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Conversations with Contemporary Shamans: The Interviews
The farthest we'll ever have to travel is from our heads to our hearts. If people start down this path using just their head, it can take a lifetime. Two lifetimes. Three lifetimes. Four lifetimes. But if people wake up to this path with their heart, they don't need to study with any teacher. They are already there.
Some people are born to have their own unique vision of the world; others are born to use other people's vision as a jumping-off place from which to delve far deeper into new concepts and creations. Without a doubt, Oscar Miro-Quesada has done both.
As a child, this Peruvian-born psychotherapist and medical anthropologist suffered from severe asthma. At age ten, he underwent an attack during which he died, and experienced himself leaving the physical plane.
"Three very wizened old beings called me back and told me a lot of things about where I came from and where I was heading to," MiroQuesada recalls. "After that I was healed and never had asthma again."
As he grew older, the experience was forgotten, lost to the mundane interests of the teenage years—including one in the preparation of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus. At age eighteen, Oscar and a group of friends traveled to the northern coast of Peru, looking for don Celso Rojas, a curandero (healer) who was reputed to be the best San Pedro maker in the world. When they arrived at his home, don Celso dismissed Oscar's friends immediately, and made him stay. Later, during a San Pedro ceremony, the same three wizened old men rose out of don Celso's mesa (the shaman's altar).
"They reminded me of everything they had told me before regarding what my future was about—the marriage I was going to have, the schools that I was going to go to, the children I was going to have," Miro-Quesada says. "I was hooked, and started an apprenticeship with don Celso."
Drawing from both the spiritual teachings of don Celso and those of his own diverse educational background (which includes degrees in everything from humanistic clinical psychology to microbiology), today Oscar MiroQuesada facilitates experiential workshops on the integration of indigenous shamanic practices into the contemporary world through the Heart of the Healer Foundation. His visionary work and unique self-transformational journey programs to sacred sites around Peru, Bolivia, England, and Egypt have caught the attention of a number of television stations, including CNN, A&E, and the Discovery Channel. His teachings are heavily featured in the book Peruvian Shamanism: The Pachakuti Mesa by Matthew Magee.
Hillary S. Webb: What do you mean when you say, "Part of shamanic mastery is learning to swim in this liquid universe"?
Oscar Miro-Quesada: Anyone who has done any work in shamanism knows that the universe is not a static state. It is more like an ocean—very liquid, very fluid. When doing magical flight or shamanic journeying, the soul or consciousness is actually separating from the physical vehicle and entering into that ocean of possibility. The shaman needs to learn to disengage his or her consciousness from the body and float freely in that ocean. The trick is in embracing the great mystery and in trusting that the universal world is a safe place to float. In a true shamanic journey, you need to put your personal will aside and allow Divine will to take over.
HSW: Which is probably one of the hardest parts of this work. The death of one's attachment to being in charge.
OMQ: A true practitioner of shamanism learns to trust that there is a larger source that is guiding you and directing your journey. Otherwise, you are constantly fighting it. The currents then become very threatening, and you feel like you are drowning. When you realize that there is no reason to hang on, because you realize that you are already dead, then you can just surrender and become the liquid universe itself.
HSW: Hold on a second. What do you mean we're "already dead"?
OMQ: Didn't you know that?
HSW: I guess I wasn't aware of that. Does this mean I don't have to go to work tomorrow? Seriously, though, what is all this about being dead?
OMQ: There is no difference between death and life. When you die and cross over, you are going to come to a place where you think that you are still alive. The Tibetan Book of the Dead talks about various Bardos—intermediate states in which you exist before you incarnate again. Let's say you have a car accident. You've hit a tree and you are on the floor. You look at yourself and there's not one scratch on you. You get up and you say, "Jeez, I'm fine. I guess I'll go home."
In reality, you are physically dead, but you are back in the same reality that you were before you died. Then, little by little, life starts shape-shifting around you and synchronicities start to abound. Your waking dream, your daydream, and your sleeping dream all become one and the same. You think about someone and immediately they call you up on the phone or perhaps show up at your door. Then, you start thinking about people who have already passed over, and they show up, too. At that point you start to say, "Oops, something's different here." Then, little by little, with very much gentleness, the Elders of the various Bardos start introducing you to the fact that you have passed over. At first you panic and life becomes unbearable, because the minute you experience fear, love becomes constricted and you attract lower astral forms. That's what Hell is. But when you learn to just surrender and accept it, it becomes a very luminous experience. Some people take a long time to wake up when they are on the other side, and some people are very quick at it. Get my drift?
