I returned to my favorite bar in Mexico City. It was mid-afternoon and, other than a couple making out at a corner table, I was the only patron. Trying to forget about all the horrible news in the world, I glanced up at the futbol game (“soccer” in the US) that was showing on the TV above the mirror. And ordered a beer.
Darned if my old friend wasn’t there again, staring back at me through the mirror. “Hola Juan,” I said. “How’s life?”
The waiter shoved a foamy mug at me.
Juan and I toasted each other in the mirror. “If it weren’t for the idiotic countries, life would be great,” he said.
Oh, oh! It appeared that he was dragging me into politics – the very thing I wanted to avoid. But, not desiring to be the rude gringo, I responded, “Which countries, Juan? What do you mean?”
“He frowned. “You’re kidding, right, John? Most of them, but right now especially Venezuela and the one imitating it.”
“Imitating Venezuela? What country would be that stupid?”
He gave me a knowing smile, a conspiratorial grin. “Sure,” he said. “Act dumb.” He took a sip of beer. “Yours, of course.”
“You think the US is imitating Venezuela?”
He just stared at me.
“Come on Juan. You better explain.” I watched him carefully through the mirror.
“OK,” he said at last. “I’ll play your little game of naiveté, mostly just because I feel like talking about it.” He paused, took a couple gulps of beer. “You know Venezuela was one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. In fact, in the 1950s it was ranked among the top five in per capita GDP – in the world. During the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez, from 1952 to 1958, the economy soared and Pérez became, it was rumored, the richest man in Latin America.” Juan gave me that smile of his. “He also couldn’t stand criticism and brutally attacked anyone who opposed any of his policies.”
“Hmmm, like. . .”
“You got it, like today – the presidents of both Venezuela and the United States.” He raised his mug, took another gulp, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “The Venezuelan economy continued to boom for the next three decades. Into the ‘80s it had the highest rate of economic growth in Latin America. But, suddenly, things took a dark turn. The Pérez Jiménez model caught fire; a relatively few families corralled the riches and grew extremely rich, while everyone else suffered.”
“Sounds a bit familiar, Juan. I recently read that the richest 1% in the US have more wealth than the bottom 90%.”
“Exactly. See what I mean, John?
“Are you suggesting. . .
“I’m not suggesting anything, just pointing out a few facts. As you well know, the statistics are totally skewed in favor of the wealthy. For example, in the US, if that 1% is making money and most of the 90% are losing money, the GDP stats will show good overall growth. While Venezuelan statistics registered a miracle in riches, the poor got poorer and people who’d been in the middle class suddenly found themselves living in slums. It wasn’t long before the inequality was staggering.”
“And that’s what’s happening in the US?”
“You yourself quoted that 1% versus 90%. Here’s another: Seven of the world’s ten richest people are from the US. On the other end of the spectrum, more than 40 million people in the US are officially living in poverty. That’s 10 million more people than the entire Venezuelan population.”
“Sounds like the US is. . .” I couldn’t bring myself to finish verbalizing my thought.
“Like the US is imitating Venezuela? That’s the lesson. The Venezuelan people became fed up. In their desperation, they voted in Hugo Chavez who was seen as different, not part of the corrupt system.”
“Like Donald Trump.”
“Interesting analogy. Although they represent very different ideologies, both were elected because they denounced the status quo, they seemed to be strong leaders who would stand up to the detested political system, the cronyism.” He paused and stared at me in the mirror. “Chavez had charisma – at least among a fairly large, mostly uneducated group.”
“Like. . .”
“Un huh. Then he died and was replaced by Maduro.”
“No charm at all.”
“Right, and very corrupt. Struck all sorts of shady deals that made lots of money for his business interests, his family and friends. But. . .” He held up a finger. “Desperate people support leaders they view as strong, self-assured, against the entrenched politicos – even if they are dictatorial, and corrupt.”
“I see where you’re going Juan, but there’s a big difference. They say Maduro rigged the elections, stole the votes.”
He gave me a look. “According to official tallies, Hillary got about 2.9 million more popular votes than Trump. She won. Except for the Electoral College – which, as I understand it, is a rigged system, anti-democratic.” He raised his mug. “Then there’s the military.”
“The military? What do you mean?”
“Maduro sent his military to the boarder with Colombia to keep out supply trains. Trump sent his military to the Mexican border to keep out immigrants. Madura said the supply trains are a threat to national security. Trump echoed his words – immigrants threaten to overrun the US with drugs, violence, and crime.”
