With captivating lyricism, Amazon Wisdom Keeper transports us into the multicultural upbringing and transformation of Loraine Van Tuyl, a graduate psychology student and budding shamanic healer who’s blindsided by startling visions, elusive drumming, and her inseverable mystical ties to the Amazon rainforest of her native Suriname.
Is she in the wrong field, or did her childhood dreams, imaginary guides, and premonitions somehow prepare her for these challenges? Did Suriname’s military coup and her family’s uprooting move to the US rob her from all that she knew and loved at thirteen to help reveal her soul’s purpose, or is she losing her mind by entertaining far-fetched questions and hunches that can’t be answered or provenlike wondering if her perplexing life story is shedding light on the double-binds in her field on purpose, and suspecting that her soul’s daunting blue print was plotted long before she was even born? Van Tuyl wrestles with these questions and more as she embarks upon her risky quest, enduring test upon test in search of her true self and calling while enrolled in a rigorous academic program that regards intuitive healing methods as unscientificand even unethical.
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Loraine Y. Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, is a shamanic healer, holistic psychologist, author. For at least a decade, she has guided and trained depth hypnosis practitioners, shamanic healers, and master- and doctoral-level psychotherapists at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream, Native Health, the UC Berkeley Counseling Center, and her private practice, the Sacred Healing Well, where she seamlessly weaves modern psychotherapeutic and ancient practices into her holistic approach. She has held an active leadership role in BRASA (the Bay Area Surinamese Association) for the past two decades and has been an ordained minister at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream, the largest credentialing wisdom school in the larger San Francisco area, for more than a decade. Most months of the year, her two teens, aging parents, labs, parakeets, and many fish keep her and her husband busy and grounded to their lively home in the California Bay Area.
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Amazon Wisdom Keeper
A Psychologist's Memoir of Spiritual Awakening
By Loraine Y. Van Tuyl
She Writes PressCopyright © 2007 David J. Wallin
All rights reserved.
My First Communion
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does someone feel like all is as it should be.
~ Anne Frank
A handful of men with white smudges of cracked earth on their bare, chocolate bodies made a smooth entry onto the playground of St. Bernadette Elementary School, the all-girl, Catholic school that my parents had entrusted with my primary school education. The men were wearing checkered, cotton loin skirts around their waists. The brown seeds around their ankles and wrists rattled while they unloaded and carried carved, wooden apinti drums and other belongings from their pick-up truck to the playground.
Every now and then, delightful chatter, words of a familiar song, and occasional bickering and name calling in Dutch or the Surinamese Creole tongue, Sranan Tongo, rose above the cacophony that hovered over the playground. I was too busy numbering a row of square stone pavers to notice much of anything other than the relentless midday sun scorching my scalp through my shiny, dark hair. I patted the top of my head to circulate the hot air. Like most children born and bred in Suriname — a small Caribbean country and former Dutch colony almost entirely covered by muggy Amazonian rainforest — I'd gotten used to getting a bit sunbroiled in this tropical pressure cooker in the middle of the day.
"Come on, get up ... let's play! Recess will be over soon!" Geeta pleaded while pulling me up by the elbow. Her hazel-green eyes sparkled next to her golden-honey skin.
Our grandparents were part of a band of contract laborers and grocers from India, Indonesia, and China who voluntarily moved to Suriname right after the abolition of slavery. While some, like my Chinese paternal grandparents, married within their ethnic group, others freely mixed with the existing melting pot that consisted of indigenous forest dwellers, freed slaves, and European, Creole (racially mixed), and (a few) Black plantation owners, government officials, and public servants. My Chinese maternal grandfather, a merchant and bachelor, found romance outside of his ethnic group. He married a Creole woman, my grandmother, who was of Jewish-European, African, and indigenous descent. Her ancestral roots spanned from our native Suriname all the way to Ghana, Portugal, and Holland.
Not even our bland, olive-green cotton blouses and gray, pleated skirts could neutralize my friends' diverse complexions, hair textures, eye colors, and facial features. We looked like the layered palette of a seasoned painter. Despite our differences, we all detested taking pages of notes in class until our fingers were about to fall off. If you happened to have nice handwriting, as I did, not only could you be copying an entire chapter from a tattered book onto the blackboard, you needed to copy it again into your own notebook after school.
