s I sit here, on the balcony of my room in the Andes Mountains of Peru, America seems very far away. And I don’t just mean physically. I mean within me.
There is a woman within me who was born in America, and there is another within who lives and thrives in Peru—and navigating the landscapes between the two women is a dance which is still living itself out through me.
Next week, I go home. Again. And bringing my full self back to my homeland isn’t just about me—it’s about finding a way to do it for all of us.
Heading into two weeks in the Amazon, Lamas, Peru
A little over a year ago, I left my job as a teacher in a public school in Los Angeles.
There are many reasons why. But the truest distillation is this: I discovered that I could no longer work within the American education system. There was something happening within me. I realized that despite my best efforts—my most conscious, loving, exquisitely planned lessons about social justice and freedom and literature and love—I was actually acting as an inhibitor to my students’ souls. I told them I didn’t believe in standardized testing, but I administered it. I explained that grades didn’t matter, but I assigned a letter to their efforts to learn.
At the same time, something was happening deep within me. Dreams were speaking to me strongly in the middle of the night—spirits began showing themselves in shapes in my bedroom and memories of past and future lives began flooding my waking and dreaming states. I started predicting future events, writing mystical poetry, and healing and awakening others through simple conversations.
I had been having spiritual experiences since I was a young girl, and certainly since I had stopped drinking and taking drugs seven years before, but the level at which the spiritual world was calling me was getting harder and harder to ignore. I had been through a couple of years of profound grief—infertility, divorce, devastating heartbreak—and it was like a portal had been cracked open between my human body and the world beyond. I was having regular, profound, and undeniable communication from The Other Side.
And so, I quit my job, ended the lease on my apartment, packed up my entire life in a POD and left my life in search of what was calling me.
In the past 12 months, I’ve sat in ayahuasca and huachuma ceremonies with curanderos in the Andes Mountains, studied yoga at BKS Iyengar’s home studio in India, spoken with Buddhist monks in Thailand, dieted traditional plants in the Amazon, worked with Kambo to heal my auto-immune disease, remembered how to morph people’s energy fields with the sound of my voice, learned icaros from plants, and continued to receive regular communication from beings beyond the veil of this dimension.
The story itself long, but from deep within it, a calling has arisen: How can I give all that I have been given back to people in my homeland of America? How can I possibly translate the profound spiritual experiences I have had to those back in the States—those who will never get to (or want to) to experience what I have?
Men carrying the icon of the Divine Mother (Parvati) at Sri Chamundeshwari Temple, Mysore, India
I remember distinctly visiting the Temple of the Divine Mother (Sri Chamundeshwari) outside Mysore, India, last November. As I walked up to the temple, having never stepped foot on the land there before, I began to sob. Uncontrollably. Something within the energy field of my body resonated strongly with the centuries and centuries of intentional prayers absorbed into the walls of the temple—and the energy of the Divine Mother herself contained in the inner sanctum.
Later that day, I found myself exhausted, unable to peel my body off the back row of seats on a hot and sticky bus. As my long-time yoga teacher, Chris, expounded about the intensity of the energy of India, I began remembering flashes of lifetimes from both India and Peru. I started receiving a strong message from Spirit.
The Voice said, “Jane, you have lived many lifetimes here and in spiritually-driven cultures like this one. But this time, you came to America this time for a reason. You and so many others are here for America 2.0.”
It went on: “America has found itself in a precarious situation. It is like a toddler with its hand on a nuclear warhead. It is the most powerful country in the world, but it lacks the deep context and spiritual grounding that it needs to help it grow into a useful level of maturity. Your mission is to bring these ancient wisdom practices, this indigenous grounding and this spiritual context back to America—help your country, a land with so much potential, to re-member its roots, ground itself in truth and begin to harness its technology and privilege for the greater good. It must have the context of more ancient, spiritual civilizations to be able to do so.”
I began to sob—a sure sign of deep and significant communication from The Other Side.
After that download, it took me several more months to begin to understand how to actually embody that mission and begin to bring it into form in a way that most human beings could understand. I began to understand that I had to go back into deep communion with indigenous wisdom practices and look at them, both as a participant and as an observer—cataloguing, studying, and embodying their power for translation to the Western world.
