Tami Simon: You're listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is my Dr. José Luis Stevens. José is an international lecturer, teacher, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, and author of 18 books. He's on the board of the Society of Shamanic Practitioners and is the cofounder of Power Path School of Shamanism and the Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange.
With Sounds True, José has written a new book called Encounters with Power: Adventures and Misadventures on the Shamanic Path of Healing. José is also a teacher in Sounds True's ongoing online subscription community called Year of Ceremony. This is a community in which participants from all over the world gather for full moon ceremonies designed to facilitate both personal and collective healing. If you're interested to learn more about Year of Ceremony, please visit SoundsTrue.com.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, José Luis Stevens and I spoke about José's definition of power and the importance on the shamanic path of understanding power—acquiring it, storing it, and expressing it—and how the price of power is your comfort zone. José also shared with us stories of initiation and lessons learned from his new book Encounters with Power and how he resolved for himself the question of free will versus faith. Finally, José and I talked about our current environmental crisis and how to take an empowered stance in the face of current events. Here's my conversation with Dr. José Luis Stevens.
José, I know you're a ceremonial leader among other shamanic tasks that you perform, and a conversation isn't exactly a ceremony, but to me a conversation with a lot of intention does have a sacredness to it. I'm so looking forward here to having this sacred conversation with you. I'm wondering if you'd be willing to begin right here at the beginning with some type of invocation that really brings in a blessing power for the conversation we're about to have.
José Luis Stevens: Sure. That sounds wonderful. Just give me a moment here to make that little transition to sacred space.
At this time, I call upon all of the helping spirits to witness this conversation and to support it in any way that's helpful—to add light to it, to bring power to it, and to help it to extend out to all those people that may need to in some way hear the information of this conversation.
I give thanks for all the spirits who are helping and spirits of the four directions—the east, the south, the west and the north—and the sky above and the earth below, and the spirits of this planet. I think we're ready to go here.
TS: Wonderful. Thank you. Now interestingly, in this opening invocation you brought up two things that I actually really want to talk to you about. One is you talked about bringing in light and there's a line from your new book Encounters with Power that I scribbled, which is, "Light is a shaman's best friend." I thought, "I want to know more about that."
JLS: Yes. Well, sometimes these things are not so easy to talk about because you have to find words to describe these things and they don't lend themselves to all the words, but I'll do my best. Light is what we're made of and, therefore, light is fundamental. It's the most fundamental thing there is. This book is focusing on encounters with power and power is supported by light.
Now, yes, there are many stories about those that use power from the dark side, but I don't consider that to be real power. I consider that to be like parlor tricks. Sure, you can do things with darkness, but it's not real power. It's not sustainable. It doesn't carry you through to your essence. The greatest powers are in light. Light is where we came from, light is where we're going. Light is where we are; we just forgot. And so we sometimes are just feeling disconnected from the light all around us and that's what part of the human experience is—is the forgetting for a while. Then, of course, finding our way back—which is the hero's journey—and discovering that, "Oh, it was light all along. I just closed my eyes for a while."
Those are few things I can say about shamanic power of light.
TS: Yes. What about someone in this moment who says, "This sounds good; light's fundamental; we're made of light right here." How could you point them to experiencing that in some way?
JLS: Well, you can look outside and you can see light through your eyes, but if somebody flips off the lights, it’s dark. But if you close your eyes and look within, and recall just about anything, there's going to be light lighting up your memories, lighting up your visions, lighting up your dreams at night. Those don't happen in blackness.
There's light within and it's always there. Every time you close your eyes and you begin to recall something, it's automatic. There's light there. That's something you can do at any moment. Just close your eyes and recall something.
TS: OK, now the second word [that] you mentioned is "power" and you're saying that our power's actually supported by light. I want to read a quote, José, that's right from the introduction of Encounters with Power and here it is: "Shamanically speaking, life is all about becoming more powerful—learning to acquire power, store it, seal it in, and express it when needed."
Let's just really break this down and help me here at the beginning [to understand] how you define power.
JLS: OK. That's good. Power—and this is of course my definition; everybody might not agree—but in my understanding, power is capacity. It's like, let's say, you're going to take a trip in your car and the power you're going to use is, say, the gasoline. So, it gives you the capacity to go wherever you want to go within the distance that you can. The power is not necessarily—let's put it this way: the power is in your capacity to do things.
Then you may do this or you may do that or you may do something else with it. Where I'm focusing on is the potential that it allows you to have. If you have no capacity, if your heart is closed, if your mind is closed, and you shut down your capacity to like a thimble—well, you're just not going to have much power to do much with your life and that's very unfortunate and it's too often the case with people. That's why thousands of years ago, people on the shamanic path discovered the importance of becoming powerful—to accumulate power. And where they did power? They found power all around them.
