Sunday, May 1, 2016

REVIEW AND AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Sister Jaguar's Journey by Sister Judy Bisgnano and Sandra C. Morse

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Book Information
Genre: Memoir
  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Maketai, Inc.; 1st Edition edition (December 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0990968812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0990968818

Synopsis: Sister Jaguar’s Journey tells the story of Sister Judy Bisignano, a Dominican nun, who spent sixty-eight years looking for God in all the wrong places.  A lifetime of prayer and public service as a fierce and renowned educator failed to bring her the peace and divine connection she had always sought.
Over the years she had started several unique and very successful alternative schools in Tucson, Arizona. Yet, after the Cesar Chavez Learning Community, a school in the Mexican-American community, closed she was forced to confront the devastating affects of her life long anger on her life, her work, and those around her.
ion presents herself in the form of Sandra Morse, a friend and professional communication philosopher, who with a simple invitation to visit the Achuar community in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, forever changed Sister Judy’s life. Launching her onto a path toward reconciliation with her turbulent, abusive, angry past, she eventually found peace and forgiveness through plant medicine in the Amazon rainforest.
Guided by the indigenous wisdom of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the sacred rituals of the Achuar people, she found that her life’s purpose was not to become an intelligent, creative, American educator, author and nun but rather a compassionate human being. The first step on this journey was to override the devastating effects of lifelong anger and self-condemnation with which she had become so familiar, and entrenched. The decision to take part in the ayahuasca plant medicine ceremony was a pivotal moment for her, and offered a new beginning. Yes, a Dominican nun drinking ayahuasca – and it changed everything.
There on the banks of the Pastaza River, with the Achuar, she found her true self. While sitting along in a canoe along the river bank, she and two Achuar guides witnessed a black jaguar devour a white bird.  To date, she is the only visitor to encounter a black jaguar. According to the Achuar shaman, seeing a black jaguar in the Amazon jungle was a good omen, one that empowered Sister Judy to experience a series of cultural, environmental and spiritual shifts that ultimately transformed her life.
In many ways, Sister Jaguar’s Journey is the story of one nun’s transformational passage from self-rejection to self-acceptance; from self-blame to self-love. It is, perhaps, the journey of each of us as we search for peace in this life and beyond.
The Achuar call her “Hermana Otorango – Sister Jaguar,” and so will you.
Review: I was enthralled by this book and by the accompanying DVD.  It tells the story of a woman who has been to hell and back more than once, who finally finds peace when she journeys to the Ecuadorian rain forest.

Reading her journey to becoming a nun, and then an educator determined to make a difference in the lives of children, I was filled with a myriad of emotions. She writes about her life with honesty and humor, and makes you want to keep reading without putting down the book.

The part of the book which describes her experiences in the rainforest is inspirational, and the last part of the book, which was actually written first, contains prayers from the rainforest which are moving and worth reading more than once. 

