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Are You Living the Mystery? On Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent

The shaman Karamakate in his later years and the character based on the Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes in Embrace of the Serpent.

You might consider the Oscar-nominated foreign film, Embrace of the Serpent (2015) an unusual story about an unusual topic, yet it lingered with me for days.  I can hardly put how I felt into words.   Somehow, I remained linked to the sacred ambiance the film imparts or might impart depending upon your interest or receptivity.

The film chronicles two separate journeys made by two different scientists, 40 years apart. It’s loosely based on the journals of real-life figures*, recorded as they traveled through the Amazon in search of a mystical, curative plant called yakruna (or chacruna).  The shaman Karamakate, the last survivor of his sacred lineage, reluctantly guides both men to their destination and respective fates.

Karamakate does not mince words when it comes to whites, whose quest for rubber and evangelical supremacy has systematically and violently destroyed his people, culture, and environment.  He doesn’t trust or respect them and initially refuses to help each of these scientists when they come to call at his river junction.

Having succumbed to malaria, the first scientist desperately seeks a cure from the shaman, who says he needs Yakruna.  The second wants to find and study the botanical properties of Yakruna.

In the first case, the shaman is persuaded by the possibility of finding living members of his tribe.  The second time around, he’s convinced by a photo the second man displays of the first.  And so the respective expeditions begin and interweave throughout the film.

The Dark Impacts of Colonization on the Amazon

Along the river’s way, you witness the dark impact of colonialism on the people, plants, and animals of the jungle. These scenes made me wonder, if we can heal from the horrible transgressions visited upon the people of the Amazon. Can we put an end to the greed and arrogance that fuels such devastating aggression?

Westerners rally against current-day terrorist acts rooted in religious fanaticism, but they often fail to acknowledge their own history of similar atrocities.  Could these present-day challenges be the fruit of previous actions, returning like a karmic boomerang to haunt us?  If so, how can we interrupt the cycle of violence so future generations everywhere can live in peace instead of terror?

This film prompts us to open our eyes to our history and its deleterious effect on indigenous people and their environments.  It’s an important work from that perspective alone, but I feel its sacred message prevails.

Life lessons from Embrace of the Serpent

The shaman Karamakate in his earlier years in Embrace of the Serpent.

The Sacred Message of Embrace of the Serpent

During the journey, you also witness Karamakate’s unshakeable faith in the wisdom of plants and animals.   A powerful shaman, he asks piercing questions, for example:  “Why do white people care so much about their things?”  And, he makes definitive statements, like:  “A warrior has to let go of everything.”  In this spirit, he prods his second protégé repeatedly, until the botanist finally caves in and furiously dumps his baggage overboard.

Karamakate is living the mystery through his unbreakable alignment with nature.  By watching Karamakate, I felt the mystery too; this was the unmistakable scent that remained with me for days.  Karamakate personifies faith and devotion, which must be cultivated if you wish to become one with the mystery as well.  Not blind faith or dogmatism that feeds fanaticism, but an intelligent trust that emerges from the dedicated observance of how things actually are.

How Can We Life the Mystery in Modern Life?

After watching the movie, I wondered, “How we can live the mystery now, in our concrete jungles and digitally dominated lives?” The deepest part of me knows that the mystery is not someplace else, although the wonder of nature has the power to ignite it.

The mystery is here right now, in you, embedded in your DNA, contracting and expanding in every one of your cells.  The mystery also vibrates all around you in all that exists.  The mystery is there when you wake up in the morning, when you go to sleep at night, and in your dreams as well.

Most people live encased in the material realm.  They never look beyond it and thus they never see.  So you must look.  And once you look and see, you must remember again and again because the lure of modern life so easily blinds us once again to the mystery.

Connecting to the mystery is the only way to bring an end to suffering.  This is why we must look.

Karamakate aligned with nature as his vehicle to the truth.  But there are many different and inter-connected ways you can open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to touch the mystery, even in these modern times.  Here are a few:

  • Quiet time in nature
  • Present moment awareness
  • Gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Loving-kindness and compassion
  • Prayer
  • Inspirational writing, audios, videos, films
  • Intuition
  • Silence
  • Solitude
  • Vision quest
  • Reflection and contemplation
  • Noticing the blessings, synchronicity, and wonders
  • Service to others

Our survival as a human race depends upon remembering the mystery.  So don’t forget to remember. Open your eyes, remember often, and live the mystery in ways that are good for all.

* Embrace of the Serpent is loosely based on the stories of ethnologist Theodor Kock-Grünberg and ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes.  Learn more about the uncontacted Indians of Brazil, who risk extinction from disease and land loss due to illegal loggers and cattle ranchers.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. Oh my gosh what an awesome review Sandra – you had me spellbound. I need to watch this movie!

    I think that if we truly knew the nature of life within us, we would change our thoughts, our life and our world.

    It always comes back, for me, to the concept that we are all one. I think science has proved beyond any doubt that all existence is the same energy. Air, water, earth, us…same energy showing up in different forms.

    Let’s begin to nurture nature…which in effect is nurturing us. The mystery lies within us all it seems to me.

    • I’m so glad you liked the review, Elle. It felt very special to write it, part of keeping the spirit of it alive in me and sharing it with others. I so agree, if we really understood how things worked, we would always choose goodness and that would be so good for everyone. I’m completely with you on nurturing nature!

  2. Great message here, Sandra. Our society I feel promotes with commercials and in other ways, the value of things over appreciating what the world has to offer in a more natural way. Thanks for this always needed reminder.

    The message in yoga today was that everything and everyone that have connected with is really inside of us. We need to not lose sight of what is important and what will keep us living in a more peaceful state of mind.

    • Beautifully said, Cathy. I love the deeper sense of connection conveyed in your words. I so agree it’s help to resist commercialism. I’m much happier for having done that to a certain degree!

  3. I was curious after seeing the picture as to what your article is about. It’s an intriguing read. One with a powerful message about giving thoughts as to how things come about and on paying attention to the messages from nature. Brilliant!

    • You captured the essential points perfectly, Evelyn. Yes, I feel looking at how things come about is essential for real change to occur. And if we miss the messages that nature is giving us right now, we’re in big trouble.

  4. Now, I really want to see the movie. I’ve never heard of it before. You make it sound so compelling and interesting. I too feel deeply about the way we have disrespected and destroyed indigenous people and their lands. We can learn a lot from Karamakate and this story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hello Debbie,

      I hope you find it worthwhile if you watch it. I agree, we can learn a lot from indigenous people like Kaiamakate.

  5. Thanks for sharing the movie review Sandra. I love your take- away from the movie and agree whole-heartedly. We need to cultivate less busyness, less sound and less material world. So hard to get society to do this when it’s marching to an entirely different beat. Society has opted for “stuff” instead of spirit but I think each of us can individually make a difference by living more in the spiritual/soulful world and embark on the practices you mention.

    • Hello Dear Vishnu,

      So nice to see you! It is a bit counter-revolutionary to let go of stuff and align with spirit. I think you’re right, we each have to make our own personal decision when the time is right.

  6. This sounds like a truly worthwhile and interesting movie to watch. I love movies (and books) that leave you with something to turn over in your mind after you’ve finished with them.

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