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Predator or Prey? The Shamanic Understanding of Eating and Digesting Experiences.

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For the average person, shamanism has always had some pretty weird notions, even wild and crazy sounding, but upon further investigation these notions usually end up being validated by science. One of the shaman’s more interesting notions is that everything in the universe eats and consumes, and that everything is predator and prey, even aspects of the cosmos that we normally don’t believe are capable of acting this way.  Now this perspective may sound somewhat alarming to you or even distasteful but you will see that it is actually a useful metaphor for understanding how to avoid being consumed. Keep in mind however, that shamans are quite serious about their viewpoint that this universe is like a jungle where everything is eating everything else.

It is quite obvious that we humans eat food to survive and when we look around at nature, animals and plants do as well. Almost all biological organisms consume sunlight, oxygen, and nutrients from the environment to grow healthier, stronger, and bigger. Bacteria eats, viruses eat, parasites eat and so on. What we are not used to considering is that black holes are eating suns, planets, moons, gas clouds, light, whole galaxies, and just about anything in their gravitational range. Even galaxies consume each other as they collide into one another. So, for shamans material things do not have to be biological organisms in order to consume and be consumed.

This however is only the surface level understanding of the “consume or be consumed” universe. The shamanic perspective says that eating happens at all levels. If we look closer we see that larger countries consume smaller countries, as is blatantly evident in Russia with its recent annexation of the Crimea, and this is so with any nation that has taken over and colonized others. New civilizations consume older civilizations, bigger cultures consume smaller cultures, new belief systems consume older belief systems and grow in strength while the ones consumed weaken and vanish. They often live on in fragmentary fashion within the new system, just like bits of vegetables, grains, and meats live on in a transformed way in our fleshy bodies after we consume them.

The same is true of languages and technologies. English has many fragments of the numerous languages it has subsumed. A newer technology consumes the old one and the old one is swept away. Usually the new technology has aspects of the older technology but is more efficient, effective, or meets needs not addressed by the old one. So if we look closely we see remnants of the form of the buggy in the new car, pieces of technology of old propeller planes in new jets, fragments of technology of older computers in mobile devices and so on. The world is eating itself, vanquishing the old and growing the new.

In the corporate world we see a rather obvious form of eating and digesting as large corporations integrate and consolidate numerous startups and competitors. The airline, banking, medical, and insurance industries are well known for consuming their competition to become great behemoths that dominate the landscape through intimidation and manipulation like the dinosaurs of old.

The material world is basically a vast mouth and stomach eating its way forward to greater power and influence. A good illustration of this is the equatorial jungle where everything is consuming everything else. Massive trees are brought down by parasitical vines that then grow to the size of huge trees that then in turn are brought down by other predators living on their decaying bodies. The world of consumption goes way beyond these more obvious forms of eating to evolve. However before we go further let us be clear that this endless activity of eating and being eaten does not necessarily result in a better world or a better universe. How often have we seen animals, plants, technologies, countries, beliefs, cultures, languages, corporations and the like go extinct? Not all consumption results in evolution just as not all food we eat results in a healthy body. Sometimes all that eating results in the demise or illness of the predator. This is especially the case when that which is eaten is not properly digested.

On a more subtle level we have energetic and psychological aspects of ourselves that like to consume and at times this may not result in a healthy outcome. Shamans classify these aspects of ourselves as parasites, consumers that bring down the organism as a whole. We are familiar with what happens when we have parasites in the intestines, liver, and bloodstream. It’s never a good situation. In the same way, parasites in the personality are just as debilitating. What shamans call parasites in the personality, the Buddhists have called ego. I call the parasite the false personality because it is not our essential self but a mere pretender to the throne.

Naturally the false personality grows bigger and stronger every time it succeeds in activating intense emotions because that is what it needs to eat to survive at the expense of the healthy personality. It has a million and one techniques, maneuvers, and methods to achieve its goal. The false personality is like a virus in that it has survived for hundreds of thousands of years in a highly successful way. Mutating with each generation it appears in endlessly new forms, yet it is in fact the same old parasite that it was in the beginning. All this creation of nasty emotions stresses the physical body, oxidizes it, and eventually destroys it through illness and accidents.

Each lifetime that you are consumed by your parasite ends the same way. Toltec shamans call this feeding the eagle. The eagle eats all of your undigested experiences when you die. The eagle eats the whole complex of incomplete thoughts, feelings, sensations, and reactions that you refused to experience thoroughly throughout your life. In other words the eagle eats what your parasite nourished itself with. This is like the big fish eating the littler fish that in turn ate the minnow. The eagle holds all these undigested emotions for the next incarnation and the next and the next each time consuming another set of undigested reactions.

