Following The Path of My Heart to Become a Healer
posted by Elton Lee Abela on May 4th, 2016
Around 4 years ago, a question popped up in my head: What’s my purpose in living a life on this planet? My activities back then alternated between excessive work and excessive personal indulgence; a part of me seeking happiness in all the wrong places. Despite growing up in a loving family, I couldn’t find value in the teachings handed down to me from my parents. Finally, I found a book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and things began to change.
At the time, I was a Sous Chef in a Michelin starred restaurant. Myself and the team worked day and night to achieve our Star, and when we finally got it, I didn’t find the lasting fulfillment I expected.
I was shocked to say the least that, after such sacrifice for this dream, my emotions simply didn’t match my expectations. And so I decided to go on a quest to South America to seek answers and spend time with myself discovering who I am and what made me truly happy.
Before venturing to South America, I was indulging in unconscious behavior such as taking drugs for fun and approaching women for personal needs. The expression “living and working for the benefit of all sentient beings” wasn’t anywhere near on my radar.
That same year, through a synchronistic series of events, I heard about Ayahuasca and shamanism, and although I had no idea what these things really meant, I felt such a strong call inside me it was impossible to ignore. All of a sudden from being a Chef, I wanted to become a shaman. But from observing my life and my thoughts, I knew this is one thing I’d need to take slowly.
Seeking answers in South America
As I travelled throughout South America, I asked many questions on the subject but remained unconvinced by the answers I got. I was asking locals on the streets if they know any curanderos, and they would give me directions to these healers.
I remember knocking on a door in the North of Argentina one day. This guy came out, and the smell in his house was very musky. I didn’t know Spanish at the time, but I still wanted to meet shamans, trying to bridge the language gap with Italian instead. I asked if he was a curandero, and he told me he was. I wanted to understand the difference between a brujo and a curandero, but he quickly invited me to a ritual. The conversation felt very dense; something just wasn’t right, even if I didn’t know what it was at the time, so I gave him thanks but left to continue my quest. It was typical of the interactions I had while searching for answers on shamanism.
When i arrived in Iquitos i met with many ‘Ayahuasca Agencies’ and guys in the streets trying to sell Ayahuasca. It did not feel right to me to approach this Medicine in such a way, without careful, conscious preparation before and integration afterwards.
I’ve also met with curanderos from the shipibo tribe, but they tended to be more inclined towards love spells, getting a girlfriend, trying to make me believe that they are the best, and that after drinking Ayahuasca with them my life will change and i will get what i want.
I was also told that not anyone can become a Shaman; that this is a call either from the plants or that it must be passed from generation to generation. A shaman must also be ready to go through a lot of hardships and that plants will bring a lot of tests to the apprentice. All this will happen while the apprentice is spending time in isolation, eating very specific foods, and learning from the Plants the Shaman would choose for him so he can become a healer. In the Amazonian tradition this is called a ‘Plant Dieta’. If i was ready to pay the money then all of this could be bypassed and one can be stamped as a Shaman in few months. I failed to find any value in such perspectives and it seemed that even these people had lost the value and honour from these traditions.
My first encounter with Ayahuasca was in the Peruvian Amazon. And although I prepared well for the introduction, my search questions, remained unanswered. I hoped that drinking Ayahuasca would give a clear yes or no answer or clear guidance about what to do or where to go next.That did not happen. I did not even want to drink anymore Ayahuasca! It made me so sick!
And I said to myself that at least I came prepared to the best of my knowledge. I gave it my best shot, so I thought that Ayahuasca is not for me. I was ready to leave at a moment’s notice, every day practicing “living in the now” and having faith that the answers would come in time.
Finally, I was out walking in Iquitos one day, listening to some music around 2 in the morning when I had the sudden realization that I am complete. All this happened after 6 months travelling on my own in South America, deeply reflecting and trying to remember all the events that occurred in my life since i was little. Trying to make sense of my life and connecting my emotions, visions and feelings together while trying to understand how my mind and life works. I realized that I did not need to do or be anything or anyone. It was a profound moment.
With that realization I knew also that I live in a world, and sitting and doing nothing to nourish my soul would not get me anywhere either. So I decided to begin a plant dieta and attempt to understand what it takes to become a shaman, and what a shaman truly is.
Apprenticeships in the jungle
For three years, I dedicated myself to finding a teacher and a safe place where I can learn, feel safe being completely vulnerable, face my darkest corners, and immerse myself into this path. During this time, I apprenticed with several healers from the Shipibo-Conibo tribe in Peru. I sat in ceremonies and dietas, going home in between to save money before coming back out to Peru to continue my path.
And after those three long years of doing my best to avoid shamans with questionable ethics or a disconcerting focus on money, I finally found somewhere I felt truly comfortable and everything fell into place. At Paititi, I came to see and experience that it’s not only about Ayahuasca, and that Ayahuasca is not a miracle potion that resolves everything. I experienced a much more holistic healing path that bridges the cultures from the East with other healing modalities such as dream work, breathwork and traditional Chinese medicine.
