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A few hundred years ago, in the wilds and deserts and rocky hill places of America, indigenous people would go into the wilderness in search of visions and direction in their lives and to understand their spiritual selves.
Nowadays, you are as likely to meet a senior business executive around the campfire with colleagues on a wilderness quest of their own where they will touch their creativity, build stronger relationships, and seek insights into the vision, philosophy, and future direction of the company they work for.
This is the "new shamanism" of the corporate office and its popularity is growing. Sports and leisure giant, Nike, for example, now sponsors trips deep into the Amazon rainforest for their people to work with ancient shamans who will show them how to 'shapeshift' their future and create a new focus for their organization.
Even scientists, who would have laughed at such an idea until very recently, are now using shamanic techniques to aid the creative process behind research and development. Dr. Eve Bruce is a respected plastic and reconstructive surgeon and medical professional working in Baltimore, USA. Three years ago, while vacationing in Ecuador, Dr Bruce found herself plagued by a terrible fever. Her group leader took her to an Andean shaman, who healed her using smoke, chanting, and prayer. The next day she was not only out of bed, and up for a hike in the rain forest.
"The experience was beyond the box of my reality," says Dr Bruce, who felt stunned -- and intrigued -- by her instant recovery. After studying the art of shamanism during a number of visits to South America, she went on to become the first non-Quechua woman to be initiated into the Circle of Yachaks, the bird-people shamans of the high Andes.
She now uses shapeshifting and other shamanic techniques with her patients in order to help them find that part of themselves they are unhappy with and to change their vision of it before trying to remove it or cover it up with surgery. "Often when people seek a physical change, they want more," she says. "I can help facilitate change on an emotional and spiritual level." With the Dream Change Coalition, she leads treks in the Andes and the Amazon. Back home, she conducts workshops on shamanic techniques -- dreamwork, psychonavigation, and spirit journeys. "I've seen people healed of migraines, chronic pain and depression," says Dr. Bruce. "I don't think there is any condition shamanism can't treat."
In the UK, shamanic practitioners such as Vera Waters are now working with social services departments to facilitate bureaucratic shapeshifts and to support the healing of their clients by taking "families with difficulties" on open access weeks where shamanic healing techniques are a major part of the program.
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Vera trained with Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies, with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Study, and with the Eagle's Wing Centre in London, while working as a counselor and social worker. She decided to combine her professional and shamanic interests to introduce her new therapeutic program for families in crisis and, in the space of 18 months, is now so successful that the Family Holiday Association has adopted her approach as the guiding force behind its own program of healing holidays, and her work is even being quoted in the British parliament as a new model for the caring professions.
At the other end of the scale, 'personal spiritual trainers' like Nick Williams, author of The Work We Were Born To Do, founder of The Heart at Work Project, and director of Alternatives at St James', London's leading centre for new age and spiritual speakers, works with individual employees and groups within an organization to help them find their 'vision' of the company they want to work for. His technique is not dissimilar to the placitas consultation (defined as a deep, heart to heart diagnostic discussion) used by Mayan and Peruvian curandero shamans.
Can Shamanism Help In Business?
Shamanism is one of the oldest psycho-spiritual practices known to man. Recent archaeological evidence from Africa suggests that a shamanic approach may be anything up to 400,000 years old -- the dawn of the first proto-humans. Other artifacts, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux in France, which clearly depict shamanic activity, have been accurately dated at up to 35,000 years old. Most archaeologists split the difference (a big difference though it is), and point to an established shamanic culture in this country, Northern Europe, North America, Australia, and, indeed, worldwide, which was certainly flourishing 50,000 -100,000 years ago.
Yet its practices are still current in most societies in the world and the techniques it uses very valid and useful for business right now. Take the shamanic practice of 'journeying'. To the steady beat of a drum, the shaman wills his spirit to leave his body and to journey to meet with helpers and advisors in the spiritual 'otherworlds', bringing back information, healing, and gifts of divination and prophecy for the tribal people he serves.
Sounds far-fetched and useless for the modern office environment, right? Think again.
Science has now demonstrated that the rhythm at which the drum is played is conducive to a deep and subtle shift in consciousness which overcomes the limitations of the rational brain and gives access to more intuitive, holistic, and visionary information.
