No Salvation Without Sweat

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My annual trip to a small Peruvian village in the Amazon jungle is probably one of the most challenging things I do. It’s also one of the most enlightening and empowering things I do.

In a book I recently read, the author said that we too often look for “salvation without sweat.” That we are looking for quick fixes or magic bullets and get discouraged and sometimes give up when we realize we are going to have to work to change a habit or cultivate a new way of being.

There can be so much resistance from ego when we are seeking to grow spiritually and become more free of our habitual conditioning. One of the forms resistance takes is magical thinking. That somehow we are going to take part in something and it will easily and effortlessly transform our lives and make everything better.

Sometimes it can feel like that happens. But often there have been years of sweat equity leading to those kinds of sudden awakenings. When I experienced my magical transformation in January of 2010 (see How I Came to Be a Healer), there were not only hours and hours of meditation, yoga, prayer, learning and growing that preceded it, but there was even more work that was needed afterwards to learn to nurture that state of spiritual connection and heightened awareness.

I’m totally guilty of magical thinking. I have grandiose dreams and can get completely carried away by my fantasies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think having crazy, big dreams makes life fun and exciting. If I had known the reality of what I would have gotten into every time I tried something new that would push me to higher levels of growth, I likely would have shied away in fear.

When I decided to go to Peru for my first dieta, I really had no idea how challenging it would be. I am a total wuss when it comes to physical discomfort, and eight days in the jungle working with plant medicines involves a fair bit of physical discomfort. (To learn about what a dieta is, read Working with Plant Medicines in the Amazon.)

First, there’s the discomfort of being hot, sticky, sweaty, and a magnet for mosquitos. Then, there’s the discomfort of sleeping in a tent, using an outhouse and going without the comforts of nice bathrooms with clean running water/electricity. And there’s the discomfort of fasting 20-24 hours for seven consecutive days and also not having any water from 6am-3pm most days.

On top of that, there’s the physical discomfort of working with plant medicines in what essentially amounts to 10 ceremonies in 7 days. These plants are incredibly powerful, and they do a great job of clearing you out, which means you may purge through crying, shaking, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Needless to say, the body gets put through a lot.

I went into this dieta with a fair bit of trepidation. My digestion was already off from all the travel I’d undertaken this year, and I came down with a bug a couple of weeks before my trip. Resistance was strong as I was getting ready, and a part of me seriously wanted to cancel my journey. But I moved through the resistance, made it to Peru, and am happy to say I got through the dieta better than I had anticipated.

Yes, all the discomforts listed above were present. Mid-way through the dieta, I woke up with terrible stomach pains at 3am one night, threw up at 4:30am, and then had the runs here and there. But I was in good company. Multiple participants talked of shitting their pants, and the sounds of violent vomiting were pretty intense during our second night-time ceremony. The jungle can be a tough place in many ways.

As if all of that weren’t enough, this type of work also has us facing all the hidden patterns, pains, and fears we keep ourselves so busy repressing and numbing. It’s quite humbling to face our darkest fears and our most painful wounds. To be brought to one’s knees in ceremony is incredibly challenging and amazingly rewarding.

The plants, in their infinite wisdom, have a way of breaking us down in order to build us up. So much gets cleared out and space is created for a deeper connection to Spirit, one’s heart, one’s true authentic self, and one’s dreams. So much wisdom and amazing insights are shared by the plants, who are referred to as Master Teachers.

In this dieta, I gained incredible insights about myself and my life as well as the spiritual reality of the world we live in. I received amazing support from spirit allies and was taught new techniques for healing and navigating ceremonial space. Once I was back, I slept 20 of the first 24 hours I was home. Not only was I recovering from the physical challenges, I was integrating all that I had gained from my journey.

I’m beginning to see personal and spiritual growth as a type of birthing process, one in which we give birth to a newer, more healed, whole, authentic, empowered versions of ourselves. Now that I have had an opportunity to transition to life back home, I can feel the strength and power of the plants working in and through me.

It’s amazing to see how much stronger I feel and what wild, crazy dreams I’m open to entertaining as real possibilities…things I would have never even allowed myself to fantasize about. That’s the magic of the plant medicine work for me…bit by bit, it sweeps aways more and more layers of fear and allows me to step towards greater possibilities and dreams.

