What I've Learned so Far Living in the Amazon? Nothing.

How is it that I’ve had the most profound healing of an incurable autoimmune disease, and yet I’m still the biggest cynic?

Healing and finding a spiritual path has become entwined with New Age spirituality, creating a type of hippie culture that may resonate with some, but not everyone.

When I first got certified to teach yoga, my roommate at the time begged me, “Please, don’t start talking in the yoga voice”. We laughed over this, as I knew what she was talking about; that breathy whisper of “just breathe”, a class full of cliches that now pepper every new age conversation. New Age spirituality is filled with endless catch phrases of manifesting what you want, telling people everything will be ok because they are loved. Two-second cutesy soundbites are all over Facebook and Instagram, spiritual wisdom that is dumbed down to Hallmark card quotes for marketing or sensationalist hype. Oh my god, the moon is in Virgo, your entire life is going to change! It’s all very well-intentioned but tends to turn many people off. It comes across as superficial and fake. It fits with our fast-paced culture of instant-gratification. But it’s missing a level-headedness and sensibility that encourages you to go deeper.

From the book “The Law of One”: True healing is simply the radiance of the self causing an environment in which a catalyst may occur which initiates the recognition of self, by self, of the self -healing properties of the self.

The internet can be an incredible source of information and way of connecting with people all over the world. But when we go online to brag about a ceremony or spiritual experience, we need to look at what are our intentions. It’s made me hesitate to write anything about my own healing. At what point does sharing become bragging? Are you only going to a spiritual retreat to post a selfie of yourself meditating the second you are back online, and then counting the likes?

Studies show that social media use is linked to depression and low self-esteem. Selfies are now linked to death, as people tragically die while being on vacation and trying to get that perfect shot over a cliff. I use social media just like everyone else, and I try to use it consciously and maintain a balance. There is value in connecting with others online, though it’s more important to stay true to ourselves. When we rely on social media to validate a spiritual experience, we’re just looking for external validation. That’s skipping the inner work. At what point does it become exploitative? Two years later and I’m still integrating so much of the work I did with the plants, I can’t help but question those who think they are an expert after only one ceremony or one plant dieta.

Nowadays it seems that the quality of a good yoga teacher is solely based on having pretty Instagram photos, posting a glamorous photo in downward dog while on vacation. The same thing is happening with “shamanism”. The other day I was flipping through a spiritual magazine and the ads were pure comedy. You can start a new career by becoming a “certified life-circle-celebrant”. Or you can call an 800 number and talk to a psychic shamanic guru. You can sign up for an online esoteric school that promises to share all the ancient mysteries of the world with you and other special chosen ones — -all yours once you pay the tuition fee of thousands of dollars.

It seems we often look for the easy way out, for someone else to tell us what to do or how to solve our problems. I know because I’m just as guilty of struggling to trust myself and looking for outside advice. The key, of course, is to develop and trust your own intuition. I find that when I don’t trust my own intuition it inevitably comes back and bites me in the ass. Apparently, this seems to be a lesson that I need to learn again and again. Although it’s when I don’t trust my intuition that I learn the most. Often when I get myself into challenging situations, I can look back and remember that I had that gut-feeling of knowingness, which I subsequently ignored. So when you get that gut feeling in your stomach, trust it.

Learning to trust myself and my intuition, as opposed to looking to someone else for all the answers, is an evolving process. It’s always easier to look to someone else for a healing or intuitive reading. I have had some profound and meaningful readings and healings, but I realize that ultimately I am only giving my power away. If you go to an intuitive reader, keep in mind that it takes years to fully develop intuitive abilities and learn how to use them. A good intuitive should respect boundaries, give feedback with empathy and only give feedback when it’s asked for. They should be aware of their own personal biases. A good healer doesn’t need to brag, lure people into working with them, or aggressively market themselves.

A huge red flag is one that I have encountered time and time again: when someone tells you that you “need” to work with them, that you “need” to take their class, that only they can help you, that you need to get over your “fears” of working with them. I’ve heard these lines a lot. It’s manipulative and disempowering, and it comes from the ego of the healer. But the real danger is that if you are feeling lost on your path and looking for guidance, it can feel like a positive sign or even a genuine offer of help. Some healers may even have good intentions when they say these things. But when a healer makes you dependent on them, they are stripping you of your personal power.

