The Circle Of Life
It is a fundamental principle of NLP that life is system-based. This means that it is impossible to consider human beings separate from the ecosystem in which they live. While this is a nice theory, it is important to notice that in original human societies, before the agrarian and industrial revolutions, the systemic nature of life was a lived experience. Our technology has given us the ability to pretend that we are "outside" the system of nature. In studying the functioning of the brain, NLP repeatedly brings us back to our true nature as human beings and, therefore, integrated into nature itself. This article looks at one aspect of that integration: our relationship to other animals.
The Shamanic Natural World
In the shamanic view of the world, there is a sense of equality between living beings. Consider this quote from a Hopi (Native American) shaman, for example. "To the Hopi all life is one - it is the same. This world where he lives is the human world and in it all the animals, birds, insects, and every living creature, as well as the trees and plants which also have life, appear only in masquerade, or in the forms in which we ordinarily see them. But it is said that all these creatures and these living things that share the spark of life with us humans, surely have other homes where they live in human forms like ourselves. Therefore, all these living things are thought of as human and they may sometimes be seen in their own forms even on earth. If they are killed, then the soul of this creature may return to its own world which it may never leave again, but the descendants of this creature will take its place in the human world, generation after generation." (Edmund Nequatewa,1967).
By contrast with original shamanic models, some religious traditions enshrine inequality between living beings in their basic writings, as in this quote in the Judaeo-Christian book of Genesis. "And God blessed [the first humans], and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." " (The Common Bible, Genesis 1:28, 1973)
All indigenous cultures (including European ones) share the earlier sense of kinship with the earth and its creatures. It's a very real and practical co-operative relationship. American health researcher, Doug Boyd, of the Menninger Foundation studied with indigenous American medicine man, Rolling Thunder. He quotes chemist and herbalist, Alice Floto's experience of gathering medicinal herbs with Rolling Thunder. At one point they were attempting to gather the herb horehound, but the bushes were swarming with bees. Alice explains:"So he told me what to say to the bees. I was supposed to ask the bees to share the plants with me, to tell them I wouldn't harm them, and to explain that I needed the plants for good medicine, but I would leave enough for the bees and for seeds for the coming year. He told me to say it loud and clear ... I did as he said, and, do you know, the bees actually understood me, and they moved! I just can't describe how I felt. All the bees on the plant I was looking at moved. They all moved together to the back of the plant. I took only the front half of the plant which they had left me, and then I moved to another plant covered with bees and the same thing happened again!" (Boyd, 1974, p 115)
A few minutes later, Floto was confronted with a powerful metaphor for our human intrusion into nature. "On one of the plants, when the bees moved back and I started to cut, they all made the strangest buzzing sound. It felt as though they were somehow speaking, telling me to stop, and I was understanding. I looked at Rolling Thunder and he said "There now, you see? You and the bees have agreed to share and now you're cutting back too far. They'll expect you, now, to do as you said." " (Boyd, 1974, p 115)
Hirini Reedy is a training consultant with the New Zealand firm Tu Strategies Ltd, which specialises in integrating indigenous Maori knowledge with the latest NLP change processes. He has extensive experience with conflict resolution and peace-brokering having served with international UN peacekeeping units. He is also a Maori storyteller, a NLP Master practitioner, a Reiki master and a blackbelt trainer in martial arts including the Maori taiaha. He explains the Maori interaction with nature as one of kinship and whakapapa (shared ancestry) "It is timely in Aotearoa New Zealand to explore our own indigenous Maori culture from an NLP perspective. The Maori culture of Aotearoa is deeply rooted in the energies of this land. All lands have different vibrations of energies very much like the different energy vibrations of the human body. The land, the waters, the plants all have energy signatures that are attuned in with the vibrations of the land. Similarly the beliefs, language and the cultural ways of Maori reflected this attunement with the natural environment of Aotearoa. This is more noticeably so in Maori cosmology and world view."
"In strong similarity to the Taoist beliefs, the Maori believed in a cosmic genealogy that led to emergence of the human form. In the beginning there was Te Kore (The Nothingness), a state of primeval energy that pre-existed everything else. Te Kore was the seedbed of the universe in which all creation gestated. It was the womb from which all things were born. Within Te Kore there existed the supreme being, Io Matua Kore, who represented the genesis of all things, the original consciousness, the original form. Io then held inner intercourse between its masculine and feminine aspects to initiate the fertilisation process. As a result of this fertilisation the primeval energy began to move, to pulsate as the embryonic universe began to take form. From within this gestating energy there emerged the metaphysical and the physical worlds. From within the physical world, there manifested animate and inanimate matter. From within animate matter, there appeared the many life forms. From within the many life forms there arose the human form. From within the human form, there appeared the Maori people. From the Maori people I express my sense of identity. Tihei Mauriora! (The First Breath of Life). This genealogical process is called whakapapa, the art of kinship to all things."
