Monday, November 08, 2010

Shamanism and its Possible Effects on the World

A friend of mine recently posed four questions regarding shamanism. They're not really my style of question, so they made me think a little. Well, I read over the questions and answers today and think they're okay. Not brilliant, but worth a read if you've a few minutes. So here are the questions, with my answers below.

1) What impact on the world do you envision with this renewed interest in Shamanisitc/Toltec knowledge?

2) What results have practitioners seen in their lives through the practice of energy work, and Toltec/Shamanistic knowledge?

3) How do you feel about the blending of the indigenous world, and the world of modern man?

4) What do you see as the role of Toltec/Shamanistic knowledge and practice in the future?

1) Impact on the world is a big phrase. Yet not unattainable, as we've seen with the movements personified by Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson, as well as the movement toward (nearly) worldwide abolition of slavery, the women's rights movement, the gay rights' movement to name a few. In all of those movements, there were cathartic moments and catalytic personalities. The moments seized the attention of huge groups; the personalities were able to understand that someone needed to step to the fore and declare that those moments would become movements and not remain isolated events.
When we think about shamanism in the 21st century, we can see that there has been a build up of interest from the west in ancient traditions that can be traced, most logically, to the earliest work of Carlos Casteneda. But Casteneda never assumed the mantle of public leader of a shamanic movement. Nonetheless, interest in shamanic tradition has grown considerably during the 40 years since Don Juan Mateus was introduced to the Western world, and is getting close to a small but critical mass. Within the next few years there will be an opening for someone with the right credentials, courage, conviction and charisma to step to the fore and bring shamanism out of the shadows and into mainstream awareness. Tim Leary did it with mushrooms and then LSD, but his appearance was early and he was both marginalized and criminalized. The time is certainly more ripe today because of the number of people who have been introduced to shamanism since Leary's era.
What will their message be? If it were me it would be one of sharing the knowledge that there is life in everything. Which means intent, will, desire, memory. But that's easier to say than impart. But to me that is the central tenet of shamanism: Awareness that everything is sentient. More than that, that the sentience can be communicated with by broadening the bandwidths of our senses. For many of us, that's required the use of sacred plant medicine, and there is little liklihood of getting the whole world to utilize those medicines. But someone who knew how to impart that knowledge, someone who was a consummate shaman, could really bring that awareness to fruition, well, I think we humans would completely alter the way we interact with not just each other but with everything we come in contact with.
What change would that have on the world? It would be unimaginable. Just think of the flowers in your home and how they grow in a positive atmosphere, as opposed to flowers growing in negative spaces. Now imagine everything in the world reacting to that positive energy. And awareness of the sentience of everything almost automatically produces interaction, positive interaction with those things.
A lot of us already try to "grow the world" and "grow with the world", and there have been positive changes from that work. But we are all still moments. We need to make it a movement to have a lasting and powerful, and powerfully positive, impact on the planet.

2) What impact has shamanic work had on the lives of its practitioners? I can't speak for others, and when I speak for myself it should be noted that I'm probably the worst student of all time. That said, simple awareness of the life in everything has had an enormous impact on my life. There is a level of communication with things normally considered inanimate that is just fantastic.
For instance, my trucks love me being proud of them. I've one truck that has a short that keeps the "check engine" light on. It's been on since I bought it in 2006. Which means I can't pass my annual inspection. So when I go for the inspection, I fail. And then the truck and I have a talk and I explain that it won't be able to be a truck and do truck things if it doesn't let me pass that inspection. So I ask it to please shut the light off at some point during the 30-day grace period a failed-inspection gives you to repair the vehicle.
And my truck, understanding that it wants to be a truck, and not a lawn ornament, has always responded by shutting the "check engine" light off within a couple of days of the failed inspection, just long enough to pass inspection, at which point, generally while I am driving away from the inspection station, the light comes back on and stays on for another year.
But in the course of a day there are probably a dozen things attributable to shamanic practice that occur. Parking spaces that open up at the right second, freelance work that appears out of the blue at exactly the right time, things like that. Now, the other side of the coin is that you can't be asking for things that benefit you directly. I can't ask to sell a million copies of my book, or for the spirits to bring the perfect woman into my life. Those are selfish things and shamanism and selfishness do not mix well. Other than the car insepction, of course.
On other levels, the practice, however imperfect, has helped allowed me to make the best of a bad family breakup and turn it into a wonderfully positive experience for all involved. Not perfect, but still full of a whole lot more love than anger and resentment. And I don't think I could have helped make that come about without that shamanic practice.

