Rebuild Bodies of Knowledge

The Sustainability of Being

Each indi­vid­u­al’s sub­jec­tive exis­tence pro­vides the frame­work for a sus­tain­able life-cycle in con­nec­tion with every­thing else in exis­tence. When one cycle comes to com­ple­tion, anoth­er cycle begins again in renewed form. Every cycle is an expres­sion of creativity.

“Well, I won­der if we won’t notice that thought can do some­thing oth­er than pre­scribe to peo­ple what they have to do. It would be quite nice if thought could come to entire­ly think itself, if think­ing could unearth what is uncon­scious in the very depth of what we think.” — Michel Foucault

Our bod­ies and our envi­ron­ment share the same mate­r­i­al com­po­nents. Oxy­gen not only appears all through­out our atmos­phere but it also moves through­out our blood­stream. Atoms and mol­e­cules in just the right con­fig­u­ra­tion pro­vide the nec­es­sary con­di­tions for our air, food, water, and shel­ter, and these atoms com­prise the fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks nec­es­sary for new life to emerge.

We can train our own envi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness and help oth­ers to do the same. To live sus­tain­ably, we must envi­sion ways to act in bal­ance with nature.

Con­scious­ness pro­vides the foun­da­tion for this essen­tial work. Holis­tic, inte­gra­tive sys­tems, incor­po­rat­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices in ecology—as well as in edu­ca­tion, health, cul­ture, and economy—all hinge upon the pow­er of the mind to reshape our inter­ac­tions in rela­tion to inter-being.

Oubilez le passè et vous perdez les deux yuex, Eddy Kamuan­ga Ilun­ga, 2016

The mys­ter­ies of con­scious­ness are being mined to uncov­er poten­tial heal­ing prop­er­ties. Psy­chol­o­gist, sci­en­tist, and social entre­pre­neur, Dr. Shami­ni Jain explores sys­tems-based heal­ing process­es from the per­spec­tive of per­son­al and soci­etal empow­er­ment.15 As an intro­duc­tion to her work on her web­site, Jain asks, “What if there real­ly is no divide between sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty? Is the abil­i­ty to heal our­selves sci­ence fic­tion, or actu­al­ly sci­ence-based? What would the world look like if we were tru­ly awak­ened to the depths of our heal­ing poten­tial?” Explo­ration toward these answers takes place through Jain’s foun­da­tion, the Con­scious­ness and Heal­ing Ini­tia­tive (CHI).16 Accord­ing to her foun­da­tion, inves­ti­ga­tions into how human­i­ty might come to exhib­it the capac­i­ty for self-heal­ing emerges through what’s known as biofield sci­ence. This branch of study con­sid­ers how mol­e­cules, cells, and organs of liv­ing sys­tems com­mu­ni­cate through fields of ener­gy to main­tain health.

Launched from a hypoth­e­sis that the biofield activ­i­ty of organ­isms can be altered to self-reg­u­late the process­es of a healthy liv­ing sys­tem, the impli­ca­tion is that our ener­gies influ­ence var­i­ous facets of our phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and spir­i­tu­al integri­ty. But biofield sci­ence is just one of many emerg­ing fields of study blend­ing sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. What we are most fas­ci­nat­ed by is how this area of inves­ti­ga­tion offers a holis­tic approach toward strength­en­ing the rela­tion­ships with­in our bod­ies, with­in our com­mu­ni­ties, and between our species and every oth­er life-form on our planet.

There is no rea­son why sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty should not work in har­mo­ny. Sci­ence can back up spir­i­tu­al insights with data. Spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions can help guide sci­en­tif­ic inquiry into the unknown. To achieve sus­tain­abil­i­ty as a mind­set, we believe in the impor­tance of being open to receiv­ing wis­dom from many sources, from not only the ele­ments of wind, water, fire, and air, but also from the plants, ani­mals, and peo­ple who inhab­it this world.

Rebuild Bodies of Knowledge

Reestablishing the Role of the Shaman

We believe in the impor­tance of expand­ing shaman­ic wis­dom and prac­tice through­out every­day life in order to become more respon­si­ble and adapt­able in mat­ters of our own health.

