Written by Iris Disse
How a challenging encounter between yogini and shaman turned into a dance of two sisters – by Iris Disse
I am what I am. An artist who practices yoga, a runner in the night on Don Juan’s paths in the shadows of the mountains, a free spirit who even as a child was afraid of men in uniform, a thinker understanding deeper my reality, a yogini for whom life is art.
Peru. In the evening. At the jungle hotel by the lagoon. I note:
“Plane took off at four am/ just arrived/ haven’t slept/ saw a pink dolphin/ contacted the Shaman/ Now at dawn, the mosquitoes come.”
A Spaniard, tall, mustache, about age 40, sits down at the neighboring table with his friend. Loud. Aggressive. He’s high as a kite. Again and again, he is scolding loudly, “Everyone turns away.” And when his friend goes to the loo, he yells after him, “Que quieres, cabrón, esperame…” Meaning, “What do you want, asshole? Wait for me!”
“Oh dear,” I think, and go off to sleep.
Spirit of the Lagoon
At the crack of dawn, I find myself on a small boat. It is named “Amazon.” We are sailing on the lagoon Yarinachocha to the shaman Doña Elisa.
A dolphin appears next to me and snorts, breaking the silence. A gray back appears breaking through the gray-green, moving surface of the lagoon. There is another one up ahead… and another one. Beautiful.
“The spirit of the lagoon greets you,” Lalo, the boatman, says. “That’s good.” The Amazon floats along quietly. The sun’s warmth intensifies as the breathtaking cloud formations expand.
“A sky like a donkey’s belly – it won’t rain. We won’t see any stars tonight,” Lalo says. He is right. The clouds grow darker and lower. Lightning flashes. It is not raining though. At night the moon stays veiled behind bulbous mountain of clouds, only appearing from time to time.
Doña Elisa’s house is located near the big lagoon. She is a good-looking, confident woman around 50, wearing a traditionally embroidered, lush green blouse. We talk in her large kitchen with an adjoining dining room. Those seeking help can refresh themselves. Children and grandchildren come and go. Her husband greets me warmly. “I fell in love with Elisa because she dances so well,” he says. “Her life and her rituals are the same – a dance,” he fetches us water.
At sunset, I head alone to the Maloca, the ritual hut. I meditate, greet the spirits, chant my mantra Om dum Durga jai namaha. It is always good to have a strong goddess at your side when you step through these gates. I smudge the room.
My ponder my intention in my journal,
“I would like to know how to live my life so that I will unite with death in energy and joy when the time has come/ Power, strength, playfulness, wisdom.”
A diamond appears in my mind’s eye. It is my anchor and symbol for the journey.
I let this diamond wander through my chakras. I perceive that the third chakra is weak – the diamond gets stuck. A small golden snake appears, wearing a crown. My diamond fits perfectly into the crown, and the snake wriggles my diamond up my spine and releases light. The imagery is animated and marvelous like in fairy tales.
The Jungle Screams
Night. We are in the round ritual hut, the Maloca. I learn that the name translates as “house of the universe.” Here, we are in the earth’s womb.
With me are: Doña Elisa, her husband, and a Portuguese psychologist who has been coming here regularly for six years to work with Doña Elisa. Doña Elisa offers the bitter tasting Ayahausca from a small clay cup to all of us. It triggers nausea, but I can control it. Then, we lie on a blanket, dozing. “Liana of Death,” that is what the word Ayahuasca means. I open myself to meet my death.
Dance of the Shaman
Yes, Doña Elisa dances her ritual. She lies on her stomach, her head supported in her hands like a young girl. She sings the Icaros, the trance songs, in a high, otherworldly, melodic voice. She is alluring, gentle, demanding, innocent, playful. Her voice opens the trance, which comes in colorful, meandering patterns; patterns that dance with her high, now almost squeaky singing: neon green, neon pink, neon yellow … a Walt Disney dream, and I do not want that. Stop.