"The Maori created metaphors and divine concepts to represent this universal whakapapa. We all know about Ranginui, the Heaven Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. However, the Ranginui and Papatuanuku concepts are even more important for they represent the male and female aspects that make up all things. They are the Maori equivalents of Yin and Yang. The children of Ranginui and Papatuanuku represent the many variations and permutations that exist in the physical world (as well as the metaphysical world!). Maori whakapapa strands or lineages can be interwoven into wonderful patterns to show the linkages with nature in a similar way to the change patterns in the I-Ching, The Book of Changes which is over 4000 years old. The I-Ching uses 64 patterns of change to explain the changes we see in both the human and natural worlds."
"This whakapapa or kinship meant that the Maori saw the human form as a child of the universe, a microcosm of nature, subject to the same forces and energies that affect the seasons, the tides and the planets. Therefore, many Maori rituals, beliefs and ceremonies focussed and honoured this universal kinship with Nature. The whakapapa concept can be used to explain the workings of the human mindscape where the neural pathways of thought can be navigated back to their parent source. This intimacy with nature meant that the many wananga (learning) systems of the Maori were attuned to the seasonal and daily cycles that affect the human mind and body. Essentially to the Maori, the classroom was nature, the sky the roof, the earth the floor. In this classroom there are many teachers of both human and non-human form."
Chimpanzees, Parrots and Us
The Australian Professor of Philosophy, Peter Singer, has been for some decades one of the foremost advocates of a more equal approach to animals in western culture. His book "Animal Liberation: Towards An End To Man's Inhumanity To Animals" was the first modern book to clearly articulate the case for treating animals equally in 1977. In 1993, he and other scientists began the Great Ape Project, which seeks to have the United Nations confer on all the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) the inalienable right to life, liberty and protection from torture. In June 2008, the government of Spain became the first in the world to pass a law granting these rights to the 400 or so great apes within its boundaries. The law forbids killing great apes, or using great apes in scientific experiments and entertainment such as circuses, for example. However, the law permits those apes currently in zoos to be kept there provided certain conditions are met (mostly these conditions mean drastic changes for Spain's zoos to justify the apes being considered to be living in liberty).
The most obvious cases for extending rights beyond our species are Chimpanzees and Bonobos (Bonobos are a separate species of pygmy chimpanzees, even closer to humans genetically than their larger cousins). Morris Goodman, Derek Wildman and other biologists at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, have provided genetic evidence that lineages of chimps (currently called Pan troglodytes) and humans (Homo sapiens) diverged so recently that chimps should be reclassified as Homo troglodytes. The move would make chimps full members of our genus Homo, along with Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), and all other human-like fossil species, including the recently discovered one metre tall "hobbit-like" humans of Indonesia (Homo floresiensis), Goodman says. "We humans appear as only slightly remodelled chimpanzee-like apes." While humans and chimps share over 99.4% of DNA and diverged only 5-6 million years ago, he says, animals with far more genetic diversity, such as the many types of squirrels, which diverged over 11 million years ago, are classified in the same genus with each other. "Historically, the philosophy behind how we group organisms was flawed," said Goodman. Starting with Aristotle in ancient Greece, species have been grouped according to their "degree of perfection," with man as the pinnacle. This "anthropocentric," or human-centred, view led to "exaggeration of the differences between humans and their relatives," he said, noting that his study finally gives "an objective view of man's place in the kingdom of life."
Evidence is constantly mounting to prove that this genetic similarity produces a behavioural similarity that only human arrogance has enabled us to ignore so far. Dr Katie Slocombe, a psychologist at York University in Britain, has studied wild chimpanzees in the Budongo forest in Uganda, identifying that chimpanzees in the wild use a verbal language of over 100 words to communicate with each other (Slocombe and Zuberbühler, 2005). Slocombe recorded a series of these sounds used by one chimpanzee to give instructions to another, in order to help the second chimpanzee find a desired type of food. When these sounds were played back to a third chimpanzee later, it headed immediately for the food, indicating that it understood the words fully without any other cues. Many previous studies have focused on chimpanzees' ability to learn human-designed sign languages, but these studies now show that the chimpanzees have their own "natural" language.
