My friend Pierre

A psychologist at the shamans', between science and initiation

15 DECEMBER 2016,
With chief and shaman Mentawai tribe, Siberut Island (Sumatra)
With chief and shaman Mentawai tribe, Siberut Island (Sumatra)

Life is a journey where we often lose direction due to our internal conflicts that confuse us and make us forget to appreciate the sense of being in the world, nature, plants, animals and life in general, in all its manifestations and its infinite forms. To get out of the darkness and find our way, we need to rebuild ourselves, which may not be possible without a scout. The spiritual guide of this homecoming can be a shaman, who knows the techniques related to the deeper realities. The shaman’s primary objective is to free us from ourselves, lift us so we can look at our soul from the outside and from the inside. To shine a light on the gray areas we have, which sometimes we’re too scared to visit.

Shamanism is a belief system above religions, characterized by pantheistic and animist features, a non-institutionalized language with its own rules and concepts that don’t follow a formal structure. This universal principle has diversified to suit cultural molds and there are now roughly 21 large geographical areas where the culture and tradition of the shamans are still in force, and whose rituals take aspects apparently very far from each other. Each universe allows us to live experiences in total disregard of our quotidianity and puts us in touch with the parts of our being that we sometimes ignore. Supernatural and mystical experiences, through ceremonies and initiatic rituals, with or without hallucinogens, induce states of special awareness, make us leave the marked paths and take us to discover ourselves and the world, escaping from our usual reality. In this sense, the shamanic experience is a journey within a journey.

Sometime ago I met Pierre. I do not remember exactly when, but it must have been thirty years ago. We met almost every day, after long days at the office. Our evenings revolved around endless discussions on everything, surrounded by memorable meals immersed in waves of wines, songs and musics. Our group consisted of singers, painters, craftsmen and others who joined us for a night out of the ordinary. Pierre has always been extreme in its broadest sense, and pushed everything to the unbearable, exceeding most of the boundaries of what was called "normal". Pierre has also experimented in painting, with some success, and his works reflected a search and a flagrant break with formalism, as if he were already intuitively aware of possible new realities to explore.

Years later, Pierre began to study Psychology, which drew us again to spend whole nights talking about various themes. He was also beginning his skipper career, leading together his work as translator, his university duties and solidarity cruises for suffering children and teens. His studies and psychologist work brought him towards the supernatural, particularly the theme of possession, including various rituals and techniques used by the church to "help" the possessed. As he established a connection with specialized ecclesiastical authorities regarding exorcism and demons, Pierre was beginning his quest for a reality beyond reality.

At that time we weren’t meeting as much, but I was observing him as he ventured more and more towards the supernatural, until he confirmed to me that he had become an explorer of the unseen and esoterics. Then, for a few years, we had lost touch after my departure abroad. Upon my return, we resumed our conversation where we had stopped. Pierre was now focused on shamanism not as a distant and disembodied subject of study, but as a personal experience on his own skin. His program now includes visits to all the great animist peoples of the planet, where the border between here and beyond, natural and supernatural does not exist. He goes to the other universe for a deep, intense experience for a few months, and exposes himself to ceremonies and initiations, sometimes with hallucinogens, rituals and physical tests, all experiences that anyone without his determination and motivation would be scared to live. Pierre also seriously advices that all the rituals should be in any case leaded by a real shaman (and not one of the numerous shamanic tours fake agents) to avoid serious phisical and mental risks.

Before starting his research in the world of shamanism, he pushed further in the field of exorcism and traditional psychiatry. He lived the reality of psychiatric hospitals from the inside, including voluntary interned, and coming very close to many philosophies, religions, organisations, beliefs groups, sects and diverse cults such as the Freemasons, the church of Scientology, Buddhism, and other paths affecting in any way the paranormal (New Age, magic, spiritism, astrology, orientalism, esoteric practices…), to the more recent experiences of application of quantum mechanics to medicine and psychology.