So, once the memory of the excruciating labor that often is a part of spiritual initiation has passed, I am in total awe of the life, beauty, magic, miracle and possibilities it has given birth to. And I am in awe of and hold deep gratitude for the blessings the ceremonies and dietas with plant medicines bring. The process can definitely be sweaty beyond belief, but the salvation it leads to is so sweet.

If you would like to hear more about my journey, please join me for an Evening of Shamanic Wisdom at 6pm on Thursday, October 17th at Shamanic Soul Center. I will share stories and lessons from my journey, talk about Shipibo woven song cloths and icaros, answer questions about shamanism/shamanic practice, and guide you through a shamanic visualization journey. Simply email me to RSVP.

My Mantra for the Coming Year

Transforming Fear

Last week, I turned 44. In preparation for it, I embarked on a 44-Day Mental Cleanse, which included taking a break from social media, having boundaries around email and technology use, and slowing down to listen to my inner guidance instead of all the noise we get bombarded with.

Keeping with the cleanse theme, I decided I wanted to really clean house as I got ready for a new year of life. So the night before my birthday, I found myself cleaning my bathroom, reorganizing things in my kitchen, and moving furniture because I was having carpet cleaners come in the morning.

As I was listening to music while getting my home spruced up, the following words came to mind: “I can figure ANY shit out. No fear. Pure courage.” I suddenly felt a powerful surge of energy rush through me, and I went to write this down on the white board in my home office. This board has my top priorities on it, and I face it each day as I work at my desk. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget what felt like an important motto for the coming year.

The next morning, I woke up early, did an energetic clearing of my home (see blog post on space clearing for how to do this yourself), vacuumed thoroughly, and had the carpet professionally deep cleaned. It felt so good to get a fresh, clean start to the year. Later, I went out for a celebratory meal, and then had a healing session with one of my teachers.

It was really such a blessing to get a healing session on my birthday, and during the session, she asked me one of my favorite question, “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you want to create in the coming year?” Before I could answer, she pointed out that this didn’t have to be something material or external. It could be something personal and internal.

The words “Unwavering Courage” came out of my mouth, and thus, my mantra for the coming year was set in motion.

To be honest, I’m a bit intimidated with this intention because I know it will mean potentially uncomfortable changes ahead. In my experience, when I set a firm intention and commit to it, a process of transformation gets set in motion, and I need to release what’s not in alignment with the new state I want to welcome in. This means I have to let go of old ways of being, which can be uncomfortable and challenging.

But I’m also very excited because I know it will mean a new level of personal growth and self-realization. I know it will mean a new level of TRUST, especially trust in myself. During my 44-day cleanse, I became acutely aware of how much we are bombarded by messages of fear. These messages have us question our abilities, our worth, and our choices.

In stepping into this mantra of “Unwavering Courage,” I don’t have any plans to do anything dramatic or daredevil-like. My intention is to continually move away from the external noise and messages of fear, and instead, listen to my heart and soul and come to trust myself more deeply.

Trust that I am strong and capable. Trust that no matter what, I can figure anything out. Trust that though I can’t control what happens around me, I can handle the surprises life brings. Trust that I can make the choices that are best for me even if they are different from the “norm.” Trust my body, my intuition, my heart, my spirit, my soul.

With this deep trust, I believe courage comes more naturally. When we trust ourselves, we can take greater risks. We can make decisions from a place of inner knowing and authentic truth instead of a place of fear. We can let go of patterns and energies that don’t serve us and provide a false sense of comfort/security. We can dare to live lives true to our essence dreams and heart’s longings.

Just writing that makes my heart sing! If any of this resonates with you, and you’d like to share any aspect of your journey and/or intentions with me, or if you have any questions, I invite you to email me at heal@shamanicsoulcenter.com.

I’m excited to see what the coming year brings and feel so blessed to share the journey with you. Thank you for being part of the Shamanic Soul Center community.

Big hugs and blessings to you,

Parminder

5 Ways to Boost Your Happiness

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Are you one of those people who was born happy? Do you just sail through life naturally feeling happy and blessed? If so, this blog post is not for you. You don’t really need it.

If, on the other hand, you have longed to feel happy but all too often find yourself struggling to do so, read on.

You see, I’m not one of those born happy and cheery people. Quite the opposite. For much of my life, I would experience cyclical bouts of depression and/or anxiety.