While there is no defin­i­tive ety­mol­o­gy for the word shaman, accord­ing to the book Shamans: Siber­ian Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and the West­ern Imag­i­na­tion by Ronald Hut­ton, the word “shaman” most like­ly orig­i­nat­ed in the East­ern Siber­ian Tun­gu­sic lan­guage in which the word šaman means “one who knows”. This ear­ly descrip­tion of shaman­ism is local­ly spe­cif­ic to the Siber­ian and Mon­go­lian region, although shamans have exist­ed through­out the world and across var­i­ous tra­di­tions. In today’s pop­u­lar under­stand­ing, shamans describe any­one knowl­edgable and respon­si­ble for nat­ur­al heal­ing meth­ods that bridge the phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al worlds.

Paul Laf­fo­ley, 1983

“After hav­ing per­son­al­ly prac­ticed shaman­ism, shaman­ic heal­ing, and shaman­ic jour­ney­ing for more than half a cen­tu­ry, I can say that there is noth­ing I have en­countered in reports of the spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences of saints, prophets, psy­che­del­ic drug exper­i­menters, near death sur­vivors, avatars and oth­er mys­tics that is not com­mon­ly expe­ri­enced when fol­low­ing clas­sic jour­ney meth­ods using a drum.” — Michael Harner

In the West­ern world, com­mon aspects of var­i­ous shaman­ic tra­di­tions, such as the use of rhyth­mic per­cus­sion to alter con­scious­ness, have been chan­neled into a con­tem­po­rary prac­tice and train­ing. Core Shaman­ism is a term coined by anthro­pol­o­gist Michael Harn­er (1929 – 2018), who expe­ri­enced and wrote about the shaman­ism of the indige­nous Shuar cul­ture in Ecuador in the 1960s. Over the fol­low­ing decades, Harn­er for­mal­ized the prac­tice of Core Shaman­ism as a way of incor­po­rat­ing the shaman­ic jour­ney into areas of con­tem­po­rary life. Harn­er estab­lished the Foun­da­tion for Shaman­ic Stud­ies, an insti­tu­tion that offers a pletho­ra of insights for any­one to access oth­er­wise hid­den spir­i­tu­al resources for per­son­al trans­for­ma­tion.17

Shaman­ism deals with the direct expe­ri­ence of receiv­ing heal­ing pow­er from help­ful, com­pas­sion­ate spir­its in the upper and low­er worlds. While we do most of our liv­ing in the phys­i­cal real­i­ty of the mid­dle world, not all the spir­its in this realm are help­ful. In shaman­ism, there is no con­cept of good and evil. Rather, there is a notion of ele­ments either being in har­mo­ny or dis­so­nance. Core Shaman­ism teach­es that through per­son­al expe­ri­ence one can access anoth­er real­i­ty in which com­pas­sion­ate spir­its (in the form of ani­mals or humans) help bring about spir­i­tu­al bal­ance. This, then in turn, has a direct impact on bring­ing about bal­ance in our own phys­i­cal real­i­ty. Shamans are often referred to as those who know or see that which is oth­er­wise invis­i­ble. Through direct expe­ri­ence, shamans move between two realities—physical and spir­i­tu­al worlds—in order to cul­ti­vate har­mo­ny and, ulti­mate­ly, heal­ing through pro­found insight.

Rhyth­mic per­cus­sion is the most con­sis­tent­ly-used vehi­cle for shaman­ic prac­tice. In Siber­ian and Mon­go­lian shaman­ic cul­tures, the drum is referred to as “the horse” for it is through this instru­ment that one rides into the shaman­ic journey.

