The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017
To boldly go where no one has gone before . . .
Among the first questions a prospective reader of a nonfiction book asks, whether implicitly or explicitly, are: Will this book be interesting and useful to me? Will I learn something? Can it inspire me in some way? Of course, these are difficult questions to answer, as they are matters of individual subjectivity. However, one thing I have learned over the years is that people can be reached by, can identify with, and can even have their soul touched by a personal story or narrative. This is what this book offers: a woven tapestry, a blending of my personal journeys and adventures that began more than thirty years ago with a near-death experience and years of physical disability caused by an elevator crash. The main purpose of this nonfiction narrative is to provide background texture and context for insights, perspectives, and practices to inspire, to stimulate, and ultimately to encourage readers in their unique life adventures. From this viewpoint, my own experiences are, I hope, empowering gifts to the readers. This book is also somewhat of a hybrid; it weaves together a personal travelogue and my various observations and post hoc insights concerning these experiences, and includes exercises and practices so that readers can explore shamanism themselves.
As it happens, this was far from my original intention when I started to write this book. I have gathered a lot of material over the years, and my idea was to go in the direction of a third-party, somewhat dispassionate standpoint. The original working title for this book was “The Shaman’s This and That.” In many respects that was the approach I had taken with my previous books, Plant Spirit Shamanism and The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo.
So I began writing from that neutral perspective, and then a few months down the road, I was taking a shower, when suddenly the “voice” (which you will read more about in the book) spoke out loud and said, “Change the book title to The Accidental Shaman.” I was quite stunned. It was a great title with a double meaning (after all, I just love word play and puns). After the shower I started to seriously consider this new title and its implications. Titles are important because they set both the tone and the purpose of a book. I realized that the entire emphasis of the book would need to change, with a considerable amount of rewriting required to bring the material into accord with the title. It was unnerving without a doubt because I came to realize that my mistakes, my screw ups, and a host of messy situations that I had become involved in along my journey would have to be included. I know that a biographical narrative has to be presented without any gloss or cosmetic ornamentation if you are expressing a true story (warts and all, so to speak) to engage honestly with the readers. So I gritted my teeth and got on with it, with some nail biting along the way. Here are the results of that endeavor.
Obviously, I am aware of the exquisite irony of reading books about spiritual transformation, enlightenment, personal development, and discovering one’s purpose in life. This is part of Western culture, a way to seek out wisdom, knowledge, and an understanding that there is indeed far more to reality than we have been taught or shown. I see this as our inner (or soul’s) desire to fully engage and immerse our being in the duality of our physical, material world and the ineffable, incorporeal realms of higher order, or universal, consciousness. Therein lies the rub (to misquote Shakespeare): the quest for true wisdom and personal enlightenment can never come from words in a book or from other people’s descriptions of their experiences. I can unequivocally state that true wisdom can only be consummated through navigating our personal journeys, gathering our individual experiences, and learning (in my case, by trial and error) how to live a life of purpose, fulfillment, and empowerment, walking in beauty and grace in this precious world.
My great teacher and maestro, the Amazonian shaman and visionary artist Pablo Amaringo, expressed this in his distinctive way when he discussed with me the difference between knowledge and wisdom. He said, “Love is not gnosis (knowledge), but epignosis (above knowledge). You can read all the literature about ayahuasca, understand its chemical composition and so on—this is gnosis; but only when you drink it [ayahuasca] is there the possibility of realization of this knowledge, or epignosis.”1
From a broader philosophical perspective, the transformative change is already happening. Humanity is at a threshold; a future beckons of human-created catastrophic ecological changes, vehement religious fundamentalism, and unparalleled technological advancement. These present massive social, economic, and spiritual challenges that either we or our children will have to face. In this turbulent vortex of entropy, we can be sure that much that we hold dear will collapse; yet out of this turmoil a new world can emerge, much like the archetypal myth of regeneration, the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Humanity is eminently adaptable and resourceful, and I look to the future with a heart-filled sense of optimism. A clear and tangible generational shift is taking place; people in their teens and twenties hold a new vibrant frequency. This is the frequency of interconnectivity, transparency, and global awareness, incorporating humanity with the natural world. This creative evolution is accelerating, and more people than ever are growing the seed of evolving consciousness within. Everything is in place, the cast is assembled, and the stage is set for what will be a breathtaking, magnificent, and electrifying journey to a new paradigm. I may not be here to witness the outcome, and so I offer my blessings to you in this time of growth and transformation.
A book is like a living thing; it has a conception, gestation, birth, and development. Then it is ready to go out into the world, to inform, to inspire, to challenge, or simply to offer a different perspective. If this book achieves any of these objectives then that will be truly gratifying.