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Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
Listen in as they explore their latest challenges and breakthroughs—the leading edge of their work.
The Spiritual Dimension of Reality, Part 2
Though he comes from a background in nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cosmology, Claude Poncelet has been one of the world’s foremost authorities on shamanic practice for more than 25 years. With Sounds True, Claude has released the book The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. In this long-awaited second part of their interview for Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Claude discuss applying shamanic practice to one’s professional life and the advantages therein. They also talk about the spiritual underpinnings of the cosmos—from the stars to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Finally, Claude and Tami speak on the pursuit of impeccability not only in shamanic practice, but in every aspect of life. (70 minutes)
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Claude Poncelet, and this is part two of our conversation on the spiritual dimension of reality. Claude Poncelet is a physicist specializing in nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cosmology, who taught at the university level. Claude is involved in many environmental initiatives, and served as chief staff liaison on President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. He has taught shamanism in Europe and North America for more than 25 years along with his wife Noelle.
With Sounds True, Claude has written a new book called The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. In The Shaman Within, Claude invites the reader to discover the twenty-first century evolution of shamanic practice—one that will delight, empower, and open the eyes to new dimensions of our strange and marvelous universe.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Claude and I spoke about bringing shamanic practice into one’s professional life, how organizations have a spirit, and how we can journey to be informed by that spirit if we wish. We also talked about the spiritual dimension of the cosmos, and a journey that Claude took to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Finally, we talked about impeccability in shamanic practice, and Claude’s view that impeccability is something to aspire to, not just in the shamanic journey, but in every aspect of our waking life.
Here’s my conversation—part two—on the spiritual dimension of reality with Claude Poncelet:
First of all, Claude, I’m just so happy to have this chance to record with you the promised part two of our conversation on The Shaman Within. So, I’m glad that the stars—
Claude Poncelet: So am I. I’m really happy to be here with you, Tami.
TS: Yes. The stars have aligned and we get to do this, so it’s wonderful.
Now, the second half of your book, The Shaman Within, is about shamanism in the twenty-first century. I’m curious to know: how do you feel shamanism as a path is inherently different in the contemporary world than it was as it was practiced thousands of years ago? What’s inherently different now? Or what needs to be different now?
CP: I think that the simple answer from my own experience is that what is inherently different [is] the practices—and all the paraphernalia and rituals that accompany the practices. The fundamental principles are the same. They are unchanged. That is: the presence of the sacred in everything in this world that is a presence of spirits; the interconnectedness of everything; and the ability for us human beings—and this is true for other species too. But as far as the ability we have to connect with that spiritual dimension of our world and to contact spirits to dialogue, to cooperate with them, learn, and help bring harmony between the sacred and the secular—[to] the material and the sacred.
This is still the same as it has always been in shamanic tradition. But the way this is done in our modern world—among our technological world, building environment, institutions, commerce, finances, institutions of learning and medicine, and whatnot—the practices need to be different. The way we do these practices—down to the simple matters of the way we dress, the instruments we utilize—have to be different. They have to be adapted to the modern technological world. One could say, if you wish, that these elements—the practices, the rituals themselves, the objects we have—this is the liturgy, if you wish, of the shamanic practice. It’s always actually varied from culture to culture, and that’s not the essence of shamanism.
This is true for all spiritual traditions and all religions. The liturgy is not the essence. Here, the essence is the same—but the liturgy needs to be different.
TS: So, I’m curious to know what some of these new practices—or new liturgies, if you will—are in our twenty-first century that are particularly meaningful to you.
CP: I think one aspect which has been very meaningful to me—and has been an exciting part of my learning in searching for adapting the shamanic practice to our modern world—has been how to practice shamanism—that is, how to work with spirits—in my professional life. I’ve taught at a university. I worked on environmental protection in large corporations. I worked at the federal level and the state level with big government.
