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November 27, 2013

Another update from the temple

It’s been about a month since I’ve written anything here, and I feel like it’s time to put some more thoughts into pixels here. And not just thoughts about my ceremonies, but just about life in general. So far I’ve been here for nearly two months, and I haven’t yet talked about day-to-day life in the jungle. It’s difficult to fully encapsulate my life at the temple in a blog post, but I suppose it’s worth trying to explain.

First, there is the routine. Day in, day out, my time follows a fairly consistent pattern. At 6 or 7 in the morning, I awake to the buzz of the jungle, a cacophony of high frequency cicada wails, creaking frogs and long-winded bird conversations. Though the wall of sound never subsides, my focus eventually shifts and the thrum trickles back into the recesses of my consciousness. It just becomes part of the ambience underlying everything we do here.

Before rising out of my creaking wooden bed, I look up at the green mesh screen above my room that catches debris from the palm-frond roofing, noticing the accumulation of dead insects and other biological detritus. I detect that now-familiar smell of mildew on my linens and mold from the continual moisture eating away at every human edifice. This place is in a constant state of decay and repair. If we all abandoned it, the jungle would eat it whole within a matter of months. Every time I smell mildew on my clothes, I think, “I wonder if today will be dry enough to wash my clothes and dry it in time before the next tropical deluge?” Washing clothes involves walking to the other side of the temple grounds and sitting on a stool with a bucket and a washboard, scrubbing everything by hand, and leaving it to dry on lines in the sun. Just like granddad used to do.

With a stretch and a bend, I roll out of bed. To open the door to my small room, I pull on a thin rope attached to a nail in the door causing, which causes the wood frame to shudder with a loud friction-induced squawk. Some days I am greeted by sunshine flooding the circular sand-strewn mandala-like garden. Others by torrential downpour. As the rainy season encroaches, we’re getting more of the latter than the former. I usually wake up hungry, so I walk barefoot on the sand towards the dining room, careful not to step on an ant hill. The fire ants here sting like icy hot on steroids. In the dining room (I use the word room here loosely because most structures are mesh-enclosed wooden frames, never truly separating you from the elements), I walk over to the fruit bowl (swarming with fruit flies) and pick out a banana, mango, or passionfruit (or all three if I’m feeling adventurous). I might make myself a cup of hot chocolate by grinding down a bar of pure cacao and adding hot water and honey, or maybe a cup of coca tea (tastes like green tea, feels like coffee without the jitters). I sit down at the long picnic-table seating and chat with the early risers who happen to stop by for fruit and tea.

When I finish eating, it’s time for 7AM yoga. I leave the dining hall to walk for a minute or so through a tunnel of jungle towards Maloka #3 (a Maloka is a big mesh-enclosed yurt, a circular structure built from jungle wood and palm fronds that serves as our “spaceship” on ceremony nights and as a yoga/meditation/art studio in the day time). I’ve been on a consistent schedule of yoga first thing in the morning, which has been a wonderful part of my stay here. Compared to the yoga in the city, staying consistent with my practice here is easy, being so close and convenient and all. I don’t have an excuse not to go regularly. Stretching, breathing, and communing with my inner space through meditation each day has been very enriching for me. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts about my routine here.

After yoga, we go straight into breakfast. The menu varies between Eggs (scrambled, hard boiled, or fried), diced fruit (watermelons, mangoes, bananas, papayas, apples, pears, and some other tropical fruits I don’t know the name of), sweet plantain/banana sauce, oatmeal, plain tapioca, plantain chips, yucca sticks, pancakes, or rice and bean cakes. It’s easy to eat too much because the food is served buffet-style, and usually there’s plenty leftover. Though I could stand to gain some weight, I feel kind of useless after stuffing myself to the brim.

After breakfast, I usually go back to my room or lay out in a hammock and read or draw for a while. I’ve been devouring books here like no other time in my life, which is nice. It goes to show you how much the pace of my life has slowed. I used to think I was too busy to read, or that I had better things to do. But now I really enjoy reading and absorbing all the stories and enlightening information available at the temple library. My imagination gets stronger with each new book.

