Anna Hunt, author of ‘Shaman in Stilletos’, chats with Cheryl about ayahuasca, shamanic techniques, and sexual partnerships.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, what are three things you absolutely love and what’s the one thing you’d love to tell the world?
I’m from a small village in Hampshire, so a country girl at heart, but directly after graduating from Cambridge, I moved to London and I’ve lived here ever since. I’m a writer – a journalist by profession – and London is one of the journalism capitals of the world. I love London’s cultural and art scenes, the fashion and the melting pot of different people you meet. I live in St John’s Wood, love being near Regent’s Park, and my 2 best friends in the world live very close by.
Contrastingly, I spend at least a month a year in Peru, studying with my shamanic teacher in the High Andes and the Amazon. The dichotomy between these two worlds was very difficult at first, but now I love being a bridge, introducing people from the fast-paced first world to the ancient traditions of Peru.
Three things I love? Writing – my memoir, The Shaman In Stilettos, is published by Penguin and I’m a journalist for The Daily Mail. Travel. Film.
I’d love to tell everyone to experience the liberation, empowerment and inner peace that come from practicing shamanic techniques – specifically working with the plants.
What made you choose this field of work? Was it any exciting events in childhood, any heroes you had growing up, or anything else you came across when older, maybe a pivotal moment or a gradual journey? Was it a “calling” or something you just got swept into?
At 28, I was features editor of the highest-selling newspaper weekend supplement in the UK. I spent my days interviewing celebrities, and my evening enjoying everything London has to offer.
However the stress of the industry took a toll. I burnt out, developing chronic tummy problems which my doctor tried to treat through a variety of remedies – pills, diet. Nothing worked, so he then suggested I take a sabbatical.
I presumed my three months in Peru would be a simple holiday. When the friend I was traveling with mentioned that a shaman would be the solution to my problems, I initially burst out laughing, thinking she was joking. My image of a shaman was of a monk in a loincloth who lived alone in a cave and spent his entire day meditating. She persisted and I agreed to meet Maximo Morales under duress.
Maximo Morales confounded my expectations – an archaeologist speaking six languages, a successful businessman kitted out in elegant designer clothes, and one of the best looking men I’d ever met.
Maximo did indeed cure my health problems, using a range of techniques that worked but which confounded my reason, and shortly after we met, began talking about my shamanic destiny. I initially dismissed his offer to study with him, presuming he extended such invitations regularly as he’s a bit of a charmer. When I found out he’d never asked someone to study with him before I took things a bit more seriously.
So what exactly is it you do and how does it help your clients? What are the short and long term benefits?
Einstein’s work backs up what shamans have known for well over 10,000 years, namely that everything is energy. Shamans see energy and use a range of techniques, such as plants, herbs, visualisation (meditation for dummies), sound, crystals to move it. This is extremely effective in alleviating mental chatter, emotional suffering and physical difficulties. It can also enhance our spiritual connection with the animating consciousness behind everything.
I combine shamanic techniques with a modern approach that draws on the principles of quantum physics to master our thoughts and perceptions, the root of all suffering.
These techniques work quickly (often there are dramatic changes during the course of a single weekend workshop) to transfer relationships, alleviate many common health problems, such as depression, fatigue, anxiety, back pain, acid reflex, IBS, migraines, emotional challenges. I work with corporate and private clients to enable them to rediscover physical health, emotional equilibrium and mental peace.
Do you have one particularly great story about some work you have done that you would love to share? Say a client that especially benefitted from your work, or something that truly moved your heart?
Here’s a quote from Jessie Brinton, writing in Harper’s Bazaar in June 2011 – full article on my website:
‘‘[Three days in Spain with Anna] enabled me to accept who I am. I haven’t smoked [since], I’ve made up with my mum, I’ve looked people in the eye, I’ve finished therapy, and I haven’t been lonely once.’’
I have a lovely testimonial from a woman called Sarah Boulder who had been suffering from problems with her sacro iliac joint for over a decade. Doctors had given up with the problem 11 years before we met, and she’d visited a range of osteopaths, physios etc to try and alleviate the problem. During one of my weekend workshops, she spent most the time in tears – couldn’t explain why, but had the courage to just cry and release the energy she was holding. Three months later she ran her first marathon, and she continues to be pain free.
I worked with a wonderful young woman in her early twenties who had suffered physical abuse as a child which was manifesting as a lot of anger, instability and erratic behaviour at work and at home. During the course of an intense day workshop, she worked through that relationship with his abuser, coming to a place of peace. Her father emailed a few weeks later to say his daughter was a completely different person – no longer angry, holding down a stable job and relationship.
How do you see this work being of relevance to society/the world today? If a lot of people received those treatments how do you see the world changing? Or is this a specific treatment/program that only benefits select individuals?
If everyone was to experience the liberation, empowerment and inner peace that comes from practicing shamanic techniques – specifically working with the plants – together with a re-connection with a sense of mystery, a number of things that are sorely needed in the 21st century would naturally follow – namely, respect for our planet, for each other and ourselves. This is the single best tonic I can think of for the ills of our time.
What do you think would truly help people today that get stuck in buying more books but never implementing anything? Are there actions you believe people can take to create a better life for themselves, their community and the planet at large?
We do things if we see tangible results fast and the most tangible results come from a shift in how we feel about ourselves and life. When we feel good, everyone around us – including the planet – benefits.
Shamanism isn’t about reading more and more books to acquire more knowledge. It’s about experience – active emotional detoxing using simple techniques that produce tangible results. You use the techniques again when life hits you with another curved ball, as opposed to having to repeat them continually. This gets round the need for having to buy more books, implement different approaches etc.