There was one thing that I hated even more than sore hands and fingers. Watching "hopeless cases" get punished by some of the teachers. In just three years of grade school, I'd witnessed teachers fold these troublemakers over their desk, lift their skirts, and swat them with a ruler on their bottoms in front of the whole class. Sometimes, they'd hurl a chalk eraser at their heads for talking too much, or dragged them by the ear to the principal's office.
It was never very clear to me why my friends had gotten in trouble. When I thought it was for talking back, someone else would get in trouble for not saying enough. I got in trouble for an entirely different reason: for shedding "crocodile tears" like a leaky faucet. I was often unable to stop the drip, which aggravated the grown-ups. And I was unable to explain what was wrong with me, which aggravated them more. My first-grade teacher took me to the principal's office when she couldn't take it anymore, and even Ma once raised her hand and threatened to give me a reason to cry if I couldn't provide one.
I didn't quite know how to say, "I feel sad, upset, and unsafe because adults like you, who should know better, are mean and are hurting us." No one around me did. When I got in trouble for crying, I tried to freeze up my tears and numb my bruised heart, copying some [[of]] my classmates. It only made me cry harder. When the recess bell rang, I was one of the first ones to bolt to the door, not able to stand another minute inside.
While waiting for me to finish drawing the hop-scotch cross, Petra, one of the few Dutch girls at our school, rubbed her rock in her hands for good luck. Her freckled, apple cheeks had a red glow, and her blonde locks, sticky at the ends from sweat, gently framed her face.
The loud clamoring of the bell interrupted our play right before Geeta could claim victory. The head nun and principal of our school, Soeur, was vigorously swinging a short, thick rope underneath the heavy copper bell in the hallway in front of her office.
"Recess is over!" she bellowed. Dead silence settled upon the playground. There were a few pieces of broken chalk, not bigger than a fingernail, lying around. I swooped them up and dropped them in one of my front pockets like delicate gemstones. Hitting my thighs with open palms, I tried to get as much chalk dust off my hands and skirt as I could, turning my clean uniform into a rag in just one day, as Ma would say.
"Hey, where is everyone going?" I asked Geeta, confused that no one was lining up to go back to our classroom.
"Oh, didn't you hear? There's going to be a special cultural performance on the playground today," Geeta said.
"Really? What kind of performance?" I asked. "No one told me."
"I'm not sure." Geeta asked others if they knew what was happening.
"It's a winti thing," Sandra said in a spooky tone of voice with bulging eyeballs while signaling with her hand for us to come closer. Winti, wind or spirit, is the trance dance practiced by the descendants of African slaves, known as Maroons or Bush Creoles, Bosland Creolen, who escaped and resettled in the dense Amazon jungle in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The playground quickly morphed into an outside amphitheater, and those of us on the periphery stood on our tippy-toes to see what was happening.
"Girls, girls, please move back and open the circle," Soeur said, motioning her arms and palms back and sideways. She was short and stocky and no longer wore her gray nun cap. Because she had lived in Suriname for more than thirty years, the "hot potato" in her mouth, her Dutch accent, had considerably shrunk, but it still sounded smarter and much more sophisticated than the wide range of other accents that the rest of the teachers had.
"No need to push; everyone will be able to see," she said, and walked along the inside rim of the circle and opened it.
"Now, let's give a warm welcome to the dancers and performers and thank them for coming to our school," Soeur said, while clapping her hands and merging into the circle.
I wormed my way to the front as the circle expanded. The drummers began to beat the drums in between their legs, and my heart started to pound in unison, louder and louder with each beat. The springy feet of the dancers bounced on the beat and off the stone pavers as if their bodies were feather-light. It felt as if a bouncy ball had been released inside of my body, a funny sensation that made my perfectly still body feel anything but still.
I noticed that some of my schoolmates were intently pointing at the dancers. They had shocked looks on their faces. Eager to know what had caught their attention, I examined the dancers more closely.
Their hips were moving sensually from left to right, and front to back, faster, faster, faster. This alone was enough to captivate my attention, but I got the feeling that the girls standing across from me were ogling something else.
