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Science, Consciousness, and Shamanism
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~  Science, Consciousness, and Shamanism ~
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

(wpl)  Before we left I met with Robert Dallas, owner of the Mind Spa in Norcross, Georgia. At the Mind Spa Robert works with various machines that can affect brain functioning, primarily by altering brain wave patterns in various ways. We spent about an hour talking about these various technologies, and their potential for enhancing mental and spiritual growth.

A week later Christie and I kicked off our trip in Palm Springs, California at the Winter Brain 2000/ Optimum Functioning Conference. The conference attendees were primarily psychologists and neurofeedback practitioners from all around the country. The basic topic of discussion was how to help people reach and maintain optimum levels of functioning. Depending on the goal, this might entail increased creativity concentration, retention, comprehension, speed of learning, ability to focus, inner calm, or even increased intuition, psychic states, or a feeling of greater spiritual connection. How the student, athlete, parent, businessperson, or whoever, can be at their optimum state to achieve the goals they desire.

Brainwaves

Brainwaves can be "entrained" to beat at a certain frequency, usually using sound and/or flashing light. And at different frequencies, different levels of consciousness have been found to exist. Some frequencies are correlated with a good memory and high intelligence. Others correlate with meditative states, or states in which the speed at which material can be learned is greatly accelerated. People whose brains have been synchronized to beat at the same frequency have been found to experience weird extra-sensory connections with each other. A lot of success is currently being had working with people with attention deficit disorder.

Smart Nutrition

One of the speakers was a medical doctor who spoke on the use of herbs and nutrients to affect brain functioning. For instance, most of the brain is composed of DHA, and omega-3 fatty acid. Fats can be divided into 3 basic types, omega-3, -6, and -9. Omega-3 fatty acids are seriously lacking in the typical American diet, due to the fact that they occur primarily only in cold water fish, walnuts, wild game, and a few other foods.

Most people have heard of the herb St. Johnís Wort. This natural Prozac alternative has been shown to increase seratonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, all important neurotransmitters in the brain. Many other nutrients, and some prescription drugs, have been found to increase memory and mental functioning.

Light and Color

The ability of light and color to affect consciousness is fairly well known. Many people who live in climates without much sunlight become affect by Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. This can usually be remedied by using full-spectrum lighting, which mimics the entire spectrum of light as it comes from the sun. Additionally, colors like red, orange, and yellow have been shown to increase mental arousal, while blue and green tend to decrease it.

Shamanism

One of the speakers spoke about shamanism. Shamanism has practiced all over the world for thousands of years, and continues to be a primary form of healing and spiritual worship in many cultures. The shaman, sometimes thought of as "witch-doctor", typically lives on the fringe of society, knows all the medicinal plants, and is an expert at navigating the spiritual realms. Basically, the shaman does his work by making the unconscious, conscious. In doing so he or she is able to heal, and help induce spiritual and psychological insight and growth. The basic methods the shaman uses are drumming, dancing, psychoactive plants, and other techniques that can bring about a change in consciousness, both in the shaman and in the Ďpatientí. Many people at the conference we were at would probably add neurofeedback to that list.

Entheobotany

Our next educational opportunity was the Entheobotany Conference held in Palenque Mexico. There are plants throughout the world that traditional cultures have used to heal, worship, and enter the world of the spirits. The Huichol Indians, for instance, use the peyote cactus as a sacrament during their religious ceremonies. On the mask below, peyote "buttons" are represented by the six-sided figures on the forehead, chin, and other places. Huichol mask

A few years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the second amendment did not protect the rights of these Indians to use their sacrament, though those rights have mostly been restored on a state level, I believe.

In Africa a plant called Iboga is used by the Bwiti tribes. Georgio Samorini, an Italian researcher, spoke of an initiation ceremony he actually went through where he was fed massive amounts of this root, until he fell into a kind of coma and had a near-death experience. Currently research is going on regarding the use of ibogaine (the extract of iboga root) as a treatment for heroin and alcohol addiction.

Christian Ratsch is a German ethnobotanist who has spent several years studying the medicinal plants and culture of the Lacandone Indians that live near Palenque. The Lacandone call themselves The True People. This is because they believe they are the direct descendants of the great Mayan civilization. They live deep in the jungle, and were not reached by the Spanish conquerors that killed and enslaved so many of the other Indian tribes of Mexico. They are unique in the way they have held onto their religion and their traditional ways of dressing in white shawls.

Christian described a ceremony he has participated in where the men and the older women (most of the younger women are always pregnant, and therefore donít participate) drink massive quantities of "balche", a beer-like drink made primarily from the bark of a certain tree. The purpose of the ceremony is to connect with God, as well as with others in the tribe. Another interesting fact about the Lacandones is how their oral traditions seem to go all the way back to when their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait. They describe how their ancestors had to wear the fur of animals to stay warm, though of course in southern Mexico they have never known that kind of weather.

In South America there are many consciousness altering plants used by the Shamans. People all over the jungle, from many different tribes, use a psychoactive drink called ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a brew consisting mainly of two different plants that is said to bring visions, and allow one to communicate with the spirit world. Ayahuasca has been recently gaining more and more attention, and there are currently organized, Christian based religions in Brazil that use ayahuasca as a sacrament. Psychologists and psychotherapy groups are also using it as a therapeutic tool. Many people report visions of Jaguars, of turning into Eagles, and of being able to travel through space and time.

Many cultures take something into the body as a way of communing with God, or gods. It may be a wine and bread communion, the breath, smoke, a plant, or perhaps the sound of drumming or chanting. The conference was quite interesting, but I think the best part was all of the interesting people we met. People from age 25 to 70 were in attendance. The biggest inspiration for me was seeing so many people who were pursuing their passions, and living according to their personal beliefs. There were doctors, healers, students, writers, artists, and others who were exploring their own paths and inner worlds.Conference presenters

It was a great way to start the trip. I think it helped us forget about the computer and money challenges, and start to sink into our trip.

 

The Jaguar House, San Cristobal de las Casas

The Jaguar House is a non-profit place that dedicates itself to reforestation efforts, and preserving the Lacandone culture. The Lacandone Indians are the only group in this area that was never Christianized. They still speak their Mayan language, grow their hair long, and wear traditional white tunics. They believe that the root of each tree is a star, and that whenever a tree is cut from the forest a star disappears from the sky. Their mythology says that when the rain forest is gone, there will be no more Lacandone.

The Jaguar house is basically a museum, with many pictures of traditional Lacandone culture. They plant 100,000 trees per year, which is great, but of course not nearly enough. They also let visiting artists stay free, as well as any Lacandone Indians visiting the area.

According to Thom Hartman, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and a speaker at the Winter Brain 2000 Conference, every 24 hours 120 species go extinct, 45,000 people die of starvation, and 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed. I multiply that by the 30 days since weíve left on our trip (as I write this) and the numbers seem almost unbelievable.

His proposition is that the raising of human consciousness is the only answer to the problems society faces. Einstein said that no problem can be solved by the consciousness that created it.  Iím actually quite optimistic about things, at least at this point in my trip, because I do see expanding consciousness, and new solutions and new ways of thinking about things. Except at American Express, but thatís another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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