8 February 2023
10 min read

"Last night the group were in ceremony with the shaman Entsakua at Sharamentsa.

Yesterday Ya’Acov was given an Achuar name -"Entsa" which means river. That’s a mighty honour. Ya’Acov the asked Entsakua what the “kua” part of his name means. Entsakua told him that his mother gave him this name as protection. "Kua" means boiling, so his name means “boiling river”. No-one would muddle with his space. I remember him as kind and strong, a steady, warm presence and I felt a deep sense of trust in his integrity. I know Ya'Acov will feel deeply honoured to share half a name with him. Entsakua lives an hour or more walk from the settlement with his family, where they have their space, their house and gardens (chakras) which are, traditionally, the women’s personal private space as well as their responsibility.

This morning, the group are having a debrief with the shaman. This is an intensive process where each person shares something that is personally important from the ceremony. It's translated into Spanish. The younger Achuar mostly speak Spanish, but the elders, which includes the shamans, by and large, do not. So from there it must be translated into Achuar and then the response, in the reverse direction.

"My bum has gone numb from sitting so long on this hard wooden bench. And of course I want to understand their reflections to each one of us.I rest in the clarity, patience and presence I sense in the shaman and his colleagues. At the same time, I am bathing in sound. I know this is a rare privilege and I attune to it as far as I can. The acoustic vibrations of the 3 languages becomes a compelling song of cross cultural communion.

As I concertina through the languages, the unknown dramatic curves of Achuar and its new acoustic shapes tumble me around in a wide sea of incomprehension. Spanish, half understood, gives me some ground, and then the sudden arrival on the full ground of verbal understanding in English. And then, stepping back again, through the Spanish waist high waters into the wondrous deep unknown Achuar sea. Wow.” From my diary 2014

Very often the shaman will speak with his (and yes, it is, “his” so far as I know in this culture) peers, and they will discuss the interpretation together before responding. Sometimes this goes on for a while and I sense so much care for precision and professionalism. As I understand it, they want to give us healing because they want us to be strong as their allies. Because this is not (just) eco-tourism, though it does include an alternative economic model. It is about cultivating alliances. The Achuar have always known about the importance of forming alliances to survive. Now, they are following this ancient strategy as a planetary survival strategy.

Last night Entsakua and Ya’Acov worked side by side as two shaman pros. This is very unusual in this culture. Normally there is just one "apex" healer, the shaman. When we were first with the Sapara this dream came into being - several of us, me included, working side by side as healers in this way. But in Achuar territory this step has a different level of gravitas. And then Entsakua asked Ya’Acov for a healing as well as giving him one. And that is a high accolade, I feel, for both of them. This is something II have noticed in all the Sapara and Acura healers. When they sense good medicine is around, they have no hesitation to ask for it and to receive it. And I feel proud of my man and how he carries his profession in the world, accepting this honour without pretending this doesn't not mean something to him, but without letting it push him "up". He's just there, like a good electrician, simply doing the work he is asked and is able to do, to help. The first time that he was asked for shamanic help by an Achuar was quite a moment.. It was also very funny in parts. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

On the river in Achuar territory

Today, the group leaves Sharamentsa and travels by boat up the great Pastaza river and then on to Wayusentsa to visit with the community where Entsakua’s brother, Rafael Taish is the shaman. Rafael was right there at the inception of the Pachamama Alliance and is an is an important man in this story..

I love this experience. Being on the great river for hours, cradled in the boat, the soft thrum of the engine, the quiet, intimate, digestive conversations and all the time looking out at the jungle, always different, always there. The Achuar boat driver and look-out work together with quiet awakeness.

from the boat the forest goes on and on...

You know you can relax and that you are in safe and very trustworthy good hands. We're in the Amazon, and every now and again I realise what it means to be so supported by the skill of our guides. Whether it is sunny or torrential rain they maintain their seamless relaxed good humour. And they are in this state, "in" themselves and their bodies in away that I cannot quite describe. I feel gratefully tearful simply thinking about it. Such a seamless sense of being relaxed and awake, sensitive and simultaneously strong, present, un and with and of that moment. There. For me, it's a huge gift simply top be able to remember it, right now. That embodied presence, that is inside and at the same time aware of all the concentric spheres of 360 degrees outside. And be laughing and communicative, and quiet and warm and there.

