by Alberto Villoldo PhD: Several decades ago, I was a medical anthropologist doing research in the Amazon rainforest.
My salary and expenses were paid for by a research grant from a pharmaceutical company hoping to find the bark or root that could become the next great cancer cure. After all, the jungle is nature’s pharmacy, filled with exotic plants whose powers have yet to be discovered. I spent many months canoeing to villages that had seldom seen a white man and wherever I went, I found there was no cancer or heart disease, even in the elders of the communities. Clearly, the indigenous people of the area knew something about health that we westerners didn’t know. What was their secret?
I returned home with my backpack empty, and my sponsor could not accept that I hadn’t brought back the key ingredient for a blockbuster drug that would make all of us rich and save some lives at the same time. However, I did return with insights from having been taught the wisdom of the shamans by several mentors who took me under their wing. I learned there was a magic ingredient to health that could be found in the rainforest, but it would not fit in a backpack. It was shamanic medicine. It was, the shamans told me, the medicine that would allow a person to become like the jaguar. And it could only be found in the invisible world of Spirit.
At the time, I had difficulty understanding what they were trying to explain to me. It was only after years of studying with indigenous healers, or shamans, that I began to comprehend what they were talking about.
Shamanic medicine refers to the benefits you receive when you experience the merging of your individual consciousness with all consciousness and all creation. This happens during special brain-mind states. The new perspective you develop as a result of this ecstatic, exhilarating experience is like an awakening to a new reality that has been hidden from you: the invisible world of your soul and Spirit. For the Buddhists the natural outcome of this experience is compassion. For the shaman, it is stewardship of the Earth. The experience of bliss, while wonderful, is not a goal. Dreaming a world of healing and beauty into being is.
Once you’ve experienced the invisible world, you recognize that you have been duped into believing the visible world of the senses, the body, and the mind is the only reality. In fact, it’s not even the dominant reality unless you choose to perceive it as such. The invisible and visible worlds are always connected to each other, and you can travel between them once you’ve opened your eyes to the portal: your primeval consciousness.
Shamanic medicine works by raising the quality of the luminous energy field (LEF) that surrounds your physical body and tells your molecules, cells, and genes what to do. The LEF can be thought of as the software that informs your DNA, the hardware, to repair your body. Before taking shamanic medicine, your LEF simply creates your body (and your psych-spiritual reality) according to the instructions you inherited from your parents. It replicates the heart conditions, the breast conditions, and the psychological stories and dramas that cut across generations. Despite our longing to see ourselves as different, better, more enlightened than our parents, we continue to live out their pathetic health and psychological issues. We live the way they lived and die the way they died.
The LEF mediates between your brain, where you experience yourself as a distinct individual with your own unique awareness, and Spirit, where we are all One.
The LEF is the instrument through which you dream the world into being. It consists of light and vibration, so whatever you vibrate in your LEF, you create in the world. When we raise the quality of our LEF we can begin to express the genes for health and longevity. We can lead more original lives. Your inability to forgive your mother or your former spouse and move on causes a mark in your LEF that remains there after the physical body dies, so it’s carried into the next lifetime. This wound will draw you to the parents you’ll be born through, or a similar spouse, in order to manifest the family that will allow you the opportunity to heal yourself. If you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade the quality of the information in your LEF, and choose instead to stay stuck in the same old belief of Mom ruined my life, or the stork dropped me off at the wrong home, the wound remains unhealed, and you wind up with the reasons why you can’t have what you want. In the East this is known as karma. Not a good way to go through life. Much better to take shamanic medicine.
But this is much harder to do today than it was 100 years ago, or even during the time of our Paleolithic ancestors from 10,000 years ago, who lived longer, healthier lives than we do. This is because our brains have been damaged by toxins, heavy metals, and stress. We can no longer access the brain-mind states necessary to experience unity with all creation, and upgrade the quality of our LEF. No matter how long we meditate or how many times we chant OM the invisible world of Spirit eludes us. Avalon has been lost in the mist. The sacred Machu Picchu has vanished into the jungle.
In the West, psychology has become very focused on what happens in our minds, and neuroscience on what happens in our brains, and we have forgotten about Spirit. Shamanic medicine awakens you to the invisible world of energy where everything is intertwined, an entangled Universe where every thought you have impacts every molecule in the cosmos, including every cell in your body. After you’ve experienced it, you cease to identify exclusively with your body and your roles in the visible, physical world. You are born into a new life, one in which you recognize your Christ-like, Buddha-like, eternal nature. This process of awakening can also be described as killing the infidel: the self that doesn’t believe in the invisible world and is certain that the predatory world of mortals competing for limited planetary resources is all that exists.
When you experience shamanic medicine, you come to recognize what Carl Jung described as the collective unconscious that exists within you. You recognize that you’re not just intertwined with all of Creation; it is inside you. How can you harm the earth when you and the earth are inseparable? How can you not attend to your own well-being if you care about the earth and your fellow beings? The idea that you have to look out for number one, and damage the earth or hurt others in order to survive, is incomprehensible once you’ve experienced shamanic medicine.
Shamanic medicine allows you to realize that everything in your life is something you’ve chosen to dream into being—including the sense that you are a separate being, or the emotional pain and suffering you may be experiencing. Even the apparent schism between the visible world of the senses and the invisible world of Spirit is an illusion you have created. It’s a helpful illusion when trying to operate in everyday life. It’s not exactly easy to work through a To Do list when you are in a state of Timelessness and Oneness with all, experiencing your interconnectedness with the cosmos. But once you experience your interconnectedness with all, what you put on your To Do list will change—and your ability to follow it and not unknowingly sabotage yourself will improve.
