Patience, Permission and Respect

By Nick Polizzi

I’ve heard it said that the medicine is everywhere, we just need to learn how to find it. Last week, I was taught a lesson that took my understanding of this concept to the next level.

I had the honor of sitting down with two distinguished medicine workers from the high Peruvian Andes. You often hear us speak about the crucial role that shamanic apprenticeship plays in keeping these ancient traditions alive – well these two individuals are living proof of the power this time-tested model holds.

Upon first meeting Sebastian and Santiago, you are struck by the difference in their outward appearance. Sebastian, a native Hatan Pampamisayuq (meaning “high level ceremonialist and healer” in Q’ero tradition), wears the bright-colored garb that is customary in the Ausangate region of the high Andes. By contrast, Santiago (who goes by Dr. J.E. Williams here in the States) is a fashionably dressed American in his mid sixties. Within minutes of watching their fluid interaction, it becomes very clear that Sebastian is mentor and Santiago is student.

I had an extensive list of questions prepared for this long-awaited meeting, but once the conversation started I realized that my outline was not going to serve me. Sebastian and Santiago were not here to give me a vivid rundown of the ancient Q’eros – the last of the mighty Incans, or to regale me with miraculous healing feats they had performed. They were here as representatives of their boss, Pachamama, and we were going to be sticking to simple and potent truths. Medicine for the masses.

There were five thunderbolts of wisdom shared over our intimate three-hour discussion, but they wouldn’t all fit into this article. I will do my best to illustrate one major concept today, and with Sebastian and Santiago’s permission, I will post more in the weeks to come.

The following teaching is best summed up in three words: patience, permission, and respect.

Toward the beginning of our conversation, Sebastian (who only speaks Spanish and Quechua) asked if I had ever tried Ayahuasca before. When I answered yes, he asked why I had chosen to seek out this powerful plant medicine. The word “curiosity” came out without hesitation and this elicited a big and wise Q’ero smile from the elder. “That’s 99.9% of the people who use Ayahuasca now.”

The rest of his response was in Quechua, so Santiago jumped in to assist with the translation. “Sebastian is saying that the indigenous cultures from which these powerful plant medicines originate treat these rituals with great respect. The plant ceremonies are not learned without the permission of the spirits. Only when one has the fortitude and patience to sit and listen to his or her natural surroundings will they begin to notice the signs and synchronicities that indicate whether they are on their spirit’s intended path. These portals or bridges will communicate whether a seeker has permission to pursue a mighty plant ally like Ayahuasca. Without this permission, and the guidance of an experienced ceremonialist, the power plants can be quite dangerous.”

Sebastian’s eyes were an impossible combination of childlike glee and timeless wisdom. “She is called Mother Ayahuasca for a reason – she should be approached with humility, respect, and permission.”

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The next piece is what struck me the deepest and has already been the catalyst of a major personal shift. Santiago continued his stirring translation of Sebastian’s words, “And even when you’ve learned to listen, and the portal has opened granting you permission, you do not just barge through. This is the American way, but it won’t serve you on the spirit path. Once you have permission, you pause with deep respect and proceed to make a series of offerings, waiting for some indication of what to do next. This itself can take years, but in the process you will learn how to connect deeper with nature and yourself.”

Santiago continued in his own words, “So many people come to Peru to have a big experience with the entheogenic plants, but most haven’t yet cultivated a relationship with the common plants that grow in or around their own home. If you don’t know how to care for a small garden or a house plant, what business do you have requesting a one-on-one meeting with the mother of all plants, Ayahuasca?

Perhaps we should take a step back before we lean forward.”

Later on, I brought out a San Pedro cactus that my wife and I had rescued from the local Target nursery, and we discussed the irony that a sacred plant like this was being sold in such large quantities as a yard ornament. Santiago pointed out that this was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to properly respect a plant. They prepared a small ceremony – intended to clear stagnant or negative energy and infuse the young San Pedro cactus with a blessing.

Sebastian withdrew a pouch of coca leaves from his bag and Santiago did the same with a sack of uncured tobacco. Sage and palo santo were lit, and a rather intense ceremony for our prickly friend ensued. The leaves of coca and tobacco were blessed and buried in the soil around the cactus and the ceremonial act was complete.

Washing his hands with the traditional Agua De Florida, Santiago instructed, “Remember, this particular variety is quite partial to morning sunlight and likes it on the dry side, so don’t over water. Place it right underneath that window and it will thrive.”

Spoken like an individual who decided long ago to make the medicine path a life endeavor, and hasn’t taken any shortcuts along the way.

Patience, permission, respect.