They found power in the waterfalls, in the rivers, in the waves of the ocean, in the winds blowing through, the animals moving through, sun beaming down, and power within their environment. Really, all they had to do is open up to it. All they had to do is go and receive it. It's actually a very simple thing. Then of course through that accumulated power, then as one goes through their life, they have it available at their fingertips and can dip into it as needed.
Of course, they don't want to fritter it away. They don't want to have it leak out like a hole in your bucket. That's why it's important to have a storehouse of power—one that, like a battery packet, goes with you and it's available at any moment because you never know when you're going to suddenly need a little extra dose of power.
Some of my stories actually illustrate that. Spontaneous events happen where sometimes, yes, you better have some power.
TS: Now, your book Encounters with Power tells all kinds of remarkable stories. Right here you're pointing us to the fact that the book talks some about the ability to store power and how you need to have it when necessary. Can you point to a story in the book that illustrates that?
JLS: Just about all of them do. Let's see.
Yes, there's a story that [is] one of my favorite stories. It's right up pretty close to the front of the book. It's called "Lost in Mexico" and it's about a trip a number of years ago. I go to Mexico a lot on pilgrimage, so it's one of the many trips going down to Mexico. I won't go into all the details of the story here, but the upshot of it was that we ran out of gas in the desert and I went out to hitchhike to get some gas and entered into a grand adventure. At that time, I went over to the side of the road and hitchhiked and got picked up by another car and was taken to a town nearby where I got some gas. I brought it back to where I had left the car and my family, and the car was gone and my family [was] gone.
Suddenly, I was in Mexico with none of my belongings. Fortunately, I had my wallet with me with a little money in it—very little money—and I fortunately, fortunately had my passport with me. From that point on, I had the grand adventure of getting out of Mexico and getting all the way back to my home in Santa Fe with just pennies to spare and with a shorts on and a tee-shirt on in November.
That can happen to anyone at any time and so I had to rely on what power I had already accumulated because I have limited resources. I didn't have the power of a bunch of cash in my wallet. I didn't have some of the things we think of as what we need. All I had was my wits and I had some shamanic power. It was a grand adventure. It was quite frightening and quite stressful in certain ways but very exciting in other ways. I did make it all the way home in a snowstorm only to be greeted by my family back at home.
TS: When you say you had shamanic power, how did you draw on that in this story? What did you have to do?
JLS: Well, among different types of power was the power of my allies so I had to immediately contact my allies and ask them for help and ask them for support. Now if I hadn't cultivated those relationships, maybe that wouldn't have worked out so well.
TS: You're not talking here about someone that like Western Union sent you some cash or something, that's not the kind of allies you're talking about?
JLS: No. I'm talking about my power animals and my teachers that are on the other side, some of my ancestors you could say ad some of the plant medicines that are my allies. I had to dip in and call them up and ask them for support and ask them for advice as I went along, checking in with them. OK, now what's the best thing to do here? How do I handle this? They would give me very clear guidance and so that's a kind of power that you can develop with practice.
Then there was of course just my vitality level which I had to sustain because I had been up all night for a couple of nights in a row deeper in Mexico where we're doing some coyote ceremonies. I was pretty tired and I had nothing to eat and I really didn't have the money to get anything to eat so I had to find some vitality which I did. There's a variety of different kinds of power that I had to rely on.
TS: I want to talk some about what the obstacles might be for people in becoming more powerful in their life because I think this idea, it's very enticing. I'd like to be more powerful, I'd like to be more resourceful, I'd like to have more energy, I'd like to be able to call on the power of allies. In this process of acquiring more power, what do you see are the biggest obstacles?
JLS: Well, actually, there're a number of them. One is of course fear. Fear is one of the biggest obstacles that almost everybody runs into right away. It's like, oh no, that's the first thing out of people's mouth. Oh no, when something spontaneous happens, when something goes unplanned and all of a sudden, there you are, you're faced with a challenge, I've got to get myself through this. Big fear comes up. The fear that perhaps there's no solution, there's a fear that something bad is going to happen to me and I'm going to suffer. There's the fear of just the general unknown and being out of control, blah, blah, blah.
We all have at some level those kinds of fears and those can be seriously debilitating, those can paralyze us. You can see that those begin to arise because you get the physiological responses, your heart starts beating, your mouth gets dry and then at that point, there's a choice. There's a choice to let it take over and sit down in a curb and cry and feel sorry for yourself, which doesn't really do any good or you can go, "I've been here before, this is an initiation I'm in. This was meant to happen. This is not accidental and I have the resources to get through this and I've got all kinds of access to guidance and helpers and I've got prayer I can rely on. I've got my battery pack that I've been building for a long time that will sustain me. I'm going to be OK here."