These days I apprentice on a path that’s integrational and multi-disciplinary, drawing intercultural bridges between the Amazonian Andean and Tibetan traditions that I find to be the most appropriate. Studying Tibetan buddhism, I hear a lot about our true nature being fully enlightened; that we know everything already and we do not need anyone because we have it all inside. It’s more about remembering something inherent, than learning something new.
Although I trust myself to the fullest degree, I’m still learning and have blind spots just like everyone else. From my few year’s experience with plant medicines, I sometimes thought I was ready to teach and share these traditions. But life showed me I am not. When I met teachers that really know what they’re talking about and I witnessed the results myself, it was clear I still have a long way to go.
I find enormous value in teachers and guidance to help me remember that natural state of my being and also to show me those blindspots. Even though we have it all in ourselves already, if one wants to become a doctor, one must go to a university. If one wants to become a musician, one must study music to flourish. And the teacher is there to bring out the best and guide us to these goals. It’s like this in the majority of wisdom traditions too, from the native Americans, the Tibetan buddhists and also the South American shamans.
Do new ideas ignore ancient wisdom?
I can’t help but wonder why, when it comes to spirituality especially, there are so many people who don’t want guidance or teachers. There seem to be many communities and individuals that are quick to label themselves as “spiritual” that want to create something from nothing. I’ve never resonated with such ideas. I want to understand the science of things, the culture, the logic and to continue building on the work of our ancestors because I find value and honour in such things.
It feels sometimes that many are trying to reinvent the wheel. But I came to realize that the ancient wisdom traditions are based on many thousands of years of observation, practice, trial, error and evolution. These lineages know what works and what does not. So why start all over again from scratch?
For me, it only makes sense to learn from them if I want to approach this path in the most skilful way possible. That’s why I see such ancestral knowledge as a beacon of light; one so helpful to avoid getting trapped in the tricks of the mind while it seeks new or novelty ideas without any experiential foundation.
Some of the lessons I found especially beneficial are patience, perseverance, trust in life and faith that things work out the way they should. Before coming to Paititi I was much less practical and sober, only fascinated with the idea of mystery schools and shamans flying.
But one of the lessons San Pedro (Huachuma, the healing cactus teacher of the Andes) shared with me was, that before flying comes the walking on this earth. It’s one of many lessons I took deep into my heart and began appreciating all the colours around me, becoming increasingly aware of the little things in my daily life
The challenges of moving away
One of the challenges I encountered in my mind was the possible death of my dear ones while I’m away from them. I pondered on this for the longest time. And although I knew and began cultivating a deep appreciation for impermanence, the thought still haunted me. At least until one day, when I was hiking up the Larapata Mountain. Out in the beautiful, wild, remote valley, I came to realize that there’s no guarantee who will die first. Neither when, nor how, and that these thoughts were all a lack of clarity about the way things are; more tricks of the mind clouding my vision from the inevitable truth.
Yes, my main goal was to become a medicine man. But as time went by, and through the realizations I had at Paititi, the real goal became increasingly clear to me. While becoming a medicine man is beneficial and something I would love to express, unless I work diligently on my own consciousness to strive for freedom from suffering and conditioning, I can not possibly bring much benefit. Being confused myself, I simply can not be of benefit to others.
Thanks to the clear guidance of my teacher and the Eastern traditions of non-duality, I began to integrate specific methods to begin purifying such unconscious behaviour patterns, simultaneously purifying my body and praying and offering my effort to every living being.
And the path has only begun
Although it’s just a start, I could not find myself in a better place to do it. And instead of waiting for the goal and trying to become someone or something, I practice making every action the path and the goal itself, thus living life in the full knowledge that every moment is full of purpose and meaning, especially as death may be just around the corner for me or anyone else.
I also cannot find any greater purpose than dedicating my life to understanding those things that the mind so easily traps me with. And because of old patterns and habits of being, I’ve got first-hand experience of an illusory life; even a miserable one. Chasing those things that, although might seem fun or beautiful at the time, does not bring lasting happiness.
Knowing all this, my mind being the trickster that it is, still tries to convince me to leave this place. But to this I hope I can practice what my teacher shares with us, that the only way out is through.
My purest wishes are for everyone to discover their true nature and to really follow their hearts without compromising.
By doing this, life has always brought me to amazing lessons and experiences, even if I must confess that it’s rarely easy. Sometimes I’m afraid and it takes a lot of work to step forward onto the path my heart presents me.
But thanks to a growing confidence in this path and pushing my edges, I’m now living in this beautiful community where I’m not just learning about how to walk, but also learning how to plant positive seeds and share what I find useful. I’m learning which ones to plant in the right soil and how to utilize sustainable methods so our future generations and our families can all benefit and enjoy the fruits of ayni - a quechua word describing life in harmony and reciprocity.