A question often posed to me is, "Does this work?" - an inquiry probing the credibility and effectiveness of ancient shamanic healing, rituals, ceremonies, and beliefs, and trying to discern whether such practices are truly beneficial healing modalities or mere superstitious rituals.
In this essay, I venture on a journey that cuts across multiple terrains and brings into sharp focus the often understated value and profound richness of ancient wisdom and shamanic practices, with all the misconceptions the modern world has about it. This journey is my own – disclosing a transformation that shaped me and my perception of the world around me indelibly.
First, let me put this essay in the context of my personal story.
My story started traditionally enough, navigating the familiar waters of academia and corporate success. As a trained veterinarian with a Ph.D., I was deeply enmeshed in the conventional education system, honed by years of disciplined and focused studies. My academic pursuits led me to the corporate world, where I found my footing in renowned companies like LVMH and Nestle. Emboldened by my experience, I ventured further to establish my own startup, a significant achievement that saw me raise $50 million in funding.
Despite these apparent triumphs, there was an indistinct emptiness within me, a growing realization that career success did not necessarily translate into a sense of purpose or fulfillment. The more I scaled the corporate ladder, the more disconnected I felt from my true self. On the surface, I had achieved what most define as success, but the lack of authentic purpose gnawed at me, casting a shadow on my accomplishments.
It was amidst this echo of unanswered questions that I was introduced to the transformative world of shamanic ways and ancient wisdom. The shift was not instant, and it took time to unlearn many ingrained beliefs from the past. But as I began to walk on this path, I noticed a change within me that transcended anything I had ever experienced. I became more grounded, centered, calm, and balanced. I found myself transitioning from a life fraught with unhealthy habits, like excessive alcohol consumption and partying, to one filled with deeper family ties and genuine friendships.
As I delved deeper into these ancestral practices, the wisdom of the elders became a beacon, guiding me toward gratitude and helping me forge a bond with the land, its inhabitants, and the string that held us all together. The visits to ancient landscapes, the rituals, the conversations - every experience was a step towards healing and transformation. My encounters with traumas of the past no longer positioned me as a helpless victim but as a seeker of truth who could transform these experiences into a source of knowledge and strength.
The journey helped me recalibrate my personal relationships, too. The familial bonds I shared became imbued with a warmth that was more intense and fulfilling, and my friendships transformed into supportive alliances that held space for growth and authenticity. The world around me had not changed, but I had - my perceptions, understanding, and response had evolved, guided by the wisdom traditions I embraced.
Continuing my journey involves leaning into oft-challenging dialogues and navigating the inevitably turbulent waters of misunderstanding and prejudice. From the beginning of my foray into shamanic practices, and still today, I face misconceptions about my chosen path. The questions and doubts that friends and acquaintances expressed were predominantly grounded in unfamiliarity.
I found myself at odds with the people around me, my decisions seen through a foggy lens of incorrect assumptions or partial understanding. I experienced the discomfort of judgment, the undercurrent of skepticism in conversations, and the palpable unease that invaded my relationships. I quickly realized that such reactions were less about me and more about deeply ingrained misconceptions and the collective unfamiliarity with shamanic traditions.
Just as my own journey had been marked by transition and epiphany, I hoped to encourage others to view this practice without the cloak of the unwarranted stigma attached to it. I intended to address these misconceptions, demystify the shamanic path, and share its benefits — to unearth an understanding just waiting to be communicated and embraced.
This essay seeks to do just that — it serves as a guide through the labyrinth of misconceptions, assumptions, and biases that exist around shamanic practices and ancient wisdom. Guarding against judgment and fostering understanding involves patience, respectful dialogue, and disseminating accurate information.
I share my story not only to detail my transformation but to reassure that it is okay — even expected — to face resistance when breaking the mold. I aspire to support those on their own journey navigating a similar path, those who face skepticism from their loved ones or misunderstandings within their social circles.
