Spiritual Autobiography for Pachamama Trip to the Ecuadorian Rainforest, 8/17/98 (click for a good video on the shamanic healing ceremony)

    While most boys were running around with toy guns, celebrating and rooting for the American Cowboys, and becoming Cub Scouts, Rich Raffals was a member of "Indian Guides," wearing a feathered headdress and beating a drum, while rooting for and lamenting the defeats of the buffalo and the Native Americans. His favorite childhood story was a Cherokee legend about a hidden magical lake, visible only to the animals (and to a few humans with a honed spiritual vision), where wounded animals (say, a deer with an arrow in its side) could go to be healed. Rich has come to realize that he is that wounded deer and his life has been a search for that sacred, mystical lake.

    Along this path, Rich's view of life has been shaped by both his Midwestern upbringing and by his interaction with several foreign cultures that he has visited, some of which are appropriate to mention here: In February of 1993, burnt out by the stress of working for a Silicon Valley start-up company, disillusioned and disheartened with American society and values, searching for himself and his community, and yearning to know what it was like to live in another culture, Rich sensed that it was time for a change. He quit a successful career designing microprocessors, moved out of his house, said "goodbye" to his roommates of four years, dumped his stuff in storage and headed off to live in Spain.

    On the way to Spain, he drove cross-country from California to Chicago (where he was born and his mother, grandmother, and aunt still live).  He explored the American SouthWest and had one very saddening visit to an American Indian reservation in New Mexico.  It was not the thriving indigenous culture he had hoped to find.  On an invitation from a college friend teaching art in Quito, he spent 3.5 weeks in Ecuador and synchronistically ended up living for a week deep in the Amazon with an Achuar shaman named Mucuim (Moo-cooeem). Rich spent this eye-opening week observing and learning about shamanism, the Achuar belief system and their indigenous way of living in perfect harmony with the jungle.
The Achuar people, their beliefs, their rituals and ceremonies, their harmonious existence, and the joy they effused continue to affect him deeply, even today.  Although he experienced a joy and serenity with these people, their lifestyle, and the rainforest unprecedented in his life, Rich knew he could not stay.  [Click here to read more about this trip.]

    Finally, after another week in Chicago, it was off to Spain. Upon returning from Spain 5 months later, Rich could now view life from the perspectives of three separate cultures and could think, feel and communicate in two languages. Further, he had awakened the Latin Ricardo persona which had lain dormant and unexpressed in his life previous and had gained a solid assurance of his sanity (that there were others in this world who shared and lived his values-- which he had found generally not honored or even laughed at in the US). Finally, he had achieved a genuine understanding for the traditions, beliefs, history, customs and day to day life of the Spanish culture (which illuminated his own culture from a new perspective). Still, Rich had found neither employment nor his life calling in Spain, and his place in the world seemed now more elusive than ever.

    Back in Chicago, unhindered by responsibility, freshly impressioned by these intense experiences, and wallowing in the throws of "reverse culture shock,"  Rich was moved to reconnect with some of his abandoned past. He revisited--for the first time since the turbulent splitting of his family in the spring of 1982--his beloved woods near the small town of Spooner, Wisconsin. It was in this 2 block long town of 2500 where he spent 3rd through 7th grade when his family owned an 8-cabin resort on beautiful Spooner Lake. The autumn colors were as brilliant as he remembered, the white birch trees as comforting, and the slow, simple life of rural Wisconsin was peaceful and alluring.... But he knew he couldn't stay there either ...and a long, cold, dark winter was on its way....

    Ten months after quitting his job, Rich returned to Silicon Valley feeling defeated, detached and depressed (and very in debt!) To pay his travel debts, he fell back on his computer engineering experience and, reluctantly, went back to microprocessor design. Yet, within, he continued searching for himself and the spiritual vision to find his sacred, healing lake....

    For two long, dark years, Rich turned over stone after stone. He made great leaps in his emotional, psychological and spiritual development, yet found neither himself nor his community. His place in the universe and the meaning of his existence remained as elusive as his own happiness. Finally, under one stone, was his gem. After days of fasting alone on a vision quest in Death Valley, Rich received the vision that he should teach. He has since been working to understand and integrate that vision into his life.

    A year after receiving his vision, Rich had made a career change and was happily teaching 3D computer graphics, computer programming and web programming. Now, with 2+ years teaching experience under his belt, Rich is currently working to transition his teaching toward a career in spiritual wilderness training. He has studied Native American medicine, shamanism and a variety of wilderness skills with several different teachers and schools. He is honing the ability to move between our fast-paced modern world of technology and the nearly forgotten, timeless worlds of ancient wisdom and nature. Gratefully believing that he has finally gained the ability to see his hidden lake, Rich would like to devote the next phase of his life to sharing his gift with the wounded American family/community/society. He hopes to lead our wounded people to their magical, healing lake by reconnecting them with the natural world, each other, and, thus, with themselves.

Rich is 33, single, self-employed and lives with his cat, Cinder, in Palo Alto, California. He holds a BS in Computer Engineering, an AA in Spanish and can sometimes be caught writing about himself in the third person.