Of the word in tobacco and water, the sacred good…
During a dry fast in the wilderness, Iris Disse considered many rules that for her had no truth. She studied intensively what rules are and when they apply.
I do not like to follow rules. Even my own are rather flexible. It’s good if they exist, only to deliberately disobey them in special cases. As an artist, I have learned that it is exciting to find freedom in the rule, that is, in a given form as well as in creative chaos. Both poles are important.
In my morning tai chi ritual and in my Yoga practice I celebrate freedom in its strict form- every breath, every movement, no matter how small, is thousands of years old, and therefore has to be filled with new life every moment.
With my work on scripts or on a performance, the dance is completely different. There I wait for an impulse to release from my chaos space, which I then follow. That seems to correspond more to me. But when it’s not about my art and just in my life, that feels a bit disorderly- not to say cheerfully chaotic or unpleasant, when I can’t find something. At least this way I can keep surprising myself.
Transferred to social ideologies, I’m probably an anarchist: Everyone should live what fascinates and challenges them. That which one can and loves. And the unpleasant things that have to be done, whether it’s working on the assembly line or street cleaning or toilet cleaning- Well, everyone has to do that at least once a year, for example for a month. And since people are so different, this should result in a great peace, according to my friends from the ZEGG community. So you just have to adhere to a few critical rules, so that everything runs smoothly. Unfortunately this only happens in a few small communities.
When a multinational seed giant corrupts the state so that small farmers are no longer allowed to use their own seeds and are forced to use impotent, sterile seeds instead, in order to become dependent on re-purchase, these are the wrong rules. Although they are supposedly legal. And when the giant then sends henchmen to torch the crops with potent seeds, it is mafia-like and scandalous. But these incidents often do not even make the news.
Is it a correct rule that drinking water has been exempted from human rights so that a few can make a profit from it? What is the mafia doing?
It forms a state within a state with strong, illegal rules of its own within a legal set of rules created by the state so that people can live together harmoniously under values such as human rights and legal certainty. The mafia has been accused that its rules are only for the illegal and selfish increase of property, without morals, without humanism- cold and brutal.
Nowadays, however, this seems to have become normal and legal. Aren’t the international corporations legal, but nowadays even more mafia-like than the mafia? Doesn’t one have to defend oneself against such a set of rules if one is serious about one’s own ethos?
I don’t know. I am looking for niches to live in peace. Through my films I want to create awareness. I work with my own short-term rules, like as a director or as the director of Durga’s Tiger School ® of Tantra Yoga, Arts & Shamanism.
Four Days of Dry Fasting
My friend Tati invites me to participate in a vision quest in the Andes. Four days without food or drink. Already the place is determined, some place under a tree. My territory will be staked out. I am to make 356 blood-red prayer bags. With a piece of cloth, tobacco inside, I tie the bags in four knots, and say the prayer while slowly the red string from the bags grows longer and longer. This would then be tied three times around four sticks on the mountain, each time marking the points of the compass with colourful flags. That would be my whereabouts for these days.
– You are only allowed to take one blanket, and since there are mosquitoes, a mosquito net is allowed as an exception. No hat, nothing made of plastic.
– No eating, no drinking.
– No talking to anyone.
– You should stay in your own territory.
In the mountains… A temple of the sun. There I sit at night with other vision seekers and drink the bitter San Pedro, the drink from the holy cactus of the Andes. We ask for perseverance. Next to me is a freshly fallen in love teenage couple, jumping up and down all night, fidgeting, unable to sit or lie still for a moment. On the other side a beautiful young man with a braid. Mauricio is a musician and comes back from Barcelona after four years to make music and live in his home country. We sing that night, sitting around the fire. It feels right. An old lady in her 80s warns us of the greatest enemy: doubt. She thanks us, says that such a dry fasting would change our lives and that it is an important sacrifice to make contact with Pachamama. “Vamos a ver,” I think, but a bit skeptical. “We’ll see about that.”
In the morning there is a sweat lodge. We sit close together in the dark low room, the glowing stones make us sweat. Again we pray loudly, we remember our intention: What do we want to achieve with our fasting? And then, while smoking a ceremonial type of cigar, the word “taken away” comes to us.
The ceremonial leader says: “I warn you, do not leave your territory. It is dangerous, you are in an energetic state of emergency. I strongly advise you to stay in your seat.”