And so, I learned primarily with spirit guidance how [to] practice shamanism in my daily work—in an office building in a big, downtown skyscraper, for example. In conference rooms; in meeting rooms; working with technology; working with policy. Clearly using a drum, doing shamanic journeys, and using traditional paraphernalia such as feathers or incense—these are all very important, and are still important in some situations. Today, [it is] not at all appropriate for those settings.
So, I had to learn how to still work with spirits or still seek their guidance for greater harmony within the work that I was doing. Many of these—and I’ve described some of those practices in my book, in the chapter on shamanism in daily professional life. The practices have tended to be fairly short, fairly simple, and fairly nonintrusive so that I could perform them—including the contact with spirit—while meeting, for example, with executives or meeting with colleagues. Or, in other situations that we thought we observed something strange that I was doing.
So, these have been very exciting ways—and very powerful ways—to still connect with spirit and to bring spirit into, in this case, the work environment.
TS: Now, Claude, I’m wondering if you can be quite specific and introduce us to one or two of these practices that could be done in a professional situation.
CP: Yes. Let me mention one such practice, which I still practice fairly regularly. I have called [it] “word doctoring,” which I was taught by a spirit. It’s a practice that I use in settings—which would be meetings or situations in contrast with people, whatnot—whose purpose is to bring about a greater harmony to the situation in light of the welfare of the whole. That’s the purpose.
What it requires on my part is—I do a very short ritual which takes about 30 seconds. I connect with the four elements of water, earth, fire, and air. [Then] I ask spirits to give me a word—a sacred word—let me call it that—that will have the power when it is expressed to bring about this harmony. When I do that practice—and I may be in the middle of a meeting, and I can do that fairly quickly—the words come to me very quickly. It’s a matter of really having a clear intention. Then, I would insert that word in whatever I would be saying to the group.
A couple important things here: this is a matter of ethics. This is an offering—because I have no right to manipulate any situation without people’s permission. But I can make an offering—and a word is an offering for whoever hears it. Their own spirits—if you wish—then have the choice to cooperate and bring about more harmony. It’s an offer for them.
The other aspect which I’ve always enjoyed in this practice is that the word [the] spirits would give me very seldom had any relationship to the situation at hand. So, it would sometimes be very awkward and a challenge—and fun, to tell you the truth—to insert it into a sentence. [As a] result, people noticing something strange.
I’ve been amazed by the power of this practice. Again, it’s not my power, or I don’t get any credit for any positive results. It’s all the work of spirits. My responsibility is to do the practice. That’s where, if I get any credit, it’s because I did remember to do the practice.
But I did this practice, for example, when I served on President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development, which was a presidential commission which met during the eight years of his presidency under the leadership of then-Vice President Al Gore. So, these were CEOs from corporations, heads of environmental groups, five Cabinet secretaries, and Vice President Gore. I would use that practice during those meetings. The results sometimes have been just totally astounding.
It’s way of, again, practicing. Now, calling spirits for guidance [and] for help, calling for harmony between the sacred and the secular. So, this is one example. There are others, which I [actually] describe in my book.
TS: Now, let’s pause for one moment on this “word doctoring” practice. First of all, I want to make sure I understand it. So, you call in the four elements and you ask to be given a word—and you can be given any word. It could be “tomato.” It could be anything.
TS: And then you say the word at some point in the midst of this high-level meeting of some kind. Or at any meeting. And when you say the word, it is an invitation for a higher level of harmony to manifest in the meeting.
TS: What is the role that spirit might be playing, or spirits might be playing when this word is uttered? How do you understand what’s going on here?
CP: My understanding is that the role of the spirits there is in choosing and giving me that word. It comes from spirit. In a way, you could say that they have endowed that word with a particular power—a power to bring forth harmony. It’s a sacred word.
By the way, it resonated with me a great deal and I liked the practice when I was taught it because it called to mind what my Celtic ancestors—my ancestors are Celtic, in Europe—and the shamanic practice of my Celtic ancestors included many practices using sacred sounds, sacred words, or sacred songs. These would be used for healing. They would be used for divination purposes, and there are still actually—as I researched—some ancient spiritual traditions that would use some sacred word in a healing situation, for example.
