Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Sweatlodge

The Sweatlodge is for me probably the fullest expression of what this Shamanic thing is about. You're sat there on the muddy ground, melted out of your mind and into your heart by the dark and the steam and the ceremony; immersed in the 4 sacred Elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water; and you're giving thanks, along with the community of people around you, for all the good things in your life; and praying for the things that need fixing. 

Shamanism is an earth-path; it is not about ascension; it is about remembering that we belong to Mother Earth, that there is no part of us that does not belong to her, and that she will take care of us, just as she takes care of all of life. From this remembering and gratitude and prayer, all else flows. Life works, life is in balance.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

On Waiting for 4 Days

There is a Native American saying that if you are asked to make a decision on something, you should take 4 days over it. I find this difficult. I am 60 now, and I am still hot-headed like a teenager. I want to decide NOW, even if it makes no difference to leave it for a while, and I find it painful to have to wait. 

But, of course, waiting leaves time to think things over and dream on it and let the unconscious do its work. Because, as I find when I pray for things, the outcome is often not what I expect: Spirit has the fuller picture. My mind does not know as much as it thinks it does.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

On Gurus and Finding the Gold Within

I've just watched a great documentary series on netflix: Wild, Wild Country. It is the story of Rajneesh and his followers in Oregon in the 80s. A cult that went wrong, bigtime. They created a city in the wilderness, took over the local town, and ended up with a huge arsenal of weaponry; there were also incidents of poisoning and attempted murder against their enemies. Of which there were plenty. They attracted huge national opposition.

Fundamental to this story is the propensity that I think we all have, or have had, to idealise teachers. There is plenty of it in the shamanic world. And I think it is normal to do so. We come staggering along, maybe confident and competent in a worldly sense, but with little idea of who we are on a deeper level. That is not something we are taught :) And so we project all that good stuff onto a teacher. I think it is a natural process. A good teacher does not need those projections, and does not create a 2-way street, a kind of love-in if you like, with the pupil. All teachers will claim they don't want followers, but it can be hard to resist the flattery of people thinking you have the answers. I think it's very difficult for a teacher not to slide into this one, at least some of the time.

THE 'LOVE-IN'
And I think a crucial point is finding that guide within ourselves. As I say, it is natural and necessary to seek it outside ourselves to start with. But then we have "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" A friend was telling me how at a certain point in his life his spirit guides, who had always been there for him, refused to help, that there was an important decision he had to make on his own.

In my 20s and 30s I was around a Buddhist set-up, and all it was about fundamentally was me finding what I call my 'metaphysical autonomy'. Once that happened - and it was like a deep eruption after many years preparation - it was all over, and I was on my shamanic way :)

One of the main people they interviewed for the Rajneesh series was the guy who had been their lawyer. He must be about 70, and 'the Bhagwan' is long dead. But this guy is still under the spell. He still describes 'the Bhagwan' as 'the master of masters' - like, how can you know that? Another person they interviewed, who went to jail for attempted murder, has broken the spell, but it took many years. This process can take a long time, and it may never happen in someone's lifetime. And it may be incremental. Few people can admit to giving power away to a teacher; we think we are autonomous when we are not. It is seen as 'faith' to put the teacher's judgement before one's own, and arrogance to do otherwise.

And it is about knowing that we have all the guidance we need within. It is not something we can will into being, and it is easy to kid ourselves. It is a profound psycho-spiritual event that is like finding gold. And even then we can dip in and out of it. The path then becomes about allowing the gold to take root, to permeate our being.

It also then becomes possible to know the shadow. With the Rajneeshis, all goodness was projected onto 'the Bhagwan', and all evil was projected onto those who opposed them. This is no different to Nazi Germany, where Hitler carried the ideals, and the Jews carried the shadow. And the Bhagwan was also divided in this way: when his senior disciple left, he publicly rounded on her and denounced her. She was now the enemy. It was immediate.
From The English Magic Tarot Deck
And I think it works something like this: when you live from your inner sense of guidance, you have all you need. You're not needing to prove anything to the world or to other people. Or at least, not to the same degree. So we become able to admit to our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, because doing so does not take anything away from who we are. In fact, there is a sense of it adding to who we are, but not in an ego sense. 

The worldly path involves building a sense of ego, and this is seen as normal. It is why we admire people who are rich or famous or royal. Admit it: if a celebrity walked into the room, you'd feel differently to if a regular guy walked in. I know I would. And this way of seeing the world is often carried over into the 'spiritual' world, where people want to become a 'name'. It is certainly true of the shamanic world, where it has in places become normalised.

But it's all just vanity, and misses the point. When a Chippewa Cree teacher used to come and stay with me and run events, he refused this sort of self-promotion. He would limit himself to a factual description of his background and training, and didn't want himself put out on the internet. I can go with that. And the people still came.
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Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Phantom Tollbooth

I think that Shamanism, like any mystical tradition worth its salt, requires that we upend conventional ways of seeing the world. And in so doing we upend ourselves. Because the world looked at from the point of view of Spirit, that incredibly broad and forgiving and subtle vision, is just not the same as the world seen from the point of view of the Labour Party or the Tory Party or Science or common sense. And humour is a great way of showing this, as the traditional trickster stories attest to. And in this spirit I want to recommend The Phantom Tollbooth.

If you like Alice in Wonderland and Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and if you also like children's books, then you'll like this. And it includes a country where the kids are suspended in mid-air, because they grow down instead of growing up, so that when they reach adulthood, their feet exactly touch the ground. And it means their head is always at the same height, so they always have the same point of view as they are growing up and don't have to keep changing it, and that saves a lot of bother.

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Friday, 3 August 2018

ARE ROBOTS 'THINGS'?

OK, this one isn't strictly shamanic. And by shamanism I mean our modern attempts to be inspired by the universal ways 'pre-civilised' indigenous peoples see the world and are in the world. I use the term broadly. My other hat is as an astrologer, and below is a piece I wrote last year about the robots and Pluto in Aquarius. 

There is a point which I was quite pleased with - one of those ideas which sometimes unfolds as I'm writing, and I go wow! - in which I point out that for traditional people, matter is alive. And therefore robots are in this sense alive. And our nightmares of them taking over are maybe a product of our tendency to think of them as 'things'. So here goes, it's from my astrology blog which pre-dates this one by 10 years, and can be found at www.astrotabletalk.blogspot.com

Pluto in Aquarius: the Robots are Coming


Aquarius is the sign most associated with Science. Practical, detailed Virgo is good for technology and for fixing computers. But detached, inventive, progressive Aquarius is good for dreaming these things up in the first place.
 
And it’s that detachment that is also the curse of Aquarius. The Aquarian Age that we are entering is an age of inhumanity in the name of the evolution of humanity. An age of mental brilliance and emotional disconnect. 
 
Aquarians have strong feelings – all signs have strong feelings – but for Aquarius those feelings lag behind, or they are transpersonal: the classic Aquarian who wishes to benefit all humanity, but is absent at home.
Aquarius is the water bearer, and one of their tasks is to get to know that water, to become one with it. And the other task is to incorporate the opposite sign of Leo, the sign of individuality. Aquarians are classically the misfits, and this is often the shadow of Leo, coming out in rebellious form. And they want everyone to have an equal voice, this is one of their passions, but it can also mean everyone becoming the same, the shadow of Leo again.
 
There is another, shorter Aquarian Age we are entering in 5 years, that of Pluto in Aquarius. And there is a lot in the news about the coming age of automation, the age of the robots, the age of artificial intelligence.
The stereotypical robot sums up Aquarius at its worst. Pure intelligence, without a heart. A kind of pinnacle of human ‘evolution’, where we are replaced by something more intelligent. The masses of humanity, no longer needed, confined to a scrapheap of sameness.

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Pluto empowers the sign that he is in. We see the best and worst of that sign. At present, Pluto is in the sign of Capricorn – the empowerment of big business and of government (hidden surveillance – Pluto), and what looks like a return to protectionism, the walls of Capricorn. And, at the start of this transit in 2008, the return of a sense of proportion and of balancing the books to the financial system.
 
Under Pluto in Aquarius, everything is pointing to an empowerment of automation. Pluto was last in Aquarius in the late 1700s, as the Industrial Revolution was beginning. That revolution was characterised by greater productivity through the use of machines, operated by people doing repetitive work.
It had an alienating effect on the workers. The coming age of Pluto in Aquarius will see that process taken a step further, with a step change in the type of work that machines can do, eg driving trucks, the most common job in the US. The service industries, to which we have retreated, will also be increasingly taken over. Insurance, for example, will be quoted for and arranged automatically. Accountants and solicitors are also under threat.
In the past, new jobs have arisen as machines have taken over the old. This may no longer be the case, such is the pace of ‘progress’. The sign of Aquarius, perhaps more than any other sign, considers the question of what it is to be human. Humanity, in an age (in the West, at any rate) where people are increasingly unemployed, will have to invent new – or old – ways of making life meaningful.
 
