Songs Like Falling Rain

Posted by on Jun 01, 2016 6:14:38 AM

Healing mind, spirit, and body the Shipibo way

Ceremonies at Jakon Nete

Ceremonies at Jakon Nete
Early this May, I and four others spent ten days with Shipibo healers in the Peruvian jungle, participating in five ayahusca ceremonies. What drew me was a desire to challenge and deepen my spiritual practice. It took me a year of preparation to warm up to the idea of purging (vomiting) during a ceremony. At first everything about practice gets more difficult with psychotropic plant medicine. Letting go and relinquishing control is a corner stone. Old wounds and traumas are held in the body, and one doesn’t realize the extent to which one holds on to the dysfunction until it lets go its grip. Purging is a deep form of cleansing, releasing the holding in the body until we finally come to rest in original nature.

After a first night in our individual tambo (thatched hut), we met with the four shamans for a round of vomotio. We each gulped down 10-12 cups of lemongrass water and waited for it come back up. This didn’t take long and is not as bad as it sounds. We all skipped the first three breakfasts and instead drank albahaca, a wild growing basil reduced down into a thick juice, with ikaros chanted into it. This was to open us for the healing and visions during the ceremonies.

In Peru shamans are not called shamans; they are called, maestros, curanderos (healers), or ayahuascaros. The term maestro is usually reserved for a senior and highly accomplished curandero. The knowledge is passed down through the families. Jorge learned from his grandfather; Wilmer learned from Jorge, who is his uncle; Sulmira learned from her older sister Celestina, and so on. Ayahuasca is often referred to as a “she”, or called by the name of mamasita.

My tambo was a 150 feet away from the curanderos one-room hut. I often heard a stream of laughter coming from that direction. Every two days I would bring my iPhone to be charged by their gas-powered generator. As I was invited to do the connecting myself, I could see how simply but comfortably they live. One half of the oversized hut had four beds, a couple feet apart, and two hammocks. Someone was often sleeping somewhere. The term hivemind comes to mind. There is a sense of sweet innocence and closeness, a communal harmony I have seldom witnessed. My Spanish is sparse but communication was not a problem. Especially my encounters with Sulmira often involved kissing, hugging, and laughing.

Boat Outing and Swim

Boat outing and swim in the river mid way through the retreat.

Each participant had a private meeting with the curanderos and the translator the afternoon before the first ceremony. It was my chance to tell them about my areas of difficulty and what I wished to be healed. It was an emotional event for me, to sit on mats across from these healers who looked back at me with serious but warm and compassionate faces.

On ceremony nights we skipped dinner and settled onto our mats in the maloca (place of ceremony) at 7 PM, a time when it’s fully dark at the equator. We all drank a moderate amount of ayahuasca the first time, just under a full shot glass. Our four curanderos wanted to see how we react to the medicine and begin their healing with us. The curanderos drank too.

We all sat in silence for up to forty minutes, waiting for the medicine to start working. The transition into the journey is trying, one can feel hyper vigilant and sensitive to sound and sensation. Having a strong meditation practice helps–knowing how not to resist, how to relax into what is happening and to trust the medicine, is helpful. Sinking in to the journey had a familiar feeling, like trusting a koan in a zen retreat.

Moloca - Place of Ceremony

Moloca (place of ceremony)

Each night I was first in line to drink and first in line for Jorge to sit in front of me and sing an ikaro (songs of the plants) to me. At this point I was strongly affected by the medicine and Jorge’s ikaro penetrated every cell of me. His ikaro invited my purging, a kind of throwing up (into a bucket) that seems to happen without much forewarning.

Nicole, our translator, had given me good tips on how to make the most of my ceremonies: Concentrate on the medicine in the body, on the breath, and keep coming back to sensation. Enter with an open heart because doubt blocks the medicine. Have faith in the medicine. The way to do it is to do nothing, disengage the mind. Let go of any stories that appear and return to the body and its sensations.

As Jorge started working I could see inside my body and follow what he was doing. He focused on my upper abdomen and lower throat, using light and energy, revealing the inner landscape of “me”, and doing what felt like an initial opening and healing. I came to understand later that I would remain opened till the last ceremony, then closed up again.

