Shamanism is a dimension of human experience that can be found in every culture in any age. It can be observed in a variety of forms, ranging from a fundamental spontaneous experience, derivative culturally shared practices, or as veiled motifs of spiritual, medical, artistic, scientific, and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Paradoxically, as shamanism becomes more culturally shared, it may become less authentic—less culturally challenging—and degenerative. Provoked by an experience of everyday life as a sort of “half-truth,” shamanism is a method that focuses on the erroneous belief in a separation of human life from nature. Shamanism focuses specifically on remaining alert to the creatural dimensions of human life that can be overridden by cultural, socio-psychological dimensions of everyday life.

Shamanism is an expression of an enduring wild state to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence and integrate into the natural world that continues to design and express human life across the long run.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Repetition & Randomization: Core Seeing In The Dark

IN THE ARCTIC tundra, nearly an invisible speck in a vast terrain, a young adult, sits by a large boulder, leaning into the boulder, grinding another hand-held stone into the boulder in a circle.  Mid-continent, an elderly person walks about, picking up a stone that has attracted this person, then, listens to the stone.  Nearby, small stones are collected—a specific number—to be placed in a rattle.  Deeply south, another person gazes into the randomized surface of a fire-charred board, listening.  The drum beats with a pulse rather than a rhythm.

What is occurring here and how could it have meaning?

Pursued repetition and randomness is a response that aspires to re-open a door that seemed to describe reality.  It was likely provoked by a spontaneous experience that something valuable, even crucial for the long run of human life, was being overlooked.

Such experiences may be akin to toiling over the mathematics of molecules, and then, serendipitously, opening a heretofore, unseen structure that changes everything forever.  Where imagination can be more than fact (as Einstein as admonished us), the “emptiness” of the universe has a form, where, for Einstein, mass might roll like a ball bearing over hill and dale; and (beyond Einstein) this mass, that wears the appearance of being the bones of universe itself, may be nearly next to nothing in a universe of unseen dark matter, that is perhaps lost further in multiverses and/or parallel universes, and terrains yet to be imagined.

The blue sky is not blue.  The hard tabletop is moving at incredible speeds that give it its “hardness.”  The sun, rolling to the West and then settling there, is not rolling to the West, nor is it rising in the East and setting in the West.  Our eyes see the world upside down, but we perceive it as right side up.  The color of nearly anything is the color that it casts off rather than its true color.  Our “individual” acts tend to be rather universal archetypes dressed up in contemporary clothing.  And our most advanced technologies become archaic—still beautiful—yet crude, in next to no time at all.

This is the context that continues to drive shamanism to be vitally present in any era.  Yes, there is a “Romantic shamanism” that aspires to honor traditional expressions of shamanism, much in the manner of reenactments of the American civil war or Japanese samurai tradition.  But shamanism is a living dimension of human experience that challenges an everyday that seems to be distanced from the Earth and the larger landscape.  It says that which our most rational science keeps saying to us in increasingly explicit measures: that we are deeply lost in the universe, young in the Earth, and designed by it.

What if a tree was the sun on Earth, which is what it is?  We imaging the sun to be shining down on us, but we are inside the outer rim of the sun and an expression of its ongoing evolution, where macromolecules have a niche where they can occur.   It is a dream to presume that we are somehow on top of such terrain.

Shamanism gets co-opted into serving our needs.  But authentic shamanism, or authentic human life, is deeply naturalistic, and this changes the questions that we bring.  This is why we continue to be drawn to it, to try to align with a core dynamic that we require to both sustain across the long run and to optimize.

In my city, a child, age 12, remarkably writes in school,
            …. The silver-lined storm clouds
            Gather like old friends
            Then rumble, hesitant
            Water  dripping  from  their
            Then send a crackling
            Bolt of yellow fire
            Towards me

            My white fur freezes
            My body tenses
            Then lightning engulfs me
            My  bones  itch  with  raw
            I am a ball of glinting flames
            Sparks fly from my fur
            The rain does not touch me
            Even it is afraid

Such language is not science, but it evokes a sense of something profoundly real.  It attends to a critical process that we erroneously proscribe from our life in nearly any society, from the primal through the post-industrial.  The critical dynamic in human life is creatural, far more than cultural, social or psychological orientations that are remarkably biased and blind.  Our bicameral brain—young, and still in development—dissects experience more than integrates experience.  The core integration to optimize our perception is enduringly/eternally naturalistic, eco-inseparable, wild, and ongoing creationist. 

A rather rational repetition and randomization, far more than intoxication or hallucination or ecstasy, are the wild first steps to attend to overlooked and intentionally proscribed experiences.   The wildness of the mind, for at least small glints of time can peer into the dark, and become the landscape.  Then perhaps, the key dynamic of all “wildness”—that of remaining alert to the changing conditions of existence in a cosmos that is largely unknown to us—can be activated.   The success that our greatest rational discoveries have had likely comes from the enduring presence of core shamanic methodology that provoked a serendipitous turn in our understanding.   And those great turns always point toward the natural.  While shamanic motifs may be present in culture, authentic shamanism differs in its more intensive step out of culture to deeply taste the creatural [Homo sapiens, “Earth taster”].

Shamanism has been associated with irrationality, but, when authentic, it aspires to look deeply at experience, because of a sense that our view is biased and irrational.  Shamanism is popularly perceived as eccentric/extreme, archaic, and continuing as a set of spiritist beliefs primarily in “Third World/Fourth World” societies.  Shamanic motifs are present in many beliefs systems, but authentic shamanism is a methodology rather than a belief system.  Further, there is a popular association between shamanism and hallucinogens as methodology.  Plants that intoxicate may be functioning to disable organisms rather than “speak” to partakers.   In Shamanism, Mircea Eliade describes the use of intoxicants in shamanism as a late or “derivative” “corrupt” practice.  While intoxicants positively demonstrate that ordinary reality can be altered and that an everyday perspective may be biased that can open a latent spirituality, intoxicants may act more as a universal cultural “escape” or “release” rather than as direct entry into a deeper reality.

Fundamentally, shamanism is not about knowledge of the landscape being utilized for curing, healing, finding, or empowering, all of which are key elements in derivative practices that are popularly associated with shamanism.   Rather than being co-opted into practices as either an obscure or very explicit motif, shamanism sustains when it is totemic, serving the landscape rather than using the landscape, and this changes all of the questions and demands that people bring to shamanism.  Paradoxically, by serving the landscape and becoming fitted with it, human life is optimized.

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