How a Mayan Shaman Can Cleanse Your Spirit
On the way to the shaman, our truck squeezed deeper into the white-washed jungle down a twisting path I’d never be able to find again. The lightly used dirt roads were narrow and unmarked, but Joanne seemed to know her way; at least, I hoped she did.
The white, mildew-covered trees created a surreal otherworldly entrance to the place where the shaman lived. Where, unbeknownst to me, I’d come face to face with exactly the thing I’d been avoiding.
How I Got Here
I took the trip to Tulum, Mexico, to do yoga, relax in a hammock with green juice, and read paperback novels in the sunshine.
Known for its well-preserved ancient Mayan ruins and cenotes — limestone sinkhole caves filled with aqua blue water — many believe Tulum is a place filled with portals into the afterlife. That’s not why I chose it, though, in hindsight, that’s exactly why.
I stayed in town at a yoga house, where several of us, all women, had our own rooms and participated in half a dozen on-premise yoga and meditation classes throughout the day.
Hastened by our host and resident guide, Joanne, we all made fast friends. Soon we were sharing lunches, taking trips to the local cenotes, beaches and walks to the ice cream stand in the evening.
I was getting exactly what I wanted from the trip: a place to be quiet and alone coupled with carefree companionship when desired. Then, fate intervened.
Why a Spiritual Cleansing?
One day, I was chatting with Joanne under the banana trees when she mentioned that she was taking Julie, another guest, into the jungle to see a Mayan shaman for spiritual cleansing.
That piqued my attention. I’d thought shamans were extinct except for Scooby-Doo reruns and Indiana Jones movies.
I wondered what Julie had done to make her feel the need for spiritual cleansing. Going through the possibilities in my head, I quickly calculated that my spirit probably needed a cleansing too.
Thus, a few hours later, I found myself in Joanne’s truck heading deep into the jungle in search of the shaman on a steamy Tulum afternoon.
A Jungle Road
We passed handcrafted buildings made of limestone and bamboo with tin and thatched roofs along the narrow jungle road. There were free-roaming chickens and several stray dogs who had no fear, or perhaps no understanding, of a truck. If there were people, we didn’t see them.
The shaman didn’t have a telephone, so he wasn’t home when we arrived, but idle time was par for the course in Tulum, so we explored his mystical property while we waited.
Julie and I marveled at the wildly colored flowers growing off the trunks of trees, a small dome-shaped smoke lodge, and the sounds of the local birds and loud bugs. The land itself seemed ancient and watching. There were gems and stones placed around the property and wooden animal figures and bunches of herbs. Joanne said, “don’t touch anything,” but you couldn’t have paid me to lay on my hands on any of it, protected and private as it felt.
The shaman presents himself
In less than an hour, he showed up. “Here he comes,” Joanne whispered. We quickly gathered at her side. I don’t know how she knew he was approaching because, on foot, he was as quiet as the wind, but suddenly, there he was.
My heart sank a little at the sight of him in jeans and a t-shirt, unlike those TV shamans I was familiar with. Though his dark hair, broad smile, and mahogany skin marked him as Mayan as much as this place did.
Since Julie and I knew no more than tourist Spanish, he spoke to Joanne and smiled broadly at us, resting kind eyes on me. My soul recognized him.
There are some people you meet who a part of you seems to know already. There is a comfort and acceptance of long kinship where none exists. I felt I already knew this shaman; there was a vague awareness that we had met before.
After a brief discussion, several slight bows, and shy smiles, he went inside his thatch and limestone hut to prepare.
We were seated on stone benches near the smoke lodge when he emerged. Upon seeing him, we immediately rose, unbidden. Now, he wore a long white robe, roughhewn leather sandals, and the air of a God.
It’s like a weird date
Joanne explained that the ritual would help to release negativity and bad spirits.
Hearing about the ritual, I was suddenly worried. I didn’t want him to know all the negativity I harbored within me. There was a lot. Also, it was my trusty shield and I didn’t think I could afford to lose it. Suddenly, this was more serious than I anticipated.
He stood facing us, hand lifted; Julie shrank back, and I, caught again by his eyes, stepped forward, unable to stop myself.
I sat in a wooden chair between a wild garden and the smoke lodge and he stood before me. Our conversation took place with looks and gestures and somehow, focused on him entirely, I understood everything.