That's absolutely a key thing is to be able to make a new choice around the challenge that fear is bringing up into the moment. That's one of the first challenges that takes place. I would say that most challenges along the way you can change the props, you can change the scenery, you can change the event, but when it comes down to it, fear is always going to show up. It's always going to be a character, a part of the play, OK. It's going to be like an adversary so that you get repeated opportunities to deal with fear.
TS: Could you share with us a story from your own life, perhaps something you wrote about in Encounters with Power, where you had to confront one of your own fears as a test and what that was like? You used this framework of being tested to see if we're ready for more power in our life.
JLS: Yes. Just off the top of my head, I'm recalling an incident. This is a story that didn't make it into the book. I had to axe it because the book was getting too long. I was in Ecuador. I was with my daughter Anna, we were traveling down deep and near the jungle area and I had some cash along with me. It was about $800 in cash which I had picked up in Peru from another event and I didn't really want to be carrying it but there was no choice, it was the only way to carry this money.
We got on a bus and there's an attendant that comes down the aisle and helps you get your tickets and all that stuff. He said, "You cannot hold that backpack in your lap. You have to put it up above the seat." It sounded a little strange to me but I was trying to be compliant so I put my backpack up there and then he shuffled around and pushed it into place and then he went away and the bus started on its way. When I got to my destination, I pulled up my backpack and I looked inside and the money was gone. It was all gone. That was the money that we were using to travel with.
Instantly, I was just like shocked and horrified and beset with a variety of emotions, fear and anger and upset of every kind you can imagine. It was a big load of fear there because I was saying, "What am I going to do? My money is gone and I don't know what we're going to do here to replace it, blah, blah, blah." We're down in a pretty rural area of Ecuador. We're not near any big cities. I was faced with one of the bigger episodes of fear that I can remember and it was everything I could do to tackle that, to find a calmness within me. I'd find a calmness for a few minutes and then the fear would come back. Then I'd find a calmness and then the fear would come back.
I had to use every resource that I knew. Called in all my helping spirits, called in my allies, looked at the whole thing and realized that I was in an initiation and so I was being challenged and that everything would be OK. After many, many hours of struggle, internal struggle with myself, I finally managed to get unto the other side of my own fear and found a serenity, found a kind of tranquility. Of course, like all of these events and episodes, there were alternatives and I've talked it over with my daughter Anna and she had some ideas of what we could do and we figured out a plan so that we could continue our trip and manage to get some money wired from home and all of that.
It worked out but it was a huge struggle and I realize that it was that this journey, this travel was what I call a bid for power. We all do bids for power, we all do things that are a little challenging at times in our life, sometimes they're bigger bids for power like we decide to get married or we decide to have a child or we decide to go to a school or take on a bigger responsibility of some kind, that's a bid for power. You know if you're going to bid for power you're going to get tested, for sure.
If you're thinking you're not going to run into a test here and there, you're fooling yourself. I had to remind myself of all of this. I had to go back over all that because shamanically I knew that stuff but in a crisis, somehow it's easy for all that stuff to go right out the window. It's like, wait a minute, where are all my resources? I completely forgot what my resources are and so you have to little by little bring them back and recall yes, I have resources, I know what I'm doing. There's another way to perceive this.
One of the fundamental principles of shamanism is not to believe in appearances.
TS: Now, one of the things I'd love you to clarify is you said, getting married even is a bid for power, how is that a bid for power?
JLS: It's a bid for power because you're entering into, first of all, a new phase of your life. It's going to change your life dramatically. It's going to bring in huge challenges of living with this person, getting along with this person, communicating with this person well, overcoming your differences, huge, and so it's taking a step in saying, "I'm going to take on this huge new responsibility because I want to and because I think I'm ready for it in my life and I'm going to go for it. I'm going to go for it. I believe I can do this."
It's a bid for power because through the relationship you're going to become more powerful than as if you just remained alone because it's easy to remain alone in some ways as opposed to being in a relationship, that's what really hard.
TS: It seems that just this idea of reframing difficult experiences as I'm being tested. I'm not exactly sure who's testing us but you could answer that in a moment but the idea that we're being tested as a reframe to just I'm struggling, this is really difficult, this stinks. That reframe is very, dare I use the word, powerful.
JLS: Yes, it is. Most therapists know that. I'm trained as a psychotherapist so I'm used to the whole reframe idea but it's also a major, major component of a shamanic approach to life. It's really all about reframing because one can lead to, if you don't reframe, you're led right in to complaining, whining, martyrdom, feeling sorry for yourself, feeling like a victim. All those are just very disempowering ways of approaching the situation.