Remember, every time we address a misconception, we are removing a roadblock, making our collective journey toward understanding and acceptance a step easier, a step more enlightened. Trust that the wisdom of ancient practices will unfold, shaping our everyday lives and interactions in the most profound ways, just as it did for me.
Therefore, as we delve into exploring shamanic practices and wisdom traditions, we understand that it is informed by both experiential knowledge and empirical analysis. It is a call to look beyond the prevailing misconceptions and appreciate these ancient practices' true depth and magnitude, which shaped not only my life but countless others over millennia.
Our modern world, with its hustle and bustle, relentless technological advancements, and unending race against time, has gradually led many to disconnect from the spirituality and ancient wisdom that once grounded us. Unfortunately, This detachment stemmed from shaped misconceptions—particularly towards time-honored teachings of native wisdom like the Native American and Peruvian practices. Many perceive these as outdated myths incapable of addressing and resolving the intricate complications our contemporary world faces.
This perception often triggers skepticism, asking how societies teeming with technological advancements, deep scientific understanding, and innovative medicine could find solutions in practices originating from different cultures and civilizations almost thousands of years ago.
This essay aims to question this skepticism and the various angles it takes, shedding light on the incredible value and potential of these ancient wisdoms and exploring their capacity to heal humans, communities, and our planet.
Here are all the subjects explored:
Skepticism towards Shamanism and Spirituality
The Modern World Does Not Need Spirituality
Those practices are outdated
Such methods are ineffective and lack solid scientific validation
The practices are simply superstitious and lack any logical grounding
Shamanic practices are malicious in Nature or harmful to individuals
Those ancient Practices are "Cultish."
Traditional mainstream education surpasses nature-based schooling
Embracing Ancient Wisdom Means a Return to the "Cave Age"
These methods are for people dwelling on the peripheries of society
Skepticism towards Shamanism and Spirituality
First, we must understand that skepticism is attributable to a human trait of psychology developed to shield us from the unknown. Yet it invites reflection – why are we so eager to search for life on far-off exoplanets but readily dismiss the insightful wisdom of civilizations that successfully thrived in Nature's lap on our own planet thousands of years ago?
Indigenous wisdom from Native American tribes and Shamanic tribes of Peru (the one I have explored more deeply in the past 15 years) are exquisite repositories of knowledge on healthcare, sustainable living, stress management, community living, and much more. These traditional systems value a holistic approach to life, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all beings and the universe.
Despite it being undeniable today that something happening on the other side of the world impacts us all, from war to pollution, there is still much resistance to embracing the interconnectedness, vision, and wisdom embodied in every aspect of ancient teachings.
Also, while it is pretty evident that we have turned Nature into a matter without spirit that we can abuse, exploit, and destroy at an incredible scale without acknowledging the consequences in the short and long term, we are still not ready to recognize the damage this does not only to our environment but also to our minds, emotions, bodies, and spirits.
In contrast, Nature is sacred in all native cosmologies. From the Peruvian Q'ero, who commune with mountains (Apus), to the Native American tradition of invoking the Circle of Life, they recognized that solutions lay in the balance of elements, not just within us but even transcending our environment. An imbalance in any aspect disrupts our equilibrium, leading to physical or mental distress. Recent studies in psychoneuroimmunology suggest a strong link between stress, inflammation, and several disorders, resonating remarkably with ancient wisdom.
2. The Modern World Does Not Need Spirituality
One of the common beliefs in our modern world is: "The Modern World Does Not Need Spirituality."
In an era that frequently elevates the rational and tangible, spirituality may seem like an archaic appendage, irrelevant to the mechanics of our modern lives. This common misconception, "We don't need spirituality in our modern world," could not be farther from the truth.
While we live in a world of technological marvels and scientific advances, we can't ignore the growing number of people beset with stress, anxiety, and a feeling of disconnection. Without meaning and deeper connections, material success often rings hollow. And therein lies the need for spirituality - not as an escape, but as an essential dimension of human existence.
