Interview with Tom, who after suffering for years with neck and back pain, traveled to Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual, a traditional healing center in the Peruvian Amazon, for a 40-day treatment program. After treatment with Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine which included treatment with Shipibo (an indigenous culture of the Peruvian Upper Amazon) ayahuasca ceremony, Tom experienced a marked improvement in his health, including an unexpected and spontaneous resolution of his chronic asthma. Spiritual treatment helped him to work through his emotional wounds, leading eventually to much needed improvements in his mental and physical health.
Note: As the issues he worked through were very personal, this interview was transcribed to protect his identity, and his name was changed to Tom.
Joe: This is Joe Tafur on the Modern Spirit Broadcast we’re talking to Tom about his healing journey and some impressive experiences that he had working with Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine, related to his own personal healing, his asthma, as well as his neck and back pain.
Tom: Hey there, thanks for having me.
Joe: Thanks for being on the show. Let’s get into a little bit of the background, including what happened to you there in Peru and kind of breakdown for us the healing process: what it did for you, how much time you spent there, and then, the big question, what everybody wants to know: how have you been since being back?
How have your symptoms been, any continued integration? What kind of work have you done following up with your mom? for example? Where do you want to go in the future? Why did you go down there in the first place?
Tom: I went down there with the intention of getting past this tension in my neck and shoulders. It’s been plaguing my life for the last seventeen years, and it’s been chronic pain that had really taken me over and caused me to have difficult period of time where I was essentially disabled and not leaving the house.
I’ve chased down surgery, I’ve been to the Mayo clinic. I’ve been all across the country seeking all kinds of treatment: botox, stem cell injections, many different things and no doctor could ever tell me what was wrong. No physical therapist could ever figure out my case and after pouring 50 or 60 grand into this condition, and really just suffering for a really long time; I found a doctor that diagnosed me about three years into this condition, about four years ago now, with TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome), and basically told me that it was all emotional, all I have to do is…
Joe: What kind of doctor was this?
Tom: He was a family doctor that discovered this practice after reading John Sarno’s book, who is his mentor and who wrote “Healing Back Pain.” He kind of turned his entire practice here in LA into that, treating people.
Joe: What’s his name again?
Tom: His name is Dr. David Schechter, in Beverly Hills and Culver City. So I went to him and at the moment he told me that, he gave me a workbook to work thorough, and all this literature by Sarno and he himself had written on it as well, and instantly it all made sense, and I realized all this physical stuff I was chasing was never going to lead me to any kind of result.
And by the time I got done with this 30-day workbook, I had stopped the opiates that I had been on for about a year-and-a-half, didn’t need them anymore and my pain was already 50 percent better…Up to that point, I had been bedridden. Most of the day I was convinced that I couldn’t even sit upright for more than twenty minutes at a time.
So, after that workbook I was 50 percent of the way better. I kept reading, I kept journaling. I kept doing all the things that he recommended and I continued to improve, and I got probably like 75-80 percent better and…I felt alive for the first time in years. The pain was gone and I was happy. I was out doing things, and I was feeling things for the first time. Feeling emotion instead of my neck. So it was really great and really liberating and I just realized it was all just, I don’t know, anger towards myself or being hard on myself or things like that. And that this pain, this tension, was a distraction.
So it was really great. I felt I was able to work again and all these things. Then the pain started creeping back, and it kept getting worse and worse, and eventually it was there. It was something that I knew wasn’t causing me any physical damage. And I knew what it was, so it wasn’t bothering me at the same level, and it wasn’t preventing me…
Joe: Did you go back to opiates?
Tom: No, I never went back. I haven’t taken anything.
Joe: So what were you doing? What was the intervention at the clinic?
Tom: So the intervention was…it was a workbook that pretty much asked me to go into my emotions and talk about my childhood or where I am at now.
Joe: With who? Just with the work book.
Tom: With the work book, and also teamed up with a therapist that was trained in this area and is really good at cracking me open. You would sit in there and he would say “So, how are you feeling today.” I would say “fine.” He would say “No, no.”
Joe: And this doctor has this therapist that he works with, and they’re teaming up with this technique and this approach?
Tom: Exactly. Yeah, it was that, and making sure I’m more mindful about my emotions and that sort of thing.
Joe: How many times a week would you go, or how was that?
Tom: I would see the doctor every three months, and then I would see the therapist once a week.
Joe: For how long?
Tom: A couple of months.
Joe: For an hour?
Tom: Yeah, an hour.
Joe: And then during that time, you said you came off the opiates. Were you on any medications besides that?
Tom: No, just that.
Joe: You just came of medication and pain was getting better.
