SCOTT KARL PETERSEN (APRIL 9, 1954-DECEMBER 15, 2013)
We are sad to announce that Scott Petersen transitioned from our presence on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at the age of 59. From knowing Scott for years and an interview from 2001, here is a portion of Scott’s story.
Scott grew up on a small farm near Ann Arbor, Michigan. In his words,
“…I had the blessing of having parents who were quite supportive. Conservative but at the same time they pushed me into independence. They generally taught me to do what I was most interested in. To depend on myself. At the same time they had a strong feeling of spirituality. They felt that God was an important factor in everybody’s life and that we should recognize a spiritual element around us all the time.”
His mother approved (probably not without discussion) that he vacation in South America after high school with his girlfriend and the love affair with the continent began. He next spent time in California and New Mexico studying anthropology, linguistics, psychology and herbal medicine. In New Mexico, at 21, he was introduced to his first power plant, peyote, as an exploratory tool. “I’d already read Carl Jung, was already interested in archetypes, was doing it on a very conscious level. Peyote is a strong ally for me. It has protected me, kept me focused and taught me a lot over the years.”
Scott went to South America for 3 to 4 months every summer at the end of the school year to teach skiing in Argentina, doing business in Peru and Bolivia importing Alpaca sweaters.
Scott was introduced to ayahuasca by a shaman in Tarapoto, Peru. He met some Shipibo Indians working there who took him to Pucallpa. He started working with the Shipibo at Yarinaqucha.
So during that time when I was a business and family man living in New Mexico, I would come down to South America three times a year and each time I would take time off and go to Tarapoto or Pucallpa and take medicine with these ayahuasqueros and that was where I started to get a grip on what it has to offer.”
He subsequently moved to Cusco to be a translator and guide while learning the traditions of Andean shamanism. It was around this time that Scott made the most difficult decision of his life.
“When I would come home, my wife would say to me, ‘You’ve got to realize you’ve got a family and when you fly off into the jungle and have shamans test you and scare you with their snakes, they’d just as soon eat you as have you walk out of there. There’s no real responsible way to have a family and do that.” So there was a certain level of guilt at being in this particular line of study and work. …I was going through an enormous amount of depression and worry because I wasn’t able to apply myself to run the business and make the kind of money I’d been making in the last 7-8 years. I was interested in going back to my passion – psychology and anthropology. To take a cut from $90,000 to $12,000 was a major shock to my life style and the rapport of my peers.”
His psychologist put him on Zoloft and insisted that he should not return to the jungle. But Scott’s heart was already set. He borrowed $3,000, went against everyone’s wishes and flew back down. The decision brought back his energy and enthusiasm for life, but with consequences:
“I wasn’t really letting anybody down but myself if I’d stayed in the program. I had to leave and risk everything. Step off. That gave me the badge of self-confidence. Any obstacle that revealed itself after that I would deal with humor and strength.
The hardest part was giving up being a professional father. Fathers and mothers who are estranged from their children are constantly coming to me and asking me what to do. I don’t advise people to do what I did. I advise people who are opening up to new possibilities not to change the things in their lives, but to change their attitude to them. …the way we make things better for our friends, our children, our clients, is by changing the way we act, not by changing them.”
Scott persisted in studying and learning from the ayahuasceros and shamans of the Amazon basin, but was frustrated by the norm of manipulative shamans and the games they were playing with their clients. He had a vision of developing an environment that encompassed the positive and powerful healing that evolved from thousands of years of indigenous medicine, a place where clients would be safe, and the medicine and natural herbs and plants of the Amazon could be studied and shared, replacing ancient mythology with the advances of Western science and technology. He began looking for the right time and place to enact that vision. While working as a translator for Don Agustin Rivas in Tamshiyaku Peru, he found an ideal location nearby, and that became the Refugio Altiplano.
With his tenacious nature and goals firmly in mind, he organically grew his business. His model, which utilized the best shamans in the Amazon basin to perform ceremonies, and included growing and using the highest quality medicines and herbs, and providing a professional level of psychological counselling, brought a consistent level of experiences to the Refugio clients that could not be matched. Being a consummate businessman, he brought on professional advisors and investors to support his vision, growing the facility into the largest of its kind in the world. Thousands have enjoyed transformative experiences delivered directly by the ancient plants and nature of the Amazon jungle at the Refugio Altiplano.
Over time, the extreme challenges of the jungle brought psychological and physical challenges to Scott and he increasingly struggled to maintain his focus. Our beloved and stubborn friend was starting to take more and more time off and had begun a transition of the management that could free him of the day-to-day operations. Sadly, Scott died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall, ending his part in the fulfilment of his vision and his freedom here on Earth.
It is sad to lose our friend. In Scott’s words:
You’re grieving and grieving is part of a process. If you were numb and incapable of feeling at this point, that would be worrisome! But you’re not. You’re feeling exactly what you should be feeling…and that means that you respect and that you are assimilating what happened. And that means a year from now you’re going to go beyond it…If you try to do that too quickly, what happens is that you lop off a big part of your own psyche and leave it behind locked up in bags somewhere stashed in a closet and you wonder why you no longer have any spontaneity or energy.
How do you get to the other side of the jungle? You go down the river until it comes out into the ocean. You don’t take a helicopter and fly over and then say: ‘I conquered the jungle!’ That’s not how the human psyche grows. The human psyche grows by going through processes and one has to give (it) time to grow. Time to set in. Time to settle and time to find their own tendrils and conduits to the ocean. One has to make peace with that…give it the homage it needs.”
And some parting words from a true shaman:
“Everybody goes through their low points and they have to be able to recharge alone…When I was growing up…I used to go out to the little groves in the back 40 and sit by a stream and walk away feeling good…When one has their best friends in animals, the wind or the trees or water, then one is never alone.”