SAMARU | Living the spirit of the Amazon

By Liz Downes | A Reader’s Essay
In the current edition of Kosmos Journal

On my first night in the forest, I couldn’t sleep. I lay flat on my back, tired yet wide awake, charged with energy. It was the early hour after midnight, pitch black except for the small gleaming lights caused by phosphorescent beetles flying and crawling in the roof of the hut. Earlier there had been a chorus of ‘wooop – wooop’ from tree frogs calling for mates; now only a solitary frog sounded off in a nearby tree, rhythmic as a metronome. Cicadas rang continuous; behind them the silence was wide, deep, profound. 

The above is an extract from an article I wrote in 2016, recounting a journey to the deep Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. This was facilitated by Pachamama Alliance, an international not-for-profit dedicated to ‘changing the dream of the modern world’ through education, support and consciousness-raising. We visited the Sápara, a small indigenous tribe of around 500 people whose territory is under direct threat of oil exploitation. At the beginning of 2016, that same year, the Ecuadorian government had signed the entirety of their land over to a Chinese oil company.

During our visit, we learned about the Sápara cosmovision of living in complete connection with the natural world. A world in which everything – every tree, every stone, every river, even the petroleum under the ground – has a spirit, and all spirits are connected into the pattern of one great spirit that permeates all matter and all life. This is called samaru, and it cannot be accessed through the mind. It can only be understood through the heart.

The Sápara told us that for the forest’s spirit to remain intact and healthy, the oil has to be left in the ground. They told us to go back to our countries and talk to everyone – friends, family, organisations, governments – about the threats, not only to their land, but to all the Amazon. In that way, through consciousness-raising, we would be able to help them survive.

This year I am again in Ecuador, working on a project reforesting 25 hectares of land in the ‘high Amazon’, the headwaters, where rivers gather water from storms and glaciers in the Andes and merge to create the great waterways – the Napo, the Pastaza – that eventually flow over the border and onwards to the Atlantic. I write about these experiences because here I live the Earth’s calling. Here is one of the most crucial projects that I, as a human, can be involved in at this current time: the project of saving the Amazon rainforest, its trees, ecosystems, spirit. For if the Amazon continues to be destroyed at the current rate, a global warming catastrophe within our lifetime will become impossible to avoid.

I have always wanted to physically be in the places of my spirit. It has never been enough to read about something and not touch the thing about which I have just read. When I was ten, I formed an ambition to visit the Amazon. My connection to tropical rainforests survived for a long time only in a fantasy story, which was first published for a school project, and then kept growing. I am still writing it. I was living as far away from my dream as possible. My home is in Tasmania, in the southern ocean. But in 2013 I finally saved up and went to South America, following a calling I had barely begun to understand.

In the land of the Achuar people, close to the Ecuador-Peru border, I had my ‘initiatory experience’ in the rainforest. A year later, I knew that I had been changed irrevocably. I had purpose; I had dedicated my life to helping heal the planet, and I was committed to returning to Ecuador, to continue what I had begun there.

So in 2016 occurred the second journey, one week with the Sápara, learning about their gentle way of life. Through the day’s activities – floating down the river in a canoe, sampling the foods of the forest – I opened gradually into the samaru, that vibration of life that can only be heard through the heart. The Sápara told us they were opening their world to outsiders because unless Westerners come to truly understand the spirit of the rainforest, they will not act to save it. “Our message needs to be heard; it is for everyone, for the Earth.”

Now, as I write, the Amazon is all around me – not the deep primary rainforest, but an emergent paradise, the salvaging of land devastated by irresponsible farming. The trees are growing, and the rivers are starting to run clean again. I am learning about agroforestry, traditional medicines and sustainable livelihoods, about the different strands of the ‘Amazon project’ – strands that, when woven together by many committed people, will bring the forest back to full strength. This is my way of facing the apocalypse: to be here, living, learning, healing. I can be nowhere else right now.