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  • Selva Lawler

#29 - Is a Thing Right? (Coronavirus Update)

It was a no-no. And a big one, at that. 

The participant in question was looking to do an Ayahuasca tour, and wanted SpiritQuest to be one of the stops on said tour. Don Howard loathed the concept of Ayahausca tours. (To my knowledge, the only term he despised more than Ayahuasca tour was how in some publications Ayahuasca is now referred to as "the Ayahuasca industry.") Nonetheless, this particular person came from a family who consistently had been real champions of SpiritQuest. If ever there was to be an exception to the rule, it would be for this person.

Don Howard's response didn't surprise me. The essence of what he told me was, "It doesn't matter who it is. We can't and we won't waive that requirement because there are very good reasons for it. Regardless of who it is, we can't and we won't make any exceptions." 

Don Howard was admirable in many areas, and not making any exceptions for people irrespective of how important they may be was one of many ways in which he strived for impeccability. The financial impact of a decision didn't enter the calculus of his thinking. Although he always endeavored to do his absolute best for both himself and for the SpiritQuest family, reputation management was something beyond his control and therefore not remotely germane to how he would operate. He knew what his principles were, and cared much more about his own character and integrity than the financial bottom line or any fallout that may or may not occur based upon the opinions of others. 

When faced with an ethical quandary or dilemma, Don Howard simply asked: "is a thing right?"

I too, have been thinking about that question, "is a thing right?" in light of the coronavirus. 

Anything that involves any kind of travel is being affected detrimentally by the coronavirus. We at SpiritQuest are not exempt from this, and it is undeniably impacting us in a negative way. 

How you calibrate the risk of the coronavirus is, of course, up to you. We are not burying our heads in the sand, and I've digested a variety of resources on the topic. I don't dispute that I tend to look on the brighter side of things and do my best to move into faith and love as opposed to into fear. I certainly resonated with a message I saw on social media that "climate change needs to hire the publicist for the coronavirus." Perhaps that's why I was inclined to appreciate comments from Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, who appeared on Making Sense with Sam Harris. Dr. Adalja believes that some of the estimates of a case fatality rate of 1-3% of the population are "way off." His worst-case estimate for the case fatality rate for the coronavirus is 0.6% and he contends that it will land somewhere a little above the seasonal flu number of 0.1% and below 0.6%. He also saliently observed how people's actions, reactions, and unfounded panic can greatly exacerbate matters. 

Of course, some experts may disagree with Dr. Adalja. And simply because I'm not in a high-risk group (last time I checked, I'm healthy, don't smoke cigarettes, not an octogenarian, and not on dialysis) doesn't mean I or anyone else like me is totally in the clear. 

I also don't want to ignore the feedback from certain people who have told me that they have assessed the risks and that they would still very much like to attend an upcoming retreat. Some people can only travel during a tiny window of the year, have already taken time off of work and purchased flights, and are fully committed to attending. Based on the information we have today, I'm not nearly at the point where we will cancel retreats. I don't think I'm being unreasonable when I say that the health risk from coronavirus is, at this moment in time, very low in Peru. The CDC's current risk assessment level for Peru confirms this. There’s a lot we can do to lower the risk even further (according to the experts, doing things like washing your hands, not touching your face, and protecting your immune system). The Amazon rainforest isn't exactly Wuhan, China in terms of the epicenter of the outbreak. It's not a real apples-to-apples comparison to compare a SpiritQuest retreat with 10-25 people in attendance to a major international sports league in which tens and tens of thousands of people are in attendance. Accordingly, for the time being, while we will continue to monitor unfolding developments, we have no plans to outright cancel upcoming retreats. 

But getting back to the question of "is a thing right?", I wanted to announce that if people wish to delay their retreat until later in the year because of the coronavirus, please let me know and we'll make that happen. As of now, we cannot delay attendance for people accepted into an upcoming retreat indefinitely, and barring something very unexpected, cannot extend this beyond 2020. Like anything, we reserve our right to revisit things if the situation has further deteriorated eight or nine months from now. 