HSW: I'm not sure I do. If there is no difference between life and death, then why do we make a distinction between the two?
OMQ: The difference is the mind. During my most tortuous period of initiation, I had a severe auto accident that resulted in a near-death experience. When I returned to my body I was given a choice to continue and transcend, or to return to physical form. Once I came back, the synchronicities and acausal coincidences were so rampant that I was convinced I had not returned at all; that I was in some other realm. Encounters were being provided that were beyond bizarre. For two years I did not know if I was dead or alive. I almost went mad trying to figure it out, until one day I realized, shit, whether I'm dead or alive, I still have to get up and go to work in the morning. I still had to live in whatever reality was being presented to me. So why freak out over understanding who's in charge, right? At the point that that "aha" came to me, I no longer had to struggle with the need to understand. I let go of the need to know and just embraced the great mystery. That was a major rite of passage.
HSW: And, I would imagine, a major lesson in detachment.
OMQ: Right. And it helps to understand that even the striving for enlightenment is attachment.
HSW: So when a shaman goes on a journey, is he or she experiencing a kind of death?
OMQ: Yes and no. The aspect of consciousness that goes on a shamanic journey is the same one that leaves the physical body at the moment of death. The shaman understands that he or she can travel through the same realms that are presented at the moment of one's physical death without having to physically die. In that sense, in having that experience, one realizes that there's no separation between life and death, spirit and matter. All duality is dissolved.
HSW: So the answer, then, is not to look for an answer?
OMQ: Well, the answers will come when the time is right. When the person is ready to apply them in a concrete way to help our planet, there will be many, many answers. They've always been there and they always will be.
HSW: During our conversation, Toltec shaman Ken Eagle Feather said to me, "You have to know that you don't know anything and be comfortable with that."
OMQ: That's exactly right. Unfortunately, I wasn't that clear in my earlier years. I really tried to explain God and Creator through academic means. Finally, I realized that a donkey with a load of books is still a donkey.
HSW: That makes me feel silly putting this book together. This whole project has been, in many ways, my quest for answers.
OMQ: Well, what I see you doing, regardless of what you personally want, is documenting certain people who are committed to a path of service and who can speak about where we are as a planet of people right now. And that is very important in waking people up.
HSW: Do you think that the current resurgence of interest in indigenous spirituality is part of our waking up? Are we experiencing a true shamanic renaissance, or is this just a fad that will die out within a few years?
OMQ: The way I view the current emergence of a shamanic global culture taking place on our beloved Pachamama is simply the result of people having lost their connection to the sacred dimensions in life. Most of our psycho-spiritual traditions and religions have focused more on transcending the physical world and welcoming the afterlife than actually living the spirituality here and now in the kay pacha, the Middle World. Because of this, they have disconnected from our planet, from our beloved mother. Hence, the devastating conditions that we now witness on our planet.
I see the indigenous wisdom teachings, especially those of South America, as being very relevant for all humanity for a return to an intimate, reverent relationship with Pachamama. This is mainly because they focus on becoming as sensitive as one can to the touch, taste, and sounds of everything that is born from the Earth. You've probably heard this thousands of times from the people that you have interviewed, but in these traditions there is a very clear understanding that human beings are not separate. We are but luminous strands in the great web of life.
I find in my teaching that most of the people that come to these trainings are looking for a change. They realize that everything that they have accumulated and felt a sense of ownership of is no longer cutting the mustard. So, initially, they come for self-gain and selfhealing. Little by little, however, they realize that they are an inextricable part of the greater whole and start working more for the Earth than for themselves, moving out of a narcissistic self-identity to more of a global consciousness. That's what I find is the relevance of these native traditions to the modern world. That is, helping us wake up to our sense of being a global family, rather than isolated individuals.
HSW: So is there a definite shift happening? This isn't just a fad?
OMQ: I find it is both. And I think that there is value in it being both a fad and an inevitable option for our people. Even those people who are transforming the indigenous ways into a commercial enterprise are still touching the hearts of many. And out of those many, maybe one may truly wake up and feel that they can do something at a grassroots level. Being a fad, it becomes mainstream, and being mainstream, we begin to see what we are seeing now throughout America. For example, everyone is talking about having altars in their home. So a fad is good in that sense. The more altars in the home, the more of a personal connection to the sacred is established, and the more one will venture out and feel like doing service for others. The more people that hold a common vision, especially a sacred vision, the greater the impact on the planet.
