My Weekend with a Peruvian Shaman, Part 1

The Q'ero believe that when we die our bodies go to pachamama, our souls go to the stars, and our wisdom goes to the mountains.

With reverence and devotion, they turn to the mountains, which they call "apus," for guidance and grace along their sacred journeys. They believe that each one has a specific power and a breadth of knowledge to impart. 

I learned this beautiful story while looking upon the majestic mountains of the quaint Colorado town I call home. Sitting side-by-side on folding chairs with forty other spiritual seekers in a small converted classroom, I sat with rapt attention as Don Eduardo Chura Apaza, a Q'ero "paqo" or "healer", shared his energy and his words with joy and simplicity. Crouched on the floor with his back to a wall of windows, he never went more than a few minutes without stealing a faithful glance at the towering apus behind him. 

The timing of the event was sweetly synchronistic for me. My older sister had returned only days prior from spending two weeks deep in the jungles of Peru working with plant medicine with the Shipibo tribe, and here I was with Peru in my very own American backyard. Her work had affected me tremendously even from thousands of miles away, and I was eager to share my discoveries with Eduardo and receive his wisdom and healing energy. I was scheduled to hear him speak with a group on Saturday and then for a 1:1 healing session on Sunday morning.

The morning of his lecture I felt a quickening in my body.

I can always tell when I am channeling energy, as the top of my head gets white hot and stings with an undeniable prickling sensation. My body reverberates with cascading chills up and down my spine, and reality seems a little less, well, real. On the drive to the retired school building where he was to give his talk, my body was alive with these sensations, and I felt nauseous and light-headed with the immensity of the energy building. 

When I arrived I slipped off my shoes among the tumbling pile of others and timidly walked in the door. I had the overwhelming feeling that I was safe, that it was okay to emote and to be myself, but at the same time I pushed back the tears that threatened to spill down my cheeks. I was on my final day of a 3-day juice cleanse timed purposely to coordinate with this experience, and emotion was bubbling from me freely and sweetly. 

As the room filled a woman with long cascading hair and kind eyes came to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. A little dazed, I nodded my head. She asked if I could help translate Eduardo's message to the group. He spoke almost no English and would be giving his talk in Spanish. I was a little pensive about the responsibility but felt like everything had been leading me right to this moment and agreed to the task.

Eduardo would be giving a short lecture followed by a despacho ceremony, which is the building of a community prayer bundle.

He was perched on the floor and dressed in a vibrant ceremonial poncho with a festive, pointy hat with huge adorning tassels. Spread in front of him was a large blanket surrounded by small baggies filled with a plethora of odds and ends. Candies, glitter, cotton, wine, leaves, spices, string, and much more littered the floor around him, and I chuckled at the similarities with his tools and my and Chloe's usual crafting supplies. 


I was seated almost directly in the center on the second row within easy eye shot of Eduardo. The room barely housed the 45 or so souls present for the magic, and we all waited with baited breath to see where the afternoon would take us. 

The next four hours unfolded in no time and no space for me.

The husband and wife who had hosted Eduardo's visit gave a short talk about the Q'ero people and how they had come to know Eduardo and his very famous father Don Francisco and then allowed Eduardo to lead us in opening the four directions. 

Similar to native peoples of North America, the Inka-descended Q'ero follow a medicine wheel that honors the snake of the south (shedding your past), the jaguar of the west (facing and overcoming your fears), the hummingbird of the north (making the impossible journey) and the condor of the east (raising consciousness and dreaming the world into being). They also acknowledge Mother Earth (pachamama) and the stars above. The ceremony is ripe with fervent prayer, soul-stirring rattles and deep passion.

I was sobbing by the time the first direction was opened. 

After the opening, Eduardo spoke more about the Q'ero people and their beliefs and traditions (which I'll be sharing in this month's edition of The Wand). His words were simple and laced with love.

His people believe that we are living in the "time of the world turning upside down" (pachakuti), which has been foretold by many other peoples and cultures all across the globe. It is a time of rising consciousness when the earth will restore balance and harmony and end the era of chaos. 

