February 26, 2011


I sit at the back of the low hut, directly on the parched ground, in total darkness. The roof is no more then three feet tall and you can feel that the rock walls are at least a foot thick. In the center, a mass of volcanic-like rocks shimmer with heat. They've been placed in a fire for more than three hours. Stacked on the center pole, they radiate with a powerful heat.

As I take my place in the circle, my thougts are racing. The roof is so close and the space is so small that I fear a claustrophobia strike. The presence of strangers also makes me uneasy. In that instant, I become very aware of the presence of Daniel, my friend, my brother, right next to me. And it soothes me deeply to know he's by my side.

As the circle is forming and people are sitting down, personalities are revealed. Some make nervous jokes that can't hide their anxiety, others are calming down and preparing for what's ahead. Few words are spoken. The last of the circle, Juliana, speaks with a soft voice. She doesn't know it yet, but she's about to become our gate to the Shaman, who leads the ceremony.

The tiny door opens and she enters. She's a massive mountain of a woman, with the strange calm and mysticism of native healers and sorcerers. She sits.

As she welcomes everyone and explains the quest we're about to start, bowls are passed around. One holds red mud, another one a sliced, slimy plant that resembles aloe, and the last, water.

With the door now closed for a longer moment, the heat is on the rise. Sweat starts dripping from my head, and soon my whole body is expelling water.

Without much being said, the ceremony begins. We first oint ourselves with the plant from head to toes, to purify our skin and wash away worries and adverse actions. The plant feels fresh and rejuvenating as it slides along the skin. Several pieces are needed to cover the whole body.

When everyone has covered their skin entirely, we are instructed to cover ourselves with the red mud. As I dip my hand into the bowl, I feel the grainy texture and start spreading it on myself. Thougts immediately emerge. I cover my feet and legs with great care, thanking them for the places they took me and for the road that is expected ahead. I acknowledge the wounds they suffered and the healing that followed.

As I rub my arms and torso, I become aware of the great changes my body has gone through over the past two years. I recognize that the physical activities I've enjoyed and the improvement of the foods that I consume have done great things to me.

My hands dip again in the wet earth and I now cover my neck and face, becoming something radically different than what I usually am. As if to verify that thought, I glance at Daniel. I can barely recognize him. In the darkness and with his body covered in mud, he looks like a warrior. He appears very strong and resilient, two aspects I'd recently discovered with his running. As I look down again, he touches my shoulder, smiling.

I need no more; I know he's going through the same mystical experience.

What follows is a series of chants and mantras, some very similar to what I'd heard in yoga sessions. Some others sound otherwordly.

Sahhhh. Nahhhhh.

As we repeat them under the lead of the Shaman, images arise. The woman I love. Visions of the future. Trails and ways I have yet to walk. Animals.

At every step, a part of body or soul is cleansed, forgiveness is asked and love, sharing and protection are granted.

The ever-rising heat has completely swallowed me. To the earth, fire and water, wind is added sporadically by opening the small door, letting in both the colours of light and a cooling breeze.

After adressing all parts of our body and soul, after chanting out for forgiveness, love and protection and after sharing sips of precious fresh water, the Shaman thanks everyone for the ceremony, opens the door for the last time and instructs on how to exit the hut.

In a moment impossible to forget, as I come out into daylight, our gazes cross. She smiles gently. I put both hands to my heart and thank her.

Overwhelmed, I exit the hut and rince my body with water and lime juice. As I turn around for a last goodbye, Daniel stands with an inexplicable look on his face, humbled and touched. The Shaman is washing him, like a loving mother would a child.

And one last time, I am very thankful for the mud and water to hide the tears streaming down my eyes.

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