Reframing it allows you to go, "Hey, maybe this is part of the plan. Maybe this was like always meant to be and now here it is, am I up for it? I think I am because it wouldn't have shown up unless I was ready for this." Well, that's a big reframe and that takes you in an entirely different direction.
TS: Now, José, one of the things I really want to talk with you about is drawing on our power, if you will, when it comes to the collective state of the world and the environmental crisis and species extinction, and I'm bringing this up at this point in our conversation because I think this is an area where a lot of us could use some help reframing our current global crisis and feeling empowered and not simply feeling quite despairing and at a loss.
Help me see this, if you will, from an empowering shamanic viewpoint.
JLS: That's a great question and it's very timely and I've actually been putting a lot of thought into this recently. In order to respond to it I'm going to have to sort of blow up my own experience into the collective experience.
Collectively, as a human race we are at a, and this is from my perspective, we are at an initiatory time. We're going from a child stage into an adolescent stage and so we're actually going through puberty as a human race. As we know puberty from each of our experiences is pretty challenging. It's a hard transition. It's never easy. Most of us wouldn't repeat it if we had our choice to go back there, we probably wouldn't go back to that time in our lives to repeat.
Imagine that the whole human race is going into puberty right now and with it there're intense hormones, there's intense emotional reactivity. There's great polarization as people fall into different camps and have very different points of view and all that stuff. Think of it, the conflicts that go on, the huge emotional conflicts that go on in an adolescent, think of that going on, on a species wide level. Of course, in our movie, and I like to think of this as a virtual reality movie, is that we're on a heroic journey and as we know a really good movie has its all is lost moments. That's what makes it a really good movie.
What's really fun about gambling is that you could lose everything. What's really fun about a great movie is that it has moments when you think oh, the hero is finished, the heroine is going to die, they have no more resources, they're being crushed by the villain. Then of course, it works out and then we celebrate with them. That's the hero's journey that Joseph Campbell so well described and we're on that hero's journey, that heroine's journey as a species.
This is one of those, oh my God, all is lost moments like what if we fail? What if we lose this planet? What if all is lost and that makes it incredibly exciting. That's from another point of view. Some people might not think of it that way but that's how I'm thinking of it and so what are we going to do with this? How are we going to get ourselves through this series of challenges?
Well, an initiation, this is a bid of power on the species level. The human race is doing a bid for power. Can we get through this? Can we move into a time of great cooperation, a golden age so to speak, that which we've always hope for? Can we get there even though we're faced with something that looks like the opposite? Again, there's that principle, never believe in appearances.
One of the challenges for me as I read the headlines every day they get more discouraging every day and I keep repeating the phrase, never believe in appearances. This is what it looks like but that's not how it actually is. OK, so this is a bid for power and it's going to bring up our most deepest resources. It's going to call upon everything that we know we have to handle this transition. Do I believe we're going to do it? Absolutely, because that's the nature of the hero's journey. I have no question that this does not end in massive failure because that goes against—we started out this conversation talking about the light and in the end there is only light so how could it end any other way? That's what keeps me moving forward, reframing, reframing, reframing and seeing this all as a grand passion play that has such a sense or feeling of realness to it. A really good movie, you forget that it's a movie so that's what we're in.
TS: Now let's say somebody is listening, José, and they're like, "But you know movies are things I go to the movie theater and watch, this is my life. I don't experience it like a movie. I'm not even 100% I know what José means by never believe appearances," can you help that person?
JLS: It's a leap here. It's a leap because we're trained through educational system and through our conditioning to believe that this life that we seem to be living is real, that it's the only game in town and it's actually not the only game in town. In fact, we're not going to get into it here but from quantum physics we're beginning to understand that there're many, many, many parallels. That the universe has endless parallels and they're all playing out and this is only one parallel.
There are parallel stories going on, parallel earths, parallel experiences that have slight differences and then they have a slightly different outcome. That through our choices we're always jumping parallels and this is a topic again that's too complex to actually get into but in other words, what I'm really saying here is that we have choice. We always have choices. We're never ramrodded into a victim's place. Even though it might look like that.
Always we have choice at the deepest levels. At the level of, you could say, our essence or our core itself. Some people call that soul and that's where the choices come from and we can choose anything we want to. I might say that to somebody but they won't necessarily believe me because of their conditioning and what they actually believe is the one and only chance we have and we're bailing.
TS: Now I think the power of choice and that idea, I think have a sense of that but I want to make sure that we don't skip over the parallel earths and the idea that this is not just from quantum physics but it sounds to me, José, that in your inner experience this idea that there are these different parallel universes happening simultaneously is something that you have seen, if you will. Tell me what you see in the inside of your experience about parallel earths, parallel lives.
