Through the Door of Devastation

I am posting here two chapters from Love Unbroken which describe an initial awakening to the truth of what we are.  Such an opening can occur when we intensely pursue this truth, or it can descend on us unexpectedly in a moment of grace.  Or sometimes, as in my case, it can come after the personality has been emotionally devastated, shattering our ideas of who we thought we were.  Into this emptiness may arrive the awareness of what we are beyond personality.

In my case, the devastation occurred when my beloved daughter left the spiritual community where she had lived for a year, and returned to the streets and to drug addiction.  I went back to Brazil where I had been teaching the Pathwork and immersing myself in the Brazilian religion of the Santo Daime and its healing sacrament, ayahuasca. 

Chapter 15

Through the Door of Devastation

Rio Branco, Brazil, March – April 2000


For two days Pamela calls no one. Then she telephones me to say not to worry about her because she has “friends” she can stay with near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.—an area of the city where young people go to party. I’m speechless. She is almost nineteen years old; is this really the life she’s choosing? She won’t tell me where she’s living and doesn’t want to see me. It’s now been almost a year since the rescue in Omaha. Since then, she has lived a decent life in a serious spiritual community—but now she’s gone. Again.

I am scheduled to teach in Brazil three days from now. I have no idea how I will be able to do it. The day of my night flight to São Paulo, I am at my ninety-two-year-old mother’s house, sobbing uncontrollably. My mother is ready to call 911. All she can imagine is that I must be having a heart attack.  I am, but not the physical kind.

On the ride to the airport everything passes in slow motion and nothing feels quite real. As I wait for the plane, I pull out the only book I’ve brought with me, about a man’s personal spiritual journey to no-self, to the awakened state. (The book is Journey to No-Self, by Patrick Drysdale.)  Reading this book is the only thing that keeps me sane. I read:

“It became obvious that what I called ‘my’ life was nothing but a series of impersonal events. It was an unsettling surprise to see that all the nervousness and anxiety in the past was a big waste of energy because, in reality, there wasn’t any me for ‘my’ life to belong to…. I understood more deeply than ever that I didn’t have to push the river of life. It flowed all by itself.

“Since it was all God’s doing anyway, I learned to accept every situation that came along and lived with a calm indiffer¬ence to what transpired in my life. The self that worried about what might happen had disappeared and the old nature was no longer there to feel afraid.”

The possibility of this state of consciousness calls to me, but “calm indifference to what transpires in my life” seems unimaginable. Still, something inside me knows the state being described is real—and is, indeed, my destiny.

Every day of working in Brazil, I help people do their personal psychological work—to open the numb places, let the feelings flow, uncover the misconceptions formed in childhood that govern their lives. Every evening after teaching, I flee to my room and seek solace in this book that illustrates a new way to be with experience: neither being whipped around by all the ups and downs of life, nor being in denial. Instead the author is pointing to true detachment that can only come from letting go in total trust of a greater reality. I know that only this larger perspective will allow me to survive the fear and grief that threaten to overwhelm me. I read and reread the author’s story, trying to grasp his awakened perspective. I cannot understand it, nor can my mind relax from what is troubling me, but somehow just being reminded that such a perspective exists brings some calm.


At the end of my teaching, I meet my friend Barbara at the São Paulo airport. Together we travel to Rio Branco (a town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon forest). I want to explore this unusual city for myself.

In my first time in Rio Branco with Pam, we had participated in many Daime ceremonies both at the Daime compound and at the Barquinha church, in addition to attending the rituals with Antônio. On my last day I had visited the tomb of Master Irineu, founder of the Daime church.

Raimundo Irineu Serra was a very tall black man from the most¬ly Afro-Brazilian northeast part of Brazil, where he was raised by a devoutly Catholic mother. In the 1920s, he moved to the state of Acre to work as a border guard (Brazil borders both Peru and Bolivia here). He learned the use of ayahuasca from Peruvian Indian shamans, then started drinking the sacrament on his own.

