An interview in two parts with author and shamanic teacher Sandra Ingerman
How to Thrive in Changing Times:
simple tools to create true health, wealth, peace, and joy for yourself and the earth
Being a blogger does have its perks: publishers send you cool books to review. The most recent ones really sparked my interest, because the author, visionary teacher and healer Sandra Ingerman, tackles the difficult yet enormously important challenge of integrating the spiritual issues of our time with the ecological crises we’re facing. Right down my alley! After reading her most recent works, How to Thrive in Changing Times and Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation, I wanted to find out more about Ms. Ingerman’s intriguing ideas for healing both our soul and our planet. A couple of weeks ago we got to chat about everything from the shamanic symbolism found in the Gulf oil disaster to the challenges of bringing our inner process back into our political discourse without coming off as “woo woo.”
Today’s segment of the interview focuses on how to overcome personal despair and defeatism in light of the tremendous problems humanity is faced with, and tomorrow I’ll post Ms. Ingerman’s fascinating insights into Shamanism and how we might use this ancient practice to heal our ailing collective spirit.
Sven Eberlein: You write: “It’s time to create more balance by integrating spiritual work with the scientific, environmental and political changes now being explored.”
How do we do this? How do we integrate the spiritual into our civic lives, and how do we bring it into our political/public discourse without being discounted as “woo woo?”
Sandra Ingerman: Bridging my spiritual work into the environmental and political issues I’m interested in has been one of my biggest challenges. In today’s world, the spiritual work is discounted by many people as being very “woo woo,” and this is part of the challenge that we’re facing right now. I think as we moved into a technological culture — and you know, technology is wonderful, I love air-conditioning in my car (laughs), or being able to go to the refrigerator to get food, all the wonderful things that technology brings to us…
Eberlein: …flying to conferences?
Ingerman: (Laughs) Right, yes. But what happened is that we’ve forgotten that we are made up of body, mind, and spirit, and so is the world. When you take away our physical body, when you take away our thoughts, we’re basically spiritual beings, reflections of the creative force of the universe, or God, or however you want to look at that. What I’ve found in my research is that for many thousands of years every single spiritual tradition that exists has been talking about how everything starts in an invisible realm before it manifests into the physical. When you think about a baby being born into the world, it starts growing in the womb, and then it’s birthed through the mother. When you think about a tree that’s growing, first it starts with a seed, and then it grows into a tree with branches or flowers or fruit. In our culture, with the way we look at everything from a rational perspective, we discount that inner process. It’s almost like we want change in the outer world, but we forget that change actually starts from an inner process. There is nothing in the outer world that just popped into being; it grew from some invisible process first.
When we say everything starts in an invisible world before it manifests into the physical, what it means is that all our thoughts are things. This is a given in indigenous shamanic cultures, but we use the term without understanding that our thoughts actually lead us to a particular outcome. So we need to start to reframe our thoughts from a defeatist place of “there is no hope, we’ve gone too far” to “change is possible, we can work together as a global community to create change.” We were given this god-given gift of imagination, and from a spiritual perspective, we create the world through our imagination.
So what are we imagining throughout the day? Are we imagining a world filled with peace and in balance with the environment, or are we imagining great catastrophes? Some shamanic cultures in South America have been saying that we’ve been dreaming the wrong dream. The dreaming actually happens with our minds, our imaginations of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling the world we want to be living in right now. What we’re doing as a culture is we’re giving energy to the life that we don’t want to be living, because we complain more about what isn’t working than focus our thoughts and imaginations on what we do want to work. Once we align our thoughts and imaginations with the outcome we want to bring into being and recognize that we are spiritual beings, we’re able to radiate light into situations instead of feeding the energy of despair, which I think is what many people are doing right now.
Eberlein: It seems that the underlying theme of your book could be summed up in Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in this world.” (or dream the world into being) Can you talk a little bit about the times when these personal thoughts and changes seem too small to deal with the immensity of the global problems we face? How do we avoid going straight from denial to despair?
Ingerman: There are a lot of people in crisis right now. When you look at our collective consciousness, we’ve really been addicted to a disharmonious way of life, thinking that gathering more material possessions will bring us happiness. The way we’re dealing with oil and fuel, we really are an addicted culture. If you’ve ever been around one, sometimes an addict has to hit bottom before they actually go for treatment or are ready to hear about a change. I think that from a bigger perspective — and I’m saying this from a compassionate point of view — it’s almost like the collective hasn’t hit bottom yet. It’s only once we as a collective decide that this is no longer working for us that there’ll be an opening for a shift to happen. So for people who are moving into a place of despair it’s important to understand that there’s a bigger perspective going on: The collective first has to hit bottom.