JLS: Well, there's one described by the Mayans very well in their calendar system. They had 17 calendars so there was only one that actually came to an end in 2012. They've described a cycle that they called katuns, their 20-year periods, that all add up to a bigger cycle of 200 and approximately 60 years. By looking at this cycle you can see certain patterns that repeat themselves and repeat themselves and repeat themselves, and there is a way that you can continue to look at patterns into the future.
There's patterns that we've seen in the past like there was the period when this country first began that was the American revolution and in similar timeframe there was the French revolution and there was a time of great revolution and that was a time of great polarization where was the haves and the have nots and extremes in society and all that. Then there was these revolutionary periods and then there was following that a restructuring and then following that was a renaissance.
If you go back in history according again to the Mayan approach you can see this pattern playing out over and over and over again throughout thousands of years. You can see in different parts of the world where there was the same process of polarization and extremes and then revolution and then restructuring and then renaissance. Always followed by renaissance.
Again, according to this katun calendar, we're in the period now of extreme polarization that's being repeated and the oppression of that. Something similar that the French experienced before the French revolution with the royalty that had it all and the rest of the people with very little resources and the oppression that was going on, we have that. Then what follows that is a period of conflict and fighting that off, shrugging that off.
You have a type of revolution. Revolutions of the past have mostly been bloody but there's always the possibility of a revolution that might be a paradigm shift or ideological revolution. Those are always choices that we have. Then there comes a period of restructuring and then comes a period of renaissance. According to that cycle or that pattern, renaissance is inevitable and it's going to be follow extremely turbulent period where pretty much it's a wrecking zone. That's how most revolutions are. They pretty much tear down and rebuild and I choose to look at that as a parallel that we could follow and it's a very common parallel on this planet. We do that regularly.
I have no doubt that that's what we've entered into is a construction zone. We're in a construction zone. The old building is coming down. Everything that's not sustainable is coming apart. As we know from construction zones it's a mess. There's dust, there's trucks, there's cranes, there's lots of noise, it's chaos. Then little by little that gets cleared away and a foundation is built and then another building rises.
It's all part of a process and we've just entered that process and so it's pretty messy but that's necessary. It's required. Some things have to go away before some things can come in that are new.
TS: Now, José, I understand that as a pattern, I don't understand why you're referring to that as a parallel?
JLS: Let's put it this way. Different parallels hold different cycles so this parallel doesn't … Let me say it differently. Other parallels don't necessarily have the same cycle. In these parallels that we're in that are close to us we have this cycle. It's been going on for a long time so it's very probable that this cycle will continue and it will just move slightly to a parallel where it works out more according to what we had in mind.
TS: I'm focusing on this point because I know that you're part of Sounds True's ongoing Year of Ceremony program which is an online membership subscription site where at each of the full moon, different shamanic teachers come on and lead people in a collective ceremony. That next year as the year of ceremony continues, you and your wife, Lena, will be offering a ceremony that's on releasing our past and dreaming our global future, and that as part of that ceremony you're going to help us intentionally shift to a new parallel.
That's why I'm trying to understand what that actually means and how a ceremony can help us shift to a new parallel. That's what I'm digging for here in our conversation.
JLS: OK, a ceremony is a sacred space and sacred space includes the temporary suspension of time as we know it. It's like stopping the clock and opening a space up for re-deciding, re-choosing, that's why healing … the ceremonies that are dedicated to healing, sometimes miracles happen. Sometimes a person is completely healed of something that was going to kill him. It could have been cancer or something like that. We know that there are healing ceremonies where those things take place. It's because time is suspended and in that sacred space there can be re-choosing a new dream, a re-intending, a re-choosing.
That's what we have in mind for that particular ceremony is that it can be done in a conscious way and collectively by a great number of people who carry with them a great momentum. I truly believe Margaret needs a statement that world change often takes place because it's just a small handful of people working together with a clear vision decided to proceed and go ahead. I'm not paraphrasing her. I'm more or less stating what she said.
Sometimes it doesn't have to be a huge number of people. It can be a relatively small group of people. In our world with seven billion people and counting a small group of people might be 500,000. It's a small group of people but it's enough to choose an entirely new direction for the whole planet.
TS: Now, as part of this ceremony that you'll be leading people through as part of your ceremony you're going to take people through an experience that you call targeting the debt. Can you explain to me what that is, that aspect of your work?
JLS: Yes. We all carry debt. Now we're used to thinking of debt as mostly money. We owe somebody money, we borrowed some money, and we have to pay it back. We owe mortgages and things like that. That's what most people think of. There're actually many types of debt. Debt is baggage. It's unfinished business that we've carried from the past. Now, the past may include past lives. It may include earlier in this life. It's baggage. Those are what we're calling our debts.
