Photo: David Lopez

Love Advice From a Peruvian Xamã

Peru Culture Couples
by Gaía Passarelli Oct 20, 2015

“You’ll be fine, sister. Just let it go.”

The comforting words didn’t come from my BFF, but a Peruvian xamã: a small, dark man with kind eyes, and colourful clothing that stressed his Inca features. Clothing that I was now using to clean my wet face while sitting in the garden of an ancient monastery in Cusco Vieja.

We have just been through a game of coca leaf reading, under a grey, about-to rain sky. For the past 45 minutes, the xamã had told stories about the Inca people from the Peruvian Andes, about how they lived before Europeans showed up in the 16th century. He sang a few songs and told tales about animals, plants, elements. Then, he gave me a few small, dry coca leaves to chew and spread more of it over a piece of cloth and under a small rock.

He then took a deep breath, held my hands in his and started to tell me about my son. “He’s a good boy, he will bring you a lot of joy in life, but he’s sensitive and may go trough difficult times, like all of us. You’ll need to be patient.” Patience. Patience is good, I can do that. He went on about my work (“It’s always going to be very unstable, the sooner you learn to deal with it, the better”) and about my family.

I listened, saying close to nothing because silence seems to be the correct attitude when consulting with the occult. Not that I’m an expert, but it’s sounds fair to let the esoteric one in charge do his work without any chatty influence from my part. And it was going well! The good xamã said sensible things about my family and me, never made any groundbreaking, suspicious announcements — although big, unexpected money coming my way would be nice. He stressed how I needed to reconnect with myself, to be glad for the opportunities this Earth gives me, to be humble and listen to my heart. All good, clean advice.

But I needed more. I stood in front of the xamã, hidden inside my shawl, chewing coca leaves, and stared.

“You look like you have something to ask, sister.”
“Yes, please. There is something else.”
“Go ahead, then.”
“Well, you see, there’s this guy…”

Of course there is. There’s always “this guy”. I bet Eskimos, Polynesians, and Kenyans; warriors, refugees, and queens, they all talk about the one who went away, who never called back, who was untrue. Heartbreak respects no boundaries. It happens to everyone, everywhere. A broken heart is universal.

The xamã knew what was coming. My eyes became pools. It was impossible to suppress: I broke down. By breaking down, I mean sobbing, like I haven’t sobbed since my (dear, musician, handsome) boyfriend had left me, just about two months before. I’m talking a whole bimester of insomnia, weight loss, and humiliating phone calls. Close friends had been patiently listening to my “I don’t know where did I go wrong” moans. Now, this kind Inca soul was to deal with my drama too.

I tried my best broken Spanish to explain how it happened, how the guy said the terrible “I don’t love you back” words. I wanted to say how I felt useless, disposable, undeserving of love. How sad and mad and pissed I was. How my happiest times in life suddenly became a bunch of bitter, angry memories.

You know how it is. Chances are you’ve been discarded in life, too. And because heartbreak happens to us all, the xamã didn’t care that I could not articulate a complete sentence, let alone express all the depths of my feelings. He just held me. He held me gently, with care, like you hug someone you don’t know well. And then he rocked me. He rocked from one side to another, like you do to a small child. Soon he was tapping my shoulders.

“Shhhh, Let it go, girl. Cry it out. It’s nobody’s fault. These things just happen. Try to think about the good times you had, remember to be grateful for it.”
“I loved him so muuuuuuuuuuch….”

With his free hand, the xamã moved the coca leaves again, reading it.

“He will not come back for you, sister. Not now, not ever. It’s over.”
“I can’t answer that.”
“It is not fair! I was a good girlfriend! I’M SPECIAL!”
“Yes, sure you are. But, calm down now and pay attention, I have something important to tell you.”

I sat still, listening.

“It will come back to him. The pain you feel now, a pain he does not know or understand, this pain he will know in the future.”
“You mean someone will dump him? That’s great! Are you sure? When?”

Not that I was yearning for revenge, but I’m human. Knowing that someday the agent of my heartbreak would look back and understand the pain he caused me, that was a good thought. I sat still, cleaned my eyes and chewed another coca leave.

“I can’t say when. But listen, there’s more.”
“More? Oh yeah! Good! Go on!”
“You need to open up, sister. There will be love in your life again.”
“Love? For me? Nope, thanks. I don’t want it. No, no, no. Never again. Love is a mess. I’m done with love.”
“You’re wrong. You will want it.”

He knew he was right, of course. I knew it too. I could feel there was a path ahead. The sun was back into the sky. Pain or no pain, it was not the end.

I don’t know how much of heartbreak advice a Peruvian xamã have to deal with in his line of work. I bet it’s a lot. And I won’t tell you he read all that stuff on his coca leaves, too. Maybe he just wanted to make me feel better about myself. That’s fine; that’s genuine. And in the end, what’s the difference? Sometimes we just need to hear the necessary clichés of love life: the world keeps moving, an end is a chance to begin anew, everything happens for a reason.

I thanked him with a hug and left, giving my place in line to the person behind me. Then I went back to my room. I would pack my stuff, take a hot bath, and a enjoy a whole night of sleep. Next morning I’d fly back home, smiling and eating a pack of Peruvian chocolate while the airplane flew over the Amazon, on my way to Brazil.

This article originally appeared on How to travel light and is republished here with permission.

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