For generation after generation, Toltec shamans have passed down their wisdom through teaching stories. The purpose of these stories is to implant a seed of knowledge in the mind of the listener, where it can ultimately sprout and blossom into a new and better way of life.
In The Wisdom of the Shamans: What the Ancient Masters Can Teach Us About Love and Life, Toltec shaman and master storyteller don Jose Ruiz shares some of the most popular stories from his family's oral tradition and offers corresponding lessons that illustrate the larger ideas within each story.
Ruiz begins by explaining that contrary to the stereotypical image of "witch doctor," the ancient shamans were men and women who fulfilled several roles within their communities: philosopher, spiritual guide, medical doctor, psychologist, and friend.
According to Ruiz, their teachings are not primitive or reserved for a chosen few initiates but are instead a powerful series of lessons on love and life that are available to us all. To that aim, he has included exercises, meditations, and shamanic rituals to help you experience the personal transformation these stories offer.
The shamans taught that the truth you seek is inside of you. Let these stories, lessons, and tools be your guide to finding the innate wisdom that lives within.
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THE EAGLE AND THE SNAKE
Finding Your Own Truth
Many of you will recognize this story from the Aztec tradition of how Mexico City was founded centuries ago. The national flag of Mexico has a beautiful image of an eagle eating a snake while it rests on a cactus, which, as you will see, is a major symbol in this story.
A long time ago in the middle of a desert, in what is now Mexico, lived a powerful shaman who served as a great leader and helper to his tribe. When he realized that his physical form was dying, he decided to leave one final and very important lesson for the next generation.
"My time in this body is coming to an end," he told his tribe as they gathered around the campfire one evening. "In the morning you will have to say goodbye to this village. Take only what you need when you leave here. Everything that you don't need, everything that doesn't serve you in your life anymore, leave it here. Tomorrow is a day of great transformation."
Then, to mark this moment, the old shaman threw some magic dust into the fire, and it turned the flame into a bright blue, cleansing blaze that sparkled like the stars in the night sky. He continued, "Tomorrow you will begin your journey to create a new dream, and you will roam the wilderness until you see an eagle devouring a snake above a cactus garden — that will be the sign that you have found home."
And with that the old man dismissed the circle, and when the morning came, they went to the shaman and found that he was no longer in his body. They packed only the most basic necessities and started the journey to find their new home.
The journey was not easy. For years they walked and walked until finally one day they saw a lake. In the middle of the lake there was a small island, and that island was full of cactus trees. Looking up into the sky, they saw an eagle dive down toward the island where it grabbed a snake from the ground. With the snake clutched in its claws, the eagle landed on a cactus. The villagers watched in awe as the eagle began to devour the snake. They were overjoyed because this was the symbol they were searching for! They immediately began to build their new home. This was the beginning of the great city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, where Mexico City stands today.
That night the tribe built a great bonfire and gathered in a circle just as they had on the last night of the old dream. The tribe said thank you to the grandfather shaman because they had found their new home, but as they were giving thanks to him for his guidance, suddenly a bright blue light sparkled in the bonfire and they all recognized it as the grandfather's spirit.
"Hello, my children!" his voice said from the flames. "I see that you have made the lesser journey, and now you must make the greater journey."
The tribe was confused, for they had spent a long time on the difficult journey to find the location for their new home. What could be greater than this?
The voice continued. "The eagle is a symbol for the truth, the snake is a symbol for lies, and the cactus garden represents the garden of the human mind. When the eagle of truth devours the snake of lies in the garden of your mind, then you will find a home within yourself — you will find your own personal freedom."
One thing that television, social media, and other broadcast mediums teach us is that the world has many rich, famous, and accomplished people. Sadly, we also learn from these sources that many of these accomplished people are very unhappy.
Of course, this doesn't just apply to the rich and famous. We all know people in our own spheres who have accomplished much outwardly but are greatly unhappy in their personal lives. Perhaps we have neighbors or family members who fall into this category, and perhaps we were once one of those people. They may have acquired many possessions or titles, but they are also lost and confused.
We can say that through their outer accomplishments they have made the lesser journey, but the greater journey of finding their own personal freedom still awaits them.
This begs the question, what do I mean by the phrase personal freedom?
For me, personal freedom is when our hearts and minds are ruled by love instead of fear. Personal freedom is when we are comfortable in our own skin and we love and accept ourselves completely, even the parts we don't like. Personal freedom is when we stop trying to be this or that, but instead are content to just be.
Personal freedom comes as the result of examining our mind's domestications and releasing any unhealthy beliefs or ideas that we find there. It occurs every moment that we break the habit of our addiction to suffering.
From this place of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-love, we can see ourselves when we look into the eyes of another, and that is one reason why we help other people. We know that they are us and we are them — that we are all interconnected and thus to help them is also to help ourselves.