And when I’m not reading, I like to pass the time by drawing, which is another thing I didn’t make much time for back home. I think I often had a mental block about it, because I would see someone else’s artwork and think “that looks like it took forever to make”. Then staring at a blank page made me want to quit before I even started. I was so focused on wanting the end result that I forgot how much can be gained from the process itself. If I release the expectation that I have to create something amazing, then I am free to explore without worry that it won’t be good enough. I can get lost in the process, in the little details. For hours I can do this, wherein the act of tracing out mental forms onto paper becomes akin to a meditation. And then, before I know it, I have filled an entire page with the tiniest details, and I stand back and appreciate how something so complex and beautiful emerged from the very first stroke of my pen. Much like the unfolding of a seed to a tree. All that is needed is patience and persistence.

After an hour or so of reading or drawing, usually the bulk of morning dew has evaporated, meaning I can begin to work on my laptop without fear of moisture accumulation short-circuiting it. So far, my work-trade contribution to the temple has been migrating their web site from Joomla to WordPress. To begin work, I strap on my backpack and trek across the property, up the hill to the staff quarters and office shack. Here they have solar power and a satellite dish internet connection. Wi-fi in the middle of the amazon jungle still amazes me. I feel quite privileged with this job, because only paid staff get internet access (volunteers have to go all the way back into Iquitos to get internet access). I don’t take it for granted. I’ve been communicating with friends and family this way, easing the sense of isolation that comes with being here.

After working for a few hours, I am usually glistening with tropical heat, and I feel like I need a shower. It’s lunch time, and I head back down the hill, saying “buenas tardes” to the guard at his post on the way out (there are guards posted around the property 24/7, which helps create a sense of safety). Depending on the heat, I might make it down to the shower before lunch (which is just a big garbage bin filled with water and a bucket to pour it on yourself). For lunch, we have a combination of two or three entrées: salad with lime juice, brown rice, lentils, mixed sautéed veggies, boiled plantain, chicken or fish stewed with tomatoes, mashed squash, or beans. Most of the time it is prepared according to the ayahuasca diet: no salt, no oil, no heavy spices (though, they aren’t as strict with the menu at the volunteer center as they are at the more intensive workshop centers). Ceremonies are once a week or every other week for volunteers, but they are on their own to be as strict as they want to be with the dietary restrictions. Salt is freely available (and is recommended to use once in a while because we all need a little sodium for water retention)

After lunch, there are more classes. There’s a nice selection that varies as teachers fluctuate in and out. In addition to yoga and meditation, we have art, pranayama, nutrition, creative writing, tai chi, qi gong, jiu-jitsu, and more. Sometimes it’s so hot, I can’t muster the determination to sit through a class with a cascade of sweat running down me. But I like to go as often as I can.

After classes, I might take a nap or read some more, or perhaps go back to the office shack to work some more. Or maybe go for a walk down to the river (a 7 mile round trip), or to the pond, or the pineapple field or to Tres Unidos (the closest village). In Tres Unidos, they have candy and beer for sale, two things I shouldn’t be having. The candy I have no problem with… The fruit here is plenty sweet. Because we are living a somewhat primitive lifestyle here, with the heat, we don’t have a way to refrigerate our beverages. So every once in a while it’s nice to have a cold beverage for a change, though. A cold beer does the trick.

Speaking of the heat, that brings me to a less-than-awesome part of living in the jungle. Heat rashes! Though it’s not all the time, frequently I am itchy on my legs and under my knees because of heat rash. Although, to be fair, it’s only a mild irritation compared to other tropical illnesses one might acquire here. The most dreaded being malaria, which is not that common, but is always a possibility. And then there’s all sorts of other mysterious bites that I’m frequently finding. Then there’s the potential for getting parasites (don’t brush your teeth with the water collected from the river, I learned the hard way). And if you get some in your ear canal you can get a nasty earache that makes your whole upper body stiff, numb, or painful. Then there’s plants here that are so powerful and toxic, that just handling them can do strange things to you. I helped down at the greenhouse one day, making cuttings from a hearty plant called “milagrosa” that is apparently quite toxic. I didn’t get any of the milky sap on me, but I did handle it without gloves. Soon after, I felt drained, nauseous, and a bit dizzy. I tried to take a shower and the somewhat cold water was so shocking to me it sent waves of pain down my body. My scalp was sore and I had a fever. I slept for the rest of the day, and luckily felt better the next day. But in spite of the maladies and discomforts one might come down with, the beauty of the jungle is exquisite and worth the risks of being here.

