Christina Pateros: Dreaming Grace

Artist’s Profile

Interview by Jo Becker

Currently she is writing a book (The Amazon and The Vine: My Death in the Jungle) about her deeply transformative experiences in ayahuasca ceremonies.

My time with Christina was remarkable in its nurturing, quiet integrity. On my way to her home in the suburbs of Chicago, the path was slowed down for me by a strolling flock of geese. Later, in Christina’s cozy converted garage/studio, we listened to the winds together and cried every time the moment was simply full of grace. – Jo Becker

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Christina: The wind is talking today… [Silence] There’s a lot being cleared out. I love it.

I’m transitioning from having a healing practise (one-on-one with clients) to making art as my medicine. It’s huge, because I’ve been doing the healing practise for eight years. It’s all I’ve known. So I’m glad the wind is here today—I don’t want to be restrained anymore!

CJMT: How did you feel you were restrained by the format of a “healing practise”?

C: I always knew it was a foundation. Before my medicine wheel personal work and the shamanic and craniosacral training, I was a nurse. So I’ve always been in healing. What I didn’t know was what it was a foundation, a gateway, to.

It’s worked beautifully up till now, because I’ve done this whole march with it, and taught with the Four Winds Society and led Peru journeys, and it’s been amazing. But it became pretty clear last year that it was going to transition. I’m totally up for it—but that doesn’t mean that it happens any faster. I wish I could call on all the hidden folk, the fairies and all of them and just say, “okay: make it!” It seems slow, but really it’s just perfect timing because otherwise it would be too drastic for me and for the people who’ve been coming to see me.

I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to see what else wanted to pop up. I’ve been writing a book for a year and a half now, so that’s part of the creativity piece that’s really wanting to bloom. I’m fortunate enough to be really supported: by my husband, to delve into these creative areas, and by the knowing that the healing practise has been an incredible, solid foundation.

It’s been interesting…I have a lot of resistance to it. A lot. It’s just so scary to venture into the unknown, because I really want my art to be in the world. It’s food for the soul, and it’s healing just to have the vibration. The resistance is really there to say, “Okay. Quiet down and create.”

I’ve gotten nice validation from some great work on how art raises consciousness. I know it intuitively, but my brain can be really busy: I was trained as a scientist and get evidence-based practise.

 

CJMT: What’s your book called?

C: The name was really apparent from the beginning: The Amazon and the Vine: My Death in the Jungle. It’s about the paralyzing fear of death and dying, and the opening to the unknown: releasing and acknowledging the fears to be able to create freely. It’s my story of being in the jungle in ayahuasca ceremonies in 2011. In the second ceremony I died and experienced my own death fully, embodied. It was absolutely terrifying.

I actually rewrote that death section last night. It’s been an incredible process, the writing. I had to acknowledge it for myself first, and it took me two years to even be able to talk about it without breaking down in absolute terror and tears.

Once I started the writing process, it was the purge. Now I’m in the awareness phase, to be able to rewrite after getting most of it out. The rewrites were fun, because with the fear having been acknowledged, my brain’s much more quiet—so I can get into really feeling it. It was too scary the first time. Now I’m really connecting into the sensory pieces and being able to be descriptive. It’s a huge process. There are a couple agents waiting, but I can’t rush. It’s such an incredible uncovering.

The book is about doing everything I possibly could for most of my life, until 48, to avoid and dance around death without even knowing it. I was absolutely petrified of it and yet really curious about it too.

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CJMT: What does the “way beyond death” look like?

C: It’s the unknown. The psychopomp work and the spirit realm are very much a part of me, as well. When my brain is quiet (and I’m either working with someone who’s transitioning from their body out, or just connecting to those realms in journey or in quiet space), then it’s beautiful and peaceful and just another step of the way.

CJMT: You said that you think fearlessness doesn’t exist. How do you handle your fears?

C: That’s where I’m at right now: embracing the acknowledgement of everything that is hidden, so it doesn’t stay in the shadows. The ultimate fear is the fear of death, ‘cause it’s the ultimate unknown. We know innately; we know as we remember. But in this human form, we really don’t know. It feels really inauthentic to me to say, “fearlessness.” It feels like a brave superhero thing.

If I can keep acknowledging whatever fears are there and hidden, then at least I can bring them out of the cave and make friends with them.

There’s so much power in acknowledging what is. All of it, so that nothing stays hidden. Especially releasing what my ancestors struggled with in the past so I don’t have to keep repeating that, and can carry their gifts. I want their gifts to flow through me as an artist.

CJMT: What does authenticity feel like in your body?

C: [Breathes deeply.] Yeah, so deep breaths. [Laughs]. Breath flowing, as opposed to being tight. And the awareness of that gut, allowing that flow.

That’s work for me. One of my new words for 2016 is discipline. I feel really fierce about it now. It makes me cry. [Laughs] And that’s how I know that I’ve hit something, when I have tears. Because it is my heart.

I don’t think I have been disciplined up until now. It’s been so scary to reveal myself in my art and be disciplined about the practise without being concerned about the outcome. There’s a lot of discipline in the practise of being quiet to allow creativity to flow through me. Otherwise it’s blocked.