He received a vision of the Divine Mother in the moon. She be¬came his teacher and guide, teaching him prayers to say and hymns to sing. These prayers and hymns became the basis for his starting a new path, which evolved into the church of the Santo Daime. He came to be known as Master Irineu, and was well-respected in Rio Branco. His congregation included many former alcoholics, and several peo¬ple who were cured of terminal illness. He was known far and wide in this Amazon town as a remarkable healer and spiritual teacher. Master Irineu had an abiding connection to the Divine Mother and a deep awakening to his spiritual nature.

Though he died in 1971, those who drink Daime frequently feel that his spirit visits them during the works. When he first came to me in a miração (a vision) in Mauá, I recognized Master Irineu as my next spiritual teacher. His presence aroused in me the same awe and inspiration I had felt in the early 1960s in the presence of my first spiritual teacher, Reverend Martin Luther King, whose teachings of liberation and non-violence were a guiding light for me. For a while in my young adulthood I was immersed in the civil rights struggle and in an African-American culture which I found deeply nourishing—forgiving, heart-centered and faith-filled.

In meeting the Afro-Brazilian spiritual teacher Master Irineu— through drinking Daime—I felt like I was coming home to a deeply familiar place in my soul.

Master Irineu’s open-air tomb in Rio Branco is a place of reverence for anyone who drinks Daime. When I first visited here, I felt overwhelmed by the spiritual presence and power I felt—and I had taken no sacrament that day.

This pristine outdoor sanctuary feels like my true church. The tomb is located on a stretch of unpaved country road on the outskirts of the city, across from M. Irineu’s original Alto Santo church, which is now led by his widow. The grounds around both the whitewashed church and the blue-tiled tomb are beautifully maintained with carefully tended jungle vegetation and bounteous flowers. Outside is a sign requesting appropriate clothing, the removal of shoes, and silence in the tomb. Inside is the raised sarcophagus of the founder. The interior of the building, with its waist-high walls, is covered in light-blue tile.

The tomb is a sanctuary for many ordinary townspeople who come here to pray, light candles, say a rosary, leave plastic flowers, or just touch the Master’s final resting place. Simple, devout people come here every day, everyone in silent reverence for the magic of this place. I too have been led to this spot.

After my first trip to the tomb, I wrote in my journal:

“I know I am a flower in the Master’s garden. His tomb is the most soothing place I have ever been; my body and soul resonate in complete harmony with the vibration here. I feel an immense serenity—a calm that permeates into the bone marrow, a peace that dissolves coagulated pockets of fear, letting them melt back into a continuous flow of love. I feel the Master’s presence inti¬mately. We talk. I feel my devotion to him. He keeps bringing me back to friendship and mutual respect. He is immensely reassuring, humble, respectful. I know myself as part of his team, another star orbiting his brilliance.”

Though I knew I needed to come back to this place, I could not have known how desperately I would need what could be found here. By the time Barbara and I arrive in Rio Branco to our sparsely furnished room in the hostel of the Daime community, I am emotionally and physically exhausted.


Barbara and I go to the tomb at least once each day for two weeks, often starting with a short morning service of saying prayers and singing some of the hymns of Master Irineu,  We go at six a.m., which is sunrise pretty much year round this close to the equator. We are always alone in the early morning, and after we sing we sit in silence, opening to the new day, letting in the sounds of birds and bugs, sensing the spiritual presence here—and in my case letting the pain of recent disappointments wash over me.

It is clear that the time has come for my own healing. The many shocks and wounds I’ve experienced in mothering Pamela have taken their toll on my body. I feel deflated, defeated, a failure. Like Job in the Old Testament story, I have exhausted my efforts to understand. I accept that no explanation will ease the simple pain of heartbreak.

I need to sit with the exhaustion and the defeat without trying to evaluate or analyze or question anything. I need space and time to let the pain be, just as it is. And this is my sacred space where I know all will be received, all will be held.