Achuar guide, on the river

Something that always amazes me is that they see birds and animals in the trees effortlessly and immediately that we just don't and cannot see. Even when they are pointing them out to us with supreme clarity and precision. I remember feeling as if I was blind.

This is a reflection of how our capacity to perceive is not just to do with the "apparatus" we have. I love noticing, in a very objective way, just how cultural our actual physical experience of life is. For me this opens up mystery and possibility. What I see is not what is there. It’s a tiny sub-section of what is there, filtered and interpreted through the lens of what I and my people have deemed important.

This bird flew with us for a long way... felt so magical

My 4 beautiful formerly wild Exmoor Ponies came to me via the incredible Wild Pony Whisperer Dawn Westcott (do check our her books). These 4 incredible animals are teaching me so much about connection, co-regulation, cooperation and deep listening.

Susannah and Baluran

Dawn’s husband Nick Westcott comes from a family who have been living and farming on Exmoor for at least 1000 years. He is a hill farmer through and through. Dawn has told me a fascinating story about something she noticed when they were first together. You know when you're walking or driving through the countryside and you turn a corner and suddenly a new landscape opens up? She was astonished by the details that Nick would instantly become aware of. A tree in the distance that had lost a bough, a gate that was hanging open, a group of sheep in a particular huddle. Nick's speed of visual cognition and awareness blew her away. She simply, literally, didn't see and receive all that information, just the broad strokes of the big picture. It's as if the landscape and its intimate details announce themselves to him. Throughout Nick’s life these things have been significant and important. They matter, and so he has developed (or is it kept?) the perceptual capacity to see them. The good news is that Dawn and has found that she is developing this capacity too. It is never too late! Through the years of paying attention to these details, because as a farmer they matter, the landscape is opening its pages to her too.

As I understand it, our brains develop the neural network that reflects what we pay attention to, and what has energy attached to it. By energy, I mean pleasure, interest, motivation as well as fear, adrenaline and a call to action. That's why, as an adult learning, we don't remember things unless we actually pay attention let something matter and truly give it our focus.

On the Pastaza river, when I sit on that canoe and we go down the river, I feel like I'm taking in a lot. And I am. But I would have no idea what I was missing, if it wasn't for seeing how the Achuar are seeing, hearing and understand things I literally cannot see. There is so much we miss, because we haven't energised those channels of perceptual awareness and interest over the decades of our lives. So the forest remains somewhat closed to us. We cannot see into the canopy as the Achuar can. This is the nature of blind spots (or blind domains as I call them) - we simply do not know they are there until something or someone illuminates that for us. The Achuar guides are so kind, gentle and patient with us. As David Tucker shared with us, their tendency is to observe, not to judge. And this is true, I have never felt judged there. Simply accompanied, with strength and kindness and warm humour.

As I write this, I find myself feeling gently sad about the ways that our modern lives have shut down our awareness of the natural world. Simply because most of us haven't been in it very much. And when we are, most of us haven't made it important enough to actually pay attention to the details. I remember being in the bush in South Africa, and similarly being astonished when the indigenous guides pointed out some faint marks on the track and explained that this was where a leopard and her cub had walked, a few hours ago. They spoke about it with each other for several minutes first, decoding the script of the leopard feet in the sand.

It is attention that opens the doors of perception. And love and attention are very close. This is another gift that we are given by these journeys - this immersion into wildness in the company of indigenous people for whom it is their home, their larder, their medicine chest and their mother. I have witnessed a similar quality of emotion in both the Achuar guides and the South African guides we have had the privilege to be accompanied by. In their responses to the animals and birds in their landscape, I have perceived joy, exhilaration and what I think I have to call love, kinship and connection. This is not only the inheritance of people who have lived as hunters. It is easy to see why this level of perception is linked to hunting and therefore survival. But it is not only that. I feel that this is the joy of living as part of of a wild symphony of life.

More to come!

Thank you for sharing your attention. It is precious. 

with love from us both, Susannah and Ya'Acov Darling Khan"

Find out about journeys in the Amazon with the Pachamama Alliance.

Find out about the Sacred Headwaters Alliance.

Find out about the Movement Medicine Summer Long Dance

Susannah Darling Khan

Susannah's life is dedicated to the quest for a world where beauty and compassion flourish....