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.

Cosmology & Ontology

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 […]

Parliament of World Religions – Two

(This is the second part of a two-part post.)

After the introductory remarks to the session Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas, several aboriginal elders invited us to participate in a smoking ceremony. What I gleaned from these aborigines about the ritual is that whenever they leave their land and enter another, they seek protection by burning special herbs and woods. The smoking ritual also protects those with whom they share their tradition – without doing the smoking ritual the aborigines would feel responsible for any misfortune or illness would come to the others.

I was rather surprised but also pleased when I saw the elders create a rather large billowing of smoke in the corner of this small conference room. Each one of us was invited to step through the smoke and breathe it in. The smoke was thick and the smell intense. Within moments the smoke penetrated the entire room and settled on our bodies. After some time and to no one’s surprise, a fire marshal entered the room to investigate the situation. At that point […]

Parliament of World Religions – One

In November 2009 I attended the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne. The program offered hundreds of sessions for roughly 7,000 conference participants. Each day provided numerous sessions focused on indigenous and aboriginal culture. For me, attending these sessions became a fast-track introduction to the cultural practices and issues facing Australian aborigines from their perspective.

One session was led by several Ngarinyin elders of the North-West Kimberly region and was entitled Maama—The Untouchables Ones: From Cave to Canvas. The session introduced us to a Ngarinyin art project currently underway which involved participants in one of the Ngarinyin people’s essential ceremonies. This ceremony inadvertently surfaced one of many dilemmas that can mark attempts to share practices across industrialized and earth-based cultures.

Maama refers to images in ancient cave paintings of their God Wanjina who created the immutable law of the land that governs many aspects of their traditional lives.

Until recently the cave art was ‘untouchable’ and only shown to members of the Ngarinyin communities, and sometimes not even to them. A Caucasian woman who has worked with these aborigines for some years opened the session. As a creative director, she supports the Ngarinyin’s effort to […]

Direct Knowing

Several days ago I was reading Yorro Yorro: Everything Standing Up Alive. Mowaljarlai, an Aboriginal Elder from Australia and co-author of the book, shares through describing his personal experiences and the many stories he tells how he directly interacts with nature and how the natural world  teaches him and can teach us and feel fully alive.

Mowaljarlai’s description landed for me inside a perspective I’d cultivated studying with Juan Nunez del Prado, a Peruvian Mestizo and p’aqo (shaman/priest) several years back. I am 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, a 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, and conceptual representation rather than subjective, embodied experience. My own work managing the tensions in our knowledge processes between subjective to objective now […]