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Sunday, November 4th, 2007

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8:51a
An excellent Shamanic book ...
As I've noted here previously, I studied with Alberto Villoldo for an extended period, from the early 80's through the mid-90's and was on hand for a number of the events covered in his early books. Unfortunately, this familiarity created a certain dissonance for me in many of those books, as they were highly "fictionalized" and rarely tracked with actual time-lines (I later found that this was substantially an artifact of Alberto's early approach to his books, dropping off a couple of file boxes full of notepads, journals, and assorted scraps of paper to Eric Jendresen who would then attempt to make a coherent story of them).

However, Alberto's recent books do appear to be his own expressions, and his most recent, The Four Insights: Wisdom, Power, and Grace of the Earthkeepers, is an excellent example of his teaching approach. Frankly, when I finished reading this, I felt like I had just gone through a weekend workshop with Alberto, and that is perhaps the best way to approach his new books.

Again, I have certain difficulties "filtering" via a lens of previous contexts and data when approaching this material. Alberto has "re-framed" much material from several South American shamanic traditions into one "mythologized" group of "the Laika" whose particulars sound to be congruent with the high-mountain Q'ero tribes. As I was not around for the past decade or so, I don't know how this assimilation evolved (the last few times I did stuff with Alberto he was just getting involved with the Q'ero), but it does serve to provide a unified "voice" for the teachings rather than tagging this bit as being from some Amazonian group, that bit from some Quechuan tradition, etc.

The Four Insights is largely based on a "medicine wheel" format, of the Serpent, the Jaguar, the "Hummingbird" (in many other traditions, something like a Buffalo or Horse), and the Eagle, linked to organic, intellectual/emotional, soul, and spirit awarenesses, and in turn to "The Way of the Hero", "The Way of the Luminous Warrior", "The Way of the Seer", and "The Way of the Sage". Alberto spends the first fifth of the book "setting the stage" for these, and then walking the reader through each of the "ways", with specific orientations and exercises for each. As I said, reading through this was very much like progressing through a workshop on the material (but without having to take notes!).

I found some fascinating bits and pieces in The Four Insights, including Alberto's briefly touching on "the assemblage point" (more familiar from the Castaneda books). It appears that Alberto has spent some time working with this concept (which I don't recall him using before), both intellectually and energetically, and presents some direct instructions and exercises involving it (elements certainly absent from Castaneda). I had a big "AHA!" moment when I read this:

In the West, the assemblage point tends to be located to one side of the head because we're very rational, thought-driven people. We're attracted to others who have an assemblage point that is similar in valance and position because we feel in sync with them. We typically perceive someone with a very difference assemblage point as strange or foolish, and we may even think that they're stupid because they can't perceive what we can, or loony because they sense what we don't.
Now, as readers of my journal know, I "have issues" with both religion and liberalism, and frequently am frustrated when I find otherwise intelligent people who believe in "imaginary friends" or clearly "delusional politics". The model of "out of sync assemblage points" could go a long way towards explaining why some people, despite being smart, decent human beings, could be so wrong about key existential subjects!

Another thing that Alberto introduces here is a concept of a "bridge" position for the assemblage point, which is where it would be "if we lived in perfect communion with nature", but is, functionally, a center position through which movements of the assemblage point must shift. His descriptions of the "experiential state" of this "bridge" zone greatly resembled what Eckhart Tolle described as the "Now" perception, and gives this a functionality that's not really in Tolle's book.

One "tidbit" that Alberto injects in his discussion of "The Luminous Warrior" is a brain-structure element that I had not seen described elsewhere (and I sure wish there had been footnotes so I could have checked the sources on this):

Our propensity toward violent solutions is rooted in our brains, which are wired in a very strange way. The region where our sensations of pleasure are experienced is very close to the center where we experience violence, so when we stimulate one of these areas in the brain, we often end up stimulating the other
He then goes on to note that Humans are the only mammal "wired" this way. This could go a long way to understanding the success of our species up to this point (let alone almost defining the appeal of Valhalla), but also as a warning about how we're likely to react in any given modern situation.

Obviously, The Four Insights operates on may different levels. Alberto has gotten to a point where he seems effortlessly able to weave through mythic, symbolic, literal, and academic threads in his exposition of the "Laika" teachings. An example of this which jumped out at me was in his description of how the high shamanic practitioners would approach a problem in "The Way of the Seer" section:

Indigenous alchemy is made up of four steps: identification, differentiation, integration, and transcendence. Identification is the quality of serpent; differentiation, of jaguar; integration, of hummingbird; and transcendence, of eagle.
This, in a discussion which also references Claude Lévi-Strauss and Ken Wilbur. All through the book, Villoldo "anchors" his information in real-world examples (of his students and clients), puts the material "in context" of the current literature of the study of consciousness (and that of cutting-edge physical and medical sciences), bolsters the "theory" with exercises that pretty much anybody can master, yet stays true to the feeling that this is "passing on ancient wisdom" from Shamanic teachers.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. Despite it's "newagey" title (and I assume that much of these trappings come from Hay House's marketing arm), this is a very cogent, balanced, and rational look at the Shamanic world-view which would be beneficial for anybody to read. It's also very reasonably priced at only $12.95 cover for the paperback, so you'd not break the bank picking it up at your local brick-and-mortar store ... Amazon, however has it at 20% off, which works out better (assuming combining it with other stuff to get free shipping) than any of the current new/used vendor deals. Even if you've not read any of Villoldo's previous books, do check this one out!


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