The last thing we at SpiritQuest want is for you to travel and feel like you are risking your livelihood in order to honor a retreat commitment. If you've put down a deposit or made payment in full for an upcoming retreat and wish to have that transferred to a later month in 2020 because of the coronavirus, kindly let me know ASAP and we will move you to a different month.

To me, this is the right thing to do. We all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, and I'm doing my best to do the right thing.

Sometimes in times of wide-based fear, it's easy to turtle up and look at the world through a scarcity lens. (To support my case, I offer the massive face mask and hand sanitizer shortages as Exhibits A and B.) I've found that the more generous I can be in the toughest of times, the better I feel. It's easy to be a good sport and a gracious winner when you obliterate your opponent. If, however, you can be a good sport when you lose and it feels like everything is going against you, that demonstrates real character. Similarly, while it may be easy to be charitable when you recently hit the Powerball, if you can be giving and magnanimous during lean times, that speaks volumes about you.

That may or may not be a lousy segue into a reminder for helping our indigenous friends. Like many other people, they have been negatively impacted by the reduction in travel and tourists due to the coronavirus. No amount is too small or too big. It's all enormously helpful. If you feel called to contribute, contribute again, and/or share the link, here it is:

It felt really phenomenal (in fairness, I was on Huachuma and the effects undoubtedly were amplified!) to give the Alamas a huge contribution to fix the thatching in the roof of their maloca. Their roof had been horrendously damaged, looked pathetic, and truly needed fixing. Our February visit to the Alamas was our first time returning to see them since August of 2018. The Alamas tell me that no other groups visit them, and they had been struggling mightily. Our group thoroughly supported them - we had a few people who bought something from each and every family - and it was lovely to see such exemplar humans in the SpiritQuest circle pay it forward.

It felt really phenomenal to pass along a sizable chunk of funds to start the construction of the Muruy Huitoto maloca, which will be located only a few steps from the Enchanted Stream. That will be a longer project to complete, but should be quite special once finished.

Donating may be a prime opportunity to demonstrate how you've learned your lessons in reciprocity and Ayni well. But only you can know that.

To conclude matters on a more upbeat note (it's hard not to include something more sanguine than my previous discussion of COVID-19!), I wanted to pass along some comments about the Huachuma mesadas that Selva conducted in February from a multiple time SpiritQuest alum, Paul. Paul writes:

The Huachuma ceremonies at SpiritQuest are the best-kept secrets on Planet Earth. Experiencing the power of Huachuma once again leaves me in awe and perplexed at how something so heart-opening that brings on so many exclamations of “this is the best day of my life!” has not gone viral. The sheer mastery of the Mesa and command of the mesadas by Don Howard’s daughter and protégé Selva was the stuff of legend. Parker told me she was extraordinary, but I think he undersold her. This stunningly beautiful goddess in the Don Howard/Chavín tradition stares you down in preparation for your turn to drink the medicine with a searing gaze that is backed by the power of 10,000 suns. The mastery of the rhythms of the Huachuma bells and feathers is next level as your consciousness alters, and I felt so light as to start levitating at the head of the Mesa.

The biggest difference between Don Howard and his daughter Selva’s mesadas is that Don Howard was full of grandfather wisdom. Sitting in with him in ceremony was like a class with a master of life. The teaching and learning opportunities, if you paid attention, were invaluable. It was also quite evident that Don Howard is still there in spirit, in more ways than you think, and is ingrained in the overall visionary structure of SpiritQuest in both the program agenda and the way everything is laid out. Selva has been taught everything Don Howard knew, and she is obviously a bright student who picked up on her father’s teachings over the course of their time together. In that respect there is no difference in the ceremony and the way it is conducted; in fact, I would go as far as saying with Selva’s youthful exuberance the energy in the maloca is palpable and you can cut it with a knife. I would further say the whole mesada compared between the two is different in that the feminine energy Selva brings to the Mesa is off the charts and not to be missed in this lifetime. 

With every good wish,



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