Spirituality embedded in ancient wisdom provides a balance, a way to engage more wholesomely with life. The indigenous spirituality of Native Americans and Peruvians is not an abstract or mystical other-worldly pursuit. Instead, it's a deeply grounded philosophy that invites us to connect intimately with the world around us—to find joy in Nature's rhythms, find healing in Nature's richness, and recognize our inherent interconnectedness with the universe.
Modern science is now starting to appreciate this connection. Quantum physicists speak of the entanglement theory, highlighting the interconnected Nature of particles. Moreover, research shows that elements of spirituality can promote greater happiness, purpose, and personal growth.
Thus, rather than discarding spirituality as an unnecessary vestige, in a truly advanced society, it could be more vital than ever. Embracing it within our modern lives does not denote a regression. Still, it reflects a balanced evolution - one that does not lean only on the crutches of material progress but finds harmony with the profound depth of human experience.
3. Those practices are outdated
This notion is often born from the misconception that these practices were developed by civilizations with limited scientific understanding.
Yet, these wisdom traditions are firmly grounded in experiential learning, intergenerational wisdom, and profound observation of Nature. The Cherokee, for instance, already classified plants according to their medicinal properties. Modern research validates many traditional uses, revealing the tribe's sophisticated understanding of botany and the human body.
From fire ceremonies for balance, plant medicine like Ayahuasca for deep healing, or sweat lodges for detoxification, these traditions have a plethora of techniques that offer specific benefits that have been now well documented by science and proven to be more effective than most of the western medications for mental illnesses, depression, PTSD and anxiety.
The resurgence of interest in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga stands testimony to the power of these ancient practices. Science is catching up, too, with empirical studies demonstrating the positive impact of mindfulness on mental health, resilience, and emotional well-being.Recent studies from Harvard and Stanford University have shown that mindfulness practices, including meditation, can enhance emotional regulation, attention span, and overall mental well-being.
Ayahuasca, a potent brew consumed in traditional Peruvian rituals, has piqued the interest of modern scientists. Recent studies have documented its powerful impact on depression, PTSD, and addiction. Similarly, Native American herbs like Echinacea and Saw Palmetto are recognized for their health benefits. The natural compounds found in these plants are now integral components of modern pharmacology. It is also common knowledge that a significant part of our modern pharmacopeia is based on plants found in traditional healing worldwide. It comes from the ancient wisdom the local people have about them.
4. Shamanic ways/rituals are ineffective and lack solid scientific validation
An argument I frequently encounter goes something like this: "Such methods are ineffective and lack solid scientific validation."
This assertion stems from a position of doubt, often generated by unfamiliarity with the subject and a deeply rooted skepticism regarding the potential usefulness of practices that have ancient origins.
However, such skepticism tends to overlook the fact that numerous shamanic practices and botanical remedies that hail from these wisdom traditions have indeed been rigorously investigated. Clinical trials have been carried out, and modern techniques such as neuroimaging studies have been employed to discern their impacts. These investigations have covered a broad scope, examining effects on mental health, addiction, and physical well-being, and the results have served to substantiate the efficacy of these perennial methods.
Take, for instance, Ayahuasca, a potent brew originating from Peru, which has been used in traditional healing rituals for centuries. In the realm of modern science, this brew has demonstrated promising results in handling a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Groundbreaking studies in recent years have shown that participants who partook in Ayahuasca retreats exhibited significant improvements in their mental well-being. From the standpoint of modern scientific validation, the data from such studies offers robust evidence for the effectiveness of this ancient practice.
5. The practices are simply superstitious and lack any logical grounding
One critique that frequently echoes throughout discussions of ancient shamanic rituals is the idea that "The practices are simply superstitious and lack any logical grounding."
This notion is a prevalent myth, painting shamanic rituals as unfounded superstitions devoid of any practical or logical basis.