Joe: What about physical therapy or massage or..?
Tom: No, and that’s part of his program, no more physical therapy, no more massage. You cannot think about that kind of stuff. Forget that, just forget it.
Joe: It’s more on the emotional side?
Joe: When you see the doctor what are you doing? What are you talking about?
Tom: He would just say, how are you feeling, what’s going in your life? Is this working? Are you believing it, are you buying into this stuff, because a whole lot of it is, I think it is like..
Joe: …getting that power?
Tom: It’s getting that power and the education, the education is a big part of it, and listening to other people’s stories and then believing it. Letting it soak into you.
Joe: How were you listening to other peoples’ stories?
Tom: You would have CDs of other people talking, or in the book. Pretty much in the book, the books: “Healing Back Pain,” “The Mind-Body Connection.” These books are all about other peoples’ stories.
Joe: So, it’s just that, the education. And that’s what’s opens the possibility of the so-called placebo effect. In other words, the possibility of spontaneous healing, opening one’s own body’s ability to heal. Facilitating that. So this doctor is facilitating that, and giving you a pathway, and then poses the question, is it real for you?
And you say “yes,” you’re getting better.
But then you start slipping back after the treatment?
Tom: I think it was a combination of not continuing with it and then it was.., well, it never got fully better, it was just most of the way; and I’ll tell you after my Nihue Rao (the traditional healing center in Peru) experience with ayahuasca, I think I realized what was missing, and why I wasn’t able to make a full recovery.
Joe: So this is a really important for me, as we are trying to figure out the integration of this kind of healing, the traditional Amazonian approach, the shamanic side. There are pieces that it provides, and perhaps there’s pieces that it does not, not well enough for some people. So let’s just jump into that and explain: what piece did it bring you that the other treatment wasn’t bringing you?
Tom: The ayahuasca? Well, basically Sarno and Schechter and this whole TMS theory is all about the mind-body. And I had been focused on my mind-body and what so many people still think out there in the world about such conditions, chronic pain conditions…about tension. That it’s all because people are so focused on their physical and they’re completely neglecting the emotional component. And I thought maybe that was really it. But I never made a full recovery with that, and I realized after spending a month doing ayahuasca ceremonies and asking and clearing other blocks, the mind-body, that was only two out of three.
Tom: It makes sense that I made like a 66 percent recovery. That third was missing. What I found out was that that third piece was spirituality.
So in [ayahuasca] ceremony it came to me one night [after weeks of treatment]. I asked why am I still in pain? I was so frustrated. Why? I cleared all these blocks that I thought, “Why am I still in pain?”
And all of the sudden [in my visions] it’s like the sky opened up to me and I saw the white light and this flock of doves came over me and lifted the pain and tension out of my body, and instantly I just got the very firm message: “You’ve been denying the existence of God and spirituality, your entire life, this is why you haven’t been able to recover. This is where your tension lies.”
So, it just kind of make sense. I was like wow, I have been an atheist my whole life. I’ve never believed in even astrology or anything, and it makes sense that this weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders has been…I don’t know, the weight of the world or something. And I could put some of this weight onto a higher power and then be able to make a recovery.
Joe: We often hear people talk about mind-body, mind-body, but then the spiritual side is considered just too woo-woo. Healthcare providers are often shying away from this spiritual dimension, but then it comes up. In Traditional Amazonian Plant Medicine, it’s just part of the paradigm.
When I was taking people down to Peru with my first group…we took one gentleman down for PTSD, a Vietnam vet. At the time, my old professor from the mind-body research lab suggested that I bring this questionnaire [the Personal Mastery Scale] down and test him before and after the process, because they had tested this questionnaire on individuals in a previous study, while collecting data on immune function.
This prior study evaluated Alzheimer’s caregivers, people taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. In some cases this leads to measurable burnout. Some of them handle it better than others. What is the difference between the person that burns out and the one who struggles less, why?
A lot of times it was a sense of faith, that’s what helps them get through it, and we are now able to show an actual difference in the way the immune system responds to stress in such individuals. The study linked their improved immune response to their answers to these questions:
- There is really no way I can solve some of the problems they have.
- Sometimes I feel that I am being pushed around in life.
- I have little control over the things that happen to me.
- I can do just about anything I really set my mind to do.
- I often feel helpless in dealing with the problems in life.
- What happens to me in the future mostly depends on me.
- There is little I can do to change many of the important things in my life.
It’s really a set of questions about faith.
Tom: Yeah it is.
Joe: It’s a question about faith in yourself and faith in life. And so, what is faith, you know? You hear spiritual people, these spiritually motivated people talk about faith, being a tangible connection. They actually feel a connection. It’s not that they’re just believing in a concept.