I just met him on his return from Mongolia, the ninth of what he calls his list of 21 galaxies where shamanism is still the roots of popular spirituality, eg Mongolia, Siberia, Tuva People, Tsaatan, Buryats, Khazaks for North-Eastern sphere; Alaska, Greenland and Finland for the Inuit world; Peru, the Amazon and Brazil with the Ayahuascan tradition among others. And then Africa with its wizards, Australia with its singers, Sahara with its healers, Indonesia with its dancers, Caribbean Voodoo, Japan Itakos, China’s Shaolin monks, India and sadhus. Pierre is younger than me a year and has yet backpacked around the world in the Americas, Africa and Asia, approaching cultural realities that most of us ignore, exposing his deepest self, touching the limits of reality and sometimes beyond, in his passion to live and learn, mixing psychological knowledge, anthropological methods and a personal initiatic path.

He said that our inner reality is fragmented primarily by fear and, in essence, that shamanism is a technique that aims for the reunification of the human being, not only in itself but also with the surrounding world and that in this sense, shamanism is a holistic therapy.

I carefully looked at him, as he spoke to me, I watched his gestures, and I understood that Pierre had reached something deep. His personality is transformed, he seems serene and detached from all these concerns that pollute and harasse most of our everyday lives. He encountered extreme situations and he understood, for having been able to survive, that the value of life is other than what we can perceive. He is now, I am sure, closer to the center, free of illusions, and he sees things and the world as they really are. Pierre opened his third eye, like a Hindu would say.

Among his many comments, he said he did not fear poverty because the material value of things that make the wealth is only a tiny fraction of their true value, and those who are just rich are poor, for the essence of life is beyond the material. He quietly rejected his fear of death, because he saw it very closely, and found that everyone looks at death differently. For some, it is taboo, as here in the West. For others, it is an everyday companion, where people think of death as if it was an always open door to other worlds.

His last trip to Mongolia put him in front of a fundamental aspect of life, mainly the battle between opposites, that are part of the same vital circle, understanding the conflict between personal drives and interdependence within nature and community. The existential question, for him, is to understand when is it wise to push and go ahead, and what price are we prepared to pay to pursue our personal goals, or when is it better to accept and abide when these goals conflict with others, other situations and, at the end, the universal order ? He told me smiling that the gods expect us to be responsible partners, who understand that the frontier between normality and supernatural doesn’t exist.

The paths that Pierre crossed, his personal fights and his struggle to survive during his trips, deeply marked him. He understands obvious consequences on his heart, mind and body, but that does not stop him from preparing for the next trip, as his research is endless, and his conquests were the result of his unwavering faith in himself, his resilience, his sharp character.

Who knows, maybe shamanism is not only therapeutic, as we traditionally understand it, but above and first of all a bridge to other realities that make us grow and mature. Pierre, like many, left the comfort zone, but has also cut ties not to go back, and entered this unexplored space where mythology, rituals, consciousness, reality and feelings define our humanity.

His words, at the end of our dialogue, were: "I do not claim anymore to understand or explain anything, but I think I comprehend what "mindfulness" really means, to be fully conscious in the world. I no longer want to save the planet or humanity: these trips have transformed me into an adult, and now all that I can and want to offer is a responsible relationship with myself, with others and the universe. My goal, if I can use that word, is to dive into this mystic pool, which exceeds the human condition. Freud called it the oceanic sense, that, in today's language, is called resonance or cosmic vibration. Where life, meaning and the deepest forms of knowledge emerge. Where we become one with nature and the universe.

The essence of each border is to be crossed,
Of all limits to be exceeded,
Of Freedom to always live
without limits or barriers in an infinite space.
But the most difficult obstacles are ourselves
and the most impenetrable prison is our own thinking.

He broke all his chains
To enter himself.
He got rid of all his finery
for dressing humanity.
He inlighted all its shadows
to accept himself as it was.
Another simple creature,
among a thousand other creatures
in a amazing universe