By Laura Addiss, current counseling student at Southwestern College, and Juan Rivas Palacios, medicine guide and wisdom keeper of Chavin
As future counselors it is essential that we go into our own shadows, to observe and
understand our emotions, thoughts, and fears. We must find the courage to look at our
unresolved trauma and engage in practices of self-love in order to come into a state of balance.
We learn to recognize our patterns, not take them so personally, and understand the ways they
present themselves in relation to others. It is only by passing through this initiation that we are
able to, in turn, help others go into their own dark spaces. Southwestern College (SWC) and its
mission for transforming consciousness through education is dedicated to leading us through this
process. Students come from all over to go through this unique and transformative curriculum of
self-exploration and personal development.
High in the central Andes of Peru is one of the most ancient temples in the Americas,
Chavin de Huantar. It was traditionally used as an initiatory and training school for leaders of
communities to come and learn through ceremony and plant medicine to become the best
community leaders they could be. It is still being used in this way by a select few. SWC
recently had a visit from Juan Rivas Palacios, one of the medicine guides and wisdom-keepers of
Chavin. He talked to us about the healing practices of Chavin, the use of nature and ecotherapy
in his work, and the many parallels between his world and the work being done at SWC.
The Temple of Chavin is our place of study. Here we learn with the plant medicines like
tobacco and huachuama, and our native instruments like the pututo or conch shell.
The Temple is our school, our office, and our laboratory. We even have our libraries,
metaphorically speaking. There is so much information there. We go there to study like you go
here, but instead of studying books we go to study energies. We even have our own director,
like you have Ann and Katherine. He is called the “huanca” and is a very ancient sculpture
engraved with codes and symbols from our ancestors. We go there to sit in the darkness and
learn from him.
This work always takes us first into the darkness, into the womb. Underneath the temple
there are underground chambers. These dark holes are the woman’s womb. We go back to the
place where there is no light, just darkness. It is a return to the beginning within oneself. It is
just you alone with the darkness. In the darkness with the plants we can see our own spirit, our
own psyche. Our thoughts are expressed and take life. Our body and emotions begin to speak to
us. We see our unresolved trauma and we see our own fears close to us. We cry, we purge, not
physically but energetically. We go there to study the forms of our emotions, and to see to what
extent our emotions are dictating our thoughts and actions.
The darkness and the meditation practices we do allow us to enter into our own fears and
recognize them until we are able to see the outside ourselves. When I can look at this fear
outside of myself, I can do an analysis of it and see its origin. I can see what is truly causing this
emotion and trace it back to its source. I can understand why it is within me, why it hasn’t been
transmuted, why it stays there and is causing my illness.
In order to do this work the most important thing is to be strong in the love we have for
ourselves. We must hug ourselves, be kind to ourselves, give ourselves lots of kisses and tell
ourselves we are beautiful, because we are nature. We are small, but we are also immense. We
tell ourselves, “I am very important in this universe, and that is why I am here.” Wherever I am I
give thanks for the spirit within me. I kiss my hands, give thanks to my body. This is the first
thing that one must do for self-healing. If someone comes and says, “Hey ugly, how are you?” I
say, “I’m doing great!” Their words don’t affect me because I understand that this comes from
their own desperation.
As guides we spend a lot of time studying ourselves first and learning to be the best
humans we can be, then we can begin to help others. When someone comes to us for healing, we
don’t take them straight into the darkness. First, we prepare their energy by taking them to walk
in the mountain. Maybe we never met before but these days we spend together we are like
family. We wash ourselves in the streams, we sing, we share tea together. This is how trust
develops, not just in their minds but on an energetic level. Once there is trust, then we can begin
to share the medicines and go into the dark places. They must trust that they are safe and
protected when they are in these spaces and know that we are nearby and tending to whatever
need they might have.
As guides we try to intervene as little as possible. Sometimes we might sing to their
energy, we can call to their energy, tell them to be calm and that everything is ok. And
meanwhile they are processing so many things from their life. Alone they begin to see all the
disorder they have been carrying. Little by little in the darkness they might begin to confess
things to us. As guides we don’t intervene, we just say yes, ah, good. And they keep sharing
their experiences and purging this energy, telling of things that they have done and why they feel
sick, and remembering their traumas. We are just there to remind them to be calm and continue
with their process, reminding them nothing will happen to them, singing some songs to them.
These medicine songs are sung with the intention that the person can come into enough balance
in order to be able to open the door directly into their fear and be able to go into it and discover
what is there and help purge it out.
Sometimes we spend two, three, four hours in the darkness. Sometimes the entire night.
And then when the light returns, everything looks different. It’s like being reborn into the light.
They hug themselves, kiss themselves, tell themselves how much they love themselves,
recognizing all of their weak and strong points. They leave different.
The temple is ancient, but its teachings are essential for the modern world. We must first
recognize ourselves as humans with all our strengths and weaknesses, evolve our consciousness
through love, and go out into the world to help others.
To learn more about Juan and his family’s work and how you can get involved with helping
preserve these traditions please visit www.chawa.org.