Journal
Is There Such a Thing as Integral Shamanism? (TRANSCRIPT)
June 12, 2007 08:00

Is there such a thing as an integral approach to native and shamanic traditions?  Ken responds, “Absolutely.”  In every spiritual tradition—East, West, North, South—there are teachers who recognize that in addition to honoring the gifts of their lineage, there are ways that they can make their tradition more comprehensive, complete, and integral.  This kind of work progresses at the speed with which people step forward to take on this task, and due largely to the regressive and anti-integral flavor of native and shamanistic traditions as taught by American boomers over the past several decades, things have been unfortunately slow.  However, as recognized by Integral Spiritual Center teacher Roger Walsh, these traditions have an enormous amount to offer, particularly regarding subtle states of consciousness. 
 
The brave gentleman who initiated this conversation is working to bring an integral approach to a tradition that has been near to his heart for decades.  If you also have some practice, tradition, or lineage that you want to make more integral, this conversation is a wonderful hit of inspiration.
 
As it happens, Arthur (Adastra), one of our beloved friends in the integral community, created a transcript of this exchange....
 
 
Doug: Hi Ken, I'm Doug.

Ken: Hi!

Doug: It's a great pleasure to speak to your disembodied voice.

Ken: <laughs>

Doug: I gotta tell you, it creeps me out when Diane looks at the speaker when she's talking to you.

<general laughter>

Ken: But I'm actually in the speaker!

<general laughter>

Diane: He doesn't realize I'm looking towards the heavens, it's not actually the speaker!

Doug: Yes, yes. <laughs>

Ken: I'm that thin!

Doug: I think this question might actually relate to the previous one in some way, and my question is: Is there any movement to develop something like an “integral native” that synthesizes native or shamanic traditions? Second question: if not, from your perspective is it a good idea? And thirdly, what would it take to get it started if it is a good idea?

Ken: Yeah, actually I think it would be a terrific idea, and one of the things that has happened is, I think we started out in the sixties with kind of a notion – it was a pioneering notion, but it ended up to be a bit of a crude stroke – in sort of thinking that there [are] basically two kinds of religion. On the one hand there's just sort of this dogmatic, institutional, mostly western kind of Protestant, Catholic and so on – and we didn't too much like that. Then there were the esoteric traditions, transcendental and mystical experience – particularly experiential, and not merely beliefs. And we sort of lumped everything in that one bag, and didn't make much distinctions between them. That was a good start, but it lead to a lot of problems – because what we really want in an integral approach is to include all states, including gross, subtle, causal, turiya, nondual, and all structures, and all quadrants of course, and all types. And most of these religions or spiritual practices themselves don't do that; and so when we kind of mushed everything together it was really problematic.

So what we're looking for, and what I've been looking for, and Integral Institute has been looking for over the years, are pioneering teachers that were willing to come in and look at their own traditions, and recognize that like anything else, these were growing and evolving things! That they had their own contributions to make but that they continued to grow and incorporate new discoveries of spirit's own continuing unfolding. And so what we're looking for in a sense is an integral Buddhism and an integral Vedanta and an integral Catholicism; and all of those can look at their own lineages and see what resources they have to fill in some of the AQAL gaps that they haven't been using, and then they can look elsewhere to take other practices to fill their own up.

One of the difficulties with the native orientations, shamanic orientations, is that for a lot of people that adopted it, they really kind of made it into a be-all and end-all; there was just a little too strong of that early impulse to sort of take each of these traditions and say “Well, this is just the whole thing, I don't need to do anything else. This is it.” And we started to develop a term, that a lot of us started to use as we realized that we ourselves were guilty of this, and it was called “dharma bum.” It was meant as a bit of a criticism, but also affectionately. But the idea was, now wait a minute, I really do have to supplement my practice with some other thing. And in some ways the Americans that picked up native shamanic practices really have been some of the ones to resist a more integral approach. But would we welcome it? Oh, absolutely!

And again, the shamanic practices were the first true transcendental breakthrough practices anywhere on the planet; and they really pioneered particularly the subtle states. As Roger Walsh pointed out in his book on shamanism – which I think it's really brilliant – you don't get a whole lot of causal or pure emptiness states in shamanic work. There's some, but it's not terribly central. But you do get an unparalleled exploration of the subtle domain and subtle states. And so you'd want that to be foundational and a part of any overall path; and some people would want to specialize in that particular dimension, which is absolutely fine. But it has been slower to come along. We'd love to do it - you can find some interviews with Native American Cherokee and so on, on Integral Naked, but if you know any others that want to join, or you yourself are particularly interested in it, then we're more than glad to have 'em.

Doug: Thank you very much.

Ken: Yeah, buddy. Are you a practitioner of shamanic states?

Doug: I've been practicing the Sun Dance for about 20 years.

Ken: Fantastic! How did you come to that?

Doug: Because I loved somebody.

Ken: Really? You want to tell us?

<pause, general laughter>

Ken: I won't tell anybody, just tell me.

<general laughter>

Doug: All right, well I went to work as a volunteer at a Native American reservation when I was about 20 years old, and fell in love with the culture and a particular family, and was adopted by a man who was a Sun Dance leader.

Ken: Oh my lord!

Doug: And he had a heart attack, and I saw it in a dream, and in the Lakota way if you want somebody to live you vow to Sun Dance for them. So that's how it got started.

Ken: Aw…that is so extraordinary! My first wife and I were married on sacred Lakota ground. Extraordinary tradition. Do you feel like carrying some of that forward then? I mean…

Doug: Yes.

Ken: …I think, you know, we'd love to talk with you about a Sun Dance Integral Spiritual Practice.

Doug: Cool.

Ken: That would be great! So let's just keep that in mind and hold that as a vision for tomorrow.

Doug: Thank you.

Ken: Thank you!

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