We are also not allowed to drink any more- even though I have just lost so much water. I am scared. We wrap some power objects and the mosquito net into the woollen blanket, put on a thick jacket in spite of the sun, and set off with only a special cigar. Tobacco rolled into dry corn leaves, and the whole thing knotted with short strings made from the very corn leaves. In this ceremonial cigar my words are suspended. There is also a piece of San Pedro cactus in the little bag with the cigar, for protection.
Beyond the Rule
Apathy. I lie under my mosquito net, wrapped in a blanket. I don’t want to see the moon or anything. I’m glad the mosquitoes didn’t get out. “You’ve got a great spot, with a view, shade and wind,” Amalie had said when she smashed the four posts with the coloured flags. Is she kidding? I look at her searchingly. It does not seem so. I’m resolutely beating a hoard of drinking mosquitoes to death on my ankles.
Daylight is arriving. I don’t want to get up. Nowhere to go anyway- four or five steps in each direction, that’s my terrain, under a puny pine tree, for whose shadow I should be grateful. Around noon I have to crawl out, the sun now hits the protective net. I look for the shadow, crouching behind the trunk. Mosquitoes throw themselves at me with joyful buzzing. I don’t think, don’t feel anything, no mountain, no tree, no cloud interests me.
I am turned off. At dusk I lie under my net again. Just want to sleep.
A thought: I did not promise myself to stay in this room surrounded by prayer ropes. That is not my rule.
A friend explained to me long ago what my name means. My name is Disse, it comes from Dise, and these are the Hagedises, the hedge riders: the women who can move back and forth between the civilized world and the wilderness. They ride symbolically on the hedges that separate the safe village from the wilderness.
If the ritual leader said not to leave the protected area, that does not apply to me. “Who would I be today if I hadn’t left this room again and again?” I think.
So I climb over the red line and stalk off. Detached, completely oblivious, I explore the area. A plantation with small avocado trees. I hear the invisible water in an irrigation ditch deep between plants. It feels good. A hedge, I find a narrow passage. Behind it, an old cobbled hacienda street. A ravine. From a distance I see the Cayambe, the snow glows in the evening sun. A vulture circles above my head. A light wind caresses my skin. It’s good to follow my own rules.
That night I look at the clouds that fly past the waning moon. I immerse myself in their changing shapes. The only constant is change, I can see that clearly here. I see dragons, children, giants, a dolphin, mythical creatures. The scorpion wanders across the sky. In the morning I leave again. Found a round reservoir with an island. The water reflects the mountains in the dawn.
Water! I meditate and am tempted to drink something- but I don’t break this rule. I envy the ducks.
Gratitude, Happiness, and Water
Back in my terrain, I order the altar with my power objects. I take the cigar in my hand with the tobacco that holds back my words. The power of the word- how it is prostituted in politics and advertising. Do my actions follow what I say? Found three ochre-orange seed beans. They rattle softly when I shake them, and I sing for myself, for the water, Pachamama, for the spirit of the shady tree.
Meditate. There I meet a dwarf who lives in the root network of the pine tree. She takes me underground. And gives me something to drink, even though she doesn’t have that much water herself in the summertime, she says. I drink to the full. When I wake up from meditation, I feel really refreshed.
Then the mountains. I watch them. They take shape. An eagle guarding an egg. A giant owl. A sleeping giant. Friends.
Every morning and every evening, I go on my walks. And on the fourth night, I walk because I can’t sleep. I sit long by the lake and watch the stars moving across the sky. Their reflection in the water.
In the afternoon we are picked up. The other vision seekers also gather, and now we are going back to the temple. Some of the young women can’t walk, fall down, can’t get up. The men also waver, but the weakness of the women seems to revive them. The group swings back to camp. I am fit and running with joy.
Then back to the sweat lodge with my cigar, in which my words are captured.
Finally we get water to drink. What pleasure, what ecstasy. Water, holy, nourishing, wonderful water.
The ritual leader lights my cigar, says moving words to my vision quest. Then I get the lit cigar to talk. My word is freed and shall become power. I am simply grateful that I am alive. What a gift. For all the strange experiences. The intensity. Life is so deep and so easy.
My beloved is picking me up. We spend the next day in a village where there are hot springs. I sit all day in the warm water, greeting the clouds passing by the sun, and I am happy without desire.
We watch the smoke of a cigar as we talk on the terrace at night. What can we contribute to making water for drinking a human right again, even in the official regulations? We notice that here in Ecuador water is already more expensive than milk. We think of the old wells in Zurich- there it still flows freely, the unsaleable commodity.
I would like to introduce an international rule: Anyone who wants to degrade water to a commodity for sale must spend four days in the wilderness in strong sunlight without water.
May my words have power.