It’s not an intellectual thing. A lot of meditation gurus and other spiritual people, they actually feel this communion, sense being part of the universe.
Joe: You know, that’s a mystical, spiritual experience and that is what allows people to feel like they have more agency in life. That they are part of it. They feel that connection.
Many people feel like…I’m just stuck in this miserable life and how could there be a God? How could there be a higher dimension of love supervising this nightmarish world? They lose hope, connection.
I want to get back to you and hear your reflection on this mystical experience, but I just want mention a few other ideas.
So mind-body is the model that the doctors are comfortable with, and that Western thinkers are comfortable with it.
But this mind-body, what’s connecting them?… It’s emotion. That’s what lies in between mind and body: the emotion.
And then other people are saying that this emotion is connected to the energy, is connected to energetic realms and the realms of the spirit. And so, the idea is that when you’re really hurting emotionally, you can’t access that portal. It’s not there for you, you can’t feel the spirit.
So you don’t believe in anything because all you know is this pain and hurt. It’s like your heart is blocked, the one place where you might feel this connection.
Once you started feeling into your heart again, and the mind opened, then all of the sudden…very commonly at Nihue Rao this happened, and you probably observed this in others, the process leads to a spiritual awakening, within the larger treatment process.
Let’s talk about your treatment process in Peru, you completed six weeks(40 days) at Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual as part of a traditional Shipibo healing. You started with a plant vomitive and completed a master plant diet, a vegetalista diet? What plant did you diet in your treatment?
Tom: I dieted chiric-sanango(Brunfelsia grandiflora) in the beginning and after 10 days of that, apparently I had done it well, and then Ricardo [Amaringo, the lead shaman], switched me to piñon blanco(Jatropha curcas) and ajo sacha(Mansoa alliace).
Joe: So the chiric-sanango was probably being done to a little bit to strengthen your physical body, given your complaints?
Joe: And then switch to piñon blanco to do more spiritual work, like to bring light into your heart and to your mind.
Joe: What was the last plant?
Tom: Ajo sacha.
Joe: So ajo sacha to deal further with your physical and mental issues, and then there were all of the ayahuasca ceremonies, right?
Joe: So Shipibo tradition is saying “okay we’re cleaning, cleaning, cleaning” and guess what happens? Once you achieve a certain level of cleaning and openness: spiritual contact.
That is a traditional healing trajectory, something I witnessed many times. A trajectory that the Shipibos kept describing to me as a normal part of the healing process.
People want to find meaning in their life. They want to see what the point of life is, and the shamans say, well, then let’s clean and then that part will open on its own. That’s the natural human, and the process. So let’s talk about that…
Tom: Yeah, that process is so fascinating. And that’s exactly how it is. You know, no one ever articulated that to me, that that’s normal, and it makes total sense…
Joe: And it does not always go that well, but that’s the textbook goal.
Tom: Right, so on my very first night [in ceremony]. You know I drank the medicine and once we get into that world [the world of the ayahuasca, the visionary realm], we’re supposed to ask, right? So of course, I know my question. As soon as I got into it, “Why am I in so much pain?” I didn’t see anything. But I heard, 30 minutes into that fist ceremony, I heard a voice…
I say, why am I in so much pain? And I heard this voice and it says, are you sure you want to know? And it was a simple sentence, but the way I heard it, the way I felt it in my soul was like a punch to the gut.
Along with that feeling came an anxiety and I was like, “No, I don’t want to know.” You know, that’s what’s going on in my mind and my body.
But of course, I sat up, “Yes, I want to know.”
But I faked it. Because I didn’t want to know, not in the way that it was said to me or in the way I felt it. I was like, I’m not ready for this.
Then it was like curtains beginning to open. Opening, opening, opening and I was like, Yes, I want to know, but I didn’t put my feeling into it, and the curtain shut.
I spent the next six hours in the fetal position, shaking with the most anxiety I had ever felt in my entire life. And that was it.
And as it ended, what was going through my head that night was: my condition is a lot worse than I thought. I have more anxiety than the average person, I’m just going to have to just go home; find a psychiatrist and get some sort of pills for the rest of my life, and that’s going to be my path, I need to get out of here.
Joe: Well, another perspective, from somebody who worked at Nihue Rao, the shamanic perspective, is like hey, door opens…there it is, you’re not ready for that. So then now what happens, the shaking and the release of all this fear that you actually feel and experience, for better or worse, you experience it. That’s you getting ready for the door, and it’s a part of your relief.
And of course this scares the person, like oh my God, I’m worse than I thought. Because they feel it so intensely, and that’s what it feels like sometimes, to release trauma.