For the past six weeks, I have been back in Peru, for two major purposes: the first, to complete a traditional Amazonian plant dieta (14 days in isolation in a hut in the jungle, ingesting medicinal plants and ayahuasca), and the second, to work with the Amazonian frog medicine, Kambo, whose purpose is to purge the body from long-latent toxins and stagnant trauma lodged deep within the organs of the body.
As I’ve been here, I have been in constant reflection: How do I translate this work? How do I do what Spirit asked me to do? How do I make these seemingly extreme practices both relatable and useful for the average American?
The average American tends to look at challenging spiritual practices: long periods of meditation, yoga, plant medicine, vision quests, as extreme, as savage, as unnecessary.
The truth is (and I can say this because I have grown up in the Western paradigm) that most of us in the States want healing to be fast, easy, and preferably done by someone else on our behalf. Diet pills, pain medication, and persistent avoidance of hard work are symptoms of our belief in how healing should work—and our reliance on people outside of us to solve the problem (hospitals, surgeons, trainers) just further highlights the issue.
It’s always amazing to me that we find ingesting frog venom as a purgative to be savage, but we sign ourselves up to have our bodies surgically cut open without much thought.
So what is savage in terms of spiritual practice? How do we turn this idea on its head? And how do we translate this indigenous wisdom and healing into something Westerners can understand and see as beneficial—more so than our daily vinyasa practices?
Pausing for Despacho ceremony with local Quechua guides, at the foot of Apu Ausangate, Cuzco, Peru
The truth is, nothing I have found in the West truly compares to the power of working with plant medicines, animal venoms, intensive meditation and yoga, or hours of ecstatic kirtan (spiritual singing in community). It is precisely the depth and the intensity of these experiences that makes them so powerful—they are surgical experiences for our souls. I honor, with a profound reverence, my teachers who carry these medicines and practices, and who have transmuted their own darkness in order to light the path for me and for others.
In dieta, for two weeks I sat in a hut in the Amazon, facing the deepest darkest wounds of my soul—with nowhere to go but in. The people who were on the property with me will tell you that I sobbed more days than not, including a particularly challenging afternoon where I parked myself in the maloka (ceremonial space) and screamed, punched pillows, and sobbed for the better part of an hour.
Working with kambo, I ceremonially and consciously allowed one of the deadliest venoms on the planet to absorb through my skin, purging toxins and negative energies lodged in the organs of my body. I honored, deeply, the frogs and the spirits for this medicine, cried with the releasing of lifetimes of pain and shook with the emotional purging of years of no-longer needed conditioning.
These experiences are so profound that I could never really put them into language—what they taught me and what they have given me is far deeper than I can explain. But two of the main themes they have shown me are translatable to the life of the modern westerner.
These themes will stay in my body as I transition back to life in the Western world, carrying the medicine of these tribes and their lands with me. They are anchors to which the modern human can hold as she searches for a deeper Source of connection in her life. They are the beginning of translating this powerful, indigenous ceremony to the Western world.
1. In the West, we long for (and desperately need) wild, scary experiences that ultimately show us our inner power. Most of us are deeply disconnected from our wildness. We have forgotten than we are, in fact, animals, who carry a profound and overwhelming desire to live. As we encourage or allow ourselves to enter into challenging experiences, there is always a part of us that wants to quit. But when we move through our initial fear, we find a wild animal within us (shamans call this our power animal) whose entire purpose, seated metaphorically in our third and fourth chakras, is to preserve our life—to keep us alive.
Most of us have forgotten that power. We numb, we escape, we avoid that primal experience of power that is within us—because we are ultimately afraid of who and what we really are. Most of us have also had painful and psychologically “splitting” or disempowering experiences as children that caused that wildness, that primal energy, to go into hiding. The problem is that the power never really goes away—it just hides, leaks, subverts, and makes us sick, scared, and lonely. We begin looking for the power outside ourselves. We forget that the power was in us all along.
We need experiences that (as uncomfortable as they may be) call that animal out of its hiding place. We need experiences that scare the shit out of us—that force us to confront all of our fear. We need to remember that we have all the power we ever needed inside our souls.
