The master shamans were concerned with one theme — the discovery of an undying self and an undying joy, and bringing this realization to others.
While some shamans worked to heal the body, these master shamans healed the soul. The undying is attained through skillful effort. Whereas most ordinary effort is aimed at improving our lot in life, or acquiring greater comfort or pleasure, skillful effort is aimed at bringing us to the threshold of the undying.
Each of us awakens to our mortal nature. When we are young we know that death happens, but not that it will happen to us. A puppy dies, or someone’s grandfather passes. Later, we understand that death will come to claim us as well.
The second awakening happens later, when we discover our undying nature. It can happen during any transcendent experience, such as prayer, making love, a near-death incident or at the moment of death. We have a rush of insight lasting less than a second and for a whole eternity — a sudden sense of unity with all that is and ever was, a tremendous sense of awe and humility, and a dissolving of the ego. We die to the way of the flesh and are born to the way of Spirit.
The Earthkeeper does not wait until the moment of death to discover the undying — he welcomes the opportunity to gaze into the face of death. The shamans of the Amazon believe that anyone who has not experienced the second awakening will, after death, return to the river of souls and lose all individuality. Those who have been initiated will retain their identity even while immersed in that stream. The awakened do not have to carry their wounds with them as karma into their next lifetime.
In many traditions, a seeker would journey to a desolate place — perhaps the high desert or the jungle — to engage in a vision quest. There she would fast and pray, facing and defeating the demons that appeared before her. Eventually, the seeker would symbolically “die” to her earthly existence and awaken to her nature as an infinite being at peace with God.
Recognizing our eternal nature allows us to realize that our true identity won’t ever cease to exist, and the part of us that will be shed like an old skin isn’t that important anymore. We realize that our worst fear is to waste time by not living fully and to find our self on our deathbed thinking about all our regrets.
Skillful practice makes the discovery of the undying — and living in accordance with its laws — possible. The essence of skillful practice is bringing beauty to the world, touching everyone and everything you touch with beauty. Like the Navajo poem says: “Beauty before me, beauty behind me, in beauty I walk.”
The laws are simple: First there is Universal Ethic. Living ethically, we are aware of the consequences of every action we take, and how they create the world we live in. Second, there is Ayni (“All My Relations”). We are interconnected with everyone and everything, from the hungry child across the world to the most distant sun. The notion of an “I” separate from the “ALL” is a misunderstanding.