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Questions about Shamanism by Tony Samara (Fragments)

- Many wonder about the possibility of transfering shamanism wisdom into our modern life. Is it possible to adjust in a way so we could practise it in everyday life and order to base our life on our ancientestors wisdom? What is shamanism all about? What and how can we learn from it? 

- Shamanism, as old and mystical as it is, may be re-appropriated and practiced by modern people in their everyday life and may constitute a new way of life based on ancestral wisdoms. Our ancestors understood that freedom is based on fitting into a Cosmos where all is One and where the One carried an expression of all. With the rapid polarisation of the modern world into ego driven desires and conflicts from a self orientated towards itself, we have lost this sense of balance and are in great danger of living in a selfish world which moves away from Life. 

Now, more than ever, it is important to create a bond between the deep balance of Nature that is the essence of Life and our daily activities. In the future, this balance will probably become more common in the economy, philosophy, politics and the general thinking of global societies, as more and more people practice spiritual disciplines oriented towards the realization of this harmonious goal. Humanity will be always preferred to death, just like freedom will always be preferred to limitation.

- Why is shamanism characteristic only for so-called primitive nations? Is this justified to call them primitive? What is your opinion on this term »privitive«? How is the word we live in different from the world of primitive natives of the world? Is it about values, relations, beliefs?

My first intense experience of the Amazon, in this dimension and in another totally extraordinary dimension of consciousness, took place a few days after my arrival. I was in a canoe, which was going down a river. There were many people staring at me and I had many thoughts going through my head. Time appeared to have come to a standstill. It rained a lot. The sounds of nature were everywhere. I was full of fears and doubts.

I thought I was very well prepared for the rainforest. I had spent six months improving my physical fitness at a gymnasium. I had immersed myself in the Spanish language with the help of books and language tapes. I had bought a machete, a hammock and a compass but oh, how the mosquitoes constantly bit me. Our canoe had been a tree a little time before and we did not stop bailing out the water to avoid sinking. Every time we hit a rock or a log I felt it was going to tip over. I began to wonder if this was not the sanest thing to be doing at this time of my early twenties. My westernized mind was full of fearful thoughts: "What if I have to go to hospital? How would I get there? Why are these people so satisfied with their life? Is this the paradise that I envisioned?"

While I was seeking thousands of excuses to leave the Amazon and to return to "civilization", a man at the front of the canoe pushed a tree branch away and was stung by a swarm of vicious bees. My initial reaction was to think "How lucky that it was not me", a feeling accompanied with pity and concern for the man who was suffering. The other people on the canoe laughed and behaved in a way that was incomprehensible to me. I was in a culture very different from all that I had known before.

I asked my fellow travellers: "Why laugh at suffering?” (If they were not all shamans, they lived in a shamanic culture.) They answered my question with another question: "Can true compassion be understood through feelings of fear, negativity and doubt?" 

It was explained to me that the energy body of the man mortally stung by the bees was already in fear and pain and that my own fears and doubts brought only more negativity to his energetic body; that true compassion consists in helping the person to free himself from pain.

"By laughing, we helped to pull the fear out from the body of this man who was already in a state of shock and in danger of dying. If all of the passengers in the canoe had reacted as you did, their egocentric thoughts would have fed this negativity and the man would certainly have died", said one of my companions. 

I realized that each one in the canoe except me had been present to the situation from a healing point of view rather than from the ego. The laughter contained and was an expression of this healing energy. My cultural programming had been different and from this day, I seriously began to question my beliefs about this culture that the Western world would describe as "primitive".

Slowly, I understood that I had come to the Amazon not "to save the rainforest" – the idea which had motivated me at the beginning – but to save a part of myself I had almost forgotten about: my deepest Being. The ego is very skilful in creating tempting diversions from our true mission on earth. In the "civilized" world, it can be animated by many very creditable goals like that "to save the rainforest". In spite of my great love for nature, a nature that I had studied in detail from my childhood to the University classes, I did not feel really at ease in the forest. To save the rainforest implied to understand it and, in the end, to understand myself. 

Our relationship to natural law is the most important aspect of shamanic cultures. For this reason Ayahuasceros see Pachamama (Mother Earth) as a living spiritual guide, who provides balance in all aspects of life. In Western societies, on the other hand, the earth is rarely considered this way because one is conditioned by fear, which in itself is an illusion. We constantly seek outside of ourselves for the means to find harmony inside of our mind, our body and our emotions, little realizing that harmony constitutes the paramount force of each living thing. This sense of connectedness with everything is the primordial state of humankind.

I had spent several years practicing deep meditation but I had never known the type of magical relationship with nature maintained by some people in societies labelled as "primitive". For Ayahuasceros in particular, the rainforest is an intrinsic part of themselves. This perception of reality gives a childlike innocence to most of the shamanic communities I lived with.

Anthropologists have for a long time called into question the concept of "primitiveness" by realising that it may not be so. What can be said about a "civilization" which is unaware of the natural laws? By being satisfied with their existence and freedom, by not needing to harm themselves or compete against others and the world that surrounds them in their search for happiness, indigenous communities express an example completely missing in centres of Western "civilization" such as New York City and London. 

- What are icaro songs and what is their purpose? How can sound be so powerful? Can you reveal us practical use of the sound on the physical and esoteric level?

- The Western world is full of sights, sounds, noises, colours and information. We are constantly bombarded with distractions of all kinds. In traditional communities sound is generally regarded as a very powerful expression of the essence of things. For me, a song of power (called an icaro) is the energy of an object expressed in sound with the true power becoming present in the intention behind the sound of the song.

From the shamanic perspective, when we start to listen to the cycles of our own body and of Nature we understand that the icaros come directly from Mother Earth, that silence does not exist, that sound is an essential part of the energy present in all life. The movement of energy creates a vibration that we can sometimes hear as a sound but that we may also not hear, because the scale of sounds is beyond our power of listening. Similarly, the incantations (the icaros) are at the same time audible and inaudible sounds for humans. This is why the chanting of a shaman may seem strange for Westerners (at least at the beginning).

Through its sound, an icaro can manifest an aspect of Nature because it has the same deep quality. Facing this unusual concept, that a majestic tree can produce a song, a Westerner could say: "The tree does not make sounds". But if we open our ears beyond the basic level of existence, we hear that not only the tree but also each thing alive sings a song with its Spirit. The shaman listens to these songs and, under appropriate conditions, is able to chant the Spirit of all things alive. This helps him to move points of imbalance in bodies from the basic level towards the harmony that exists in Mother Earth.

The ritual of the icaro is often carried out in sacred places where the air is pure; very high in the mountains, close to waterfalls or special rivers, or in the snow. These places have the power of the air and the wind, two essential elements in the process of letting go and of transformation.


Tony Samara

After having sought spiritual training in Mt. Baldy Zen Centre, a renowned Zen Buddhist monastery in California, Tony Samara ventured to the jungles of South America - to the Amazon and to the Andes - where he lived and studied among several communities of traditional Shamans. During these years he was initiated in the sacred healing ways of these ancient peoples. He eventually left South America to teach and share this deep wisdom with the world. http://www.tonysamara.org

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