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi
Director, The Sacred Science


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28 Responses

  1. A good texf explaining that access to spirit depends on inner spirit and one’s inner alchemy.

    However, be aware that many highly respected native americans of the 1800’s have reincarnated in Europe over the past 60 years and are held in utmost respect by wisdom keepers around the planet – and they wield even greater medicine than in their past life. And traditionals are learning FROM THEM!

    Therefore, careful with any kind of “box” associated with body molecules… it is SPIRIT that matters.

    And it comes in all shapes and surprises.

    1. hello eric,

      your comment has piqued my interest. may i ask you to share more, please?

      thank you!!


  2. dear nick i read you are from ct
    i live in ct, wondering if you could inform me of any scared sites here ?
    thanks for your help

  3. Thank you for this post. I am an avid gardener, and actually consider myself to be a plant, although in human form. Thank you for the reminder to be respectful and patient…. I am looking forwrd to the continuation.

  4. I journeyed to Peru in July 2013 for the primary purpose of shamanic healing. It concerns me that so many people venture to this sacred land in search of their next drug trip. The purity, power and grace of Mother Ayahuasca deserve far more respect and understanding.

  5. Nick,
    Thank you so much for sharing about the words you had with Santiago and Sebastian. It is such confirmation to me that my intuition has been correct to take my time in approaching Mother Ayahuasca. Each time I felt the opportunity arise I did not feel ready…and while I deeply desire to experience her wisdom, I find my learning more here in the us about Herbs and Holistic healing could greatly prepare me not only to approach her, but also to be of deeper service to the people who are stewards of her precious lands. It is always a great honor to receive your updates about Paititi and the wisdom you are all embracing. It is nothing short of humbling to even be involved in your network. Know I am with all of you in my spirit, and look forward to the present moments to come in which I am called to the rainforest in my physical body. Love and Light Always ~Miss Alberta Qamar

  6. Thank you for this! I took once the plant with respect, but not with patience – and the experience was not nice. I totally understand this conversation!

  7. Thank you Nick for another interesting article. Your curiosity and exploration of shamanic practices and plant medicines feeds my own yearning to know more about these subjects. Your articles ring true with integrity and an honest desire to communicate what you are learning. Thanks and “stay curious”!

  8. I love your work and am very interested in healing and South American healing traditions. Could you please put the pronunciation of these unfamiliar words beside said word; ie Ayahauasca and Quechua? What does Ayahausasca mean?…I am hungry for more knowledge in these areas…Thank you so much Nick for what you do…Warm regards ..D S

  9. Wonderful article! I recently watched a film which exemplified the complete opposite of the 3 tenants expressed here…it was funny, however! It was called “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus”. It was filmed in Chile…

  10. Thank you for the above which has made me consider my plants more sensitively. I also appreciate the written word over videos which are difficult to hear. Blessings.


  12. My walk on the medicine path started when I was 13 with a gift from my grandfather, but not centered around herbs. It’s easy to forget that one can learn and extend healing in many ways. Nevertheless I love the respect indigenous people have for plants and how they tend to their use according to moon cycle and time of day.

  13. This brings tears into my Heart. Years ago, under instruction from a jesuit priest, I experienced the arena of healing. It was a moment when dimensions faded and I felt love and creation around me. The only other time I have known this was looking into the eyes of my new born sons. I deeply regret walking away from further learning as I ‘assume’ I would now be of assistance to others. This morning when I read how we must first learn to respect plants before seeking their healing gift I felt the past come forward and regret part of what held me back was a deep fear of using any form of mind altering modality without supervision or training. So many people are obsessed with drugs. I wonder if they are lost spiritual warriors seeking to reconnect with creative love. I do not know the answer but now wish I’d stayed to learn and be a positive influence to prevent people from further wounding their lives.. walk gently

  14. Thank you for sharing your experience and these beautiful & powerful teachings from the elders . This was very helpful to me today . Many good blessings .

  15. Beautiful reminder of the simplicity of life that needs our surrender and acceptance before our Ego’s want to take the giant leaps they ‘think’ they need. Great blog x

  16. Thank you for this website, blog and the Sacred Science film. Wow. Any news on the patients in the movie (I’m curious)?

  17. Thanks Nick, I have this San Pedro Cactus. Growing it for some 18 years. I am wondering if the flower holds and medicine. I do know that it smells amazing! Most other cactus flowers that I have smelled are not a nice smell. This one you can smell from several feet away. I thought it was interesting that he said “plant it under a window” mine is under my window on the south side of my house. So, I am on the right track with caring for her!

  18. This comes at such a great time. We are heading into Mercury retrograde period. Many people get so frustrated with that energy, computer break down, meetings postponed, headaches and so on. I was just talking about my husband this is not most to be like that. Mercury retrograde is suppose to slow us down to take it easy. Otherwise to remember; patience, permission and respect.

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