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Will’s Testimonial, March, 2013

fwill marhc 2013

Imagine going on a journey to a land where diversity of ecosystems and climate is only matched by its rich human history and dense cultural heritage.  A place where every corner turned, every path embarked on amazes and excites and leaves you wanting more.  Now imagine adding another layer to your journey, a layer of intent that shapes your passage into a quest of spiritual awakening and personal growth.   Sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Well, I just came back from such a journey under the expert guidance and care of Sher Arnfinson and I can tell you quite honestly, this journey was one of the best experiences of my life. 

We journeyed to some incredible places including Chavin de Huantar, where a mysterious temple and complex ceremonial buildings containing subterranean labyrinths and ritual galleries reside.  Though it has a history that dates back to about 1000 BC it is clearly evident that this culture was very advanced both from a scientific and religious perspective.  There are so many astounding artifacts at this site.  Tools for viewing the movement of the stars like the Choque Chinchay altar and monolithic pieces like the Lanzon, the Raimondi Stella and the Tello Obelisk with their intricate detailed carvings.  When in their presence they immediately inspire awe and they clearly represent, for me anyway, shapeshifting roadmaps for personal transformation.

We were not on our journey merely as sight–seers however, and Sher intended for us to experience the spiritual energy of the place, which we most certainly did!  In retrospect, with security everywhere, it’s a miracle that we were able to do ceremony here at all but we managed fine.  As I quickly found out, Sher has a special way with the security. Not unlike a snake charmer, she keeps them calm and at a distance so she can go about more important things.   We were fortunate enough to be able to occupy a discrete and stunningly beautiful location on the grounds where we had several hours of uninterrupted ceremony.  Sher called in the Grandfather as had been done for thousands of years before at this very location.  After several hours we packed up and went back to the temple to explore the labyrinths and galleries but through Grandfather’s eyes.  I will say that the energy was initially very intense for me.  It felt like thousands of years of human consciousness pressing in on me, suffocating me.  Sher was able to work with the energy though, freeing it or maybe even clearing it from the spaaaaaace.  Her singing through the subterranean corridors definitely helped relieve some of the pressure I was feeling and by the time I left the grounds of the temple I was experiencing something quite different.  I sat down on a big rock on the bank of the Huachecsa River for about an hour just outside of the temple grounds and had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.  There is no way I can describe what I was experiencing or how I was feeling because it was beyond anything imaginable.  I witnessed the life in everything, even those things we typically consider inanimate and outside the realm of being alive.  Everything…the biggest mountains and smallest rocks were all pulsing and breathing and expressing joy at their “aliveness”.   I then realized that I was not merely a this dude i know to this but that I was “it”.  There was no separation between anything including myself.  Everything was one singular expression, one song of joy of the awesomeness of existence.  I disappeared into it all.  As the afternoon turned into evening Sher, our two brothers, Jorge and Michael, and myself continued to feel a deep universal connection but now it was the one of profound human friendship and companionship.  As locals walked by us on the riverbank they too became part of the energy.  I image that their knowing smiles and glances as they walked by us were expressing an innate understanding of what we were experiencing.

The next leg of our journey took us to Caral where recently discovered ruins are generating major archeological and anthropological interest from around the world.   The ruins, which are over 5000 years old, recently rejuvenated the debate over the origins of organized civilization in the Americas and it is now clear that Caral, located in the valley by the Supe river, is one of those major origins.  Given that, changes from nomadic to sedentary societies provides the initial marker for early civilizations, then Caral is a colossal example!   Monumental public architecture in the form of six main pyramids provides the most obvious evidence of high culture.   With the types of tools they had at their disposal 5000 years ago it is astounding to imagine the amount of social investment required to create such a place and such a community.  An important note about Caral’s beginnings is that, unlike most other early civilizations, which came about through warfare and appropriation of land and resources, Caral’s civilization came about through technological development and trade.  They developed complex irrigation systems to bring water from the mountains into the valley in order to grown vast crops, which they traded with the fishermen on the coast.

When we came upon the site, which comprises an area of about 150 acres, we were overwhelmed by its vastness.  We could have been in Egypt.  All that could be seen were vast mountains of sand, the pyramids and ruin after ruin.  After spending time exploring for a bit it was decided we would try to do a ceremony in the ceremonial circle in front of the main pyramid building.   We respectfully settled into the circle and began by opening sacred spaaaaaace and finally invited the Grandfather to join us.  The sun was hot and the sky was clear.  Hearing Sher work her singling bowl in this ancient circle left me with a feeling that was indescribable.  It could have been now or 5000 years ago.  Time was irrelevant.  Security eventually came and asked us to leave but, again, Sher was able to work her magic and get us another 20 minutes to commune in this incredible location.  Once done we carefully packed everything up to head back out to explore more of the ruins.  As evening came we spent some time on the Supe River watching farmers heard goats and engaged with locals as they went about their lives in this hot laid-back environment.  The Grandfather stays with you for some time and that night back at our hostel, Sher and I sat on our beds inspired with the beauty of life and talked about everything from our incredible adventure that day to nature of our human relationships to the utter magnificence of existence.