Maestro Jorge

Maestro Jorge

We each had been given our personal pusanga bottle (a personalized prayer infused herbal perfume) to place at the front end of our mat. We were encouraged to softly whistle our intentions into the bottle. Each curandero would use it for our individual healing each night. After chanting an ikaro to us they would softly whistle intentions into our pusanga bottles, take a little into their mouth and blow it onto the crown of our heads and through our partly joined palms onto our bodies. This felt like a further clearing of old energy and a sealing in of the healing for that night.

After Jorge came Sumira, then Celestina, and lastly Wilmer. Each would sit in front of me and then move on to the others, singing their ikaro into us. It took some getting used to being in ceremony with four curanderos, all singing at the same time to different nearby people.

Wonderfully staggering things happened, like the top of my head opening, radiating light upwards and connecting with infinite space above. I also sensed an opening in what seemed a third eye for receiving visions. By the third ceremony my visions were abundant. I felt I glimpsed Jakon Nete, the Shipibo name for the world of wonders, for just a few seconds. I gazed out into a most fantastical world in space, with interconnected shining colorful moving parts reaching into the infinite. It was both an ecstatic and deeply affirming moment. I realized we access a larger life and existence by shedding our fear and penetrating to our own core; it’s not anywhere else but here.

Many issues were resolved for me; as things fell away, an inner strength appeared. I no longer felt backed into a corner by my shadow. My body knew what to do, discovering healing undulations that allowed a free flowing of energy.

After the first night, I drank the same amount of ayahuasca in each ceremony, 1¾ shot glass, and yet each journey seemed to build on the last in potency. The effects would last well into the early morning hours and I would sometimes get no more than three hours of sleep. Curanderos only drink a small amount because the medicine is already present in them and easily reactivated. At times I would feel the influence of the medicine during the daytime too.

In my last ceremony I purged by crying. I looked down into my early childhood crib where I lay as an infant and sobbed my unheard tears. I traveled through my childhood releasing all the stored-up sorrow. In the closing sharing with the curanderos Jorge looked at me carefully and said I was free of blockages; the crying had purged them all.

Smoking mapacho (pure tobacco) is encouraged during ceremony. It clears the space of harmful energy. Curanderos in training “diet” all kinds of different healing plants, drinking the plant in juice form, so that they can call on them for healing in ceremony. Mapacho is one that curanderos diet for six months. I had never dieted mapacho but because I worked with it in ceremony its spirit visited me during the last journey. Ayahuasca is said to be a jealous plant, but she likes mapacho, a strong male counterpart. The visions I saw were of strong masculine arms, crossed in front of me, giving me the feeling of protection. It was wild and exciting. The translator later confirmed this could happen, plant spirits visiting spontaneously, if invited.

On the last night Jorge and Wilmer “closed me back up.” The visions were of light flooding parts of my body. Celestial beings with long pointy fingers worked with utmost precision, closing me back up like skilled surgeons. My body told me that what was happening was real; there would be a noticeable pain in the affected areas.

In the morning after the last journey my upper abdomen spasmed, like it might after surgery. I sought out one of the curanderos and Celestina came to my rescue. She massaged the area, then took some pusanga into her mouth and started sucking on my abdomen. Twice, she spat out, making retching sounds. After that the cramping subsided.

Curanderas Sulmira and Celestina

Curanderas Sulmira and Celestina

Intention – preparation – integration
In shamanism one is asked to make intentions. Before going to Peru I meditated on what I was letting go of and what I was calling in. I wanted to let go of the “inner pusher” and the tensing in my abdomen that came with it, and I wanted to let go of the roots of my stuttering. I wanted my nervous system to unwind and reset until relaxation was my new normal. I asked for a greater sense of belonging on this planet. I wanted to meet ayahuasca more deeply.

My intentions were well met. Within a week after returning home I became aware of greater sturdiness, a new groundedness. Things that before would overwhelm me now rolled off easily. I noticed dropping deeper in my meditation practice. I am told that the medicine is still active in me and will be for some time. I don’t doubt the medicine that’s still in me flows out of me into the space around me in some way.

How medicine work and meditation complement each other is something I intend to further explore. People go to the jungle for personal healing and, when much healing has been accomplished, their experiences may go beyond that into wider insights. I noticed that “she” invited me to sit at the front edge of my mat, with fewer supporting props at each ceremony. I felt she was inviting me to stretch into the space where she could work with me and teach me. I experienced an edge we constantly negotiated, a kind of dance, with me telling her I couldn’t go where she was leading, and she showing me how I could. While the healings I received from the curanderos remains all-important, learning to dance and meditate with mamasita lingers as the most profound aspect of my trip.

