Have you ever wondered how to learn from native peoples? How to access opportunities to study ancient healing methods, secrets about life and spiritual growth? Indigenous people hold wisdom that has been passed down for thousands of years. This wisdom has been largely forgotten in Western culture, and includes how to use the body’s own being and energy to become whole, healthy and spiritually aware. Those secrets are still out there, ready to be learned by those who are sincere and make the effort. Having backpacked into remote areas to learn such knowledge, John shares 10 tips for how to access that learning yourself.
Indigenous peoples, in many cases, transmit their wisdom from generation to generation in the form of oral tradition. Even when knowledge is written down, oral tradition contextualizes what is written. If you want to know what they know, you’re going to have to travel to the source and learn in person.
Native peoples can sniff out when Westerners visit them as tourists, as scientists, as ‘drive-by’ spiritual seekers, as journalists, etc. If you’re wanting to learn their tradition in any true sense, you must be sincere and have the right intention to use the knowledge the way it was intended. The sincerity of your heart will open doors to real teachings, since in many cultures, knowledge is not given to those who are not personally prepared to be proper stewards of it.
Although native traditions have elements in common, they also vary significantly from one another. Before considering who you might study with, identify traditions you can easily relate to. For example, don’t visit high-altitude tribes if you don’t function well at high altitude. Don’t visit groups who use psychoactive plants as a main ritual if that’s not your thing. Some groups engage in ascetic, physically-demanding and sometimes scary exercises. Some have a gentler approach.
In this case, it means anyone whose knowledge you are seeking. Many indigenous societies prize wisdom, and hold their teachers in great esteem. Teachers themselves often use politeness as a gauge of your readiness and sincerity. Do not be too forward. Show patience and restraint. Bring a gift. Defer to whomever the local teachers are in the way you speak and carry yourself. Know that direct eye contact with elders, in some cultures, is a sign of disrespect.
In some places where I studied, I was given information that was not in any textbooks or anthropological articles on the tribe. You can learn a great deal from joining a village for a while and studying as one of them. Real oral traditions may be shared only with those who respect the tribe’s ways by living as they do, and not necessarily with those who are there to only study as an outside observer. You may need to learn their language and culture. And in some cases, you must be prepared to dedicate significant time among the tribe, as some top shamans do not accept students for less than a comprehensive training program that can take years.
In some areas that have already received interest from the outside, there may be many claiming or pretending to be the village’s healers or teachers. They may try to intercept you as you inquire about medicine men and women in the area. Beware, as these practitioners may not be skilled or worse. Use the sincerity of your heart, and keep asking locals to guide you to the people who are at the top of the food chain as teachers/healers for the community.
Studying indigenous wisdom begins in your local area or home country. Seek out professors, shamans, authors or non-profits who have worked with native people and are already familiar with certain areas. They can often point you in the right direction, and may have contacts you can draw on. Keep in mind, these resources may only get you in the door. From there you’ll have to seek out real teachers on your own.
Those of us who are more a part of modernized society are often viewed as important and valuable members of the planetary community by native people. Although they may possess wisdom we have lost and forgotten, and we may need them to re-teach it to us, they need us as well. We offer a bridge to the current state of the world. Realize the value you bring by being willing to learn their tradition, as it gives them an ally within modernized society that, from their perspective, needs healing and change to live in harmony with all things.
If you are intrigued by the idea of learning native traditions at the source, but worry you may not have much in common with native people, remember human consciousness is much the same across cultures. Our minds share similar qualities irrespective of language and custom. In fact, you may find the shaman experiences more in common with you than with many people within his/her own tribe.
Keep in mind traveling in remote areas is dangerous. There is not the same level of communication to the outside world you may have come to expect. You may be traveling in areas with bad characters and in cultures who view you as an unprotected person in terms of the structure of their society. Affiliate yourself with a respected healer quickly, and keep your eyes out. Black magic is common in many areas where positive healing and spiritual arts are practiced.
Indigenous people have so much to offer those of us who have grown up in modernized society in terms of what it means to be a human being, the nature of life, and how to heal and develop our minds through natural methods. We should take care to learn ancient traditions and be respectful stewards of them in order to ensure such knowledge continues to be passed down. By learning native traditions from the source, person to person, we can help ourselves, others, and the planet heal by promoting unity and harmony between all of creation.
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