All great apes recognise themselves in a mirror and explore unable to be seen areas of their bodies in front of it, just as humans do (unlike monkeys, who see the mirror image as an intruding monkey and attack it). This ability demonstrates a sense of self-image, and is only one example of chimpanzee self-awareness. Other research by Dr. Francys Subiaul, from the George Washington University in Washington DC, with Herb Terrace and Janet Metcalfe of Columbia University (described in Terrace and Metcalfe, 2009), shows that chimpanzees can assess the likelihood that they know an answer, and decide based on that likelihood, whether or not to answer a test question (where a wrong answer penalises them more than a "not sure" answer). This demonstrates what researchers call "metacognition" (thinking about one's own thinking). Furthermore, Brian Hare and Michael Tomasello have done several experiments to demonstrate that chimpanzees have a "theory of mind" -- a sense of understanding what goes on inside other chimpanzees and humans. In one study, they have the chimps observe a dominant chimpanzee who either sees food hidden or does not see it hidden. The chimpanzees behave differently depending on whether they calculate that the dominant chimpanzee can catch them "stealing the food" or not. So chimpanzees have a natural language, a self-image, metacognition, and a theory of mind. They also shape and use a wide variety of tools, some of which they use to hunt other animals. These sound like fairly simple skills, but they all require a type of thinking which many autistic human beings, for example, cannot do. This increasing body of research strongly suggests that inside a chimpanzee feels much the same as inside a normal human being.
In this context, it seems reasonable to treat chimpanzees the way we would treat a community of human beings, rather than use them for testing our AIDS vaccines and antivirals (hundreds of chimpanzees are currently infected with AIDS and dying in USA research, done because, the researchers at Yerkes Regional Primate Center in Atlanta say, chimpanzee blood and human blood are functionally compatible; see Novembre et alia, 1997). No one is claiming that chimpanzees should have the vote; no-one claims that about children or severely retarded human beings either. But we do not use these groups for long and painfully fatal experiments, no matter how compatible their blood is and how high the chances that it would help us find a cure for AIDS.
Once we have crossed the line to respect the rights of chimpanzees, the argument that our species is somehow special and deserves treatment that we need not give to other animals, tends to dissolve. We are part of nature. Other research has demonstrated the presence of higher cognitive abilities in a large range of animal species, including dogs, dolphins, elephants, monkeys, octopi and numerous species of birds - mostly parrots, crows, jays, and other common city birds (Morell, 2008, p 42-44). Scientist, Virginia Morell, studied a parrot owned by Dr Irene Pepperberg. Morell says "Certain skills are considered key signs of higher mental abilities: good memory, a grasp of grammar and symbols, self-awareness, understanding others' motives, imitating others, and being creative. Bit by bit, in ingenious experiments, researchers have documented these talents in other species, gradually chipping away at what we thought made human beings distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities came from. Scrub jays know that other jays are thieves and that stashed food can spoil; sheep can recognize faces; chimpanzees use a variety of tools to probe termite mounds and even use weapons to hunt small mammals; dolphins can imitate human postures; the archerfish, which stuns insects with a sudden blast of water, can learn how to aim its squirt simply by watching an experienced fish perform the task. And Alex the parrot turned out to be a surprisingly good talker. ... Under Pepperberg's patient tutelage, Alex learned how to use his vocal tract to imitate almost one hundred English words, including the sounds for all of these foods, although he calls an apple a "banerry." "Apples taste a little bit like bananas to him, and they look a little bit like cherries, so Alex made up that word for them," Pepperberg said. Alex could count to six and was learning the sounds for seven and eight."
The Circle of Life
Other living beings sometimes demonstrate a remarkable coordination with each other and with nature that we as humans do not seem to possess. Scientist, Rupert Sheldrake, has collected research on several examples of the way animals coordinate, one of which is termite nest-building. Ants and termites communicate with each other in a number of ordinary ways, including touches, sounds, and the release of approximately 20 different pheromones (smells which are detected and responded to by other ants over a range of 4-6 centimetres). Ants and termites coordinate the construction of their nests at a speed, however, which cannot be accounted for by these mechanisms. Since they are sensitive to magnetic fields (termites respond to weak magnetic fields, and compass termites, in Australia, orient their nests exactly north-south in line with the earth's magnetic field), the coordination of nest building may be done using some form of magnetic communication.
