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Posted on Monday, October 31 - 2005

" The spiritual practices of indigenous people have existed around the globe since prehistoric times. What wisdom do they offer us in the modern world?I asked Tom Pinkson, a psychologist in San Rafael who has studied the rituals of indigenous tribes up close for more than 30 years, to shar..."

Shaman

The spiritual practices of indigenous people have existed around the globe since prehistoric times. What wisdom do they offer us in the modern world?I asked Tom Pinkson, a psychologist in San Rafael who has studied the rituals of indigenous tribes up close for more than 30 years, to share what he has learned. Pinkson, an expert on the psychology of death and dying, is a clinical consultant to the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, where he works with children and families with life-threatening illnesses.Seeking deeper truths about the mysteries of life and death, Pinkson began studying with shamanic medicine teachers in the Amazon jungle, the Andes and elsewherewho initiated him into their ancient ways.

He wrote a book, "The Flowers of Wiricuta," and founded WAKAN, a spiritual community based on his 11-year apprenticeship with a group of Huichol Indian shamans in the Sierra Madre of Mexico.

You've been studying and participating in the ceremonial practices of indigenous groups since the early 1970s. What led you to that work?My path of exploration began before my fourth birthday, when my father died and I was forcefully thrust into what the Buddhists call the "teachings of impermanence." I learned at a young age that death has the power to take away your loved ones whenever it wants.

That's a difficult lesson for anyone, let alone a four-year-old. How did you cope with that loss?Basically,my unresolved grief imploded and I had a health crisis -- I came down with life-threatening asthma and severe allergies that required a host of weekly shots and medication. As I got older and the testosterone of adolescence hit, my pain from the loss burst forth in the form of acting-out through juvenile delinquency.

What sort of trouble did you get into?I was in a street gang -- so I was getting into fights, destroying property, stealing cars and burglarizing homes. It was really by the grace of God that I didn't end up dead or in jail.

Eventually you got your life on track. You went to school and became a psychologist. How did you turn things around?The forced confrontation with death as a child raised the question in my mind: Given that life can be taken......


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