Could they be looking at the white ceremonial clay, pimba doti, plastered on the dancers' skin, glistening with sweat? Wait a minute, that's not glistening skin! Those are big, shiny safety pins! Your everyday, regular kind of safety pins, pierced all over their bodies through the skin of their arms, legs, and stomachs, without a drop of blood in sight.
I imagined how much it would hurt to pierce all those pins through my skin, and shuddered. They didn't seem to be in any pain. Perhaps it was true that the sacred, mysterious powers of the white pimba clay could heal all flesh wounds. A sense of fearlessness and power started to swell inside of me, pumped up by the beat of the drums.
I let myself absorb the dancers' infectious joy until I was completely filled up. I felt more energized than I'd ever felt and much bigger and more grown-up than my usual self — clear, wise, loved, and invigorated, not at all on the brink of tears.
A similar surge of curious feelings grew inside of me once before when we learned in our history class about a daring slave who taunted, "Go ahead, kill me if you want. I am more free than you'll ever be," until he was tortured to death by his incensed tormenter. I somehow "got" the profound sense of freedom that the tortured slave was referring to. It stirred my blood and simultaneously gave me a sense of peaceful invincibility.
We also learned about Baron, Boni, and Joli Coeur, famous slaves who escaped (Boni's mother escaped while pregnant with him, so he was technically born free) and successfully revolted against plantation masters. After managing to escape a cursed life of mistreatment and misery, they instilled fear through their drumming and shouting at night. They burned down plantations and helped many slaves escape. I anointed them as my heroes until they were replaced by Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, and Helen Keller who were girls, closer in age to me, and easier to relate to.
The dancers in front of me were dancing just like my maternal ancestors had done for generations. Perhaps some of their descendants, my very distant relatives, still lived in villages deep in the jungle and were able to have their winti dance rituals whenever they pleased. The thought of this alone infused me with a sense of warmth, courage, and excitement.
Because some of these villages were strewn along the main roads on the southern fringes of Paramaribo, the capital, we got a glimpse of their homes and family life whenever we left the dank city to cool off in the creeks and rivers of our favorite jungle hideaways.
Their small wooden huts had beautiful, brightly painted, geometric hand-carvings on the doors. They were typically covered with dried palm leaves and scattered in between acai berry and coconut palm trees on a large stretch of communal land. Fine, glistening savannah sand surrounded their homes and marked the outside living space where children often played with each other or their dogs that were so skinny you could count their protruding ribs.
The women walking to and from their patches of land balanced big aluminum bowls of cassava roots, vegetables, and fruits on their heads. Like the dancers today, they wore nothing more than thin, knee-length cotton cloths wrapped around their waists and legs. With their voluptuous, bare breasts swaying freely from left to right, I imagined that these women were as welcome a sight to their children as Ma was to me when she returned from the Chinese grocer, Omoe, uncle, at the corner of our street.
I wondered if everyone around me was feeling what I was feeling. I looked at my teacher's face and the faces of the girls standing across from me. They seemed to be under the same spell that I was under. The performance lasted a little less than half an hour. As the dancers exited our circle, still dancing and drumming, Soeur enthusiastically applauded them with jiggly arms and loud claps high in the air, gesturing that we do the same.
After loud cheering and whistling, we lined up the way we usually did but were much rowdier than normal. There was more of the "Oh my God! Did you see that?" whispering going around, loud enough to annoy Mrs. Aardeveen, our third-grade teacher. She sharply shushed us with her finger on her lips, and threatened us with a "Quiet now, or else!"
"Because of today's performance, we will not be rehearsing your communion ceremony in church," Mrs. Aardeveen announced. Thank God. No jamming ourselves like sticky sardines onto the hard, wooden benches in the Sacred Family Church, a small Catholic church right next to our school. After we had settled behind our graffiti-covered desks, she explained that the Holy Spirit would somehow enter our bodies if we prepared our minds and hearts for this important moment. The experience sounded like what happened to me on the playground earlier today.
"You have come of the age to understand that by accepting the sacrament, the holy bread and wine, you are receiving the body and blood of Christ and giving yourselves to God. You will become one with God on your communion day. Your big day is just two Sundays away, so you need to be extra good, obey your parents, and pray every day," she said.
She said that we were all children of God, so it could happen for all of us as long as we desired it and tried our hardest to follow God's example. Oh, how I desired it. I hoped that my first communion would feel as electric and uplifting as watching the dancers and listening to the drummers.