Jorge and Michael had to leave us on our second week to continue on with their own personal journeys giving me the privilege of having Sher all to myself!   This week saw us flying to Cusco, taking a collectivo to Ollyantaytambo and then hoping on a train to Aguas Calientes, which is in the valley next to Machu Picchu and where we would stay for the next week.  As if the last week was not special enough Sher kept leading me to greater and greater experiences.  We would see ourselves do four ceremonies during this next week including three in a row!

The beginning of our first day saw us hopping on an early bus to go up to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary.  We’ve all seen images of this mystical city high in the mountains but, if you have not been there, nothing can quite prepare you for the utter magnificence that you experience when in its presence.  The beauty just cannot be described or photographed.  You have to experience this spectacular place first-hand.   I became overwhelmed with tears of joy as my eyes rested on the splendor of the sanctuary for the first time and we had yet to even begin our ceremony here!  Sher had an ideal spot in mind that overlooked the sanctuary but where we were pretty much left alone.  I just kept thinking the whole time, “what a privilege” to be here, to be here with Sher and to be here in ceremony with the Grandfather.  There was an absolute calmness over me that day that I have rarely felt.   After the ceremony we explored the grounds of the sanctuary and, mesmerized by Sher, one of the guards offered to take us to a little-known cave that goes right under the Sanctuary.  He took us inside and even gave us a plastic bag to sit on in the damp cave.  He then left us alone to sit silently in the womb of the sanctuary as the Grandfather rushed through every corner of our being.

The next engagement with the Grandfather was, by far, my most profound.   Sher suggested we climb Mount Putucusi, which was just on the periphery of town, so we headed out early one morning.  At the base of the mountain we came to a sign that was clearly intended, along with the strategically placed logs, to discourage entry.  It was obvious that this was not a regular tourist stop.  We squeezed past the sign and the logs and started our journey along an old unkempt trail, which started off as a subtle slope and gradually became more vertical until we reached “the ladder”.  “The ladder” is one of many on the climb up the mountain.  This first one,however, for someone like myself who has a fear of heights, seemed a bit much.  It reaches 30 meters straight up. Made slippery from the early morning downpour the hand made wooden monster waited for me.   I clearly remember my thought pattern.  I was terrified I wouldn’t make it up and even more terrified of the thought of eventually having to come back down this ladder if I actually did make it up!  With every desperate grasp of each one of the slick logs came the same thoughts through my head, over and over.   Thankfully, Sher wouldn’t let us stop and set a steady pace that would see us to the top in about an hour and 15 minutes.  It was a difficult climb especially considering we were dealing with thin atmosphere but we ended up being the first visitors to the peak that morning and the feeling was awesome.  There were six others who made it to the top that day.  Three were satisfied to rest at the peak with us for about 15 minutes before heading back down. The other 3 included another Shaman who, to our amazement, turned out to be an old acquaintance of Shers’ (what are the chances?) with his two equally exhausted quest seekers.  They continued on past us to find some resting spot over the other side of the mountain.   This left Sher and I to occupy the entire peak alone for the duration of our ceremony – and what a ceremony!  Blue sky with incredible white butts fringing the mountaintops surrounded us and we had a perfect view of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary that lay across from us on the other side of valley.  It couldn’t be more perfect as we sang together up to the heavens.  Sacred bumble bees flitted amongst the flowers around us for the entire day; adding to the chorus and making us feel welcome.  Hours later, as the sun lowered, we finished ceremony and said good-bye to the bees.  Though we were finished with the ceremony, the Grandfather was far from finished with us.  The two of us were literally blissed-out as we went down the mountain!  The birds, the insects, the trees, the flowers, the shrubs, the rocks, the mountain…they were all saying, “thank you for sharing your spirit with us, please don’t leave, please stay with us longer”.   I actually had vines physically grabbing me as we descended and I had to give our apologies but promised we would return one day to share our spirit again.  The truth is, however, we were the ones who were most grateful and we thanked them with equal abundance of gratitude on our way down to the base of Putucusi.  Then I had a sudden realization.   As we playfully continued downward I became aware that I had lost my fear of heights.  It was completely gone and I felt completely fearless!  The rocky steps and ladders came and went but I had no problem looking straight down and, in fact, I found it exhilarating and I almost seemed to be dancing my way to the bottom.  Eventually, we came to my friend, “the ladder” and, yes, we would indeed become close friends.  With each rung we bonded more and I became so trusting of him that I could swing away holding on with only one hand and pivoting on one foot while looking at the ground far below with pure acceptance instead of fear.   Everything was as it should be.