And you have the discipline of spending time with what’s there, and what the intentions are. And there’s allowing for the unknown, and the uncertainty, and for the energy of spirit to flow though so that it can blow everything wide open.

I never really know what I’m going to do, and that’s really how I have to approach my art. I learn the different techniques…and then, whatever happens on the other end, happens. I have to go for it. There are no mistakes in any of it.

CJMT: What is this [carefully wrapped collection of stones] called?

 

C: This is my mesa. In the Andean tradition from the Quechua people, the Q’ero are the indigenous peoples of the high Andes. The Q’ero specifically, as the medicine people, work with it for themselves, and then we use it for others as well. It’s medicine that we share.

The cosmology of the Andes says that our bodies return to the earth, the wisdom returns to the mountains (the stones), and our souls return to the stars. So this is a bundle of wisdom. [Laughs] There are ancestors in here and lots of representation of deep, deep personal work.

CJMT: How do spirits, plants and stones speak with you?

C: I was dreaming awake this morning (at this point in my life, at 52, I rarely actually sit anymore…this was a huge shift for me when I turned 50) and thinking about the Dagara tribe in West Africa in Burkina Faso. (I’ve worked with Toby Christensen, who is trained with Malidoma Somé of the Dagara tribe.) In their cosmology, by birth year I am a nature person.

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It’s not about connection to nature, because we are nature. When I think about how nature speaks to me…it’s a part of me. Toby and I have laughed when I’ll say, “yeah it was a full moon the other night, Toby, I couldn’t even hold myself back. I grabbed my sleeping bag, and it was winter but I laid it out in the room where the windows are full and I just laid on my sleeping bag in the moonlight, ‘cause I had to.” [Laughs] I didn’t have any choice!  I just needed to be bathing in the light, to feel it in myself.

That being said, my medicine bundle is stones (this is the Andean cosmology of the Quechua people, the Q’ero). In working with the stones, there’s our kuya, which is our medicine. These stones are very special to me, in that I worked with them in my own personal work. They talk to me very particularly.

These kuyas are really me. Whatever happens to be in here, at any given time, are those nature beings (in the form of stones) who are reflecting me, and speaking to me to remind me of who I am. It’s a relationship with myself through these stone beings, these stone people, who help me learn about myself and continue my work of connecting with who I really am.

Everything is animated. In my lifetime I’ve had to learn how to function in a grounded way, because when everything’s speaking it’s really overwhelming. [Laughs] It’s really about the balance of absolute groundedness with the openness to spirit flowing through. This is being nature.

CJMT: You’ve worked with a lot of different lineages. For you, how do they collaborate?

C: They’re all ancestors with different stories. It’s been really fun to delve into embracing certain cultures and learning about their ways, what their cosmologies are, being on “their” land (the land they steward in the world).

I like to intentionally and consciously immerse myself. With the Andean work, having done lots of work in other cultures and disciplines, I consciously put the others aside so I could be a student with a beginner’s mind. That feels authentic to me, to really live it ‘cause I can feel it. That’s how I walk in the world: by feeling and sensing.

I listened and the call got louder until I was like, “whoa, okay, got it.” So I was there in June of that year. Previously it had never been on my radar. The immersion is really magical because I’m really able to embrace the people, the land. It’s a holistic, an absolutely beautiful way of learning any culture’s ways: the medicine, the healing.

And then the integration happens. The letting go of any part of me that feels like it wants to hold on to only those pieces. It’s absolutely integral to my continuing to learn.

It’s beautiful how it unfolds and shows up in my teaching and my book. With The Amazon and The Vine, of course it’s focused on Peru, but it encompasses all of what I’ve done in my life because it’s death. It transcends the cultures in a way that speaks to the interconnectedness of us all as one.

It’s been an incredible honor actually to be able to travel and connect to various cultures, and bring people on journeys. I hope to continue to do so.

I did a personal ancestral journey to Greece in August. It’s this mountainous island that my family comes from, so it’s full of incredible wisdom. I want to do my other ancestral work, which is Poland. I’d love to do that soon because I think that they’ve been largely ignored. When you come to America, the immigrants wanted to become American, so I never learned Polish. I’m excited to bring light to all of it to see what other gifts are there.

I think travel is so, so important for every being as much as it is possible, whatever that means, however it is defined—and for me it’s the world. I hope to continue to be able to bring people with me, going forward. And I’ve trained with amazing people. Sitting with the Dalai Lama in teachings in Madison Wisconsin one year for a week, he with his lightness of being, laughing. “I’d rather be sitting,” he said, “in the forest with my teacher, sitting on a rock.”

I just love that it really, in my experience, in my learning, comes down to the simplicity and the connectedness. The cultural pieces are really colorful and can be very interesting and have depth to understand peoples, and in the end it comes down to rocks. [Laughs]

CJMT: If you had to define “healing,” how would you describe it?

C: I’ve actually taken the word out of my vocabulary. To me it means there’s something that needs to be fixed. And a lot of my work has really been to embrace myself, to love myself, to know that I’m not broken. And of course that’s what I’m going to share with those around me.

