Lessons from the Amazon

By: Amy Greeson –

Recently I trekked with seven others along the Amazon River (in Peru, South America) to the remote village of Jaldar. The small community was nestled in the dense jungle and consisted of eight families. For the first time this community had permitted a group of “outsiders” to dwell with them – primarily because we were accompanied by their highly respected Shaman (medicine man) and Shamana (medicine woman). Our group was a diverse group of health practitioners – physicians, pharmacists, nurses. The individuals came from the West Coast, Hawaii, Barcelona Spain, and (myself) North Carolina.

The Amazon taught me a great deal: knowledge of herbs, plants, and other life forms; a greater understanding of healing practices, and valuable life lessons. The Amazon offers not only infinite teachings and wisdom, but infinite answers. The only requirement is that we take the time, the energy, and the opportunities we have been given to discover them. We often forget that the very foundation of our health care system – the basis of our pharmaceuticals – has been derived from plants, animals, and life forms just like the ones found in this jungle. It’s disheartening to realize that of the higher plants that exist on our planet, only one-half of one percent have been utilized for medicinal purposes. Consider that the 2.3 million square miles that encompass the Amazon contain more species of plants and animals than any other ecosystem in the world. In the Amazon, for example, we have identified over 1700 species of birds, 2000 species of butterflies, 2000 species of fish, and 120 species of hummingbirds. This pristine environment is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Unfortunately, today our generation “honors” this blissful paradise with deforestation and the annihilation of its people. We have chosen hardwoods like mahogany and fleeting monetary wealth over life and the secrets to many of life’s mysteries. When will we awaken to the reality that the cures to so many of our present diseases and conditions very likely reside in the Amazon and similar environments? When will we comprehend that monetary wealth never justifies the right to dictate the course of another’s life or determine the fate of their home?

I learned many things during my stay in the village of Jaldar: how to treat certain skin conditions and insect bites with the sap of a tree (which worked better than our steroid creams); how to use termites for an awesome insect repellent; how to fish for piranhas; how to find fresh water in certain vines and plants. I discovered what it’s like to pet a capybara (the world’s largest rodent) and the adrenaline rush of standing within three feet of an anaconda. I listened as a cayman (a member of the alligator and crocodile family) attacked, fought and conquered a large mammal.

I witnessed the Shaman as he prepared and performed healing, cleansing, and other spiritual ceremonies. I walked beside him during expeditions through deep marshes and the dense jungle in search of specific herbs and plants. I was constantly amazed at his knowledge and his ability to effortlessly identify so many plants. With these experiences came not only a deeper respect for life and all life forms, but also a deeper appreciation of their significance in the grand scheme of things. More clearly I understood that life never exists merely as a physical form, but also a spiritual entity. The inhabitants of the Amazon know this all too well, for they are much further advanced than perhaps we realize. Our society has unfortunately deemed these people “inferior”. Perhaps if we would correct our distorted perceptions, we would see them for who they truly are … a pure, thriving, complex, intelligent, and beautiful people.

One of the many excursions with the medicine man involved a river trip in a small, wooden boat up a tributary, closer to the Andes. The Shaman sat in the front of the boat, teaching us about certain plants and trees along the river banks. He told us many stories, including stories of the pink dolphins, which inhabit the river. At one point, through our interpreter, he asked if anyone could locate the snake that was directly above us in a tree. We all looked – straining to see the creature that we knew was there … somewhere. Not one person in our group of outdoor enthusiasts could locate the snake. One of the guides reached up and pointed out the snake, and then, with his paddle brought the snake down to us. A tree vine snake – it was an extension of the limb itself, almost impossible to distinguish where the limb ended and the snake began. Life is often like that, isn’t it? Sometimes things appear right before our eyes, and yet, we’re unable to see them. A mere change in perspective is all that is needed to see the world in an entirely new light.

We are witnessing a change in perspective with health and healing. One in which there exists a true integrative practice where we join forces and work together to create a beautiful balance, as well as one that utilizes and complements the strengths of so many paths. Perhaps only then will the power of healing be truly realized.

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