An Interview with
Share Guide: For our readers who haven't read your books, can
us an introduction to shamanism and how you got involved in it in South
John Perkins: In 1968 I joined the Peace Corps and was sent deep into the Amazon to live and work with the Shuar people (pronounced Shwah), who are an Amazonian tribe that had never been conquered by anyone. They are probably most famous for head shrinking&emdash;whenever you see a shrunken head, it was done by a Shuar because they're the only contemporary people who do this. They really don't do it any more though, now that they're in contact with the modern world. That trip started a relationship that's gone on ever since 1968. I spent three years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and then became a consultant to the United Nations and World Bank, then a businessman in my own right. Now I run a non-profit organization that works principally with indigenous people, including the Shuar. The Shuar were one of the organizers behind this non-profit organization, which is called the Dream Change Coalition.
The Share Guide: Can you tell me what the definition of shamanism is and what it means to you?
John: My favorite short definition of a shaman is a man or a woman who journeys to other worlds in order to obtain power, wisdom and energy from those worlds to affect change in this world. When we talk about other worlds, we can use terms like the unconscious or the subconscious--there are a lot of different terms that can used. But a shaman is a person who journeys into these other realities and uses the things that he or she gains in these other realities to create transformation in this reality. That transformation can be healing--many shamans are great healers. They don't work like medical doctors, but they work to accomplish the same thing, which is curing people. Or the changes that they affect could have to do with growing cycles of plants, migratory habits of animals, the relationship of the community to the environment. It could be any number of social or environmental factors they are called upon to work with.
The Share Guide: Are you still leading retreats to visit the Shuar in their native land?
John: I do. I just got back recently from the Shuar and also the Quechua (pronounced kee-chwah) in the highlands of Ecuador. We took a group of sixteen people to both places--to be with Quechua shamans in the Andes and Shuar shamans in the Amazon.
The Share Guide: How often do you take people there?
John: Last year I facilitated five trips and this year I'm facilitating three, but we've expanded tremendously. My organization, Dream Change Coalition, is leading twelve trips this year. We now have four other trip leaders, all of whom are women. They're taking on more trips and I'm kind of dropping back the number of trips I do. I've been leading them for many years and I'm moving into some other areas.
The Share Guide: So you now have some help to share the work.
John: Yes, and they each bring a different perspective, based on their backgrounds.
The Share Guide: Are the Quechua and Shuar homelands the main places that you go?
John: Yes, we have a standard trip that we do, if you can call any trip like this standard. Each trip is different, although we go to the same places. We have a couple of Ecuadorian partners, who live in Ecuador and have been working with us for ten years or more and always go with the groups, too. Each trip leader has developed her own trip. There's really nothing standard about them at all! We have also been doing trips to the Himalayas, we're developing trips to Guatamala, to the Pacific Islands and to Siberia.
The Share Guide: You go to traditional groups in all those areas?
John: Yes. And each trip leader is free to design their own type of trip. The way Dream Change Coalition works is that we're totally non-hierarchical. There is no boss, nobody that checks over our policy and makes decisions. As long as you fit within our three goals in our mission statement, then anyone is free to develop whatever project he or she wants.
The Share Guide: Let's back up a bit. When did Dream Change Coalition form?
John: As a concept and as a worldwide grassroots organization it's been around ten years. Our original vision was to create a worldwide tribe that would carry out these three goals: the first goal is to change the dream to a more earth honoring and sustainable one, throughout the world; the second one is to preserve forests and other natural places, and the third is to utilize indigenous wisdom to foster environmental and social balance. If anyone has a project that fits within any one of those three goals, they're welcome to do the project under the Dream Change umbrella. Now, we soon discovered that the actuality of the whole situation was that you need to incorporate in various countries in order to legally do things. In the United States we have several non-profit organizations. The main one that manages our work here is Dream Change Inc. That has existed for three years. We also have other organizations, both non-profit and for profit in places like Ecuador, Italy, Australia...all the different places fall under the umbrella of the Dream Change Coalition.
The Share Guide: As far as actual projects that you do, there's a regular schedule of South American trips?
John: Yes, that's really the heart of our business. In addition to the trips we do a lot of workshops in the United States and in Europe. We did one last year to India. We're doing a lot of work with the Dalai Lama. There are many other projects. You can find them on our website. For example, a third grade teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, takes her children, and this is in public school, on what she calls Mind Vacations. It's really a shamanic journey to the rainforest where the kids learn about the animals and plants and people that live there. They've written a beautiful book which we're publishing and it's all written by third graders. It's been an incredible experience for them and their families. Another project is producing sustainably harvested necklaces, made from nuts, vines and flowers. We want to provide a forum for everybody who's ever said "Why doesn't somebody do something about this?" or, "If only they would change this" or "I certainly would do something about this if I only had an organization to work with". So Dream Change Coalition provides that organization--we provide the forum whereby anybody who has a dream can change the world.