Günther Becker in Berlin, studied colonies of Heterotermes indicola (termites), which build colonies with thousands of coordinated workers. The design of the colonies includes a surrounding section which is full of canals or "galleries" to transport air to ventilate the centre of the colony. Becker placed 500 termites in each of sixteen sealed plastic containers (in a grid of 4 x 4 containers). Each container had building materials and the termites began construction of a nest (apparently of one nest, rather than 16 nests). Termites proceeded to build up the gallery-filled walls only on the outside edges of the outside containers (they did not build the galleries in the central containers). If the containers are separated by ordinary cardboard, this phenomenon continues, but as soon as a metal barrier is set up (such as aluminium paper), each nest is built as a separate nest, with its own walls. (Becker, G. 1976, and Becker, G. 1977).
Rupert Sheldrake has accumulated a large number of examples of such interaction, within and between species, suggesting that the shamanic view of life as an interconnected web is the ongoing reality for most living beings. As human society has developed, we have moved further and further away from this experience of interconnectedness.
How We Relate To Animals
The standard model of human interaction with animals in western society assumes that all other animal species are our "property" and can be freely used to entertain, console, assist and feed us. According to this model, we may decide to generously treat these servants with kindness (using a series of approaches called "animal welfare"); but in the end, if it serves our purposes, there is no reason why we should not torture animals horribly or kill them outright. The fact that torturing or killing them may help us is considered justification enough.
Over the last fifty years, animal rights organisations have gradually produced a change in this way we treat animals, especially in Europe. Firstly, this has affected the overt torture of animals in "testing". In March 2009, The European Community finally banned all animal testing for cosmetics. Outside Europe, however, the torture often continues. The Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido, for example, still routinely uses cruel animal tests for its products, including its ironically named ZEN Eau de Parfum, and sells these in Europe. The tests include force feeding chemicals into animals' stomachs and dripping chemicals into their eyes until severe damage results. Every year, at United States Army bases across America, monkeys are poisoned with chemicals and thousands of live goats and pigs are shot, stabbed, cut apart, burned, and have their limbs cut off in "trauma training exercises". Soldiers practice killing humans by killing animals. The US Air Force Expeditionary Medical Skills Institute, the Navy Trauma Training Center, and the majority of American civilian trauma training programs do not perform these outdated exercises. The American Medical Student Association and the medical counsel for the Iraq War Veterans Organization, among others, have asked the army to stop the practice, but for now, the torture continues. One solution is for the Asian and Latin American suppliers of primates for torture to stop the supply. In early September 2009, one major supplier, Nepal, finally halted the breeding and export of monkeys to the USA for such experimentation.
Animal testing is not the main interaction we have with animals of course. Our most common interaction with animals is to eat them. Here again, our "needs" have often been considered to justify extreme acts of cruelty, and only in the last few years has the tide of torture shifted back. In Europe, and even in some states of the United States, farm cruelty laws have begun stopping the factory farming practices that had been accepted as routine for a half century. Change is gradual, however. California passed such a law in November 2008, and the law gives farmers 6 years to come into line (so cruel farming practices are permitted in California until January 1, 2015). The European laws, which were first to change, come into full effect in 2012. Specifically, the laws first seek to afford animals raised for food the opportunity to turn around and extend their limbs, at least for some of each year of life. This prevents three of the worst factory farming abuses: veal crates for young male calves (calves are taken away from their mothers to promote milk production, and chained in a tiny, dark space while they are fattened for slaughter, so their meat tastes tender), gestation crates for breeding pigs (these intelligent animals are locked in wire mesh cages so they cannot turn their heads around, and so they live in their own wastes while they produce the maximum number of baby pigs), and battery cages for egg-laying hens (four chickens crammed into a cage the size of your computer monitor, their feet growing onto the wire mesh floor and their beaks burned off so they don't peck each other to death in frustration).
Animal rights advocates argue that cruelty is intrinsic to the farming industry, where speedy and "efficient" production of meat means financial success. They suggest that the only safe way to protect animal rights is vegetarianism. In the U.S. alone, 660,000 animals are killed for meat every hour, and slaughterhouses themselves provide the clearest argument for vegetarianism. It was the release of a video of routine brutality at a cattle slaughterhouse (cows unable to walk being beaten into the slaughtering area and killed with great pain) that led to the Californian cruelty law being passed in 2008, with the highest level of public support of any referendum in Californian history. Slaughterhouses have the highest staff turnover of any industry (80-100% per year), as well as the highest levels of stress related illness amongst staff (Schlosser, E. 2001, p 162). It seems that however we rationalise it, human beings do not handle the mass killing of animals very well. Empathy is programmed into our brains. As Leo Tolstoy said "If a man's aspirations toward right living be serious ... the first thing from which he will abstain will always be the use of animal food... as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling -- killing." (Tolstoy, L. 1909). People can argue that it is an unfair "reframe" to call the production of meat "murder"... until they have to do it each day themselves.
