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.
Rituals connect our daily routines to patterns of tradition. Ceremony supplies meaning in celebrating the natural peaks and valleys of life.
Rituals and ceremonies are commonplace within indigenous cultures. Religions also centralize rituals and ceremonies. However, contemporary secular society hasn’t traditionally had many rituals and ceremonies that connect to nature or to a source of divinity. How can we find a balance between connections with long-established sources of wisdom without feeling constrained by dogma?
First of all, we must access sources of wisdom and understand the meaning of ritual and ceremony. The challenge in connecting to sources of wisdom that have guided humans throughout generations, is that a great deal of wisdom is going extinct (along with the cultures and languages in which that wisdom has lived). Society is in need of a welcoming space in which tribal ancient rituals can be reintroduced and live on within globalized culture.
Wendy Mandy, a healer practicing shamanistic traditions, speaks to the importance of collecting and practicing longstanding traditions of knowledge from her personal experience, having grown up with indigenous communities in both Nigeria and South America. Russell Brand interviewed Mandy for his podcast in April, 2019.21 During their conversation, Mandy explained where routines drifted apart from rituals and the important, meaningful, and grounding purpose of ceremony in life’s cycles.
Ceremony predates organized religion. Ceremonies, such as the naming of a child or traditional rites of passage, connect us to nature, family, community, as well as serve to give an individual insights into one’s own being. Rituals, like lighting candles or saying prayers of gratitude, can imbue everyday moments with greater meaning. Most of the routines of daily life in globalized society are like rituals devoid of meaning. The constant barrage of information and demands of daily routines, occur like a constant push-and-pull in opposite directions between what feels relevant to giving life meaning, and what feels like a distraction away from what’s truly important. Ceremony helps provide structure and rhythm to daily life and it can have the effect of bringing greater purpose to our actions.
Purposeful connections are made within ceremony, such as the link between the sexual and the spiritual. In secular society, we experience segmented, and often conflicting, expressions of sexuality: chaste social interactions and then the private invitation of pornography. Because there is not space made for the conversation around how sexuality is at the core of humanity (the ability to procreate and evolve), sexual impulses have been repressed within society, resurfacing in places like pornography rather than finding more wholesome outlets. In many social groups in the past, dancing provided a strong connection between sexual and spiritual domains. Mandy speaks of the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, in which dancing with each other elevates the group energy. The erotic receives a kind of release not sealed off behind walls, but open, in public, in the collective consciousness. This sublimation of sexual drive through spiritual expression offers a healthy way to process and release this powerful energy.
Rituals and ceremonies increase intuitive understanding of oneself and relationships with others. Mandy explains how, within Himba society, although a woman might have different sexual partners, she can still intuit which man will be the father of her child. And, within that relationship, the child matters more than the two individuals who comprise its parents. In Himba culture, bringing a child into the world is not about making a tiny version of oneself. The ego has been removed from the procreation equation. It’s time we all distance ourselves from this Western notion of having a child to fulfill our egos. Our children should grow up without the subconscious idea of inherited “unfinished business” influencing their growth. The focus of parenting should remain on the child, on being reared with meaning and purpose in one’s life. Prioritizing this focus reaffirms the capacity for care that courses through everyone.
Mandy offers the reminder to be compassionate to yourself, or else there’s no chance at being compassionate toward others. Throw away the things that don’t go well for you at end of day and, the next day, start from a new beginning. A relatively easy ritual we can all engage in is to make up a list of things to be grateful for. This practice sets us on a better resonance and can be incredibly motivating. This kind of list-making can also create a structure within the day, and eventually, throughout the architecture of our lives.
Ceremony and ritual bring meaning and beauty into the fold of everyday activities. Understanding one’s meaningfulness connects the physical and mental self and expands consciousness. Our bodies hold a great deal of wisdom, yet we have to learn how to access that wisdom. Ceremony offers a potent pathway to get in touch with ourselves and connect to that powerful constellation of energy and vibration within us. Everything is available, so long as we understand how to get to that place of abundance. Nothing ever disappears completely… Even when the heart stops beating, where does the frequency go? How might we learn to incorporate ritual and ceremony into our lives such that we become able to uncover and connect with the endless powerful energies that are constantly present all around us?
It’s tough to navigate any territory without a map. To navigate the complex range of our own emotions and become better at self-regulation, first we have to understand our own internal topography.
Much of our behavior occurs automatically, with no apparent agency or conscious purpose. In moments of heightened stress or emotion, our reactions become even more unthinking. Once a particular response becomes a habit, this established pattern can be incredibly difficult to break. A certain person may regularly respond to criticism by becoming withdrawn, or they may become hostile and aggressive. With their response to this stimulus likely engrained within them since childhood, they play out the same scene over and over again without conscious understanding. There is comfort in familiarity, no matter how destructive it may be.
A number of practices are intended to help analyze and disrupt negative emotional responses. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) seeks to root out maladaptive behavior by identifying it as such, developing a granular understanding of triggers and processes, and ultimately altering these cognitive habits through a variety of interventions.
In a similar vein, the Dalai Lama, in his capacity as a spiritual leader, commissioned psychologist Paul Ekman to create an interactive tool entitled Atlas of Emotions.22 The Dalai Lama referred to this digital atlas as a “map of the mind”. Similarly to CBT, it involves close examination of emotional responses. Using a baseline of five core emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and enjoyment), the tool outlines timelines of reactions to a variety of stimuli or triggers. For example, you may find
yourself at odds with a friend. In response to this sudden release of strong emotion from your friend, you may be reminded of some previous figure in your life who treated you poorly in their own outbursts. As a result, you may begin to feel angry yourself, accompanied by your body tensing up and a sense that you are under attack. From here, there are choices. For one, you could opt to fire back and argue on the same heightened level as your friend. This is considered an unhelpful response. A better option might be to take a timeout, allow yourself to calm down, then approach your friend from a place of emotional balance.
The Atlas of Emotions is intended to help people conceptualize their own feelings. It’s a guide designed to help individuals remember to practice awareness of their feelings and to use this system to gain greater control of their inner lives. Having the right word to describe a particular feeling greatly affects how we experience and process that feeling. Once labeled, the emotion is demystified, no longer just a chemical storm that takes over us, but a described phenomenon we can observe and step back from. Emotional regulation should be considered part of any set of basic tools needed in order to comfortably move around in our human bodies. We want to feel calm, and we want to be at peace. Learning to be aware of the mercurial sensations within us is an important step toward this goal.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead