After nearly one year of wildly visionary journeys with my medicine family, in 2004, I decided to travel to the Brazilian Amazon, hoping to connect with the indigenous shamans and experience the living tradition of ayahuasca, in a culture with an unbroken history of working with the sacred plant medicine.
I was also burnt out from nearly a decade of nonprofit work and hoping to receive some insight from drinking ayahuasca in the jungle. While I enjoyed working with different organizations on issues I cared deeply about, such as Tibetan cultural preservation, indigenous rights, and environmental sustainability, I felt overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. Working myself to death to “save the world” was unsustainable, and my hair was falling out from stress. I longed for a meaningful livelihood that allowed me to leverage my talents and gifts, while being rewarded abundantly for my genius. I was hoping that my time in the Amazon, working with shamans, would help me gain the clarity I needed as to what my next professional steps should be.
How the Deadly Snake Sent Me to Acre
I actually almost didn’t go. My ticket to Brazil took me first to Florianopolis, where I enjoyed a couple of weeks of vacation by the beach. I stayed at this eco-hostel run by friendly Argentinians. Around midnight one night, I sat out on the terrace at the picnic table, writing in my journal. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend the rest of my 1-month break in Floripa, which was turning out to be relaxing and fun. Acre was a total mystery to me and every Brazilian I asked about it. The standard response was, “Acre – it’s really far away from everything.”
When I arrived in the Brazil, I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese or know a single soul. I had a list of names and email addresses, plus the 2nd chapter of my friend Robert Tindall’s then unpublished book, The Jaguar That Roams the Mind. I emailed every person on that list in Spanish, assuming that the Brazilians there must know some Spanish, being so close to the Peruvian border. Little did I know that there is an impenetrable forest and mountain range separating the 2 countries. Only one person emailed me back, in Portuguese, saying, that he couldn’t understand my email. That was Fabiano Kaxinawá, the son of the cacique (chief) of the Kaxinawá Indigenous Territory of Upper Jordão, Siã Kaxinawá.
Going to Acre felt difficult. I was seriously considering not going and enjoying the rest of my time by the beach.
Something prompted me to look up from journaling. There was no noise, no movement to prompt my looking up at that moment, just instinct. A short distance from the picnic table were some stairs. Slithering up the stairs was a brown snake with a diamond pattern on its back. Its head was triangular.
Without even a sound, it slithered directly towards me. I got up from the picnic table and backed away. The snake curled up exactly where my feet were, when I was sitting. I sketched the snake in my journal. The next day I showed the owner of the hostel.
He said, “That’s a jararaca! It’s a really venomous snake, if you it bites you and you don’t get the anti-venom in an hour, you’ll die.”
Disturbed by the fact that I could have easily not noticed the snake curling up at my feet and accidently stepped on it, I proceeded to email my friend Robert, about what happened. Robert and his wife Susana were just on the other side of the mountain range, in Peru, studying with their Maestro Juan Flores Salazar for a year, while Susana did her doctoral research on Peruvian vegetalismo. Coincidentally he happened to be online right at that moment, which was unusual, since most of the time they were in the jungle without Internet or phone.
“Robert, it seems to be an omen. I can’t tell if it’s a warning that I should avoid going to Acre, or a sign that I should go.”
Robert said, “Snakes have medicine. Go to Acre.”
So I went.
Becoming One of the True People
I arrived in Rio Branco and sought out Fabiano Kaxinawá, who I really couldn’t communicate much with. Between my self-taught Portuguese, and the arrival of his friends from São Paulo who spoke English, I was able to receive his invitation to go to their village to experience the Festival of the Royal Hawk (Harpy Eagle).
To go to the festival, I joined 2 documentary film teams to travel to Jordão, in 4 twin propeller planes, and 3 boats 5 days by river. It was a life-changing experience. But not in the way I expected.
From that connection with the Huni Kui – the True People – as the Kaxinawás call themselves, I have enjoyed many more visits to the indigenous territories of Acre as their guest and as a guest of other tribes who I’ve gotten to know. Years later, the Huni Kui women of the last village of on the Jordão river gave my my Huni Kui name, and I became one of the tribe.
I quit my job and decided to stay 3 more months in the Amazon. I drank a lot of ayahuasca, not only with the Indians, but also with the different churches – the Santo Daime churches in and around Rio Branco, the Barquinha churches, the Forteleza of Luis Mendes. I spend 2 months in Céu do Mapiá, a Santo Daime community founded by Padrinho Sebastião Mota de Melo and the disciples of Mestre Irineu Serra, the founder of the Santo Daime Church, located deep in the jungles of Western Amazonas, and at that time, only accessible via boat.
It was a 6 hour bus ride from Rio Branco to Boca do Acre, followed by an overnight stay and then a 10 hour boat ride upriver, through submerged trees.
Do YOU Have a Personal Mission?
It was on one such boat ride that, wedged between sacks of concrete, rice and beans, that my travel companion Mark, a German man in his 70s, friend of Robert’s from the Bay Area and supporter of the Pachamama Alliance, pulls out his personal business card and presents it to me. On one side is the vision of the Pachamama Alliance – an environmentally sustainable, socially-just, and spiritually fulfilling human presence on this planet. On the other side, was his personal mission.
“What’s your personal mission,” he asked, with a twinkle in his eye.
“Hmmm, what IS my mission?” I wondered to myself. I had no idea. But I had to come to Brazil on personal sabbatical after a decade of working in the nonprofit community on causes that I deeply cared about, which paid little, but had great need. I had reached a state of burnout and needed the space to get clear on whether I wanted to continue with my nonprofit career.
I contemplated that question over the weeks and months and gradually, a message began to appear in my mind, a voice, that had a very clear mandate.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to leverage emerging technologies to preserve indigenous traditions, so that ancient wisdom can benefit the modern world, and technology can empower indigenous people.”
It made no sense to me, as I was not technological in any way. The only thing I knew how to do online was send email.
But I couldn’t shake the message. The mandate. It was coming from the forest all around me. Every day.
When I returned to San Francisco, I reported to duty. I set about teaching myself how to build websites. Then master search engine marketing. And social media. I became an Internet entrepreneur, and a podcaster. And here is my best work to date. The culmination of everything I’ve made my mind up to master, to follow the mandate of the forest. A living example of how a visionary experience completely changed my life, gave me my chosen profession, gave me the freedom to travel and work from anywhere in the world, to choose who I work with, and what I work on. And has resulted in experiences beyond my wildest dreams.
Have visionary medicines connected YOU to your purpose?
- What is your purpose?
- How did the message unfold for you?
- What actions did you take do follow the signs from your visions?
Visionary Art by Anderson Debernardi