Courageous Action and Healing ~ Alberto Villoldo

“The mystical union in which one’s false ego falls away and one unites with the Divine requires daring and courageous action.  In one of his poems, the Sufi poet Rumi writes:

There was a feast.  The king
Was heartily in his cups.
He saw a learned scholar walking by,
“Bring him in and give him
some of this fine wine.”
Servants rushed out and brought the man
to the king’s table, but he was not
receptive.  “I had rather drink poison!”
I have never tasted wine and never will!
Take it away from me!”
He kept on with these loud refusals,
disturbing the atmosphere of the feast.
This is how it sometimes is
At God’s table.
Someone who has heard about ecstatic love,
But never tasted it, disrupts the banquet.

When you are courageous, you have a spiritual practice, not just a spiritual library.  You understand that all the information in the world does you no good if you don’t turn every prayer into action.

To arouse the healing, visualizing force of courage, you need to participate mindfully in mundane events, focusing on what you can do in this moment rather than sitting back and scripting yet another story that begins, “If only…”  then you’ll be able to accept our invitation to the banquet that Rumi speaks about.”

Excerpt from Illumination by Alberto Villoldo PhD


Amazonia: Healing With Sacred Plants

“I started out in the brain laboratory at San Francisco State University – literally surrounded by hundreds of formaldehyde preserved brains. We were studying how we develop psychosomatic disease, and how we could create psychosomatic health.

One day I realized that I had been looking out of the wrong end of the microscope, becoming caught in the minutiae of neurons and brain chemistry, and missing the larger picture of the mind. I decided to leave my lab and traveled to the Amazon, to work and study with medicine men who had no MRI’s and brain scans, only the power of the mind and local herbs to heal their patients.

For twenty-five years, I apprenticed with extraordinary shamans and healers, and learned the use of the fabled vine of the dead, ayahuasca. My new documentary film, Amazonia: Healing With Sacred Plants is the product of my decades of study among the jungle shamans, and explains the levels of non-ordinary reality that one enters during the heightened state of consciousness that ayahuasca affords. It presents the rigor and discipline that the shaman undergoes as part of his training, and the dangers and cautions westerners must have when exploring these domains.


Reprogramming Neural Networks

     If the stories of angels and demons battling it out for your soul don’t resonate with you, you might think of their opposing forces in a less poetic way, using the language of brain science.  Each of us has neural pathways in our brain – functionally and chemically connected neurons – that are created when neurons that fire together then wire together.  These networks act as information superhighways that reinforce the beliefs that lead us to act angrily, greedily, and lustfully in order to guard against perceived threats to our survival.  Remember that the limbic brain functions with beliefs about reality, while the new brain works with theories that it tests out against reality.

To reprogram these information superhighways, we have to eject the limbic brain from the driver’s seat of our neurophysiology.  We have to start using the fancy new hardware of the neocortex to develop new pathways that will override the old programming.  Then the neocortex can intervene to stop the primitive brain from automatically sending out the chemical signals that cause us to feel and act like cornered animals.  Our more evolved brain can begin to run the software that will make the experience of kindness, joy and peace habitual.  This new brain has until recently only been a functioning neurocomputer for saints, scientists, and sages.  Yet we can bring its faculties online during our initiation.  Indigenous societies that practice meditation, joy, charity, and compassion, all of which are higher brain functions, are far less violent and report experiencing fulfillment and contentment in their lives far more often than those who don’t regularly engage in these practices.

If property brought online through meditation or the practice of the seven virtues, our neocortex will allow us to transcend the fear of death even if we don’t believe in an afterlife.  It can free us from the demands of the ticking clock and let us experience our connection to all that is and will ever be.  The neocortex is programmed for exploration, truth, and scientific innovation, so when we go through an initiation successfully, we activate the neural circuitry that allows us to leave behind superstition, dogma, and hardened religious beliefs and step into a life of discovery.  We can finally recognize what a petty, shallow life we’ve been living in the world of predators and step into the much more nourishing role of creator.

The call to being creator is a summons to action and service, unfettered by grandiose fantasies about securing one’s legacy by saving the world.  Once you free yourself from your primitive brain’s limited perceptions of what you can accomplish, you discover your greatness.  You realize that you’re both an immaterial speck and an all-important element in the universe.  If you find yourself without a house, you realize that you are a traveler, not a homeless person.  If you lose your job, you discover that you are an entrepreneur, not an unemployed person.  When your parents pass away, you understand that the earth and the sky are your parents and humanity is your family.

Excerpt from the book “Illumination” by Alberto Villoldo


Growing Corn the Shamans Way ~ Alberto Villoldo

Photo courtesy of Holly Rose

In all the countries north of the equator – and remember that the great cultures of history developed north of the equator – God is a descending god.  Think of the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims.  The Divine comes from the heavens and descends to the Earth… But for the Incas, the only great culture to develop south of the equator, the god-force is ascending.  It rises from the Mother Earth… rises from the Earth to the heavens like the golden corn.

