Margaret De Wys
From “Black Smoke”
At once an adventure story, a romance, and a rich exploration of a little-known culture, Black Smoke is destined to become a classic. It captures one woman’s physical, emotional, and “holy voyage” through a world that differs vastly from our own in its perception of healing and wholeness. And what emerges is a revealing chronicle of spiritual insight and a trenchant exploration of the limits of idealism. Not only does De Wys offer a probing look at how our modern technological culture can learn and benefit from indigenous wisdom, but she also weaves a cautionary tale about how potentially dangerous it is—on both sides—to try to cross those frontiers. Taken from B+N.
Music/Sound. composer, sound installation artist and writer, Margaret De Wys has an M.F.A. from
When I was settled in the hole, the men began shoveling hot sand over me. I felt its density. The weight grew ever greater as more sand was heaped on. “You will be able to breathe through your nostrils and mouth,” said Carlos. “The Mother will give you power.” Then I was totally cut off from my companions and the world.
The sand cover was heavy, like lead. I lay entombed, as if I had been poured into concrete. I could breathe, but that was it. How long was I going to be left there? An hour? A day? It took all my will not to panic from claustrophobia and abandonment. I was approaching just what I had feared after my diagnosis: the trapped place of no way out and nothing left to do. I tried to shift my body, wiggle my fingers, but it was impossible. Breathe, I told myself. The leaves –bless them- were warm and fragrant on my face.
I became deeply aware that I hung in the balance between life and death. You have come. You made the first step. You trusted your instincts. I repeated this inwardly, breathing in and out and concentrating on my breath until it was even and slow and I was sinking, sliding into a dream. Although the weight was great along the surface of my skin, my thoughts floated and my mind began to wander into a soft, timeless dimension. With my ears covered, I was encased in a deep silence. I couldn´t hear the blood moving through me, but I felt it humping and pounding under my skin. I felt that the world was very far from me. Then my senses shut down.
It came to me that it was important to surrender, that this was the most important thing I could ever do. All my life had been about fighting, volition, deciding, choice, conflict, trying, hoping, fearing. This moment was about making that step, leaving the worried faces of my family, the downcast eyes of my friends, my doctors with their white coats and stainless steel operating tables, my world of art and music and film, and the technological wizardry that had removed us from the deep reality I was now experiencing. I was descending miles and miles into the underworld. I fell and fell. I was being demolished inside. Things that I once thought important were inconsequential. I was irrelevant, but I couldn´t think about that: I had to keep astride the immense force pulling me down.
I was absorbed and my boundaries dissolved. I was in a kind of limbo, barely conscious. I could not see or feel and taste, so I listened. At first there was nothing. And then I heard something form the distance, primal sounds, sorrowful and ecstatic, from the very ground in which I lay. It came to me that what I was hearing was the roaring of the flames of the center of the earth. The earth´s molten core moved toward me. I was hearing the sound of The Mother. She spoke to me in a glorious madness. Her voice was warm and entreating all at once it seduced me. I surrendered. There was nothing else I could do. I felt an indescribable relief more powerful than any earthly sensation I knew. I surrendered as if it were the most natural thing to do. I was mesmerized –and loved.
“Leave me be,” I sobbed.
Carlos and the others were exhuming me. I began to focus on their lips and eyes as their faces drew close to mine. I became aware that they were shoveling the sand away.
“No,” I screamed.
I clawed the earth, trying to cover myself with it. I did not want to return to the living. I wanted to stay merged with the earth. But they lifted me by my arms and legs.
“Wake up!” Carlos commanded, and I felt little needles pricking all over my skin as my blood quickened in my veins. The men hoisted me into a standing position, but my legs buckled. My muscles would not work.
“I must go back,” I wept. “Don´t make me leave. Keep away from me.”
Carlos took me from the men and held me under my arm, putting his other arm around my waist. Almost carrying me, he forced me away from the burial site. “We must leave this place now,” he said very gently, his breath in my ear. Still I fought him, thrashing, but my arms did not have much power in them.
“Come, Margarita,” he said, almost chanting. “This is not a place we can stay. The umbilical is cut. But we are still connected. You will see.”
“I don´t want to leave,” I panted, my head hanging on my chest, my eyes closed, my wrists limp, my ankles wobbly.
“Do not worry,” he said. “Everything is fine. Everything is as it should be. Come with me now, Margarita. Let me lead you into the warm waters. Let me lead you into the shallow pools of the Pastaza. Our people have used this sacred place for just this purpose for as long as we can remember. You will float in birthing fluids. You have been purified, reborn form the womb of The Mother.”
The sun was low in the sky, hanging over the unruly ramparts of the jungle that tumbled down to the river. The black stain of the water was lit with a golden sheen. Carlos helped me lie down in the tepid shallows. As soon as I entered the water, everything shifted, and I no longer struggled or mourned. I blissfully drifted, feeling as if I was a newborn and had just entered the world. I really was purified –a great emotional weight had lifted. It was as if a light was shining out from my chest and stomach and I had a profound feeling of well-being. I felt more solid than before. No, more physical.
I could see the sun sending out tongues of flame thousands of miles into space. I could feel the force beyond all reckoning that made its fire cohere, take shape, and I felt the tangible connection between the warmth it was sending out and the life all around and inside me.
It seemed pointless to remember that I had come to the Amazon because of a grave illness. At that moment, I couldn´t evaluate what I had experienced. Before
As I drifted, my analytic mind began to work again, but it was still far away, a distant voice. I dimly grasped that my ego had dissolved during the burial. I understood how that experience could be both liberating and dangerous –ah, that way madness lies. And yet I knew that it was impossible to grow without being broken.
What I didn´t know was that Carlos was preparing me for even a greater ecstatic and perceptual shifts that would come.
“You are now ready to take the sacred medicine, Margarita,” Carlos said as he helped me out of the shallows and walked me back to the canoe. Fear, like a stake, drove into my heart –even with my newfound equanimity and the feeling that I had just passed through fire and endured.
It was a terrifying prospect –Ayahuasca. I wanted to keel over. Then I noticed Jorge was leering at me again. There was nothing furtive or abashed in the way he studied my body. In fact, there was something admirable in his complete lack of pretence. Keeping his eyes glued to my breasts, he leaned back, dug his paddle in the sand, and pried. The canoe broke free form the island where I had been reborn and glided out into the dark water. Jorge leaned forward and I could see the ropy muscles pop in his forearm as he ripped the cord of the outboard and the engine snarled and died and he ripped the cord again. The engine sputtered, raced, and then settled into a dull whine. Jorge turned the canoe in a long arc and pointed the crocodile head with its gaping mouth upriver. He cranked the throttle, and I felt the prow rise, pushing against the current. I was shivering, despite the heat.
Carlos gazed at me steadily. “You must not back down, Margarita,” he said. “Be fearless. This is your path. This is what it means to be kakaram, a warrior of valor.”