chapter  6
16 Pages

Meditation and mastery

We have considered shamanism at some length because, fi rst, it is a continuous tradition extending back at least to our Upper Paleolithic ancestors and very likely much further back in human history, and second, shamanism is not possible unless altered states of consciousness can be mastered. Our Western monophasic culture wishes to marginalize or invalidate altered states with what looks superfi cially like hard-headed scientifi c realism. In fact, however, our culture’s attitude constitutes an unexamined form of dogmatism that cavalierly excludes a use of human consciousness that has been vital to human survival for 40,000 years at a minimum. Our sketch of the history of human consciousness in Volume 1 showed that altered states were fundamentally responsible for the integration and expansion of the human mind in the Upper Paleolithic and also for many insights into daily living and the management of the empirical world during the Neolithic-as appears to be the case regarding the domestication of plants and animals. A trend, however, away from reliance upon altered states began before the agricultural revolution, when hunter-gatherer societies started becoming complex, and economic and political power began to marginalize spontaneous discoveries by individual shamans. The trend grew with the rise of empires, including the ecclesiastically driven Holy Roman Empire, and really took off with the empiricalscience revolution of the last 350 years. We have learned much by applying our analytical skills to the empirical world, but our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world has seriously suffered. Monophasic culture’s rejection of altered states as a legitimate fi eld of inquiry is as blind as the fundamentalist religious movements that would forbid certain fi elds of scientifi c inquiry. In view of this situation, our overview of shamanic techniques for mastering altered states is meant to serve as a call to a greater scientifi c openness. We need a vigorous investigation of the nature of altered states and the means by which they may be mastered; we need to discover how to use them reliably and what they can contribute to our human existence on a planet that is truly becoming a global village. It is time to turn our Western analytical consciousness back upon itself. It is time to study, to map and to experiment with our capacities for non-ordinary consciousness in a rigorous manner. Personal transformation, the re-enchantment of the world, fi nding a balanced way of understanding ourselves

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and our planet have become matters of life and death, now at the beginning of the twenty-fi rst century. Our neglected talents, if developed, will be important assets in fi nding our way forward. Shamanism, however, is not the only tradition to demonstrate that nonordinary states can be mastered. Meditation does, too, and it has very deep roots in our past. By some interpretations of the evidence from archaeology and India’s sacred ancient texts, the Vedas, a yogic type of meditation may be more than 6000 years old (Feuerstein et al. 1995). It is very likely, in fact, that the meditative traditions are rooted in shamanistic practices that are typical of hunter-gatherer societies and may, therefore, stretch much further back into our history as Homo sapiens (Hunt 1995: 282).1