What do you think clients get from your two hour workshop ‘A Handbook To Life? How will they be able to implement it?
Anyone who is feeling dissatisfied with their life in any area, personal or professional, has the opportunity to come to a place of contentment. So anyone feeling low, anxious, sad, anyone battling a difficult relationship or family dynamic or suffering from common ailments, such as migraines, IBS, back pain, insomnia etc
We’ll be using mental exercises to shift our perceptions about life, others and ourselves, and shamanic techniques to detox any negative emotions we’re holding. Clients will leave feeling light, empowered, calm and grounded.
The techniques I’ll be teaching are reproducible – the idea is that clients will leave with a new way of understanding the universal laws that govern life, and a couple of techniques to use themselves when they feel off-centre, low, emotionally-run. These techniques are simple and quick, and if you apply yourself, extremely effective.
What’s the one thing you would like to tell someone that you believe would benefit their personal growth?
Personal development – a term that’s become very popular in the West – focuses on changing oneself – one’s attitudes, lifestyle etc – as the key to growth, success and fulfilment. Actually in the shamanic tradition, real, authentic growth and inner peace come from accepting oneself. We’re all great just as we are. We don’t need to pathologies problems or criticise behaviour. We don’t need to do x, or be y. When life hits us with curved balls, we just need to release the emotions that come up, that are the root of suffering.
In your training as a shaman, or in your professional path as a shaman, what’s the biggest shock, or surprise you’ve had?
After saving for six months to go to Peru to take up Maximo’s offer to study with him and also enduring a lot of criticism from friends, colleagues and family, my gorgeous teacher wasn’t there! He wasn’t there for the best part of two months, in fact and instead, he left me in the company of another woman who professed to be his other apprentice.
Cue serious soul searching on my part and a lot of anger! Part of me wanted to give up, come home with my tail between my legs. Another part was determined to make the apprenticeship work.
The latter part one and I began learning the shamanic arts for myself – interviewing every shaman I could find in Peru (40 in all), reading every book I could lay my hands on, and traveling, alone, into the deep Amazon to work with the grandfather, a master shaman. I lived with him and his family in a simple hut, without electricity or running water.
Upon my return, my tenacity had won Maximo’s respect, and he started teaching me…
What was it like taking hallucinogenic drugs?
In the shamanic tradition, plants like ayahuasca and San Pedro, aren’t hallucinogens (which we use in our culture to escape ourselves and reality) but entheogens (gateways to the divine) which enable us to connect more deeply with reality and to find ourselves. Taken in the right setting with the right shaman, these plants are the most powerful healing tools I have ever come across. They enable deep release (what we might call emotional detoxing), provide the opportunity to do intense personal therapy – it’s said that during a single ceremony of around 5 hours, you can achieve the equivalent of 8 hours in therapy – and can cure underlying health problems, such as IBS, anxiety-induced migraines etc. All my experiences with these beautiful plants have been deeply empowering and enlightening.
Shamanism is often associated with living in tune with nature so how do you feel about working as a shaman far away from nature? Are there was of connecting with nature even if you live in London, or New York?
For sure, it’s more challenging maintaining that connection in a city, as opposed to in the Andes. However, in London, we’re blessed with parks – I live close to Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park – so getting outside, even for 10 minutes, is perfectly do-able, and very important.
You had a passionate affair with another shaman. Did him being a shaman mean that he perceived love differently? How do you think his path reflected on your relationship? And what did you learn from the affair?
The affair taught me that a healthy sexual partnership is part of life, not the be-all and end-all. When your relationship is part of your life – albeit, a very important part – life is actually a lot more fulfilling as you’re not looking to the relationship to provide everything. This in turn, relieves the pressure on your relationship, which enables it to flourish.
‘In the West, intimate, sexual relationships are viewed as the elixir of existence. In the shamanic world relationships are secondary to the magic. For shamans, the magic is everything.’- from The Shaman In Stilettos.
How would you say shamanism can help your love life?
If you’re empowered, grounded and aligned with yourself (not just run by mental chatter and the opinions of other people, such as family, peer group etc) you’re much more likely to attract the right partner, and to have the resources to sustain that partnership, too. Tantra also produces a great sex life.
Do you perform, or partake in any kind of rituals on a regular basis? If so, which one(s)?
I think the important thing with all rituals is to ensure they’re practical and can fit into normal life i.e they don’t require huge swathes of time. So, I walk mindfully in nature every day to decompress. I do energy work for myself very regularly – especially when working with clients as I take a lot on – to keep myself emotionally-balanced and physically fit. I use quantum collapsing very regularly – even for 10 mins at the start of the day – to quell brain noise and any unhelpful mental loops I have going. I also work with the plants in Spain to do deep energetic and emotional detoxing.
What’s the greatest lesson you have learnt from your work?
That there is an animating consciousness behind everything which we can experience (as opposed to intellectually construct). When we touch this mystery, we have much greater respect for the natural world, for ourselves and for others. I think this is what our planet and our society sorely need right now. Experiencing this connection also provides the most powerful antidote to the loneliness that a lot of people in capitalist societies feel, and which leads to unhappiness, depression, drug use etc
What does the word “healing” mean to you?
Above everything, I think health is a state of being, an inner peace and fulfilment. From this state, physical, emotional and mental health naturally follow, & it’s perfectly possible for anyone and everyone to experience this state of being as an everyday reality, using shamanic techniques.