Shaman, Healer, Sage

Have indigenous societies always known something we're now discovering in the laboratory?

Reprinted with permission from "Shaman, Healer, Sage: How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of the Americas" published by Harmony Books, a division of Random House.

I entered a career in medical anthropology with a fascination for the human mind. In the 1980s I spent hundreds of hours in anatomy laboratories. I wanted to know how the mind could influence the body to create either health or disease. At that time I had little interest in spirituality, whether of the traditional or New Age variety. I was convinced that science was the only reliable method for acquiring knowledge.

One day at the University of California I was slicing brain tissue, preparing slides to examine under the microscope. The human brain is the most bewildering organ in the body. Its crevasses make it resemble a three-pound walnut. These valleys and convolutions were the only way nature could accommodate a thin but extensive layer of neocortex (the word means "new brain") into our heads without increasing the size of our skull. Human evolution had already run into an anatomically insurmountable obstacle: The pelvic girdle could not tolerate passing a larger head through the birth canal.


Under the microscope one can observe the millions of synapses that weave every brain cell with its neighbors into an extraordinary network of living fibers. These neural networks transmit vast amounts of motor and sensory data. Yet the fascination with the brain is uniquely Western. The Egyptians had very little use for it, liquefying it after death and siphoning it off, even though the rest of the body's organs were mummified.

The question we had been debating that day at the lab was whether the human mind was confined to the brain, or even to the body, for that matter. I knew that if the brain were simple enough for us to understand it,


would be so simple that we couldn't. Yet no matter how meticulously we examined slides of the brain, the mind kept eluding us. The more I learned about the brain, the more confounded I became about the mind.

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Alberto Villoldo
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