I stared at him staring back at me through the mirror. I just couldn’t quite buy it. “Juan, surely you know that you’re exaggerating. What’s happened to Venezuela could never happen in the US.”
“You may be right,” he said. “I sure hope so. But Venezuelans would’ve said it couldn’t happen there back as recently as the early ‘80s when their country was the poster child for Latin America.”
I knew that was true. I’d worked for the World Bank in 1980 and recalled that it had classified Venezuela as one of the four “upper-middle class countries” on the continent. I found myself adding, “Germans in the 1920s never suspected their country could do what it did over the next couple of decades.”
Juan nodded his head. “One thing more,” he added with that sly smile of his. “Before the last election actually happened, Trump said that if he lost, he wouldn’t accept the results. What’d you think he’ll do if he loses the upcoming one?”
I couldn’t take any more of this. I’d come to this bar to forget the news. One of the teams on the TV was celebrating. The game was over. I finished off my beer, set the mug on the bar, and slammed down the pesos I owed. “I go to get out ‘a here, Juan.” I waved at the mirror. It waved back.
I walked outside. Just down the street, another bar overflowed with people high-fiving and shouting. Their team had won. I made a mental note: Next time, go to a bar cram-full of fans glued to the TV, cheering for their team.
I walked into a bar in Mexico City. There were a few people scattered around at the tables, but the bar was empty.
I was thinking about football, now that the season had ended. I’d grown up in New Hampshire and lived in Boston back when the Patriots never won a title. Things had changed!
I ordered a beer.
I glanced at the mirror. A guy stared back at me. He raised his mug. “Here’s to the Super Bowl champions.” He smiled “My name’s Juan.”
“I’m John. Glad to meet you.” I couldn’t help adding, “I’m from New England. We’re happy about the Super Bowl.”
“Yeah. I know. Congratulations. Sixth time, right?” He lowered his mug. “Excuse the abruptness and I hope this isn’t rude, but I got to ask: Why is American football so popular in the US, unlike here in Mexico or anywhere else in the world?”
“I’ve wondered about that, Juan. I think it’s because a football team is a microcosm of the corporation.”
“Oh, you mean, John, that corporations make a lot of money off the business of football – the ads, Coke sales, Viagra, and all that other stuff they sell?”
“That’s true, but not exactly what I had in mind, Juan.”
I watched him in the mirror as he sipped his beer.
“You see,” I said, anticipating his question. “The team has a CEO – the quarterback – who gets lots of information from his advisors on the sidelines, including the coach who is sort of like the chairman of the board. Then the quarterback makes the decisions about what to do next.”
“Doesn’t he make more money than anyone else?”
“Exactly. Like the CEO.”
“And he gets the fame – if the team wins.”
He cocked his head. “I’ve noticed that the quarterback gets to touch the ball every play – and he’s the only one who does, other than an assistant who bends over and hands or throws the ball to the quarterback under his butt and between his legs.” He laughed. “A very strange position, very funny picture indeed!”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “Not sure why they do it that way, except the center – the guy who hands the ball back between his legs – is like a bodyguard to the quarterback.” I paused. In the mirror, his eyes held mine. “But there are these other guys – running backs, receivers. . . The quarterback sometimes hands or throws the ball to them. He tells them where they have to go and what they have to do to get the ball, but once they have it, they can make a few decisions – fake right, run left, or fake left, run right, that sort of thing.”
“Like vice presidents.”
“Hmmm. . .” I saw his point. “Nice analogy.”
“And what about all the other players, John? Those guys who bash heads and keep hitting each other.”
“The line.” I motioned for the bartender to bring our bill. There was no one else in the mirror. Just him.
“Yes, the line. They never even touch the football, do they?”
“In general, Juan, they don’t. Although sometimes the CEO or one of those vice presidents drops the ball, and then the men on the line can grab it or fall on it.”
He scratched his head. “No other game like that, is there? In our futbol, what you call soccer – everyone gets the ball and decides what to do with it. Same with basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, hockey – you name it.” He stared at me through the mirror. “What about girls?”
“You mean. . .”
“Do they play American football?”
“A few do, but not professionally.” I searched my brain. “Not even in high school or college, as far as I know.”
“Wow, John. So, it is a very macho sport? Sexist.”
“I suppose you could say that.”
“Strange, especially at this time with so much talk about gender equality and sexual abuse.” He shook his head at the mirror. “American football is a unique sport.” He lifted his mug. “I think you’re right: A football team is modelled after the corporation.”