And although I definitely experienced many times of joy during my life, it was not until late into my 30’s after some years of being on this healing path that I can say I became more consistently content and experienced a higher baseline of happiness.

There are two things that have helped me increase my overall sense of joy: 1) releasing trauma, pain, and suffering through the healing work I have done 2) cultivating thought patterns and behaviors that enhance my state of well-being and happiness.

These practices and the awareness I gained through the process took time to learn. They feel natural and effortless much of the time, but there are still (and always will be) times I need to pick myself up from a low mood and put greater focus and attention on cultivating a higher frequency, better feeling state of being.

Because I am not alone in this, I wanted to share one of the resources I find helpful on this quest. It’s a hilarious and helpful talk by Shawn Achor (watch below). In the talk, he shares 5 simple ways we can train our brains for greater happiness.

The techniques are simple and make sense. But for them to be effective, it’s important to actually do them and not simply know about them. He recommends trying them out for 21 days.

If you decide to give the practices a go, be honest and gentle with yourself. You know yourself better than anyone, so explore the techniques in the way that is likely to be most effective for you.

You know if you’re more likely to sustain something for the long-haul by going full force and doing it all at once or whether it would be more effective to integrate one small change at a time. So, do what works best for you and let me know how it goes by emailing me.

I hope you enjoy the video and practices. Big hugs and blessings to you, :)

Parminder

An Antidote to Stressful Living

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I recently returned from a week in Costa Rica, the land of Pura Vida, a relaxed, “don’t worry, be happy” way of life that has made Costa Rica one of the happiest countries in the world. 

Having this trip come so close on the heels of my journey to Peru’s Lake Titicaca and the Stone Forest was a true blessing. Some of you may have read my post-Peru reflections in my AYNI blog post in which I shared how the trip inspired me to slow down and live more mindfully.

My recent journey to Costa Rica built on that theme and gave me an opportunity to step back and consider ways I can live life with greater ease and grace, to integrate some of that Pura Vida vibe into my life.

Coming back to city life in the US after each of these journeys made me realize what a fast-paced, anxious world we have created. They also made me see how easy it is to get caught up in those stressful energies even if we know we value a more simple, healthy way of life. 

But I have come to see that we don’t have to get caught up in the mad rush to always be doing more. We can opt out of the frantic pace in ways big and small. 

Because prolonged stress contributes to many forms of dis-ease, it is important for us to look at how we can reduce stress and live life with greater ease. This is extra important for those of us with more sensitive, empathic natures. 

If we are highly sensitive or empathic, we are more attuned to and more easily influenced by the energies around us. Therefore, it’s important to create personal boundaries that protect our internal state and enhance our well-being. 

Here are two books that I have found to be inspiring and helpful in living life at a more relaxed, sane pace. While their titles have a similar theme, the two books present very different approaches:

I first read Slowing Down to the Speed of Life when I was in my early 20’s. I was only a few months into my first job out of college and found myself overworking and feeling incredibly stressed. At the time, I found the ideas presented in the book very helpful and comforting.

Since then, I have read the book several times. Each time, I gain a better understanding of how profoundly out thoughts impact our perceptions of our world. This book is not about fixing anything on the outside; it’s about becoming aware of thought patterns that lead to stress and unhappiness.

SLOW: Simple Living for a Frantic World is new to me. It’s about one woman’s journey to change her life after being diagnosed with postpartum depression.

After seeking help for her depression, the author comes to the realization that her hectic lifestyle was contributing to her ill health. This book offers many ideas on how to simplify one’s life and live more true to one’s values.

I believe we all deserve to live lives full of love, laughter, joy, and ease. And I feel it’s within our power to transform our internal state and our external realities to create the lives that will make our hearts sing. 

If these ideas resonate with you, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me with any questions, comments, or to share any of your personal experiences. Big hugs and blessings to you. 

AYNI - a Key Insight from My Recent Journey to Peru

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Being on the Shamanic Path has given me the opportunity to experience many adventures and learn a great deal. My recent trip to Lake Titicaca and the Stone Forest definitely ranks up there in terms of the magic and wonder I experienced. As you may have read in my last blog post (Shamanic Journeying for Guidance and Support), I was guided to go to the Stone Forest during a Shamanic Drum Journey I did last year.

