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'Western packaging' isn't required

November 20, 2015
Bill O’Brien , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Linda and I have just returned from a wonderful weekend of visiting old and dear friends in the Berkshires and, in my case, taking a workshop on shamanism with Alberto Villaldo, Ph.D at the Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge Massachusetts, about twenty minutes from our hosts' home in Great Barrington. Terry & Joanne were instrumental in helping me found the Nathaniel Center for Spiritual Growth in Washington D.C. back in 1992. While much of my own time was spent at Kripalu, there was still plenty of time for reminiscing and much laughter. The Sufis, the mystical sect of Islam, believe that the essence of God is laughter.

It seems to me that the overriding trend on Planet Earth these days is a movement toward universalizing. Just as WWII vets discovered after the fighting died down, "Hey, the Japanese are just like us" so, as our planet shrinks and we are exposed to so many other cultures, we can celebrate that styles and customs may differ but essentially we are all the same. In the context of religion and spirituality this means letting down the drawbridges in our minds and letting our hearts lead the way. In the process the mindset of "us" versus "them" dissolves and we experience that we are one. Our Western minds resist this. They set up a howl about anti-intellectualism. Alas, our Western minds have much to unlearn. Until that is accomplished the world will continue to be torn asunder by groups like ISIS and our democracy will continue to be ravaged by the so-called Culture Wars that Christian fundamentalists are fueling energetically. (Fundamentalism is basically a lack of knowledge.)

I was reminded of all this at the entrance to Kripalu where there is a quote from Swami Kripalu for whom the Center is named: "The wise proclaim that love is the only path, love is the only God, and love is the only scripture. I am in fact a pilgrim on the path of love." The Western mind shouts "Swami? Why listen to a swami?" Well, what if a swami is a wise person, then what? Do we ignore wisdom because it does not arrive in Western packaging? What he says is virtually identical to the First Letter of John in Christianity, "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him." (1 John 4.14).

As Dr. Villoldo said at the workshop, "When I bring up chakra zones, somebody often will say. "That's Hindu. Why are you doing Hinduism?" to which he replies, "Hindus have kidneys, right? Does that mean you don't"? Shamanism invites us to lower another drawbridge in our minds which is that between ourselves and nature. A shaman is "one who sees". Shamanism has been around for anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 years. It sees nature as a world of spirits to which we are inextricably linked. Its demise is the product of the start of agriculture and the concept of land as property ("mine") plus Christianity's identification with Empire in the 4th century leading eventually to the European pillaging of native peoples. All this led to war and to a pathetic view of nature as a source to be exploited for profit, a gross distortion of our role as stewards, a role which in itself is egotistical in its assumption of human superiority over nature. Shamans are demonstrably authentic healers. That's what they do. They just use drums and rattles instead of organ music. They learn their methods from the spirit world directly. As the Climate Summit gets underway Nov. 30, maybe the shamans can guide us to wisdom.

(Bill O'Brien is a spiritual mentor. He can be reached at or 304-876-6071)



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