Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the bestselling book The Four Agreements, invites people to go to the largest pyramid in the Americas for a peak experience. Now I know why. I just had one.
PAUL KAIHLA — Like a typical gringo turista, I launched into a litany of questions about historical facts so that I could “know” Teotihuacan, a sacred city that was built by the Toltecs 2,000 years ago — when an Atlantic away the Romans were achieving hegemony over the Antique World and crucifying Christ.
My guide dissuaded me from such thinking — and thinking, at all.
Think of him as a modern-day Don Juan. Not the 14th-century libertine, but Don Juan as in Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
Andres Portillo kind of looks like a Don Juan, at least according to my wife’s and my 60-something driver, Alejandro Cortez: “Andres is a handsome man.”
After my wife and I navigated the hundreds of steep and scary steps that mark the face of the Pyramid of the Sun, the tallest structure in the western hemisphere until the Guilded Age, I saw Andres across the ancient plaza below. He appeared like a spiritual high-plains drifter.
He had the silhouette, and the cowboy hat, of a gaucho.
We first met Andres through Miss Mexico, a mutual acquaintance. Lupita introduced us to Andres at a nightclub called Valkiria — and later the same week, we reunited at a colorful late-night dinner at Sabor Amor, a fabled restaurant in the heart of the capital whose name translates as, “flavor of love.”
But Andres was not one for small-talk. His default is to go deep in conversation, and transmit good vibrations in a sub-channel.
Like Andres, I prefer Teotihuacan to Sabor Amor.
This mysterious and mystical ruin an hour northwest of Mexico City, the largest metropolis in the world (24 million people), was abandoned by the time that Cortez (no relation to our driver) and his Conquistadors arrived in 1519.
Andres felt the presence of issues that had been siphoning my energy, and invited me to take a private walkabout.
As the go-to spiritual guide at Teotihuacan, Andres holds special knowledge of this sacred space, as well as special access.
Our path was not up a pyramid but down a kilometer-long promenade that called to mind The Chariots of the Gods.
Andres guided me in elegant English: “Do not think about history or archeology. The residents used this for personal transformation.”
The wind punched our faces with arid air as the solstitial sun blazed overhead (Teotihuacan is near the zenith of the Tropic of Cancer, and this is June).
Each segment of the Toltec mall represented a field of resistance within ourselves, Andres suggested.
The first plaza was a place of self-image and social identity. In modern idioms, call it childhood conditioning. Call it the ego.
The second plane posited a choice: Do you have the courage to pass through your chronic obstacles or blockages to honor your goals?
I am willing.
The middle went deeper: Are you willing to face your fear of death? Yes.
The penultimate plaza is where you make this sacred contract: let go of all attachment and achievement. And simply be.
The final step, or steppe: Devote that being to others, and service.
I now realize the similarities between those stages and Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which was later recycled by George Lucas in the character arc of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars:
- Whether born in a manger (Jesus), or fathered by a god on a Mediterranean beach (Theseus), the hero has some kind of miraculous birth — and then receives a call to action (vanquish the Minotaur in Crete’s labyrinth, in Theseus’ example).
- The hero accepts the call, and crosses a threshold into an unknown realm where he/she faces dangerous entities (in Star Wars, the threshold is the saloon with creepy aliens where Luke meets Han Solo).
- The hero undergoes a vision quest, experiences a dark night of the soul, and a final separation from his or her known world and self.
- Heroes ultimately achieve the goal — usually with the intervention of grace — and then return to their community to share the new powers acquired in his or her transcendence
Campbell’s point was that all myths and legends across all cultures, continents and centuries were built on that archetypal pattern because for all of our individuality — perhaps the greatest myth of modernism — we are collectively hard-wired to complete this cycle of psychological evolution.
Speaking of thresholds, mine at Teotihuacan was guarded by soldiers with guns. They were posted at the mouth of an underground labyrinth reserved for archeological work.
The descent into the cool underbelly of Teotihuacan invited me to step just as deep into my own level of awareness.
Andres cued me: “Listen to the stones. They are old. Let them speak to you.”
There was a presence in the place, the same feeling you get in really old cathedrals where parishioners and pilgrims have left eons of prayers.
Andres led me off the archeologists’ gangway to a vertical tunnel about two feet in diameter. It was not a well. It was so deep, it seemed to disappear into an eternity. There was a presence down there, and it has a message. Could I open myself up enough to receive the message?
I took some time. Lots of time.
After some steps, we were at a cavity in a wall that matched the vertical contour of a human body. I stepped into it, facing the stone. It was smooth, comforting.
Andres invited me to let go of things I was carrying that I no longer needed. He swept away the psychic baggage with his hands, like a Reiki healer treats a body.
Was this a tradition of the Toltecs? I don’t know. But it had an effect.
I now walked on my own, probably looking like I was in a freeze-frame sequence.
I felt free. And a rush of energy, no thought.
Not to sound silly about it, but I was with the stone. I was the stone.
And the stone filled me with an unspeakable intelligence.
I wish that I could sleep there tonight.
As Andres and I walked back across the vast corridor of pagan plazas to reunite with my wife and his colleague Alejandra Lllama, the gaucho guru now shared his own take-away about the gift he had just given me:
“This is the first time that I have ever been in that place when there was no one else there.”
And then without another word, he nodded and tipped his cowboy hat in appreciation.To plan a spiritual retreat at Teotihuacan, contact Andres Portillo, the founder of Centro Zer.
Portillo spent the past decade training with Byron Katie and Don Miguel Ruiz. Now he is a leading authority on Mexican mysticism and sacred rites and ruins. His first book, Te Amo porque se me de la gana (“I love you because it is my pleasure”), was published in Spanish in 2011:
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