The Burial

“The Burial” is a painting ten years in the making and born out of a ritual in which I took part on August 15, 2005.  The burial ritual was conducted by Kajuyali Samani, a shaman who lives in the southern Andes of Colombia in a town called Chachagui.  People who participate in this ceremony are usually looking for guidance and vision to carry them through a transitional period in their life.  I had been in such a place since 2001 when my connection with the Makuna, Yukuna and Tanimuka peoples had been cut off by the FARC rebels who took over the region of the Colombian Amazon I had been working and living in since 1986.  The FARC expelled all non- indigenous people from the Apaporis, Pira-Parana and Miriti-Parana rivers and told us that we might be killed if we were to return to the region.  

In 2003 I moved from Boston to the Berkshires and was feeling uninspired and unmotivated for the first time in the 37 years I had been painting.  Being unable to travel to the Amazon made me fully realize how much my creative process had become connected to my interaction with indigenous peoples.  This realization led me to ask myself why I painted at all.  Feeling a bit depressed and in need of a good jolt to spark my creative juices, I decided to visit my friend and shaman, Kajuyali in Southern Colombia. He had told me about a ritual that he had been gifted in a vision he had during one of his ayahuasca ceremonies.  I spoke to him about the changes I was going through and the quandary I found myself in, and he recommended that he lead me through the Burial ritual.

There were a few weeks of preparation required before the ritual, during which time I needed to make offerings, prepare my burial site and meditate on, and clarify, my intentions for going through with this.  I was instructed to keep a diet of no solid food for 24 hours before the ritual was to begin.  The day of the ritual, Kajuyali and I, two assistants and a friend who took pictures, went to the burial site I had prepared in the preceding days.   After removing all my clothing I was smudged off with sage, then Kajuyali gave me a small cup of highly concentrated ayahuasca (sacred visionary plant medicine from the Amazon) to drink.  I then lay down in my grave and Kajujali prayed over me while the two assistants covered me with dirt that had been anointed with herbs and flowers.  A heavy black fabric was placed over my face, which was the only part of me left exposed.  Kajuyali chanted over my body for about 10 minutes, and then I was left alone.

I went into a meditative state and slowly became comfortable with the sensation of insects and crawling creatures coming into contact with my skin.  Kajuyali had told me that they are here to help connect me to the great Mother so I embraced that council.  Feeling relaxed, I briefly fell into a light sleep. When I awoke I could feel (more than hear) the sound of wind blowing through the trees and felt vibrations throughout my body connected to the wind.  As the strength of the medicine took hold of me I felt my body dissolving.  My energy seemed to spread out in all directions making room for a collective universal energy to replace it.  After a while I felt at one with the earth.  Colored patterns appeared which illustrated to me the merging of my energy with that of all of nature.

After an incalculable period of time, I was visited by my deceased mother and father, who came to me smiling, and appeared happy to meet me in this way.  They were totally supportive of this journey I was on.  I understood their greatest gift to me, which was the way in which they had both nourished a healthy balance of male and female energy in me.  They wished me well and left me with a feeling of unconditional love.  Later, during the ritual I was visited by the spirits of Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh, who came to give me council.  Their message was to paint from the gut and not from the head, and to paint with the well balanced male and female energy I was now connected with.  They counseled me to let energy flow freely through me as it was at that moment, and not to fear chaos or discord, as those were just constructs of my mind that would only block the creative spirit from flowing through me.  Their message was to “trust my gut”.  Frida and Vincent then rejoined the collective unconscious of which I was now a part.  In a dream/trance like state I lay there connected, grounded and liberated.  After some time I remember urinating and feeling the wet warm earth between my legs and beneath me.  This brought me back into an awareness of my physical body.  The plant medicine had worked through me in a beautiful and gentle way.

About ten minutes later I felt the vibration of feet on the ground near me and called out to Kajuyali.  He asked if I was ready to leave my grave and I told him “yes”.  I was uncovered by the assistants who had buried me, and was told to keep my eyes closed and kept in darkness with a black cloth over my head.  I was led slowly up the hill and into the inipi (sweat lodge).  The stones which had been in the fire were brought in and the door to the inipi was closed. Only then was I told I could remove the cloth from my head and open my eyes.   Kajuyali poured water on the red hot stones.  The warmth of the steam or “Breath of Life” rising off the “grandfathers” (stones) in the lodge brought comfort to my body, which had cooled during my time underground.  After the four “doors” of the lodge, the assistants and fire keepers left the inipi leaving Kajuyali and me alone for a final “door” during which time I recounted to him all the details of my experience that I could remember.

It has taken me many years to complete “The Burial”.  I began working on it in late 2005, shortly after the burial ritual described above.  In this painting I pay homage to Vincent, (the crows in the sky in the upper right) and Frida, (by painting my body into the composition), and to ayahuasca and the Amazonian cultures I lived with for so many years.  The more formal symbols in the middle left hand side of the painting represent male and female energy in a balanced state and the flower symbols just below them represent the plant medicine.