Chapter 1: Nature Connection & Shamanic Practices

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Taking a leap

At the end of November I flew out to sunny Brazil from cold England on a one way ticket. Before leaving I was anxious about the unknown, about having no fixed plans but somewhere inside I knew that I was ready to jump in and see where the current took me.

South America is home to all kinds of sacred practices from the wisdom and culture of indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities have been established across South America long before colonialism, and many of their ancient practices are still used today, bringing well being, healing and connection to nature. The violence towards indigenous communities and threat to their existence is still hugely problematic across the Americas.

I want to introduce just two of the practices that I’ve been lucky enough to partake in so far, thanks to the knowledge and sharing of the people I have met here. I write this having only spent 6 weeks here. There is so much more to learn about the rich and diverse culture of Brazil and the other countries I will travel here.

One thing that all the indigenous practices have in common is a respect for and connection to nature, which has made me reflect a lot on the relationship we have to nature in the West. I’ve been thinking about how the way colonialism tares apart indigenous communities is directly linked to the way capitalism and the western world disrespects and violates nature and the earth’s resources.

Here are 2 of the sacred practices I learnt about here in Brazil:

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Temazcal

A sweat lodge to purify the body, that originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. We were lead in a Temazcal ceremony by our Brazilian shaman, Fernandez, along with her partner and their little boy. It involves entering a small enclosed space. Hot rocks are heated in a fire and brought into the centre of the dome. The ceremony takes place in the dark and the heat.

I’m not going to write too much about the details of the experience because it’s one of those special things that can’t really be described with the limitations of language. Also if you ever want to do it, I think it’s best to do it with no pre-judgements of what it may or may not be like. I will say that the whole process is supposed to symbolise re-entering the womb space, connecting to your birth mother and grandmother and to the whole universe. When you exit the space it symbolises a rebirth. After the ceremony I felt purified, calm, connected and very very sleepy!

Silence, solitude and fasting

I was inspired by the Vision Quest which is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. It involves a fast for 4 days and 4 nights alone in nature in a spot specifically chosen by the elders for this sacred journey. This was intended for the young person to vision their purpose and see how they could best serve their community.

I decided myself to take just 2 nights and one full day alone in nature camping with the security of knowing the main house and other campers weren’t far. I wanted to challenge myself but not too extremely for my first fast in silence! I fasted from food but still drinking some water. In this time I discovered something very important to me, that embracing stillness and simply observing nature is full of joy. I felt like a child watching the ants with curiosity and getting excited by the simple colours of leaves or a butterfly passing by.

I was surprised that boredom is not something I felt. In fact I mostly felt an all-encompassing sensation of calm and gratitude for being able to take time to surrender to stillness in this way surrounded by the beauty of nature. There was no-where to go, nothing to do and I loved having nothing to say for once. It is from this place of deep rest that I emerged ready to live my purpose and the next weekend I ended up launching a new business collaborating with my design friend on a project to support change-makers across the world.

Towards the final hours of my fast on the last morning I had sleep paralysis and intensely vivid dreams in which I thought I was dying and was visited by someone from my past which healed a wound for me. I awoke feeling weak and shaky, I stumbled down through the forest to the house of the community I’m staying and my first words were actually “can you help me make breakfast?” to which a kind friend replied “of course, lie down, stay there” and brought me a delicious first meal.

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The next practice I am going to learn about is cacao ceremonies. Other things I’ve been involved in here include ecstatic dance, connection workshops, meditation, yoga, capoeira, woodwork, singing, hikes and fire ceremonies.

Usually words are my strong point but right now, I actually don’t have the words to fully describe this place and all that I’ve experienced so far. All I can say is that I feel connected and in flow and am incredibly grateful.

To all my friends and family back home, and around the world, sending love, peace and big hugs your way!

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