So our work is to find these experiences—find our edges, go on vision quests, work with medicines, take the risks that our souls ask for, work with a healer who calls out our shadows, be willing to risk our hearts in relationships, be willing to sit in deep pain. Grieve. Scream. Sob. Not know what is next. We have to love ourselves enough to move past the false fear and into truth.
2. In the West, we long for (and desperately need) all-accepting and loving experiences of community that reflect to us our own wholeness. Most of us have never truly been loved. I don’t mean that our parents didn’t love us or that our partners don’t. I mean that most of us are walking around so wounded that we’re only loving others with the capacity we currently have to love ourselves. Most of us have had to cut off parts of ourselves in order to be loved. Most of our spiritual communities force us to reject parts of ourselves in order to receive acceptance—our shadows, our “sins” are not welcome. Or at least they are encouraged to be “healed.”
Most of our families want us to be a certain way—they need us to look or act or react in a certain way in order for them to feel comfortable. Which means that we learn to “adjust” who we are in order to receive love. Most of us have never truly felt what it means to be in a community—completely loved and accepted for exactly who we are.
Indigenous communities understand this on a deeper level, because their understanding of community isn’t just about humanity. True community isn’t just human. It’s the world at large. True community is the whole of the planet: the animals, the plants, the rocks, the mountains, the stars, the birds as the fly across a bright, blue sky.
Nature reflects to us the wholeness of who we are: We are not just minds. We are water; we are air; we are fire—we are plants and trees and eagles and snakes. We hold the metaphorical world in our bodies. Nature shows us that we are the anaconda swallowing the deer and we are the star twinkling in the night sky. We are dark, we are light—we are magic and we are dirt. And all of it is okay. More than okay—we are perfect, just as we are.
Hegner, my curandero for dieta, in the Amazon, Lamas, Peru
Nature witnesses us. I’ll never forget conversing with my curandero, Hegner, in the jungle of Peru. I asked him how traditional plant medicines work. He smiled: “Jane, these plants have a consciousness. They are watching us. They see us—they see our fears, our capacities, our hearts.” My western mind came to a halt. Oh my god, the plants see me.
When we begin to bring that consciousness and witnessing into communities, human beings forget that they are broken, limited, or separate from the web of life. And when we start remembering that we are all one, we begin to heal.
As Westerners, we need to build communities that honor the entire web of life within and without our bodies. We need love. Desperately. We cannot give what we do not have, and we have to start by creating communities, experiences and containers where we can see, accept and love ALL of who we really are.
In order to translate this world and create these indigenous practices as pathways to soul for the average Westerner, we have to re-enter our wildness, our wilderness, our savagery.
Americans tend to view indigenous cultures and wisdom as savage, as crude, as unnecessarily brute. But the truth is, we are the ones cutting down forests, cutting open our bodies, cutting off parts of our souls to match the machinery of the modern world. Tribes in the Amazons and the Andes (though, of course, imperfect and human like the rest of us) sing songs to heal sickness, honor mountains and rivers and streams through ceremony, and face their fears—regularly.
So, let us begin to navigate between these worlds. Let us let the wild human within us out—taking it for a walk in the woods, noticing when its heart beats hard from fear, loving it deeply through terror to the other side. Let us turn this idea of savagery, of pain, or healing, on its head. Let us consider that everything we think we know about what works may actually be wrong. Perhaps we are the savages.
At the archeological ruins at Ollantaytambo, The Sacred Valley of Peru
Next week, I travel back to the States, a woman now even more deeply grounded in a world into which I wasn’t born. Sometimes I wonder why I go back. Sometimes, when I’m back home, I wonder why I keep coming here. Each paradigm is both familiar and foreign.
But my work is as a bridge—between this world and The Other Side, between the West and the Indigenous, between the heart and the mind.
The dance between them is where I find myself. The dance between the two Janes is the dance between the two worlds. And I am learning to dance it with greater ease and joy each day.
I dance for you, too. May these ancient and indigenous ways of living permeate our modern world. And may we all honor them—remembering who and what we truly are.
To read more from Jane Mayer, check out her ebook, The Call of the Plants: A beginner’s guide to plant medicine.