This is exactly the shift required for creative 'brainstorming' activities used in new product development or the generation of advertising campaigns, for envisioning a new strategic direction for an organization, or for policy formulation to adapt to social, cultural, and environmental change. It is the sort of 'Eureka' breakthrough experience which James Watson described as leading to the discovery of the double helix pattern of DNA through the arrival one day of a 'non-trivial idea' while his rational mind was otherwise engaged as he day dreamed and sketched idly on a notepad.
All Things Begin With An Idea
The basic idea behind all shamanic techniques is that all things begin with an idea. It doesn't matter whether it is a new building, a new product, or a new marketing campaign -- before any of them are made concrete, you must first have the creative insight into how the new entity will look. This is the domain of the non-rational brain. Only after this process can the design begin to take physical shape. This is the way that all human beings create futures.
"Imagination", said Einstein, "is more important than knowledge".
"The world", say the Shuar shamans of the Amazon, "is as you dream it".
We can, of course, dream any possible future -- for ourselves, our company, our society, or for the world as a whole (in fact, when any single one of us changes, the world must also change as a consequence) -- all it takes is the liberation of creativity to facilitate the vision.
But sometimes this liberation is hard to come by -- partly as a result of the systems which we put in place in modern business, or the need to make profits or appease shareholders.
A rather amusing shamanic story illustrates the point:
The tribal wisdom of the Lakota, passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.
In our modern world, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:
* Buying a stronger whip.
* Changing riders.
* Threatening the horse with termination.
* Appointing a committee to study the horse.
* Arranging to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses.
* Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
* Re-classifying the dead horse as "living impaired".
* Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
* Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.
* Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
* Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
* Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.
* Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses.
* Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
We can all get locked into systems which, as ludicrous as it may sound, produce exactly such a 'dead horse' scenario. The once-great company which cannot, will not, or does not want to adapt to the changing times is a case in point. No matter what its past glories, if it cannot change it will fail. And now, more than ever before, is the time to change.
A Time of Cultural and Global Transition
John Perkins, a self-made millionaire and CEO and advisor to corporations for over 30 years, became smitten with shamanism while working in the Amazon rainforests for American economic development groups more than three decades ago. On returning to America, he abandoned his career and set up the Dream Change Coalition, a non-profit organization which teaches shapeshifting to executives, medical doctors, government agencies, educator's and lawyer's associations, and also leads trips into the rainforest to work with the Shuar and other tribes so that senior executives may experience some of the excitement and potential for change which first led John to alter his own perspective on life and business.
He has also written a highly acclaimed book on the subject: Shapeshifting - Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation.
"This is a time of incredible change, of cultural and global transition", says John. "No longer is the yardstick of profitability sufficient by itself. The corporation must respond to challenges never before faced. Satisfying market demands means empowering the individual employee while building a cohesive, creative, flexible team. It requires extreme sensitivity to environmental and social concerns.
Dream Change Coalition is a grass roots movement of people from many continents and cultures who are dedicated to creating new values and ways of living. It grew out of meetings held in indigenous communities in the early 1990's, which were initiated by environmentalist, John Perkins, who has worked with indigenous people for three decades and whose books include Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation, The World Is As You Dream It : Shamanic Teachings from the Amazon and Andes; Psychonavigation: Techniques for Travel Beyond Time; and The Stress Free Habit : Powerful Techniques for Health and Longevity from the Andes, Yucatan, and Far East.
Deep in the rain forests and high in the Andes of Ecuador, native shamans teach the age-old technique of dream change, a tradition that has kept the cultures of the Otavalans, Salasacans, and Shuar alive despite centuries of conquest. Now these shamans are turning their wisdom and power to the problem of curing a new kind of illness--that created by the industrial world’s dream of dominating and exploiting nature. John Perkins tells the story of these remarkable shamans and of the U.S. medical doctors, psychologists, and scientists who have gone with him to learn the techniques of dream change. These shamanic teachings have sparked a revolution in modern concepts about healing, the subconscious, and the powers each of us has to alter individual and communal reality.
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About The Author
Ross Heaven is a shamanic practitioner and businessman, and the author of The Journey To You and Spirit in the City, both books by Bantam. (Other books by this author.) He is also the UK representative of the Dream Change Coalition. For more information on shamanic courses for businesses, contact him at (UK) 01604 250221, write to 32 Cranstoun Street, Northampton NN1 3BH, UK, or email him at [email protected]. Visit the Dream Change Coalition's website at www.dreamchange.org.