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.
Over a period of twenty months, fourteen shamans were murdered in the district of Balsapuerto, a small river port in Alto Amazonas province. Seven of the victims had been shot, stabbed, or hacked to death; seven others had been reported missing, but their bodies had not been found, presumably because they had been tossed into rivers to be eaten by piranhas. All those killed — as well as almost all the members of the communities from which they came — were members of the Shawi ethnic group. How could such a thing have happened?
Opening the door to the magical world is not a day trip. Every approach we make to the spirits entails reciprocal obligations. What those obligations are is a matter between each of us and the spirits, but at the very least they require gratitude and humility — a willingness to be courageous and vulnerable, to speak honestly from our hearts and listen devoutly with our hearts, to tell the spirits our truest stories
For most of his life, psychologist Carl Gustav Jung enjoyed telling the story of the Solar Phallus Man — the designation was conferred by historian Sonu Shamdasani — and often claimed that the story was the single most compelling piece of evidence for his theory of the collective unconscious. But the story has a number of problems, and, when it is used to argue for the existence and nature of the collective unconscious, it raises serious methodological and conceptual issues.
In 2006, Keith Aronowitz, then forty-four years old, was a filmmaker without a direction. He had been professionally involved in the film and television industry for more than twenty years, primarily as an editor working on what he calls “some pretty mindless stuff” — infomercials and reality shows. Now he needed a break. He decided to go to Peru and try something he had heard of called ayahuasca. He brought his camcorder and, just for something to do, he recorded some of the ceremonies and interviewed some of the people who had also journeyed to drink ayahuasca. When he shared his footage, the response was enthusiastic. So he thought: Why not make a documentary?
Philosopher Martin Heidegger articulated the strikingly shamanic idea of das Geviert — the fourfold gathering of earth, sky, gods, and mortals. We place ourselves in relation to the earth and sky, and search and await the essence of the divinities revealing themselves to us through their presencing in the world — in water, in a flower, in a jug. And what if we were able to recognize this gathering of the fourfold everywhere — a world where earth and sky, mortals and gods, all reflect each other? That would be, he says, the worlding of the world.
Anthropologist Edith Turner insists that spirit stuff is real because, during the frenzied climax of a lengthy Ndembu ritual in Zambia, she saw it come out of the patient’s body, and she observed it become a human tooth — an ihamba, a dead hunter’s tooth, which had been wandering around inside the patient, causing her severe pain. Turner considers, and rejects, the idea that some sort of sleight-of-hand might be involved in all this.
A lucid dream is one in which the dreamer is aware of being in a dream state while the dream is still in progress. Lucid dreams can be extremely vivid and realistic, depending on the level of self-awareness during the dream. Most strikingly, lucid dreamers report being able to actively participate in and often manipulate experiences within the dream environment — that is, deliberately walk, fly, look around, handle objects, and interact with dream persons. Lucid dreams provide a unique opportunity to find out more about the experience of dreaming — and, by extension, perhaps more about the experiences of shamans, and about other visionary experiences, including those related to ayahuasca.
In order to become an ayahuasquero, one must be coronado, initiated, usually by receiving the phlegm of one’s own maestro ayahuasquero. Still, a number of mestizo shamans also report being initiated by dreams that announce — or confirm — their healing vocation. My plant teacher doña María Tuesta had such an initiatory dream when she was eighteen, in which the Virgin Mary confirmed doña María’s destiny as a healer. A small detail in the dream is of great interest. The fact that doña María is carried to heaven in her mosquitero, mosquito net, has significant symbolic resonance in the Upper Amazon.
The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology jointly present a conference on Bridging Nature and Human Nature at the Edgefield Resort in Portland, Oregon. The conference is intended to create an “interdisciplinary coalition to help reassess science and culture and the interface between technology and nature” — that is, to call for a more systemic, process-oriented, intimate, and sensual understanding of the universe in which we live.