Historically, the scientific community has often been guilty of relegating such practices to mere religious rituals. Invoking the Apus or celebrating the Circle of Life, native wisdom traditions that have guided communities for generations were dismissed as irrational, with little understanding of their more profound significance. These practices were often misunderstood and viewed through a lens that saw them as supernatural activities without a place in our modern, logical world.
However, the tides are changing, and a new understanding is beginning to unfold. These ancient practices are now perceived as active cognitive structures that provide us the means to perceive and interact meaningfully with Nature. They are not irrational superstitions but rather sophisticated systems of knowledge garnered from observing natural rhythms and patterns.
This perspective finds staunch supporters in scholars like David Abram, who endorse the idea of perceiving the earth not merely as an unfeeling resource but recognizing it as a living, breathing entity. Such a view strikingly mirrors ancient cosmologies, beautifully resonating with their perception of the world. They encourage us to explore shamanic practices with an open mind, viewing them not as superstitions but as a significant part of our shared human heritage that offers profound insights into harmonious living with Nature. The 'logic' in these practices may not align with modern scientific methods, but that does not negate their profound value.
6. Shamanic practices are malicious in Nature or harmful to individuals
A popular misconception associated with shamanic practices is that they are malicious in Nature or harmful to individuals. However, this belief comes from misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. What is often overlooked in these discussions is the alternative - what happens when we move away from traditional shamanic practices and embrace a rapid, urban lifestyle.
Studies show that the modern city lifestyle, with its constant hustle and stress, significantly contributes to mental illnesses among its residents, both adults and children. According to the World Health Organization, mental illnesses are expected to be the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2030, a statistic that is alarmingly amplified in urban environments.
In comparison, shamanic practices, embraced by communities across ages, from children to the elderly, provide safe and beneficial rituals that promote balance, health, and mental well-being. These practices bind the community together, creating a nurturing environment conducive to familial bonding and instilling more profound respect for Nature.
These practices have been proven to reduce stress, induce serenity, and foster excellent emotional stability. Parents who engage in shamanic activities have attested to significant improvements in their mental health, better family relationships, and enhanced patience and understanding.
For children, in particular, participating in these practices promotes a sense of belonging and identity. They learn to respect the environment at a young age, develop incredible resilience, and display high levels of happiness and contentment. Statistics indicate that children engaged in shamanic traditions are generally less prone to mental health issues as compared to those living in highly urban, disconnected environments.
Thus, the argument that shamanic practices are unsafe or peculiar becomes less resilient when compared to the rising tide of mental health problems in our fast-paced, city-centric lives. The truth lies in understanding that these practices, under appropriate guidance and experience, promise a balanced life, robust mental health, and contentment for individuals of all ages.
7. Those ancient Practices are "Cultish."
It's not uncommon for detractors to label these age-old practices as "cultish," a term often leveraged to dismiss beliefs or practices that differ from mainstream religion or society norms due to the mysterious, obscure Nature of their rituals. Judging these practices through a monolithic lens of what's familiar or accepted might lead to such misconceptions. Consider yoga, initially seen as esoteric in the West, yet now a mainstream and scientifically recognized wellness practice.
Ancient wisdom and practices like those found in Native American and Peruvian traditions are deeply spiritual, but the term "cult" fails to capture their essence and function. Indigenous healing rituals, for instance, are about community, connection, and well-being. Shamanic practices are about tuning into Nature's rhythms and harnessing the power of earth, air, fire, and water to heal physical wounds and mental burdens. It's their inclusive, rather than exclusive, Nature that makes these practices unique.
Labeling these rich traditions merely as a cult is misleading and reductive. It overlooks the depth of knowledge, centuries of evolution, and the profound healing they offer those who engage with them. The need, therefore, is not to dismiss them based on mislabeling but to appreciate their complexity.
As modern studies continue to validate the effectiveness of ancient practices, it's essential to reframe our perspective, replacing fear and misunderstanding with curiosity and respect. In opening our minds to diversity, it's our own well-being we enhance, moving a step closer to a physically healthier, mentally balanced, and more culturally rich society.