The Q'ero's medicine wheel is steeped in quantum physics, and I felt right at home in their scientifically spiritual way of seeing. To them God is the divine matrix that animates all life, and their existence is one built on a concept of paying it forward to enrich one another's lives.  

When Eduardo was done teaching he opened the floor for Q&A. As the themes of his talk were translated through our American ears, I was struck by three things:

1. As Westerners we overcomplicate the shit out of things. 

As Eduardo fielded question after question from people in the audience, he kept coming back to one driving principal - an open heart. The man probably said "abre el corazon" a hundred times, and I left with the firm understanding that it truly is all about opening our hearts. And the way to do that, according to him, is with the help of pachamama and the apus. Get out in nature. Breathe the fresh air. Gaze at the sky. Give thanks to the earth we live on. Less thinking. More basking. 

2. Joy and love are palpable energetic states that can be undeniably felt. 

If Eduardo had been in plain clothes and tearing tickets at the door I would have known that man was someone special. Love is a frequency. Joy is a state of being. They are real, tangible energetic states that can be felt with your entire being. And it's up to us to trust that. If someone makes you cringe every time you're around them, pay attention. If someone leaves you buzzing and feeling high on life, pay attention. We instinctively know when we're in the presence of love. Soak that shit up, and take note. 

3. The American way is a powerful vortex.

I was struck by the tug-of-war I experienced in my body between what he was saying and what I felt was possible for me. I could feel his sincere reverence for the natural world, and I was romanced by its simplicity and truth. And yet at the same time I felt the practical pull of what it means to live an American life entrenched in the culture and noise of our society.

I tried to stay focused on small acts of connection I could incorporate in my current life instead of getting overwhelmed by the impossibility my monkey mind was weaving. But it certainly gave me pause to think about all the many things that are deemed "normal" here that keep us disconnected and in an endless circle of not-enoughness.

I left wanting to worry so much less and bask in gratitude so much more. 

After the lecture, we partook in a despacho ceremony. One-by-one we each came before him and uttered our deepest intentions for raising the consciousness of this planet while he took our offerings (3 bay leaves as a stand-in for coca leaves and a red and white flower petal representing feminine and masculine along with three pieces of corn) and added them to the prayer bundle being built before us.

Every time he added another ingredient he spoke of its significance. Most people spoke their prayers in English, and I helped translate their sentiments to Eduardo, which he repeated with passion and gusto while kissing and blowing on the offering and blessing the head, heart, stomach and hands of the kneeling person in front of him. His prayers were adamant and yet cheeky, often adding in "millones, millones, millones de dolares" (millions, millions, millions of dollars) when touching the hands of the offerer. 

When the ceremony was complete, Eduardo carefully and mindfully wrapped the colorful prayer bundle in a crisp white paper. The offering was to be burned in a fire ceremony he would hold that evening with his hosts a handful of others, and I marveled at this physical expression of what had just transpired over those many timeless hours we had all spent in one another's presence. It was exquisite.

Eduardo had built it layer upon layer with a light heart and nimble fingers, and I had watched him chuckle as we fumbled our way through, dropping leaves and missing our cues. Yet he took each offering and sent its prayers out into the field on the wings of his sincerest energy.

It was an exercise in presence and a reminder to find an air of service in all that we do.  

When it was all said and done, people pooled at the exit not wanting to step out of the vortex we had created. Eduardo circulated the room taking photos and performing blessings on those who purchased the wares he had carried with him from his village. It was a sweet, familial energy, and I squeezed in close for my own shot with this kind-hearted and electric man. 

The subtlest moments seemed ripe with the largest takeaways, and I left turning over the lessons learned like a mountain stone from the great apus.

Give thanks. Open the heart. Connect with pachamama. Listen to the wisdom of the apus.

During his own talk, Eduardo's host had emphasized that the breath is paramount in the Q'ero ceremonies (where often you are asked to blow on your offering or breathe in the energy), as it is what gives expression to what's in your heart. And the message resonated deeply with me. I departed that day breathing slowly and purposefully into the spaces of my own heart asking it to show me whatever it needed me to know for my session with Eduardo the following day. 

And it answered clearly and swiftly.

To be continued...