Our illusionary separation from the web of life has also led us to the edge of destroying that web. Dr. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University estimates that if 1% of the world's tropical rain forests are destroyed each year--a conservative estimate based on current rates of deforestation--then over 100 years there would be a loss of at least 20% of all species on earth from this action alone, assuming extinction rates remain constant. Based on a total of 10 million species, the current annual loss has been calculated to be 20,000 to 30,000 species (Wilson, E.O., 2003). This loss of species is very unusual in the history of the earth.
Some Other Issues About Eating Meat
As an aside, since stopping eating meat is probably the single most significant way that most of us can stop contributing to stopping animal cruelty, it is worth noting that making the choice to become vegetarian has enormous spin-off benefits for human beings. Professor John Potter, of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, cites 170 studies from 17 different countries which show absolutely conclusively that people who eat 3 servings of vegetables and two pieces of fruit a day reduce their risk of getting cancer by 50%. This is true even for smokers. The way to do this, Potter explained, is to reduce meat consumption. (Stirling, 1993) As early as June 3, 1961 The Journal of the American Medical Association pointed out "a vegetarian diet can prevent 90 percent of our thrombo-embolic disease and 97 percent of our coronary occlusions". Amongst vegetarians in America, coronary disease is rare; its incidence is reduced 90% from the risk in the general population (Phillips, 1975).
If it's so obvious that fruit and vegetables are the key to a healthy diet, who has been telling us contradictory stories? One clue can be found in an interesting letter written by Ian Lamb of the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau. His letter, published in the Christchurch Press on February 2nd, 1994, seeks to disagree with Professor Potter (mentioned above). Lamb says "Professor Potter is a vegetarian, and as such, does not mention meat, fish or poultry as being part of a healthy diet ... A healthy diet should include a variety of foods from the four food groups. These are lean meat or alternative, breads and cereals, milk and milk products, fruit and vegetables." (On February 11th, Karolyn Foster-Lynam of the New Zealand Vegetarian society replied in another letter to the Press. "By not eating or promoting meat, Professor Potter, director of the University of Minnesota's Cancer Prevention Research Unit, is putting the results of his research into practise.")
So what are these "four food groups" that Ian Lamb claims we all need? The theory that there are four groups of food which someone should eat every day was developed in the United States in the 1940s and promoted by the National Egg Board, the National Dairy Council and the National Livestock and Meat Board. The National Dairy Council is still today the foremost supplier of "nutritional education" materials to school in the U.S.A. (Robbins, 1987 p170-202). These are the people who developed the story that contradicts the research. Without a doubt, convincing schools to promote their products as absolutely necessary for survival was a brilliant marketing plan. But the research (on the protein needs of rats) which suggested "the four food groups" has increasingly paled into insignificance.
Over the last fifty years, the field has been illuminated by a vast collection of evidence showing just the opposite. Babies are growing new body tissue faster than anyone else, and yet human mothers' milk only has a tiny amount of protein (as a percentage of the total energy in the fat/ carbohydrate/protein of the milk, protein is only 5%). A mother rat's milk has 49% of its energy as protein, which is part of why the studies on rats in the 1940s led people to think they needed a high protein meat diet. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates an adult needs 2.5% of daily energy as protein. Potatoes have 11% of their energy as protein. For bananas it's 5%, for spinach it's 49%. What about for heavy work or body building? Here's what Arnold Schwarzenegger says: "Kids nowadays ... tend to go overboard when they discover body building and eat diets consisting of 50 to 70 % protein - something I believe to be totally unnecessary.... my formula for basic good eating: eat about one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight". This is far less than the amount you'd get in an all vegetable diet. On the other hand, too much protein has just as serious an effect as too much animal fat. In the largest study of its kind, The Journal of Clinical Nutrition March 1983 issue reported that vegetarians have 50% less bone and calcium loss (osteoporosis) compared to meat eaters. Protein excess from meat leaches calcium from the body (so much for claims that animal products build strong bones!). (J. Robbins, 1987 p177).
