This year my wife Deborah and I completed a move across the continent from Southern California to Batesville, Virginia. We started the move in the fall of 2005 and made the coastal shift so gradually that despite a few instances of culture shock, it seemed organic — like the tides coming in or the sun breaking through the clouds.
But our transcontinental move was simply the small out-picturing of a tectonic shift that was already underway — a transformation of my worldview and the world’s view of me. I now see the world — events, trials and triumphs — through the eyes of a practicing shaman, rather than through the eyes of a physicist. And while the shift — actually it’s been more like a series of shifts — seemed enormous at first blush, the two visions are much closer than I’d imagined.
The physicist’s worldview is as much a method of understanding as it is a collection of observations. It’s the ‘scientific’ one, based on the model of an objective world. It’s the one that we the observers poke and probe to arrive at a description of the world’s behavior; a description that we all agree is accurate and true because we can independently verify it. The physicist’s description of the world relies on laws that can be simply stated and even formulated with mathematical equations. Arguably the most famous of these is Einstein’s ‘E = mc2’, a counterintuitive formulaic equivalence of mass and energy that has propelled the human race into an atomic age full of promise, progress and peril.
Originally, physics was a branch of philosophy. Isaac Newton, possibly the most famous of all physicists, was actually a ‘natural philosopher’. This distinction is important because as a ‘natural philosopher’ one can ask bigger questions, than those posed by a physicist.
If we term the world out there to be ‘objective’ while our experience is ‘subjective’, we describe a brute machine world, devoid of consciousness. Physicists observe elements of the natural world that do not possess consciousness — stones, meteors and stars.
The physicist asks ‘How does it work?’ not ‘Why does it work?’. The philosopher considers more fundamental questions, such as, ‘Who am I? Where does the observer begin and end? Does the observer persist beyond the life of the body? Is there even such a thing as an observer? Is there a prime mover, a God? Is there purpose?’
Although there are distinctions between physics and philosophy, and religion and shamanism, all attempt to answer the same question: ‘WHAT’S GOING ON?’ Each of us reaches into our accumulated wealth of experience, religion, study and derives the best answer we can. And our answers evolve over time and throughout our lives. The conundrum is perhaps stated best by the poet Sri Aurobindo:
“.. A thin life-curve crosses the titan whirl
Of the orbit of a soulless universe,
And in the belly of the sparse rolling mass
A mind looks out from a small casual globe
And wonders what itself and all things are…”
As a physicist I learned that objects persist, at least energetically. An electron and a positron can annihilate one another, but their energy persists as a pair of photons. Not one iota of energy has ever been observed to be lost. The energy simply shifts to a different ‘container’ so to speak.
So it’s not much of a stretch to understand that consciousness also persists. The shaman sees consciousness as not only persistent beyond the existence of the body’s form but also permeating the objective world. Just as energy is pervasive, so is consciousness.
“..And yet to some interned subjective sight
That strangely has formed in Matter’s sightless stuff,
A pointillage minute of little self
Takes figure as world-being’s conscious base..”
As a physicist I entertain the idea of hidden dimensions. String theory, for example, a model deduced from observing the sub-atomic realm, proposes more than the three space and one time dimensions we directly perceive. The shaman, too, models the world with hidden dimensions — dimensions that may be navigated through consciousness and intention.
The physicist learns to navigate the hidden dimensions indirectly. The in-direction is to see the presence of the hidden dimensions and the roles they play by their effect within the observable dimensions of space and time. The shaman dials into inner/hidden dimensions through intention and ceremony; setting the stage and then a watching with interned subjective sight. The shaman is aware of visual, auditory and sensory perceptions that enter his awareness in the context of intention.
The world of physics is replete with koans — the paradoxes and questions that confound and confuse us as they inform and enlighten. Take the electron for example. The electron is probably the best known of the universe’s building blocks. Our knowledge of it is vast and we have technology to prove it. However, upon its discovery at the end of the 19th century, its benign beginning was unheralded. In fact, its discoverer, Sir J. J. Thompson, could see nothing practical coming from its discovery.
Now when we say we have seen the electron, we’re actually fudging a bit. No one has ever seen an electron. There’s something out there, that when modeled as an electron, has effects we can explain. That’s the first koan: How is the substantial universe built up from unsubstantial building blocks?
Electrons are identical and indistinguishable from one another; there’s no way to tag an electron. If electrons were not all identical, there could be no matter as we know it. There’s another koan: How is it that the substantial universe, with its incredible diversity and differentiation, is constructed from things that are identical?
Electrons are modeled using quantum theory. Before quantum theory, our assumption was that the physical properties of objects could always be perfectly characterized and described. Now we have to deal with measurements that cause transitions in that being measured. Biology always had that problem in that the ‘living’ state was often changed to ‘dead’ state by biological experimentation. The action of observing (measuring), changes the state of that being measured; the objective. The precision of both when and what (is happening) of a particular observation has become blurred. The observer sees the world through the bottom of a 4 dimensional coke bottle smearing things in time, space and energy. We are left with a probability, ‘this is what most likely will happen’, rather than a certainty, ‘this is what will happen’. Koan: The line between observer and observed is blurred. Where does the observer end and the observed begin? The objective world is no longer obvious.
Related by its origins in the same quantum modeling of matter is, arguably, the most famous koan of modern physics: the wave-particle duality. This koan above all has a strong crossover to the shamanic world view. If we perceive the electron, for example, through an experiment designed to measure its wave like properties, we see the electron as a wave. But if we perceive that same electron through an experiment designed to measure its particle like properties, we see the electron as a particle. Koan: Sub-atomic objects will behave as particles or as waves conforming to our perception of them. This is a realization with possibly very ancient roots since shamans of Peru “have always known that our perception of the world determines its very nature” (The Four Insights, Wisdom, Power and Grace of the Earthkeepers, Alberto Villoldo, p. 18).
