Shamanism is the Technology of the Spirit — an Interview with Dr. Mark Plotkin

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”

Assessing a Quest to Heal HIV with Ayahuasca Shamanism

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”

Cultivating Maitri: Parenting in the Native American Church

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”