Mountains, Magic Mushrooms and Corn Tortillas
A healing journey to San Sebastián Rio Hondo
When I die let it be face first in a pile of fresh corn tortillas made by an old woman in the Oaxacan mountains surrounded by her children, warm and wrapped in a light blue towel woven by her son who carries an old Zapotec tradition -where the men spun thread on the loom, blending colors and patterns that tell a story of land and family, plant and prayer, and a lineage that is woven so deep into their lives that even though the Coca Cola bottle is in their hand- they are standing in a corn field sewn by their great grandfathers. The beauty, medicine and the wounds of this life standing, loving, living- side by side.
I just spent a week in the mountains of Oaxaca in the small village, San Sebastian Rio Hondo. It was the full moon. I held myself through a very deep mushroom journey, birthed parts of myself, let others die, cried, sang, talked with the spirits of the land and had one of the most profound healing experiences of my life- like all the others and the ones yet to come- but really this one was something that has changed the course of my life, from the inside. I am only going to share a tiny slice of it here.
I was called here, to this little spot at this exact time because the bounty of assistance and abundance that supported my journey here could not have been orchestrated by any thing other than alignment, listening, and Life’s desire for me. It just so happened that, as I was searching airbnb for places to stay, that were all way more than they “should” be, and not really calling to me, I reached out to one connection that I made last year - “well, Shira, it just so happens that I am leaving my home in San Sebastián for a couple weeks right then and I have never let anyone stay, but I would love for you to come”. :)
The ride from the coast up to the mountains in Oaxaca sets the stage for pilgrimage, initiation. It is one of the windiest three hour journeys that will test the resilience of your belly’s ability to hold it’s cookies. And it’s so beautiful. I always arrive early in Pochutla, a very un-charming, get shit you need like car tires or trash cans or money when all of the ATMs on the beach are empty transit town, in order to sit in the front seat of the Lineas Unitas mini bus. (I am giving you these details in case you ever wander this way).
The main stop in the mountains is San Jose where you get out to venture further into the other little villages, or buy a little hand knit mushroom doo hickey for you rear view mirror, get a coffee etc. on your way, for another three hours, to Oaxaca city. (Let me interject that it’s confusing in Mexico because when people say Oaxaca they mean the city even though you are in Oaxaca state. When they say Mexico they mean Mexico City, even though you are in the country. And there are those people, outside of Mexico that don’t realize there is a Oaxaca state, they always think I am in the city- anyway)
The other synchronicity is that my friends just bought property here and they came the same week and met me in San Jose to give me a lift to San Sebastián as it gets a little confusing with all the collectivos and taxis, but I would have totally managed.
I found my new little home, Casa de Margaret, down a little path that wound past a family of weavers looming away in their living room, a home of cats, Marco next door who speaks English and owns a restaurant here open on the weekends and then…
Ok, I am a simple woman. I love beauty but I do not need grandeur. How can I describe the home that held me for a week? There were three little houses. A kitchen house with gorgeous Mexican tile counters, a brick oven, wood ceilings and floors, a daybed and patio that looked west over the mountain sunset. A bedroom house all blonde pine and cream color weavings and textiles made by local hands and the bed I would buy for myself, a fire place, a huge space for morning meditation, yoga, dancing and another patio that faced south and into gardens. Then a bath house with all the hot water you could ever want, artful tiles in the shower, a compost toilet and soft towels. More than the aesthetics it was the feeling.
The woman who owns the home is an American, from the PNW of all places, in her 60s, who has been here working with women’s collectives for like decades. I could feel the love of a woman in every detail. A woman who has created this life of hers from a heart of service and beauty. It was like I had built it- Oh, yeah, I did in that one vision, and it has been waiting for me.
I had packed provisions because I didn’t know the scene. Food, tea, too much clothing, vitamins etc. As I was packing up down at the beach, I kept hearing a voice- “you’re taking too much, let go a little and see what the mountains can provide for you”, so I left behind the eggs and black beans- because really?! And let me say this: my previous partner would call me bag lady for a reason. -But what if I don’t have this or that, or I need this, but I drink this every morning and what if I don’t for five days what will happen to me and this is how I do things because its what keeps me…
And I have gotten way better at trusting.
Did I mention that fresh handmade corn tortillas were hand delivered to me by the most beautiful 73 year old Ernestina whose family is employed by Margaret so they all take care of one another. Tortillas for gardening and money is a good good thing. I heard that whisper, “trust, the mountains will provide”. (I’m gonna cry for a minute)
Ok, I’m back.
Really there isn’t a lot up here, and there is plenty. The first day I found Juana who is tucked up into a long hallway of a restaurant that would scare almost any foreigner away, like most of the restaurants off the tourist path. I have had more amazing meals from precarious kitchens, like in the random shack way out in backcountry Battambang where I ate a papaya salad with cured fish and enough spice to need soft baby wipes the next morning and a fresh coconut for $1. Or the best ever Caldo de Gallina on the streets in Pisac- well, until Juana whose Caldo and Pasole con Pollo de Rancho, again, made me cry. I stocked up, she let me take her tupper (not a typo) because everyone knows Margaret, and with the vegetables and rice I brought from the organic market at the beach, I was set to settle into my oasis for a bit.
