Battle Hymn of the Heart

Charity is in the heart of man, and righteousness in the path of men. Pity the man who has lost his path and does not follow it and who has lost his heart and does not know how to recover it. When people’s dogs and chicks are lost they go out and look for them and yet the people who have lost their hearts do not go out and look for them. The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to look for the lost heart.

Mencius

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We filed into the maloca. Most people were rather cheery and in good spirits. I was feeling tense and unsure. As I approached my mattress, the sight of it filled me with a sense of dread as I remembered the nights of darkness. My hands began to sweat. “You got this, Dan.” I sat down and did my best to calm myself, remembering the words of guidance offered by Malcolm and the others. I was having a rather lengthy dialogue with myself. Every time I tried to placate myself, that niggling fearful Dan would pop up again and rattle the cage of my mental monkeys. Shutting those bastards up was a bit of a challenge. Malcolm snapped me out of my thoughts by announcing a bit of a difference in the evening’s processions. “We’re going to be summoning the spirits of the land tonight. We will be visited by the animal spirits that surround us.” He went into detail about which particular animal spirits he would summon in, and told us that tonight was to be a night of joy and happiness. My eyebrow curled at the corner, and I mouthed “what the fuck” to myself in silence. Okay, animal spirits or not, just make sure I don’t go back to hell and die again, Malcolm.

I started my deep breathing ritual and consciously started to relax myself from head to toes. “I’m gonna be okay. This time will be different. It fuckin’ has to be!” There was no way I wanted a repeat performance of the last few nights. I wasn’t too sure how I’d handle it if I was flung back into that hell. I might just snap and never heal. To say that I was concerned would be an understatement of massive proportions. I was called up to receive my cup. Malcolm smiled and winked and said “Open up that massive heart of yours, mate. You’ll be fine!” Did he really know what he was talking about? Was my heart really as big as he said it was, or was he just trying to make me feel better? I did my best to turn my mind off, but those damn monkeys started to fling poo from their cages.

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We all said “Salud” in unison and knocked back the vile spirit juice. Christ, it tasted even worse tonight for some reason. I spluttered a bit longer than usual. Once I was finished rearranging my organs, I settled back onto the mattress, and started to tell the monkeys to behave, or else. I lifted my arms above me and I started praying. Not to God, but to the universe. I did what Malcolm suggested, and I started to call upon my loved ones to give me strength. Call me weird, but for some reason it just felt perfectly natural for me to start visualising pulling down the power from the skies above, holding it with my hands and placing it on my heart. I kept doing this for some time. I imagined my father giving me his strength. Anyone observing me would surely have thought I’d lost it, but it just felt like the right thing to do. After a while of that, I began to get a bit bored. I waited and waited and couldn’t feel a damn thing. “Did I do something wrong?” I pondered. The fear started to pick up again when I thought to myself that it might hit me again like the other night. Sudden and violent, after a protracted delay.

I kept drifting between a state of boredom and panic. I was actually on the verge of getting up and asking for more. I stared up at the roof of the maloca, foot jiggling restlessly and hands playing with my necklace. “Fuck, this blows.” I thought. Suddenly I felt the familiar purging sensation rising up in me. I sat up, stared at the bucket, and prepared to make my offering. This time it didn’t feel anywhere near as intense or violent. I purged twice. It didn’t hurt. After purging, I calmly got up and walked to the toilet to make another offering, completely unassisted and clear headed. “Hmm, that’s a welcome change.” I thought to myself. After dealing with all of that, I walked back to my mattress and waited for the visuals to come on. Except there weren’t any.

More sitting around and waiting. My eyes drifted lazily around the darkness of the room, my ears focusing on the noises around me. The ever-present drone of the frogs and insects went on and on. Suddenly, I felt a massive surge of energy pump through my heart. Boom, it went, and my eyes widened at the sudden sensation. It grew in intensity, and I laid there mystified at what was going on. I could feel every single part of my heart as it pumped away. “Hope I’m not having a heart attack” I thought. After a while, the sensation became less alien and more comfortable. It felt good. With each breath I took in, I felt a massive surge of pure, joyful energy flow through me, feeding my heart with love and light. Then, it began to speak to me. What the actual fuck.

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It wasn’t like what you would think though. It wasn’t like it was speaking lines of dialogue. The best I could describe it would be a telepathic emotional level of communication where it seemed to send me beams of meaning and clarity. At first I really struggled to understand what was going on, but the more I struggled, the fuzzier it all became. Then, I realised I just had to turn my brain off and just… well, receive. And receive I did. The first thing it told me was that it was indeed alive and well, despite the years of neglect and abuse I had given it. As soon as it told me this, I winced from the pain. I had indeed been more than guilty of harming my poor heart. But it told me that it was resilient and that it was still here, despite what I had done to it. I apologised to it repeatedly, feeling so ashamed for how I had mistreated it. It told me that even though it was still doing okay, it couldn’t take much more of that abuse; that I had to start treating my heart and my body better. It told me the hell that I’d been through the last few nights was to show me what I had done to it. By this stage I felt like a naughty schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal for the first time. Head bowed, ashamed and deeply sorry, I told it that I would no longer hurt it ever again.

