by Dr. Alberto Villoldo: When I started my shamanic training, I would ask myself, “Is this real, or am I making all of this up?”
During one lengthy stay in the jungle working with the Ayahuasca vine, I began to learn the territory shown to me by the plant medicine. I was no longer thrashed about by the visions, taken from the holiest heavens to the deepest hells, but able to guide them. But before that happened, I had a terrifying encounter with an Amazonian anaconda. In one ceremony with the medicine plants, we were inside a maloca—a circular thatched hut raised on posts above the ground. We were working indoors because the Amazon River had overrun its banks and flooded the area. Halfway into the evening, I felt a need to pee. I leave the maloca and go down a couple of wooden steps. I am peeing contentedly, the sky above full of stars, when I notice a ripple in the water coming toward me. As it draws near I realize that it is a serpent, a gigantic anaconda that opens its mouth when it reaches me, showing me the webbing inside the roof of its mouth. I am terrified by the beast and run back inside and hide my head under my poncho, praying that it will go away.
A few months later I am leading a workshop in the Swiss Alps. After the evening program ends, I walk to my cabin and stop outside for a few moments to admire the stars. The cabin is set deep in the woods, and the evening is warm and clear. Suddenly, I notice a ripple cutting through the air like a sound wave, except everything remains silent. And then I see the gigantic anaconda slithering toward me from the forest. This time I hold my ground, feeling my heart pounding in my chest. I realize that the snake is coming for me, and I watch how it opens its jaws, and I observe the webbing on the roof of its mouth. Then I hear a voice that says with absolute clarity, “You know that I am going to eat you. Your choice is to either go through me and come out the other side as serpent poop, or become me as I digest you.”
I realize that fighting is futile and nod to the great creature. I feel myself being swallowed and all my bones being crushed as my light, freed from my body, seeps into every cell of the great snake and I become one with it.
In that instant I had a perfect understanding of what it meant to be a luminous warrior with no enemies in this world or the next. The anaconda was not my enemy. It was a test, a friend who freed me from the fear of losing my life.
It took me a moment to come back to my body, standing at the edge of the forest, gazing at the stars once again. I pinched myself. There was no anaconda, and I felt vast and expansive, bathed in the Primordial Light, part of a great emptiness that was cognizant and alive.
A few weeks later, I returned to California to my job on the faculty of the university. After a day of meetings and committees, of grading papers written by students made to take my course in order to graduate, I recall asking myself, “Is this real?” And in those hallowed halls of learning, I could not find anything real.
There was no longer any truth there for me.
This meant leaving the faculty of a prestigious university and the comfort of a monthly salary. I had worked hard to secure my job and position, and woke up one morning to realize that the security I had longed for had become a golden cage. I was like an eagle whose wings had been clipped; I looked impressive sitting on my perch, but could not fly far no matter how hard I flapped my wings.
It was time for the professor to die, to let go of the love, the money, and the identity that the position offered me. I decided that it was time to stop hiding behind my degrees, and to begin teaching adults who were dedicated to becoming modern shamans. By then, I had a young family to support and no income, title, or position, but I knew who I was and where I was going. It’s not as if I had a destination in mind. It was a vague calling, and a sense of destiny, that made me walk away from a daydream.
I had woken up from the daydream of security. I would still have to wake up from the daydream of permanence and the daydream of love that is unconditional. But I had my first taste of the sacred dream and of Ti, and I knew that nothing would be the same after that.