The following is excerpted from Into the Wind: My Six-Month Journey Wandering the World for Life's Purpose, published by Waterside Press.
One of your inalienable rights as a human being should be to receive a mysteriously useful omen every day of your life. --Rob Brezsny
San Marcos, December 22, 2010
The burning rays of the sun were abusing the integrity of our white skin. The sight of the graceful carriage of women balancing crates of firewood on their heads kept my thoughts from dwelling on the oppressive temperature.
Cole, Colton, and I walked along a cracked stone path on our way into town. There was a little asphalt hill atop the town overlooking the lake, and so we made our way a few hundred feet into the village. The town was smal l-- a mix between a tropical, spiritual paradise and an abused, poverty-stricken town. It told stories of exploitation in the old cracked buildings, tin shacks, and littered storm drains.
There was one main asphalt road, which ran parallel to the lake. Every twenty yards or so there was a narrow stone alleyway that journeyed perpendicular to the asphalt road, toward the lake. Eventually we turned down a similar path fastened with fresh coffee trees. A middle-aged man rested in a crunched-over position against a rock that caressed the fence of the orchards. His face was lined in dried blood, his nose crooked, his clothes filthy. His mocha cheeks were sunken. His skin was beat up from too many unsheltered days in the sun. He slurred his words either from dehydration or drunkenness and asked us for money. We gave him what we could spare. He smiled and his spirit spoke without words.
We blessed him and kept on walking. I reflected on how alive I felt knowing that we come into this world with nothing and leave with nothing, so the only thing worth doing is giving. An orange hummingbird, or so it seemed to be, caught my eye. I smiled at the small bird, which was doing exactly that-offering its song freely to me.
We continued through the town in search of local food. I traced my hand along the wooden carvings of animals on the bamboo gates of little one-story shops. Shop after shop lined the hundred-yard path, with the exception of an occasional grassy, profusely littered, area.
While we walked, I admired the four-foot-wide stone path. Locals sat outside their shops; a few stared at us, but others smiled at my Bob Marley T-shirt. Some shops sold baked goods, others were little corner stores with water, and some were restaurants with a few tables.
The aroma of freshly baked banana bread intensified with each step we took. Moments later we crossed paths with an old woman who waved us off the asphalt road and into her small adobe restaurant: Los Abrazos -- the hugs. I looked at the structure, which reminded me of some sort of Native adobe home I'd seen in a cartoon -- perfectly red, rounded like a dome, covered with stone statues.
Her smile persuaded us to enter. Her temples were gray and complemented her midnight black hair. Her warm hands were pleasant to the touch, as she greeted each of us into the twenty-by-twenty-foot room.
The floor was concrete, with a few cracks that circled through the simple but elegant room. It was covered in a few red, yellow, and purple handmade floor mats. Three or four circular booths sat below wall carvings of Mayan warriors. We sat at the table nearest the small kitchen and were served cups of water. I placed my hands on the stone table and looked up, noticing the dark-red wooden beams from which hung a few candle lanterns.
Two chiseled-stone fire pits were angled in the far corners of the room, away from us. A massive stone carving of a condor rested above one fireplace, and an eagle above the other. Incense burned near them. The woman, whose name was Antonia, explained to us how she flame-cooked the meals in the pits.
Gentle sounds of children playing ball outside drifted through the cracks in the walls. We all watched her spark the fireplace with old palm fronds. When she was finished, my brother held up the menu and pointed to what looked like an advertisement. He asked Antonia in his best Spanish if she personally knew the shaman who was being showcased on the back of the menu.
She nodded her head and replied. "My son, Fernando! I can get him right after I put your food on! He is a healer. He has lived that kind of life since he was a small child and uses no drugs."
Hearing that a shaman was so close at hand, I laughed water through my nose. Life had brought us exactly what we wanted. I looked at my fingers as if they were magic wands, granting my every wish. I thought to just months earlier, when I held a vision of meeting a shaman. I was relieved to know that what I'd read about creating our dreams was true. Cole, Colton, and I exchanged knowing glances.
After lunch, Fernando Oxlaj glided through the doorway like high-altitude air. His slender frame suggested he had some rare power to go days without food and instead could live off the love within his own heartbeat. He was beardless, with chocolate eyes more inviting than Hershey's Kisses, and he had a smile that could propel the dust off of anyone. He was about twenty-seven years old, but he wasn't exactly sure because he had stopped counting long ago.
I studied the shaman's movements closely. His bare feet were stationed firmly on the ground, as if he were receiving power through the soles of them. His wisdom-edged chin gave him a peculiar nobility. He was dressed in torn beige cargo pants and a plain undersized orange crewneck T-shirt. I debated whether or not the sun rose at his command.
Thanking Antonia for the delicious food, we promised we'd return soon and followed Fernando out. As we walked onto the main road of town, I watched the mini silver taxis, tut-tuts, glint in the sun. Fernando led us through the middle of the town square. We walked down a concrete stairway of fifteen or so steps that led off the main road in town. There we found a few wooden stores and restaurants. We passed the local basketball court on the left. It was small and overcrowded, but it had a lot of character with its colorful wooden stands.
There was a brown stone planter with a large overhanging tree in the center of the square. Its green and brown leaves fluttered onto the gray concrete. Finding it unusually interesting that the asphalt was laced with cracks, yet still held together, I was reminded that even through our imperfections and egoism, we are still complete. I smiled at a few people who sat against the plant holder. They looked at us like we were special because we were walking with Fernando. A few wooden shacks on the right that sold tacos caught my eye. Aromas of fresh tortillas, coriander, pineapple, and coconut dangled in space.