Inside my body are grief, fear, and confusion. All this comes to the surface for recognition and release. I cry and pray and allow whatever needs to come up to flood to the surface. And when my tears subside, I rest in the hollow emptiness that is all that remains. My body becomes a vast, raw tenderness. Into this vulnerable tissue I let in the strength and love that surround me in this place. The tomb becomes the holy place where I can let myself die. All my expectations, hopes, and dreams for Pam come to the surface and shatter. I do this day after day until I finally land somewhere near the bottom.


One morning Barbara and I drink some Daime in an early-morning ceremony at the hostel where we are staying. We are still feeling its effects when we arrive at the tomb. I’m unusually raw and needy on this day; my singing is interrupted with the sound of my own voice crying softly. My mind is empty.

In the silence following our singing, I start regressing in my consciousness to the feeling state of an infant. I feel lost and, most of all, bereft. Where is my mother? Where is my mother? Where is my mother? I can feel the infant frantically scanning, screaming, searching for the single most important presence in her life… and there is… nothing. The loss stabs deep into my heart as my belly clenches, and I double over.

I have done lots of regression work in the past, but this is different and deeper. It’s personal, but beyond the personal. It’s a universal feeling of loss and disconnection. Sharp, serrated pain cuts through my body, reaches into all the deepest recesses, and scrapes out every bit of scabbed-over disappointment and loss. Slowly and of its own accord, the pain lets go.

I feel washed clean, more empty than ever before in my life. But now it is a quiet emptiness, an emptiness that lacks nothing.


Throughout our time in Rio Branco Barbara has been steadfast and patient with me—simply receiving and supporting me, not trying to fix or change what needs to well up in its own way. I am immensely grateful for her support.

She has also helped me enjoy this unusual place. We take daily walks in a park filled with old jungle trees with plaques naming each one. We watch for unusual birds and hang out in the city’s central square with the food carts and musicians, eating the mangoes that are so plentiful they rot in the gutters. We get our food from the open air market, including our daily drink of açaí juice, long before it would become a health food fad. We cook in the communal kitchen at the Daime hostel, for ourselves and for the other Daimistas, Brazilian and foreign, who pass through here on their journey deeper into the rainforest to the Daime spiritual community of Mapiá.

Or we eat at the por kilo restaurants where we pay according to what the food weighs. We visit my doctor friend Zé Luis, and along with him, we do Daime ceremonies at several different churches. We enjoy exploring all Rio Branco has to offer. But nothing touches me nearly as deeply as my time in Master Irineu’s tomb.

At the end of the two weeks Barbara has to fly back to the States, but I know I need more time here. Donovan agrees that it makes no sense to hurry home. Pam is truly gone—for now at least—and my work can wait. While I am grateful for Barbara’s comfort and friendship, I know I need to take my next steps alone.


Chapter 16

The Mother and I Are One

Rio Branco, Brazil, April 2000

I continue my early morning visits to the tomb. Gradually, I feel less pain and more emptiness. The question “Where is my mother?” had welled up from the deepest place in me, the original separation we all experience when we take birth in human form. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the question is now morphing into something even more basic: “What is my mother? What am I? Are we really separate?”

These questions begin to gather momentum inside me. I want to break through whatever is holding me back from union with my true nature. I want to meet in myself the feminine face of God. I want to know what life is all about—not just my personal drama, but the whole human drama. I want to know the mystic’s reality, the one described in Journey to No-Self. I have a sense of an interior intensity that is not only building, but is also taking charge of this life.

Years earlier, in the early 1960s when I was given my first glimpses of the spiritual path, I had a vision of having a rope tied around my waist, connected to a large wheel, a winch. Something un-nameable was turning that winch and drawing me into itself. I sense that now the winch is turning again and I am being dragged to a destiny that I can never understand with my mind.