To the degree that we carry debt it can be, as we all know, too much debt can paralyze you. Too much debt can feel like I can't lift these bags anymore, I'm stuck in my tracks, I can't move forward, I've got too much debt. I'm stuck, I don't know how to pay it off, I'm screwed. Unfortunately, too many of us end up with that kind of feeling.<.p>
In many cases in order to allow somebody to proceed forward there has to be a forgiveness of debt regardless of who does the forgiving. Sometimes it can be the lender, it can be a bank, it can be … We do that sometimes with countries that run out of money and they owe huge debt and they're going to go bankrupt and we forgive them part of their debt or all their debt so they can move forward. Often the lender, often the person that is holding the debt is ourselves. We're holding our own feet to the fire, emotionally speaking. What's called for there is forgiveness.
In other words, we have to forgive ourselves our debt. We're never going to pay it all off, just like our national debt, it's too much. It's like there has to be some forgiveness along the way there and forgive comes from a Scottish term that involved fishing where the fishing boats would go out into the North Atlantic and they would be fishing and filling their boats with fish. Then one of them would yell out for shore, for shore, give way, give way. The other boats would move away and that boat would go to shore and unload its fish. That's actually the origin of the term forgive.
"Fore" actually was then used in Scottish golf. It meant the ball is coming, give way, step back. When we forgive we're allowing ourselves the freedom to move forward again and everybody, step back and let me be free once again. That's really what the term forgive means. When we forgive a debt, when we forgive other people, when we forgive ourselves, we're allowing ourselves to proceed once again forward toward our goals.
TS: José, could you give me an example of how this letting go of a debt occurred in your own life, in your life shamanic life, if you will, and how more power came as a result?
JLS: I have a number of them. There was somebody in another country that through a book deal that didn't go well owed me a tremendous amount of money. He just didn't handle things right. He was the publisher of a book that I'd published in a different language, actually. It was translated into another language. He basically went belly up. He could not pay me what he owed for publishing this book.
I had different recourses. I could have gone the legal route and I could have held them to it and all that. I realized that that was going to be a huge burden for him and a huge burden for me. I didn't want to spend years carrying around the feeling that he owed me. Basically, what I decided to do is just forgive the entire debt and just say forget about it. Let's just move on.
I did that. It was hard for me to get there because it involved quite a sum of money. It felt fabulous. Not only did it feel great to that person but it felt wonderful to me. I felt like this huge burden had lifted off my own shoulders. It was not only his debt, it was mine too emotionally. With this simple actually choice to forgive the debt we were both unburdened and it really has never bothered me since.
TS: There's a quote that I really like from your new book Encounters with Power. You write, "You do not become more powerful by remaining in your comfort zone. The price of power is your own comfort."
JLS: Yes. It's true. If you want to become more powerful then you have to risk and that means doing something that maybe you've never done before or doing something that's not entirely predictable or controllable and taking a chance and of course that brings up fear. What if it doesn't work? What if this is the wrong choice? What if I can't do it, blah, blah, blah? All those things that are subconscious voice, the voice of the ego keeps coming up with.
The power comes from taking the chance. Now, sometimes we take a chance and it doesn't work out. If it doesn't work out we learn something so there's power in that. If it does work out then we learn something different and there's power in that. There's always going to be an accumulation of power if we take a risk and if we go out of our comfort zone. No matter what, we're going to increase in power even if we fail. If you just don't do anything and you just stay in your little zone, in your security, little perch, then you're not going to accumulate any power.
If we look in nature we see that nothing stays static. Trees are always growing. They're always seeking the light. Flowers are doing the same thing. Everything is seeking its destination. Things may temporarily slow down and plateau a little bit but then they're often moving again. That's the way of nature. Nature applies to us too so that's the … Everything in nature is seeking its fulfillment. A tree wants to grow from a seed to a full grown tree, that's its destiny, that's what it wants to achieve and there it goes. We're no different.
TS: Now, José, I can't end our conversation without asking you to tell our listeners a story that you tell at the beginning of Encounters with Power that I'll just say blew my mind and it's the story in which you encounter an Indian astrologer who tells you certain things about your destiny, if you will, and then how that turned out. Please as you say in the beginning of the book, your students always say to you tell us a story. Tell us this story, José.
JLS: OK. It's complex story and it has different parts so I'm going to make it briefer.
This story takes me back to when I was in my 20s and I was young man at the time. I was working in a psychiatric hospital, a state mental hospital, as a social worker at the time. I was working on a locked ward, it was pretty difficult. I decided that I was going to … I've done enough there and I've learned what I wanted to learn and I quit. I was going to go on a grand adventure. I always wanted to go to India. I booked a flight to India and put all my stuff in storage and got ready to travel.
