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March 28, 2016 - No Comments!

On Life, Healing and Dying – Part 1

On Life, Healing and Dying – Part 1


This is the story of  two women who were very different in many ways but who somehow shared their deaths with me in significant and life-altering ways. This story will be spread over three  posts, each revealing one phase of the events. The first part of the story takes place in Peru:

The Death of a Shaman

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Herlinda died last night. The last time I saw her was in Peru three weeks ago in a little shack outside the jungle town of Pucallpa. Her family had moved her from her hometown of San Francisco, Peru – a secluded Shipibo village situated on an arm of the Amazon River – so she could be closer to doctors.

My two friends and I took a rickshaw from the airport and travelled around many corners and turns as we followed Walter's rickshaw, one of Herlinda’s sons, down a dusty pothole-filled dirt road to finally arrive in front of Herlinda’s "family compound in town”, as it had been described to us earlier. As far as I could see, this compound consisted of four mud brick walls, a door, a small window, a corrugated iron roof and a small veranda overlooking more mud brick shacks – other "family compounds”. Not a green leaf in sight, just dust and mud.
Walter opened the door to the shack and there she was, the mighty Herlinda! She looked so tiny lying there in her striped cotton hammock. She must have lost 30 pounds since I last saw her a year ago.

She was a big woman then in every sense of the word as the matriarch and the shaman of her village. I remember her sitting on the floor of the malaka – a ceremonial jungle building – with her husband Enrique. What struck me most about her then was how immensely comfortable it was for her to be in her full power. Shamans in that tradition lead ceremonies in which they give personal healings and sing ceremonial songs called Ikaros. Whenever Herlinda sang an Ikaro during a ceremony she opened a long-forgotten path to my own fullness as a woman; a path that is neither pretentious, or special or difficult – just there, available to every woman. Herlinda had nine children and 20 grandchildren and, as the matriarch and healer of her village, she had no question about her role in life. She had the remarkable ability of passing on her ease of authority and love with a playful directness that made it seem the most natural state any woman could be in.

I remember being shaken to the marrow with the realization of how inherently normal and ordinary it is to be a nurturing, powerful woman. Just as looking in the eyes of a great Advaita master can open the pathways to non-dual consciousness, listening to Herlinda’s happy and not necessary beautiful but fearless Ikaros brought me in contact with the essence of womanhood: Love, playfulness, creativity, nurture and power.

And here she was a year later in a weak, cancer-ridden body, unable to get out of her hammock any longer; lying in a dark room, her beloved jungle miles away. And to my great surprise, she looked beautiful! Her thick hair was still dyed black. She was not wearing her dentures, which made her look vulnerable. Yet, despite her physical weakness, a great sense of dignity emanated from her. While she was the impressive matriarch a year ago, she was now a humbled and fragile yet luminous being – a being in transition.

We both cried when I thanked her in my rudimentary Spanish for her songs and the impact she made in my life and the lives of my friends. She said she was looking forward to going home and I did not know if she meant back to her jungle village or to her death. And once again Herlinda touched me deeply, but this time through her surrender and vulnerability, showing me another face of life, that of transition.

And now she is gone. I will never sing or cry with her again. My jungle feels empty without her but in some wondrous way, I feel her influence in me more directly. Thinking of her now fills me with a sense of matriarchal power and joy all on the backdrop of impermanence. Gracias para todo, Herlinda!



February 14, 2013 - 2 comments

The Imperfect Engagement

My favourite Valentines Day

Eight years ago, as I was buying myself a small diamond pendant in Hamburg, I told myself that the next diamond I was going to receive would be a present from a beautiful man.

And here I was in Barranco – an artistic district of Lima, Peru – sitting outside at a candlelit table in a fancy restaurant in a quiet alley, with view of an ancient church, when my wish came true.

At the end of a very fancy dinner (Lima is famous for fancy restaurants) my partner, Dave, pulled a little pink paper gift bag out of his backpack.

“Happy Valentine’s day!” he said.

“A present!" wow, I thought… “I thought we had agreed not to buy presents for Valentines day!”

I thought he had bought a little trinket at the artisan market we had meandered through a few hours before.

“What if I don’t like it?” I asked.

“Oh, you can just throw it out,” he answered.

He pulled out our new video camera and started to film my unraveling of the present. I pulled out the red polka-dotted tissue paper and found a ball of tightly pressed yellow paper.

“For sure a trinket,” I thought. “It is getting smaller and smaller,” I said to Dave who was attentively filming.

I unraveled the last little bit of paper and lo and behold! A diamond ring rolled into my hands and with it a whole avalanche of emotions started to thunder through my body. For a split second I felt elated - a long lost dream had come true! This was immediately followed by a barrage of fearful thoughts:

“I can’t say yes, what if I make a mistake?”

“Never trust a man, they imprison you" I heard my mom’s voice in my head.  I looked at Dave who was trying to gage my reaction. With a trembling voice, he then asked,  “Will you do me the honour of calling me your husband?”

Another barrage of thoughts rushed through my head:  Yes, no, yes, I can’t, I’m not the marrying type, and I would love to. I didn’t know which thought to follow or believe. Finally feeling like I was forcing myself to jump over a humongous shadow, I said:

“But I am scared.”

“That is OK, we never actually have to get married, if you don’t want to. I just wanted to give you a ring.”

He calmed me right down and allowed me to finally find an avenue to joy. What a sweet compliment; what a huge barrier he had to jump over himself. How daring that he had done that! What a tremendously rich moment, in this starry night in Lima with my favourite person.

“The only thing I know is that if I ever get married, you are the only person on the planet I would want to marry.” I said.

And immediately the controlling-everything voice in my head shouted: “but you don’t know everybody; there might be a better man for you out there!”

“Shut up!” I told it. “I know Dave and I love being with him and that is good enough!”

Ah! The different facets of commitment - I’m beginning to see that insecurity, fear and the impulse to run away, are as much a part of commitment as are vulnerability,  joy and a deeply relaxed heart. All these feelings can be allowed to have room to melt into one universe together.

The ring fit perfectly. Dave had guessed my size correctly. “A good omen” I thought.  Although all the feelings I described were still running through my system,  a tender feeling of gratitude slowly began to overpower them.

Whatever this ring may mean in the future, right now it is a symbol of commitment to love. It looks like a star from night sky has landed on my hand. And in a sparkling shamanic manner it is nudging a tender side of me to trust - to trust life with all its imperfections.

“Is it big enough?” he asked.

“Oh, it is so big enough!” I replied...