And this trend is having global implications. I just got back from Tibet and Nepal. Despite all the oppression and the attempted destruction of their traditions by the Chinese, the Chinese are now rebuilding all the monasteries and temples that they had once destroyed. A similar thing is happening in Peru, where there has been a resurgence of a respect for the Indian, who before was considered a lesser being. There are some major structural social political changes occurring as a result of people, especially from developed nations, honoring the teachings of our ancestors. To me, that is an indication that it is more than just a fad.
HSW: It is ironic that once upon a time the white Europeans wiped out so much indigenous spirituality and now we're paying these same people thousands of dollars to teach us their beliefs.
OMQ: Well, yes, it's all cycles, right? We are currently moving out of what the Hindus call the kaliyuga, the Age of Crisis, and moving into what's known as a Satya. This is an elaborate system of eras that is shared by various metaphysical traditions around the world. In the Andes we have a similar notion. According to Andean cosmology, we are currently living in Hell.
HSW: How so?
OMQ: The conquest by the Spanish five hundred plus years ago marked the beginning of the uhu pachacuti, the turning of the Lower World, in which all of the repressed shadow of humanity began to come to the surface. That's what we have been living in since then, and that's why people are grasping to find meaning by having things and then feeling horrible even if they have money and property and material ownership. There is an imbalance, and that imbalance is reaching a critical point. A turning is going to have to happen, and that turning is going to create a major cataclysm. Not so much a geophysical cataclysm, but an inner cataclysm. Uhu itself means "inner space." The earthquakes that are going to occur are going to be within the hearts of human beings more than on the planet. Individually, people are going to feel really off-balance, uncentered, and bewildered. On a global scale, it is going to mean a lot of crisis and chaos until we hit bottom. At that point, it is going to be a lot like a Twelve Step recovery program, where you realize that you can't do it on your own, and that anything is better than what you are experiencing now. Even those people who don't believe in God begin to call upon a higher power. In the same way, our consumer society is reaching that critical bottom. Through that internal pain, they are going to develop a relationship with the hanaq pacha, the upper realm, the more divine and spiritual dimension.
We're getting there. Regardless of all the shitty news that we see out there, there is an inherent transformation occurring in the hearts of people—in our political leaders, in our techno-industrial monopolies, in our multinational companies. There is a change occurring. As people who have woken up to the power that can be harnessed by tapping into these unseen forces and energies, our role is to avert many of the negative prophesies that were put out by Nostradamus, as well as the more recent prophets like Elizabeth Claire Prophet or Gordon Michael Scallion types.
HSW: So there is a little bit of free will versus determination at work here?
OMQ: Oh, most definitely. God works with us, not for us. It's our time to do it. We need to leave this planet a better place than how we found it for our children's children. That's the focus.
HSW: You sound optimistic.
OMQ: I'm very optimistic. Not optimistic in a Pollyanna sense, but optimistic in the sense that we can make it rain, or we can make it stop raining. We can master fire or not, simply by disciplining our imagination and our vision of what we want for the planet.
HSW: In terms of truly mastering this work, how far can someone not raised in an indigenous culture go with shamanism? Unlike those people who are raised with these beliefs, we in the West have to go back and erase all the paradigms that we were brought up with that, for example, reject the idea of a spirit world.
OMQ: As far as they want to go. Really, the furthest we'll ever have to travel is from our heads to our hearts. If people start down this path using just their head, it can take a lifetime. Two lifetimes. Three lifetimes. Four lifetimes. But if people wake up to this path with their heart, they don't need to study with any teacher. They are already there. I always encourage the people who come to my trainings to develop their own medicine way and to trust in their own intuitive self-directed call. I am here to provide them the tools, and yet ultimately, they have their hands and their heart with which to do healing. That's it. That's all that is needed. Sure, shamanism involves other things, but ultimately, prayer is just as powerful. So if there is heart in a person's calling and path, it makes no difference where they were born. They are already there.
HSW: Where? At the level of shamanic mastery?
Excerpted from Traveling Between the Worlds by Hillary S. Webb. Copyright © 2004 Hillary S. Webb. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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Posted October 25, 2008
No text was provided for this review.