And those who are buried here at Sillustani (at Lake Titicaca, the Sea on Top of the World) are the men and women who spent their lives acquiring knowledge, germinating and cross-germinating their wisdom and their corn, discovering and understanding the forces of Nature and the relationship between the Sun and the Earth and the Moon and the stars.  They practiced a way of knowing that is… an alchemy of life.  The alchemy of your European ancestors consisted of taking dead matter – base elements like sulphur and lead – and placing it in a crucible and applying fire in a vain effort to make gold.  But my people used living matter, placed it in the crucible of the Earth, under the fire of the Sun, and produced corn, a living gold. 

Island of the Sun  ~  Alberto Villoldo and Erik Jendresen

Photo courtesy of Holly Rose


A Supernatural Love Story ~ Alberto Villoldo

Las Palmas, Chile

Despite being trained in science, like most other humans I am somewhat superstitious, and believe that anything out of my ordinary day-to-day experience is unusual, when not outright terrifying.

For the shaman, the supernatural world does not exist. There is only the natural world, which has a visible and an invisible dimension. Supernatural events seem odd only in our waking reality. In our dreams we are seldom surprised by the figures and beings we encounter. It’s as if our dreams are populated by a much more colorful array of creatures than our waking world. Two weeks ago, I had a dream about my long-deceased father, and he was younger than I, yet it seemed perfectly natural to be speaking with him as a young man. In our dreams the past and future figure eight meld seamlessly into each other, and ordinary clock time appears to dissolve into timelessness. My father had come to caution me about an important meeting. Then he vanished, before I could ask him for more details. The meeting happened two days later, as I was walking in a grove of trees on our farm as the sun was setting.

“In my old age I will wonder if I have dreamed this or if I actually lived it,
if in my old age I can still tell the difference between the two…”

I sensed him before I could see him. He was stalking me, stopping when I stopped, yet invisible between the trees. I could feel my heart racing and my palms beading with perspiration. The farm is miles away from the nearest town, and it was unusual to run into anyone in the woods. When I reached a clearing I stopped and sat on a boulder and waited, my pocketknife drawn and open in my hand. His pace was deliberate and steady. The first thing I saw was his walking stick, and then he appeared. He was an old man, clean-shaven, slightly bent yet you could tell he was fit and comfortable in the outdoors. He seemed wrinkled like the hills. I would have guessed he was at least 90.

“You don’t remember me,” he said. “Of course you don’t, this meeting hasn’t happened for you yet. “

And then he smiled. There was something oddly familiar about him. I exhaled, unaware that I had been holding my breath.

“You can put the knife away,” he said casually.

How did he know I had a knife in my hand?

Dad told you I would come. Remember? And then he explained that he was me, only from the future. As if to drive home the point he told me of secrets from our youth that no one but I knew.

And yet I was doubtful. During my training with the shamans in the Amazon, I learned that hungry ghosts often took on the disguise of a familiar person or loved one, only to mislead you or ‘feed’ on your life force. I wasn’t sure I could trust this eerily familiar old man. Besides, no one likes to imagine himself as an old person. I wanted to be young forever, not grow up to look like him.

And then he explained what he had come for.

“I need to bring you back with me to the future,“ he explained.

I was familiar with shamanic soul retrieval, in fact, I had written a book about it and taught it to my students. During soul retrieval the shaman journeys back to the past along their clients time-line, to discover an incident that derailed their destiny. When you loose your personal destiny, you try to recover it through a new job or a new lover or a new project. Yet invariably these attempts do not work, and serve to wound the person even further. The shaman, on the other hand, knows how to coax his client’s soul to return back to the present, so that the person can become whole, and recover their sense of purpose and destiny.

“This is what I am doing,” he explained.

I never imagined that this could happen. I pinched myself to see if I was asleep or awake. Of course, it made perfect sense. He was doing a soul-retrieval on himself, coming to my present to heal his present, my future. I was the patient, no longer in the familiar role of the shaman.

“But tell me what happened to you,” I asked, and noticed for the first time that he had a downtrodden look about him. It was obvious that his life had been challenging. This was a disturbing thought. I had always wanted to grow old happy and fulfilled. It was unsettling to think that something other than the perfect golden years had happened. Was I in some rest home playing bingo with demented seniors?

“I can tell you that the events you expected for the end of time did not start until 2016, and peaked in 2020. When 2012 was uneventful and the economy recovered, we were lulled back into a state of amnesia. We were asleep for the climate crisis. It took everyone by surprise.” He paused and fixed me with his gaze.

“At first it was challenging, “ he went on. “ Then it dawned on many of us that this was a time of unprecedented opportunity, much like the Renaissance at the start of the 1500’s. But there was also a lot of chaos.”

“And what did we do,” I asked the old man. It seemed strange to be addressing him as we.

“You did what you were trained to do, to teach and heal,” he replied. “It brought us out of retirement.” The slightest hint of a smile crossed his face.

I asked him what he needed from me. And he replied that he needed to recover his ability to laugh. That perhaps I could help him.

“But do I really have to look like you when I’m 90?”

“I’m one hundred and fifteen,” he replied. “I hike three miles every day, and I’m still happily married. It’s not uncommon now for people to live this long, and even longer. The children being born today may not even have to die. But it was a little late for us. Of course, you can imagine the population bomb. Twenty years from now most people will download themselves into the cloud, the internet. Except for some of us that refused to go digital.”

And then we sat across from one another and gazed softly into each other’s eyes. I saw the old man’s pain, his strength and his vulnerability. And then I said the words I knew he had come for, and that only I could offer him.

“It’s all right, my little one. All is forgiven. It’s ok my love. It’s time to come home.”

I noticed that a tear had formed in the corner of his eye and was glistening down his cheek, catching the last light of the day. I felt my own tears welling up, and saw his eyes sparkle like a child’s. I closed my eyelids and eventually felt the light touch of his lips on my forehead.

When I opened my eyes again he was gone. Only the branch that he had used as a walking stick remained, leaning against a dead trunk. The woods were dancing with the shadows of the great trees. When I drew close to the house I noticed the glow from the candles in our living room, and saw that Marcela was piling kindling on the fireplace. She embraced me, and asked if I had been crying.

“I’m going to be with you for a very long time,” I said. “Did you know that?”

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The Way of the Luminous Warrior: Practicing Fearlessness

”Making others wrong distracts us from the power we have to eliminate our own potential for being bullies and prevents us from accessing our creative, healing energy, which we can use to dream a better world”

Practicing fearlessness means that we first eliminate the poverty, terrorism, and war that rages inside of us. We eliminate our addiction to being right and fix our perception of every problem within us before we actually attempt the problem itself.

We tend to overlook the price of waging a battle and instead focus on how we can get a bigger chunk of the pie.  We don’t like to think of ourselves as greedy – we’re just cautious, building up a nest egg so that we will never feel insecure again.  Of course we never reach this point because looking for security in marriage, the stock market, the workplace, real estate, or anything else material never quite manages to make us feel safe.

Luminous warriors build collaborative relationships with others instead of trying to conquer them; consequently, we get much closer to finding common ground and solutions to our mutual problems.  Instead of clinging to our belief that we won’t have enough or that we’ll be taken advantage of, we bravely extend trust and find win-win solutions.  This seems naïve, of course, and part of us says that real life doesn’t work this way.  But the most successful organisms in nature are the result of collaborations.  Even the human body is the product of a dozen organs and many different kinds of tissues working together.

We no longer have to buy into the false evidence that we have enemies we must continually battle and subdue.  It’s this mentality that leads us to get into shouting matches with the driver who takes “our” parking space”, or to insist that our partner deliberately didn’t unload the dishwasher in order to drive us crazy.  Now we don’t have to extend total trust to every person we come across or deny the danger of letting criminals run loose in the world – but we also don’t have to walk through life with a sword drawn, ready to vanquish the accidentally inconsiderate.

As luminous warriors, we open our eyes so that we can see in others the capacity for peace, even if they aren’t expressing it.  Some psychologists would say that we project our dark side (our shadows) onto others, creating adversaries in order to avoid looking into our own unhealed selves.  Yet making others wrong distracts us from the power we have to eliminate our potential for being bullies and prevents us from accessing sour creative, healing energy, which we can use to dream a better world.

When we practice fearlessness, we don’t have to create enemies or obsess about “bad guys” in order to feel reassured that we’re always righteous victims.  It may seem strange that we would talk ourselves into feeling weak, but this works very well for us psychologically.  If we see ourselves as victims, we excuse ourselves from any further sacrifices.

When we perceive at the level of serpent or jaguar instead of hummingbird, we focus on our adversaries and  all their crimes against us, thus forgetting to ask the powerful question, What’s the opportunity for creating abundance and healing here?  At hummingbird, we try to find creative ways to negotiate with the people we disagree with and we don’t ignore our common ground because we become stuck in the belief that we’re the good guys.

When we step beyond fear, violence, and death, we can embrace the way of the luminous warrior; we can wage peace, not war.  Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the finest example of a man who waged peace even in the face of violence, and he changed the course of history for one billion people.  It cannot be so difficult to practice this for ourselves.