I bought this singing bowl in Granada, on a whim. The seller could make it sing particularly loud, but I couldn’t. I wanted to learn, so I bought it. It became a sacred object through a long story which I must explain to provide context.
I was walking the camino through Extremadura, near the Roman arch of Caparra. I was told that, on the other side of the hills lay the Jerte Valley, and that in Easter it became white from the flowering cherry trees in spring. It happened to be Easter and the hike didn’t seem too difficult, so the next morning I left my backpack at the hostel I was staying and I said I’d be back at night.
It turned out to be an incredibly challenging hike, and when I reached the top I saw the cherry trees had already lost their flowers. But the valley was beautiful and I wanted to stay there, so I head down into the towns at the bottom of the valley.
It was crazy crowded. I found myself amidst easter festivities which in Spain often remind of the Ku Klux Klan.
Later in the night, streets full of people dining and drinking. I made my way to a hotel and asked if they had availability. Not only it was sold out, the entire valley was in full occupancy. I called a taxi to ask how much he would charge me to get me out of the valley. One hundred euros. I was in a dire situation and it was already midnight.
As I pondered my situation, the bells of the church rung. Could it be that there would be a midnight easter mass? There was indeed. I joined a handful of old locals to listen to the priest’s sermon. It was about helping people in need. “Perfect” I thought, “there’s no way he can refuse to help me”. I struggled through mass to remain awake, as the hike had exhausted me, and at the end of mass I approached him.
—Father, I was doing the Camino de Santiago and this morning I came across the mountains to see the cherry trees flowering. I didn’t know it would take me so much time and night has fallen upon me. I’ve tried to get a room, but the entire valley is booked. Can you help me?
—And what do you want me to do?
—Well, perhaps there’s a place where I could stay, or a church member is willing to provide a bed for me. —You know I can’t ask my flock to host a stranger.
—Well, then allow me to sleep inside the church, there’s people partying outside and it looks they will be there all night.
—No, that’s absolutely impossible.
—Well, then at least allow me to borrow a blanket, I didn’t bring my backpack and I don’t even have a jacket on me.
—We don’t have blankets here.
—Well, allow me to turn around the question then: is there anything you can do for me, knowing that I have nothing other than the clothes I’m wearing and that I will sleep outside?
The priest looked at me sternly and we locked our eyes for some seconds. Finally he caved in “aaaaalright, there is a parochial house where you can stay. It doesn’t have hot water but there’s a bed. You will be locked from the outside, and I will come in the morning to open the door for you”.
I thanked him profusely and he took me to the house. My phone battery was almost depleted and I didn’t have my charger on me, so I tried to memorize the route I would take hiking back outside the valley. The next morning the priest opened the door for me and gave me a liter of milk they store of distributing to people in need.
The first part of the hike was straightforward, following a dirt road up the mountains. But at certain point I took a wrong turn, and the dirt path faded out into wilderness. As I had no way of knowing how much I would need to backtrack to correct my mistake, I decided to hike through wilderness, I just needed to cross the mountain range to get out of the valley.
For a long time I followed a stream, but there was a point where it fell down a 30 meter wall of rock. The waterfall had a ledge where one could sit and relax while the falling water massaged your back. I stripped myself of my clothes and sat under the water jet. A heard a voice that said “you need to come back with mushrooms”. Note taken.
With great difficulty avoiding peril, I climbed up the stone wall, and I came upon what seemed to be a magical vision: on the other side of the stream there was a green grass field, and in the middle of the field a massive oak tree, fenced. I understood that this place was special and that I would have to come back to it.
When I went back to Madrid from the walk, I couldn’t take the place out of my mind. I found out that the tree was called “Roble de Prado Sancho” and that it was a protected tree in Extremadura. The waterfall and the tree were detailed in the blog of a hiker, but it warned about the difficulty getting there because there is no path.
I found a store in Madrid which sold magic mushroom kits and grew them at home. When the harvest was ready I made a tea out of them and put it in a jar. I had no idea about the dosage or about what I was doing in general, I just felt a shamanic calling which I had to answer. I packed my singing bowl and camping gear, and grabbed a bus to the Jerte Valley around three months after my first visit.
It wasn’t difficult finding the same spot, but instead of climbing the stone wall I tried to find an easier alternative by climbing up the steep grass walls on the side of the stream. As I was doing this, I saw a shepherd with his flock on the other side of the stream. I waved and continued my climb. Just minutes later I was surprised to find him right in front of me.
—“How did you do that?”, I asked.
—“Cross from one side of the stream to this side instantly!”
—“Oh, we have our tricks”, he replied.
—“Well, for one you are climbing up on the wrong side of the stream”.
—“What do you mean?”.
—“See the goats on the other side? Why do you think they are eating there and not here?”.
—“Errrm, I have no idea”.
—“It’s because of the sun! Goats ain’t stupid like we are. Now, where are you going?”.
—“To the oak tree at Prado Sancho. I’m staying there tonight”.
—“Very well, do you mind if I walk with you for a while?”.
—“Not at all”.
What followed was the most helpful chat about hiking I’ve ever had. He pointed at numerous things which were invisible to me at the time, but proved to be essential in my explorations.