School got out a little after one in the afternoon. Ma was late, and I was one of the last kids left, sitting on the sidewalk, waiting, squirming. All the teachers had left. They were usually the first ones to leave after Soeur clanged the bell.
Where is she? Is she mad at me?
Ma was the principal of a junior high school just a mile up the street, and every so often got stuck in a meeting with her teachers. After she finally brought the meeting to a close, she picked up Mark, my younger brother, first. He attended the Thomas Aquinas all-boy elementary school, which was like the Siamese twin of my school, joined at the hip and only separated by a wire fence.
There she was. Her royal blue and white dodge swirled around the corner. It looked like a bedazzling vision compared to most other weathered cars on the road. I quickly wiped the tears off my face before she could tell me to.
"Were you worried? I told you not to worry when I'm a few minutes late. It's hard to get out of these meetings. Everyone keeps talking," she reassured me. I didn't respond, knowing that she wouldn't press me for an answer.
We stopped by a vegetable stand by the "big tree," a fairy tale-shaped tree with a giant umbrella-like canopy. It was next to one of the busiest paved streets outside of central Paramaribo. Ma bought long beans, kouseband, and large, heart-shaped leaves, tayerblad, that she blended and cooked into a watery, green mush. It looked gross, but it was actually quite tasty with some butter and salt. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, she stopped by the milk man, the melk boer, to get fresh milk that often boiled over and dirtied the stove when no one was watching. On an occasional Friday, like today, Ma also bought a few bags of soggy cow manure. Lucky Mark and I got to load and unload them out of the trunk of her car.
"I know it stinks, but this is how you get tasty, juicy fruit and beautiful flowers," she said in response to our grumbling.
Why does she need manure? The dark soil around our house is so fertile that watermelon plants begin to grow after a seed-spitting contest!
I didn't say anything, because I didn't stand a chance. Ma knew her plants and trees inside and out, the easy as well as the finicky ones, the new branches that just sprouted, the sick roots and leaves, the blossoms on the verge of maturing, and the last dates our various fruit trees were harvested. Our pomelo, guava, avocado, cherry, mango, and papaya trees bore so much delicious, sun-ripened fruit that we bartered it for fish and shared it with our relatives down the street, the gardeners, and the housekeepers. We could go to the garden anytime and collect a full bouquet of orchid, hibiscus, bird of paradise, and anthurium flowers for a birthday celebration. Ma insisted that the soil was so fertile because of all the manure that had been folded in it.
We drove by half a dozen of Ma's siblings and their families, who all lived next to each other like nursing puppies. Growing up, my older aunties and uncles took care of their younger brothers and sisters, because their parents were far too busy to even say hello to them on a daily basis. Ma and Pa were middle children within litters of twelve. Actually, thirteen. In both of their families, bad luck struck the oldest sister in early adulthood; one died from a sudden infection, and the other from a broken heart.
Many parents sent their most ambitious and resilient children to Holland to get a university degree. Ma and Pa were among a handful of Surinamese students who quickly found each other and huddled together for warmth and support while studying in cold and desolate Haarlem, far away from home. Because of the dreary and long winters, they, like the rest of their friends, vowed to return to Suriname right after receiving their diplomas.
Excerpted from Amazon Wisdom Keeper by Loraine Y. Van Tuyl. Copyright © 2007 David J. Wallin. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 My First Communion 1
Chapter 2 The Revolution 19
Chapter 3 Shell-Shocked 35
Chapter 4 Pilgrimage 53
Chapter 5 The Right Lid 69
Chapter 6 Commitment Bootcamp 83
Chapter 7 The Finish Line 97
Chapter 8 Border Light 109
Chapter 9 Authority Issues 131
Chapter 10 Awikio! Awaken! 149
Chapter 11 Rainbow Crystal Woman 169
Chapter 12 Bird Nest Warrior Lore 191
Chapter 13 Rebirth 209
Chapter 14 Flying with Paloma 223
Chapter 15 The Gift 239
Chapter 16 Dark Night 255
Chapter 17 Seven Cosmic Sisters 269
Chapter 18 Homebound 291
Appendix and References: Behind the Scenes 313