About three days in, post ceremony, supplies began to dwindle and I had enough to eat if I could let go of needing and relax into receiving the simplicity of what is here to feed me. I walked out into the village and up to Juana, craving some Gallina, but she was out. And rather than have any feeling about it, something different was in that place that used to panic and spend countless minutes and so much life force running around for the perfect meal, more supplies, another distracting trip to the store for more- I was like “not for me then, I must have exactly what I need”. I let that carry me home. And in a way I can’t explain, I was relieved.
On my way I noticed some others who must be visiting. A woman dressed in cream regalia like a Sherpa and a bright faced man. She looked distressed. I carried on and stopped at a little store to replace some of Margaret’s tea I had consumed when I noticed the couple outside. The woman asking me with a tone of frustration about an organic restaurant. She spoke Spanish but she was not Mexican. I passed her on to the shop keeper and I could understand most of what she was asking about. But what stood out were two things-
An anxiety in her that I knew too well. And the privileged comment, “well, this place isn’t like San Mateo with all of their organic and vegan restaurants. I heard there was a place. I was expecting a place…” To feel safe. She looked lost, worried.
The other was how much the western world expects the rest of the world to cater to us. And they do because everyone hollas for the dollar. I say US, and it’s tendrils, because, I am in the soup. I mean the little store I was in had almond milk for the love of.
I am going to tangent for a minute. Her spiritual regalia could not hide nor protect her. When the guru is gone and the vegan restaurants disappear what holds you now, who are you really?
Ok- I don’t know her, and this is a projection. But I am empathic and I could sense by standing by her, by what I was feeling in my body, that I knew, but knew wasn’t mine, what was happening with her.
Here we were in this village tended by people who have been here through family lines for hundreds of years, living, thriving. Yes, the few little stores are filled with crap that kills us, and there are vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, babies bouncing on the hips of the shop keeper smiling at you, cooing and wondering why you’re frowning. We as a society have too much to choose from period. More is not better because we lose gratitude. And when we lose gratitude we have lost prayer and when we have lost prayer we have lost ourselves. True prayer. True gratitude. The distinction must be made- an essay for another day.
I reflected on how this deep feeling of unsafety within ourselves hides in so many clever ways, this trauma of separation. I have created so many structures and needs in my life to keep me safe, and when this crashes with spirituality it’s actually just another addiction that now looks and sounds kind of pretty to soothe the lostness and anxiety. The layers.
I remember when I was in Thailand in 2012 right after I had just stopped puking my life out for 27 years and was healing. I was sitting in a little cafe starving and not letting myself eat because- the healing had only just begun. Then this gorgeous, peaceful woman came up to and said “why do you look so worried?” It has never left me. Maybe she sensed the same thing I sensed in the Sherpa woman.
Well, what she saw was that I was organizing all of my meals of the day in my head. I had already scouted all the little stores with things I would hoard and not let myself eat, and then I would, walking out the door instead of to the toilet. I always had to have enough food around me, and I rarely ate it because most of the time, it was too much, a lot of waste. But I needed it all to feel safe.
A lot of us do this. It’s like the day trip to the mountains where you pack way, like way, too many snacks because what if all of a sudden you slip into a time warp and land in the great depression or something? It’s a thing in our bones and it’s not funny. I have never starved. Let’s just pause for a moment because I doubt you have ever starved. So let’s pause and just feel the deep gift of that.
Back to San Sebastián.
I made dinner with my basic provisions, using up all the food, no waste, totally satisfied. You want to know what I made I am sure. Well, I had broccoli and I borrowed a little millet and red lentils from Margaret that I made with spices and onions and a zucchini and peppers topped with cilantro, lime and cabbage flavored with some caldo broth left over from Juana. Poured a tiny bit of mezcal, turned on some music and sang to the mountains as the sun poured over them to say goodbye to another miraculous day. I even had enough greens and one egg for breakfast the next morning.
When I woke up there was something very different about me, subtle but very different. There had been a healing. A profound healing. I felt space, lightness, a surrender to let Life guide. I have always prayed to let Life guide but the prayers don’t come true until the answers to them land in the body. Even bigger than that, I found safety in my body- inside this body!! Because I know, after this week how could I ever ever deny, how held I am by Life. I always have been, my life a string of miracles if I just allow myself to admit it, which is to admit love. I am guided by love.
Healing happens in little layers throughout life at just the right time. The time when there has been enough of what was lost regained, reclaimed and integrated to now fill the holes in the heart and the nervous system where trauma lived trying to maintain some sort of wholeness without collapsing with all of those holes. I won’t tell you what it is that must be reclaimed to fill those spaces because it is between me and God, the Goddess, my Creator, this Life, Mother Earth, the Stars, my ancestors, the Ancestors, my tobacco prayers, the corn tortillas in my belly and Las Montanas.
I have been given so much. So much.
Blessings to you.
I have included a little mantra that came through my journey about receiving. May it move you.
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San Sebastián is a town, like all of these little towns, caught in the middle. You know the scene if you have traveled anywhere in the global south ever.
I am a simple woman. I love beauty but I do not need grandeur.