The second thing it told me was that I was to forgive myself for everything that I’d ever done, and to forgive others for what they’d done to me too. It was too heavy, my heart told me, for it to carry that burden inside of it. I needed to let go. “But how?!” I asked. “I’ve been trying to let go for years and years! I can’t stand holding this hatred inside me. I want it gone!” I felt frustrated. This was the precise reason why I had come to Peru in the first place. To let go. “Speak it to the winds,” it told me, “…and I will do the rest for you.” So, I mentally dredged up every single traumatic incident in my life. It was as if I were opening a dark, dank chest of horrors, lifting each diseased item out of the box, examining it, and then throwing it away. When I got to the bottom of the chest, I balked… not knowing if I wanted to continue, for at the bottom of it lay the heaviest of all my trauma. It took great strength for me to reach deep down and pick it up. Just holding it felt like it was melting through my hands. “It’s okay. We’re doing this together. You’re not alone.” My heart told me. Somewhat reassured, I dug deep for the extra strength I needed to get rid of it. And just like that, it was gone.

I stared into the empty vastness of the chest with a sense of awe. It was all gone. That crap that had haunted me my whole life had just vanished. I had finally taken out the trash. “What now?” I asked of my heart. “Gratitude.” came the reply. Instinctively, I knew what I needed to do. My mind went through each and every person who had meant something to me in my life, and I individually thanked them for all the good and bad times we had shared. I lingered on my ex, wanting to let her know how sorry I was for everything, and how important it was for her to know that I loved and cared for her very much still. We would never be together again, but I needed her to know just how pure my love was for her. I finished with my father. I told him how proud I was to be his son, and just how much I missed him every day. He was always in my thoughts; in every single thing I did. And it was true, for sometimes I could even detect his particular way of speech in my own, complete with all his funny little quirks. He was very much a part of me, and I of him, and my heart radiated with pride and love when I told my father this. I told dad that I forgave him for everything that he had done; that I understood how complicated his life was that led him to be that way. He didn’t know any better. I also asked him to forgive me for all the stupid shit I did, from childhood up until now. It was as if a mountain moved inside me.

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The sensation of love and light seemed to just explode through every part of my being. I smiled, and tears of joy streamed down my face. Suddenly, the most unexpected vision came before me. It was ME! As a child! Little Dan bounced into full view with his trademark cheeky grin, stared up at me, whipped out two thumbs and went “Yeahhhh!” I completely lost it. It was just too hilarious. That’s exactly what I would have done as a child when experiencing joy. And I laughed. And laughed and laughed. And the room, upon hearing my joy joined in my laughter, celebrating the fact that I had finally found peace and joy. It was such a beautiful moment of human expression. The sheer simple joy of being alive and well completely overcame me, and I let myself just be washed away with happiness. The people around me all cheered me on, and I just laughed even harder. Malcolm was walking around and asked how I was. I shouted out “Great! I’m no longer satan’s dog’s chew toy!” Finally, the laughter subsided, and I just lay there with this big stupid grin on my face. For the first time in years, I felt at peace. I felt whole again. I had found little Dan after years of having lost him in the woods of despair.

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Malcolm got up on the stage and “brought in” the animal spirits, announcing them one by one. Personally I didn’t see any of this, but I was in too good of a mood to give a shit about whether this was real or not. The one that got me laughing again were the water buffalo spirits. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience, so I just kicked back and went with it. This went on for some time, by which point I was totally relaxed and at peace. Finally, the ceremony came to an end, and I was in such a great mood that I did something I hadn’t really done after ceremony before, which was to talk to others. For a change I actually felt willing to share, obviously because I didn’t get my ass beat and handed to me. I walked over to my neighbours Marcus, Juliana, and Alex and we chatted. They all said how happy they were for me that I had a good night instead of having to go through the hell I had experienced earlier. I looked at Alex and said to him “You know, Alex, I have a confession to make. When I was going through those nights of pain and misery, every single time you laughed, all I could think of was hurling my puke bucket as hard as possible at your head. I’m sorry for that. Your laugh is amazing!” In classic Alex style, he told me that it wasn’t a problem, and that he loved me. My smile grew even bigger. It felt so good to be free from all that anger and rage, and I just wanted to share it with everyone. Marcus and Juliana both said that they were glad that my personality was still alive and well, despite everything I’d been through. Eventually I excused myself and went to find her.

I walked over to the far corner where my spirit mama was and I sat down on the empty seat next to her. She was positively glowing with love and peace. “How was your night, Dan?” “Great!” I replied. “I had a heart-to-heart with my heart!” She gave a warm chuckle, and we proceeded to share with each other the lessons and experiences of the night. It seemed like everything was finally coming together. I got it now. The act of sharing is so incredibly powerful, I thought to myself. It is how we pay homage to the medicine and ourselves, by sharing a part of us with the world. We talked for quite some time about so many different things. I told her that it was of huge importance that she come visit my family and I in Malaysia one day, for she was living in Cambodia, which is not too far away. I told her how grateful I was that she was there too, because without her, I wouldn’t have been able to process things the way I had. She definitely helped me a huge amount by just being. I realised that at the end of the day, I was still very much the little boy that was drawn to maternal energy. It was healing, and it was important to me. “I’m feeling… amazingly calm, which is unusual for me.” She smiled that smile that made everything right with the world.

The night drew to a close as more people went back to their rooms. I said goodnight to Lynne and the others, made my way to my mattress, and sank into a deep and blissful slumber. I had found my heart again, and boy, was it huge.

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