It’s absolutely transformed my practise, and I think it’s part of my letting that piece of my work go for now. I don’t know where it’s going but for now…it’s about empowerment. And there is clearing, and there is acknowledgement, and there is absolutely being witness to what the ancestors have done.

I really believe they want us to be living in joy, there’s no question in my mind. You just have to keep connecting with them so you can remember it on days like when my daughter was in Paris (during the November 2015 attacks) and I wasn’t feeling an ounce of joy. Just fear and terror.

My cards still say “shamanic healing,” but my new website is “creating the spirit.”

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CJMT: Where, or when, is art in your life?

C: That’s been blown wide open for me. I think I’ve always known it intuitively, but it just took me 50 or so years to see it. I’m just at the very edge of unveiling what it really is. I’m so new to actually creating art in the form of paintings.

I think practicing any kind of art is revealing the soul. And it takes some courage and vulnerability—a lot of courage and vulnerability—to be able to do that. But I don’t think there’s any other way.

Entering my second half-century has made me realize I really know nothing. And by allowing myself to be vulnerable I’m revealing who I really am. That’s where the authenticity comes in, and that’s where it gets really scary because we don’t know all of what’s going to be revealed.

And if we spent a lot of our life keeping some pieces hidden (and in truth, we all have). I’m really wanting to be authentic to myself first and know whatever that truth is. So art, in revealing the soul, is healing. When we are that authentic and that true to ourselves, the soul emanates and beams out. It just is.

That’s why I feel in my heart I’m in this phase of connecting to really needing to be connecting to my creativeness, because I want my art to be in the world. The universe knows it and it’s just my time to show up.

I’ve gotten the message in recent years that if I continue to show up—if we show up—even if we don’t think we know what we’re doing, if we just show up, then that’ll lead to the next stepping stone. Some days I do it well and some days I don’t! [Laughs] Some days I want to crawl under the covers and hide ‘cause I’m really an introvert. But maybe by making my art it’ll allow me to stay introverted in my quiet spaces in nature and allow me to be out in the world through that voice. I’ll keep teaching here and there, showing up in person here and there, but that takes a lot for me to get there.

CJMT: Do you think there’s potential for Western medicine to work with shamanic medicine?

C: Absolutely, it’s being done. I think it’s all about respecting where everybody’s at; from my experience, just saying that there’s one way just doesn’t work. It’s seeing what resonates for people—and again, for me it comes down to empowerment.

I want to be empowered with anyone that I connect to for my own health and well-being. That’s a consciousness that’s developed for me just in the last eight years. And I think that anyone can hold that as an intention, as a healthcare provider: empowerment for the one who seeks us out. If we hold that as a base, I don’t think we can go too wrong.

I really appreciate my time in pharmaceuticals and research because it’s allowed me to really be solid in terms of where I’m at about how I see health, wellness, the body, all of it. Without it I simply wouldn’t have that perspective. I learned so much and learned really where I live authentically in all of that. The university I went to was Catholic, so it was extra special that there was this opening to the unknown, in the realm of how to care for the whole being.

CJMT: What are you dreaming right now?

C: [Long pause]

I’m dreaming…grace.

Because if I dream grace and I dream awake, then I’m inviting grace to be with me every step of the way. I have a lot of visions about what I’m dreaming…If have grace by my side, then the visions that I have will be dreams that will not only inform me but that will empower me and bring me joy, which are my intentions: joy, with love as the base.

If I lose the dream of grace in my business, then my hurriedness, my fear, my busy brain…then things become awkward. [Laughs] And the dreams can become really messed up. And with grace, you know, it’s all there. I have to laugh. If I can’t laugh in a day, then it’s a long, long, long, long day.

But really, with grace by my side, the dreams are so amazing and so big that I wouldn’t even be able to put them into words.

[Wind howls.] And that’s the east direction—great way to end. And now I’ll cry again [laughs] because it’s my heart. That’s the east direction (in the wheel that I trained in); in the east is the condor and eagle, and around here, it’s hawk who I see flying. That’s being able to see beyond the mountains, where the sun rises, beyond—beyond—beyond, because the east and condor, eagle, and hawk are pure energy. And pure energy is the mythic, and the mythic cannot be captured with words. [Laughs]

So I tell that to all the people that I come in contact with: when you’re dreaming, dream big, and dream beyond what your mind can imagine. Because if you’re holding on to what your mind can imagine, then it’s limited. So I’m dreaming big, and I don’t know what it looks like. [Laughs]

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity by the author.

Christina Pateros Artist Gallery


 

JoanneJo Becker will graduate this spring from Shimer College in Chicago with a BA in Humanities. Her thesis is an attempt to begin integrating non-Western epistemologies into feminist science studies, primarily in medicine.

Jo has been a healer and artist for lifetimes. She writes songs, poetry, and freelance that has been featured in VICE, The Numinous and WITCH magazine. She is a Reiki Master, Akashic records reader, and Kundalini yoga teacher. Most recently she apprenticed with a sacred sexual shamanic practitioner.

Read Jo’s blog at jobecker.me

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