“Or perhaps,” I said as I finished my beer. “It’s the other way around.”
He shrugged in the mirror. I reached into my pocket and watched him hand my money to the bartender. We walked away from the bar, through the open doorway, and toward a group of boys and girls who were kicking a soccer ball around in the street outside.
Questions you might ask yourself as you contemplate 2019:
Should I stop using Facebook, given all the controversy around the sharing of information with other companies and possible collaboration with the Russians?
Should I stop shopping at Amazon because its founder makes so much money, appears to exploit his employees, and pits cities against each other for lower tax rates and fewer employment benefits?
Should I stop drinking water in plastic bottles because of the horrendous damage the petroleum and plastics industries are causing?
Those questions and others like them remind me of one asked of the Dalai Lama by a member a group I led to India a number of years ago when we met in the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamshala. The questioner referenced a call for everyone around the globe to pray for peace on a certain day.
“Praying for peace is good,” the Dalai Lama responded, “but if that’s all you do, it’s a waste of time and may be counterproductive.” He went on to explain that if you walk away from such prayers feeling that you’ve done your part, you’re deceiving yourself. You must (in his words) “take appropriate actions every day.”
So, if you choose to answer “Yes” to the three questions above and to similar ones, it is important to understand that such actions may be effective because of how they impact you and your perceptions; however, by and of themselves, they are insufficient.
Let’s explore those three questions by asking three different ones:
If George Washington had stopped drinking tea, would that have ended the tyranny of the East India Company and King George of England?
By giving up smoking, did my dad force the tobacco companies to label cigarettes as dangerous to our health?
When I joined the Peace Corps because I opposed the war in Vietnam, did I stop that war?
Giving up tea and cigarettes and defying the draft might have been significant steps for George, dad, and me. However, they weren’t enough; we and others had to participate in concerted efforts, consumer movements, demonstrations, and political actions, to make the desired changes.
An acquaintance who quit smoking in college found that it was so good for her personally – and such an inspiration – that she then went on to organize one of the successful legal campaigns against Big Tobacco. Both actions, giving up smoking and organizing a movement, were important – the first because it changed her life and her perceptions and the second because it led to new public perceptions that changed the law. However, had people like her simply stopped smoking it is unlikely that the laws would ever have changed.
Today, movements that alter perceptions – what we might call “consciousness movements” – are easier than ever before. Whether the issues revolve around Facebook, Amazon, plastic bottles, smoking, war, or something else, social media offers amazing opportunities to organize, to alter perceptions on a large scale, and by doing so, to change the reality of what it means to be humans dealing with these issues on this planet.
It seems like poetic justice that postings on Facebook have highlighted two recent actions aimed at reigning in Facebook’s power. Bipartisan reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts, through Facebook, to turn African American voters against Hillary Clinton inspired the NAACP to launch a Facebook boycott. At about the same time, the D.C. attorney general sued Facebook for allowing outside companies to access user data and mislead users on the privacy of their data. Legal actions, boycotts and other concerted movements multiply individual actions on a scale that can be highly effective.
So, as you enter this new year, you may want to ask yourself questions about your buying habits and your life-style. Perhaps you will decide not to purchase water in plastic bottles, use plastic straws, or do other things that are inconsistent with your values. But don’t stop there. Take the next step . . . start or join a consciousness movement. Change your reality and then change the collective reality.
When Dr. David Dao was dragged off a United Express Flight by police officers from Chicago’s O’Hare airport on April 9, 2017, the ensuing outcry resulted in policy changes at major airlines. When Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, the highly split US Senate came together and voted for the first time in U.S. history to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war (in Yemen) using the War Powers Resolution Act. The November 27, 2018 Senate vote, a stunning 63 to 37 bi-partisan action, delivered an historic rebuke to Saudi Arabia and President Trump.
These two stories are among the many examples of actions that trigger demands for change.
We can recall times throughout US history when violent events, like those two, triggered demands for change, from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to the current confrontational and often bloody demonstrations over police shootings of minorities. Yet, it is important to remember that around all these violent actions are nonviolent ones that set the stage by helping the public change perceptions. In the United Express case, fellow passengers recorded videos that went viral. The Khashoggi assassination and subsequent Senate vote followed months of media exposure to the indiscriminate murder of civilians by the US-supported Saudi military in Yemen. Before and after the Boston Massacre, writers like Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Orators like Patrick Henry inspired a change of perception among Americans from “we must suffer the British because they are invincible” to “the British are intolerable and can be defeated.”