In a morning ceremony I drink Daime, then afterwards go to the tomb to await instruction. I find myself in deep meditation, repeating a kind of mantra: “What is it? What is it?” I can’t assign a name to this “it” which I seek, but the urgency of the question is undeniable.

Then the mantra spontaneously ceases, the mind stops altogether, and an emptiness that is vast—not personal, more like cosmic, formless space—opens up inside. As long as I keep my eyes closed, this space grows ever more immense.

As an experiment, I open my eyes. Immediately, the spaciousness crystallizes into all the forms seen around me—blue tiles, green trees, blue sky, this bench, and this body sitting on this bench. I take it all in, all at once, and a “voiceover” announces: “This is It.”

Everything pulsates with life; I perceive an undulating tapestry of organic life forms that are intricately interconnected. Whatever is animating this gigantic tapestry of life animates every part of it equally, including this body sitting on this bench. No one part of it is more special than any other part—and none of it is personal. Nothing is “mine.” There is no identification with any part as separate from the whole. It all comes from the same Source: actually it all is the same Source, dressed in myriad forms.

I am enthralled. I find that when my eyes close, there is only the formless vastness. When they open, I am plunged into this exquisitely alive, sparkling fabric of infinitely interconnected forms. Nothing is separate from anything else—and there is no separate “me.”

And then more words come: “The Mother and I are One.”

I have come to know the Divine Mother as my true mother, the spiritual fount from which my individual spirit flows and upon which my life depends. But what is happening now is new. It erases all sense of separation between the Godhead or Source or Mother and this particular body that is still sitting on this particular bench in this exact place at this precise moment. This, too, is God, here and now. There is no “individual spirit”; there is only Her. She is blue sky and blue tiles, green vegetation, and this body and this mind. She is all of it, here and now.

I know that what I am experiencing is the same reality Jesus realized and tried to communicate when he said “the Father and I are One.” Or that Buddha pointed to when he said, “In all the universe, I am the only One.”

Spontaneously the body gets up and starts to move around the tomb, gliding, dancing, delighted. I go out into the surrounding gardens and truly feel that I am in the Garden of Eden, seeing the world as if for the first time. Not separate from what is witnessed, I am completely childlike, innocent, open. The Mother is this garden, this human female, this blue-tiled tomb—we are all Her incredible play, and there is nothing outside it, nothing excluded from it.

And there is no meaning outside of this play; its very existence, its is-ness, is the only meaning. It is all Her unfolding, everything exactly as it is: one undulating, animated, and unbounded wholeness. Everything is dancing Her joy.

The sound of traffic reaches the ears, and this body spontaneously turns back toward the tomb. Then something on the ledge of the low wall of the tomb catches attention: a snake. And then the snake explodes into a thousand snakes, and the fear-thought arises that they are all coming off the wall and heading toward me. (The hallucination of the snakes is the only time I have experienced something in the Daime that was solely a projection of my own fearful mind.)

Fear sneaks into paradise, and the experience of Oneness shatters. When looking at the proliferation of snakes, this thought is directed to them: “I know you are not real, and I want to see and know only what is true.” They retreat back into the one snake that truly is here, which slowly slithers down the wall and away. As I watch, the snake appears to look back at me and then disappears in the undergrowth.

I cannot fully return to my earlier state. Fear has had its entry point, creating separation between the snake and the witness of the snake.

But I have had an enormous shift of perspective, and will never forget it. Since experiencing it, I have never doubted that my true nature is spirit, identical with the true nature of God (or the Divine Mother). Nor have I doubted that, in essence, all manifestation is only the outer garment of the Divine, all forms reflecting a formless spiritual essence. There is no material “something” with an independent existence. And there is no independent “me.”


Much later I would recognize that this experience was a taste of what is often called “awakening” in spiritual literature. It is a universal spiritual experience that mystics of all traditions—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and others—have described. It is essentially the same for everyone, from whatever religious or spiritual background. We open to the reality of what we are as spirit, which is vast and empty and eternally alive as compared to how we normally think about ourselves as a separate limited human body which will die.

