The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017
The Shaman As Artist and Creator
Now, I’m sure that we couldn’t carry out a discussion of this sort without observing that the prototypic figure for the artist, as well as for the scientist, is the shaman. The shaman is the figure at the beginning of human history that unites the doctor, the scientist, and the artist into a single notion of care-giving and creativity. And I think that, you know, to whatever degree art, over the past several centuries, has wandered in the desert, it is because this shamanic function has been either suppressed or forgotten.
TERENCE MCKENNA, FROM A TALK IN PORT HEUNEME, CALIFORNIA, SPONSORED BY THE CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART, EARLY 1990S
In the 1980s, PBS broadcast the landmark series The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell. Many of the conversations dealt with the journey of the shaman from a mythic perspective. In one such discussion, Moyers asks, “Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans? Who interprets unseen things for us?”
Campbell responds, “It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today. Artists provide the contemporary metaphors that allow us to realize the transcendent, infinite, and abundant nature of being as it is.”1
Campbell and Moyers are putting forth the concept that the act of creation is the precise locus where the shaman and artist meet. The act of creation makes an intangible idea or vision manifest in the world. In this act we have a meeting of two realms of consciousness, the transcendent and the physical.
This act of creation can be a vision or an idea that transforms the world. In this act of creation, the artificial boundaries between art, science, and the mystical experience are erased. What can follow is a totally new way of seeing the world. The pioneering mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot introduced to humanity a novel way to perceive reality through his discovery of fractal geometry. Fractals are repeating patterns of expanding symmetry that flow through the cosmos from the infinitesimal to the astronomical scale.
From a mathematical perspective, fractals are feedback loops of matter, or energy, and they underlie structural patterns of nature and in fact consciousness. This is the great revelation of science, shamans, and art.
Normally, “vision” is an optical metaphor; the phenomenon of light reflected from an object is albedo light. This light is directly perceivable energy reflected from a surface or emitted by an object such as a light bulb onto the retina. In the act of creation, moving from the unmanifest into the manifest, we enter the mysterious domain of nonalbedo light. This light is seen in the mind’s eye during dreams, visions, meditation, or when using the imagination.
Arguably, one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century was Einstein’s special theory of relativity. For a decade Einstein struggled to reconcile the fundamental inconsistencies between the two pillars of physics, namely Newton’s law of gravitation and James Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism. The basic problem that Einstein was attempting to resolve was that both could not be right. One day he gave up and returned exhausted to his home in the center of Bern; he had decided to give up the entire inquiry. Then in the evening, he allowed his mind to enter into a daydream. He called these mind wanderings thought experiments. In this daydream, or visionary state of consciousness, he saw a tram accelerating away from the famous city clock tower at the speed of light. He saw himself inside the tram, and when he looked back at the clock, it had stopped. He realized that to someone outside the tram, the clock would appear to be functioning normally. This was an epiphany, a revelation. In a flash he realized that the notion of space and time as separate things was wrong; they are in fact one thing: spacetime. This vision changed our world. It heralded a new era of physics, a new understanding of consciousness, and a new way of perceiving the universe.
The creative visionary experience unifies the separate domains of the arts and science. The visionary experience opens the doors to the great mystery. In many respects, it defines the act of creation, an act that inspires us to look beyond the veil of cultural and linguistic limitations. This act alone has the potential to transform and evolve human consciousness. Both science and art have shown us that the illusion of duality is just that, an illusion, that is, the creator is not separate from creation. As Ra Bonewitz states in his book The Cosmic Crystal Spiral, “science is the branch of mysticism that deals with the measurable.”2
The shaman is not just an artist in the traditional sense of musician, dramatist, painter, ritualist, singer, or ceremonialist (though he or she may be all of those things). The shaman is in touch with the creative energies of the entire universe. The shaman’s life is a work of art, touching the infinite and transforming its powers into a new way of being for all of humanity. This is expressed not just in “art forms” but in the living art of the shaman’s life. Both the shaman and the artist, through inspiration and the visionary state of consciousness, are able to access and communicate concepts from beyond everyday perceptions and to manifest their personal creative vision in the world, thus enriching their lives and the lives of others.
The notion that we have to learn creativity is a disempowering misunderstanding. Creativity is part of our intrinsic nature, and through us the primordial energy of the universal consciousness finds expression and becomes manifest. However, for many of us, due to the vicissitudes of life, the education system, and the overall institutional, homogenizing Western culture, an ersatz boundary has been constructed. A belief has arisen that we as individuals are not creative and that creativity is restricted to an exclusive creative elite of designers, architects, and artists.
