in the attic of a stable. It was a bedroom for around 6 people.
“Why do you travel?” my friend asked me after a while.
“Maybe, I am just running from something. But I think if we are not going to live forever, it’s the most meaningful thing to do with your time. In one life you can learn about the world and yourself more than others would learn through many lives. The road reveals the best and the worst in you. The everyday life can’t.”
Travelling was something I always wanted to do, and if I will postpone it, I might have not have time to do it at all. I started remembering a time when I was feeling seriously ill and the thoughts of death started hailing my daily thoughts. The beautiful moment of this intense condition was the crystallization of my aspirations.
The idea of inescapable death bleached all the agitations regarding graduation from university, career, owning something, being respected. Probably no one on their death-bed felt sorry for not being promoted from an executive officer to the chief executive officer. I started regretting only 3 things – not moving out to the village, not having kids and not reading enough books. That’s it. Probably in the I-WILL-LIVE-FOREVER standards they would sound funny… but the inconvenient truth is that we actually don’t need much.
The third door in the Temazcal also brought up one more truth in me. Not only I am the one unaware of my “last battle on earth”, it is also the ones around me. You never know when you are seeing someone for the last time. For the past year I was intensively thinking on connecting more with my sister and visiting her abroad, where she was living. I was planning to tell her how much she inspires me and that I am very proud of her. However, the chaos of daily busyness kept me postponing it. Maybe next month, maybe after half a year, when I am done with one or another insignificant task.
And here I am, meeting her during the third door of Temazcal, in the world of the dead. A month ago she died in a car accident. I never got a chance to visit her or tell anything.
I understood badly, that I was living either in the past, revising everything that happened or in the future, making all the plans, instead of being here & now just picking up the phone.
The sun was gone completely and in the attic it became pitch dark. Maybe still affected by the ritual, the reality started transforming into some surreal forms.
“You don’t need to tell her anything. I think she is somewhere close and knows everything”, broke the silence my friend. On the moment of those words, something strange happened.
I heard a noise of paws tapping up the stairs. Suddenly a medium sized black dog ran to me, lay on my knees and started licking my face. The house was far away in the forest and it was not the dog of El Brujo! The shabby hippy who was almost sleeping in the corner laughed and pointed his finger up into the sky.
We stood up ready to go for a walk. The night sky was blossoming with millions stars. The dog followed us to the cliff, where we stopped to take a look at the sky. I felt strangely confident in this wilderness, even though it was dark and no one knew what powers were hiding up there. I looked at the dog, it was sniffing something on the ground. Suddenly, the dog raised his head with fear and sprinted into the darkness as fast as it could. We were left alone in the darkness.
A strange feelings of being watched and hopelessness started penetrating my being. As if some higher powers of the place did not want me being here and as if the dog was the only protection that I had from its attack. An aching pain speared my chest, exactly in the place where my heart was. I grabbed my heart and bended. It was impossible to move.
Than we saw some movement up the cliff, in the bushes. I was terrified. After a couple of minutes it was possible to distinguish a dark human-height figure.
“Buenas noches”, greeted my friend.
El Brujo erupted from the bushes. His body was staggering and his face was very tired. For a moment I thought he was drunk. After murmuring a couple of greeting words he walked towards his cabin.
“Don’t you think it was weird? I mean the place where he came from?” asked my friend after we couldn’t see the figure any longer.
And it was for sure strange. Where he came from, there was no road, just the cliff and thick bushes. It was impossible to see through the darkness, and he came without a single light.
A couple minutes later, while we were still standing puzzled, out of nowhere the black dog came back. Happy and relaxed he started following my footsteps. My pain in the heart magically vanished.
There was the only way to unsolve this secret. We decided to walk straight to the the cabin of El Brujo and ask the meaning of all that. There was light in his windows and we knocked on the door. I turned to look for the dog, but it had again disappeared in the darkness.
The power of healing
Image by Rebeca Anchondo
El Brujo was sitting behind his table eating a piece of bread. His tired eyes did not seem to be happy seeing us.
The space in his simple shelter was occupied by a bed with a funny leopard patch blanket, an old squeaky sofa and a kitchen table where he was sitting. A small kitten whisked through his legs and disappeared behind the sofa. Half made drums were piled in the corner, and a bunch of dry goat skin was hanging from the ceiling. I caught a glimpse of goat horns hanging on the wall and a huge pile of books, just beyond them.
