Interview with Roberto Velez of the film STEPPING INTO THE FIRE.
1. What was your initial contact to Ayahuasca to inspire you to go to Peru to do ceremony? Were there ceremonies in NY at that time?
My Initial contact with Ayahuasca was my own two best friends in Ireland, Aidan and Colm McClelland, they suffered from crippling depression and they mentioned ayahuasca to me, I really had no interest at the time. But they planted a seed… which one day would grow strong. Due to unpleasant memories and personal issues with my dad, I had not returned to Peru for 18 years. It was only when my step brother attempted suicide and laid dying that I jumped on a plane and returned to my native land. Now why I was inspired to do a ceremony, I was in a position where all my dreams and goals had come true, I was on the top of my game on wall street, I had made the millions, I was one of the best of what I did, I had my family, a loving wife and son, but I had become the most miserable person in the world, I was overcome with greed and power and sought purpose, needed healing from my past… I sought purpose, understanding beyond just making money, I wanted to be a better husband and father,,, I got caught up with the rat race, living life on the fast lane and lost track of everything I used to stand for… I had become a monster, empty with no soul….. I knew there was more.. If there were ceremonies in NY at the time, I wasn’t aware of it and even if I had been, I would’ve never done it, I wasn’t yet ready.
2. In a number of video taped conversations with you, you mention that it had “changed your life.” Can you get specific?
You also mentioned that you wanted to heal your addiction to “greed,” if I heard the video correctly. Has that happened? And if so what did you discover was the core issue behind the “greed” that was motivating you?
That’s not an easy question to answer, but ill give it a go.
Changed my life…. Well ayahuasca yes has changed me and my life, but it wasn’t a magic wand that you just wave and tada its all done you are different. NO it doesn’t work that way. Initially ayahuasca showed me a lot, informed me, educated me, prepared me.. cleansed me of some negativity and traumas; however the true lessons are in the tests that follow as you embark on the shamanic / universal path, after your ceremonies, when you go home. I failed miserably at first, I was tested and fell to the waist side to negativity, I created and lived through my personal hell, and unfortunately put my family through hell too. I had to make some very detrimental mistakes, which almost cost me my family. Looking back to answer your question how this changed my life, 1st and foremost I had to live my hell, I had to see who I really was, not just in this life but also in past lives, I had to understand the vicious circle that I was living from one life to another… I had to step into the deepest and darkest points of the negativity within and learn to gain equilibrium over it, to rise above it so that I could gain some immunity to negativity.
Greed and power, two things that used to fuel me, they were my crack, my drug. Every day making money, flexing my power and asserting and feeding my need for more… I had forgotten who I was, I had lost my fun caring and loving self, I was willing to do anything and everything for money, it was my motto at work, whatever it takes to be number one. Frequent late nights with clients entertaining, business trips… however my family was suffering the consequences.
Now my motto is Family first. My wife and son come first and foremost above anything in this physical and monetary based realm. Now its all about how much time I can spend with my universal prize, I cherish every moment with my wife and son. Money is nothing but a piece of paper, which is very dangerous, however when used properly can help so many.
The core issue behind my greed was ME, as I mentioned before, this wasn’t the first time I had done this, I had followed a vicious circle, from one life to another doing some pretty bad things… I needed to see and understand who I really was, not just now, but before… when I saw and understood these things, and worked on myself, freeing myself from negativity and opening my senses to a greater understanding and knowledge that I was able to tackle the monster within.. and start living and appreciating my life and my family.
3. Some of my permaculture friends were offended at all the concrete that was being poured for the new center in the Amazon. Did you consult with the indigenous people or did a non-sustainable development company build the center? Are you trying to include permaculture or sustainability or indigenous design and methods in the construction of the Center? Comment?
We are very sorry if we have offended anyone in the creation of our dream, however we had to reconstruct an ancient energetical form, the chakana, which serves as a portal of energy from the universe. The center is actually filled of dirt, and cement was the only option for sealing it, creating the energy portal we needed, we had to adhere to strict metaphysical dimensions and angles. The center is 50% owned by the local indigenous community headed by the shaman. It is a non for profit. We run on 90% solar energy, we have helped the local indigenous community to fight loggers, we fund many of their schools, feed their families and create employment opportunities and help them as much as we can. We are in one with the locals. We have just finished building a museum in shimbre, which we hope will help educate the locals of their ancestral past.