As for those who believe that meat somehow gives them more energy, numerous studies show that high animal protein diets reduce fitness. For example, Dr J. Bergstrom put the Swedish national cycling team on 3 different diets, to observe their effect. On their usual Western diet (the "4 main food groups" diet), they were able to pedal for 114 minutes before exhaustion. On a high protein diet emphasising meat and dairy products, exhaustion set in after only 57 minutes. On a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrain, they kept cycling an amazing 167 minutes! In studies in Paris, vegetarians and meat eaters were matched by other lifestyle factors. The stamina of the vegetarians averaged 2-3 times higher in a variety of tests and the time taken to recover from exhaustion was 1/5 that required by meat eaters. (Robbins, 1987, p 156-158).
There are other reasons, aside from health, longevity, fitness and ethics, for becoming vegetarian. Meat production is not very environmentally sustainable. Producing the equivalent amount of protein from meat takes 11 times the amount of fossil fuel use compared to a vegetable based protein. Also, producing the equivalent amount of animal protein takes 100 times more water than for vegetable protein. Much of this use comes from growing the crops and forage for livestock with agricultural irrigation accounting for 85% of freshwater use. Fish protein requires 14 times more fossil fuels than that required to produce vegetable protein (when the fish are caught via trawlers). In regard to meat and soy products, an equivalent amount of meat protein requires 6 to 17 times the amount of land area than soy protein. (Pimentel D. and Pimentel M., 2003 and Reijnders L. and Soret S., 2003).
How do shamanic cultures deal with the issue of meat? Piers Vitebsky cautioned (1995, p 31) "some westerners interested in Shamanism today may be vegetarians, a position which would be impossible to explain to most traditional shamans." But James Endready (2009, p 14) disagrees, pointing out that there are many indigenous cultures that exist almost or entirely without meat. Furthermore, the fundamental attitude towards killing of animals is very different in shamanic cultures. Killing is not seen as a rational and simple act, but as one involving serious risk to the sense of interconnectedness of life. Endready quotes an Igluik (Eskimo) shaman, from a meat eating culture, explaining "The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls. All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, souls that do not perish with the body and which therefore must be pacified lest they should revenge themselves on us for taking away their bodies." (Endready, p 15).
Some traditional shamanic cultures, such as Indian cultures, were fully vegetarian. In north Indian holy cities such as Haridwar and Rishikesh, the possession or eating of meat remains illegal today. Even most so-called hunter-gatherer societies were predominantly vegetarian. Murdoch Riley notes that traditional Maori food was predominantly vegetarian. In "Maori Vegetable Cooking" (1988) he comments that "whereas in the past, fish or meat were a garnish to vegetables, the reverse is now true." According to early European visitors, such as James Cook, Maori on this vegetable based diet were extremely healthy compared to the meat oriented Europeans. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff says of South American Tukanoan Indian shamanism "The amount of game a hunter may take depends upon shamanic permission and thus the shaman can control the protein intake of his group. Should threatening animal images appear in a person's dreams or nightmares, the hunter must restrict his activities and turn, temporarily at least, to a vegetarian diet." (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1987, p 7).
Rejoining The Community Of Life
When the two of us study inside shamanic cultures such as Huna (Hawaii), Quechua (Peru) and Hopi (Arizona), and Kudaka Island, Okinawa, we are reminded once more that life is a community. In these cultures, every animal we see or hear is considered to be communicating with us, and we are communicating with them. We are back in the world that Alice Floto experienced gathering herbs with Rolling Thunder. After a few days, this perceived communication becomes as normal as the human to human communication we usually experience.
This communion is natural for people in these cultures because they perceive everything as alive, aware, responsive and interconnected. It is as if the Universe is our body, and each living being is a cell in the body of the universe, like a cell in our physical body. So, hurting or loving anything in the universe would be like hurting or loving ourselves. Alternative health practitioners using muscle testing say that our body responds to criticism or appreciation, and not only when we criticise or appreciate ourselves. When we criticise someone or something else our muscle tone weakens; when we think appreciative thoughts about someone or something else, muscles in our body strengthen and other chemical shifts happen that promote stronger immunity and wellbeing. This is an example of a general principle, researched by Jens Förster from Bremen Germany. He demonstrated that when research subjects are asked to think about people who are "anarchic and radical" their own behaviour becomes more radical, and their ability to be creative is improved. When people are asked to think about people who are conservative and logical, their own behaviour becomes more conservative and less creative (Forster et alia, 2005).In the shamanic way, when we act as if the Universe is alive, then this communion exists. Then a bird, or a tree, or a stone, or a shift in the wind can become a source of guidance, inspiration and help to us. We can ask and stay open for the answers, and when something 'magical' happens, just thank the Universe for it.