My friend started telling him in Spanish about our conversation, my sister, emotions, the dog and the pain in the heart. After listening attentively, El Brujo started explaining about somatized emotions. They get trapped in the body and in the long term cause physical and mental illnesses. It is very important to free the trapped emotion until it can cause any harm. According to him, I had accumulated too many of them and they were disbalancing me.
“Dogs are nahuales, the guardian spirits. When they feel that someone needs protection they show up. That’s why you saw the dog at the most vulnerable moment”, explained he.
El Brujo asked me to lie down on the bed. He started touching different points on my body asking if I feel anything unusual.
“But don’t lie. I know if you feel something or not”.
Stomach, lungs and intestines – was his verdict. All my bad emotions were hiding there. I was bewildered. I had had digestion problems for the past year, without any clear diagnosis from the medical side. And here, in the middle of the forest on the leopard patch bed, an Indian diagnosed me without any modern utensils with a deadly accuracy.
“Acupuncture would help to free the emotions”, was his suggestion. After meeting my distrusting look, he digged out from the pile of books a drawing of a human being with many pipe-shaped spiritual canals and points throughout the body and showed it to me.
Still full of distrust, I looked around. The goat skins were in front of me and the kitten on the table was just about to steal El Brujo’s dinner. Needles sounded like a serious thing and the cabin was far away from the sterile procedure cabinet.
Despite my doubts, suddenly, I felt that I was about to experience something beyond my own imagination. Being healed by a Mexican brujo somewhere in the middle of nowhere… Anyway, what did I have to lose? After giving a consideration, I decided that I had nothing. It was a moment of now or never.
“Let’s do it.”
When a morning dawned I was again in the cabin. Arturas, my friend and I were sitting on the leopard patched bed. El Brujo was preparing for the procedure. 40 needles on the table were waiting for me. It should be enough for the beginning, calculated El Brujo. The first two and most important pricks were made on the top of my head.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed with two needles sticking out of my head waiting for more pricks, when the view started blurring and the became blue. I felt someone was holding me, some sounds from far away still reached my ears but not for long. My body stretched unintentionally, the eyeballs rolled up, like during some kind of exorcism, and I fell into the darkness.
Painting by Pablo Amaringo
It was a feeling, as if a huge cosmic vacuum cleaner soaked me up inside a tunnel. I was flying through it at an enormous speed, passing by many landscapes, that were blurred into the mere flashes of colour. I could only hear the wind blowing through my ears.
When I finally opened my eyes, the black Indian eyes were staring at me. I gasped in fear. I forgot everything. Who I was, where I was and what was happening. It took several seconds to start remembering and recognising the environment. The needles were gone, I was lying on the leopard patched bed covered in sweat.
My head was spinning, but I felt enormous lightness and calm within. Everything was gone. I was here and now, and after so much agitation it was almost painful to be completely present.
El Brujo seemed to be a lit bit confused. It never happened to him before. Normally, it takes 40 needles and a couple of hours for the procedure to succeed. Like a huge abscess, my inner tension needed only 2 needles to explode. Like all the dirt from my spiritual canals were being sucked out through that small hole on my head by some cosmical wind.
“Wow, that was something really strong, that you let out,” smiled my doctor with his childish smile. He was radiating an enormous inner power that misted on all my being.
He pulled out an old notebook where he kept his patients’ records and started writing about my case. When finished, he pulled out another manuscript with records of the plants and recipes. On a piece of paper he wrote the names of 5 herbs.
“Drink them for a month, and you will be healthy soon”.
Still with spinning head I walked outside. It was almost noon and the sun was burning hot. Just outside the house, in the shade of a bush, the black dog was sitting and waiting for me. I put a hand on its shiny fur and looked into its happy eyes. For a second I felt at home.
Soon we packed our things and hit the road. The dog was sitting still in front of the hut looking forward where we went. This time it didn’t follow me. I walked on the dusty road down the mountain with a huge smile. Maybe it is really impossible to understand fully the secrets of this world. I was not fully sure what happened to me in this land of magic. I never felt stronger…
Me and my nahual