Flying over the rainforest of Ecuador in a prop plane, I watch clusters of thinning settlements spread out, paved roads turn to dirt roads~ gasp at the point in the land where the roads disappear altogether. I do not know if I have ever come to a place on the earth where the roads simply end. Where the wild of the endless forest rolls out unmarred in every direction~threaded only by serpentine tributaries twisting and turning before joining the wide bodies of rivers. Kapok trees tower above the canopy—their fanning silhouettes like our own bronchial networks. Entering the ancient lungs of this planet, I am flooded with raw feeling, memory, resonance. I am coming home to something that is both familiar in my very core and utterly foreign to me and to the Western “way” of life.
It is a forty-five minute flight—a flicker of eternity to drink in this emerald sea of the selva from above. We drop out of the sky, our plane spiraling down to a small dirt airstrip on the banks of the Pastaza River. Achuar women and children run to greet us as we emerge from our plane. We are accompanied into the Achuar community house. Winja jai we say as we cross the threshold and enter—this is an expression of greeting and respect, since Achuar houses have no walls or doors—only elegant thatched palm roofs that last up to 30 years.
We gather with the community to introduce ourselves—the Achuar people greeting our group of twenty Americans, Europeans, Ecuadorians first. They speak to us with profound generosity and love, sharing, with unwavering clarity, about their community and their present situation. The threat of oil exploitation has flared strongly again in the last months, as President Correa seeks ways to pay off the country’s growing debt to China through oil and mining development. This community’s response is clear—we will not leave the forest~ we will stand with the forest no matter what happens, and we do this for the forest, for our children and for all the peoples of the earth. They say they will fight until the “last consequence,” and this commitment is offered with deep courage, love, heartbreak, truth. We are pierced by these words—by the power of this devotion that arises from such an intimate relationship with the forest and the web of life. As we sit on wooden benches drinking bowls of chicha*, introducing ourselves one by one, I am still ringing with the question—what is it that I would die for? And what is it that I will truly live for? I thought I had answered this question—perhaps many times before in my life. But what is reverberating in me now is an arrow so straight and true that I see that I have only begun to respond.
The Achuar are a dream culture—a people who listen to their dreams for guidance and direction. Every morning, they wake between 3- 4am, to sit in the dark together and listen to what the dreaming world has to say about this “waking” one. This is also the time when they pass on stories and teachings and work out any conflicts they might have with each other. There is profound wisdom to this way. As we share in this practice with the community, I can feel the way my own heart and mind function differently here in the dark. Here, I am slower, softer, with fewer edges of resistance~the left brain not yet turned on to the tasks for the day, the “ego” less defensive and armored. From this place, an entirely other way of speaking and understanding is possible. As we share in this ceremony, we see that our dreams weave a multi-layered web of image, story, meaning, guidance. Common and complementary threads appear—not obvious, not direct or linear—but more like strands on the warp and weave of a loom. And as we complete our circle of sharing each morning, it seems that collectively we have dreamed a whole cloth.
The first night we were with the Achuar people, I dreamed I heard a song from the heart of the forest itself. Beautiful, haunting, piercing, healing~it was the sound of a woman’s voice that carried all women’s voices within it, across time and space. The song swelled with the full range of joy, pain, beauty, and love present in this living~rolling off the treetops, across the jungle canopy, cascading down over all of our bodies resting upon the precious body of the earth. The song, quite simply, wanted to be heard and remembered.
Many of the dream cultures of the world (and there are many) understand that we are active dreamers of our lives and our world, engaged in the very creation and evolution of our universe. If we are dreaming a destructive dream, we have the opportunity and responsibility to change this dream~ in essence, to re-dream it. From this perspective as dreamers of the “modern world,” we are being called to release this old dream of devastating monolithic consumerism that has emptied the meaning from so many lives and laid the culture and ground for unspeakable acts of violence and exploitation to occur and repeat. When we remember we are dreamers, we can recognize our own capacity and generativity—and from here, join the dreaming of the earth itself. From this place of infinite creativity, anything, yes anything is possible. The deepest wounds can be healed. A wholly other vision can be realized.
Days after I returned from Ecuador, on the eve of my daughter’s 17th birthday, I dreamed of walking with a friend down a dirt road in the rainforest, a small full-grown elephant sauntering beside us. After a time, I realized that this gorgeous elephant was in labor and nearly ready to birth. As she stopped in the middle of the road, I approached her, put my hands upon her womb, felt the contractions rolling through. Her labor was strong, and the mama was clearly and fully allowing the intensity, welcoming the waves without effort, without fight. Soon, I saw the head of her baby appear, then the body, then the whole of the baby female elephant arriving. I was breathless, ecstatic. Lying on her side, her eyes still closed, she was a vision of health, beauty, peace. Just inches away, the mother rested, watched. Looking on, an urgent impatience arose in me—I wanted to rush in and rub the baby down with a cloth, see her eyes open, stir her limbs into action, help this wobbly one walk down the road. But this was not what was called for. The mother was deeply listening to the signals of the baby~ and that the baby was deeply listening to the signals of the mother. They were in intimate dyadic conversation. I was to simply step back, hold space, listen to the field, and trust the perfection of this pacing, timing, and extraordinarily ordinary process of emergence…in its own time and way.
There is a primal wisdom body that informs our being~ a non-verbal first language that threads through the web of life. It is a guiding intelligence that is distinct from, but not exclusive of, the rational, linear, scientific mind of the post-modern age. This rational, linear mind has its place, of course—but we are living in times where we are profoundly out of balance. Much of what we call “modern culture” has tempered or destroyed this natural connection to the wisdom body through mass consumerism, decimation of the wild, technological addiction, and suppression of intuition, creativity and critical thinking. This wisdom body, that is directly wired to our individual and collective dreaming, holds an essential key to our survival, to our thriving, to our enacting the fullness of our potential as human beings. It is this wisdom body that is remarkably and undeniably present in the forest itself and in the peoples of the forest who are her stewards. These people live from and with this wisdom body. Their dreaming is essential to our dream, and our dreaming is essential to their dream. This truth evokes not a call to “save the rainforest”, but a call to truly recognize ourselves, to know who we are. We are not other than this forest—and in honoring and protecting its sanctity and wholeness, we honor ourselves, our relations, and the generations to come.
Since I returned from Ecuador, I have dreamed every night of the forest —of the faces of the Achuar and Sapara people who so generously welcomed us into their lives as friends, allies, extended family. In my dreams, they are teaching us about the medicinal plants of the forest, and we are sharing stories and songs, laughing at jokes, bathing in the river. In these dreams, there is an honoring of difference and yet no holding ourselves separate because we come from different “tribes” or lands. There is no separation between we human beings and the forest itself. In this dream, the forest is singing us, and we are singing back to her. It is the call and response the soul most longs for. It is the song of our own true belonging.
*Chicha is a fermented drink made from manioc root.
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