If we look at models of society which show that living in harmony with the environment is possible, then we will inevitably concern ourselves with matriarchal, indigenous peoples and their worldview. Pivotal to these societies are the role of Shamen in bringing mystic wisdom for the purposes of healing and development to their people. The spiritual reverence for mother Earth and the life she bestows is upheld and nurtured through shamanistic traditions. The concept of giving back to nature, something which is notably absent in Western culture, is fundamental here, as is the understanding of unity, finding one's place in the universe and connecting with all there is. If this is what we call primitive, then we need to find our way back to our primitive origins. Without a spiritual view of our natural world, we are only left with mechanical explanations, scientifically based statistics, which leave us feeling incomplete or cold to the truth of our inherent responsibility.
The Four Winds. The Shaman's Odyssey into the Amazonas by Alberto Villoldo is an insightful lesson in the discovery of what is lacking in the Western understanding of nature and life in its essence, and how the subconscious can be tapped into redress the imbalance in order to reconnect.
It is an account of an American psychologist, educated in a typical Western, academic mindset, and his search for greater knowledge of cognitive science through personally encountering shamanistic voyages into the subconscious, led and aided by a master Shaman in Peru. Starting from a “rational" standpoint, his motivation and meetings lead to a spiritual awakening with its many surprises and revelations. We are taken through the Medicine Wheel – a four-point process involving departure from old, incomplete or illusionary beliefs in the South; to overcoming the fear of death – the greatest fear of a belief system centred in the physical – in the West; to retrieving pure spiritual messages in the North of a new path to be taken, and finally to the East where the hardest task is presented of determinedly putting these messages into new actions and habits. There are plenty of parallel perceptions here to modern therapeutic approaches that focus on becoming a fulfilled human being, it is simply a different set of symbols and more usage of them.
There are many poignant passages in the book. What particularly stood out for me, were the references of the shaman – also a philosophy lecturer at Cuzco University – to the western doctrines of a patriarchal church that so ingrained the notion into our psyche of humans being cast out of the Garden of Eden. Could it be that this image led to nature being perceived as an enemy, and therefore that would explain why the Earth is treated so abysmally? Is it a fear of nature which has subconsciously been carried through generations from a distorted religion, into a "new" scientific, reductionist, mechanistic view of nature which perceives so much competition, aggression and survival of the fittest?
Another enlightening point made was that delusionary mental illness is not regarded as such in Peruvian, Amazonian indigenous societies. It is seen simply as what it is: a trip into the subconscious, which is actually encouraged to take place, with the guidance of a more grounded person of experience, rather than to be blocked off, numbed or bottled up with medicine. In this way, crazy dream imagery becomes a source of learning and new wisdom, rather than something to be fearful of.
This frank, moving and honest account by the American author reveals a gem of universal understanding to be learned from by an ailing, separatist world model. It reads like it good novel and the colourful imagery and symbolism makes for a worthwhile accompaniment to the most important core message of the book.