Home Journal Issues Journal Index Blog Search Contact Us Help

Volume 1, Issue 4
Winter 2005:

Boiled Green Bananas

John Herrington

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Winter; 1(4):a11

In 1997, at the age of 54, I quit the 9-5 gig and began what has become an eight year long pilgrimage. My goal was to simplify my life and to live frugally and in harmony with the earth. I had saved enough money from a modestly paid position in the environmental non-profit world to free myself from the stresses associated with "having" to work.

This pilgrimage has awakened me on all levels of my being ... the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. Six years ago I found myself in the northern mountains of Thailand, and then Burma. It was there, in a remote forest monastery, that I was introduced to the Buddhist practice of bearing witness. This practice now embodies the essence of my journey. Bearing witness is fundamentally a practice of peace-making — it helps us to meet and understand those who are different from us without falling into the traps of judgment and disrespect. Bearing witness means taking a plunge into "unknowing" — into something new. Simply, bearing witness is asking caring questions, and listening with an open heart. Out of this practice, unexpected possibilities for healing arise.

[Article continues below image]

Photograph of the author

I have a passion for indigenous people and their wisdom, for native forests, for water, for all the wonders that the earth has to offer. It was no surprise, therefore, that earlier this year I was drawn to the Peruvian Amazon. Ayahuasca, the mother, the spirit of medicinal plants, is calling her children home to the water element and the forests of the jungle, to be cleansed and healed. I know I need to be cleansed and healed if I expect to be part of the healing of the planet. After all, We Are All One. I was truly stepping into the unknown.

I met Luis Panduro Vazques, an Amazonian shaman, in Tamshiyacu, on the Amazon River, and spent three weeks with him in the jungle. For 15 days I dieted and ate only white rice and boiled green bananas. Forbidden during the diet were salt, sugar, condiments of any kind, alcohol, sex, soap, toothpaste, lotions and the sun. I drank Chuchuhuasi, a bark medicine, every morning for 9 days upon rising; bathed twice daily in a jungle stream; was given the milky sap of the oje tree to drink to flush my system; and I lost weight. Never have I felt so in touch with my body.

Ayahuasca is a vine, boiled down to a syrup, that has been used as a medicine by shamans for millennia. It is now being used, for example, to help cure alcoholism and diabetes. Taken ceremonially after dark, the shaman sings, drums, dances, uses a rattle — all to keep a beat and focus while participants journey into a world of visions and cleansing. My experiences with ayahuasca were powerful and therapeutic. During one ceremony, I was dragged into the belly of the earth by serpents and reborn out of the earth through my mother's womb. As I curled into a fetal position after this exhausting journey and cleansing, I saw Mother Mary kneeling next to me. I felt I had been reborn — not in a Christian sense, but reborn as a child of the earth. In this particular ceremony, and in each of my ayahuasca experiences, bodily toxins and decades of karma and old negative patterns were vomited from my being.

The messages from ayahuasca and the practice of bearing witness are clear: Listen. Open your heart. Be non-judgmental. Walk lightly. Live in harmony with the earth. Let go of fears. Be open to the unknown. Breathe. And be grateful for all that you have.

Return To Top