When we were in Arizona studying with the local shamans, one of our mainstream tourist activities was to visit the Grand Canyon. Time was limited, and we had only one morning to do it. It was in June, American summer, when it is quite dry there. In fact, in Arizona where the Hopi live, there is only 32cm rain throughout the whole year. (By comparison Auckland gets 124cm). Hopi are known as rainmakers as much of their rituals are set around invoking rain.
We were driving to the Grand Canyon and suddenly, a huge dark cloud covered the sky and it started raining. But not just raining: the rain was so dense and intense that we had to stop driving - the windscreen wipers at their fastest did not make any difference. Lightning and thunderstorm made the darkness even more dramatic. Then the hail started. Very large, pea-size hail hit our car, shooting from all directions. Julia was stunned and upset as she took it as a "sign of not being welcomed". Richard reminded her that this country, if anything, needs exactly that -- rain! And in a way we had brought it there (you are allowed to make any meanings in the world!). He suggested that now we could ask the Universe for a dry couple of hours to walk around the Grand Canyon. So, we concentrated, thanked the Universe for this gift of frozen rain, and requested two-hours without rain for us. What happened next was not something that a sceptic would expect. The hail soon receded, so did the rain, the clouds went away opening the sky and allowing the sun to shine for the next couple of hours. From the time we left the car to walk around the Grand Canyon, until we departed from the tourist site heading for our car there was not a drop of rain, at all. As soon as we got back into the car, it started raining again. We thanked the Universe for cooperation and drove back. On the way, we stopped in the desert road to take a photo. The desert road was exactly that -- deserted: no cars, no activities of any kind, just amazing open space with the San Francisco mountain, the Hopi sacred mountain, at the horizon. As Julia was taking a photo of the mountains, she noticed a huge eagle appeared in the sky and started circling around her. Then it disappeared in the same way. People who have seen UFOs must have had this experience perhaps. Richard saw it flying direct from the San Francisco mountain to her, circling and then flying back, but for Julia it just appeared.
There was another 'coincidence'. Two years earlier julia created a name and a logo for her business 'Integrace' -- two squiggly lines almost joining together. As we were admiring turquoise handcraft of Navaho, Zuni and Apache in Sedona (spiritual capital of Arizona), I noticed the same symbol on many of them. We were told that this symbol represents a hummingbird which in shamanic tradition is a totem animal bringing joy and vivacity. Joy has been a guiding principle for me in my life and in my work. That was such striking concurrence that Julia decided to get a necklace with the symbol. It was our last day in Sedona: we just bought the necklace and went to rest in one of the energy spots at the Schnebly Hill. We lay down on the terracotta ground -- stunningly beautiful land, delighting in the sun warmth, and the sun so bright you could almost see it through closed eyelids. She thought "On our trainings I'm going to tell this story about the HUMMINGBIRD ..." A soon as I thought the word 'Hummingbird' I heard this fluttering sound right in front my face, very close. I opened my eyes and there was this huge 'butterfly' flapping its wings and hanging over my face for quite a while. "Wow! Did you see that?" -- I asked Richard. And he said, "Yeah, amazing isn't it? These hummingbirds can really hang in the air". It was a hummingbird! I'd never seen one before. But even more - Richard was thinking about hummingbirds too, when it appeared there. And this is what it was like in Arizona (and Hawaii, and Peru) -- we would think of something and it would be presented to us. We had an incredible feeling that we were heard, looked after, understood, and treasured. There is something beyond that communicates with us and is so very kind and generous to us. These things happened every day, many times, and they became a part of normal life. As Richard said "I am a sceptic and don't believe in 'magic'. I just accepted that it was happening".