Physicists and shamans are both called upon to hold seemingly contradictory ideas. Both benefit from quieting the mind. This is the beginning of meditation and enables reliance on inner perceptions, the capacity to call upon resources of understanding that are approached by going within. Looking for common ground, both the physicist and the shaman are searching for principles that reduce the apparent complexity of the world to a manageable set of axioms. The physicist calls them laws and can categorize the dynamics of vast domains of behavior with a single equation. Einstein’s field equations for gravity characterize everything from a falling apple to the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, and beyond to the limits of space and time.
In the shaman’s worldview, principles are approachable on a person to person basis; they are no longer abstractions of the intellect that exist only as mechanical laws repeating unerringly the same story. My mentor, Alberto Villoldo, conveyed this quite succinctly (I’m paraphrasing here, using my notes from a talk he gave):
“The Q’ero Indian shamans have taught me about the principle of death and rebirth, the coming together and going apart of things. This is Jaguar to the Q’ero. To the physicist this is entropy; the net effect of process is to dissipate. Try un-spilling a cup of coffee and cream from the seat of your car. The difference between the shaman’s and the physicist’s view is that the shaman can say: ‘Come to me Jaguar. Teach me about the rainbow bridge crossing over to death …’. I’ve never heard a scientist say: ‘Come to me entropy. Teach me about chaos…”
There is added complexity in the way the shaman allows life and consciousness to permeate abstract principles. There is a simplicity, however, in that the principle is no longer abstract and remote; it can be honored, embodied, learned from, and most importantly, tamed as an ally and collaborator in the adventure of consciousness emerging from an inert universe.
“..Such is our scene in the half-light below.
This is the sign of Matter’s infinite,
This the weird purport of the picture shown
To Science the giantess, measurer of her field,
As she pores on the record of her close survey
And mathematises her huge external world,
To Reason bound within the circle of sense,
Or in Thought’s broad impalpable Exchange
A speculator in tenuous vast ideas,
Abstractions in the void her currency
We know not with what firm values for its base…”
“…There is a deeper seeing from within
And, when we have left these small purlieus of mind,
A greater vision meets us on the heights
In the luminous wideness of the Spirit’s gaze.
At last there wakes in us a witness Soul
That looks at truths unseen and scans the Unknown;
Then all assumes a new and marvelous face…”
So the shamanic worldview is not that big a leap for a physicist (maybe as long as he is also a poet). Both views rely heavily on perceptions that are not obvious — perceptions of an unseen world. And both views invoke principles embedded in the unseen that produce tangible, repeatable effects.
The triumphs of science and physics deliver a solid sense of the credibility of scientific principles. Is there a similar basis, at least in kind, if not in magnitude of impact, for the shamanic view? The answer is in the thousands of individual soul journeys that the newly emerging western shamans have taken during the past decades. There is a principle that is apparent in physics and that carries over into the shamanic world: The subtler the knowledge the more power it is apt to have. Exhibit A for physics: the nuclear age birthed by the subtleties of sub-atomic physics. Exhibit A for shaman think: the power of transformation in an individual’s life upon perceiving the inner workings of the psyche and learning to follow the subjective footprints of the inner world.
The inner journeys may be individual, one-on-one, or group journeys .. but they are all journeys of individual growth. On these soul travels, there are opportunities for journeyers to interact with Jaguar (life-death principle); to meet, honor and transform shadows in their nature; to become directly aware of their own and others’ divinity and; to enable others in their healing journeys.
In the scientific view, the relationship between an abstract equation and the real world is universal. That it can be agreed upon by observers around the world is the hallmark of the scientific method. However, the shamanic description of the hidden world is culturally dependent. Shamans from around the world are aware of an order/chaos principle that they can relate to on a personal basis. But only the Q’ero Indians of Peru may call the principle Jaguar, while the western scientist has thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. There are different names and different dynamics for describing and interacting with a principle. To the shaman, Jaguar is an active principle that can help heal wounds that connect in some way to those who may be deceased; or to wounds that connect to one’s own journeys beyond the life-death boundary. The principle of dissolution that entropy describes so well in the physical universe becomes an ally for understanding and effecting dissolution in life itself when the shaman talks to Jaguar.
There are many variants of “energy healing”. The energy healing my wife and I practice is the culmination of Dr. Alberto Villoldo’s years of studying with indigenous healers of the Amazon and high mountains of Peru. Dr. Villoldo’s personal journey and distilled teachings of the Q’ero Indians and other shamans of the Americas has been published extensively. (www.thefourwinds.com).
Again, the poet, Sri Aurobindo:
“..A world she made touched by truth’s fleeing hem,
A world cast into a dream of what it seeks,
An icon of truth, a conscious mystery’s shape,
It lingered not like the earth-mind hemmed in
In solid barriers of apparent fact;
It dared to trust the dream-mind and the soul..”
About the Author
Jim Wray understands energy in many dimensions. As a theoretical physicist he has worked with the energy of sub-atomic particles, as an aerospace engineer he has worked extensively with energy as light (IR) and as a physics professor he used the energy of words and ideas to engage and educate students. An accomplished jazz musician, Jim also summons sound energy to transform, delight and invigorate audiences. He appreciates the healing power of subtle energy and has practiced and facilitated yoga and meditation. He and his wife Deborah are graduates of the Healing the Light Body School (www.thefourwinds.com) founded by Alberto Villoldo.