The Clearing (Part One)

Last winter, I sat in a one-room cottage and watched almost everything I ever wrote burn up inside a small wood-pellet stove. The cottage stood within a clearing of dense, snow-covered forest, where all that could be heard were the wind and the hungry crackling of fire.

Earlier that year, I’d found myself lying in a hammock beside another nearby cottage. My family didn’t know it, but I’d gone to see a shaman who, over the course of twenty-four hours, offered me an impressive panoply of plant medicines to clear out the“debris” from my subconscious mind. These included eye drops of sanaga, two brews of yage tea, and several doses of rappe powder, which he blew from an animal horn into each of my nostrils. Lastly, the shaman singed five points of skin above my ankle, allowing the cleansing magic of kambo, a slime scraped from the backs of Amazonian frogs, to penetrate my bloodstream.

For all this, I barely experienced any of the violent purging, hallucinations, or revelations so common among these rituals. Even the shaman was baffled. (I do, however, remember a long trip to the outhouse and a moving conversation with my truck; and when I thanked the shaman the next morning for the carrots he’d cooked for dinner, he laughed and told me they were lentils.) Driving back home to my family, what I mostly felt was disappointed and confused.

And now, six months later, came the unexpected catharsis I’d been looking for the summer before, as I watched the stories of my life disappear before me. Most of my writing had been born out of disappointment and restlessness I no longer felt. I was ready to release the memories of failed relationships, dashed hopes, and tragic losses that I’d stored for years inside of envelopes and drawers. I wanted, instead, to live inside the rawness of each new moment, to allow the heat of emotion to burn inside me as it came. No judgment, no attachment, no regret.

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