Tom: Yeah, that’s what I learned is that the shaking was a purge.
Joe: Did you ever read and “somatic experience” literature?
Joe: You were talking about this right, that’s the book that you got down there.
Tom: Peter Levine…it comes into play with this asthma stuff. The following day I was still shaking a little bit. I was still nervous, I was so scared and then the second night it was another thing of like, are you ready?
Yes, I’m ready. and then I just see black, all darkness, shaking again, scared, but I got a glimpse, a split second, a little vision of myself in the future, being very happy, very light, very confident. In a way that I had never experienced before and that little vision kept me going through so much, and you know, I was only there for a ten day retreat, and all the other people that came to that ten day retreat, by the second night, they were all having breakthroughs.
Tom: Blissful, everyone’s saying bliss.
Tom: You know and I’m like, the big “B” word was bliss and it was so frustrating, and I realized even on that second day, I was like, you know what, I’m just going to need a lot more time. So I told the team and I figured it out with my work and everything. I’m going to do 40 days, and stay until the very end of this year.
Tom: So I did that, I made the decision and I know I had a lot more ceremonies ahead of me.
Joe: What motivated you to do that, seeing the other people heal?
Tom: It was just that vision and seeing the other people healed, and the fact that I’m not even getting remotely close to that within two days, and I don’t want to feel this ticking clock on my ten day experience, it’s just like you know, let’s do it.
Joe: Did you feel better in your body at all?
Joe: In those few days?
Tom: No. No.
Joe: It was just that glimpse of hope that you saw.
Tom: Yeah, that and hearing the people, and so I stayed. Then the third ceremony was a night of self-love and I started seeing my positive attributes, my strengths and my good traits and things, and it was really a nice internal experience to feel this love. At that point, I was just like oh, all of my problems are all because I don’t love myself enough. That’s what it was all about on night three and night four, they were all about self-love and really feeling like I was building a backbone for myself for the rest of the experience, and it was really great.
Around this time I met a guy that was just leaving. He was leaving after six months at the center. I asked him, “Is there any advice you can give me?” He said read this book, Waking the Tiger about this thing called Somatic Experience Therapy, by Peter Levine.
I never heard of it before. I was like, if that’s one little bit of wisdom, I’ll read it. I ended up reading that book in two days and it was just so interesting, but I didn’t know whether that somatic experiencing was going be helpful for my pain or what it was.
So back to what I mentioned, I also had asthma for the last 22- 23 years, I have taken a steroid inhaler two puffs twice a day, this entire time. I just thought this was part of my life, and of course I didn’t want to have it, but it was just it, and the asthma didn’t really affect me as long as I took the medication and I was fine. So I read this book and it kind of helped me understand a lot of things, maybe I need to go through this somatic experiencing to get past my pain… Once I got through the self-love thing, and then getting rid of a couple of other fears that I had.
Every single night, every single block, it felt like this is the one. The lack of self-love, the fear of failure, all these blocks, it was like this is what is standing in the way between my recovery and where I am right now. Finally, I got to one where I was like, got to deal with my mom stuff, got a troubled relationship with my mom. I’m not really understanding why. I really want to get there. I want to heal that and figure that out.
So, I read the somatic experiencing book and one night I got this vision, at the very end of my ceremony, it was just me seeing a house full of screaming and abuse, and me being a scared little kid and it scared the crap out of me for the last 30 minutes. And I just like whoa and the ceremony ended and I was just like wow, I got some stuff to deal with here.
Then the day of the next ceremony, I woke up, and the very first thought on my mind was, “don’t take you asthma inhaler this day.” Which is such a strange thought, I can’t express enough what a strange thought that was.
Joe: This is how many days again into the experience?
Tom: This is like the second week. I cannot express enough how strange that was, to wake up with the first thought on my mind, don’t take my inhaler today? After taking it every day for 22 years.
Joe: This is the day after the big childhood trauma ceremony, like the Tuesday morning after a Monday night.
Tom: Now where did this thought come from, I have no idea. There was nothing in the somatic experiencing book, anything that I had read, that told me anything about it. No indication of this, asthma was nothing that I went there to heal.
In fact if you recall, I was told to email you about my asthma, I was particularly worried about it, should I take this [ayahuasca]? Should I switch to a different inhaler and all this stuff, like a hypochondriac, healing asthma was not my intention or plan at all.
And the first thought in my mind that day was “don’t take you inhaler.” And part of this point, if I wouldn’t take my inhaler for even one morning, I would be out of breath all day long.
That was my first thought that morning, so I just said, you know what, I’m just going to trust it, I’m going to go through with it. I was little out of breath that day and when it came time for the ceremony, I went in and told all the staff people “hey, here’s my inhaler, in case something goes wrong,” and that night I went into the ceremony.