Spiritual awakening is comparable to waking up from a nighttime dream and realizing that, while the “character” we were playing in the dream felt very real, it is obviously not the truth of what we are when we wake up. It is a shift of perspective in which we come to know, not as a thought but as a lived experience, that our true nature is one with Source and that this Oneness is the only reality that truly exists.

The thirteenth-century poet Rumi illustrates my journey:

The way of love

is not a subtle argument.

The door there

is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles

of their freedom.

How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,

They’re given wings.

Following the way of love, I have fallen fully through the door of devastation. I have been given wings. I have glimpsed freedom.


The intense energy of this breakthrough into a deeper level of reality stays with me for several weeks. I barely sleep, and I’m filled with joy.

There are curious manifestations of my new awareness. For instance, I find myself suddenly much more conversant in Portuguese and have conversations with Brazilians I wouldn’t previously have thought myself capable of. I also have a newfound confidence in driving my rented VW all over town with Daime friends who come through Rio Branco, navigating potholes and washboard roads that would have intimidated me before.

I feel that I possess an incredible secret. I plainly see that most people don’t know who they are: divinity itself. I feel greatly comforted in knowing that I will be able to share this experience fully with Donovan.

When thoughts of Pam arise, at first there is sadness. I want her to know what has been shown to me, and to rest in her inner, infinite worth. But for the first time, I also begin considering the possibility that who she is right now—a young woman choosing to do drugs with other young people and live a precarious existence on the streets of Washington, D.C. —is also an expression of divinity.

Allowing myself this perspective gives me relief; I know, at least for now, that what is happening in Pam’s life isn’t “wrong.” It just is what it is. And her life and problems aren’t about me. Her life is an expression of God the Mother, doing whatever She does, as Pam. I feel a rush of gratitude to Pam for being exactly who she is: someone who has challenged every particle of my conventional middle-class identity, and every idea I’ve had about myself as a mother. Because of her I have been plunged into deep self-examination, opening hidden pockets of pain and emerging into a brighter light than I ever dreamed possible. I acknowledge that Pam has been the greatest catalyst for my spiritual growth. At the same time, I release her to her own destiny.


After my experience in the tomb, I decide to go to Mapiá, a journey I had always considered daunting before. Getting there takes three full days from Rio Branco, first by auto and then by canoe. I travel to Mapiá and back with new Brazilian friends, sharing a canoe ride, sleeping in a hammock covered by mosquito netting in the home of one of the founders of the village, walking alone in the jungle, dealing with the heat and the bugs.

I go to large Daime works in the village church and do daily prayer services with my hostess. I even meet with Padrinho Alfredo at his mother’s house—and we speak Portuguese. Despite my anticipation of an ardous trek, the trip to Mapiá is seamless, flowing, easy.

I particularly enjoy a Daime work called a gira, which is held outdoors in Padrinho Alfredo’s terreiro (sacred outdoor sanctuary). I feel well received and spiritually nourished in Mapiá, but I also sense a detachment from the church of the Santo Daime.

The reality revealed in the tomb is the basis of my new ease. I have seen beyond the religion of the Santo Daime (or any other path or church), recognizing that they are all boats for carrying their followers to the other shore—awakening to our true nature. Once we have been shown what we are, we have a new relationship to the boat which helped us to arrive. In the past I had always tried too hard to be a “good girl,” obedient to the many rules and beliefs of this church. My identification with the good girl persona meant twisting myself into something that did not feel natural to me, bringing exhaustion and resistance. Now I feel free of this demand on myself to conform. Ironically, this allows me to be in the works with less rebellion, more harmony with the ceremonial forms, and more enjoyment.

After a life-changing five weeks in Brazil, I return home feeling empowered and relaxed. I am confident that spirit is living this life and it will do whatever is needed to help Pam.  I need only relax into this perfect faith.

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