In our society we are subject to the insidious influence of corporations, politicians, and their exploitative media lackeys, who have the objective to keep us in a low-vibrational material state of consciousness so that we remain consumers and, of course, debtors. Their arsenal is filled with mind-numbing spirit “sedatives,” such as television programs, shiny new electronic gadgets, and, last but not least, sugar.*13
The high levels of refined sugar added to processed foods and soft drinks are pernicious. The detrimental effects of diabetes and obesity caused by refined sugar are well known. From a neurological outlook, refined sugar is a drug and operates much the same way as addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin, by releasing high levels of dopamine and other opioids into the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and one of its primary characteristics is the activation of the “pleasurereward” response: you have that good, pleasurable feeling which encourages you to repeat the sugar intake, thus starting an addiction cycle. We are conditioned to receive a reward of something sweet such as candy when we are children because we have behaved in an appropriate way or accomplished a task that has pleased an adult. Looking at this from a creative consciousness perspective, refined sugar makes us “sweet,” placid, and controllable. It is in the interests of the dominator system to keep its citizens in this material, obedient consciousness. By freeing yourself of refined sugar in foods and drinks you are also freeing your unique creativity, in other words, your soul freedom.
We live in a totally new paradigm that was unimaginable to most of our forebears at the end of the nineteenth century. With relativity and quantum mechanics, physics entered into a new and vast conceptual universe. The world has made so many discoveries in the last one hundred years that it is impossible to even think of listing them in this book, so I will talk about just one discovery that has influenced all our lives. It is at the same time miraculous yet so ubiquitous we hardly think about it. I am referring to music.
When I came across Internet radio, I was amazed at the enormous number and variety of stations—dedicated to a single band, singers, particular genres, and so on. Then I realized that until Emile Berliner invented the gramophone in 1887, the possibility of hearing recorded music simply did not exist. People had to go where the music was being played, so this meant that they may have heard a piece of music that they loved just a few times, if that, in their life.
Interestingly, one of the defining characteristics of a tyrannical dictatorship is the censorship and control of music. In Romania I worked with a client who was imprisoned and reeducated for the heinous crime of listening to the Rolling Stones. I was shocked to hear this, yet it was heartwarming to hear stories of how people worked around this insanity by illicitly recording music on tape and sharing it. Music is liberation; it moves the body and soul.
In my view, music is the medicine to heal the suppression of the creative soul. Maybe one day music could take the place of religion. Music is an expression of the human spirit, something that we all share and that unites us; it is uplifting and connects us to the source of creation itself. Visionaries such as Nikola Tesla, Rudolf Steiner, and Pablo Amaringo clearly saw this. Pablo said: “Music is very special; it is the expression of joy; it can imbue you with the flame of passion. All that has been brought into existence, the stars and the cosmos, is created by music and sound. Since it deeply influences our thinking and emotions, we should listen to music that inspires our highest humanity.”3 The understanding of a universal language of light, sound, color, and vibration and their relationship to form and matter is pure visionary thinking. Visionary arts, science, shamanism, meditation, and other spiritual practices are conduits between the material world and the transpersonal field of consciousness that provide a means for us to connect to the creative source of all things.
One of the greatest actions we can take in releasing our innate creativity is to see the world like we did as children. All of us as children are fully immersed, even enthralled, in the creative macrocosm. Watching my daughter Katie see a rose for the first time is forever etched in my memory. She was truly captivated by its form, color, and scent. In a state of bliss, she gently moved her hands around the flower, and without actually touching, she embraced the blossom. It was a sublime experience to witness this wondrous moment. This is where we adults can learn from children; in our hurried, stressful lives, we have become immune to the wonder and celestial majesty of the natural world. We have forgotten the incontrovertible fact that at one time in our lives we too saw, smelled, tasted, and heard something for the very first time. On the road to being a respectable citizen many have lost this profound state of wonder.
At my workshop “The Shaman as Artist and Creator,” I present a six-stage series of creative enrichment exercises. These practices are structured to bring the mind-body system into alignment with the primordial creative source, to dissolve the inner blocks to creativity, and to act as a catalyst for the individual’s creative alchemy. Although it is convenient to list them sequentially, these practices actually form an intrinsic geometric structure.
Participants have written to tell me how opening their creativity has helped them in their lives. Alexandra from Bucharest describes the transformative power of opening to her inner creativity:
I’ve been working for nine years in creative industries, and at the time I participated in this workshop, I didn’t understand what creativity really meant and never knew where to look for my own. Even though my job supposedly means being creative every day, I never knew what it meant to put creative energy in the things you do until I was part of this workshop. I painted for the first time, I sang, I read in stones, I traveled with the help of my imagination to places I had never visited before, and I continue to do all these things whenever I connect to my creative energy. Maybe the most important thing I learned is that this energy resides in each of us; it comes from within every time we set our intention, and it helps us shape our lives and be true to ourselves. Today I work on building my own business; my path and my passions are much clearer to me; I dance expressing my emotions; and I create my life as I want to live it.
Danina, also from Bucharest, describes her experience:
I was never an artistic creature. I graduated in construction engineering, and I grew up knowing that I am not talented in any way. Now I draw mandalas, I paint stones, I dance, I write, I sing. Each empowerment that I received helped me bring back a huge quantity of vital energy, energy that was blocked in beliefs like “I am not creative” and “I have nothing to say.