After beating all these other “games” I was playing in the ceremony, the experience finally got to this point where I was revisiting my childhood home and experiencing all this abuse that I had from my mother, screaming and stuff. I went through that experience over the course of maybe 45 minutes or an hour, revisiting different memories, some of them were real memories or some were just symbolic memories, and I got so scared I had an asthma attack during the ceremony.
And I was so terrified, that was the most scared I have ever been in my life, since the first ceremony night. I was just so scared, I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know if the people next to me could hear what was going on or not, but I was just holding on to my mat and I was like “stay strong, stay strong” and I would remember the book, somatic experiencing, the Waking of the Tiger and I was just like, that’s what is going on right now.
Experience it, deal with it, go into this visions, keep following it and I just kept going and going and then finally I just accepted it. I let the yelling in my visions finish and then I just took a deep breath, the deepest breath I’ve ever taken in my entire life. And I just knew in that moment, my asthma was done. And I got out of that ceremony that night and I just took my inhaler and I threw it in the trash, and knew I was never going to use it again for the rest of my life.
Joe: So that happened (for the record, I don’t recommend discontinuing medication without consulting your physician). So that’s the major event and the experience of a healing of your asthma, I think people do accept that in asthma there’s an allergy component, there’s genetic components, maybe there’s ancestral epigenetic components and then there’s this psychosomatic component. People definitely get short of breath with their anxiety you know, it’s a common thing. But that’s still miraculous. So that happens, now you’re in your second week, you still have really three weeks left and how’s your body pain at this point?
Tom: The body pain is still there, I had a couple days where it was like a little better at times and especially after having those self-love days and feeling really confident, feeling better at times, but it was definitely still there and it was really scaring me that I was you know, coming to the realization that wow, I might be walking away from this place without…
Joe: But the asthma healing was very inspiring.
Tom: Yes, it’s pretty damn inspiring, getting a little hope.
Joe: What about the ceremonial experience with the songs, the icaros, up to this point, did that play role in your experience?
Tom: I mean, I’m sure, it did. I still don’t understand it fully.
Joe: You didn’t have, like personal experience when somebody was singing to you or some major shift while one of the shamans was singing to you.
Tom: No, no, not that I’m aware of.
Joe: When that happened, that night…
Tom: I was on my own, I never felt, when I was up there [with the shamans], anything special really.
Joe: You just kind of accepted it.
Joe: Received the song.
Tom: There were, a couple time where like I was up there and my eyes started watering more than when I was on my own but it was never anything like you know, I could concretely describe.
Joe: Right okay, so now were on the second week, and so now what could you tell us about the rest of your time.
Tom: Yeah I started getting nervous about, you know whether I’m going to get past this pain. I just realized, I just needed to keep going in and asking why am I in pain and now I was asking, just tell me another thing. It’s your mom stuff, it’s your fear and I just started feeling all these different fears that I had, issues with my dad or issues with myself, or different things, self-confidence, things like this. and then finally it’s just like I wasn’t really getting to the back pain and then every now and then, maybe in a ceremony, every couple ceremonies for about ten minutes or thirty minutes…I would just have this urge to just sit up right completely.
I would feel like, almost as if I’m being pulled up to the sky and my posture is improving, you know I’m always hunched over, I’m being pulled down by gravity and it was just like wow. Look how straight I’m sitting like it feels good, and so natural and light.
Tom: Exactly, it’s like wow, this is how I’m supposed to feel, this is how I’m supposed to sit. It feels good. And at that moment, I said ok, it’s possible. Finally about, you know about four weeks in, I don’t know four more ceremonies to go, five ceremonies to go, I felt like I had cleared all of these blocks, all of these fears.
Joe: Now we’re moving in to three weeks in.
Tom: Yeah, I knew I had work to do, but like I felt confident about my future. I understood the issue that my mom and myself and things like that. I understood why I had different fears, really, I don’t feel like I’ve got more blocks. So I went in to the ceremony and I was just like what else? Like what you got for me? I’m ready to deal with this.
Joe: What’s your family background? You’re from LA, California? Where are your parents from? American?
Tom: Yeah. They’re Jews. So yeah, I was like why am I in pain, and then all of the sudden I have that big break through [the one I mentioned] where I saw the white light and I have this flock of doves come over me, and they just lifted this pain, this tension, out of my body and I wasn’t told verbally, but I was, I just received this really strong insight that this is all related to my lack of spirituality.
Joe: Still getting into your family background, part of what I’m leading to is, what was your spiritual upbringing like?
