A little known fact is one of the greatest breakthroughs in 20th century medical science came from a preparation used to shoot monkeys down from the tops of trees. Naked “primitives” running around the jungle with blowguns turned out to be master chemists whose curare, a paralyzing muscle relaxant, revolutionized the practice of anaesthesiology, making possible the open heart, organ transplant and hundreds of other surgeries now performed daily in hospitals around the world.
Many experts claim the teeming life of the rainforests continues to promise cures – to AIDS, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disorders. Yet where are these miracle drugs? Have we exhausted Nature’s cornucopia? Or are we wearing blinders that prevent us from seeing them?
We decided to pose this question to Dr. Mark Plotkin. One of the generation of swashbuckling ethnobotanists trained by the legendary Amazonian explorer Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard, Plotkin is as intimate with the shamans of the jungle and their healing practices as any Westerner now alive – and he claims the cures are there. He’s seen them. Continue reading “Shamanism is the Technology of the Spirit — an Interview with Dr. Mark Plotkin”
During the years that Susana and I have spent studying and training in the Peruvian vegetalismo, a mixed-race healing tradition that combines indigenous shamanism with Western elements such as Catholicism, we have come to appreciate the paradoxes that indigenous medicine comes wrapped in for Westerners. Among them is the distinction between curing and healing of disease, concepts which, as in Venn diagrams, overlap yet remain experientially distinct. The thrust of modern Western medicine is to “cure,” from Latin cura “to care, concern, trouble,” by either managing disease within, or excising it from, the body, and disease is usually considered cured when symptoms abate. In indigenous styles of medicine, which give equal importance to curing as the West, healing, from Old English hælan “to make whole, sound and well,” may also involve searching out the hidden origin of the disease in the body/mind. In this healing quest, a cure may be found, and may not. The valence of the disease, however, will change. In such cases, it is the entire self that is engaged in unraveling a disease’s enigma, and the body is the laboratory wherein the cure can be found. As a consequence, such healing is often idiosyncratic, because each body’s laboratory is unique. Continue reading “Assessing a Quest to Heal HIV with Ayahuasca Shamanism”
I don’t know if this current generation of children is any different than those that came before, but I certainly know as a middle-aged Buddhist and practitioner of traditional shamanic medicine, the coming of our first child Maitreya was a far greater event than my arrival signified for my folks in the 1960s. During my daughter’s first months, our house seemed to be swimming in divine pheromones, and I often quipped that if we were in India we’d be carrying about my daughter on an altar, offering incense, and singing to her throughout the day.
All joking aside, our spiritual practice did quickly change as we became aware of how important a task we had been given: to not pass on the mechanical ways of being that caused such suffering in our families, as well as our culture at large, to our newly come child. Continue reading “Cultivating Maitri: Parenting in the Native American Church”
A meditation, in the heart of Ladakh, India, on the nature of art and culture undisturbed from its original dwelling place:
The white of the stupas above Keylong, a Himalayan village located on the banks of the Bhaga river, 13, 871 feet above sea level, reflect the rays of the sun in the early morning light. Intent on visiting the medieval monasteries, or gompas, as they are called in Tibetan, perched high above them on the mountainous slope, we set our course by the stupa’s bone bleached whiteness. Just a few minute’s hike above the dust-choked highway and its endless parade of military transports and garishly decorated tanker trucks, we entered not only a different landscape, but a different ecology of mind.
Rising on a flight of steps, we entered a colonnade of overarching trees lined by walls of meticulously placed stones. Along the path, dried dung cakes impressed with hand prints sat in little piles, and bright orange apricots dried in the sun. Gardens lay before whitewashed houses with brilliantly-colored prayer wheels. Crooked, home-fashioned ladders leaned against haystacks. Higher up, the silvery-bell sound of children’s voices testing out the word “hello” reached us. The handful of workers harvesting one of the terraced fields looked up and greeted us with namaste – “I bow to the divine in you.” Continue reading “Reinventing the Wheel: Riffing off of Walter Benjamin in Ladakh”
Robert’s new book, The Battle of the Soul in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an exploration of the inner struggle of pilgrimage as it was enshrined in this most beautiful of medieval English romances, is now available!
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the late 1380’s by a cleric immersed both in Arthurian and Celtic mythology as well as the mystical traditions of his epoch, has fascinated scholars and translators from J.R.R. Tolkien to W.S Merwin. Robert’s book is the first to draw the connection between the courtly narrative of the poem and the “entry into unknowing” of the mystical tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius.
