In the human body, immunity is built up typically by exposure to certain toxins or diseases. In the social body, we hope that once people are well aware of the consequences of certain decisions with adverse effects, that a similar kind of immunity will emerge. In this more aware state, society will offer people the right resources to build up strength, resilience, and adaptive ingenuity to achieve a flourishing period of integrative, holistic, and inclusive creativity.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead