The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017
Your Reality is Sacrosanct
The cost of sanity, in this society, is a certain level of alienation.
When I started to revise this book, there were many deletions, expansions, amendments, restructurings, and tweaks; this is a critical element of writing. Yet when I read this chapter it was metaphorically like sucking on a lemon. It was not that the writing or material was poor; it just did not flow with the book. I deleted the contents and paused to reflect: What do I want to say? What theme is close to my heart?
The following day, in an interesting synchronicity, while enjoying lunch with friends, the conversation turned to healing. A friend spoke about his mother, who had suffered a stroke and was immobilized in the hospital. The doctor said that she would never be able to move again, but despite this my friend gave his mother a gentle massage and sent healing energy to her. Gradually her body responded, and she started to move her arms, hands, and head. As this was happening the doctor walked in the room, and seeing this he said, “You are wasting your time. She can never move again.” My friend’s mother, on hearing the doctor, immediately slumped back into bed, became immobile, and unfortunately remained that way. His prognosis had proven to be correct. It was a classic nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”), or effectively a curse.
After hearing this story, I knew what I wanted to write about, what was indeed close to my heart, something that was precious to me. We face these challenges daily, the challenges of honoring who we are, our cognitive freedom, and our personal integrity. Our enemies are legion.
Yes, I am indeed passionate about this, and of course there is a story. Please note that I have changed all the names in this narrative. Carmen, a young woman who required a wheelchair to get around, had been diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy. She enthusiastically participated in some of my workshops and even joined us on a group trip to Peru, where her profound heart’s desire was to go to ancient site Machu Picchu. We brought her there, and although she was unable to move around in the vast site itself because of the steps and narrow paths, we got her settled in a sheltered place that offered a magnificent panoramic vista of the entire location. She was overjoyed, and it was a heartwarming experience for me to see that. I later went back to see how she was, and it was wonderful that she was still so thrilled about it.
A year later she came on a group trip to the Philippines to work with the psychic (bare hand) surgeons. She underwent a lot of operations with the healer Brother Roger, and a great deal was cleared from her body. Each day she became lighter and more flexible, her movements became supple and fluid, and she started to walk much more, albeit with a walking stick. A few months later at a workshop in the United Kingdom, I saw her again. She was transformed, and at one moment she threw away her walking stick and started to dance, to the great delight of everyone present.
Unfortunately, this rhapsodically beautiful story came to an end. During the trip to the Philippines, Bert, one of the participants, developed a romance with Angel, a close friend of Grace, the healer’s wife. He brought Angel back to England with him, where they married. However, Angel and Grace had an argument. This dispute became increasingly vindictive and spiteful, and Angel malevolently said to Bert that all the healing they received in the Philippines was a fake and that Brother Roger was a charlatan. This was done in a resentful and vengeful way to damage her antagonist. Bert took this in, and not believing the evidence of his own eyes or the huge benefits that he had received from working with the healer, he called Carmen and passed this on to her.
The outcome was devastating. Carmen lost her belief in her improvement, and slowly but surely she atrophied back into her former condition. Her heart was broken by this, and she was back in her wheelchair. Tragically, she passed away a few months after this. I was very upset and angry about this sordid affair caused by Angel and Bert, and I admit it took me many years to let go of my indignation and fury. As a postscript, the marriage between Bert and Angel did not last long at all. She soon left him for a wealthier man, but by that time I was not interested in the slightest in their drama. The destruction of a wonderful woman was their shameful legacy.
Words are powerful, but why? It is because they shape one’s beliefs. Inner beliefs hold the real power. Inner beliefs are referred to as unconscious or subconscious beliefs, and if the words one uses resonate with an inner belief, those words will certainly have an effect. The first dictionary definition for belief runs along the lines of the following:
“An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.”1
We can tell ourselves that we believe in this or that, and if we do not open our minds to the possibility of modifying or changing a belief, it becomes a conviction that requires no actual evidence.
We all hold deep inner beliefs, and they may differ from our rational mind beliefs. If so, the inner beliefs will dominate in the long term. This is the reason why affirmations often do not work. People can stand in front of a mirror and say, “Every day and in every way I become more attractive and increasingly slender.” Yet if this affirmation conflicts with an inner belief or conviction, such as when they were young they were told they were not much to look at or overweight, any success with the affirmation will only be temporary, if that. Affirmations and similar practices only address the conscious, rational mind. Inner beliefs are in our minds, in our bodies, and in our biogeometric energy field. In the first creative enrichment practice in chapter 12, I describe a practice that explores this very concept, a three-dimensional affirmation that includes our mind, body, and energy field.
The effects known as nocebo and placebo (Latin for “I shall please”) illustrate the power of our beliefs. The latter has been studied intensively and is used as a control in pharmaceutical trials. A placebo is typically a sham medication or medical procedure that can nevertheless have a positive effect on a person, bringing tangible relief to pain or illness, even though the medicine is totally inert. It is the person’s inner belief that the medicine or treatment will work that brings about the improvement in the health condition.
Dr. Bernard Lown, the world-renowned cardiologist and holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, writes in his book The Lost Art of Healing that the major problem in the practice of medicine is the interpersonal relationship between the doctor and patient. This relationship has been neglected in favor of reliance on technology and pharmaceutical solutions. He says, “Healing is best accomplished when art and science are conjoined, when body and spirit are probed together.”2 In this important book, he carefully describes the use of sympathetic listening and the influence of language on the patient’s perception of the illness.
He advocates a holistic approach that also incorporates the latest medical technology and science harnessed together with compassion and the recognition that people are not just biological automatons.
Rational Beliefs vs. Inner Beliefs
Let’s briefly look at our rational mind beliefs and whether they are in sympathy with our inner beliefs. All that is required to do this exercise is your body, a pen, and a sheet of paper. The beautiful simplicity about our bodies is that they cannot lie, deceive, dissemble, or beguile us. So find somewhere comfortable where you will not be disturbed for twenty minutes. Once you are settled and relaxed, write down five of your core beliefs. They do not have to be about you. Some examples are:
· The Chicago Cubs will win the next World Series.
· I am an attractive and interesting person.
· I love myself.
· I am happy in my marriage.
· The government has our best interests at heart.
Having made your list, speak out loud a belief and then close your eyes and listen, feel, and sense your body’s reaction. If you feel even the slightest sinking sensation, weight in your abdomen, tightness in your chest area, or any sense of your body folding in or shrinking, then you know without a doubt that your inner belief is not in line with your stated belief.
This relatively straightforward technique forms part of the body of practice used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), although TCM pays far more attention to subtle fluctuations in the flow of chi, or the human energy field. The same principle, based on TCM, is used in modern modalities such as applied kinesiology and Touch for Health.
We are manipulated through ingenious corporate strategies using the latest techniques in advertising and psychology to desire certain products or services. Although propaganda is as ancient as civilization itself, it has taken on a new force with the ubiquitous power of modern technology. This enhanced form of reality manipulation is used to influence us regarding the most trivial to the most momentous situations, and these persuasive techniques have far-reaching effects on the human condition.
To illustrate the trivial, I go into Starbucks or a similar coffee shop to order my usual black Americano coffee. As I stand at the counter, I am eye level with a wraparound display of enticing, delicious, scrumptious, appealing cakes, pastries, and croissants, which not only look lovely but also have a delectable “fresh-baked” aroma. Am I tempted? For sure I am. So there I am standing there with my mouth watering, considering adding a luscious cake to my order, until the inevitable and always innocently put question by the counter person: “Would you like anything more?” I think, “Here we go again.” If only they had said nothing, maybe I would have ordered a cake, so I brusquely reply, “No, thank you. Just the coffee.” This kind of selling technique is a bit too Pavlovian for my taste.
Small, pocket-size products in their shiny and colorful packaging are always on display at the supermarket check-out counter. It is just another way, albeit passively, to manipulate our reality. Language is also part of this. When you see platitudes along the lines of “we are here to help you” and “we are here to serve you,” these cynical statements actually mean “we are here to make it easy for you to spend your money.”
This is the battle we all face, to be strong and prevent another person or organization from distorting, twisting, and negating our experience, to be certain of our own reality. This struggle is ubiquitous and takes place on a social, a national, and a personal scale. As an example of manipulation that has grave and consequential repercussions, this harrowing sentiment was expressed at the Nuremburg war crime trials by Herman Goering. He is one of the most reviled and detested figures of the twentieth century, a man who was involved in the most abominable example of genocide in human history. He said:
Naturally the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.3*4
What he said remains to this day lamentably valid, and the fact that this was expressed by Goering should make us all feel very uneasy indeed. You only have to look at the never-ending War on Terror or the Iraq war to unseat Saddam Hussein because he possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We were told unequivocally that his WMD could be deployed within forty-five minutes and were aimed at European countries. All these claims were subsequently proven to be a misrepresentation of the facts, in fact, bare-faced lies. Yet this type of gross deception goes on and on, just the names of the countries change. However, if this approach fails, there is always the well-trod tirade, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” This was taken to new and dazzling heights by George W. Bush: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”4
This statement and its insidious variations force people into a nonnegotiable position. If you are not “with us,” you are, by definition, an enemy. No room is allowed to accommodate a neutral, unaligned, or disinterested position. This is an example of gangster-style, brute-force reality distortion and manipulation. You are put in a position in which you have no discretion to choose; you must think and act in a certain way; otherwise, your goose is going to be cooked.
This manipulation occurs at every level. We have been effectively conditioned to believe that our bodies are not right. We have been convinced, for example, that something is fundamentally wrong with our natural human body odor. Hundreds of millions of people deal with their perspiring armpit situation by spraying antiperspirants or applying roll-on products, many of which contain toxic substances such as aluminum. And by the way, this toxic metal is increasingly regarded as a causal factor in dementia. In this “there is something wrong about you” paradigm, our very identity, our gender is also a target. Intimate feminine deodorants often marketed with wonderful names evoking freedom, spiritual liberation, and magical sojourns in tropical paradises have been around for a long time. Even my testicles are also up for grabs, so to speak, with new products, one aptly named Fresh Balls. The deodorant trade is valued annually at billions of U.S. dollars, and they have successfully executed a phenomenal and indeed masterful act in the manipulation of our reality.
In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments in social psychology about conformity in group situations. These experiments were set up to investigate how social pressure could influence an individual to conform to a group. While most of the group knew this to be the purpose, one participant did not, and in fact that person understood that the purpose was to test visual abilities. The group was asked to determine the lengths of lines of differing sizes. The participants who were “in” on the purpose unanimously gave the wrong answers to the tests, leaving the sole uninformed participant in a quandary. Eventually doubting the evidence of his own eyes and his cognitive faculty, he sided with the majority. Ask yourself this question: Do I go along with the majority, or do I trust the evidence of my own eyes? It is something worth considering.
I have been giving both trivial and nontrivial examples because it is all a part of the same cloth. The perfidious doctrine of original sin, one of the foundational myths of Christendom, states that we are born bad, unacceptable, and undesirable; it provides the fabric into which all of these manipulative threads are woven. It is the legendary poison chalice that we have collectively drunk from.
It is easier to deconstruct and reconstruct a person’s reality when that person is young. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), reputedly said, “Give me the child till the age of seven, and I will show you the man.”
At eleven years old, in the first music lesson at my new school, we all had to form a line and sing a note as the music teacher, Mr. Reid, walked by and listened. As it came to my turn, I opened my mouth to sing a note, but before the note had finished, he said, “Enough,” and moved to the next in the line. That note never came out. It metaphorically got stuck in my throat, and I never sang in public again. I was ashamed of my own singing voice, and only many years later when I was chanting at ceremonies did I decide to do something to address this messy situation. I made an appointment with a music coach, and during the first session he listened to my singing and said that I have a good baritone voice. He sat at his piano and played while we both sang. There came a moment when our voices were in perfect harmony, and it was a sublime experience, a moment of euphoria. My voice sounded beautiful, my heart suddenly opened, and I burst into tears. The long-standing nocebo had been released, and I could sing again. In fact, at workshops people even ask me to sing.
We need to guard our cognitive faculties. Certain mind technologies are designed to influence the subconscious, thereby altering reality. In a therapeutic setting this is well and good. Hypnotherapy, Milton Erickson’s work, and neurolinguistics programing (NLP) can often help in changing nonbeneficial behaviors. This is the contract that you and the therapist have made. However, be aware that these techniques are often used outside a consensual therapeutic environment. This entails a person using or mirroring your words to enter your conscious mind and then reframing the very terminology you use, consequently distorting your inner meaning and exercising control. If someone starts to mirror either your body posture or your words, it is time to sound an inner Star Trek-style red alert.
Plate 1. Detail from the painting Concentración Palistica, by Pablo Amaringo
Plate 2. Traditional Andean curandera Doris Rivera Lenz and the author at an ofrenda (offering) ceremony in Peru (Photo by Peter Cloudsley)
Plate 3. The feathers I use for shamanic extraction alongside the box I use to contain them. The feathers keep fresh and free of mites if stored in a box made of pine or a similar resinous, aromatic wood. (Photo by author)
Plate 4. Shaman Javier Arevalo shows encantos he uses in his healing work. (Photo by author)
Plate 5. This piece combines embroidery and traditional painting on white cotton. The paint is the dye made from crushing huito berries, and the white cotton is dyed with mahogany bark. (Photo by author)
Plate 6. Painting traditional Shipibo geometric designs on white cotton using huito berry dye (Photo by author)
Plate 7. Painting on white cotton made with dye from the huito berry (Genipa americana). The zigzag motif around the edges is symbolic of Ronin, the cosmic anaconda. This type of traditional textile painting is called a chupa. (Photo by author)
Plate 8. The Geometry of an Arkana by Howard G. Charing. Compare with below plate 9.
Plate 9. Cymatic photo of the sound emitted by a Tibetan singing bowl called the Great Star Mother Bowl (Photo by John Stuart Reid, © by Frank Perry)
Plate 10. My tambo at Mishana on the Rio Nanay (Photo by author)
Plate 11. A cataract is visible spread on the side of the glass. (Photo by Patrick Hamouy)
Plate 12. The six creative enrichment practices, mapped onto the ancient Flower of Life symbol from sacred geometry, which is a visual expression of the underlying geometric structure of creation
1. Align the mind-body system with the universal creative source.
2. Dissolve the inner obstacles to creativity.
3. Encounter the archetype of primordial creativity.
4. See the world like a child again.
5. Discover the luminous symbol of your creative power.
6. Manifest your creative energy.
Another reality-distortion method is to reply to something you have just said with “Are you sure?” or “Really?” Or someone might repeat what you have just said but in a different way, using similar but subtly nuanced words, and this twisted verbal exchange can continue until you have finally said what he or she wanted you to say. This gives the other person the advantage or leverage he or she intended. The original meaning of what you said has become distorted. Do you know people who do that?
Another way our reality is challenged is when people are in denial either of an action they have taken or of something they have said. When you say to them that you disagree with what they did or said, they will deny it. So you are faced with a tough choice, either to deny the evidence of your own senses or to accept the imposition of their version of reality. This is where the term mind fuck is appropriate. If you do the latter and allow them to impose their reality over yours, then you have certainly compromised your experience, your cognitive faculties, and, above all, your soul. When this happens to me, as it does on occasion, and even though it can mean the end of an old friendship, the choice is clear. I will not distort or compromise my reality or my soul, regardless of the consequences, and I mean that 100 percent. From a philosophical and spiritual standpoint, these situations come up so you can learn and evolve, and thereby become a stronger person. It is the challenge of the soul warrior.
Many who are on a spiritual or shamanic path experience extrasensory encounters with spiritual forces, communion with angels, or even communication with a departed loved one. At times this can be truly heartwarming and transformative. People who have spoken to me about this happily concede that they have experienced out of the ordinary experiences but are usually reluctant to share them, concerned about what other people might think.
Here we address the question of what is real and what is not. It is such a damned hard question, one that has been probed, examined, investigated, and scrutinized by scientists, philosophers, and theologians over the course of countless years. Now, according to the current arbiters of our reality—psychiatrists—nonordinary, spiritual experiences are not real at all; they are hallucinations. In this book I have described some of my experiences, and I am sure that a psychiatrist would diagnose auditory, kinesthetic, and visionary hallucinatory psychosis.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned psychiatrist and author, in his fascinating book Hallucinations goes into this in great detail both anecdotally and theoretically. It is not a clinical book by any means. He describes with compassion his interaction and correspondence with patients. In one of the chapters, titled “Hearing Things,” he describes an experience in which he was in mortal danger while trying to descend a mountain with a badly injured leg. At his most despondent moment in this crisis, he heard a forceful and commanding voice that gave him specific instructions that not only gave him the resolution and courage to continue but also enabled him to get to safety. He describes this not as a nonordinary encounter, but as an auditory hallucination, a psychosis associated perhaps with abnormal activity of the primary auditory cortex. I was not convinced that Dr. Sacks in his heart truly meant this. Maybe he had to qualify it as a hallucinatory experience because of his professional demands, but I certainly read between the lines a hint of cognitive dissonance.
Many friends and clients have had an encounter with a warm, encouraging, and compassionate presence or voice at defining moments in their lives. One instance for me took place shortly after my father died in 1991. I was feeling forlorn regarding my marriage. I felt so strongly that I had to separate from Shelley. This was not about her—we remain to this day close friends; rather, it was a calling from my soul. I had to embark on a new journey in life, leave my existing world, and travel into uncharted territory. This calling clashed with my deep-seated conviction that marriage was for life. At this defining moment, when I was staring into the abyss, my father appeared. My dad had remarkably large hands, and I felt his large hand on my shoulder as if consoling me. I could smell his distinct body odor, and then he leaned down and spoke in my ear, “It is okay son. You can do what you need to do.” It was his voice, his words, and of course he is the only man who can authentically call me “son.” It was an incredibly moving moment for me. My dad, who in life was warm-hearted and gentle, had in spirit come to me in my hour of great despair. He gave me permission to separate. To this day, I am not sure if I could have had the courage to end my marriage if it was not for his intervention. Why would I want to classify this sublime experience as abnormal auditory, olfactory, and visual activity in my brain chemistry when in my soul I know it was real?
Reality is subjective; so never allow your reality to be undermined. Your reality is truly sacrosanct; at the end of the day it is all we have. I am reminded of the biblical story in Genesis of Esau selling his birthright (inheritance) to Jacob for a bowl of soup. That is what we figuratively do; that is what we are manipulated to do. Be aware; have confidence in who you are and what you do. Never compromise your bliss and do not sell or give away your birthright.