The Share Guide: Excellent. That really encourages people of all ages; it's an opportunity to step forward in an organized business way.
John: It's very powerful. We've had a tremendous number of people responding. People really want to do something and normally they feel powerless. Alone it's too much, they need an organization. We can provide that. They have to do the work, they're the project manager. But we get mailing lists, we get extra resources, including sometimes financial resources, although that's not a major job of ours. We've researched how to raise money.
The Share Guide: You have a non-profit organization and you can teach people how to find resources.
John: We also publish a magazine, and our website was cited by Time magazine in their Earth Day issue of 1999 as one of the thirteen websites in the world that most express the philosophy of Earth Day.
The Share Guide: How would you compare a retreat with a vacation?
John: Our trips are set up to be transformational. We tell people before they go that they're going to die on this trip and be reborn. And it happens to everyone. People go through some amazing, shapeshifting , transformational processes on these trips. They are not what I would call a vacation. I think of a vacation as lying on a tropical beach someplace and just relaxing, or perhaps going skiing and then going to the ski lodge afterwards and having a hot toddy. But these trips, these retreats, allow you to really get into yourself. To see your dream, the new shape you want to shift into and then to really get the process moving so that you change your life.
The Share Guide: I think a key word that you said was "transformational".
John: To me that is what a retreat is all about, at least the kind of retreats we offer. Even in the Himalayas, where we look at retreats as being much more meditative, than adventures, cultures where it's not so much a physical experience as one of going in , you may see it as an escape from the hustle-bustle of the business world, the everyday world-but it's really about going into yourself to create transformation.
The Share Guide: Let me ask you about the Gathering of the Shamans in Fall 2000.
John: We're bringing the shamans back to America, to the Omega Institute in upstate New York. Last September we brought ten shamans to the United States from the Amazon and Andes. We did one in Malibu and one in Michigan and then one at Omega. We found the Omega Institute campus to be the perfect place to do this. So this next year we'll just bring them to this one place and staying for a full week. There will probably be at least fifteen shamans visiting this year.
The Share Guide: And it will be inner transformational work. It's not as exotic as traveling to South America, but it's closer to home.
John: Yes, exactly. Some people cannot or do not want to go to the Amazon or Andes may be more comfortable going to upstate New York.
The Share Guide: One thing I want to do is facilitate a group going from here to the Gathering of the Shamans this year. That is part of my dream, as readers respond I'd like to go with a group to Omega this Fall.
John: Wonderful. One of our trip leaders, Mary Tindall, lives in Nevada City and she came last year to New York.
The Share Guide: What work do you plan on doing, or have you done, on the West Coast, for those of us who are all the way in California?
John: We would like to do more in California. I usually do an annual workshop at Esalen, but not this year. We have an annual workshop in Florida where I live and all the trip leaders are there and usually a couple of visiting shamans. We're talking about doing the same sort of thing in California, but we haven't yet.
The Share Guide: The work you are doing is very powerful, uniting the world's native cultures with one another and with us here in America. Northern California is a hotbed of consciousness. I think there are a lot of people around here like me who, once they got turned on to Dream Change, would be very excited.
John: Thank you very much. We had a very good response at Body and Soul in San Fransico last year and we'll keep growing in California.
The Share Guide: From your books, relating to inner work, can you talk about psychonavigation and camaying?
John: Psychonavigation to me is a huge body of techniques and knowledge, many different journeying ways. There are many different approaches and they're all about navigating to a place where we need to be, in order to accomplish what we need to accomplish. For each person that may be different. But I think we're seeing as a species that in the long run we're all headed to the same place. And if we don't head toward that place, we're probably not going to stay on this earth as a species. The shamans like to tell us that Mother Earth isn't in danger, this idea of needing to save the planet is ridiculous. That human beings aren't going to destroy the planet. But the planet may just shake us all off like a bunch of fleas. She's giving us a lot of warnings right now. El Nino as a message is a great gift. Climate change, the fires that have swept through the Indonesian rainforest, the drought which for the first time ever has hit the Amazon, are all amazing warnings. Receding glaciers...and so she's giving us a message and this is a very exciting time for human beings to live in and to react. Because we don't want to be shaken off. Yet it really doesn't matter a whole lot if we do get shaken off, for we know that everything shapeshifts. We never die, we never leave. Einsteinian science confirms that. Matter and energy never leave they just change--they shapeshift. But since we're getting these messages from the earth, it's an incredibly wonderful opportunity to be able to respond to the challenge.
For more information about John Perkins and the Dream Change Coalition, please visit www.dreamchange.org
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