I recently spoke at an event in Seattle entitled “The Myth of Capitalism” (a reference to a book by Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn that I recommend). The myth is that capitalism is defined by the current form which in reality is an aberration. A distinction has to be made between capitalism and what many economists refer to as predatory capitalism. According to Merriam-Webster, capitalism is:
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. (1)
The transition from a fairer form of capitalism to this current aberration had its own trigger. When Prof Milton Friedman accepted the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, an idea he’d promoted over the preceding years redefined the goals of businesses around the globe. That idea in summary: The only responsibility of business is to maximize short-term profits for the owners (shareholders), regardless of the social and environmental costs.
Concepts like this had been gelling for some time. However, after Prof. Friedman was awarded the prize, “maximize-short-term profits-at-all-costs” became the uncontested goal, the measuring rod for success.
This goal gave corporate executives the right – even the mandate – to do whatever they think it will take to maximize profits, including buying public officials through campaign financing and promises of lucrative post-government consulting or lobbying jobs, exploiting workers, annihilating or buying out their competitors, destroying environments, reducing taxes and wages, lobbying against environmental and social regulations, promising (as well as threatening) to impact economies by locating their facilities in (or removing them from) cities and countries, and depleting the very resources upon which their businesses ultimately depend. The result: Top-down, authoritarian chains of command that support autocratic management styles – in government, as well as business.
This in turn has led to an economic system that is failing us, the Death Economy I often describe in these blogs. It is based on the myth – the perception – that this aberration is in fact capitalism and something we must accept as “just the way it is.”
The Seattle event was one of many where I hear people breathe a collective sigh of relief when speakers proclaim something along the lines of: “This is not just the way it is; we can transition to a Life Economy.” History attests to the fact that their optimism is well-founded. Changes in perception trigger changes in the realities of human institutions, laws, and life-styles.
The United Express incident and Senate vote are symbolic of something much greater that is happening around the world. In both cases, as well as for the American Revolution, police brutality, and so many others, the shadow side of policies molded by perceptions was exposed. Perceptions changed and that altered human reality. The many crises we face today, from climate change and species extinction to autocratic government leaders, are forcing us to look at ourselves and the impacts current policies will have on future generations.
If one man, Milton Friedman, could alter international economics in a way that has led to global disaster, together we can turn that around. Change can happen quickly, especially given that people everywhere are clamoring for change.
Make no mistake, a revolution is happening. I saw it while speaking recently in England, Russia, Kazakhstan, Australia, the Czech Republic, and around the US and Latin America. I know I will see it again tomorrow when I take a group to the Kogi of Colombia and in January when I take other groups to the Maya of Guatemala and the shamans of Costa Rica. People everywhere are waking up to the need for change. As expected, those who benefit from the status quo are doing everything they can to stop it – and to convince us that “our system may not be perfect, but it’s the best there is.” It happens during every revolution. We know that is a lie. We know we can do much, much better.
We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to turn these terribly destructive perceptions on their heads. We must change the “maximize short-term profits for shareholders” perception to “maximize long-term benefits for all.” That will trigger the change we want and must have.
Anyone who has ever played on or followed a sports team knows THE MOMENT. That crucial moment when the team is down, the clock is running out, and it looks like the game is over. At that moment, a team with character rallies. The players tell themselves: “Its game on, not game over!” They cheer each other on. They gather energy. They inspire themselves to win.
We are facing such a moment in national and international crises. It’s easy to convince ourselves, “there are just too many problems; they’re way too big.” We can persuade ourselves to give up by citing the many physical crises – the fires, floods, wars, famines, hurricanes. We can see people divided by attitudes toward race, religion, politics, climate change, immigration . . . and throw up our hands. In the US, we can cite the horrifically vitriolic mid-term elections. Every country has scapegoats to offer.
Whether you choose to think “game on” or “game over” is a matter of that subject I write about often: perception. Most, if not all, our crises are the result of human perceptions and the actions directed by those perceptions. We have the power to change perceptions. And, thus, reality,
In times of crises like these, we may be inspired by the experiences of indigenous people. As I prepare to guide groups to visit the Kogi of Colombiaand the Maya of Guatemala, I see how they, along with the Amazonian cultures I travel to every summer, have learned to cope with huge challenges.
Each of these groups has endured terrible hardships. Each could have given up, become victims to those who tried to oppress them. However, they chose to view obstacles as challenges that motivated them to change their perceptions; in so doing, they altered reality.
