Real life Survivor: Tales of a ten year rainforest excursion
By Cynthia Logan
DaVeed Forrest's resume must cover more than one lifetime. The bio goes like this: "Public speaker, international seminar leader, documentary writer and producer, musician, songwriter and music producer, body worker therapist, iridologist, book author, reflexologist, electronic acupuncturist, aromatherapist, Tantric yoga teacher, designer of herbal elixirs, nutritional and medicinal formulas and creator of exquisite perfumes." Author of Miracles From the Rain Forest, he would describe himself more simply as a "Pioneer explorer of the intimate connection between spirit, mind and body." A more mainstream description may read "a real-life 'survivor' of the rainforest"-and he may be the only white person on the planet who is. Searching for the secrets of immortality, Forrest spent ten years in the deep forests of southern Columbia, facing starvation, malaria, elephantiasis, poisonous snakes, killer cats and every type of tropical pestilence imaginable.
Like Sean Connery in "Medicine Man," Forrest had shamanic mentors; when he "emerged from the jungle" in 1988 he was a different person-secret teachings and experience had made him a real life Medicine Man. Though his re-entry into modern civilization was "a major culture shock," Forrest is now enthusiastic about sharing the wealth of knowledge he's gleaned and is using his many talents to let people know how to be "eternally young at any age." Born David Cusack, Forrest grew up the middle of seven children near an oil ranch in southern Texas. He drove cattle, pitched hay and pursued his father's dream for him, attending the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech to get a law degree. But apprenticing with an oil-lobbyist in Washington during the Watergate trials so "disillusioned and devastated" the conservative cowboy ("friends would tease me because I wouldn't take pot") that he re-evaluated his career path, "broke off school" and sought to discover how he could become what his mother and grandmother had always wanted him to be-a gentle-man.
He grew his hair and beard long, traded his ten gallon for a turban and became a fruitarian, studying archeology and anthropology at West Texas in Alpine, where books there stimulated a passion to connect with Mayan and Incan cultures. He planned to take a few weeks between semesters and make a pilgrimage to sacred sites, but the night he left the country he was in a near-death auto accident. "I remember sitting in council with angelic beings," says Forrest. "They told me I'd really messed up and was dead." Forrest says he "begged for the opportunity to come back" and, suffering from a broken leg, cracked coccyx and jammed vertebrae, "crawled" onto a train headed for southern Mexico, in search of native healers he thought could help him.
The beaches there offered manna in the form of mangoes; declaring himself on "mango safari," he headed for the mountains of Oaxaca. There, Mazatec healers got him on his feet and sent him to Lake Attitlan near Guatemala, where, he says, "humble peasant people working with ancient Mayan teachings introduced me to the connection between nature and herbs." He also made a connection with Shandara, a Transpersonal Psychologist on sabbatical from California. "It was an instantaneous 'Soul Mate' kind of recognition," he says. They soon married and began the adventure that would shape his future and claim her life.
Heading towards the Andes, they hitchhiked across the continent with the dream of establishing a fruitarian community in Ecuador. Climbing steep mountains to the Sierra Nevada, they reached one of the few ancient civilizations untouched by white culture, the Cogi Indians. "We were some of the very few white people they allowed near them," says Forrest. "It was a rare honor to share their shamanic medicine practices and herbal healing techniques," he adds. As they continued their journey, peasants "came out in droves," eager to hear about traditional ways that had been taken from them (by deals made between multi-national corporations, missionaries and the military-deals that pushed agricultural chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs). Police ("seventeen year old boys running around with guns and badges") would show up and intimidate the couple for infringing on their territory; after being pistol whipped and threatened with machine guns, they headed towards a valley where only ruffians and outlaws went, a valley where the police were afraid to go.
"That valley," says Forrest, "was an incredible paradise." The awesome beauty was soon eclipsed by rain that fell for the next eleven months, bringing them to the point of starvation. Less than a year later, Shandara died of elephantiasis. "I was on my deathbed for a year with it," says Forrest, "but local peasants sent in a shaman with herbs to keep me from being consumed by the parasites." Before he could get his strength back the cocaine wars began and, barely able to stand, he was forced into cooking and cleaning for the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarios de Columbia) revolutionaries. Simultaneously as the United States government started spraying a type of "agent orange" on the coca plantations cultivated by the peasants, he was abused and tortured.
Left for dead, at times he needed to hunt and fish to stay alive, always with the reverence for life his father had instilled in him. Without a gun, he used flutes and harmonicas to ward off wild cats and large snakes. "I learned to hear and sense their 'voices', and communicate with them in unprecedented ways," Forrest says. "I would serenade them with music and pile up stacks of ripe plantain bananas; even the carnivores would come within three or four feet of me, preferring the fruit to flesh." He also tuned into the spirit voices of rainforest herbs, fruits and flower essences, and studied with indigenous shamanic healers. "The rainforest and Native American peoples taught me that plants are representations of an invisible frequency with spiritual significance," Forrest says, adding that, "traditional peoples I lived with always acknowledged the spirit force and could do miraculous things just by boiling the herbs in water and applying them to the skin."
According to Dr. Marcus Laux, a rainforest expert, modern pharmaceutical companies owe much of their success to native healers who share the names and medical applications of various plants with scientists and researchers. Forrest says that, "Indigenous peoples have a deep understanding of mixing herbs synergistically; it's the whole basis of Amazonian/Andean shamanism-potentiating the herbs using vines, roots, leaves, barks, flowers, fruits."