Doing ayahuasca is hard; it takes courage, but there is a reason it’s gaining in popularity. Some South American tribes call ayahusaca “the vine of the dead”. Letting go is a form of dying–a letting go of everything you know and what you think you are, particularly your fearful conditioned self. She, the vine, is a teacher like no other. She misses nothing, and penetrates to the core. She kept leading me to my most honest place, showing me I could always trust what was happening. I have never been so thoroughly seen, nor accompanied into my deepest and most difficult work.

At one point between my ceremonies I had a strong feeling that, done with the proper preparation and integration, ayahuasca can play a part in healing the disconnects we western people tend to experience as normal and restore our birthright of deep connection to life. Ayahuasca has become something of a phenomena in the US and there is a wide variety of quality in how it’s being offered. I can’t speak for any others but I know Jakon Nete is an authentic source of the tradition. Their website will be launched soon:

Some background
My friend and mentor Prajna (wearing pink tank top in group photo) was our “way in.” She has been apprenticing with Jorge and has got to know our curanderos well. Jakon Nete is the first indigenous (Shipibo) owned and run ayahusca center near Iquitos. Nicole (wearing b/w dress in group photo) is the translator on hand, a young American woman well-steeped in the work, helping them in the launch.

The name of the center, Jakon Nete, refers to the Shipibo cosmology. Jakon Nete is the name of the highest of their four worlds. The first world, Jene Nete, is the river world; the second, Non Nete, is our world as we know it; the third, Panshi Nete, or yellow world, is where harmful influences live; and Jakon Nete, the fourth realm, is the space of wonders. A curandero is an accomplished person who has learned to travel between worlds and uses his or her ability for healing.

Ayahuasca translates as “the big purge”, or “vine of the soul”, and is regarded as the mother of all plants, used by South American indigenous people across the rainforest territory. Her children are the eighty thousand other plants growing in the jungle, many of them used for healing. Her woody vine is common in most jungle areas, growing up and around trees. To make the drink ayahuasca is boiled for may hours together with the charuna leaf. To beginners the tea is incredibly foul tasting; curanderos seem to enjoy it.


Once under the influence of ayahuasca the curandero, or the female curandera, crosses between worlds into other realms of consciousness, being able to see the patient’s body as patterns of light. According to the Shipibo all ailments, physical and psychological, are due to energetic blockages. The curandero sees these blockages and clears them using ikaros, pusanga, and mapacho. The clearing begins with purging, which happens in many forms: clearing of the whole digestive system out both ends, yawning, coughing, crying, spitting, shaking, and spontaneous physical movements that unwind the body from its history. This may sound uninviting, and some of it is, but the healing effects are so profound that one feels liberated from old patterns and constraints, giving way to a sense of freedom, relaxation, and peace.

The Shipibo believe that health is a balanced relationship between mind, spirit, and body. When an imbalance occurs, such as through envy, hate, or anger, there are negative effects on the person’s health. In deep trance, ayahuasca reveals to the curandero the luminous geometric patterns of energy. Filaments of light drift towards the mouth of the curandero, where they transform into a chant, or icaro. The icaro is a conduit for healing, for restoring harmony. The curandero knows when the healing is complete as the design is clearly distinct in the patient’s body. It may take a few sessions, but when the healing design patterns are firmly established in the person, the effect is permanent.

Healing Design Patterns

Two of our curanderos singing ikaos, filmed by the previous center where they worked:
Maestro Jorge Singing
Celestina Singing

More Photos


Poor but scenic section of Iquitos, Nanay River in back, tributary of the Amazone,




Rubber Boom Ended

The rubber boom ended in 1920.

Iquitos harbor

Iquitos harbor — After the rainy season when much of the area is flooded, Jakon Nete is thirty minutes by boat and another thirty minutes by foot. In the fall, the end of the dry season and when the water level has dropped, the boat ride is shorter and the walk well over an hour.

Sulmira and Celestina

Sulmira and Celestina, on our way to Jakon Nete.

My "tambo"

My “tambo”

Inside My "tambo"

Me and Maestro Jorge