Chanaye, a junior at Berkeley City College, has spent much of her young adulthood fighting for social justice. But in dedicating her life to the less fortunate, she has had to sacrifice her own wellbeing.
Although the idea of a political lifestyle is to fight for the oppressed, I find that it has begun to oppress me, in ways I was unprepared for. My mental and emotional health and peace, the innocence of my dreams at night, and most importantly, my spirituality and connection with the earth, suffer… when politics, conflict, violence and injustice occupy my time, thoughts, readings and writings. It is almost as if I cannot breathe.
But it wasn’t just politics wearing her down; it was also the city, and the disunion with the natural world a city represents.
It has become clear that in the city, in the “developed world,” the air is poisoned, just as our water, our food, our minds, our relationships, our perceptions, and our ability to care for one another. Cancer, the most metaphoric plague of the human race, awaits us in our bio-hazardous plastic bottles, our chemically enhanced foods, our toxic products and lethal air. Our bodies remain foreign objects to us, we are unable to read them, to care for them, and still we believe we are alive.
Chanaye wishes to see a different way of life—one where relationships (relationships among people, villages, the natural world) are still healthy and intact. To find it, she will go to the very “lungs of the earth”—the Amazon. And it is in the Amazon where she will learn “to read the skies and the textures of our plants like a language”; it is in the Amazon where she hopes to become a healer.
This journey is the farewell to politics, and the beginning of a reunion with the earth, and my ability to have a relationship with our plants and use them to heal. And so, when I leave Los Angeles, and all of my political books, I am also leaving, for some time, the political world, the tangible and visible world that has scarred me and stolen my innocence. And from it, I enter into a world that has been systematically hidden from me: the metaphysical world, our earth, its soils and all that grow from it: la Pachamama, which has always provided all that we need, as long as we learn to understand and utilize her secrets.
She will start in the Peruvian city of Iquitos. Then Tamshiyacu on the Amazon River. From there, she’ll venture out into smaller, more remote villages in search of a shaman who can teach her about “our earth, about perception, about our magical plants and innate abilities to heal.”
Ultimately, I will be entering the Amazon in a mental loincloth and stick, with humility and watchfulness. With a surrendering of all which was once believed to be true, and a realization that from the soil we come and to the soil we return, and so it clearly is the soil that I must learn. And what I learn is to serve all, but first my mother, who has dedicated her life to her offspring and endured unspeakable suffering. She is the queen of the tribe, who is to be honored and healed.
She will return to California with the knowledge to care for her ailing mother, who she hopes to bring back to South America “where she can live the next chapter of her life in a part of the earth that possesses so much beauty and power, it parallels only to that which she has shown me.”
(Chanaye plans to leave for the Amazon this April.)