Science, Consciousness, and Shamanism
Medicine, Coincidence, and a Hole in the Head
High Performance Living
Beers We've Had
Books We've Read
The Local Price
French Fries for Breakfast
Crime and Punishment
Consciousness, and Shamanism ~
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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