8. Traditional mainstream education surpasses nature-based schooling
Indeed, a widespread misconception exists that traditional mainstream education surpasses not only nature-based schooling but also educational institutions that incorporate ancient wisdom and indigenous knowledge in their curriculum.
However, increasingly, research and studies are challenging this preconception, shining light on the myriad benefits that these alternative models offer to a child's development.
Schools that blend conventional curriculum with lessons derived from ancient wisdom traditions present a balanced and holistic approach to education. In addition to traditional subjects, these institutions provide an understanding of humanity's shared wisdom, nurturing a sense of respect, interconnectedness, and environmental stewardship from an early age — skills not usually emphasized in conventional educational models.
Research reinforces the effectiveness of this approach. A broad-based study published in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology" found that children attending alternative schools, including those integrating elements of ancient and indigenous wisdom, demonstrated superior social skills, higher emotional stability, and improved cognitive functions.
Practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga — drawn from ancient traditions — have been linked to enhanced attention span, emotional regulation, and overall mental well-being among students. For instance, a trial published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology has shown that mindfulness interventions in schools have a positive impact on students' cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes.
Moreover, schools incorporating indigenous wisdom often emphasize experiential learning, which fosters resilience, innovative thinking, and a profound appreciation for cultural diversity. By sharing ancient narratives, practices, and traditions, such schools provide children context-rich knowledge, molding them into thoughtful, socially conscious, and responsible individuals.
Furthermore, as per the observations from the Forest School Association in the UK, an impressive 95% of respondents noticed improved language and communication skills among pupils engaged in wisdom-oriented and nature-based educational approaches.
Therefore, the assertion that mainstream education is superior to schools embracing nature-based or ancient wisdom instruction shows a lack of appreciation for the myriad ways children can learn and grow. In comprehending this, we recognize the profound long-term benefits that a holistic, balanced, and inclusive education — such as one drawing on the wisdom of ancient cultures — can contribute to our children's lives.
9. Embracing Ancient Wisdom Means a Return to the "Cave Age"
Another criticism is that advocating for these ancient practices equates to endorsing a return to primitive, prehistoric living - a stunted progression, essentially back to the so-called "Cave Age." However, this misses a crucial point: reconnecting with ancient wisdom is not about discarding modern advancements but integrating beneficial practices into our lives.
Acknowledging the wisdom of ancient people doesn't imply renouncing electricity or modern medicine but enriching our lives and enhancing our health by combining the best of both worlds. For example, modern medicine and phytotherapy can work in tandem; the latter, deeply incorporated in both traditional cultures, adds a preventative and holistic level to health, complementing the curative approach of modern medicine.
Moreover, in terms of technology, we see an exciting confluence, as knowledge about these ancient practices is now being disseminated globally via the internet, facilitating a cross-cultural exchange of ideas.
So, advocating ancient traditional practices is not tantamount to dialing back human progress; instead, it presents an evolutionary step forward - towards a society where ancient know-how and modern science can coexist, enriching our health and well-being in ways we are just beginning to explore.
Today's world could greatly benefit by embracing practices drawn from these traditions. Engaging in mindful activities, connecting deeply with Nature, establishing equilibrium in lifestyle, ensuring a balanced diet with natural foods, and exploring plant medicine (under professional supervision and in their legality) can significantly enhance our quality of life. Researchers are now investigating the potential of ecotherapy, cementing what ancient wisdom has always propagated - the ceaseless healing capacity of Nature.
10. These methods are for people dwelling on the peripheries of society
It is a common misbelief that "These methods are for people dwelling on the peripheries of society," implying that only those living alternative lifestyles would find these ancient practices beneficial or meaningful.
However, this needs to be more accurate. In reality, various prominent and influential figures from diverse backgrounds and professions openly recognize, promote, and incorporate these practices into their lives, work, and personal development.
Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, have shared their profound experiences following a spiritual retreat in the Amazon Rainforest. Deeply moved by the local shamanic practices, they incorporated them into their lives, further contributing to a broader acceptance of these wisdom traditions.
In the literary world, Paulo Coelho is a stellar example. His books, particularly "The Alchemist," have drawn extensively from his experiences with shamanic traditions. His profound storytelling, inspired by shamanic wisdom, has captured the imagination of millions globally and brought these ancient practices to the mainstream.
Similarly, Terence McKenna, an ethnobotanist and mystic, spent much of his life exploring and advocating different shamanic practices. His writings and lectures on psychedelics, plant-based shamanism, and metaphysical concepts have reached far beyond the fringes of society.
Take Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon Athletica, for example. Wilson has publicly embraced and promoted holistic practices derived from Eastern philosophy and shamanic cultures. He attributes his company's success and his personal growth, in part, to the principles instilled by these wisdom traditions.
Tim Ferriss, the renowned entrepreneur, author, and podcast host, often discusses the benefits he has reaped from shamanic healing practices, notably Ayahuasca ceremonies. Ferriss has openly shared how these experiences gave him profound insights and a fresh outlook on his life and business.
Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist-turned-entrepreneur, co-founded the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). ACT aims to protect the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazon, inspired by his extensive experience with indigenous shamanic practices. His work has not only created a successful organization but is also ensuring the survival of the critical wisdom these traditions hold.
Finally, Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, has often spoken about her experiences with mindfulness, meditation, and holistic practices inspired, in part, by shamanic traditions. These practices led to her advocating for prioritizing well-being in business practices in her later venture, Thrive Global.
These individuals emphatically counter the assertion that shamanic practices are limited to the fringes of society. Their stories demonstrate the far-reaching impact and appeal of these ancient methods, confirming their relevance and functionality in contemporary life and personal growth across varied domains.
In a world grappling with growing disconnection, mental health challenges, and environmental crises, the value of ancient shamanic practices and indigenous wisdom cannot be overstated. This essay has aimed to challenge prevailing misconceptions, providing evidence that underscores the profound relevance of these traditions in addressing contemporary societal and individual issues.
Within these collective challenges, perhaps the most personal is the struggle many face when they choose to walk this path - the misunderstandings and incomprehension that can emerge from family, friends, and social circles. Part of this journey is to lead by example, by broadening perspectives, dissolving unfounded biases, and dispelling fears rooted in unfamiliarity.
This essay serves as a support, a guide for those taking their first steps into this vast landscape of ancient wisdom. But I hope it also shines a light for their loved ones, illuminating a path to understanding and offering a perspective into why someone they care about has chosen to embrace these age-old spiritual ways.
From studies about the mental health benefits of Shamanic Rituals to the testimonials of prominent figures underlining the profound impacts of shamanic practices, there's evidence that these timeless solutions continue to resonate in our modern world. Moreover, the powerful testimonials of alternative education models and the well-being fostered through ecotherapy underline the effectiveness and relevance of these practices.
As we conclude this exploration, I urge you to consider this: in our quest for progress, we need not abandon the wisdom of the past but, instead, seek to create a bridge that harmoniously blends ancient knowledge with modern science. This harmonious coexistence can enrich our health, well-being, and understanding of the world.
The profound instability of our world, the increasing prevalence of mental disorders, and the disconnect from nature and one another suggest a collective societal ailment. Ancient cultures may indeed hold the panacea to our maladies, offering us the tools to heal not only ourselves but also our planet.
In a world yearning for healing and unity, let us embrace the opportunity to explore, learn, and integrate the profound teachings of our ancestors. As we do so, we may discover that, far from being outdated or superstitious, these practices hold the keys to our collective well-being and the preservation of our planet.
I pray we journey forward hand-in-hand, no longer individuals but part of a greater tapestry woven across time and space, fortified by the wisdom inherited from our ancestors, accepting our beautiful diversity, and journeying together towards a brighter, interconnected future.