An indigenous worldview, without the western sophistication of physics, offers many in roads into the inner dimension. If we wish to achieve sustainable living world wide, we need to listen also to what other cultures are saying and to become aware of how deeply entrenched we are within our own world views, not only across cultures but within cultures also. There are stories we tell ourselves that perpetuate the separateness that is fundamental to socio-ecological crisis. One difference between ‘shamanism’ and ‘science’, is that a shaman never says what you experience is fantasy. It is through myth and fantasy that we create the stories that shape our world and inspire wonder.
Bowers (1993) shows us that:
‘(For native peoples) Learning how to live in a habitat … involves learning form elders (survivors), generations no longer present, plants, animals, soils, weather patterns, and all other elements of the habitat. Knowledge, context, continuity, and practice seem to be intertwined and holistic … Unlike the emancipatory orientation of critical reflection, which incorporates Western assumptions about knowing being based on an individual perspective and a distancing/objectifying relationship … (in traditional forms of knowledge) the person is not viewed as the primary repository of knowledge.’
Knowledge, within a traditional society, is a living thing that has existence independent of human beings. A person comes to knowing by entering into a relationship with the living spirit of that knowledge. Coming- to -knowing means entering into relationship with the spirits of knowledge, with plants and animals, with beings that animate dreams and visions, and with the spirit of the people (Peat 1994). Polyani (in Peat 1994) writes about ‘tacit knowledge’ – a knowing that he says it not passed on through books or verbal instruction but is learned through direct experience through the whole of one’s being. An example of such knowledge is riding a bicycle. No one can tell you how to ride, yet one day you find you can.
‘Indigenous knowing is a vision of the world that encompasses both the heart and the head, the soul and the spirit. It could no more deal with matter in isolation than the theory of relativity could fragment space and time. It is a vision in which rock and tree, bird and fish, human being and caribou are all alive and partakers of the gifts of Mother Earth. Indigenous science does not seek to found its knowledge, as we do, at the level of some most ultimate elementary particle or theory, rather it is a science of harmony and compassion, of dream and vision, of Earth and cosmos, of hunting and growing, of technology and spirit, of song and dance, of colour and number, of cycle and balance, of death and renewal’ (Peat 1994).
Unfortunately, as westerners, to experience the world like an indigenous person, we are like a visitor in a foreign country who clings to their maps and guidebooks and only walks along the most travelled paths. Yet so many people recognise this way of perceiving reality, almost as if we are not so far from this perception after all. We are living in a time where knowledge is ‘naturalised’ and the values which have produced this knowledge are hidden from view by a scientific rationality, they are naturalised. As Connor (1993) explains, they have not disappeared but have been driven into critical unconsciousness continuing to exercise power and force, without being available for scrutiny. We must overcome this ‘naturalisation tendency’,that makes us lazy to open to different ways of perceiving and keeps us stuck in an objective only reality where magic is just clever tricks. Seager (1993) points out that, ‘prior to the European scientific revolution, nature and culture was conceptualised as a living nurturing organism. Work, culture, nature and daily life were interwoven in a seamless web and a nurturing female – identified earth was considered to be the root of all life.’
Pretchel (1999), having lived for more than 20 years within a Guatemalan village, gives us, as westerners, an exclusive insight into the Mayan way:
‘Mayan tradition is not concerned with progressing to a glorious future. The gods had already achieved that, and we were living it! We were concerned with maintaining a glorious present dedicated with feeding what gave us this life in a remembering way. Because the culture was old, this remembering way was archaic by nature … The word for old in Tzutujil also means “great,” or “strong like a tree.” Oldness, archaicness, meant that a long time ago a new thing had lasted and was now proven to be good because it was old … With no verb “to be”, permanence becomes a comic hypothesis for most Mayans, who don’t believe anything will last on its own. That’s why everything in their lives is oriented toward maintenance instead of creation … Since Mayans belong to things, they don’t really make them; they maintain life, take care of things … Mayans don’t force the world to be what they want it to be: they are friends with it, they belong to life.’
Finally, Harner (1990) conveys that:
The best of both (world views) are in awe of the complexity and magnificence of the universe and of Nature, and realise that during their own lifetimes they will only come to observe and understand a small portion of what is going on. Both shamans and scientists personally pursue research into the mysteries of the universe, and both believe that the underlying causal processes of that universe are hidden from ordinary view. And neither master shamans nor master scientists allow the dogma of ecclesiastical and political authorities to interfere with their explorations. It was no accident that Galileo was accused of witchcraft.’