I didn’t know exactly why I was told to go there, and it may take me quite a while to integrate the blessings and wisdom from such a powerful journey, but I am incredibly grateful for the way the experience has served to bring me to a deeper level of soul-searching and an even stronger desire to align my life with the spiritual values I hold most dear.

I first awoke to this spiritual path through an incredibly transformative spontaneous healing I experienced in January of 2010 while I was getting a Masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies. (I wrote about it in How I Came to Be a Healer.) I went back to school because I felt disillusioned by the educational system I was a teacher in and wanted a new way to be of service. 

My goal at the time was to gain skills to be able to do work in developing countries. I grew up in a very poor, rural environment in India, which provided me with many blessings but also many hardships. Lack of basic human needs such as medical care and personal security can take a tremendous toll on the heart and psyche. Those early experiences evoked in me a lifelong desire to alleviate suffering and be of service.

One of the classes I took while I was at the School of Peace Studies was Environmental Justice. It was quite disheartening to learn so much about the environmental and human consequences of our modern way of life. The class and the research on consumerism I did for my final paper affirmed a longing in me to live a more simple and sustainable lifestyle.

Given my simple upbringing, my heart has always been drawn to simplicity, but living in the modern Western world, I find that I easily get distracted and/or excited by things and ideas and end up piling too much on my plate. I can get caught in the mad dash of modern life and fill my life with too much stuff and too many things to do. And I can find myself going on automatic instead of being mindful and present to all the beautiful, simple moments of ordinary life.

Being at Lake Titicaca and the Stone Forest reminded me of the incredible beauty of this magnificent Earth we call home. It got me back in touch with my deep love for this planet and my desire to live in a way that honors the precious gift we have been blessed with. I was reminded of the sacred law of AYNI, something I learned about years ago.

Ayni is a Quechua (an indigenous language spoken in the Andes) word that refers to the sacred reciprocity that is the natural way of life. For the Q’ero people of the Andes, this is the most fundamental law. It guides us to live in reciprocity, harmony, and balance with each other, with the Earth, and with the whole cosmos.

Shamanism recognizes that we are all interconnected in a beautiful, sacred web of life/energy. And our actions have consequences for the positive or negative on ourselves, each other, and the whole Universe we are a part of. When we practice ayni, we strive to live in mutual harmony and reciprocity with all beings.

We don’t take anything from the Earth without asking permission and making an offering in exchange. I was taught this by the first Indigenous healer I studied with. He would say, you can’t just go around traipsing wherever you like. You have to ask permission of the spirits of the land. You have to ask them for protection. You have to bring them an offering. Just like you would if you were going to someone’s home. You wouldn’t just barge in rudely and not ask permission or give thanks.

I have been practicing this way for a long time now. It feels beautiful to ask permission of the lands I am visiting, to take little offerings of cornmeal, sage, tobacco, sweets, flowers to give thanks. And in my morning prayers, I give thanks for the spirits of the land where my home is. I thank them for welcoming me there and for their protection.

This trip reawakened in me a longing to integrate the teaching of ayni more deeply into my day to day life. I can do this by slowing down my thinking and living more mindfully. I can pay greater attention to the impact my words and actions have on the world. I can think of how what I do today will impact the next 7 generations.

I can do very simple things to consume and waste less, to send more loving-kindness and gratitude to the Earth, to simplify my life more by being a more conscious and thoughtful consumer, to care for and bless this beautiful planet and all the beings I get to share it with. I can be more intentional about remembering what a sacred gift life on the Earth plane is and take more time to appreciate it.

I feel a greater sense of peace and serenity since I have come back from my trip, and I think that comes from making progress in aligning my life even more closely to my most cherished values. I believe that is one of the blessings of striving to live in ayni. It reminds us we are part of a beautiful, interconnected whole. Simply remembering and honoring that sacred connection brings a sense of peace and well-being to our hearts and souls.

(The photo above is of the paqo (Andean shaman) beginning a ceremony. At the start of all ceremonies, he would give thanks to all the nature elements (Earth, Sun, Moon, Spirits of the Mountains, etc.) and call on them to bless the ceremony.)

No Salt, No Sex - Preparation for Sacred Pilgrimage

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Next week, I will be traveling to central Mexico for my annual pilgrimage to Wirikuta and Cerro Quemado, sacred lands of the Wixáritari (Huichol) people. This is year four for me, and I consider the opportunity to take part in this sacred journey one of the greatest gifts I’ve been blessed with in this lifetime.