Our next ceremony took place at Mandor Falls, which is a beautiful, privately owned botanical gardens less than an hour’s walk along a railway track outside of Aguas Calientes.  We, again, were blessed and came to have this place as our own private Eden for almost the entire day.  Two beautiful waterfalls graced the landscape there.  One was a narrow streak threading down to the gardens from high in the mountain while the other was a more robust torrent that fed the main river, which romped through the middle of this secluded paradise.   It was here that I came to the implicit understanding that the Grandfather wants us to feel a profound connection with all that is.  More than this, he wants us to integrate so fully with all-that-is, that there is no separation, just a single moment in time of all-being.  We’re not meant to stay there but we are meant to know it intimately, get strength from knowing it and discover our own personal power through knowing it.   I sensed that the eventual intended outcome is living a life that is more fully engaged in this physical reality, more playful, more exhilarating and less bound by fear.  It seems that this is one of the big lessons the Grandfather offers…for me anyway.

At the end of our magical day in the gardens Sher and I played in the clear cold waters of the river like we were 11 years-olds.   As the sun went down we pulled our socks over damp feet, shoed up and heading back through the forest and flowers to the railway track that would guide us back to the comfort of our hostel.  We were in a state of utter peace.

The final ceremony saw us return to the Machu Picchu sanctuary but this time we would ascend Machu Picchu Mountain, which demanded another hour-plus climb straight up.  After our practice on Mount Putucusi this would be a piece of cake, right?  Not, if you want to be the first person to the top!  We made sure we were at the gates before they opened but we were not the only ones.  There was a small group of eager climbers who represented the competition.  Now, I’m not the most fit person in the world and I had very little for breakfast in anticipation of working with the Grandfather but I was determined I would be the first person to the peak of Mount Machu Picchu that day.  Part of the way up I made Sher aware of my intentions and she encouraged me to push forward.  It was brutal!  I haven’t pushed myself so hard in a long time.  I was initially dressed for the cool damp morning that was now down below me but as I climbed at a grueling pace the sweat poured and the clothes came off layer by layer.  I kept looking up thinking I must be closer but the mountain didn’t seem to end.  As I became more exhausted and as the climb became more difficult every rock I stepped on seemed to leave its unique imprint in my memory.  This was confirmed on my descent much later when I recognized each one and the moment it shared in my struggle.  I realized then how much I miss in my daily life, how much I horse to the periphery of my experience and the lack of mindfulness I generally navigate through my existence with – something to work on.  I continued to climb and became excited by a stone doorway that presented itself ahead of me.  I imagined walking through the threshold and walking out onto the peak.  NOT!  I still had more to go and the joke throughout the entire climb is that because of the steep incline, the endless twists and turns and the dense vegetation everywhere you can’t even see a peak to focus on!  You just have to have faith that it is there and push yourself to arrive.  Finally…finally, almost naked, drenched in sweat and gasping like a fish on hot sand I arrived!  I walked out on the tiny peak alone and almost collapsed but I couldn’t because the beauty in front of me held me fast.  I had about 10 minutes to enjoy this for myself.  Again..blessed.   Not long after, a few fellow climbers arrived with Sher in close proximity.  I was still in a daze when she arrived and I think she had to call my name a few times before I snapped-to.  The peak of Machu Picchu is very small and there was really only one place where we could do the ceremony so we had to move quickly to claim it.  It’s a tiny landing just several feet below and slightly under the main peak and big enough for maybe three people to sit comfortably with a sheer drop straight down beyond the edge.   Looking out it was evident that we were graced, yet again, with another new vantage point from which to view the Sanctuary.  I am still amazed that, on that tiny peak, Sher managed to engage us in hours of ceremony without being bothered by anyone.  The hot sun was high in the sky but a breeze blew.  It was sublime.  That day I truly was captivated by the subtleness of nature, the soft sounds of distant birds, the rustling of the plants and the delicate caress of the breeze as it would come and go in waves.  I experienced silence too… like a warm blanket.  I knew this was my last ceremony on our journey and I felt like this was maybe a kind of farewell.  I know there was even a bit of sadness present though I’m not sure if it was from me or from the world around me or from both.  Regardless, even the sadness was gentle, warm and sweet.  After our ceremony we descended quietly back down the mountain.  An owl said goodbye and rain started to fall as an end came to our second and last day at Machu Picchu and last ceremony for me in Peru with the Grandfather.

I’ve done a bit of traveling to some unique and wonderful places and I have done a fair bit of work in the area of my own personal development but I’ve not had a traveling experience quite like this where my outward and inward journeys were so interconnected and played off each other to such an extent.  I now truly understand the meaning of a vision quest.  Through this journey I feel I gained a better understanding my own personal power and now have clearer picture of my relationship to reality as a whole.  This unique experience could not have happened without Sher’s guidance.  By the end of our two weeks I saw her not only as a true maestro of the spiritual arts but also as my own spiritual coach and, maybe, most importantly, as my friend.  You just can’t share stuff like this without getting close.  Sher, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  This experience can never be duplicated nor replaced.

It is with me forever,