But this isn’t the time to move into despair, this isn’t a time to give up hope. There is a process that’s going on and people are more interested and engaged in spiritual work. From my point of view, the spiritual work is where we have power right now in a time where so many of us feel overwhelmed and moving into a place of despair. But while the rest of the collective is still needing to get the wake up call, for those of us who have received a wakeup call, start to dream that world that you want to dream into being. Start to do the inner work, so you can be the change you wish to see. What Gandhi was referring to, as all spiritual traditions refer to, is that the outer world is simply a reflection of your state of consciousness. If you don’t like the outer world, then change what’s going on within you. So that’s the work that we can be doing right now, which starts to build an invisible world of substance as the current fabric of reality is dissolving around us.
Eberlein: It’s almost as if once we become conscious of our despair we find that despair is not very helpful. I’m reminded of that REM song “It’s the End of the World as we Know it, and I Feel Fine.” There’s a seed that grows in every compost.
Ingerman: (Laughs) It’s a death/rebirth process. Every change we go through involves a death, that’s the nature of change. And that’s what we’re seeing right now. But the despair brings us to an end, whereas what we’re seeing is a transition, so it’s important for us to find ways to stay inspired during this time to keep on going. When I was a little kid I had a real vision of what was possible, the joy that we could create as human beings on earth. I remember growing up in Brooklyn, NY, sitting on my couch in the living room, the moment I made the decision that I was going to give it my all to manifest this vision in my lifetime, and I wasn’t going to give up till my last breath. My philosophy is, why give up now? We don’t know what the outcome is going to be, we really don’t. This isn’t the time to give up, this is the time to keep forging forward and to feed the possibilities of what this transition is about instead of seeing it as an end, which is where despair leads us to.
Eberlein: It seems like much of it has to do with our fear of death, not only personally, but the fear of our demise as a species. We do everything we can to avoid the subject, but it’s just a natural part of life. Earth is just going to continue being, no matter how, but we have this need for self-preservation.
Ingerman: This goes back to the rational scientific approach, where the physical does die, but the spirit is immortal. There’s always going to be a continuation of life and spirit, but when you only look at the body, it’s true, the body is going to die. I was reading an article in our local newspaper here in Santa Fe about a month ago, and it was talking about finding fossils and evidence of life millions and millions of years before the dinosaurs even existed. It was just like one of those moments where you really get the bigger picture as far as timing goes. We’re such a little blip in a timeframe, and this process that we’re going through I think is going to go on for quite a while. It might be beyond our life time. It’s about letting go of the “evidence.” People want to see evidence for good reason, I understand that. We don’t wanna get too woo woo and never have any kind of evidence of changes happening, but at the same time we get so attached to the outcome. It’s like “I prayed today, then I watched TV, and nothing changed.” I think people are really being unrealistic about the timing of things, we really need to do our work and let go of the outcome. Just keep focused. We are not keeping our focus and that’s a big part of the challenge right now.
Eberlein: I’m interested in simplicity. It seems that most of the consumption and waste that have created this ecological crisis comes from complexity, both of industrial systems, and our mind. How do we de-clutter?
Ingerman: (Laughs) I think reevaluating our goals, re-prioritizing our lives, for one thing. The priorities that people have in their lives, their “shoulds,” always come first, before taking time to regenerate, time to be still. And stillness is what’s required from people to be able to take a timeout from all the busy-ness. I often use the metaphor of a river of life: modern day western culture is always walking against the river of life, which is creating a lot of emotional and physical illness. Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we don’t have to acknowledge the seasons of life, the times to slow down, to regenerate, for that new life to burst forth again.
Technology has enabled us to keep going seven days a week, and it’s creating a lot of unhealthiness, both physical and mental. When you have a constant list of what you should be doing, your mind keeps spinning. People really need to take some time to be in nature again, to take walks, sit by a river or the ocean, to let their minds just empty out and allow themselves to go into those trance states. See what happens when you stare into a fire, when you watch a river or the ocean, a stream or waterfall, or sit on a high vista and look as far as you can see, and let the wind clear your thoughts. It’s a real healing process for people to be out in nature and find a way to slow down and reprioritize. I’ve met a lot of people over my years as a healer and psychotherapist who were facing death, and at the end of their life they always say “my priorities were mixed up.” You know, “I should have taken more time to slow down, I should have taken more time to be with my family, I should have taken more time to experience the joys of life.” We really need to get that message while we’re alive that how we prioritize our lives with all the “shoulds” is not healthy for us on any level.