He gave me a small shot-sized cup of clear liquid to drink. I hesitated. He indicated that I shouldn’t be worried, so with complete trust — and a glance back at Joanne, who nodded — I drank it bottom’s up.
If it was liquor, it was unrecognizable, sweet and bitter on my tongue like a combination of Karo syrup and cactus juice.
Let us pray
I watched him cautiously as he mixed oil and herbs in a stone bowl and began to pray.
My family was a serious religion-practicing one. We went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, joined the fellowship groups, went to Sunday school, and attended so many events we were in the church at least three times a week. But we weren’t religious, not really. The church was our social club.
That’s what I realized for the first time as I watched this man prepare his oil. There were truth and fervency that I’d never experienced before. He put his being into this practice.
He used his index and middle fingers to stroke the oil across my forehead and the bridge of my nose, along my ears, the line of my jaw, my arms, and bare legs. And he prayed.
He prayed so heartily and ardently that I wondered what he saw in me that caused him to put so much energy into this ritual. Did he recognize me too? He had no hesitation or worry that I might not be worth his investment. He seemed to see me entirely, more clearly than anyone ever had.
Suddenly, I felt as if the yard were filled with witnesses. The truth of me was being laid bare. Goosebumps rose on my flesh and I forced myself to hold steady. We were encircled. He seemed not to notice, or if he did, these guests were not unexpected.
What is that egg for?
He took a chicken egg from the stone altar next to him. I hadn’t noticed it there before and wondered how I’d missed something so out of place among the stones and herbs and oils.
The egg in hand, he began to move it along the path he had made with his oil. Along my arms and brow and my shoulders, hands, and legs. He shook it near my ear, and I heard the liquid inside.
Gently, but not as gently as you might think, he stroked me with that egg and prayed. He gathered the negative energy and flung it away like tossing cooked spaghetti noodles at a wall. Over and over, the ritual continued. I closed my eyes and swooned.
The belief was that the egg would absorb the bad energy from me into itself. Later, he would bury it in a hidden place on his land, so it could not escape and find me again, or worse, someone else.
Then Mom shows up
Suddenly, he pushed back the hair at my temples, praying, almost chanting and from his lips, my dead mother whispered, “Sssshhh.” With that, an emotional dam burst, and my tears fell. Because, of course, the thing I’d been avoiding was precisely what I would find.
Mom had died one year before to the day. All the running in the world wouldn’t keep it from being true.
His gesture resonated deep within me causing a memory to echo in the jungle. She had once touched me in exactly the same way. As a mother who believed in self-soothing, providing comfort in times of distress was not her forte. But, while I was in labor with my daughter, in the throes of many hours of pain she leaned over my hospital bed, stroked the hair back from my temples and whispered, “Sssshhh.” It stunned me then as it stunned me now.
The shaman, undaunted, or perhaps used to this sort of emotion, put the egg down and filled a bowl with more oil and herbs. He used a match to set the mixture on fire, then used a long bunch of other herbs to fan the smoke from the fire over me.
While using the branches to ensure the smoke coated me, he made an impassioned plea. He released me from my past and cleared the fog from my true path. The negative spirits that had clung to me had done their work in their time and were now finished.
Breakfast is Served
Though I couldn’t understand his words, the sentiment came through entirely. The yard emptied. It was just him and I again. Standing before me he shook the egg near my left ear. It had become solid.
He held my hands and pulled me to standing. Cleansing complete, we hugged with all the might of long-lost friends reunited. Finally, staring into my eyes, he released me.
I don’t know if the shaman really “cleansed my spirit” but it’s been three years and I’m different, freer in so many ways. It took me until now to realize how very much, to have enough space to look back and see the chasm I’ve crossed.
Somehow, that day he gave me a way to start again; to go back to the roots of who I was before life started to pile on and hide the things that made me special and gave me joy.
Maybe he brought hundreds of spirits into the yard that day to change me or reveal my soul. Or his chanting cast my demons out. Perhaps he only planted an idea in my mind, and everything has been my own doing. It could be all those things.
Whatever it is or was, meeting him that day set my soul on fire. Maybe that’s all the magic we need. He awoke something in me that caused positive action. Action begets action. This is how life on earth continues.
So I think they’re right; Tulum is a place filled with many portals into an afterlife.
This post was originally published on my blog www.middlejourney.com