Shamanic medicine allows you to move easily and fluidly between the two worlds and balance the work of the visible world with the non-doing of the invisible world. If you need to rest, you rest. If you need to summon all your might to take action, you summon it and act. You focus on everyday activities or choose to experience your unity with Spirit again—whatever it is you need in any particular moment. And whatever you are doing or not doing, you are fully present in the experience instead of longing for or thinking about whether there is something better out there. Then, your dreams are no longer rescue fantasies that involve other people changing their behavior and attitudes. Instead, you have visions of living authentically and imaginatively, liberated from the dictates of your culture or your fear. You begin to dream a new world into being.
Awakening Your Invisible Self
When we sleep, we are awake in our dreams. When we are awake, we are sound asleep in the invisible field where dreams happen. Dreams, and the ecstatic experience women occasionally have during childbirth, are the only way ordinary persons have to learn about the invisible realm. And even these images and experiences are often fleeting, leaving us as we make our way to the coffee maker from the bedroom. When we dream we are in a timeless world, one minute encountering our long-deceased parents, the next traversing some fantastic yet familiar landscape. Shamanic medicine awakens the awareness of your invisible self, a self devoid of body or form, which resides outside of ordinary time. Have you noticed how you never have a physical body in your dreams? How you never bump into tables or chairs, how you are simply pure awareness? Even if you are falling or flying, there is no-body falling, only a sense of falling or flight. This is how you are in the invisible world, which is a selfless expanse, infinite and blissful. It is only in the visible world that we bump into tables, fall off cliffs or encounter suffering and disease.
The problem is TIME. Time belongs to the visible world, while timelessness belongs to the invisible realm. Yet in reality, we always reside in timelessness, dropping in to the visible world of time and physical matter in the course of our many incarnations, in our journey toward omniscience. Paradoxically, we can only make progress in our journey to omniscience during our lifetimes in the visible world. Thus the shamans insistence on our responsibility for the physical well-being and stewardship of all life, and of Mother Earth.
The visible and invisible realms always remain in balance in a subtle dance between life and death, form and formlessness, time and infinity. These are topics that in the West we have associated with religion. Yet shamanism is not a religion. Shamanism is more concerned with creation than with the Creator, about understanding the nature of the self unfettered from the limitation of time. The two can coexist, but you don’t need the template of religion to be aware of your spiritual nature and allow it to inform you. There’s an old proverb: “Don’t point your finger at the moon and mistake your finger for the moon.” Religion is the pointing finger. Spirituality is glimpsing the moon. And shamanic medicine is the understanding that you are both the finger and the moon.
You are not your genes, you are your dreams
Your beliefs and assumptions about how the world works determines your personal mythology, which is buried in your unconscious mind. When I was in graduate school I worked as a psychologist for Head Start Schools, a program for five to seven year old children from poor families. On the first day of school, I would ask the kids to draw a house. They sketched the most amazing houses, inside clouds, under the ocean, even inside a doughnut! At the end of the year I would ask them again to draw a house and almost to the last child they would draw a square with a triangle roof with two windows and a door. It was so disappointing to see how their originality and creativity had been squashed. They had adopted the belief that all houses look like that, even though many of them lived in run-down apartments. A belief is about a single theme. A personal mythology can contain a hundred different beliefs. And these children were beginning to embrace a personal mythology that compelled them to think like everyone else, and not dare to be different. Remember when you were 15 and dressed like everyone of your friends did, and you thought you looked ‘unique’ and ‘different?’
A mythology is a road map, a way of organizing your experiences, values, and beliefs into a cohesive story. And every mythology answers three basic questions: who am I, how did I get here, and where am I going. Christian mythology once offered us the best explanation to these questions, saying we are the children of God; that the Universe was created 6,000 years ago; and that we are going to heaven or hell depending on how we followed certain commandments. Yet religion has now been superseded by science, and specialists in geology, archeology, cosmology and planetary sciences offer us a new mythology that tells us we arose from a primordial biological soup; that the universe was created 12.5 billion years ago; and that we are not going anywhere from here.
Yet neither of these explanations is entirely satisfactory, because they don’t tell me about my journey. This is why each of us develops a personal mythology, which is the deepest beliefs you hold about who you really are, where you really came from, where you are really going, and how healthy you will be getting there. It’s difficult for us to recognize our personal myths, even while we readily identify the one’s of our culture. But that’s important if it’s not working for you and you want to change your health or your life. Because these mythic maps become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Have you noticed how easy it is to come up with solutions for everyone else’s problems, but how difficult it is to solve your own? We know what it takes to end hunger in America, what the president should do, and how to bring peace to the Middle East. Yet we can’t solve the crisis with our spouse or children. In the brief one-hundred years since the invention of psychotherapy, scholars have called our personal myths by many names, including unconscious complexes, inner drives, and even sub personalities. In the thousand years of shamanic medicine, shamans discovered that your personal myth must become a story of a hero’s journey—of sacrificing, facing challenges, overcoming tests, and working in synch with the divine to triumph over suffering. When our personal myths are not heroic, we remain disempowered victims, and the mercy of others and the whims of fate. And while psychiatrists believe it is very difficult if not impossible to change the unconscious forces that drive our behavior, shamans know that you can change your personal mythology into a heroic one. You do this by experiencing shamanic medicine.
If your personal mythology – your road map thru life – doesn’t include a path that leads you to an experience of Spirit—or you believe in Spirit separate from you and nature—read on. By experiencing shamanic medicine, you’ll come to better understand what is invisible to you now—and how it can benefit you in your life journey. You will understand that there is only life after life, that death is simply a brief change in status from a visible to an invisible existence. You will learn how you can fix things in the invisible world before they are broken in the visible one. You will learn that you can create health, manifest beauty, and alleviate suffering from the source of all in the invisible world.