Vol 1 August 2000
Throughout history we humans have found shapeshifting to be one of the most effective means for transforming ourselves, both as individuals and communities. A Lakota Sioux warrior shapeshifted into a buffalo in order to become a better hunter and to honor the spirit of an animal that provided his family with food, clothing, bowstrings, and fuel. Entire tribes adjusted to glaciers, floods, and other environmental changes by radically altering their inner and outer perceptions, and in so doing changed their lifestyles to survive.
From a shamanic perspective, shapeshifting begins with intent. You then give it power if you want it to occur in this world as opposed to the other worlds of non-ordinary reality. Action follows.
Intent, energy, and action: Only when these three human forces are in place can you have true shapeshifting.
All of us have the ability to shapeshift on a cellular level -- to transform ourselves into jaguars or bushes or any other form with which we create an alliance. Also, each of us can shift into being more of the self we most respect and want to emphasize, bringing about fundamental changes in our attitudes, perceptions, prosperity, health, appearance, and personal relationships. Many of us are learning to utilize shapeshifting to transform the world's environmental state, with universal peace being a primary goal.
The shamans believe that we are one with everything, including the mountains, the trees, and the jaguars. Therefore, if we are to look at the idea of true peace we must look at a much bigger concept than human existence. We must look for peace in all things.
What kind of action can we take to have peace? First I think we must ask ourselves for its true definition. What does it really mean to be peaceful? If we only talk about peace among humans, then we are not truly talking about peace. If peace among humans means increasing populations and increasing wealth and misuse of the world's resources, then that spells disaster among the creatures of the sea, the plants and trees of the forest, the insects, and all other life forms on this earth. In the eyes of the shaman, "other life forms" also includes the lakes, the rivers, the oceans, the mountains, and the rocks.
And he said, "Well, you know, we cannot have peace until we have taken action that reflects our compassion, and our willingness to take responsibility." He said further, "Peace can only come from taking responsibility for all forms of life...all sentient beings, including the insects." (He emphasized this last word, so that I should be clear that sentient beings were not just the higher forms of mammal life, and that we cannot have peace until we include in our concept the future generations of all sentient beings.... even the insects.)
Within the animal kingdom, human beings are the only life forms on the planet that no longer have natural enemies and our numbers are growing. Exploding populations around the world are detrimental to the land, detrimental to the plants and the animals, especially when those populations are demanding more and more resources.
"So what can we do to take action?" we ask.
One of the most important things we can do is to create cultures and societies that deeply honor the earth, that honor all sentient beings everywhere. Cultures that by their nature will create a peaceful place for the trees, rabbits, insects, whales and the dolphins to live.
If we really want to have peace we must change the dream of ever bigger populations using ever more material resources. We must change the need to create more cars, more houses, more things that are threatening to the forests, rivers, lakes, animals and insects.
The Shuar of the Amazon -- the former headhunters -- play an important role in my life and are a fascinating microcosm of the larger macrocosm. When I first lived with the Shuar, in 1968, the census of Ecuador said that there were approximately 7,000 Shuar. Anthropologists speculated that this was an accurate figure and had probably been so for thousands of years. These scientists figured that the population needed to stay somewhere under 10,000, as it was the only way they could have remained a sustainable society for as long as they did.
The Shuar were a warring tribe. They were headhunters. And part of the reason they were headhunters, it has been speculated, was to keep down the population. Every man, from an anthropological standpoint, killed on average five enemies during his lifetime, and produced five children who reached adulthood.
As I mentioned, the first census was taken in 1968. Today, just a little more than three decades later, there are an estimated 70,000 Shuar. In 30 years they've gone from 7,000 to 70,000! When the missionaries and schools came to the jungle the tribes were vaccinated against polio and other diseases, and in the late '60s warfare was made illegal.
Remember, warfare, for the Shuar, was one of the primary ways the balance of human population was maintained. Since then, the population has grown 10-fold, and from a Shuar perspective that is not a good thing. There were no alternatives offered to them to take responsibility for the new society that was being created around them.
The Shuar don't believe in death, so they didn't mind dying in war, and they didn't mind their babies dying in infancy -- because they always believed that when a person died their spirit shapeshifted into something else. To them, being a human being wasn't the greatest thing anyway, and upon death they were happy to shapeshift into a tree or a jaguar, or the mist in the forest.
Today a few of the 70,000 Shuar have stayed deep in the jungle and lead idyllic lives. However, many of the Shuar are basically slaves to cattle ranchers or oil companies, or are living in slums in some of the cities that have gone up on the edge of the jungle. Most of the Shuar who have left the jungle completely are living much worse lives than they did 30 years ago.