The entire center and facilities were built using the local indigenous community, over 120 workers for over 2 1/2 years, no western staff was used. We also are funding the private education and daily care for numerous children of the area. The shaman has done this well before I met him and I have only followed his lead. He currently sponsors and is active in the care of over 30 kids around Peru.
4. Is it still true that heroin addicts can travel to Peru for aya sessions for free? If so, is there a protocol in place?
When I first had a “grand opening” I had a taste of what the shamanic world had become… a western run system based on greed… and this is exactly what I didn’t want… for that I have Wall Street.
Donna and I decided to not go that route, at the time many people thought we were crazy after spending 7 figures building this center.. we would instead focus on our intent… which was and is to HELP. We run a sponsorship program, in the 18 months we have sponsored over 60 people to Peru. We buy their flights, and pay for all the expenses needed to treat them. They don’t just have to be heroin addicts, we treat people who have survived sexual abuse, traumas, veterans from war, etc. etc. We receive countless amount of emails asking for help.. and we try to help as many as we can. Many people in this shamanic world are making a fortune by running retreats, however NO one has the right to deny anyone from help from nature… as the shaman says, “What about those that have nothing, do they not have a right to heal? to learn?”.. ayahuasca is part of nature, I don’t own it; no one does. It is here, just like ibogaine and so many other medicines to serve a purpose, not to be manipulated into a money machine. It should be shared and used to help those that need help.
5. Is your trading company on the NY Exchange still happening in NY?
I don’t own a company on nyse, I have been a broker for a long time. For the last 8 yrs or so I have been an institutional derivates broker. Yes I have been working for a publicly listed firm, however I quit in March (again!), will be returning to a new job in October so that we can continue supporting and remain a non for profit. We also need to get our finances in order, since every penny we have used, for the center, to sponsor people, the film and fund other projects has been out of our pockets.
I guess Wall Street is a necessary evil for us, we need it so that we can continue doing our work and securing our future.
6. Because of the revolutionary and passionate response you have experienced with the plant medicine ayahuasca, do you have plans of having ayahuasca removed from Schedule I in the US, since it clearly doesn’t belong in the same category as cocaine and heroin? Or, what do you think needs to happen before the government removes aya from Schedule 1?
Although I would want tolerance and accessibility, I have come to terms that ayahuasca will not be legal in the US any time soon. It wouldn’t be good for the business world.. Pharmaceutical companies thrive on people getting sick, so does the medical community and much of the business world.. Everything is based on what is good for business, not what is good for humanity. I would love to lead this battle, however I accept my role as a facilitator, I am not trying to be an activist for legalization, I rather be an activist to help others in need, a much more attainable goal.
My goal is to raise awareness to the natural options that our habitat has to offer. Ancient ancestral medicines which have been used from the beginning of time and provide a place for treatment open to all who are willing to seek a real change in their lives (with a lot of hard work).
To answer your question before the government removes aya from schedule one, there would have to be a system of control and safety. There would have to be a system of regulation of ayahuasca treatment centers, standards and safety nets. I would never recommend ayahuasca to become legal for individual use anywhere.
7. Thanks Rob for answering these questions. One more if you don’t mind… Rumor has it that you contributed much money to groups like Reality Sandwich, Evolver.net and Mitch Schultz’s The Spirit Molecule film. Are those relationships still intact? Anything we need to know about?
When I first embarked on this path, my vision was to support other projects that were working for the same goal. This led to the funding of Mitch’s movie and Reality Sandwich / evolver.
However Intent is everything, and I did not want to embark on a path of making money, my intent was to help and do good work as I worked on myself and this sometimes needs to be done alone, and we must ourselves carve our own path.
I am still in touch with Mitch, he is a good friend, and support his film and we are currently planning on how we can deliver our message together.
Initially during our launch of Shimbre, we were going to do a retreat together with Reality Sandwich / Evolver, however economics got in the way, and as I mentioned, we are not in this for the money, if that was the case I wouldn’t be returning to Wall Street, and we wouldn’t have used our wealth to sponsor others.
We still remain as friends and silent investors of reality sandwich / evolver.
I just don’t feel a need to be running dozens of retreats, with a never ending flow of people to Peru. My goal is to find those who need help and find a way to getting them help….. We need to help the people whom have no way of attaining help… that’s our mission.
Thank you Roberto so much for answering our questions. I hope they help in getting people to see this extraordinary and passionate film… and learn more about the sacred plant medicine of ayahuasca. – Editor
See the trailer with over 600 hits at this site!