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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.

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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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The Importance of Rituals & Ceremonies

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.

Rais­sa Lara Lütolf, 2019

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?

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Decoding the Textures of Our Emotions

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

“Solar Man”, Dr Ale­sha Sivartha, 1898

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.

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