During the four elements workshop, I had the fortune to meet Ray H Crist (I think he gave himself that name). He is a practicing Shaman, taught by the Q´ero Indians of Peru, and the founder of the spiritual healing group, Jaguar Path based in the United States. Out of interest I ask how he came to be on the path of Andean Shamanism. I was expecting such a mind-blowing response, but Ray has a fascinating story about alternative healing and the power of the mind.
Ray´s story begins in 2002 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Not long before that he had received the wonderful news his wife was pregnant. The news should have been the clincher to change his life-style, but the diagnoses of cancer overshadowed it.
His life-threatening news came when he went to hospital in terrible pain. The doctor thought he was passing stones through his kidneys, but the ultra-sound picked up a tumour.
“The doctor told me I should go into surgery the next day,” Ray tells me. “I was with a friend at the time and asked the doctor if we could have a moment. When he left I got dressed and fled. We just walked out. Nobody even saw us. I didn’t even take the surgeons business card.”
The diagnosis ripped his world apart. At the time he was living in Greece so decided to visit the famous Oracle of Delphi.
“The answer she gives always has two meanings, so she’s never wrong,” Ray tells me. “What she told me was, ‘he that travels gets healed. He who stays put gets healed and dies’”.
Ray´s understanding of the message was that if he stayed in Greece in the life he knew, he would die – but he would die with regrets. As he awaited death, that was his greatest fear.
“Now I know that within me is an innate sense of wisdom,” Ray said. “Wise men are no different than any of us. We are all wise men. Wisdom is innate and it’s just a matter of tapping into it.”
Plato also wrote about man´s ´innate ideas´. The renowned Greek philosopher said we all have the answers within us, we just haven’t realised them yet. Another Greek philosopher, the playwright Euripides also wrote ´The mind of each of us is a God.´
Ray tells me that when he was 16 he had read Carlos Castaneda´s teachings of Don Juan. The book had such a profound effect on him he travelled to Mexico to seek out the Shaman. He was fascinated by Don Juan´s ability to transcend to other realms and wanted to experience the power of that world for himself.
“But I didn’t. I was a successful photographer working for Vogue – yet that life wasn’t really full for me. It was merely surface. It had no depth. I had cars, motorcycles, models. I was cruising different countries of the world on yachts. But I was living in this mundane illusion.”
Ray doesn´t exactly see the entire world as fake and phoney, but from his readings all those years ago he knew there was a lot more to life than he had ever experienced.
“I knew there was a real side.”
“Were you looking for something more internal?” I asked. “A belief system that was more fulfilling.”
Ray pauses for a long time to think.
“That’s a good question. Belief systems don’t fulfil you. I had belief systems, but I wasn’t connected to life itself. And there was this other thing I remembered from those books. It said that when Death knocks on your door, change your address.”
After Ray had reflected on his fate and the riddle of the Oracle, he came to the conclusion it was not his time. There was no reason for him to die. That´s when he realised he had to disappear.
“I knew what was going to happen was that ego, the self with all those energy lines, habits, addictions, ways of being, belief systems; everything in that person was convicted to die. I had a few months to live. It was on the horizon and I thought – this is it. So I left.”
Ray flew to northern Thailand and lived in monasteries where healers use natural medicines made from plants and herbs. Each day he immersed himself in learning instead of worrying. He learned how to perform self-acupuncture. It was important to keep busy and not worry – that is a disease in itself. It was a tremendous time of growth.
“I decided that if there are men and women out there who are healers and if there is anything like magic or if there is something like enlightened people that could help me understand the spirit and find a connection then I would just go and find it,” Ray tells me. “I didn´t want to make this thing a reality.”
Ray stayed in Thailand for over a year, diligently living the lifestyle of a reformed man, one that had looked deep into his soul and decided he had to change. It was during this time that Ray faced his demons.
“It was difficult to accept my shortcomings. I just kept on finding them. In the moment of living waiting to die I could not find the space to heal myself, even though I was a very normal person. I wasn’t a bad person, just an average guy. I hadn’t done anything that was out of any moral standing. I just had this continuous string of guilt. We all collect them from when we were kids. The only reason this happens is because we’re afraid we’re already guilty so we can never fully express ourselves because we feel we are going to be exposed. So we all skip along playing the game.”
After another year of taking herbal remedies, Ray went for check-up at the hospital. Nothing had changed. The cancer had not gotten any worse; it had stayed dormant which meant he was doing something right. Essentially it was a struggle for purification, an exercise to understand how to forgive himself.
“I needed to know there was more to life,” Ray tells me. “If I could find a higher place and evolve I would have no reason to feel that I wasn´t enough. I had to come to terms with myself otherwise I would lose everybody I knew, including by that time my new born son. He would have grown up without ever knowing me.”
“Is that what compelled you to turn to alternative healing instead of western medicine?”
“Yeah, because one way or another I was going to die.”
But even the healers in Thailand could only do so much for Ray´s condition. He was advised to have the tumour removed.
“You can change small things, but big things make matters harder. It likes maths. It’s not just magic, there is a mechanism involved in trying to make something smaller. When you get the idea you can heal, it makes things much easier, but if you let it grow it becomes harder and will eventually pull you down.”
Ray was blessed; at least that is what he believes. He tells me the people he met along the way were key to his recovery. From the outset, every person he came into contact with had answers that got him to the next point. For Ray, his conviction to leave the hospital in Greece had been the right thing to do.
“It proved I was right not to take the results from the hospital. That would have been accepting reality. I met this wonderful person, whose father was a doctor in Washington. He referred me to a study in the National Health that was interested in knowing how I had kept myself alive for two years. They put me on a six month program continuing what I had been doing. Then I went into surgery.”
Before the tumour had been removed Ray had taken up Yoga where he met a wonderful community of people. He learned about mantras and eventually became certified as a yoga teacher.
“By this time I was already in a better place. I had been and met a wonderful community of people in the yoga world that supported me. When I left that centre there were 20 people who prayed for me and during the surgery. I could sense they were all there.”
Ray tells me that in Carlos Castaneda’s book, Don Juan Matus said the difference between a Shaman and a normal person is the Shaman knows he will die.
“If every moment passes by without us learning something there would never be a mystery,” Ray says. “But that´s not enough – understanding life is about finding the mystery behind the mystery. When you think you´ve answered the question, you stop thinking. But you never find the answer because there´s always another question – the mystery behind the mystery. There is always another answer.”
For Ray, the mystery was about awakening. ”If you are present in everything you do, if you do something with all your heart, then life is fulfilling.”