These cultures have a tradition not to run from danger but to confront it – to, as they say, “touch the jaguar.” They see the jaguar as the obstacle standing on the bridge of perception change. When we touch that jaguar, deal with it, we reboot our perceptions and move from “it can’t be done” to “we are doing it.”
My friend Paul Hawken, editor of the pivotal book Drawdown, eloquently expresses this very concept around the challenges of climate warming. “It’s not game over,” he says with that team captain’s winning smile of his. “It’s game on!” He goes on to assure us that we can reverse climate change, not just stop it.
Tom Paine expressed this same idea at a moment when the American Revolution faced its most dire crises:
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. . . A generous parent should say, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace” . . . By perseverance and fortitude, we have the prospect of a glorious future.
Paine’s words were read aloud to the soldiers bivouacked at Valley Forge and to people in taverns, schoolhouses and churches throughout the colonies. They inspired Americans to touch the jaguar, to transform “the British are invincible” to “we can defeat the British.” Paine’s words changed perceptions across the colonies; they created a new reality and altered history.
We are in that moment again – a very large moment. This is a time for us not to shrink from the challenges. It is the time to gather strength from the jaguars we face, to change reality by embracing new perceptions. To proclaim GAME ON so that our children may have peace and the future will indeed be glorious.
I just returned from lecturing at Tilton School, the NH school I attended as a student during my high school years and where my dad taught for nearly four decades. Being there now, talking with students and teachers, gave me a new perspective on the problems we face: climate change, US politics, international relations, gender issues, global poverty, and many more. I also was reminded that at Tilton I received an education that opened me to critical thinking, and I saw that the school continues to do that for students today.
Among the most important lessons I learned at Tilton that forever shaped my life: We humans have survived many crises; culture and history are changed by the written word – perception – more than by the gun and sword; and it is imperative for us always to explore the truths behind the “facts.”
As I wandered around campus this past week, I came upon a photograph of my dad outside his old classroom. The accompanying acknowledgement of his contributions to the school reminded me of his long view of history. I sat down in a nearby chair, opened my computer and wrote:
During troubled times, like the ones our country – our world – is experiencing, we may take comfort in the knowledge that we’ve staggered close to the brink before, and pulled back.
I recalled a history teacher, Jack Woodbury, lecturing about the role of perception during WWII. Through Google, I found a quotation. Then I continued writing:
After Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt united a terrified nation with the assurance that “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” We and our allies altered our perceptions and did as FDR had predicted.
I flashed back to a moment in my senior year and returned to Google; my fingers scrambled across the keyboard:
When the US felt threatened by Soviet domination of space, President John Kennedy in September 1962 said, “We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” He announced the intention to beat the Soviets by being the first nation to send men to the moon. “And,” he added with an optimism that seemed almost naïve, “it will be done before the end of this decade.” Another perception-altering moment. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July 1969 and guided us into an era of amazing technological advances.
I thought about the current students at this school. They are living at a time that will see changes that are so different from any we humans have ever before experienced – or even imagined. I returned to my writing.
Unlike the crises experienced by Roosevelt and Kennedy and despite what politicians may want us to believe, today’s greatest crises are not about “us” versus “them,” not about nation pitted against nation. These crises require that we all come together to stop destroying life as we know it.
Reading my own notes after leaving Tilton, the thing that strikes me hardest is that a nation and world torn apart by so many issues – race, religion, immigration, gender, income inequality, and (in the US) Kavanaugh – need to focus on coming together like never before. Surviving these crises depends on our ability to transform perceptions of division into ones of unity.
I’m recently back from another trip to indigenous shamans in the rainforests of Latin America and from teaching a “Sacred Plant” workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY. Now I am full of wonderful anticipation around my upcoming trips to the Kogi of Colombia in December 2018, the Maya of Guatemala in January 2019 and ayahuasca shamans in Costa Rica in January 2019.
The plants have been on my mind and in my heart for a great deal of my life; and they are speaking louder and more forcefully than ever, right now. As readers of this blog well know, I believe we humans are experiencing a global Consciousness Revolution and the plants are reaching out to push us deeper into this revolution.
Michael Pollan, in his ground-breaking book How to Change Your Mind, as well as many other scientists and researchers, discuss the newly emerging science around the intelligence and communications skills of plants. Just a couple of examples:
When one plant was hooked with electrodes to a machine that converted its energetic expressions into audible tones and another was placed beside it – unhooked – the hooked plant made screaming sounds every time the unhooked one was injured by a human scientist;
When a cabbage sitting on a plate that measured changes in energetic vibrations was cut with a machete, it made similar screaming sounds;
A vial of small shrimp was set over boiling water near a plant that was hooked up with electrodes. When the shrimp started dying, the plant was seen to go frantic, on a polygraph setup. (1)
Today botanists know that plants can send chemical signals vast distances through their root systems to warn other plants of changing climatic conditions and other threats. The shamans I have worked and studied with for many decades also have learned to tap into this plant consciousness and in the process gain an understanding of what plants can do to help us humans. Such help includes healing through ingesting plants as medicines and applying them as ointments and poultices. And now, a new consciousness arises from the plant world to boost human awareness…
Plant consciousness recently has emerged in part through the growing interest around what are referred to as “psychedelics,” such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, San Pedro, and Nicotiana rustica. On my trips, and in most of my workshops, I offer people the opportunity to experience at least one of these.
Although all these plants – when taken with respect and under the right conditions – are powerful, the latter, N. rustica, is especially important. A great teacher in many ways, it is a particularly potent variety of tobacco that grows wild in the Latin American rain forests and is the most widely used of all the plants held sacred by the shamans there. It has much more in common with ayahuasca than with the Nicotiana tobacum that is used (and corrupted with chemicals) to make cigarettes.
N. rustica contains high amounts of beta-carbolines, including the harmala alkaloids harmane and norharmane – the same that are found in the Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi, the principal ingredient in ayahuasca. These MAO-inhibitors stimulate the central nervous system by obstructing hormones like serotonin and norepinephrine. Shamans long ago discovered what science has confirmed, that these harmala alkaloids have antidepressant properties and are often able to help people become more grounded and “awake” to the deeper realities in their lives – personal and communal. (2)
Many botanists and anthropologists believe that Native North Americans used N. rustica in their pipe and other ceremonies – until the Europeans arrived. They theorize that the shamans decried that the colonists were so out of touch with nature that they could not handle the power of N. rustica and relegated its keeping to those who lived in the remote jungles of Latin America.
One of the reasons that I find N. rustica so magical is that it teaches us that perceptions rule human realities. When I tell people at workshops or on trips that they will have the opportunity to “take tobacco,” I find that their reactions often reflect the perceptions that have been molded by advertisements for and against cigarettes – N. tabacum plus chemicals. Once they try N. rustica (usually as a liquid or powder sniffed through the nose), their perceptions change – and so does their reality!
As the shamans stress and I emphasize during workshops: All plants are teachers. For example, the poison ivy thrives not in the deep woods but in areas invaded by humans; it warns us to stick to the path, stay away from the fragile forest– or at least walk consciously and gently. The blackberry has sharp thorns to remind us to honor its existence and that work is required to savor the fruits of life. Standing before a plant you can feel the beauty of the exchange – you send it CO2 and it returns the gift, sending you Oxygen. The sacred teacher plants, like ayahuasca and N. rustica, have emerged into our collective consciousness because they are needed at this time.
Let us remember that these plants are teachers. They are not “drugs” and not to be used lightly or recreationally. They have a message. And it is up to us to take our time, to listen, and then act in accordance with their message: To insure the survival of the plants, the animals, the rivers and forests, and us.
We are at a pivotal time in human history. We are waking up to the fact that we are in charge of our Living Earth’s navigational systems and we are navigating into disaster. It is time to reprogram and reboot those systems. Time for a new consciousness of what it means to be humans on this planet and in this universe.
The plants are getting it. They are speaking to us.
Let us listen. With respect and humility.
The dangers of the corporatocracy and the Death Economy – a world created by economic hit men and now manipulated by many of our “leaders” – and the powers of the rising Consciousness Revolution: These were the topics of the three speeches and numerous media interviews I gave at the Melting Pot conference held within the Colours of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. It was attended by more than 50,000 people in late July 2018.
It was an amazing event, a happening of world-class musicians, quantum physicists, media giants, philosophers, economists, and thinkers from many walks of life. To me, the venue itself represented the transition from a Death to a Life Economy, our evolution into a new consciousness. A huge and once highly successful coal mine/steel mill that went bankrupt because it used up all its coal has now been converted into a magnificent series of stages and auditoriums. This symbol of the Death Economy now conveys inspiration, hope, joy, and – above all – ideas for catapulting humankind into the new era, a Life Economy.
I can’t begin to express the extent of my joy at how the teachings and prophecies of the indigenous people I’ve so often written about are being manifest in places like Ostrava. As the groups I take to the Achuar of the Amazon, Kogi of Colombia, and Maya of Guatemala learn, we all come from indigenous ancestors who are part of (versus “apart from”) nature. They know that a Life Economy that is itself a renewable resource is essential to the future survival of our species and many other species. They live in a present that supports the long-term, unlike the Death Economy that advocates a materialistic, greedy and selfish presence and insists on maximizing short-term profits.
The Melting Pot, the Colours of Ostrava, and the venue they have chosen are the perfect symbol – a metaphor – for this renaissance from systems that are failing us to ones that will thrive and bring new meaning to the human presence on this fragile space station we call Earth.
I was asked to provide a simple take-away at the end of my talks, something everyone can practice. That was easy because it comes right out of the pages of the book I’m currently writing, “Touching the Jaguar.” First, a bit of philosophy that is also presented in the book:
We know that there are two realities: Objective (the computer I’m using to type these words) and Perceived (the ideas expressed by the words). The reality of most human activities and all institutions are molded by human perceptions. We can think of transformation as occurring when we cross a perception bridge from one reality into another.
For example, transforming a Death into a Life Economy simply requires changing our perception.
The indigenous people we visit and study with on our trips tell us that the only thing standing in the way of crossing that perception bridge into a new and better reality is a jaguar that terrifies us (for example, the fear of change, the fear of failure, the fear of ridicule). It is a mistake to run from the jaguar, to avoid or deny that which we fear. Instead we must go to it, confront it, touch it. When we do, the jaguar gives us its power.
A personal example: As a writer, one of my jaguars is that the ideas won’t come to me today; I tell myself that I have to do something else, I’ll postpone writing until tomorrow. I’ve learned that if I touch that jaguar, commit to sitting down at my computer and writing for at least an hour, magic often happens, ideas come, I enjoy myself, and feel much better prepared to write again tomorrow, the next day. . .
After briefly discussing these ideas at my talks (and in the book), I offer this take-away:
Daily Practices for a Happier Life and Better World
Define your dream, your greatest desire, a life that will bring you the most happiness;
Describe how your dream can support a Life Economy;
Put 1. and 2. in writing;
Identify the jaguar that blocks you from realizing your dream and what you must do to touch that jaguar and receive its power;
Read 3 and 4 to yourself every morning and take daily actions to make them happen. Realize that actions can be as simple as sending an email or as complicated as running for public office. The important thing: Do something every single day that advances your dream for a happier life and a better world.
As I prepare for my August Omega workshop Sacred Plants: Touching the Jaguar and trips that I guide where participants learn from indigenous shamans in Latin America, I think about the messages that nature and the immigrants attempting to enter the US and Europe offer.
Our first reaction to environmental problems and those associated with immigrants often is to cast blame:
Fossil fuels, mining, food production, etc. are destroying the environment;
Corruption and brutality in other countries, climate change, gangs, cartels, etc. trigger immigration.
We tend to avoid the tough questions:
Who uses fossil fuels, aluminum, plastics, sweat-shop made clothes, and food?
Who does the corrupting, supports brutality, causes climate change and drug use?
We look for band-aides to stop the bleeding; we turn a blind eye on the virus that opens the lesions.
The fact is that most environmental degradation is the result of predatory capitalism. Most immigrants are people who are miserable, desperate, and fearful for their lives.
Our hearts break to see children separated from their families at the US-Mexican border. It is time to ask ourselves what we can do to stop people from feeling a desperate need to flee to the US from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico and to Europe from parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Answering the tough questions is essential because if we can’t cure the disease that is destroying the world environment and forcing people to leave their homes, all our children will face crises that dwarf those of today.
I spend time in Central America. I speak Spanish. I used to be an economic hit man (EHM) whose job was to corrupt government officials so our corporations could exploit natural and human resources. I see that what has happened in Central America during my lifetime is a microcosm for much of the world. Predatory capitalism, global corporations, and US government agencies have used the stick and carrot–– EHM methods–– to coerce governments to promote economic systems that enrich the wealthy and drive the Poor and what used to be the Middle Class deeper and deeper into poverty. The Titans of industrial agriculture and infrastructure projects, and the retailers of sporting goods, clothing, and other sweatshop-oriented industries have ravaged and chemicalized lands that once supported thousands of small farmers. At the same time, they’ve created working conditions akin to slavery.
Here are a few more questions to ask ourselves:
Where does corruption originate?
Who buys the drugs?
What motivates young people to join gangs or become terrorists?
What drives the businesses that are ransacking the environment?
Who benefits from political instability and warfare?
It is the perfect time to ask such questions because there is a new consciousness rising in the world. People are waking up to the fact that we live on a fragile space station. The problems in Central America and other parts of the world that are behind the waves of immigrants and those that ravage our ecosystems are symptoms of the virus that has infected the navigational system of our space station. It’s time to reboot that navigational system.
The answers to those essential questions involve the stories behind the official stories. I’ve told some of those stories in my books. Indigenous shamans and the plants themselves are working hard to open our hearts and minds to new realities. During upcoming workshops and trips to Latin America, we will explore these questions in depth and tune in to the new consciousness that is evolving through the wisdom of ancient cultures and the plants.
You and I are fortunate to be living in this extraordinary time of great challenges and amazing opportunities. Let us look at each of the problems we face as a message that it is time to transform a failing economic system into one that is itself a renewable resource.
When we come together, we can solve seemingly insurmountable problems.
We recently celebrated Independence Day. The American Revolution. Let it inspire us to feel our connection to the growing community that sees through the veil of false rhetoric and is dedicated to transforming destructive patterns into positive ones. Let it inspire you to participate in the Consciousness Revolution. Commit to action. An easy, inspiring, and fun way to do this is to join me and other like-minded people here.
The question has been asked: Why does a guy who writes books on global economics also give workshops on shapeshifting and sacred plants and guide people on trips to experience such things with indigenous shamans in Latin America?
The answer is one that is best experienced for yourself – although I offer a short version below. For the real answer, I invite you to join me at an experiential workshop or trip – limited to 15 participants. A few spaces are still available:
August 22-24, 2018 Sacred Plants: Touching the Jaguar, Omega Institute, NY Learn more.
December 4-15, 2018 A Journey To The Land Of Transformation: The Mountains, Jungles, Kogi, & Caribbean Coast Of Colombia Learn more.
January 2-19, 2019 A Journey To The Lands Of The Maya: Guatemala – Shapeshifting into Higher Consciousness Learn more.
January 10-18, 2019
Raising Consciousness – Magical Plants In The Costa Rican Jungle Learn more.
The short answer to the question: Once I dropped out of my economic hit man job, I committed to doing everything in my power to transform the type of failing economic system that I’d helped create to one that will work for my daughter, grandson and future generations of all species around the world. Since I’ve written extensively about the need to convert a Death Economy into a Life Economy, I won’t go into details about that here. Suffice it to say that the key point is to change perceptions, mind-sets. A Consciousness Revolution is waking people across the planet up to the need for systems that maximize long-term benefits for all (Life Economy) – rather than short-term gains for the few (Death Economy).
The indigenous people we visit during our trips to some of the most spectacular forests, mountains, and coasts on the planet have prospered for thousands of years in Life Economies. Their shamans tell us that we can focus on systems that clean up pollution, regenerate destroyed environments, and utilize technologies and processes which rejuvenate resources. Traditional economies are themselves renewable resources. We’ve moved a long way from that; now it is time to create a Life Economy that is itself a renewable resource and that maximizes long-term benefits for all.
It has become apparent that the plant world is participating in the global Consciousness Revolution. Recent interest in ayahuasca and other consciousness-raising plants, as well as organic foods, natural medicines, and nature in general is a necessary part of this revolution. It is also something indigenous people understand and advocate.
In his ground-breaking book How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan discusses “the critical influence of ‘set’ and ‘setting’” when taking consciousness-altering substances. He writes: “Set is the mind-set or expectation one brings to the experience, and setting is the environment in which it takes place.” This is evident during trips to Latin American shamans – ayahuasca is taken in natural environments where it is a native and among people who prepare participants with mind-sets that benefit from centuries of interconnectedness with the plant.
I teach workshops on shapeshifting and lead trips to indigenous shamans because those teachings are so powerful and so needed at this time in human history. They are guiding us into the Consciousness Revolution.
I also do it because it is fun! I love the rain forests and the gigantic pyramids of Guatemala, horse-back riding through the forests of the Colombian mountains and tubing down rivers into the Caribbean, and rafting and psychonavigating on the magical Punta Mona (“Monkey Point”) peninsular in Costa Rica. I love the birds, the monkeys, the butterflies, the jaguars, the plants – and the people!