Tom: It wasn’t.
Joe: Ok so Jewish by family, no bar mitzvah?
Tom: I had, well, I had a bar mitzvah.
Joe: But it wasn’t mystical.
Tom: Not at all. It was forced, I wasn’t feeling it, I never believed in it, my dad believes but he is not the most articulate about it and …
Joe: No kind of a real spiritual practice.
Tom: Yeah, nothing like that. My mom doesn’t believe in anything, doesn’t want to…
Joe: Your grandparents are American?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, they weren’t really around, so I didn’t get anything from them and…
Joe: Did they live in California? Or where did they live?
Tom: Yeah, they lived in California.
Tom: Californian, I mean not that deep, but two generations. They were from Ohio…
Joe: So now you’re getting exposed to this feeling, you’ve seen the light, you’ve seen how this connection is helping take care of this problem that you have. That your lack of connection is the source of the problem and so that’s another thing.
It’s this concept that I am interested in. Modern Spirit, the nonprofit organization, that’s one of our goals is to demonstrate the value of spiritual healing in modern health care.
Just throwing the baby out with the bath water has not worked, of course people want to keep the charlatans out, and be scientific and be evidence-based. But then it seems sometimes healthcare providers don’t want to hear about spirituality in modern medicine, at the hospital, with the doctors. Don’t bring it up, but of course, it keeps creeping in, you know, because it’s just part of people’s lives. Experiences that they have. So when you have this experience, you feel a release.
Tom: Instant release, and instant connected feeling, to other people, to God and the source and the light, to the universe. Just this happy feeling, this light feeling and you know honestly, since then, I can go out into the world and I can tell if someone’s a believer, I can tell. They have a lightness in them. They’re happier and they are more energetic.
Joe: They’re blessed, as they say.
Tom: Yeah, they’re blessed and I started looking at my life and all of my friends and all of the people close to me, and I’ve got a lot of people with mental health issues, most of my friends, struggling with some kind of issue. Substance use. I realized none of my friends are believers. I don’t have a single friend who was a believer.
Joe: So what is being a believer mean to you? What does that mean?
Tom: It means a hell a lot of things but just really believing in some sort of a higher power or even some sort of connection to something other than ourselves, or even, maybe even having a firm belief in something like astrology or…
Joe: Mystery, like connecting to something beyond the three dimensional…
Tom: Ok, so when I got back I went to the barbershop. I was getting my haircut and I was kind of relaying my experience to my barber. And he was like man, it’s funny that you have this connected feeling and it’s kind of the answer to all of your issues.
He said, “I moved out here in LA, it had been four years, in the valley, very depressed. Like really emotionally unstable. Constantly in tears or just really feeling disconnected or not really able to understand, why I did not want to go out and do anything, I was tired all the time. Didn’t want to go to the gym…” this sort of thing, then he told me he realized that he’s from Jamaica and he doesn’t go to the beach anymore. That was such a big part of his childhood, being by the ocean. So he told me he went. Just woke up early and went to the beach.
Joe: Here in California?
Tom: Yeah, he just looked it up, went to Santa Monica, sat on the sand and watched the waves coming. Instantly, he got the chills and this wave of relief over him and it was then he realized that’s my religion. The ocean, the waves are my religion and that’s how he got his connectedness. Instantly, his depression was gone and he realized, since that day, he needs to make it part of his daily practice.
So every day, even though he lives in the valley which is really far from the ocean, he goes. He wakes up early at six in the morning, drive 45 minutes to the ocean. Sits there for half an hour and drives back to his work. He does that every day and that’s like his prayer. That’s like his church, his temple. And he’s like, yeah, you have God, I have the ocean.
Tom: And that’s his belief. He’s a believer too and that’s just the way source or whatever is revealing itself to him and that’s how he got through his depression.
Joe: Well, let me just summarize, this is all related to the message I am trying to get out there. At the end of my book, I talk about the role of spiritual healing in modern healthcare, so I have these two quotes.
One of them is from Sigmund Freud, he’s a western psychologist, psychoanalyst. I believe he was kind of an atheist.
He wrote “ I had sent him (an unnamed friend) my small book (Future of Illusion) that treats religion as an illusion, and he answered that he entirely agreed with my judgment upon religion, but that he was sorry I had not properly appreciated the true source of religious sentiments. This, he says, consists in a peculiar feeling, which he him- self is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, and which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of “eternity,” a feeling of something limitless, unbounded—as it were, “oceanic.” This feeling, he adds, is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith” (from Civilization and Its Discontents).
And then there is a quote from a Tibetan teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche from (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) who writes, “and the path beyond the ordinary mind all of the great wisdom traditions have told to us, is through the heart.”
