I recently returned from three weeks in Peru, more specifically three weeks in the jungle at Mayantuyacu, a plant medicine center. A place one visitor described as part hospital, part school and part spa – a good description. This was my fourth visit and longest stay, as I had more time, due to finally concluding my long tenure at The Atlantic Philanthropies.
My interest in Amazonian plant medicines started back in 2012 and has fed a spiritual thirst I never knew I had, which I’ve written about in the past. Early in 2017 that thirst grew even more, as I faced some challenging times personally. At that time, I began a meditation practice along with a good deal of reading about mindfulness and Buddhism. I found the two paths complimentary, as the more articulated philosophies of mindfulness filled in the blanks of the mysterious and subtle ways the Amazonian plants have worked for me.
It is fascinating, experiencing in myself and observing in others the challenges spending time at Mayantuyacu poses for people. They can be deep and profound, such as re-evaluating your life and the relationships in it. Or they can be subtle, such as battling one’s ego and needing to analyze and control the experience. Or, finally, they can be quite simple, such as learning to live with discomfort (so many little insect bites and a terrifically damp mattress to sleep in every night!), learning to be grateful for a bland diet (more quinoa and lentils please!) and overcoming the desire for a busy schedule (accepting the slower pace of just being)
For me, the main learning was really a feeling as compared to a thought. It was the feeling of presence, of being in the moment, not caught up in memories from the past or worries about the future. I was experiencing each present moment for what it was. I swung in a hammock, staring at the thatched roof of the malocha, totally aware and following each swing, back and forth. Each conversation I had, no matter how long or short, I was present for, present for the other person and present for myself. When I hiked the path along the river, over wet rocks and moss, I walked aware of each step, and then the next step, and then the next.
It felt like peace, actually it was peace, and it’s something I am going to try to carry inside me with each new step I take.