3) Blending the indigenous shamanic world with out modern world? I think there are pitfalls. I think there are problems when westerners raise simple healers to the position of guru. I have never met a real curandero, a real shaman, who thought they were anything more than doctors who worked with spirit helpers and the spirits of plants and other things to effect healing on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues affecting their patients. So telling them they are amazing beings for being able to make it rain, or to stop raining, for instance, can confuse them, can throw them off balance. Add to that relatively enormous sums that westerners pay to use those curandero's medicines or to study plant medicine with them, and you can really throw off the balance of a healer's life. And you can throw off the balance of whole communities which have always depended on that fisherman/curandero who might no longer have time to tend to their needs now that he or she is in such demand by westerners.
There is also the positive: when westerners show respect and are willing to pay real money for the work of a local healer, that generates interest in learning to heal within that community. Many healers now have several apprentices where just five years ago they had none.
Next, there is also the negative of westerners coming back from indigenous or mestizo areas of Central and South America thinking they have shamanic knowledge and trying to pass it on when they have learned nothing, and so have nothing to pass along to their students.
On the other hand, I think there are enough honest western students working with shaman in Central and South America--people who are also aware of their impact on the communities with which they work--that I hope and trust that the wheat will separate from the chaff.
There really is no going back. I was certainly one of the first to talk about ayahuasca use in Peru--not the first, but the first who wrote an accessible article in a national magazine (High TImes, June 1986, I think) about ayahuasca, and I've had to live with whether that was a good or bad thing ever since. How it turns out, well, we'll see. I hope it turns out positively for most involved.

4) The role of shamanic knowledge in the future? That's not something I've ever spent time on. I think that once a person is aware of the life in everything, they can begin to access the spirit of everything. And once they can do that they can interact with those spirits. I'm talking about the spirit of the creek, the bricks in your house, the hundreds of spirits roaming your kitchen. This universe is full full full of life and life force. The roll of shamanic knowledge for us westerners introduced to those spirits is to spread that knowledge, make communication easier. And if we can do that--a big task, no doubt--then the way people interact with the world and the spirits of the world and universe will change, automatically, from one of dominance to one of cooperation. And when we, mankind, begin interacting with the world, rather than trying to dominate it, well, I think mankind will be better off. The world and its spirits don't really care if we do, for the most part. Trees will be here long after we're gone, and so will stones and bricks and clouds and the moon. So it's really up to us to take an interest if we are to make the friendship of those spirits. And thus far, for most of us throughout mankind's short history on this planet, that effort has not been made. Which has left us losing out on so much we might have learned. Who knows what we have missed simply by not asking a plant what benefit it might have for mankind, rather than saying "tree, chop it and burn it for fire."
I think the universe has all the secrets of the universe. And our arrogance in trying to continually conquer the universe rather than communicate with it, has kept us from being taught those secrets. And how delicious they might be!


Dr. Grossman said...

Good thoughts, Peter.

I shrudder though at the thought of someone in the shamanic world rising to be the spokesperson for shamanism. It's already apparent that some well-known writers are trying to do so while being weighted down with their own agendas, egos, and sometimes rather strange ideas.

Mr. Irascible 2 u said...

As long as I (we) have space telescopes I'm a happy guy. 6 billion of us here and we're all going to be farmers? Uncool.