By 6PM, it’s totally dark (living near the equator is like that…) My circadian rhythms have already shifted to a new beat. I get drowsy by 7 or 8, and there’s not much to do by lamp-light except talk for a bit before we all get tired. I usually read in bed and fall asleep with my face in a book. Sometimes I’ll pull the laptop out and plug in some cheap speakers I picked up in town, and treat myself and a few others to a movie night. Though, often times we have to watch it in two parts because we all get tired so early.

The social life and communal feel is one of the things that keeps me interested in staying onboard. I am one of a continually fluctuating collection volunteers from around the world. Now I’m so accustomed to the international camaraderie here, I hardly notice that any given conversation is a mish-mash of accents. British, Australian, Polish, South African, Irish and Peruvian speech inflections all mingle together in our common language of English. There are about about 10 volunteers and 6 staff members who regularly commune together at mealtimes. We are all learning how to live harmoniously with each other. Despite the minor complaints and occasional butting of heads, we all get along well. If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that we’re all crazy enough to live at an ayahuasca retreat center to regularly voyage into the unknown, facing our demons and obstacles and discomfort with courage and tenacity.

I’ve had two more ceremonies since my last entry. The first of these two ceremonies was the darkest and scariest ceremony I’ve had yet. Not feeling like I had a full journal entry in me, I posted a short something on Facebook regarding my experience:

I’ll tell you about my experience the other night. I am just thankful to be back in my body and feeling normal after that wild ceremony. It was really intense because I saw demons everywhere, surrounding me, crawling all over me, feeling their sharp claws. I knew it was an illusion, or if not an illusion, at least not real in the physical 3rd dimension reality. If they were real, they were on another vibrational plane. Either way, it was terrifying, and I had to summon the most inner strength and courage I ever had just to face them and meditate through the nausea and dizziness. I felt like I had fallen into a deep void, a mucky hell filled with crawling creeping parasitic creatures who live on fear and human lifeforce. Luckily after a half hour or so, after our maestra began singing her ikaros, I came back to reality a bit and they demons disappeared. I suppose it was inevitable after nothing but positive experiences that I would eventually have an intense scary one. And then last night I had an apocalyptic dream of graphic grotesque visions regarding fukushima nuclear fallout and the intense violence of war. I woke up early feeling disturbed, but I washed the images away with some raw cacao hot chocolate and honey. These visions have set me off on this path of thinking that there are so many worldwide disasters coming to a climax… front row seats to the apocalypse, anyone? coming to terms with death is part of my work here.

I don’t mean to unload a burden, but I just wanted to share what I’ve been going through. Just like the weather, my life has its sunny days and its stormy days. I think I’m in the eye of the hurricane at the moment, feeling quite calm but knowing there are turbulent times ahead. Can I phase-shift into the golden age of earth where there is no more greed, violence, natural or man-made disasters, please? Hah. Maybe I’ll travel this earth until the day I die so I can see as much as possible before it’s gone… If only I could pack up all my friends and family and loved ones and take them with me as we seek out a refuge from the troubles and turmoils of these crazy times…

Sometimes, you need to go through the dark to find the light. My last two ceremonies have shown this to me. I recently wrote in an e-mail to a friend some relevant thoughts. Here are a few excerpts:

I know that nobody is immune to fear, that we all have to face our own demons, whether literal or metaphorical, eventually. I figure that my work here is preparing me in that way. Death is inevitable, so I might as well acquaint myself with it. And that isn’t to say that death is a bad thing. When it’s your time, it’s your time…

I see difficulties and terrible things as a kind of big test. Can we face violence, greed, fear, terror, etc. with love, compassion, and strength? Or do we succumb? Facing all the negative stuff in life sure isn’t easy, but, nothing worth achieving is ever easy, right?

… Life is precious and short. All the more reason to live each day like it was your last. That’s why it’s so hard to get me to
stay put, to stay in a box working for some corporation. Life has to have more meaning than earning that next paycheck… Sometimes I think modern civilization is set up to keep us so occupied with distractions and wage slavery that we don’t have a chance to ponder the deeper meanings and possibilities. It’s hard to have a revolution of consciousness when everyone is clocking in to meaningless drudgery day in, day out. Again, this can be seen as a test. Do we succumb to it, or do we break free as best we can to carve out our own destiny?

Well, I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Thanks for reading! More to come…

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