In other words, one accesses this feeling peculiar feeling through the heart.
Another person I often refer to is Malidoma Somé, a West African traditional healer and PhD. After visiting and living in the US and North America, Malidoma noticed that many “Westerners” are struggling with mental health. He notes that the human being, in order to be healthy, needs to be connected to nature, to community and to spirit. And if they are not, they often struggle mentally and even physically.
And so those three things, that’s what you’re getting at Nihue Rao, where you are in nature, there’s a healing community, and everyone there was encouraging your healing.
And you have spirit, access to the spirit, which in this case is through ayahuasca. You know, a lot of people feel can’t feel anything, and it’s really hard, from that starting place, and sometimes the psychedelics kind of help to open that channel.
So then you finished out your time there, after you have this faith healing ceremony, three weeks in, then your pain is better the next day?
Tom: Yeah, it was not all the way better but it was. It was different, it was definitely better. I was fluctuating still with my belief, it was not strong and it was still like is this real? And I don’t know why? Or it was just new to me.
It was not that concrete but I was like, no, I had this experience. I believe in a God and I just need to maintain that, pray, and focus on my beliefs, and that sort of thing. So, I just kept plugging away, and honestly, that’s how I left. It ended like that.
Joe: When did you leave? How long ago was that?
Tom: I left at the end of December. So now it’s been 3 months.
Joe: And so how has it been?
Tom: I’m better than I was before I went there, without a doubt, and keep in mind this is from someone that is extremely hard on himself and I have very high standards for a lot of things. But, I would say I’m more productive with work. I’m more understanding with my relationships. I’m a better person. I have more energy and I’m just on a good path and I know what I need to do. And I’m feeling my belief isn’t a hundred percent, yet.
I still feel doubt. Yeah, the doubt is really strong still. So I kind of fluctuate between that connected feeling and disconnected and, of course, when I feel connected, when I’m believing in all these things, I don’t feel pain. I feel energy and I feel confident and all that stuff, and then other times I feel disconnected and I’m not believing, and then I feel pain. And then I feel like tired and all that stuff. And so right now, I’m just trying to focus on cultivating and deepening and strengthening this spirituality.
Joe: And so, what about with your mom, coming back, have you seen her? Talked to her?
Tom: Yeah, I have, in fact, I moved in with her. I made that decision while I was there.
Joe: Are your parents split up or..?
Tom: Yeah, they split up. she’s on her own, she’s really troubled, depressed and she’s got a lot of issues and I just thought, be there for her, you know, help her out. Maybe she could start to do better maybe.
I can work on our relationship and this sort of thing. I went down to her so Gung Ho, so ready to tell her about all my experiences, which I learned very quickly was not the right way to do it.
Joe: It’s not as simple as that.
Tom: No, it’s not. You know, one of us had this experience, not both of us.
Joe: Was she happy for you that you felt better?
Tom: Uh, she was and surely about hearing some of it, but then ultimately, she wasn’t and I think it was because she didn’t know how to relate to me, in that way. She knew how to relate to someone that wasn’t feeling well. I think she liked that as a mother. Like it made her feel necessary, and being around a new and improved me, it seemed to make her feel…
Joe: More in her own problem?
Tom: And not necessary or something like that. So it’s been very difficult, you know, sharing with her the story of my asthma…that was a huge mistake.
Joe: But over time, hopefully she’ll just see it’s something you healed from.
Joe: And so whatever damage was there, that she may have played a part in, is also a consequence of her own life.
Joe: Can’t really blame herself for that either.
Tom: Not at all.
Joe: She’ll have to forgive herself, and you’ve come through it. Hopefully, it will keep dissipating.
Tom: Yeah, I think. I’m there, I’m trying to work through it, it’s really difficult at times. Especially because it’s very clear that she is not as interested as I am in general…
Joe: It’s tough, she’s further embittered and she’s further hopeless.
Tom: That’s right.
Joe: And it’s just tough, you just hold the space for them, you know, you love them. There’s a point at which, your mother or your father, whatever they did to you or they didn’t do for you. You know, you can go back and blame and, of course, they are a huge influence in your life and then one day you kind of just decide, okay that’s that.
And it becomes about what kind of son do I want to be. Your life can become about that. It doesn’t depend on what they’re able to do or not able to do.
Tom: Yeah, just to be a good son.
Joe: …and I believe from the bottom of my heart, that no matter how they might respond, when they see you’re doing better, that’s a huge relief for them. Because the guilt that they might feel about imposing something on you, like any parent. All the parents complain about that, my brothers have kids you know, you hear people say, Oh God, I hope I’m not screwing them up.
