Deep Water Aerobics Exercises
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE SHIPIBO TO WATER
The Conibo-Shipibo are a combined tribe of approximately 30,000 people living in the Peruvian Amazon around the Ucayali river system, one of the two main sources of the Amazon. Theirs is truly a world of water; and from it they derive their primary food staples, the fish and many of the plants they rely on for survival. Their lifestyle and beliefs are typical of many of the varied tribes in the Amazon region. However, they’re considered the ones with the greatest knowledge of shamanic practices, and therefore many shamans of other tribes study with them to learn their potent sorceric skills, as well as their powerful icaros, sacred songs for healing and controlling the elements. For the last 15 years, my wife, Lena, and I have been traveling to their jungle homeland to study and train with the Shipibo elders Dona Juana, Don Carlos, and Don Niko; and from them and their families we’ve gained some understanding of the importance of water in their cosmology and how they interact with it in ceremony and healing.
According to them, the Shipibo (for short), a shamanically based culture, believe that Roni, the giant anaconda, created the world using the pattern on its back to manifest the patterns in all the forms of reality, including the human body, the land, the sky, the waters, and all the plants and animals. Roni makes its home in the rivers of the Amazon, the lifeblood and transportation system for all jungle tribes in this region of the world. The Shipibo are most grateful to Roni for providing this grand-patterned landscape, and thus they focus on discerning the energetic designs in everything around them through the traditional use of ayahuasca, a mixture of plants that when cooked and taken in ceremony produces powerful insights and visions regarding the vibrating subatomic structures of the elements, the plants, and the animals. For thousands of years, through their ancestral use of ayahuasca, they’ve seen and learned the intricate patterns and the songs woven into every aspect of life. This gives them the power to communicate with, learn from, and command the powers of everything around themincluding the powerful spirit of water.
I’ve seen how they reproduce these beautiful patterns on textiles, on the walls of their buildings, and even on their skin in the form of vegetable-dyed tattoos for protection, healing, and gaining knowledge. Among the countless specific designs they reproduce are the patterns for the sun, the earth, the plants, and of course the spirit of the water. In healing practices, they specifically use the patterns of the water to purify and cleanse the body of unwanted foreign intrusions.
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According to Don Carlos, the Shipibo believe that each object has its original pattern and that these patterns can in turn carry others within them. The pattern for water is especially capable of carrying other designs in a way that’s similar to a boat transporting people or cargo. He tells me that since the human body consists mostly of water, it’s a strong vehicle for carrying other patterns, sometimes positive ones and at times negative. The negative patterns, resulting from other people’s fearful or angry thoughts and from plants and animals that have been disrespected, can throw the physical or emotional body out of balance and thus create illness, depression, or other disharmonious states. These alien patterns can be extracted and replaced with the positive songs representing the designs of beneficial plants, animals, and elements.
The patterns for water and its infinite variations are also used to promote prosperity and abundance for individuals who are having trouble manifesting what they want in their life. This pattern may be tattooed on their skin, using temporary plant dyes, or placed around their shoulders in the form of an embroidered shawl. It might even be worn as an article of clothing, such as a skirt; and it could be painted on the side of their boat.
Variations of the pattern for water may involve the design for a good catch while fishing; for learning from the powerful spirits of the river dolphins; for protection from Roni the water anaconda; and the motifs for springs, waterfalls, pools, rain, clouds, and rainbows.
For the Shipibo, as with most shamanic cultures, water is considered a great power, apoderio, a force that embodies spirits that may be helpful or harmful. Reproducing its patterns and the designs, then, is a way of showing respect for them and harnessing the power inherent within them For example, by wearing the design for the spirit of the river, someone might then navigate safely upon it and fish from it with success. In other words, the Shipibo have learned to become that with which they wish to be in harmony.
According to Don Niko, mermaids and dolphins are particularly powerful water spirits that can be asked for help in a variety of situations. He says that the ancient shamans used to dive into the river and commune with these spirits, learning songs from them and gathering the wisdom they chose to share. He says that today this is mostly a lost art and that therefore these water spirits create problems because people no longer show them honor or respect.
Nevertheless, during ayahuasca ceremonies, it’s not unusual for the participants to experience the spirit of the river coursing through the veins and organs of the body, washing, cleaning, purifying, and protecting. The result is a roaring sensation or a rushing sound of water in the ears that may last for hours.
During one such ceremony in the jungle, my visions enabled me to meet the loving spirit of a specific river in the Amazon. It told me that we had met very long ago and that it had been my totem many times before. This spirit told me its name and explained that it had been with me all my life and had taught me many things while protecting me from dangers. I suddenly recalled the many years I had been a river rafter safely navigating the rapids in the Grand Canyon and in many difficult rivers in California, Colorado, Idaho, and Alaska. I recalled a song that I’d spontaneously begun to sing about the river being my friend during a rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho many years prior. This brought tears to my eyes, and I realized that this river spirit was indeed my old friend and that I owed it respect for its protection and assistance. The river spirit told me that I could call upon it anytime by experiencing it coursing through my body, and it would help me in any way it could as long as I told it what I wanted.
On another occasion I went for a walk in the jungle with a friend. We found a big pool with a waterfall pouring into it, and we both stood underneath the falls I briefly, but he for a long while. Later that day, he wasn’t feeling too well. That night in ceremony I overheard the ayahuasquero (shaman conducting the ceremony) explain to my friend that he’d stood under a waterfall for too long and had taken on too much of its spirit, and that was why he was feeling sick. The shaman explained that the spirit was benevolent but that my friend had simply absorbed an excess of it in his body. He performed an extraction, sucking out the excess of the pattern for that water spirit, and my friend’s health was restored. I was truly amazed that the shaman had been able to detect exactly what had happened, given that we hadn’t told him about the incident.
During healing ceremonies, I’ve witnessed Dona Juana and many of her fellow Shipibo healers filling small basins with a little bit of water, which they then cast extractions into, often by spitting or vomiting foreign objects into the bowls. They then visually study the extractions floating in the water in order to diagnose the problem. Afterward, they toss the water away. They see the water as a great cleanser and purifier, and never is a healing ceremony conducted without its benevolent presence.
On numerous occasions I’ve seen the Shipibo healers sing icaros (those sacred songs derived from the patterns of nature) into a glass or bottle of plain water, and the patient is then instructed to drink a little of the water all day long or over a period of days. Again, the understanding is that water is a medium in which prayers and songs can be held and then carried into the patient’s original healthy pattern. The water itself has its own structured design, but may also carry additional patterns sung into it, designs that are beneficial to the recipient.
For the Shipibo, all forms of water are powers to learn from and work with. Dona Juana is an elder Shipibo woman with great knowledge of the icaros passed down to her through generations of ancestors. She tells me that her greatest ally is the spirit of rain, which she can call forth with her icaros to purify and cleanse the land. I’ve heard her sing an icaro for rain and bring in a thunderstorm within a half hour. Such practices aren’t by any means exclusive to the Shipibo people, of course, but are to be found all over the Amazon and, for that matter, anywhere shamans use their skills. Having water as an ally in its varied forms is part and parcel of shamanic practice everywhere.
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