**I received this book and DVD from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.**
Rating: Four stars
Going Deep With Sister Jaguar ` The Q & A
1. Why do the Achuar call you Sister Jaguar?
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On my first trip to the Amazon I saw a black jaguar along the river bank. That’s when the Achuar started calling me Sister Jaguar. I am the only visitor to see a jaguar since Pachamama Alliance started taking people to the jungle in 2000.
2. What was it like taking ayahuasca for the first time? You’ve said that it transformed you – how so?
The Achuar affectionately call ayahuasca “Grandmother.” Raphael Taish, shaman of the Wayusentsa village, puts it very simply, “Grandmother is a plant teacher. She tells you what you need to know.”
I went to the jungle to participate in the ayahuasca plant medicine ceremony. Throughout my life as a nun, I slowly lost my soul and allowed events and circumstances to move me to a place of profound sadness. Anger and depression controlled my thoughts, feelings and actions. Lacking the life skills to cope with dignity and grace, I slipped farther and farther away from my center. I lost what the Achuar call arutum – the energy of life itself – the force that creates communion and hope, the vigor that allows one to move forward into an optimistic future. My connection with nature, life and God had dissipated. It was not until I searched for and eventually found Pachamama in the Ecuadorian rainforest that I arrived at acceptance, commitment and peace.
In a moment of exhaustion on the bank of the Pastaza River my mind finally exploded! I took off my shoes and stood on holy ground, without preparation, words or the need to bargain. A nearby palm tree offered me a leaf and suggested I lay upon it. In full and total humility I uttered my first true prayer: “God help me!”
There in the jungle, Grandmother sent me the spirit of the jaguar where I experienced the recklessness of my anger. The river ran with blood. The plants and bushes turned to skulls. Giant trees morphed into metallic insects of colossal size.
But Grandmother also offered her tender embrace. Vibrating lines of energy shimmering like the Northern Lights, candle light shooting outward in all directions in an attempt to recreate the Big Bang, colorful spider webs holding planets and people in place, and shooting stars became the faces of every student I ever taught. Fifty years of faces flashed before me. As I took it in, I knew the kids had forgiven me. I knew they accepted me for whom I was. I knew I had given them more than my anger and hostility.
There in the jungle, Grandmother pushed my tormented humanness to truth. For the first time I realized that hope was as powerful as despair. As I laid suspended in silence, benevolence replaced all the malevolence I ever generated on earth. Grace diluted my anger and replaced my grief with peace. Pachamama whispered without words, “Welcome home, Sister Jaguar, welcome home.”
Why did I wait so long to go that deep?
3. You are passionate about the rainforest since your first trip there in 2009 and have been back five times since. Can you talk a bit about why? And what it and the Achuar people mean to you?
I go to the Amazon rainforest to connect with Ecuador’s native Achuar people who guard defiantly the entrance to their pristine, natural habitat and untainted local communities. It is an honor to experience their lives and rituals and witness the role they play in preserving Pachamama (Mother Earth). As I journey into the rainforest, it is as if I travel back in time thousands of years, to that moment when humans first turned to each other for security, community and love. When I go to the Amazon jungle, I feel as if I am going home.
4. How has your life changed since your first trip to the rainforest?
While I live in religious community and love my Sisters deeply, Pachamama has given me another gift of a local, heart-opening community with indigenous roots and values. This unique community resides in the hearts of its members while it accepts everyone as individuals. This community does not need to constrain me and make sure that I comply with its rules and regulations. It is not designed for reformation, but rather for transformation and relaxation. In this community, we trust each other to abandon our defenses in order to be with each other in loving, appropriate ways. I have no need to protect myself within this group; we safeguard each other. My hope for this fledgling community is that we grow into a global network that includes diverse people, especially my Sisters and the poor, as we serve Pachamama and her people.
In this local community I am not considered just another old person. I am a revered elder with special privileges consisting of time to pray, study, read, write, listen, think, feel, and simply be. As an elder, I have the privilege of holding the collective wisdom of the group while inviting our ancestors to participate in our ceremonies and rituals since it is their collective wisdom that I hold.
I know my body is slowing down. Luckily, I still have racing thoughts! I still dream of shape-shifting (profoundly changing) the world! As opportunities manifest themselves, I make sure I lead from my heart rather than my head. I insist that, within community, well-being is mutual.  I encourage women to find their modern selves within the world and their indigenous selves within their culture.  As this happens, we are all more free.
5. What do you hope people take away with them when they see this film?
Hopefully, people viewing the film will leave with the same arutum – the same energy of life – that I found while visiting the Achuar in the Amazon jungle. After all, Pachamama is Mother Earth. She resides in us and we reside in her. She is everywhere! We are one!
I always knew that the path to peace was an inner journey. As a nun, I engaged in a variety of practices for sixty-eight years with minimal psychological and spiritual return. Then, in a single, simple, life-changing shamanic ritual in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, the heart-opening plant medicine I refer lovingly to as Grandmother suspended the clutter of my judging mind. The anger and depression from my past collided with the worry and anxiety from my future. There I was, suspended in the forgiveness and peace of the present moment forever changed.
I want every person who sees the film to have a mystical, Pachamama magical moment! I want the viewers to join me in dismissing our childhood, religious and cultural conditioning as well as all perceived negative notions of ourselves and the world. I want us to surrender together as Pachamama draws us into the present moment. I want us to rest in Pachamama’s loving embrace – heart beat to heart beat with her and all of creation. As we forgive and accept ourselves in that moment, I want the viewers to experience Pachamama’s peace on a personal, primal, pristine level.

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