Traditionally, Huichol pilgrims would take about 40 days to make the 300 mile trek from their homes to the sacred valley of Wirikuta and then hike Mount Quemado on foot. They would stop at sacred shrines along the way to perform rituals and ceremonies of preparation and purification.

Where there was once only untouched land along much of the route, now there are highways, private property fences, and cities. But the Huichol pilgrims still make this journey, working around the challenges modernization brings.

The purpose of the pilgrimage is both personal renewal/purification as well as the performance of ceremonies and making of offerings aimed to keep harmony and balance in the world. 

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For the Huichol. these sacred sites are honored because this is where the sun rose for the first time and where their ancestors come from. Making the journey and honoring Tatewari (sacred Fire spirit) and Kauyumari (sacred Blue Deer spirit) helps the pilgrims remember where they came from and renew/strengthen their connection to Great Spirit.

I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to make this sacred pilgrimage each year. Along with my annual journey to Peru in the Fall for participation in traditional Shipibo plant dietas (discussed in this previous post), I consider this annual pilgrimage an absolutely critical part of my ongoing training and growth. 

Though the journey I participate in is much shorter than the traditional Huichol one, the power and blessings are still immense. When I was preparing for my first pilgrimage, I asked one of my teachers to assist me with setting good intentions. He said, “Ask to have really powerful prayers. That’s the whole point of the trip.” 

That was clear enough, so I followed his instruction and began praying and asking for assistance in having really powerful prayers during my pilgrimage. I was left stunned at the power and beauty of the pilgrimage and the incredible power of the prayers said on that journey. 

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It’s impossible to describe in words how healing, inspiring, and empowering the pilgrimage experience is. Taking part in an all-night ceremony under the guidance of a Mara’akame (Huichol shaman) and then hiking up to Mount Quemado for more prayers and ceremony is one of the most amazing experiences I have had. 

I feel transformed and strengthened with each successive journey. And I witness incredibly profound, positive shifts in my life (personal and professional) after each pilgrimage. But such rewards don’t come without a price.

Most spiritual traditions advocate various practices and rituals that require some sort of sacrifice in order to gain spiritual growth and insights. Think of the different fasts various religious traditions encourage/require. Or the solitary journey into the unknown that an indigenous vision quest entails.

For this pilgrimage, the preparation requires a 30-40 day period of refraining from any use of the sacred sexual energy and two weeks of a no salt diet. The purpose of the no sex is to conserve the sacred sexual energy for spiritual purposes and to store up qi for this special pilgrimage. 

The purpose of the two weeks of no salt (one at the beginning of the preparation period and one at the end) is to do a physical cleanse of the body and dissolve any negativity stored inside. Salt acts as a preservative, so by eliminating it, we are able to eliminate the energetic residue collected from past pain, stress, and toxic patterns.

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The most important part of the preparation for me is the saying of prayers and asking for guidance, assistance, and support for my pilgrimage. As part of the prayer process, I make four flechas (prayer arrows) to take with me on the journey. The flechas are made in a meditative, prayerful way, and they carry the intent of the pryers I will say on my pilgrimage journey. (The ones in the photo are from my first pilgrimage.)

So, the preparation period takes some effort in getting oneself ready both physically and spiritually for the powerful journey of pilgrimage. I believe that the more sincere we are in our preparations, the higher are the rewards of the journey. Our commitment and dedication is always rewarded a thousand-fold.

And this applies not only to spiritual practice but everything else in life. The more sincerely and earnestly we commit ourselves to something, the more rewards and blessings we receive. Experiencing this in such a special, sacred journey inspires me to carry this lesson into the rest of my life.

One of the things I most enjoy about my journey is being able to carry your prayers and offering them on your behalf during the beautiful ceremonies I participate in. So, if you would like for me to take your prayers with me, please send me your prayer requests via this Prayer Request form.

When I return, I will be teaching a class on How to Pray Powerfully and Effectively. In that class, I will share more about my pilgrimage and what I learned from my journey. The class will be at 6pm Pacific Time on Monday, April 8th. It’s part of my monthly Shamanism, Spirituality, and Energy Medicines class, and you can get more information and sign up here.

I hope you can join me for the class. If you can’t make it live, you will have access to the recording. I feel so blessed and honored to share this journey with you. Thank you and have a beautiful day.