Image by Andre Mouton and Wolfgang Eckert 

I’ve been writing about wetiko in one way or another for over twenty years. I guess you could say that I consider it an important enough topic to devote the rest of my life to trying to capture and elucidate this concept in words.

When I wrote my first book, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis, in the early 2000s, I wasn’t overly familiar with what Native Americans call wetiko, having just learned about it from writer, scholar, and political activist Jack D. Forbes, in his 1979 book Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism.

I was intimately familiar with its workings, however. That first book was all about wetiko, though I referred to it by a different name, having coined the term malignant egophrenia, or ME disease. I remember writing the book as an attempt to keep myself sane in the midst of a world gone mad. That time now seems like the good old days compared to the madness that is now playing out in this wetiko-riddled world of ours some twenty years later.

Forbes’ book on wetiko is based on the idea that for thousands of years, humanity, which exhibits all the characteristics of a truly deluded species, has been suffering from a psychospiritual disease that is far worse than any physical malady it has ever suffered through: the plague of wetiko. Forbes felt that the real history of the world is the story of the epidemiology of this plague, a history that until now had been left unwritten due to our unawareness of what has actually befallen us. Forbes’ exposition on wetiko finally answered the question of why our species has become so incredibly self- and other-destructive.

In his analysis of this mind-virus, Forbes considers wetiko to be the greatest catalytic force of evolution ever known—and I would add not known—to humanity. Just like a symbol in a dream, wetiko reflects something back to us about ourselves, if only we have the eyes to see. Wetiko, a form of death that “takes on” life, is at the same time a living revelation, revealing something that is of the utmost importance for us to know at this time.

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The Mystery of Wetiko

In dealing with wetiko, we are dealing with a mystery. Wetiko has no intrinsic, independent existence (separate from the mind, that is), and yet it can wreak unimaginable havoc and even kill us. It is amazing—mind-blowing, in fact—that wetiko, by whatever name it is called, has been pointed at by virtually all the world’s wisdom traditionsas being the very thing that is at the root of our worst troubles, and yet relatively few people have even heard of it (though these days more and more are).

The genesis of wetiko is to be found deep within our minds. It is a dreaming phenomenon, which is to say that it is something that in my language we are dreaming up, both collectively, in the world, and in our individual minds.

When we see our situation as if it’s a dream and interpret it as such—which is to say, symbolically—one thing becomes clear: humanity (which is the dreamer of the dream) seems practically uneducable in that we stubbornly persist in doubling down on our unconscious mistakes instead of learning from them.

When we don’t get the message from a dream, we ensure that the dream will reoccur in a more and more amplified form, until we finally recognize what it is symbolically revealing to us and change our perspective and behavior accordingly. The question naturally arises: what will it take for us to get the message?

It’s as if there is something in our unconscious that seems to be intent on preventing us from learning the lessons of our mistakes, as if there is something within us that is invested in keeping us asleep at all costs. The spiritual teacher Gurdjieff pointed out that humanity isn’t asleep in an ordinary way, but has fallen into a “hypnotic sleep” in which our state of stupefaction continually regenerates itself within our minds. This situation made Gurdjieff conjecture about whether there was some sort of force (wetiko!) that profits from keeping us entrapped in a mesmerized state, thereby stopping us from seeing the truth of our circumstances and remembering who we really are.

The Slinking Prompter or Lurking Whisperer

In any case, this mysterious something seems to thwart any deep exploration into its workings. It’s as if wetiko has its own propaganda department dedicated to keeping itself hidden. More than anything, wetiko hates to be outed, as it only has power when it works in the shadows of our minds. It avoids the light of awareness like the plague.

Interestingly, the final verse of the Qur’an (Surah 114), which in Islam is considered to be the voice of God, is warning about wetiko. This holy book refers to the wetiko spirit, depending upon the translation, as “the slinking prompter,” “the lurking (or retreating) whisperer,” and other similar phrases.

The slinking prompter/whisperer secretly and insidiously works through stealth and subterfuge, invisibly creeping into and prompting evil in people’s hearts under the cover of the darkness of the unconscious. This slinking prompter can’t stand (nor stand up to) the light of conscious awareness, however, as it immediately retreats—slinking away—when it is seen, which is an expression of its intrinsic feebleness when we are awake to its (and our) true nature.

Wetiko has myriad ways of derailing any serious investigation into its nature. Oftentimes, for example, I’ll meet a person or a group of people who seem genuinely interested in wetiko and want to learn more. They’ll ask me a couple of questions and then, after hardly any time at all, they think they’ve got it and feel they sufficiently understand what it’s all about—an attitude that short-circuits any deeper inquiry into realizing the endlessly mind-blowing revelation that is wetiko.