For me, all of this is personal freedom, and it is at the heart of the shamanic path.
Whatever else you do in the world — your job, your hobbies, anything you accomplish — those are all wonderful things, but they represent the lesser journey. The most important journey you will ever make is the one inside yourself, and this is at the heart of the shamanic path. It is the journey of finding your own truth.
The shaman in this story understood that each generation had to find its own truth, to create its own dream, and that they could not rely on the legacy of previous generations to create their dream for them. To this end, he sent them away into the desert to find a new home and to let go of the old dream so that they could create a new one.
Sometimes life serves as our shaman and sets up situations that completely destroy our old dream. Death, divorce, the loss of job are all things that require us to go out into the wilderness, taking with us very few of our possessions, and find a new dream. But our home, our truth, is always inside us, and we take that wherever we go. In every dream we create, if we stay true to ourselves and true to our own heart's desire, then we will find peace again.
In my view, everyone has their own truth within themselves. Because we are all unique, this personal truth will never be exactly the same for any two people. That's what makes it personal. Shamanism is not based on hierarchy, deference to past teachers, or following a sacred text with blind belief, but rather on finding the wisdom within yourself. When you find your own truth and wisdom within you, you will find your own personal freedom.
In the Toltec tradition, we have a concept called silent knowledge, and cultivating your connection to it can help you find the truth within yourself.
Silent knowledge is a knowing that is beyond the thinking mind. It is difficult to write or talk about, because language is the main tool of the mind, but I will do my best to explain.
Silent knowledge is the deep, innate wisdom that is in all things. It comes from the interconnectedness of all beings and creatures. It is the wisdom of the universe. For instance, if you've ever simply known the answer to a question without any logical way that your brain could have discovered it — like when a mother can feel that her child is in danger or when you know the moment a relative transitions into death — this is all silent knowledge. It is the universal wisdom that has always been at our fingertips, but that we often neglect to tap into, either because we don't know or have forgotten how.
Being able to see the next right action in any given situation, disregarding the mitote (the noisy voices that clamor for your attention) in your mind — this is silent knowledge, and as you begin to unravel your domestications and live in a way that feels authentic to you, you will find yourself in touch with it. When you develop an awareness of silent knowledge, you begin to shift your attention to it more often, especially when faced with an important choice or decision.
The insights that you get from silent knowledge can come to you in the form of an inspired thought or even an energetic feeling in your body. In either case, when a message comes to you from silent knowledge, you sense a "knowing" that the insight you are receiving is not from your thinking mind.
Furthermore, silent knowledge never carries the energy of hate, resentment, or revenge. If any message you get originates from this type of energy, then you know that this is not silent knowledge, but coming out of the mind's addiction to suffering instead.
Another means for accessing silent knowledge is to pay attention to your emotions. When it comes to making decisions, our emotions can sometimes be better indicators than our discerning minds.
For instance, let's say you are trying to make a decision about a situation and one choice may seem correct logically, but you have a nagging feeling that something isn't right. Let's say you've been offered a new job with better pay, but when you visit with your potential employer, you get a negative vibe inside that you can't explain.
Rather than dismiss those sensations, it would be wise to recognize them as clues from the realm of silent knowledge. This doesn't necessarily mean the answer is a "no" and you shouldn't take the job, but rather that you should do more investigating before making a final decision.
I have traveled to India on several occasions, and I love the teachings of both Hinduism and Buddhism. In India we find one of the greatest teachers of silence in the twentieth-century sadhu Ramana Maharshi. The word sadhu is from Sanskrit and means a monk or holy person, but to me the sadhu is the Indian equivalent of the shaman.
Ramana Maharshi was probably the most famous teacher in India in the first half of the twentieth century. After experiencing a spontaneous awakening as a teenager, he went into a period of silence that lasted for years. Although he would go on to teach and speak again, he always maintained that the best teacher was silence. People would come from all over to sit with him in his ashram, many with lists of questions, but once they sat in his silent presence, the questions would dissolve or become unimportant. His story reminds me of the words of the thirteenth-century Muslim poet Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi: "Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation."
Seen in this light, silent knowledge is one of the most powerful tools at a shaman's disposal. This is at the heart of the wisdom of the shaman, and when you are in alignment with yourself, you have much better access to this realm of knowing beyond the thinking mind.
Silent knowledge is available to you right now, and one helpful step to finding it is to practice outer silence and meditation, as both create an environment that allows universal wisdom to emerge within us. I have included an exercise to help you begin this practice at the end of this chapter.
Another tool that is often talked about in shamanic circles is divination, or the ability to access what we think of as the future. Because divination also comes from a realm beyond the thinking mind, I want to take a moment to discuss it.
