Tragedy at Chimbre


The tragedy at Chimbre serves as a tragic reminder of how naive we
still are about what we call “shamanism” – a Siberian word,
originally, that Mircea Eliade made cross-cultural when he used it to
describe the similar mystical practices and beliefs of indigenous
people around the world. in the Amazon, mastery of ayahuasca was an
ambiguous skill, as the power gained from its use could be used to he
al or kill. In many tribes, “shamans” or sorcerers would drink
ayahuasca to shoot magical darts at their enemies. Power – gained in
any realm – always has this potential for dangerous ambiguity.

Our language and concepts are not sophisticated enough yet to fully
articulate the layers of ambiguity and complexity in practices that
may ultimately be more magical than spiritual. In fact, the concept of
“spiritual” is a major problem for us. “Spirituality” becomes an
avoidance mechanism for many people. Personally, I don’t think someone
is “spiritual” if they meditate, do yoga, talk about Buddhism or drink
ayahuasca – even if they do “energy work” or “Tantric healings” or
whatever. All of that can be done to bring pleasure to the ego or
enhance narcissism – in any case, these days it is not hip to not be
“spiritual” in some way.

I also feel that “spiritual” as a concept presupposes a dichotomy or
dualistic split between spirit and matter that is an error in our
understanding. The “true person” of the Tao would be one who had
integrated spirit and matter – the split only exists in our minds in
any case. If we are forced to use the term “spiritual,” I would
reserve it for those who have dedicated themselves to service in the
world, and whose daily lives reflect their inner intention. I would
measure their “spirituality” by tangible results, by their impact on
other people and on the physical world, not by avowed ideals.

Clearly we need to become less naïve about shamanism – as well as
spirituality in general. Shamans are not all goodhearted healers: some
have healing gifts and also manipulative tendencies, perhaps even
sociopath tendencies in some cases. What we probably need is much
greater transparency and a resource base of background information
about shamanic practitioners, so that people can enter any
relationship or experience with open eyes.

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