From One World to Another


I remember one of the first times I brought my teacher, Don José Matsuwa, to Europe soon after I had finished apprenticeship with him. It was an amazing time. Don José, my Huichol Indian grandfather, was happy to be going on this trip. We departed from Mexico City, looking forward to our adventure together.

Before we had left Don José’s village, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, his wife and my Huichol grandmother, Doña Josefa had reminded me to take good care of Don José. “Remember,” she said, “we need him.” Then she added jokingly, “and also, at 100 he shouldn’t have any girlfriends.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “I will guard him with my life.”

We arrived in New York for a 5-hour layover. My grandmother from New York City met us at the gate (those were the days). It was very special for me to be with my grandmother and Don José at the same time. Both of them had taught me so much throughout my life.

We joked around for quite some time. Then I noticed some American Indians coming over to our gate. It was Joseph Eagle Elk and his family. They were also on their way to the same Shaman Conference that we were heading to.

After a long flight, we finally arrived in Munich, Germany. From there, we were taken by car to the beautiful Alps, covered with snow and newly budding wildflowers. After getting settled into our rooms, Don José wanted to go for a walk. He reminded me to breath in the beauty of the land, as we strolled amidst the fresh green meadows, speckled with flowers and surrounded by towering mountain peaks.

Don José and I returned from our walk and immediately ate, so that we could get to sleep early. We sat at a table off to one side of the dining room, so that we could joke around in private.

We finished our bowls of soup and Don José thought we were done. He was very surprised at the 6-course meal that was about to ensue. He thought it was some sort of joke, when I kept telling him, “It was just the beginning.” For the rest of his life, Don José would remember how much food the people ate at that conference. “The Huichols definitely do not eat this much, he joked at the time.

The following day was the official opening of the International Shaman Conference. Don José and I made the opening ceremony, prayer and song. Then Don José dramatically stood up and said that he had a special announcement to make. He looked so regal, in his Huichol costume, exquisitely embroidered with sacred symbols of deer, eagles, butterflies and flowers.

I remember feeling so blessed to be standing next to my 100-year old grandfather at that moment.

“I want to announce,” Don José said, “as I stand here as an old man and elder, that I am here to say that I am leaving my grandson, Brant Secunda, in my place to help carry on the teachings of Huichol shamanism, health and healing. He has completed a long and arduous apprenticeship with me and now we stand here as close companions on the path of the shaman.”

The Voice of Food

For years I was in pursuit of a crown that was held by an athlete who was renowned for his dietary discipline. His name was Dave Scott, and his extremism in eating lead him to among other things rinse his cottage cheese before he ate it, to rid it of any excess fat held in the cream. Me? Well, my claim to dietary fame was less exemplary. I was known as a patron of the sacred chocolate chip cookie. “Self-restraint” was never mentioned in the same breath with “chocolate chip cookie” when I was speaking.

Dave’s methods did seem to have merit. By 1989, Scott had amassed an arsenal of six Ironman victories and I was at zero. Perhaps I should have taken a clue earlier and ditched the cookies for some squeaky-clean cottage cheese. But eventually I held up the white flag. I wasn’t going to follow his blueprint to the letter, but I thought I should at least go cold turkey with the cookies.

I made a pact with myself. I would not eat, touch, make or otherwise come in contact with a chocolate chip cookie for six weeks. Someone once told me it takes six weeks to change a pattern, so I thought why not! Six weeks without a cookie would not be easy for me, but if it meant victory in Kona, then so be it. After all, it wasn’t rinsing my cottage cheese!

Immediately the most amazing transformation took place. Everywhere I went I saw chocolate chip cookies for sale. At the gas station, in a display at the checkout in the market, in the airports, everywhere!

But gradually over my six-week cookie-free diet, my cravings for them slipped into the unknown and they were replaced by something I never knew I had. It was a whole spectrum of cravings that were fine tuned messages for what my body really needed. What had once been one huge overall urge for a cookie had now become about twenty similar but very distinct cravings for all things healthy. One day it might be a need for more protein, another for extra healthy carbs and the next a simple need for more water. The blare of a cookie craving was gone and I could finally hear the underlying whispers for all things good.

So I put the challenge to you. If there is a nemesis in your cupboard, drop it in the recycling and go on a six-week journey that will lead to understanding the language of your body’s food needs. We are hardwired for wisdom with an inner voice that knows how much food is healthy for our bodies, and what kind of food is going to bring us into our personal body balance each and every meal.

If you do give this a whirl, here are a few tips. First, giving up one indulgence doesn’t give you free range to replace it with another. When the craving first yells out, and it will indeed try its best to break down your resolve, replace it with something totally unrelated to food. Go for a short walk or a workout. Visit a garden or a forest or a park, river, stream, mountain, grassy patch at the end of the block, or anywhere else that has a vivid reminder that nature is happening all around us and use that to put the mute button on the craving.

Second, listen to your body every single day when it sounds like it is calling out for your temptation, then ask: what is it really calling for? What healthy, wholesome, and yes it can be delicious food or fluid is your body really in need of.

Then finally, be looking for the real reward at the end of the road. No, it isn’t going to be license to go out immediately at the end of your six-week quest and stock up on that one thing you have eliminated from your diet. The true reward will be the ability to interpret all the wavelengths of your body’s food cravings. You will understand the messages that lead to positive eating habits. The task will then be to honor them. Bon Appetite!