Interestingly, many South American myths and shamanic practices coincide with those of ancient India. Forrest is an initiate of the Viracochans, an Andean forest people whose sacred teachings mirror almost identically those of ancient Indian Vedics. He is currently working to introduce Ayurvedic products for agriculture and medicine. Among the products soon to be available are insect and pest controls with bases of essential oils (such as neem) that are not only non-toxic, but biodegrade into excellent fertilizer. Ayurvedic scientists have tested some micro-organisms in India that appear to neutralize all but radioactive environmental toxins and, says Forrest, "They are on the verge of discovering micro-organisms that have the potential to quickly eat up the life cycle of radioactive pollution. At least our children will have the hope that the poisons we're spewing out now will be able to be turned back into biodegradable substances that won't keep compromising our immune systems."
In the meantime, we can enhance our well-being with herbs such as Una de Gato, or Cat's Claw, which has been used traditionally as a tonic and blood cleanser. Formal research is now proving it efficacious in building immune response. A more controversial herb, Guarana, is an effective vermifuge, eliminating worms. And, although it contains caffeine, the amount compared to coffee is low and it makes a non-acidic substitute for people trying to break the coffee habit.
Perhaps the most well known rainforest herb is Pao d'Arco/Lapacho. Forrest notes that the purple flower variety has anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-cancer qualities that the white flower Pao d'Arco doesn't have. "It's a very different frequency," he explains; then cautions that, "It's important for people to know whatever they're buying is certified. There's a lot of bogus Pao d'Arco out there on the market and, in the case of Cat's Claw, there are more than 60 varieties, most of which do not contain immune enhancing agents.
According to Forrest, millions of peasants have become dependent on "raping and plundering" their native environment, due to policies that were (ironically) implemented during the "Green Revolution" of the '60s. "Transnational corporations have been reaching into rainforest countries for at least the last forty years," he says. As detailed in the eye-opening book Thy Will Be Done (recently published by Harper Collins), they clearcut to exploit the mineral resources, establish lumber sources, graze cattle and plant crops, which struggle to grow in an environment ill-suited for such purposes. Without the trees spiraling up to pull in moisture, rainfall is less each year and much of the land once fertile has become desert; rain that does fall erodes the bare soil, leading to a vicious cycle that has world-wide ramifications. Global weather patterns are radically altered due to changes in wind and ocean currents and the planet may even spin faster. Even worse, there has been no regard for the bio-systems of plants, animals and micro-organisms. "Insects and micro-organisms are mutating and proliferating so fast," states Forrest, "that antibiotics are proving less and less able to fight them."
The effect on the human population has been just as devastating. "Indigenous peoples have been bought off, rounded up off their lands and put in environments with forced education, a new religion and a new way of being," says Forrest. The result is that very few of the forest people have any traditional knowledge left; most of the younger generation can produce only a mono-crop (rice or sugar cane, for example) using pesticides and chemicals.
At 47, Forrest claims to have "more energy and enthusiasm than I did at sixteen," energy which he dedicates towards "waking people up to the plight of our rainforests, the wealth within them and what can be done to save the few that remain." Over half of the world's rainforests, which circle our planet for twenty degrees of latitude on either side of the equator (like a green belt worn by Mother Earth) have already been destroyed by chainsaws, torch fires and bulldozers for cheap burgers and lumber. According to Forrest, by the time it takes to read this sentence, another two football fields of rainforest will have disappeared. The organization he co-founded, Millenium Alchemist and Friends, is attempting to "educate the right people"; they hope to persuade monied interests to cultivate the rainforest as a garden. Through the International Rainforest Preservation Society, investors can "adopt" an acre of rainforest on a private reserve for just $35.00 per year.
Forrest is also in the process of setting up a non-profit foundation to establish "One World International Healing Centers," which will train practitioners from all over the world in holistic healing therapies. He already offers herbal detoxification programs and "Trance Dancing," an ecstasy rite which he says allows participants to experience blissful states of consciousness without drugs; dancers are inspired by the "neo-shamanic fusion" music he provides, sometimes in concert with native healers. Forrest leads "Jungle Excursion" retreats to sacred sites, and brings representatives from such sites to the United States, assisting them in presentations which educate the public about their traditions and about the role they say ancient teachings play in coming world changes.
"From a Shamanistic perspective," says Forrest, moving into the Millenium is a really major event-this is going to be one of the most powerful moments that's ever been on this planet. It's not only the end of a decade, a century, a millenium-the cycle keeps going, bigger and bigger. It's the end of a cycle for our solar system, for the star system that our solar system rotates around, on ad infinitum." As vortices of ancient energy, old growth forests play an integral role in this unfolding drama, focusing healing and protection for the planet. "Think," says Forrest in awe, "of the lifeforce a 3,000 year old redwood tree is drawing in. Trees are beings of cosmic consciousness and are growing and expanding into deeper levels of their divinity-they are antennas reaching out from the planet, striving to collect the solar energies of the heart of our sun. Their vitality is almost explosive as they stretch their plant-forms out towards heaven. Coming within 100 feet of them you can feel the majesty and power of their collected cosmic force-it's as close to a pure healing force as there could be." And, says the son of a cattle rancher, "I can't think of a greater crime against future generations and nature than to cut down these few remaining forests for lumber and cattle grazing!"