Anoth­er pow­er­ful means of alter­ing con­scious­ness is through plant-based med­i­cine like ayahuas­ca, which can be used for a trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence. Aware­ness around this entheogenic brew is grow­ing far beyond its native homes in places like Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. In the last ten or fif­teen years, it has begun to trav­el with shamans to a num­ber of far-flung com­mu­ni­ties, from Europe to Asia and into North Amer­i­ca. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, to pre­pare this decoc­tion, the shaman com­munes with the for­est, picks the plant, pre­pares the brew, makes up songs trans­lat­ing between the for­est and one­self, and then gives out the ayahuas­ca to those seek­ing heal­ing while singing songs that con­nect these peo­ple to the for­est. The process of tak­ing ayahuas­ca is said to trans­fer mes­sages and real­iza­tions to help peo­ple come into greater knowl­edge and pro­found feel­ing. In this way, ayahuas­ca has been described as a “teacher” and known to help indi­vid­u­als attain deep insights relat­ing to a sense of con­nec­tion and belong­ing in the world.

Anoth­er more com­mon con­scious­ness-alter­ing com­pound is psilo­cy­bin, which can pro­duce mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences that lead to mean­ing­ful per­son­al trans­for­ma­tions.18 Even syn­thet­ic hal­lu­cino­gens have been demon­strat­ed to have heal­ing prop­er­ties. Research into non-ordi­nary states of con­scious­ness has begun to reveal the ther­a­peu­tic poten­tial of LSD and oth­er psy­che­del­ic sub­stances. One of the ear­li­est exper­i­ments with LSD was the Con­cord Prison Exper­i­ment, con­duct­ed from 1961 to 1963 by Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty researchers, under the direc­tion of Tim­o­thy Leary. This tri­al involved the admin­is­tra­tion of psilo­cy­bin-assist­ed group psy­chother­a­py to 32 pris­on­ers in an effort to reduce recidi­vism rates. 88% report­ed that they learned some­thing of val­ue about them­selves and the world. 62% claimed that the expe­ri­ence changed their lives for the bet­ter.19 Giv­en the pow­er­ful impli­ca­tions of these sub­stances, it’s impor­tant that we as a soci­ety estab­lish legal con­texts for the uses of psy­che­delics to aid men­tal health dis­or­ders and improve well­be­ing. As hal­lu­cino­gens gain greater inte­gra­tion into the med­ical field, it’s impor­tant that we con­tin­ue to learn from the heal­ers who have tra­di­tion­al­ly used these com­pounds in their cer­e­monies. The role of the shaman is incred­i­bly impor­tant for the prop­er inte­gra­tion of pow­er­ful plant-based med­i­cines that can have a tremen­dous­ly pos­i­tive impact if applied wisely.

Plants sus­tain us, from the oxy­gen we breathe, to the food we eat, from the elixirs we drink, to the med­i­cines we use to heal. A trained anthro­pol­o­gist, Wolf Dieter Storl has trav­eled the world learn­ing from dif­fer­ent cul­tures about their local tra­di­tions asso­ci­at­ed with plants. His writ­ings empha­size the impor­tance of lore and myth in human rela­tion­ships with nature.

Storl’s con­cen­tra­tion on shaman­ic prac­tices in tra­di­tion­al soci­eties explores a wide, glob­al array of sacred sym­bol­ism, med­i­cine, and mag­ic.20 Plants play a piv­otal role in all aspects of life every­where on Earth. Some cul­tures have held on to the heal­ing abil­i­ties of plants more than others.

For com­mu­ni­ties that have been most averse­ly affect­ed by a shift in focus to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal inter­ven­tions, per­haps the wis­dom offered by plants will become a new, potent heal­ing agent to final­ly replace the pill bot­tles in our cab­i­nets. Human rela­tion­ships with plants come down to a mat­ter of sus­tain­ing, and inspir­ing, life through­out its var­i­ous embodiments.

We live among shamans every-where, whether we are aware of it or not. But as aware­ness of shaman­ic prac­tice expands, we hope that more peo­ple will under­stand that the role of the shaman in soci­ety can be seen as ful­fill­ing a need for soci­ety itself to heal. By focus­ing on our rela­tion­ship to the spir­it world, we will not only gain greater insights into our rela­tion­ship with Earth as a sacred being, but also our con­nec­tion to the even more expan­sive cosmos.

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