For more info, click here,
We are happy to share that Ayahuasca, Vegetalismo and Cultural Survival is now available for viewing below!
Generations of shamans, mad poets and intrepid researchers labored to give birth to this event on the endangered practices of entheogenic plant shamanism and the Amazonian ecosystem at City Lights, the literary mecca of San Francisco, with
Robert Tindall, author of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind
Lou Dematteis, author of Crude Reflections, which documents the environmental and cultural devastation left behind by Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon
Ralph Metzner, author of numerous works, including The Psychedelic Experience with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, as well as the more recent Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca, and Sacred Mushroom of Visions: Teonanacatl
Dale Pendell, author of the trilogy Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path
We were fortunate to have this historic evening — City Lights was the publisher of The Yage Letters between Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs 25 years ago — captured on video. This video is the first in a series — please find the subsequent sequences on YouTube!
As a writer on ayahuasca shamanism, and a leader of small groups down to the rainforest to encounter the practice of traditional medicine, I have watched the rising of the phenomena labeled “ayahuasca tourism” with apprehension.
The dark spectre of ayahuasca tourism is dealt with in only one chapter of my book, The Jaguar that Roams the Mind, and tangentially at that. I confess when I first began my pilgrimages to the Amazon, the concept of an ayahuasca tourist hadn’t even occurred to me, nor did I know the effect of this sham industry on indigenous culture. Continue reading “Ayahuasca Pilgrimage?”
Some years ago, The Sacramento Bee published an account of Robert’s pilgrimage along the Camino to Santiago in their Easter edition. Then, along with Nevada City’s premier Medieval music ensemble, Rossignol, he created a musical out his travel notes. He has never published his full work, however, which explores the origins of the Santiago pilgrimage and the nature of pilgrimage for medieval and modern people. He would like to offer it to those who wish to take up the Way of St. James, or are interested in the practice of pilgrimage.
There’s a Pilgrim Sleeping Inside Every Tourist
The cathedral of Le Puy, located in the rocky terrain of France’s Massif Central, has been a launching site since the Dark Ages for pilgrims to the tomb of the apostle St. James, better known as Santiago, in the distant Spanish terrain of Galicia. The saint’s figure can be seen sculpted throughout the town: staff in hand, wide brimmed hat with a scallop-shell, flowing beard and hand raised in gesture of benediction to those passing to and fro.
Wandering through the maze of cobblestone streets, I had another goal, however: a little church, set high upon a pinnacle of volcanic rock in the center of the town, named Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe.
This shrine to St. Michael, built in 967 by the Bishop Godescalc upon his return from Santiago, has stood sentinel for over a thousand years for the dragon to come at the end of time.
I had chosen the craggy site to mark the beginning of my own 400-mile trek, not merely to arrive in Santiago, but to see if it were still possible to enter into the experience of a medieval pilgrim. Continue reading “Ultreya! Pilgrimage upon the Camino to Santiago”
After my initial foray through the Ventana wilderness near Big Sur, California, I returned to Pine Valley to lie again beneath those soughing pines that sound like they have a river running through the tops of them.
The week-long backpacking trip had been marked by endless crawling and clambering with full packs over the fallen trees that lined the switchbacks of the backcountry (“No money for trail maintenance” we were told. “It’s the war”), but no one complained. The practice was rich, accompanied by yucca sending up their yellow blooms like skyrockets, horny toads, owls hooting to one another across the river, and terrain which in a single day’s hike rose from shady redwoods at the valley floor to cactus chaparral at the crests of valleys, sparkling in the baking sun.
One of the features in the landscape that drew me back was Jack English, who we were introduced to by our trip leader. An octogenarian who lives in a simple cabin in the wilderness, Jack makes finely crafted bows for stringed instruments with fingers twisted like branches from arthritis. Like many oldsters, Jack tends to repeat himself, but I noticed whatever he says gets truer every time he says it. Continue reading “Ventana Jack”
Notes of our pilgrimage to India
It’s a humid, lethargic morning here in Auroville, after a sudden rain and a brilliant, solitary flash of lightening passed over rapidly in the night. Like a slowly settling blanket, the heat descends every morning in Southern India, until the cloud-cover breaks and the sun beams through. Finally a breeze begins to arise, cooling the layer of sweat that coats your body day and night. Continue reading “In Auroville”