Some people will feel they have been consigned to the scrapheap, without useful work, and without value to society. Others may feel that society is becoming liberated from work as an end in itself. But then how do you control (Pluto) the masses (Aquarius), no longer kept docile by work? So big questions.
 
Human workers will be needed less and less, while wealth creation and ownership will increasingly be in the hands of a few people: the greater inequality we have seen in recent times will continue to grow as Pluto finishes his time in hierarchical Capricorn. But there is likely to be rebellion under egalitarian Pluto in Aquarius.
And then there is the very big question, which is already being asked, but which is likely to become for real: can machines become intelligent in the way that we are, can they exponentially surpass us and make us redundant? The 'technological singularity'. Robots have always been futuristic: Pluto in Aquarius is the time when we start to catch up with the future.
The current head of Microsoft said we do not need to fear AI. Bill Gates promptly stepped in and said we do. I don’t think anyone really knows yet. But again, it will become clearer under Pluto in Aquarius.
Will our machines become conscious? There are already within academia discussions on the ethics of how we treat robots. In a traditional, pre-science sense, everything is conscious. It changes our relationship to the world, and how we see it, it changes everything, if we treat the world as alive. And it responds in kind. Maybe our dark imaginings about robots are rooted in the (unfounded) belief that the world is a ‘thing’, indifferent to us and dead. A hideous demonization of the universe. And maybe if we remember it is alive, and treat robots accordingly, they will respond in kind.
But what is this drive to create artificial intelligence? It seems to me to be a strange thing to want to do, and to define the whole future of humanity according to its realisation. Isn’t our own intelligence enough? Isn’t addressing our own stupidity difficult enough? It’s as though we are trying to fill a hole in ourselves, a hole that wasn’t there before we narrowed ourselves down, as we became distanced from the natural world.
Humans are splendid beings, and Aquarius stands for that human splendour. Can’t we learn to appreciate that, become that, instead? Again, Aquarius is both: human and inhuman, this polarity.
And it’s not just humans and robots. People are beginning to be implanted with technology, and no doubt biological elements will be introduced into machines. The dividing line between humans and their machines will begin to blur, and we will see so-called enhanced human beings arise, enhanced both mentally and physically. And it will again raise the Aquarian issue of what it means to be human. And an answer to this Aquarian question is, I think, to be found in the opposite sign of Leo, which rules the heart. Aquarius can think it is our brilliant minds that make us human, but it is not that, it is our hearts.

Prometheus is an Aquarian figure. He stole fire from the gods, against Zeus' wishes, and suffered eternal torment for it. He was benevolent but hubristic. It is the perennial message of human hubris, thinking in our brilliance that we are gods, that we know what is what, and we forget how to listen, and everything goes tits up.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

COYOTE MEDICINE

Lewis Mehl-Medrona is an American Professor of Psychiatry. He also has Lakota and Cherokee heritage, and he is a sweet guy. You can't help but love him. And here he is talking about a number of things, but particularly about how people get ill, and traditional approaches can do things that our modern medicine can't. And some great stories. Like the guy who turned up with a gun, firing it, saying he wanted to be an Indian. They had an Elder there. So instead of arresting/sectioning him, the Elder helped him become an Indian. And it did the job.

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Saturday, 28 July 2018

HOW LANGUAGE SHAPES OUR REALITY: ENGLISH vs HOPI

"English is based on a 'the subject verbs the object' linguistic system, while Hopi has subject and object participating in the verbing. The language we think and speak in shapes our Weltansicht, our perception and understanding of the nature of existence, and those who think primarily in terms of the subject (self) acting on objects (things) are more prone to change and take from who and what is around them to their advantage.  

The Weltansicht of traditional people, in which subject and object participate in the verbing, is more likely to foster mutuality and co-operation than competition and arrogation - the spirit of sharing at the heart of the Sacred Giveaway - than is the European Weltansicht, in which every subject, every 'I', is trying to verb the world around her or him, and so inevitably they wind up rivals." (p50 The Circle of Life by James David Audlin)