I didn't have a plan. I didn't know how long it was going to be but I knew it was going to be months long traveling alone because it seemed to me easier to travel alone because I could do whatever I wanted and take as long as I wanted. Off I went to India.
I had letter of introduction from a psychiatrist that I had worked with in the state mental hospital who had a colleague who worked in the University of Banaras, Banaras Hindu University and he was also a psychiatrist. He was the only name I had in all of India. Relatively soon after I arrived in India I made my way to Banaras, also known as Varanasi which is a very holy city in India by the shores of the Ganges River. I looked him up and I went to Banaras Hindu University and I looked him up and I told him who I was and I showed him the letter.
He says, oh yes and of course he knew his friend had sent me. He was very gracious, Dr. Shukla was his name and he's very gracious. He agreed to spend some time with me and I went and visit him every day. He taught me so many things. He was a wonderful philosopher and teacher and he just spent the days with me just being like my private tutor. He said, "I have a guru that's been a very big part of my life and he's just a powerful man. His father was our guru and then when he passed away his son became our guru and he's our guru now. I can introduce you to him. You'd like to meet him maybe." I said, "Of course, sure." I was in for adventure so I thought that was really cool.
An arrangement was made and I met the guru and I thought I would meet an old man in a loin cloth. He was in a three-piece suit with leather shoes and he was not at all what I expected. He didn't speak English so we used a translator and he said I'm an astrologer and I'm a polemist and I read people and so would you like me to give you a reading. I said wonderful, let's go. He looked at my palms and I told him my date of birth and blah, blah, blah and he worked that out. In a relatively short time he said, "OK, this is the story of your life."
Now, I wasn't expecting this. He was spot on. He knew everything about me. He was able to tell me exactly what had happened in my life up into that point but he didn't stop there. He continued on and he started talking about my future. He talked about the year that I would get married and what kind of a person I would marry and he also told me when my children would be born and that I would have a daughter born first and a son born next. He told me exactly what years they would be born in.
This was starting to get scary. Then he went on to tell me many, many things about my future life. He told me some things that really frightened me and really, I didn't want to know. It freaked me out actually. Then at the very end he said, well the translator said, well, he didn't really want me to tell you this but I'm going to tell you what he said. He said that you're going to die from falling from a very high place. He told me a couple of other things too but that completely freaked me out and I was so upset. I couldn't wait to get out of there.
I was really destabilized and frankly, I was probably the closest I've ever come to having what people call an emotional breakdown. I was alone. I had nobody to talk to. I had no support system. I was alone in India traveling and I had this laid on me.
He said in the next few days you're going to meet a very, very powerful person who will change your life. I said damn it, I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen so that the rest of it doesn't happen either. I'm going to get my freedom back. I decided I would go travel across India, go to another city and hole up for a few days and just wait it out so that wasn't going to happen.
I traveled down to Pondicherry and it was a beach town and I went for a walk and I ended up this ashram. I saw they had some books and so I bought some books. They were books in English and so I went back to my hotel room and I read those books and they changed my life. I realized my God, I met the guy but I thought he was going to be a living person and it turns out to be the author of these books. Then I was really, really worried.
I did my best for years. I continued to travel in India and Nepal for months. Eventually, I came home. I won't go into that part of the story. Eventually, I came home and I tried for years to forget this. I did a pretty good job of forgetting. Meanwhile, I got married to my wife Lena who was very similar to the person he described. My children were born exactly when he said they would be born and in that order. Many things were exactly what he predicted.
A few things were slightly different as the years went on I started to notice a divergence between my life's events and what he had predicted. I thought aha, so I do have choice here. This is all about is my life predestined or do I have freedom and can I choose. This was a huge philosophical question for me that I was struggling with for many decades. I did do a good job of suppressing the information until one day I was developing a course with a friend of mine and we were going to do a leadership course and we were going to do some skydiving as part of it. We were going to do some ropes courses. It was one of those like ropes leadership course type things.
We're all planning it out. I had a friend Jan who was a skydiver. She said, "Look, we can't do this course unless you go skydiving with me because I've done your courses and we've all done each other courses except you haven't gone skydiving with me so we have to do that." I said, "Oh God, yes, you're right." I agreed to do it. By this time I'd sort of had forgotten this event, this prediction.
It so happened that a friend of mine from Peru who was a ceremonialist shaman was in town and he invited me to a ceremony. It was an Ayahuasca ceremony. I did that. In the course of that ceremony I had a strong vision. I envisioned myself in a few days' time jumping out of the plane with my friend Jan. We went down and she pulled the shoot and the shoot didn't open and then she pulled the reserved chute and the reserved chute didn't open. We both crashed into the ground and that was the end of both of us. We were both killed.