"Please, let us continue to my home," Fernando whispered, as if a loud voice could disturb the fragrances that were suspended in the gentle breeze.
I was in awe of life by this moment. I had created exactly what I had wanted, but I didn't know what was next. I took a couple of breaths and wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. We turned off the main road onto a tree-lined walkway and went some twenty yards in single file. After a few moments, we turned off the stone path and onto a dirt path in the coffee fields. Thousands of coffee beans and green leaves carpeted the ground.
Fernando spoke again in Spanish, which my companions readily translated for me. "Many weeks ago I had a dream that three white men would arrive in my village. You look different than you did in my vision . . ." Fernando paused to laugh, his white teeth gleaming in the sunlight. "You see, imagination creates our world and determines the future, not intellect."
It was then that we approached a head-high wooden gate. There were a few stone steps that led through the gate and into his yard. We walked toward his concrete house with its black wooden doorframes. Just to the side of the home was an outhouse with no running water. After I used the restroom, I took shade under the lone coffee tree in the yard. And while my brother and Fernando spoke in Spanish, I made my acquaintance by a doghouse where Fernando's yellow Lab, Yesse, lived.
After Cole and Fernando spoke for a moment, we entered his home by climbing three wooden steps. I was careful to duck my head to fit through the small doorway. The space was just large enough to accommodate the four of us -- Cole, Colton, Fernando, and me. No larger than the average-sized American bedroom, the home was just a single, windowless room with a loft. I could reach up and touch the ceiling if I tried. Even still, the space was drenched in subliminal power. The white concrete walls were splattered with small rosebud-sized cracks of wisdom, and paintings of Mayan's dancing in the sun hung from the wooden frames of the roof.
A few other paintings of Mayan gods and one of an aerial view of Lake Atitlan decorated the other walls. A large, red wooden rocking chair rested in one corner and a bamboo chair in another. A massive hiking stick resembling a wizard's shaft rested against it. In the back, a few wooden steps led up to the loft, which held Fernando's bed. Near the door, bundles of incense sticks sat atop a white table that stretched across the whole wall. Four bamboo meditation mats rested on the red concrete floor, forming a circle. At the center was a small altar holding an incense burner, three orange candles, and decorative green flowers.
A few pieces of paper were stacked neatly on the desk. Later, I'd discover that those papers were the blueprint for an orphanage we would later raise money to build. Fernando had known psychically that we would be along soon and had already started planning.
I quit looking around the room and watched Fernando read our energy. Clearly he was a man of nature. Even the birds' songs seemed to silence when he spoke -- as if he told them his secrets or they told him theirs. He tossed an incense wrapper in a brass-colored trashcan beneath the desk. Then he began speaking so rapidly that Cole was the only one who could follow. Even then he didn't fully understand everything Fernando said because his main language was Mayan, not Spanish. Still, Cole assured Colton and me that sweet experiences awaited us over the next two weeks. This was the shaman we had been looking for.
"He told me he was going to read our minds, without drugs, one at a time, or something really wild," Cole said. "Who wants to go first?"
I declined the invitation, looking down at the cracked floor. I felt excited but also uneasy. My mind raced. I felt that if I waited, I would be calmer.
Colton ended up going first. We walked out of the room. Fernando closed the door behind us. My brother and I sat in two red plastic chairs by the doghouse. Cole told me I could go next. I watched him pull his black hood over his head and get into a meditative trance by focusing on his breath. I could hear a man and woman murmuring in hushed tones from down the walkway. Yesse, Fernando's dog, came out of his house and walked into the coffee fields toward the voices.
The sun was still hot but was beginning to droop down the mountains for a good night's sleep. Watching the shadowy shapes of the trees beyond the fence, I sat straight with my eyes closed -- practicing focusing on my breath and relaxing.
Perhaps thousands of moments had passed before the wooden door flung open. Colton emerged. He looked unusually white, as if he'd just guzzled a liter of tequila and the effects were slamming him all at once, which was bizarre because Fernando told us more than once that he didn't use any drugs.
"What happened?" I immediately questioned without mindfulness.
Colton said nothing, only nodding his head. I wondered if his experience had been even more powerful than we had imagined it would be. Before he walked down the steps and out into the coffee fields, he turned to me and said, "Relax, Jake, or else you'll miss what Fernando's going to say." He could tell I was a bit uptight and nervous about what would happen in there.
Upon entering, I saw that Fernando had changed into his Mayan attire; a magical blue-and-white short-sleeve shirt woven from cloth. Brown beads stretched across the shirt. It seemed to hold both the sky and the clouds in each stitch. Blue lines zigzagged up the sides of the mostly white shirt. There were a few faint designs of the sun on his stomach area. The rays traveled up the shirt. His pants were shimmering white cloth, matching the base color of his shirt. He still wore no shoes.
He instructed me to kneel on the mat in the center of the room. He lit a few yellow candles and sage-filled incense. Then, so that I would fully understand his message, he called Cole in to join us so that he could translate everything.
We sat in a triangle, each on a bamboo mat. I watched the incense smoke wander around the room like weightless leaves in the breeze. The cracked walls of the room made me feel wiser than I was. Then Fernando asked me to close my eyes.
I felt free to be myself. I had no idea that my "self" was about to shatter into a million pieces like broken glass.