HUMAN POTENTIAL: Following the Way of the Heart
“Is your heart happy?” Don Jose would always say. “Dance with all your heart, and find your life.’ When I was 18, I followed my heart to Mexico, to the Huichol Indians, to my adopted grandfather, the shaman Don Jose Matsuwa, and eventually to a life in the Huichol shamanic tradition. This is clear now is how perfectly my life was arranged from the beginning, and how easy it would be for all of us to find the right path if we could just let go and follow our hearts.
For me it started when I was four. I had a serious operation, and when I was under the ether, I had my first vision of the Great Spirit. Here I was, a New York City kid from a Jewish family, seeking “god” as the face of an old Indian. To me it seemed natural and took away all my fear.
I saw my first “real” Indians in Brooklyn when I was five or six — steelworkers building the Verazano Bridge to Staten Island. I was immediately drawn to them, and even though they had their own language and didn’t talk to me very much, I hung out with them under the bridge as much as I could. About the same time, a semi-professional Puerto Rican baseball team began to use our local ballpark as their home field. I was a real baseball as their home field. I was a real baseball fan, so I also hung out with them. They were very friendly, and by the time I was 12, I spoke fluent spanish.
At 15, I knew I wanted to go to Mexico. I’d read Carlos Castenada’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, and ha a vague idea of meeting Don Juan. I also had a vague idea of studying pottery. What was great is that my parents never discouraged me in any of my ideas. They were always open, and let me make my own decisions. When I tell people about how I chose to seek out the Huichols they always laugh. It was the late 1960′s and i had heard about peyote. One day I looked it up in the dictionary to learn more about it. The entry said, “see Huichols.” So, that’s what I decided to do. The day after I turned 18, I started hitchhiking to Mexico. I had heard the Huichols lived near Ixtlan, and that’s where I headed.
There I met a Huichol school teacher who gave me the name of his family’s village and wrote me a letter of introduction. After a brief side trip to Guatemala, I set out to find the village. “Now,” I thought, “I’ll really find Don Juan.”
I got a ride on a small plane to a little Mexican village about five days walk from my destination. I had no idea how mountainous the land was, that there were no roads and few villages. After three days of walking on little deer trails, I was completely lost, totally exhausted and suffering from sun exposure. I had run out of water two days earlier, and was so weak. I finally lay down to die. I wish I could say I faced death like a warrior, but I was scared and crying and very cynical. I thought about Castenada’s books. In them, the Indians always saved him, but no one had come to rescue me. I figured I’d be eaten by birds, and my family would never know what happened to me.
After I passed out, I had these wild visions — circles, eagles, deer, and a face filled with laughter. I didn’t know it then, but these were Huichol symbols and the face was Don Jose’s. The next thing I knew, I was awakened by a group of Huichol men standing over me, laughing and sprinkling water on my face. They were kicking me and asking why I was lying there like some bum.
It turned out the old shaman of their village has dreamed about me a few days earlier and sent them to find me. His name? Don Juan. Not Catenada’s Don Juan, but the right Don Juan for me. I stayed there for two weeks. Then, Don Jose, who lived in a nearby village, sent a messenger to tell us he’d also had a dream — a dream that he should teach me. When I met him, I recognized his face from my visions in the mountains, and I knew I’d found what I’d been searching for since childhood.
Anthropologists say the Huichols are the last tribe of North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions virtually undisturbed by colonialism and Christianity. Their traditions are rooted in the belief that we all have within us the knowledge we need to find our own path and empower ourselves.
Huichols say we are all joyous beings of light. We were created out of love, from all the elements of the natural world — fire, air, water, and earth. because of this, each of us is a miniature universe, a mirror of the natural world outside of ourselves, and also a mirror of the spirit world. All the knowledge and secrets of those two worlds are also inside of us, and everything is perfectly arranged. Our job is to tap into that arrangement, to understand it and to live in harmony wit it.
Shamanism is a way of bridging the gaps between those worlds, of experiencing those worlds directly and of tapping into the our inner power. It’s not a matter of blind faith, but of direct experience — experience which is accessible to everyone, whether they are a shaman or not, whether they live in a Huichol village in Mexico or a townhouse in Philadelphia.
In ceremony we are drumming, rattling and the sacred Dance of the Deer to help everyone to through the Nierika, the doorway to the spirit world. We ask Kauyumari, Brother Deer, to come out of our hearts and take us through the doorway. We ask to see our lives, to see what needs to be healed. We also ask for Kupuri, the energy of all life, to make us strong, to enable us to see the face of Granfather Fire, to hear the voice of Grandmother Eagle, to communicate with the spirits of our natural world.
We also go on pilgrimages to Grandmother Ocean, to various mountains, waterfalls and other places of power in nature, to take some of that power into our lives. We ask the gods for what we need, and then we pay attention to what they show or tell us.
The more I live this tradition the more I appreciate its power to transform our lives. I’m just like everyone else. I pray every day to stay in balance, to be able to help the people in a good way, to live my life from my heart. We always say the first person you should seek to heal is yourself. Once you are in balance, then you can help heal the world. “Open the door and let the light in,” Don Jose would say. “Then, where is the darkness?”