Altered States or Altered Realities

When I first became introduced into indigenous spiritual healing traditions, I began to experience things that were out of the ordinary and outside of the rules of modern western conventions that I grew up with. Many of these extraordinary experiences deeply resonated with me and somehow they felt familiar. There was a part in me that recognized the wisdom, knowledge and healing powers present in these ancient practices. However when trying to articulate and research my experiences, I often wondered whether or not what I was experiencing was real or imagined. Was I actually entering different realities, worlds and places or did I simply shift into an altered state of consciousness or awareness? After some research into these questions I realized that whether something is called altered ‘state’ or alternate ‘reality’ depends on the cosmology or ontology that one uses to understand, interpret or relate to an experience.

A cosmology is a set of beliefs about how the universe works and ontology seeks to define the nature of being, existence and reality. Both of these belief systems can vary dramatically from one culture to the next and profoundly shape how we see […]

Direct Knowing

A couple of days ago I was reading the book, Yorro Yorro: Aboriginal Creation and Renewal of Nature and I came across a section that caught my attention. In this section Mowaljarlai, an Aboriginal Elder and co-author of the book, explains his way of relating and interacting with the natural environment to a photographer, who is traveling with him to photograph ancient rock art.

His description reminded me of a perspective Juan Nunez del Prado, a Peruvian Mestizo and p’aqo (shaman/priest), shared with me some years back. I was struck by how Mowaljarlai and Juan help us see how we can know the world through our senses, and what phenomenologists call direct encounter with nature, a way of knowing that is unmitigated by the intellect.

In the Western world, this direct way of knowing has largely been undervalued and our capacity for relying on and working with our subjective experience has been greatly diminished. For centuries, with the rise of industrialization, we have put emphasis on knowledge processes that rely mostly on objective and scientific observation rather than subjective experience. Fortunately, however, this […]