Viviana’s story ends in gratitude, but begins with illnesses. She had polio as an infant, and typhoid as a young adult. “When I was nineteen years old, I was in a coma. I was at the University at Trujillo in Northern Peru and working for a political party. I was working in the slums, and I would eat anything, and I got typhoid. I didn’t know I had it. I just kept going. I felt dizzy. I felt fevers, but since I come from Cusco, from the mountains, and the university was in the hot area, I thought it was just the heat. I started to throw up, and still I didn’t want to go to the doctor. I said, ‘This is going to pass.’ Then I went on a hunger strike with other students, professors, doctors, nurses, and that’s when the typhoid got worse. But the hunger strike was very important to me. We were asking for health rights and protection for the prostitutes because in Trujillo there was a very large red-light district, and there were women coming from different parts of Peru. At the time I didn’t know much about human trafficking. But we knew the levels of exploitation, and there were a lot of sexually transmitted diseases. And because of that, we wanted to organize the women and develop a union with them.”
Viviana was on the hunger strike until one day she collapsed. “When I was unconscious, they took me to the emergency room. I was in a coma for a month. During that time, there was a moment when my mother and the doctors thought that I was going to die. That is the only time that I was fully conscious, fully aware of everything: my ability to choose, my inner power, my knowing of an existence of a different reality that is not this physical world.
“The moment I remember is suddenly I saw my mother, and the doctors and the nurse, and the boyfriend I had at the time, and a few of my other friends all gathered around me because they all thought that I was going to die. In the coma, I could see them. My mother was holding my hand, and she was pressing my hand and telling me, ‘Please, feel my hand, feel my hand.’ And I remember wanting to talk to her. I wanted to tell her, ‘I’m not dying, I’m here,’ but my body didn’t respond. They were telling my mother that they couldn’t keep the IV needles in me, that they couldn’t find more veins. They were going to look in my feet, they said, and a nurse touched my foot. For the first time in that month, I felt my foot. I felt it in a way that I cannot describe. I cannot explain that feeling of her hand on my foot. It was like it was entering my foot. It was like it was one with my foot. After that, I had this experience of choosing, and I thought, ‘What do I want? Do I want to come back?’ And I came back. I chose to be alive. And after that, I changed. It changed my life completely.”
For several years, Viviana worked with shamans in Peru and Mexico. She lived in California and studied transpersonal and integrative psychology. About two years ago, she returned to her homeland to develop a retreat center. Together with her husband, she also runs an orphanage called Niños del Sol. Viviana describes the village and surrounding mountains. “It is a place to remember your own magic, a place to educate your consciousness as you connect with the Mother Earth and all its elements.
“There you realize that the main prayer is gratitude—gratitude for everything we are given, as well as for everything we are not given.”
Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine