“True creativity doesn’t just make things; it feeds what feeds life. In modern culture where people are no longer initiated, the spirit goes unfed. To be seen, the uninitiated create insane things, some destructive to life, to feel visible and powerful. These creations are touted as the real world. They are actually forms of untutored grief signaling a longing for the true reality of village togetherness.”
Martín Prechtel, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, p.232
These words, from a book detailing Martín Prechtel’s initiation as a Mayan Shaman, accurately sum up our modern world. In the humanitarian, ecological, and political crises we are facing, we are witnessing the effects of a severe spiritual hunger.
We in the Western world are a deeply wounded culture; our Indigenous traditions long destroyed, our common land stolen by the rich and powerful, we often now desperately seek comfort by any means possible – over-consumption of food, of social media, of drugs and alcohol, of our natural resources.
This way of being is known among North American Indigenous people by the name of “wetiko,” or the “disease of the white man.” In the traditional Algonquin myth, the “wetiko” is a rapacious spirit who lives in the dark forest and possesses people, filling them with an insane compulsion to consume and destroy. This spirit makes monsters out of humans, filling them with an insatiable drive to devour everything that crosses their path.
Today, we see wetiko everywhere – in our cruel systems of governance that refuse sanctuary to refugees fleeing conflict, while at the same time escalating those very conflicts, mostly for the single purpose of the highest possible short-term profit, in the disintegration of human community through separating and atomizing social structures and the corresponding upsurge of loneliness and despair, and in the continued addiction to economic growth despite clear and repeated warnings that this kind of globalized industry is killing our planet.
Wetiko functions like a virus – it’s highly contagious and most of us are infected with it to some degree. It’s at the root of the human conflicts that often derail attempts to create alternative ways of life. It’s not enough to simply wish for a better world, it’s not even enough to work hard at creating one. We need to be ready to transform our entire mode of perception, to boil down our ways of thinking and being and reconstruct ourselves from scratch, with consciousness of the wetiko-ized habits we often fall into.
In Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, Paul Levy writes:
“The evil that is incarnating in our world simultaneously beckons and potentially actualizes an expansion of consciousness, all depending on our recognition of what is being revealed. It is as if hidden in the darkness is a spark of light that has descended into its depths, and when recognized in the darkness, this light returns to its source.”
(Levy, 2013, p. 145)
Levy’s idea, that hidden in the poison of wetiko lies its own antidote, offers a healing reference for how to approach what Prechtel calls “untutored grief”: the fecund raw material that, if not used to grow something new, becomes destructive. However, when we are educated, or “initiated” into ways of transforming our grief, of understanding what the darkness in us wants to bring to light, we often find we have stumbled upon a store of incredible potentiality – an almost boundless source of energy and power that we can refocus towards healing, if we choose to do so. Our collective shadows are potential treasure, showing us wounds that need healing, the deep behavioral structures that create conflict, and pushing us to grow beyond our self-limiting patterns. We find the light by going through the dark, not by avoiding it. We can only unfold our full potential for love, beauty, and creativity by recognizing the life-force that’s bound up in our trauma. It’s releasing that closed-off and separated aspect of ourselves that will make us whole.
There’s an interesting symbolic parallel in the human compulsion to dig, mine and extract precious metal. If we instead dug into the fertile ground of our consciousness and our imagination rather than into the physical Earth, would we then finally be able to create a sustainable form of the “treasure” we long for – the “true reality of village togetherness,” so overcoming our addiction to exploiting the Earth?
Consciousness and Creativity: We are the Universe Observing Itself
In Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality, Paul Levy describes how the science of quantum mechanics, although yet to really inform our everyday mode of being, could be a gateway for us: enabling us to understand the dreamlike nature of the world, to reconnect with the divine and infinitely creative aspects of existence. The central insight of quantum mechanics is that quantum particles respond differently depending on whether we are observing them or not. They are waves when we do not observe them and become particles when we do. This implies that quantum matter somehow knows when it is being observed, and subsequently changes both its form and behavior. This points to an astounding idea: that the world we perceive not only perceives us, but also manifests itself depending on our very mode of perception. Or, to put it another way, that the world we encounter depends on how we dream it up. It seems as if there are infinite possibilities of reality. The one that is activated depends only on our capacity to envision it, on the expansiveness and daring of our imagination.
Levy goes even further, asserting that we are living in a world that consciously responds to our consciousness, that, in fact, has created us for the purpose of understanding itself:
“[T]hrough us, the universe questions itself and tries out various answers on itself in an effort parallel to our own to decipher its own being. In the process of observing and reflecting upon our universe we are actually changing the universe’s idea of itself.”
(Chapter 5, “Cosmogenesis,” 2018)
If Levy is right, we are part of a cosmos that is self-creating and self-understanding. It is as if, through consciousness, the universe is craning its neck around to look at itself. We are its eyes, and its senses.
If we want to escape the hold of wetiko, to transition to a way of life that serves all beings, we need to value the power of our own creativity, and to understand that we are always creating the reality we experience, whether we are aware of it or not. The more conscious we are of our creative power, the more we can use it to dream up a world we want to live in; to orchestrate our lives with the same skill and precision as a highly trained conductor.
For this, we need to build a network of communities, (as in Tamera’s Healing Biotopes Plan), where we can study the raw matter of our cultural grief, where we can learn to compost it, and use it to grow new life, where we can discover how to create the “village togetherness” we all long for. We need spaces where we can experiment with and test out our powers of dreaming, encountering, understanding and interacting with the dreamlike nature of reality. We need spaces where we can build the self-confidence and courage that a “life artist” needs. We need public forums where our “life-art” is seen and honored. And all this needs to happen in a large enough group of people for our actions to hold weight, gather momentum and give courage to others.
As Paul Levy writes:
“The universe is a collectively shared dream that is too seemingly dense and solidified for any one person’s change in perspective to transform, but when a critical mass of people get into alignment and consciously put together what I call our “sacred power of dreaming” (our innate power to dream the universe into materialization), we can, literally, change the (waking) dream we are having.”
(Levy, Chapter 5: “Self-Excited Circuit,” 2018)
This is why it is so vital to build communities of trust – we will not be able to change the reality we are currently experiencing alone. However, by cooperating with others we will find the power to co-create paradise on Earth: a reality in which war and violence will be completely unthinkable, where we honor and respect the Earth as the sacred life giver it is, where we are able to fully use the creative potential that lies coiled within each of us. The field-creating power of a group of people can both activate our imaginative potential and provide the vessel in which to create the life we long for.
Waking Up to the Dreamlike Nature of Reality
Paying attention to our powers of dreaming is a simple first step towards comprehending the dreamlike nature of reality, as even those of us who believe that we are “not artistic” still dream each and every night, effortlessly creating symbols and stories that resonate through and inform us, if we take the time to remember and listen to them.
In the Tzutujil culture that Prechtel describes, families gathered each morning to share their dreams, which they saw as being the other half of waking life – just as real, and just as important:
“To a shaman a dream is not a creation of the mind, psyche or soul. It is the remembered fragment of the experience of one’s natural spirit in the twin world, the dreamworld … Although the landscape of dreams may seem different than the landscape of the awake world, it is actually the balanced opposite, reversed version, where our souls live out our bodies’ lives reenacted as if in a complex kind of mirror. Like the two opposing wings of a butterfly, the dreamworld is one wing and the awake world is the other wing. The butterfly must have both wings connected at the Heart in order to fly and function. Neither wing – dreams or waking – contains all of life. Real life occurs as a result of the interaction between the two. The life is the butterfly’s heart, and both dreaming and awake life are necessary to keep the heart alive.”
(Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, pp. 169–170)
As Prechtel goes on to say, “dreams read life back to us like a storyteller” and as such, can be excellent and often uncanny guides in life. I’m sure all of us have had the experience of a dream that seems wiser than we are, a dream that gives an answer to a problem, or that seems to foretell future events.
I’ve experienced personally how dreams can come into creative play with waking life. I once had a powerful dream in which a man, who in my waking life I was on the brink of falling in love with, guided me as I climbed down a building. He was agile, he knew the structure well, as it was his parent’s house, and he helped me down, showing me where to put my hands and feet. After I had this dream, I felt a deep certainty that I could trust this man. I understood that his role in my life right now was to accompany and guide me so that I could move forward, leaving behind the old structures of thought and being that no longer served me (structures he knew well, that he’d also “climbed down from” before). In my waking life, I had very little basis for such a deep trust at that point. I’d known this man a few months. And yet the indication of this dream turned out to be true. It encouraged me to trust him as a guide, and in turn, this faith allowed him (perhaps even prompted him) to actually play out this role in my waking life.
Was this dream reality not only informing but actually creating waking life? I think so. By believing in the certainty this dream instilled in me, I was able to act with faith and courage, which then allowed trust and intimacy to develop in waking reality.
For me, this is an example of those twin butterfly wings of the dreamworld and the waking world meeting at the heart’s center. Both dreamworld and waking life kept my heart alive at that time, nourishing and feeding it. These dual realities prompted me to be an artist: to act on my desires and impulses, to paint the world as I wished it to be.
Consciously Shaping Reality
The consequence of accepting our own creative powers and the dreamlike logic of existence are that we can begin to consciously shape reality. This is a deep responsibility – not anything we can take lightly.
Wetiko disrupts our natural experience of unity with all life. But in truth, we are inextricably interrelated with all other living beings, in the same way that a whirlpool is both identifiably different and part of the river it forms in. This knowledge comes with an immense duty to everything else that exists.
Our every thought, our every action, has an effect on the whole, unavoidably altering everything else in some way, however subtle. We do not need to become megalomaniacs about this – we are no more and no less important than any other human, plant or animal being. But we must understand, if we are to overcome wetiko’s hold on us, that all life, and all activity, constantly shifts the pattern of the whole.
Once we realize this, our everyday lives become imbued with a new sense of purpose and responsibility. Knowing that what we think, say and do alters the whole, guiding a new form of reality into being in each and every moment, means considering carefully how we want to exist in this world. It’s much easier to believe that we are powerless; then we can escape any sense of responsibility. Victimhood is much more comfortable than agency. But if we want to realize the role human beings can play in global transformation, we must be willing to step into agency. We must understand that our inherent creative powers are a divine gift. We’ve been given the capacity to make drastic alterations to the world – in the natural environment, in human society, perhaps even to outer space. Now we must choose whether we want to use these gifts in service of life or continue using them against it—and so push ourselves off the brink of abyss.
Let’s choose to use the wetiko virus rampaging through our human system to actualize an expansion of consciousness, to shine a light deep into the roots of our “untutored grief,” and begin to dream into our potential as deeply creative beings with the ability to create the reality of togetherness that we all long for.
Image: “Opulent Bloom” by Amanda Sage