From a shamanic perspective, there is no past or future; there is only the now. Everything that ever happens occurs in this universe of now, but the Dream of Time — or the idea of time, which is a construct that we humans have created — is what allows our minds to make sense of it all, to add order to it. Without the Dream of Time your mind could not comprehend all of the things that are occurring now. Divination is a tool that can allow us to glimpse sights of other things that are also happening now but the mind understands as in the "future." Accessing these other events that appear to be in the future is the principle behind divination.
There are many tools for this: cards, pendulums, runes, all of which can be helpful in certain situations. If you are faced with an important decision in life and you are unable to decide what path to take, using a divination tool could bring you some clarity. At the same time you must be very careful not to overuse these tools. The more we rely on divination tools, the less accurate these tools become, in part because the mind begins to take ownership of them, seeing patterns or suggestions that aren't actually there.
I recommend that divination tools should only be brought in when you feel completely lost, even when you search the truth within yourself. Remember, one of the core principles of shamanism is that the wisdom you seek is inside you already, so a divination tool only helps you find answers that you already have, but perhaps are having difficulty seeing.
When you reconnect with your inner knowing, you are following the path of the shaman — not the shamans that have come before you, but the shaman that you are, the messenger of love that you are in your deepest being. In order to find the truth and wisdom within ourselves, we must see all outside sources, whether divination tools, old traditions, or even other shamans, as what they are: guides to help us find the truth from within ourselves.
We are the artists of our own lives and we can use these tools to start to create our art, but then it is up to us to put our own style and flair on the masterpiece that is our life by living from what is true for us as an individual, rather than relying on what we have been told by outside sources. The purpose of all of these tools is to help you on the greater journey, the one that leads you to the wisdom inside your own beautiful heart.
What Is Your Definition of Personal Freedom?
I'd like you to write down your own definition of personal freedom. What are the things that will free you? Perhaps some of the things included in my definition will also be in yours, but yours will still be different by virtue of the fact that it is yours and not mine. What do you want to release or let go of? What wisdom within do you want to get in touch with? Keep this definition so you can look back on it whenever you feel lost — or when you think your definition may have changed!
What Old Dreams Are You Holding On To?
It's often our old dreams that keep us from living in the present and enjoying a new dream that may better serve us. Do you still hold things over your own head? Do you hear yourself saying things like "If I hadn't got divorced, ..." "If I hadn't dropped out of school, ..." or "if I had taken that job, ..."? You aren't letting go of an old dream of what could have been that no longer speaks to who you are.
Take some time to think about your old dreams and what parts of them you may still be hanging on to. Write an old dream down on a piece of paper. You may have more than one old dream to work with. If so, write them on separate papers. But I also suggest working with just one dream at a time to make sure that you are feeling the full effects before moving on.
Now, fold or crumple the paper with your old dream on it and find a safe place to burn it. As you burn the paper, say a gentle and sweet goodbye to your old dream, thanking it for all the ways that it has served you, and allow yourself to release the old dream with the smoke from the fire.
Silent Knowledge Meditation
Meditation is a powerful tool for many spiritual practices. For the Toltec, meditation is used in a variety of ways, but one of the most important benefits is that in meditation we are able to see past the mitote of the mind. Doing so creates an environment within ourselves that allows us to better connect to silent knowledge.
For this meditation, our goal is to open ourselves to silent knowledge. To begin meditating, find a quiet, comfortable space where you won't be interrupted for the next several minutes. This could be on the back porch while the pets are inside, in the bathtub because the bathroom door is the only one that keeps the kids out, or in an armchair in the study. There is no wrong place or posture for meditation, so experiment and find what works best for you.
Our goal will be to simply open your mind and allow universal wisdom to be present in your awareness. As you become more familiar with meditation, feel free to ask or meditate on certain questions that you need to have answered. By taking questions into your meditation, you will be bringing them to the source of all wisdom and may receive your answers in the form of silent knowledge.
Once you find a quiet place and a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in. For this meditation, I want you to just listen. Listen to any sounds happening outside of you without putting too much importance on any of them. What do you hear? The wind rustling in the trees? The hum of the refrigerator in the other room? Take it all in, it's all welcome here. Now I want you to listen to the silence that is just behind the sounds you hear. The silence is there: it's the space which makes hearing the other sounds possible. Hold that silence in your mind as you find it.
Excerpted from "The Wisdom of the Shamans"
Copyright © 2018 Don Jose Ruiz.
Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Explanation of Key Terms xi
1 The Eagle and the Snake
Finding Your Own Truth 1
2 The Riverman
Flowing with the Cycles of life 19
3 The Birth of Quetzalcoatl
Ignite Your Imagination and Creativity 39
4 The Jungle
A Lesson in Awareness 55
5 The Rattlesnake Initiation
The Power of Ritual 73
6 The Devil's Cave
Embracing the Shadow Self 91
7 Divinity and Discernment
The Lessons of Madre Sarita 107
8 The Day ofthe Dead
Death and Honoring Our Ancestors 123