All these consumed reactions are held in a kind of record until your next lifetime where you keep feeding the eagle, feeding the eagle, feeding the eagle until you finally break through. Breaking through means that you turn the tables on the parasite, the false personality, and you starve it instead of feeding it. This doesn’t usually happen all at once like a lightening bolt. It is usually very gradual. First you learn to spot the parasitical activity, then you learn not to identify with it, then you no longer react to it, and finally you starve it.

You may succeed some of the time and some of the time the parasite wins because it has momentum, yet little by little you turn the tables on it. Finally you succeed and every time it tries to generate emotions that it can eat, you starve it instead by refusing to identify and react to it. Eventually the false personality is unable to generate any intensity of low frequency emotions in you. Instead you activate neutrality and within the context of neutrality you cultivate other emotions of a higher frequency. You generate gratitude, love, forgiveness, compassion, awe, joy, and serenity. These emotions are impossible for the false personality to eat because they are too high frequency for its digestive process. The false personality is designed to eat only low frequency meals and this is its fatal flaw. Like a car that is made to run only on diesel fuel, it will falter and die with high-octane gasoline. Once you figure this out you carefully avoid resisting and avoiding the low frequency emotions that feed the parasite. Note that you do not indulge them either. Instead you simply accept them and then refocus on high frequency ones instead.

You may get quite good at generating a high frequency so the false personality will become desperate and resort to tricks to get you to succumb. Knowing every one of your weaknesses it will try its utmost to get you off track by stimulating negativity through distraction. Perhaps you are sailing along feeling pretty good when suddenly you get the news that your job is threatened by a downsizing operation that is slated to cut seventy five percent of all workers in your position. You have a choice. You can despair and go into martyrdom, resentment, and hopelessness. If you do, you have fed the parasites and it will once again rise up with renewed vitality. However you may feel the excitement of the potential for a new opportunity that this potential change stimulates. Instantly you embrace the new potential that this change offers you and the parasite fails to find a foothold once again. Severely weakened it slinks away to find someone with less resolve.

This scenario reveals another aspect to the whole phenomena of eating and being eaten. Essence eats only high frequency food so when you are starving the false personality, you are moving toward feeding your essence making it stronger and full of vitality. The more you feed it the better you feel. Essence eats light, inspiration, creativity, unconditional love, service, gratitude, blessings, and so on. In other words we eat loving attention, pleasure, companionship, success and anything we can name that has high octane. Essence only eats the good stuff and the good stuff feels way better than the low frequency stuff.

This brings us to a critical and very important aspect of understanding this shamanic business of eating our world. Digesting. There is a big difference between eating and digesting. We spend most of our lives eating without digesting. This typically results in indigestion and we know how that feels. So what does it mean to digest the food that is our experiences, our emotions, our reactions, and the like? Under ordinary circumstances we are distracted by a whole host of diversions used by the false personality including denial, projection, repression, and more. These maneuvers prevent digestion. If I feel intense sadness because my dog died but I don’t want to feel sad I can pick a fight with someone and get angry instead, and this allows me to feel powerful instead of helpless. I don’t digest my sadness. If I feel insulted by my boss and feel anger but I don’t feel safe expressing it, I might become submissive in her presence and feel sorry for myself instead. The anger is undigested. If I am a martyr and someone is kind to me and I feel a moment of gratification, I step in and push it away so I can continue to feel like a victim. I leave the good feeling undigested.

All these experiences and reactions that are undigested don’t just disappear but become stored in the subconscious and create indigestion. In other words the undigested emotions and experiences bleed over and poison our lives in a myriad of ways. Sometimes they get translated and stored as excess fat in the body. Sometimes they show up as allergies or disease symptoms. You get the idea. These unresolved emotions will continue to be stored until they are resolved one way or another. What resolves them? Shamanically speaking there are several ways to resolve them. One is going back and experiencing them fully one after the other, a process called recapitulation. Another way is to forgive the circumstances that created them, a process largely taught by both Jesus and his followers and the Buddha and his followers. When all is forgiven there is no more guilt (an incomplete and undigested emotion). One of Jesus’ principal teachings was “A mind without guilt experiences no suffering.” This was the real teaching behind the crucifixion. Thus suffering can only arise in the face of undigested emotions and the experiences that generate them.