So, this is—for me—where the spirits have come in. They have given power to this word and it is my role in cooperating with the spirits, because—as I have said before—for me, shamanic practice is a cooperation with spirits. My role was to utter that word in my normal conversation. That’s where the cooperation came in.
Does that answer your question on where spirits come in?
TS: I’d like to hear more about the cooperation part. So, you’re looking to have greater harmony among a group of people. You utter this word. Now, what are the spirits doing to help this harmony come about?
CP: Well, the spirits—first, there is a spirit presence there. There’s this—during this practice, I have called upon spirits. I’ve called upon the spirits of the four dimensions—earth, fire, water, air—to be there. I often—although this is not necessary for the practice—in going to a meeting, I usually would contact the spirit of the room, the spirit of the table where we’re meeting, [or] the spirit of the institution that we represent. I call upon these spirits for their presence.
So, there is a presence of spirits. One needs to call upon spirits and ask them for help. [In] my understanding, this is the way things work. And have an intention in asking for the guidance or the help from spirits, which is where the cooperation comes in. That comes from my own spirit—my own soul—which is in contact with the spirits.
And so, the spirits are there in presence. Just their presence—[and] this is just my guess from my intuition—probably is initiating in some of the members who are there that are more open—some in a contact with their own spiritual self. I can’t verify that, but I suspect that that is happening.
One can feel—and I know you’ve had that experience—and I’ll ask other people, “What can feel [like] the other space has become more sacred?” That is, something special about it.
Tami, I actually had some very interesting occurrences following some of those practices, where I’ve had colleagues or people in attendance coming after a meeting and telling me, “Claude, I don’t know why I’m saying this, but it seems to me that the meeting went so well. You did something. I don’t understand, but you looked like you were doing something.” “No.” “Can you tell me?” “No.” “Were you doing anything?” or, “Can you tell me what you were doing?”
I think that’s people’s own inner divine self, which is a thing coming through [the] surface and that connected with that spirit essence. So, when people would ask, I would always tell them. I said, “Yes. Now that you’re interested, I can tell you what I was doing.” People were always very interested.
I actually had a boss who I loved a great deal. I had never told him what I was doing.
[Audio briefly cuts out.]
—and he said, “Claude, you’re some kind of a wizard, aren’t you?” [Laughs.] I was kind of taken aback, and I said, “Well . . .” Before I could say any more, he said, “Claude, just keep wizarding.” [Laughs.]
So, I think that he felt that something was happening, was going on.
TS: Now, Claude, I wasn’t going to bring this up, but now I feel I have to—which is, when you and your wife Noelle visited here at Sounds True before the publication of The Shaman Within, you came up into my office and I had the chance to briefly meet with you. I noticed that the room was filled with light during that meeting, and that the two of you were emitting quite a bit of light. I remember thinking, “God, this is weird. These people—I’ve never met them before and my eyes are all tearing up because there’s so much light in the room.” I never thought to myself, “I wonder if Claude’s doing something?”
But now I need to know: Were you doing something?
CP: [Laughs.] Well, as I remember, I think what I was doing was what I normally do in such situations. I had contacted the spirits of your office. As I usually do when I do that, I honor and bless the spirit, and then asked that our meeting has the most appropriate outcome for the greater well-being of the whole. I never ask for something personal. I usually ask it that way.
I knew I had contacted the spirit of Sounds True, honored and blessed it, and asked for the same purpose. I know that Noelle had done similar things. I had done some shape-shifting work to prepare myself to be in the most appropriate state.
Clearly, Tami—if I can say—you came in very open to spirits because whatever light you noticed was coming from spirits. It might have come from my own divine self to your own divine self, but that is in cooperation with all the other spirits, because it’s all connected.
So, that’s the best explanation I can give you.