You can drink the water of the streams, provided that there are no fields upstream. It is insecticide and fertilizer what renders water poisonous. Yes, some goat shit falls into the water, some people are sensitive but if you plan on hiking it’s better to get your stomach trained.
Rock provides the best traction for hiking shoes. Good traction makes climbing uphill a pleasure. Less than ideal traction slows you down substantially.
Animals make paths of their own, if you look closely at grazed hills you will see numerous streaks. Animals don’t have a destination but are smart about moving. If you understand their motivations, you can use their paths to get where you need.
A stick will make the hike much more pleasurable.
He told me that the grassland up from the waterfall now belonged to a family in Plasencia. They fenced the land but it was possible to go through. He lamented the fact that shepherds had traditionally lunched under the tree, but now that it was fenced they had to find other spots. He had a store in town where he sold cheese and milk from his goats. I promised to visit it when mis quest was over and bid farewell.
The night was cold and very early in the morning I was awakened by the harrowing howls of male deer in mating season. Never had I heard it before, and my first thought was that a Tyranosaurus Rex had made an appearance. I had breakfast and then meditated under the tree to ask it how it wanted the ceremony to be performed. It told me to drink the tea from the singing bowl and to hike down to the waterfall. I poured the tea into the singing bowl and drank it. I made the bowl sing and then made my way down to the waterfall.
The effect started kicking in as I was coming down the steep grassland walls. The sensory experience was remarkable, I saw the stream much further away and the steepness increased. I felt a tinge of fear which I countered with grunts, as to muster courage. But I felt my coordination failing, and a tremendous irrational fear overcame me. I thought I would fall down the wall and tumble all the way down. I sat down and grasped holding myself to the grass. I was in a state of panic and begun sweating, my heart pounding. I was carrying the bowl on one hand and another item on the other, I put them on the floor and reasoned my situtation:
I’m in an altered state of mind, possibly a dangerous situation given my state. I have no phone reception to call for help, nor I want to call for help unless I really need it. I can’t stay like this, grasping at grass on a steep wall, I need to find a safer place to gather myself.
I grabbed my stuff and head towards some bushes nearby. I was shaking and fear was extremely intense. I curled myself under the bushes and I felt like an animal hiding from a predator. “Shhhh shhhh” I consoled myself by caressing my own arms, but what was felt was like a splitting of the psyche, a gentle human hand calming down a nervous irrational animal. I howled like a deer and then soothed myself, alternating the expression of fear as to not let it build up, and then performing a calming action which would ease out the fear.
I brought myself to peace by this action, but the prospect of moving again terrified me. Unfortunately, an equally irrational thirst besieged me and I knew I wouldn’t be able to withstand it under the bushes, so I had to expose myself to the terrifying view of the barranco again. I slowly made some progress down, trying to reach the stream at the bottom, but a slight trip made me drop my singing bowl and it tumbled down to a location which was out of sight, under some ferns. But the last thing I was concerned with was retrieving it, as the trip triggered panic again and I’d have to find a place to calm myself down again.
I saw a tree and thought it might be a better resting spot, and as I made my way to it I heard the tingling of water. I looked down and pushed aside some ferns, there was a tiny stream of water running through! Never had water tasted so delicious, and I drank until I couldn’t take in anymore. Then I made my way to the tree and found a flat spot where to lie down. I spent the trip with my eyes closed in a dream like state, seeing all my acquaintances in the form of animals. Some were nervous squirrels, others wise elephants and so forth. The ones I held in high esteem were dragons. I was hearing the bells of the goats of the shepherd in the distance, and they were getting closer. I was unconcerned about it, in my state I thought the shepherd was a shaman himself and that he would give me guidance if he made an appearance, but he never did. His goats, however, surrounded me and looked at me quizzically with their strange goat eyes.
“I’m an animal too!” I thought. “I’m a dog!”. I saw a brown, muscular middle sized dog, mixed breed. Versatile in its profession. I could chase mice, rabbits, boars, guard flocks, provide companionship, protect, give affection. I felt a particular pride in being this animal. I growled and barked at the goats, and they went on their way.
The trip lasted some five hours, and after the effects wore off I head back to the tree and found the shepherd with his flock. We exchanged some words and I excused myself, for I was quite exhausted from the emotional ordeal. I slept better the second night, and in the morning I tried to locate the singing bowl I had dropped, but it was nowhere to be found.
I head back to Madrid quite disconcerted from the whole experience, why would a waterfall ask me to come and then give a harrowing experience? I came to understand it as a lesson in irrationality. The panic attack had little basis in reality, I could not think myself out of it, only through finding a calming energy within myself I had been able to both express it and soothe it. I gained a very valuable insight: irrational fears are not quenched with rational discourse. Underlying our sophisticated rationality is an animal who has its own inclinations.
Months later I realized it hadn’t rained in a while, finding my bowl again could be quite trivial if the vegetation had dried out. It took me weeks to convince myself to go again. I was resentful at the place for playing a difficult switch-a-roo on me, but I thought I ought to give it another (now sober) chance. It was amazing.
I found the items almost immediately. I slept in the open, under a moonless sky, and the milky way was stunning. I found a beautiful place to meditate. I felt connected to the cosmos. Psychedelics were clearly obsolete in my personal development. It all came together: the place asked me to bring psychedelics so that I could contrast the experience sober.