We are all human and no one is perfect, but it can feel disingenuous when a healer preaches at you at how to live your life, yet they don’t live by their own words. As a foreigner living in Peru, it can also be easy to get tangled up in money drama, healers charging exorbitant prices, or guilting you into giving more money in exchange for love or being your friend.

Now I just laugh when someone tells me I need to eat this, I shouldn’t eat that, I exercise too much, I don’t exercise enough, do this, don’t do that. So many people here are looking for a way to make money as a teacher. I always ask myself, does the offer to help come from love, or is there another incentive? I don’t always understand everything that is spoken in Spanish, so I have to trust how I feel. Is this person speaking with integrity, honesty and love? How do they treat people?

Don’t let anyone tell you who you are and what you should do.

Run, don’t walk, when someone tries to take your power from you.

With all this being said, I feel very lucky and incredibly grateful for all the people I’ve met and the teachers I’ve found in Peru. Yet the maestros I work with are not from Peru. If you come to Peru and only want to work with a Peruvian healer, that’s what you will find. The teachers I know are not flashy, and they are not out there trying to grab your attention and convince you to learn from them. They don’t need to aggressively advertise and cheapen their image.

They have both told me, repeatedly, that I need to figure things out on my own. I still learn from them, but there is no textbook or syllabus. The true inner work has got to be done alone. I fought this for a long time before it really hit me, the truth of what they were saying and what an amazing gift it is…to be set free. It took another healer telling me condescendingly how much I needed them before I fully understood and felt how disempowering these words are.

When I felt alone and vulnerable, and when I was betrayed and lied to, this was all part of my learning, and I can only say thank you. I’m not sick anymore and every challenge I faced was part of my healing. I now understand that you don’t know a good teacher until you’ve met a fake one. You can’t understand light until you’ve experienced darkness. I ended up learning just as much from all the negative experiences, although it was difficult to see it at the time.

Sometimes the woman selling fruit with a smile is the teaching I need at the moment, other times it’s seeing someone mistreat someone to understand that this is not who I want to emulate.

I don’t care if people don’t believe me, or if I sound crazy. I don’t care of people disagree with me, or don’t like me. All I can do is speak and live my Truth. And acknowledge another’s Truth when it feels genuine.

Healing in the Jungle

I was sick, and now I’m healed.

Two years ago I came to Manu, in the Amazon jungle of Peru.  I had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, and came to heal with the medicinal plants of the jungle. RA causes inflammation of the tissue and joints, resulting in pain and fatigue. RA gets worse over time, and eventually causes bone erosion and joint deformity. My doctor told me if I didn’t start medication right away, I could be in a wheelchair soon.

Prior to coming to Peru, my life had fallen apart twice. First when I got diagnosed in 2011, and then a couple years later when my husband left me, saying I had changed. I was no longer the energetic, adventurous woman he had first met. And he was absolutely right, I was dead inside. My whole body hurt and I was paralyzed with fear. Fear of my body falling apart, fear of the future, fear of what my life had become.

It seemed that overnight I went from an active life of rock-climbing and hiking to barely being able to use the stairs. In reality, this disease had been slowing creeping up on me for years, until I had a flare that was debilitating, which led to my diagnosis and subsequent med-popping. I couldn’t hold a pen. Food shopping and simple errands would drain me for the rest of the day. I had trigger finger in all my fingers and all my toes.

I started taking medications, as I had to get out of bed every morning and get to work. First was prednisone, which initially gave me a much needed boost of energy. It also depleted my bones of calcium, resulting in another diagnosis, this time of osteoporosis. This, in turn, required a medicine that I had to take intravenously. I began giving myself a weekly injection in my stomach for pain and inflammation caused by RA. Over time I needed medicine for low thyroid, vertigo and migraines.

I hated being sick.  

So I closed down my psychotherapy business, shipped some boxes of stuff to my parents home to store in their basement, left my house and everything in it to my now ex-husband, and came to Peru with a backpack of clothes.

When I got to the jungle I immediately got off all my meds and started a shamanic "dieta". A dieta involves drinking a tea made from plants or trees from the jungle, while eating a simple salt-free and sugar-free diet, living in isolation and immersed in nature. No reading or music, some journaling, and a lot of time spent in the river, listening to the rain, or just watching the trees.

And it worked. Western medicine says that RA is incurable, but my blood tests are now normal. I'm symptom-free, and free of pain, and I’ve been off all my meds for two years now.