When this plays out, instead of them “getting” the radical nature of wetiko, wetiko has “gotten” them. I have come up with a name for this ­syndrome: premature comprehension delusion, or PCD. This is one of multiple strategies that wetiko uses to hide itself from being seen so as to further propagate its phantomlike pseudoexistence throughout the field of human consciousness.

From my point of view, oftentimes these people have less than a 1 percent understanding of the multidimensional, quantum, dreamlike nature of this elusive mind-virus, and yet after only a few minutes of the briefest introduction to it they have already decided and convinced themselves that they comprehend it.

If wetiko is seen as an underground creature, it’s as if they see its most superficial appendage appearing above ground and think they see the whole beast. In trying to put the mystery of wetiko in a cage of limited understanding, the bird, wetiko, has, so to speak, flown, and their curiosity about this mystery goes out the window with it.

Seeing Wetiko: A Transformative Experience

Seeing wetiko necessarily demands that we step out of the limited, partial, fragmented viewpoint of the separate self and see more wholistically; it’s a stance in which we recognize our interconnection with the whole, with the rest of the universe. This is to say that seeing wetiko is a transformative experience that radically changes us.

Of course, thinking we apprehend the whole when we encounter only one of wetiko’s multiple aspects is a manifestation of the underhanded workings of this mind-virus. Tragically, such a limited and solidified idea about wetiko misses the whole point, not to mention ensures that in our closed-mindedness we are unwittingly becoming a vector for wetiko to insinuate itself even more deeply in our individual minds and in the world.

I’ve witnessed how some people simply conflate wetiko with the shadow, with the lower self or with evil (in its simply “bad” aspect). All of these are partial facets of wetiko, but to think this is what wetiko is would be like the proverb about the blind person touching one part of an elephant (say, the trunk) and thinking that an elephant is like a snake. Wetiko has many facets and faces. How it manifests depends on who is looking.

The ME Disease of Mistaken Identity

Though wetiko is a truly multidimensional, many-faceted, and profound idea, its fundamental essence is really simple to understand. In my previous work I’ve referred to wetiko as ME disease, a misidentification of who we think we are. This is to say that the process of identification, of who we think we are, is at the root of wetiko.

We tend to conceive of our sense of identity as a given, as something concrete and written in stone, as nonnegotiable and objectively true, but it is actually anything but. Our sense of identity is not fixed at all, but is rather a creative process that we are participating in, shaping each and every moment.

Because wetiko disease basically means to have fallen into a state of mistaken identity, the best medicine for wetiko is to know who we are. When we connect with our authentic self, with our true nature, we discover that our nature is naturally creative. To remember who we really are is to connect with our creativity; and in a positive feedback loop that generates abundant life, to express oneself creatively deepens our knowledge of who we truly are and further reveals our essential nature.

Since the root essence of the wetiko mind-virus is not knowing one’s true nature, not recognizing who we truly are ensures that our true nature, instead of expressing itself creatively in service to ourself and others, will be channeled destructively in a limited and uncreative way that drains our life force.

If we don’t mobilize our creative resources, wetiko is more than happy to use our inner assets in a way that serves its agenda rather than our own true nature. Instead of endlessly tapping into our source and re-sourcing and refreshing ourselves, our own natural reserves get turned against us in a way that creates a nightmare, just like the one we are currently dreaming up in the world.

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.
Published by Inner Traditions Intl.

Article Source: Undreaming Wetiko

Undreaming Wetiko: Breaking the Spell of the Nightmare Mind-Virus
by Paul Levy

book cover of Undreaming Wetiko by Paul LevyThe profound and radical Native American idea of “wetiko,” a virus of the mind, underlies the collective insanity and evil that is destructively playing out around the world. Yet, encoded within wetiko itself lies the very medicine needed to combat the mindvirus and heal both ourselves and our world.

Paul Levy begins by investigating how the process of becoming triggered, wounded, or falling into suffering can help us better understand the workings of wetiko in a way that transforms our struggles into opportunities for awakening. He highlights one of the primary archetypes currently activated in the collective unconscious of humanity—the wounded healer/shaman. Ultimately, the author reveals that the best protection and medicine for wetiko is to connect with the light of our true nature by becoming who we truly are.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition and Audiobook.

About the Author

photo of Paul Levy, author of Wetiko: Healing the Mind-Virus that Plagues our WorldPaul Levy is a pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence and a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for more than 35 years. He has intimately studied with some of the greatest spiritual masters of Tibet and Burma. He was the coordinator of the Portland chapter of the PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years and is the founder of the Awakening in the Dream Community in Portland, Oregon. 

He is the author of The Madness of George Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (2006), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (2013), Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (2015) and The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (2018), and more

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More books by this Author.