Now, a green giant boa on my left. So real that only after a while, I realize that it is part of my inner journey. I lie there, feeling limp, wanting to sleep. To no longer be there. To dissolve. Suddenly, Durga’s tiger is there, opening his mouth. I get afraid, and then a haunting feeling creeps on me, the feeling of having engaged in a power struggle, a shaman’s fight.
Doña Elisa had asked me questions, earlier in the kitchen. I had told her about shamans from Ecuador, stories of the Shuar shamans, who are out to steal life force, who do not heal, but rather drain those seeking help in Ayahuasca rituals.
In the trance I now realize I have provoked her. I have babbled unconsciously, but symbolically announced a fight.
Like I said, I just know that in this now moment. There is no logic to it, and there is no way to explain it.
Short discussion with the inner “voice of reason”: “Hey, you’re imagining it. There’s no such thing. Relax. Just go to sleep.”
Then: “Never mind – it is the way it is; I feel challenged, and I will respond to it. Pretending that nothing’s wrong is really stupid.”
I force myself to sit up, settle in half lotus, breathe, shake off the strangling snake. Doña Elisa’s voice wants to penetrate me, to open me up. I must not let it happen. She is strong. Now, the fear comes: “What have you gotten yourself into? Idiot!” I curse myself, then – suddenly – silence.
The Mantras’ Power
I breathe consciously, perceive my fear and its chatter. Without judgment, just observing it. Naturally it melts. I softly start to sing mantras. They materialize into a protective space, I can feel it physically. Durga manifests herself in the middle of the Maloca with all her weapons, now sitting on her tiger, waiting, lurking, smiling. Aham Devi, I am Durga, I feel my power, euphoria rises. Now, I want to strike, to attack, to destroy. A thought emerges: “Stop: in this life, you have chosen love.” Then I do not attack, which costs me a lot of strength. I just protect myself, singing softly for me, weaving an armor of sound around me. Durga and Elisa now fight dancing, with ease. I control my thoughts and refuse to condemn them. Thank you, Elisa, for the challenge.
I Am You, You Are Me
I am Elisa. I feel her anger, her resentment against white people. Pain. Betrayal. Her voice is telling all of this. When she moves through my body with a whisper, I cannot escape it, it is eerie and strong. I hold my diamond in front of me, drop the ever-flaring fear, open my heart, send out joy and friendship. Hermandad, sisterhood. I stay with my reality.
Then I see: She walks towards her husband, who is also in the room and accompanies her – as if to gather strength for a new attack. I call my husband and my son for help through time and space. The people I love are a protection, also my parents, mum, the community of friends. Time… It seems like we are circling each other for an eternity. Suddenly, something changes.
Nada-Brahma, I Am Sound
The sounds are filling me completely, I am the sound, and I send waves of energy through the singing. At some point, we are in harmony, we merge… It is a new dance. I understand now with every cell how mantras work. I dissolve, I am pure vibration. We connect, we are one, forming new patterns. We sing together, two sisters.
We are starting to fly. I ask “Who are you?” I feel her close up again, but this time she invites me to fly with her on her eagle. We travel together.
Yoga Is a Powerful Medicine
The sun is coming up outside. The water birds sit quietly on poles down in the lagoon. From far away, loud music reaches us, schmaltzy songs and reggaeton.
Doña Elisa says: “Your yoga must be a powerful medicine. You are strong. I will work with you. I’ll come to Ecuador and learn from you, and you from me.”
I remember the big snakes, the colors, the patterns that I now recognize in the traditional embroideries of Doña Elisa. I am looking forward to our cooperation at my Durga’s Tiger School ® in Ecuador.
Later, on the boat, the Portuguese psychologist who had also taken part in the ritual spoke to me. “I was touched by the sounds of the jungle and your voices during the night. Yes, it was a new song, a song of two cultures of our planet dancing together, without one dominating the other. At last.”