When I was sick, I knew that things had to change, and that things could change. How I healed, and what happened...well, it's complicated.  And indescribable.  It's difficult to talk about, as things are constantly changing, and still unfolding.  Where do I begin, and where does it end?  I’ve been living off and on in the jungle since I did my dietas.  I’m not a teacher or a healer.   I only have a story to share.  There are so many things I don’t understand, and the more I try to understand, the less I know.  It only becomes more mysterious and unexplainable. 

Changing involved some blind faith, and showing up when I had to.  It involved trusting myself, and tapping into something much bigger than me.  But there is nothing special about me! True healing can happen to anyone.  

In Manu I was given the time and space to work through things on my own, immersed in nature and often in solitude.  I was always offered a smile, a joke or some wise words when I needed it.  I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of the core group of people helping me. I was shown that there are things that we simply don’t talk about, and definitely don’t brag about.  I was shown to respect the plants, to respect the jungle.  That there is power in silence, in that which is not spoken.  And to understand that some things are sacred.  When we work with the plants in a shamanic dieta, it is a journey inward,  going within to find our true selves.  It's a cleansing of emotions, memories, attachments and past experiences. It’s about breaking down the ego.  It’s a meditation.   All these lessons I am still trying to fully understand, as the layers run deep. I’m reminded again and again, that I know nothing.

The journey inward has no ending. I may be healed, and I had some type of spiritual breakthrough, but the process of breaking down the ego takes time. A lifetime. Many lifetimes! There are so many buzzwords popular now- awakening, upgrade, activation. What do these words mean? Everyone has a different definition and I don’t know the true meaning anymore. As soon as we define our experience, we get locked into that one way of thinking. In the end, I think it’s not the definitions we have, it’s how we choose to live.

Healing also involved learning to be patient, something I still wrestle with.  As a foreigner to Peru, I have a different mindset.  I come from a culture that values multitasking, watching the clock and having a sense of urgency.  I had a psychotherapy business in San Francisco, which I closed down when I first came to Peru. My brain felt lighter and more spacious for the first time in years, as I was relieved of the constant mental thoughts of running a business.  In the jungle we are often without internet, and even electricity.  I don't have a TV.  Life is simple and slower, more in tune with nature. It feels more fulfilling.  

When I was sick in San Francisco, I was constantly looking for ways to feel better, to decrease the constant pain and fatigue. It could get overwhelming meeting so many people who call themselves teachers, experts, healers.  It seems that people are quick to adopt these labels. I would research information online for alternative treatments or diets, that would often contradict something I had read a day earlier. I know that frustration. It's good to be skeptical.  But don’t give up.

Along the way there have been highs and lows, challenges and triumphs, and an ongoing struggle to maintain a balance between the two extremes.  I’ve been inspired by so many people, found incredible guides and made new friends.  I've had dark days and experienced loss.  I thought about quitting more than once,  but ultimately kept plugging along.  And now I see it’s all been part of my journey and part of my healing.  You can’t have one extreme without the other. Every challenge has served a purpose, ultimately helping me to heal.

Today I'm free of doctor visits, blood tests and medications that were once part of my daily life. When I’m out hiking, or just walking upstairs, I remember how it used to be. Life offers so many lessons and opportunities. I’m still friends with my ex-husband. I couldn’t see it at the time, but him leaving me was the biggest gift, as it opened the door to a new life, a life without disease.

I’m grateful for everything that happened and everyone involved. For my family and friends for their unwavering support, and of course to the curandero (healer) that guided and supported me, Habin. None of this would be possible without him and the incredible powers of the medicinal plants. It also shines light on the critical importance of conservation of the Amazon, which is at risk from illegal logging and mining. We also need to protect and preserve the traditions of the indigenous Machiguenga and Harakmbut who live in Manu, as they hold the knowledge of the plants.

My healing wasn’t just for me, it’s for everyone. It shows us all that anything is possible.

What the heck is earthing?

Earthing, or grounding, is a way of connecting to the earth by walking barefoot or being outdoors in nature.  And then reaping all the health benefits.  Here in the jungle we are naturally immersed in nature and don't have a fancy name for it.  But I was delighted to find the Earthing Institute Research website, along with this research article that shows that healing in nature works!

And if you're keeping up, forest bathing was developed in Japan in the 80's, while research on earthing began in the 90's in the U.S.