I had this enormous fear reaction. I started breathing really heavily. I broke out into a sweat. I was terrified. It was hard for me to shake it off. I had another vision that showed me how important it was for me to be present because my children were young and it was really important for me to stay, to be safe and to stay alive to raise my children.
I realized I was going to have to cancel this skydiving appointment I had with my friend. I tried to reach her on the phone the next day and I couldn't reach her so I left the message saying I have the cancel the appointment. I'll talk to you soon. Put somebody else in my place. It's OK but cancel it. She did cancel it and she replaced me with somebody else, another student. A couple days later my daughter Anna came out of the house and I was working in the backyard and she said, see her face was white and she said, "Dad, I have something terrible to tell you. She said it's Jan, she's dead." I was, "What?" She said, "She died skydiving."
I ran into the house and Lena was there and she told me that she had taken this other person and the main chute didn't open and the reserved chute didn't open and they had both been killed because they just went all the way down the ground. There was really nothing left of them. I was in total shock.
It was one of the most destabilizing moments that I've ever had. I really struggled. It was an extremely difficult experience. I felt like maybe if I had just gotten hold of her and I told her about this vision that I had maybe she wouldn't have gone and I felt responsible. There were many, many feelings that I had. I was relieved to be alive but I was so horrified that she had died and this other person had died. I had to come to terms with all that. I talked to many of my friends and I got some helped around that. That was helpful.
This prediction in India came full force. I remembered it absolutely as if it were yesterday. I saw that it was a close call with death and that the guru had correctly seen the strong probability that I could die that way and yet, I didn't. I managed to avoid it at the last moment. Therefore, I showed myself the lesson was that I did have choice, that nothing is set in stone and that everything is not destined. It's another way of looking at this business of parallels that we were talking about earlier. That there's other parallels that are close but not the same. They don't have the same outcome. There may be a slight difference. I had moved from on parallel to another parallel by my own choice where the outcome was different.
Now, it's been many years since that event and of course, in this parallel I'm leaving much longer. I'm so glad and I've had so many opportunities to learn things and experience things that I wouldn't have if I had gone that route. That was one of the biggest lessons in my life and it showed me the power of choice and it showed me the power of intention and the power of having resources. That's a shortened version.
TS: Yes. It's such an incredible story. Also for me what it underscores is the value of visionary experience that you had so much information a few days before this event happened and that you listened to it and also how this Indian astrologer could possibly see the future like that. I mean that's in and of itself crumbles our view of how solid things are.
JLS: Absolutely. He was able to see the probabilities and he went with the probability that they would do me in but he was a little bit wrong about that. Thank God. We're not used to thinking this way. That event absolutely changed my outlook about the nature of reality. It's never been the same and it liberated me. It actually freed me up of some narrower thinking that was holding me hostage. I'm very grateful for that.
TS: José, I just have one final question for you. A couple times in this conversation you've mentioned this idea of a bid for power. What I'd like to end on this note is let's say somebody is listening and they're having the experience. It's time for me in my life to make a bid for power. I'm ready to step up in some way and I don't want this to come from hubris. I don't want this to come from something about me but I want to be more of service and better use especially during this time when it's so needed.
What's your advice to somebody who's on this precipice, if you will, of bidding for more power?
JLS: OK, very good question. First of all, you have to look and see am I ready for this bid for power? Am I ready physically for the demand it's going to place on me? Am I ready spiritually? Am I ready emotionally? In other words, am I ready in every area psychologically? If I can answer yes to that question like yes, I believe I am ready then it's appropriate to step forward and make that bid for power. If I can't answer yes, if I'm maybe having some physical problems and I'm not healthy enough to take on this huge new responsibility I better get my health in order first.
In other words, the answer might be no. I'm not ready for this bid for power so I'm going to prepare myself more. It's very important to be honest and so many people make a bid for power without asking those questions. They do it out of hubris. They do it out of arrogance. You know what happens, they fall flat on their face and they learn a really hard lesson. Next time, be ready.
TS: Good advice. I have been talking to José Luis Stevens. He is the author of a new book with Sounds True called Encounters with Power: Adventures and Misadventures on the Shamanic Path of Healing, a book that contains tremendous storytelling and wisdom. José Luis Stevens is also a teacher in an ongoing online community called Year of Ceremony, where people from all over the world gather on the full moon each month to participate in a ceremony for both personal and collective healing.
In our upcoming year of ceremony José will be joined by his wife Lena and they'll be offering a ceremony for transition releasing our past and dreaming our global future.
You can find out more about that at SoundsTrue.com. SoundsTrue.com: Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.