If we are going to eat we had better fully digest what we have eaten. To do so means to cut off the steady stream of thoughts and feelings that go flying by leaving much of our experience undigested. We need to stop and experience our experience. Know it inside out. Observe it and accept it. When we accept our experience, it transforms. When we eat but don’t digest our experience it does not transform and becomes unfinished business that collects as baggage.

Let us look at this process of properly digesting more closely here and go back to our example of the person getting the news that they might lose their job in a down sizing operation. Upon receiving this news the person can begin a process of intense worry and start a series of story lines such as, “If I lose my job I won’t be able to feed my family, pay my mortgage, or send my kids to good schools. We will have to go on welfare; I will lose my house and we will be on the streets; my kids will not get a good education and their lives will be ruined and it will all be my fault; I will probably lose my marriage and blah, blah, blah. Notice that all these thoughts lead to more story lines, more catastrophic outcomes that keep the mind occupied but not digesting anything. In order to digest an experience the person needs to be in the present moment feeling the feeling that comes up. Realize here that feeling the feeling is not the same as spinning up a bunch of worry.

Here is the more effective method to digest the experience. Let us say that you get the news at work that the downsizing is going into effect. Instead of freaking out you realize that you are having a fear reaction. You focus on this fearful reaction in your body and notice that your mouth feels dry, breathing is shallow, and you have a knot in your stomach. These are not stories. These are actual sensations that the body is having and you acknowledge them and accept them for what they are. By accepting them, not resisting them, not trying to escape them, letting them be right where they are, they will have a tendency to dissipate. Maybe the feeling of anxiety dissolves only to be replaced by anger at the company for taking this action. Now you focus on the sensations of anger, a tightening in the jaw, hands making fists, a tightening in the stomach. You experience these sensations without dismissing them by saying, “Oh, I am just feeling angry.” Instead you say, “I am having these sensations in my body that feel like anger.” In this fashion you are digesting your experience, not labeling, judging, avoiding, creating a drama or what have you. You simply experience your experience letting your feelings flow until like the runoff from a thunderstorm, they play themselves out.

Now you are in a position to think creatively realizing that along with feelings of anxiety and anger you may actually have a little excitement or relief that an opportunity is coming your way. Maybe you feel a calmness takeover and you realize that deep down you know you will not be one to be let go. There are many possibilities but there is no drama, just sets of sensations that the body produces when reacting to something that threatens its security patterns. This is successfully digesting your experience. The endless stories are not.

So let us review a bit here. We are living in a universe with endless predators and endless prey. We and everything else are both predator and prey at the same time. There is always a predator and always some prey. The trick to survival is to avoid being eaten and be the one that eats a steady diet of high quality food. This food is our experience. Each one of us gets better and better at this game until eventually we are no longer eaten and we are the one that eats very well. We generate a steady stream of neutrality characterized by constant acceptance and forgiveness instead of generating negative drama. Eventually we learn to exist on a powerful nutritious diet of joy, inspiration, and love and our bodies no longer succumb to disease, oxidation, and degeneration. The eagle no longer needs to eat and store our experiences for lifetime after lifetime. We then experience our experiences as they happen with no backlog.  

In life we need to be more predator than prey. Being a predator in this sense does not mean attacking and swallowing other people in our climb to the top rung of the ladder. Rather being a predator means turning every one of our experiences (meals) into a fine dining experience. No matter what we are presented with in the course of life we respond by experiencing it in a high frequency way. If I run over a squirrel in my car I can feel horrible or I can give the squirrel thanks for sacrificing itself under my wheels carrying away some negativity or challenge and providing for my greater good. In this way a sad event becomes hopeful and a blessing. If I lose a job I can be enthusiastic about the opportunities it opens up for me to do something different. I don’t try to wrestle or struggle with solutions but I hand the challenge over to my allies, to Spirit, for the ultimate solution. I always work from a baseline of trust, of faith, and without being passive and immobile, I expect and await the solution to the problem to imminently present itself. No matter what, I do not give in to angry resentment and blame that my helping spirits failed me. Rather I see that I failed them because I lost faith in them for a time, yet I don’t blame myself or accuse myself for this illusion. I just forgive it and get neutral about it.

Eventually with this powerful strategy I no longer need to be a predator nor do I need to be prey. That aspect of the universe no longer applies because I am playing the game at a frequency that transcends it. I hope this explanation makes the whole shamanic predator prey thing more understandable and transformative. Maybe it is not so weird after all.

 

José Stevens

José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for the Journal of Shamanic Practitioners and a board member. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years.