Dr Wayne Dyer in his book "Inspiration" writes about his similar experiences. "The same day that I completed Chapter 17 ..., I had the most profoundly mystical experience of being in-Spirit in all of my 65 years." He was walking in nature, remembering his late friend Jack who loved and admired monarch butterflies for their mysterious intelligence allowing them to migrate thousands of miles and return to the same tree branch where they first emerged form their cocoons. Jack always told Wayne Dyer to 'be in a state of gratitude'. As Wayne was walking, a monarch butterfly landed on the ground close to him. As he felt deep appreciate for his life and the beauty of the day, saying Thank You, thank You, thank You, the butterfly flew away, made a U-turn and landed on his finger! "Needless to say, I was shocked -- but not totally surprised. I must confess that it seems to me that the more I stay in-Spirit, the more I experience synchronicities similar to this one. But what followed did border on the incredulous, even for me. The little creature became my constant companion for the next two and a half hours -- he sat first on one hand and then moved to my other hand, never even coming close to flying away. ...and I felt a deep affinity to this precious little being." (Dyer, 2006, p 242-243).
On NLP trainings, Richard often tells the story of the day he was feeling doubtful that NLP worked. His partner had just died and he was at his most sceptical about "healing". In the background, a television set was playing a re-run of the movie "Ben Hur", and he tuned into it just as someone was talking about miracles and Judah Ben Hur said "I don't believe in miracles anymore." His friend looked at him in shock and said "But Judah, all life is a miracle." I looked out the window next to me at that moment and a monarch butterfly was flying against the window pane. Richard was using the butterfly as the logo of his company "Transformations" and the whole experience seemed, as Wayne Dyer notes, amazingly synchronous.
This feeling of gratitude, of appreciation seems to be a magical quality, a magical ingredient that shamans or 'mystics' can access easily.
Those of us who have or have had pets know this feeling. We know for sure that they understand us when we talk with them. They understand when we are feeling down, as they quietly come and sit with us. Cats very often lie on or stretch against the part of a person's body that may have physical discomfort. Cats are great healers and comforters. It can be similar with wild nature when we start paying attention. Karen Allen from the University of New York at Buffalo completed one of a number of studies that demonstrate the power of interaction with animals. She asked a group of city stockbrokers suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) to care for a dog over a six month period. She followed up with them and a control group. While the control group had the same blood pressure six months later, those with the dogs had lowered their blood pressure more than would be expected had they been taking the latest blood pressure medication. Not a single research subject was willing to give up their "loan" dog at the end of the research. (Allen et alia, 2001) Even watching a video of an aquarium, an aviary or a group of monkeys lowers blood pressure, whereas control videos such as soap operas do nothing, Deborah Wells, a researcher from Queens University in Belfast found (Wells, 2005).
People are unlikely to hurt their much loved pets. But the animals that are "made" to be food are just as alive and capable of feeling pain, hurt, cruelty, or affection and love.
Of course, someone may object to this by saying that animals eat each other in nature. This is true, but not one single animal species in nature overeats and gets obese (they wouldn't survive otherwise), or stores and wastes food, or mass produces food to trade it with other animals. Nature is very effective, efficient and self-healing, i.e. self-cleaning, self-utilising, self-recycling. This is what ecology is about -- everything is connected.
Last week Julia discovered a shocking thing. Apparently, when property developers get some land, they strip off the top layer of soil (the topsoil that was built up for centuries by micro-organisms and plants) and take it away to be sold. This may be to people who move into stripped-off land. We recently moved to a new subdivision and are planning to plant a garden. There is barely 1cm of soil on our section; the rest is clay. I firstly thought it was to do with the location, but heard this story from several sources. It would take another century for nature to recreate the topsoil again. Meanwhile, we will buy the soil that came from another place like ours and put into our garden. How crafty the human mind is! And how unkind towards nature. At least, the kingfishers (beautiful, dark turquoise birds) are having a ball on our section eating all the readily exposed worms. Allowing plants to grow around us is incredibly important for our wellbeing. Recovery rates in hospitals are higher in rooms where people can see trees (Ulrich, 1984), and there are 52% less violent crimes in apartment blocks where a few trees have been planted (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001). Creativity increases in offices as soon as a pot plant is added and there are 15% more ideas for improvements in these rooms (Taylor et alia, 1998).
There is a Sufi story about a man who wanted more land, more possessions. The elders told him to run in the time between the sun-rise and sun-set and as much land as he could encircle, would be his. In his greed and eagerness to get more, the man started running, but way before the sun set over the horizon, he collapsed in exhaustion and died. At the end of his days, all he needed was about 2 x 2 x 1 meters of land... to bury his body.
There is a dramatic difference between our Western way of thinking about the land and that of the shamanic cultures. In our way of thinking, we all own some land, land belongs to us, but in their way - people belong to the land. Just like plants and other animals, we humans are part of nature, another element in the circle of life.
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