If the aim of knowledge is to turn what is unknown into a representation of what is already known, then the aim of shamanism is to do the opposite. Nietzsche suggests that people are often uncomfortable with anything unfamiliar, so we go to great lengths to convince ourselves that whatever we encounter is already known.
If A is like B, we’ve seen it all before, so we think we can handle it. The brain likes to build bridges. But this method comes with its own limitations. Sometimes A and B are extremely un-alike, but we try to convince ourselves they are the same anyway, just to give ourselves peace of mind. Anything, rather than face the unknown!
Turning what is not known into what is deemed to be known happens far more frequently than it ought to happen. The means by which we lay claim to knowledge is too facile. We fill our heads with links, narrowly portrayed, but often these do not represent our experiences to ourselves very well. We’re leaving out too much and including too little.
Here’s the thing. Perhaps none of what I am saying is true, but everyone loves Zen Buddhism
, right? Zen is all about coming to terms with perceptions, because even though we think we are perceiving things, there is a lot that is getting past us. Well, enlightenment is to stop so much getting past us and to keep more of it near us, so that it becomes part of ourselves.
Shamanism is like that only different. In the case of Zen, you kind of get into an ascetic modality and you eat only a few grains of rice at a time and focus on the weirdness of it all. The brain snaps under the pressure of asceticism
and you stop defending yourself so much from the unknown and accept it.
But in shamanism everything is more frothy and voluptuous. You just work with what you have. You don’t need to use asceticism to put you under strain. You can snap at anything. Sometimes it’s traumatic experience, or it might be pharmacology. Whatever it takes to stop defending yourself from yourself.
The level of shamanic
health in any society can be measured by the degree to which it accepts, rather than defends itself against the ordinary
. Asceticism and self-denial can take you way off in the wrong direction. ”We are disgusted with ourselves and wish to improve!” – but so? Self-contempt comes from self-alienation, which originates in an unbridled contempt for the ordinary.
Whoever told you that you had to be special to be able to accept yourself was setting you up to buy their own brand of snake oil. What you were when you were five or six years old — that was special. Nowadays, not so much, because you don’t really have yourself available anymore. Seems like you’ve wandered off somewhere. Any idea where you’ve gone?
Oh! You’ve in search of something that will make you special, most likely. But you were special before, and now with every step along the well-worn path to knowledge you are whittling down, becoming slimmer, harder to make out. Madnesss!
So many people have gone off their rocker. No expression conceals greater contempt for humanity than, “Oh, but this is ordinary!”
Can you imagine how very strange it is, to have a person, who ought not really to exist, proclaim that anything at all is ordinary? Consciousness is a fluke. The likelihood that it has come together in the universe is next to nothing. Your body is an alarming construct and it is impossible to believe that you are really here.