So, shortly after graduation and the day after my eighteenth birthday, I left home in search of adventure and a deeper connection to the earth I knew so little about. I hitchhiked across the country, seeing farms and vegetables growing for the first time. I eventually made it to Santa Cruz, California, where I now live, and then headed south toward a vague destination of a mysterious culture that was drawing me ever closer.
After a life-harrowing journey and nearly dying on the five-day trek into the Huichol territory, I was awoken from unconsciousness by a band of Huichol dressed in their traditional white garments, embroidered with animal symbols in bright colors. They told me, in broken Spanish, that they had been sent out by the shaman of their village to rescue me. They took me back to their village and soon after, I was summoned to another village, where I met a revered shaman and elder named Don Josť Matsuwa.
Don Josť told me I was to learn the way of the shaman and to be a part of the tribe. He adopted me as his grandson and put me through an arduous twelve-year apprenticeship.
It was during these twelve years that I came to better understand the magical world of Nature, which the Huichol see to be as alive as each and every human being. Don Josť taught me to see each tree, each stone, and even each blade of grass as my equal: to recognize the spiritual essence of life within everything.
It was like growing up all over again, learning to see the world in a whole new light. Certain aspects of this rebirth were surprisingly easy, like living without electricity and running water. Other things were at first not so easy to embrace. Like hearing that I was no more important than a blade of grass.
I was like a child, like a sponge soaking up the ancient wisdom all around me. Learning to connect with Nature on a physical and spiritual level was an entirely new experience and, over the years, I began to better understand my innate connection with the earth. I began to see how I was a mirror of my environment. I began to realize that I was not alone or disconnected from Nature, but rather an integral part of the natural world. Finally, I felt truly at home, deep in the remote Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, far away from all the things we might consider to actually be the comforts of home.
My experience with the Huichol people was truly transformative and altered the trajectory of my life forever. After completing my apprenticeship, Don Josť told me I was to help carry on the traditions of his people and to teach others around the world the Huichol way of the heart. And for more than three decades, that is what I have done. I have traveled around the globe sharing what the Huichol entrusted to me, striving to help people in the modern world find a deeper connection to Nature.
Over those years, countless doctors, teachers, students, therapists, and children have utilized traditional Huichol teachings and practices to help empower their life and the lives of their families.
Early on, families began coming to my various programs and conferences in order to experience the shamanic teachings of the Huichol. Over time, people who had become my students began to make families and their children embraced the indigenous teachings early in life.
We are all born with an unmistakable relationship to Nature, to the night and day, to the sky and the earth. Even I, who was born in somewhat of a concrete jungle, felt that intrinsic connection to Nature as a small child. Unlike the Huichol children though, I didn’t have a structure to tap into that natural connection; I had no example of how to live in harmony with the earth until I met Don Josť.
I feel it is so important that children are provided a way to interact with Nature. For this reason, I have always welcomed kids, families, and people of all ages into the programs I teach. I have seen how positively the Huichol practices can affect young people and I have witnessed how young people who embrace this ancient wisdom can grow into beautiful, successful, and balanced members of modern society.
Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World:
In the modern world, we teach our kids their address and phone number, so that they can find their way home in case they get lost. In the Huichol culture, children are taught where the sun rises and where it sets. This is their spiritual address, a way of knowing their place in Nature. To really know where you wake up each morning and where you go to sleep each night is deeply empowering. To understand your physical relationship with Nature allows you to better understand your true self.
Walking with Awareness
Huichol children learn to walk just as children anywhere else; however, along with the physical act of moving across the earth, they learn to be aware of earth and sky with each step. During my time in the village, I was told again and again to visualize the love of Mother Earth coming up into my body through my feet with each step. And at the same time, they said to draw in the light of Father Sun through the top of my head. With the light from above and the love from beneath, we then can learn to mix the two in our hearts. In this way, each step we take can become an act of harmony and we can begin to learn our place between earth and sky.
We are Nature
Huichol children are not just taught to connect with the Nature that surrounds them. They are also taught to see Nature within themselves, to understand that we are each a mini-universe and a mirror of the world around us. The earth is made up of mostly water; we are made up of mostly water. The earth’s power is love and we inherently have love within our own hearts. The light from the sun and the fire exists in each and every cell in our body, and so too do the minerals that make up our external world.
Even the stars that make up the nights sky are within us. Scientists agree with this as well, having recently discovered that every molecule in the human body contains ancient start dust.
If we can feel at home in Nature, we can learn to feel at home wherever we are on this earth. We can learn to see Nature wherever we are, to feel the earth even when we are in the city and to connect with the light of the sun even when we sit inside a conference room, or even a classroom.
How beautiful it would be if we all learned to appreciate the beauty of Nature. When we recognize that we are not separate from one another or Nature, we realize the importance of protecting not just ourselves, but all of life. We can then begin to strive not just for personal empowerment, but planetary empowerment.
The Huichol see themselves as guardians of the earth. They are not only concerned with their personal survival or that of their family or tribe, but indeed they are striving to safeguard the entire planet. I hope we can pass on that mindset to every child. By experiencing that unbreakable bond with Nature, future generations will realize that human existence is intertwined with the survival everything on this planet. As guardians of the earth, we must embrace this simple, yet profound truth in all that we do.
Brant Secunda is a shaman, healer, and traditional ceremonial leader. For over thirty years, he has been leading conferences, workshops, and retreats around the world. He is a co-founder of the American Herbalist Guild, the Peace University, and the Huichol Foundation. In 1979, he established the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies to preserve the Huichol culture and its shamanic practices and traditions. He is also the co-author of the book Fit Soul Fit Body. Learn more at www.shamanism.com.