But when parents start seeing that their children are doing better than they did, then it’s like a relief inside, for her too, somewhere. And that’s a way you can help her, because you take that load off. She just doesn’t think about it as much, oh my son has all this pain, oh my son has asthma, on top of her own problems.
But now, her son is getting better.
Maybe you didn’t screw it up that bad. You know there’s a little something in your healing that gives her relief. I do believe that. It makes a lot of sense to me, that’s real.
Tom: Wow, yeah, that’s interesting. That’s something that I should focus on.
Joe: That’s one way you could reach her. Without trying to convince her of stuff.
Tom: And the other thing you said about, trying to be the best son, the best version of myself, because that’s another thing I’ve been thinking of a lot, and I was just talking to a friend about it who also is on his kind of path of healing.
What separates people like us? Who are, you know, dealing with extreme depression or some sort of pain or whatever. What separates us from the people that don’t go out to the jungle and take this stuff, or go to therapy or who put themselves in a really hard situation in order to get better?
What separates us from the people who aren’t willing to do it? And they’re getting beaten by it. And they don’t want to leave the house.
Or the version of myself, seven years ago, that wouldn’t leave the house. I felt like, he had tried everything.
Joe: What did you see or come across that made you think I’m going to try this thing in the Amazon, the ayahuasca?
Tom: It was a Facebook post.
Joe: First, you have the hope from this therapy, let’s not forget about that, through the Sarno method.
Joe: Kind of showed you that there is hope.
Joe: And so you got opened up to that. That was a huge thing.
Tom: Yeah, that was.
Joe: But then there was something more and then there was a Facebook post.
Tom: There was a post I think even a few years before the Sarno stuff. I just read it, someone was talking about it about how he beat his depression through it and all that.
I never really revisited it, and then just in the last probably two or three years, I’ve been hearing more and more people having this experience, you know, people that I’ve met or worked with just out in the community. People were saying really interesting things about it.
Someone I worked with a year ago told me about a really interesting experience. Another guy had done it eight months ago and told me how he dealt with all these issues with his mom. I thought, wow, that sounds nice, and then on TV, there’s more and more stuff about it. People have made documentaries about it. I did my research and I decided, ok, yeah, let’s do this.
Joe: Ok, so then, beyond moving in with your mom, any other like healing work you’ve done in the last 3 months? Or anymore therapy or any more spiritual practice?
Tom: Yeah, I’ve done more ceremonies here. I’m trying to reconnect with some sort of spirituality, some classes, some services, and things like that.
Joe: Through the Jewish faith?
Tom: Yeah. By the way, something that is really fascinating to me is that I’ve had this intellectual fascination with religion for the past few years. Everywhere that I would travel, the one thing I would want to do is go to a church, like a catholic church or a mosque, or go to a synagogue. I just always thought I wanted to try it. To the point that I was even in a mosque three months before this experience in Peru, praying, trying their prayer because I just wanted to try it.
I don’t know why I just wanted to. And then after all this clicked, it was like oh my soul was craving this spiritual connection, that’s what it wanted. I could have gone to the museum, I could have done that, but the one thing I wanted to do was check out this old church. When I would go to synagogue or a mosque, and it’s just so fascinating, looking back at that sort of thing. How bad I was reaching out and craving? So now I’m trying to foster the spirituality. I am also interested in exploring more plant medicine, responsibly.
Joe: Responsibly of course, that is a big point to make. You’ve now been within a sacred tradition with very serious and disciplined practitioners, who have a major track record. And so it’s not like you just hear about this person or that and want to try it. It’s all about being extremely careful and responsible.
With the same kind of scrutiny that you use in finding your doctor, finding people that are reputable and recommended through channels that you respect. There’s a lot of skepticism involved.
Tom: That’s right.
Joe: That’s how it has to be. That’s medicine in general. So spiritual practice, classes? How often?
Tom: Yeah, there’s classes weekly, I try to journal every single day. Pray every single night. I’m trying to open myself up to this kind of stuff, educate myself, watching videos about chakras.
I was never interested previously, thought it was all bogus up until 3 months ago. So I’m just trying to learn more about all kind of things and explore what reiki is, what happened to me, all these different things.
Joe: What about with your career, is there a way to bring this spirituality in to it, as far as how you connect with people and share with them?
Tom: Oh yeah, without a doubt.
Joe: Do you see a difference in yourself?
Tom: Of course. I’ve noticed that when I feel this connected feeling, my heart is in a better place. I’m more motivated, I’m making decisions more quickly and more easily and for the right reasons, and I just feel more confident, spirituality is in every part of my life.
Joe: That’s right.
Tom: That’s what it is.