Some time ago, on a discussion group, a woman posted that she had been sexually assaulted by a shaman at an ayahuasca retreat center in the Upper Amazon. During the course of the occasionally heated discussion that followed, I took the position — which I still maintain — that it is unethical for a shaman to have sex with a patient under any circumstances, even when the sex is apparently consensual. I reproduce the relevant portions of my posts here.
Eidetic visualization — the creation of a minutely detailed mental image of the deity being contemplated, along with the deity’s palace, retinue, appurtenances, and the subtle deities distributed on the divine body — lies at the heart of Tibetan tantric meditation. The practice is ultimately linked to a wave of visionary devotionalism that began in India in the early centuries CE, affecting both Buddhism and the Hindu Vaiṣṇava tradition. The Buddhists, with long practice in eidetic visualization, have important things to say about visionary ontology.
Carl Jung believed that active imagination is a channel for messages from the unconscious. Most important, the dialogue with the contents of the unconscious is with persons — “exactly as if,” says Jung, “a dialogue were taking place between two human beings with equal rights.” Active imagination enters its own visionary landscape, often called the imaginal world. Immediately we face the question of the nature and ontological status of the persons we encounter there.
On November 16, 2009, after a brief illness, famed visionary artist Pablo César Amaringo died at his home, surrounded by friends and family, and leaving behind a mass of uncatalogued paintings and hastily jotted notes. We are more than fortunate that Howard Charing and Peter Cloudsley had already been working with Amaringo for months to get his collection in order, annotate his more recent work, create a digital archive of his art, and protect his paintings from deterioration in their humid tropical environment.
The anthropology of consciousness is concerned with the extraordinary, anomalous, numinous, compelling, disruptive, and culturally salient private experiences that are found in every human culture. Cultural anthropology thus once again gives us the opportunity to go beyond our own cultural preconceptions and, by seeing how these experiences are treated and understood in other cultures, open our eyes to the profoundly human.
When we think about profound, important, transformative experiences in our lives, we often think in terms of a journey from one place to another. We think about a change from being closed to being open, from selfishness to generosity, from superficiality to depth. In our culture, people often anticipate that this journey will be more or less instantaneous, and that it will consist in a cognitive event — an epiphany, a revelation, a new understanding. I would like here to propose an embodied challenge to this sudden and revelatory model of transformation.
Assumptions about the ultimate aims of spiritual practice have been profoundly influenced by the advaita teachings of an aristocratic nineteenth-century Hindu monk named Swāmī Vivekānanda. These claims have so thoroughly entered our thinking about spirituality as to be unremarkable. But important Indian soteriological traditions contradict this philosophy, and, indeed, say precisely the opposite — that salvation lies not in realizing the unity of self and universe, but rather in achieving monadic isolation of the self.
The wilderness is a teacher, and it teaches, often implacably, the natural consequences of our actions. It’s simple: if I haven’t set up a shelter and it rains, then I get wet. But the lessons of the wilderness go much deeper than that. The wilderness teaches, in Kierkegaard’s words, how to exist humanly — remembering what is important, in right relationship, in touch with meaning in the world. Here are ten such lessons that the wilderness has taught me.