TS: That’s helpful. That’s good. Now, you said something interesting—“the spirit of Sounds True.” The spirit of an organization. So, do organizations—any organization—Starbucks, whatever. Do organizations have spirits?
CP: Oh yes. They certainly do. Now, organizations are a form—they are a gathering of human beings and other objects. We often think—even in shamanic communities—that a drumming group [or] a drumming circle has a spirit. The spirit of the circle.
Well, it’s the same for an institution. I would say that even institutions that many in the ecological or even spiritual world tend to dislike, like big oil corporations or big mining corporations. They all have a spiritual dimension. There is a spirit to these institutions.
I filed my taxes and asked for an extension because of my illness. I worked with the spirit of the IRS.
TS: Oh my!
CP: What makes it difficult for us is to separate our judgments that come from our ego from the spiritual aspect of these institutions. And yet, I’ve found it extremely helpful to work with the spirits of these organizations and institutions. For example, the spirits of the corporations that I worked for or the university I worked for have been very, very helpful [to] me in making my approach to my work much more harmonious and impeccable.
Again, it’s not a matter of changing the organizations. It’s a matter of changing me so that I can be as effective in the organization, and then bring about change if change needs to be brought in.
It’s the same for all human beings, members of the human species. We all have a divine self, a soul. It sometimes is difficult to accept that major terrorists or dictators—both in history and currently—had a soul. But they did. Now, the way I understand, their ego took over control of their lives so that their spirit could not be manifested. And yet, they do.
I think the contact with the spirit of organizations—particularly those organizations that we have grudges against—it’s very important that we make [those] connections. I’ve always told my students—when [they were] very upset and annoyed with an oil company, I say, “Well, let’s journey to the spirit of that oil company—the institution—and just honor and acknowledge it.” That’s it. Nothing else. Just recognize [and] acknowledge it.
There’s always a lot of resistance to that. Not only [with] calling an organization like that or a spirit, [but] secondly, “Why would we want to do that?” I tell them that the alternative is to send negative, hostile energy to that institution. We have a choice: either we honor its spirit or we send negative, hostile energy. The second way of relating, for me, just adds up to the hostile, negative energy that is in the world. So, we’re just contributing more to that.
So, I think that’s a very important concept—which is not an easy one for us to accept.
TS: Now, I’m still contemplating contacting the spirit of the IRS. What was that like? How did you do that?
CP: Well, you know—when I do that, I can do that fairly quickly because I’ve just practiced this a great deal. I would encourage people—with the help of a drum or whatever, or deep meditation—to go in with the intention to call upon the spirit of the IRS to show itself.
Usually, it will show itself in a certain form, which is part of the message itself. We enter the spiritual dimension and meet the spirit of that institution—of the IRS in this case. And then my advice is always: first, honor it [and] bless it. Then, what I usually do is I do two things. I ask for guidance during this in the most appropriate way for the welfare of the whole.
Then, I ask the spirit—because filling out taxes is a difficult, sometimes challenging, and not-very-fun thing to do. All the numbers and a lot of the paper to handle and whatnot. I ask that [in] my doing this, I ask the spirit of the IRS to use that energy to help a special cause. In my case, I’m thinking of children. I usually say, “For children who are hungry or children who are without resources. In my spending this energy, [spirit of the IRS,] could help?” That that energy helped those who are in need. There’s a way of working—again, cooperating—with the spirits for the greater good.
TS: If you were journeying to a company like a mining company or another company that you felt was being destructive in the world environmentally, what kind of message might you send in that case?
CP: I have done that. Again, I would first acknowledge it and bless it and honor it. For example, a typical thing I might ask is, “What guidance on my own behavior and approach toward that company would be [helpful in] dealing with it for the greater welfare of the whole?” I usually would approach it that way; it’s always guidance for myself.
What’s important here to realize, [Tami,] is that in working with the spirit of an institution—let’s say a mining company that we feel is destroying a part of Mother Earth—does not mean that we agree with what that company is doing. It [also] doesn’t negate any activism or any actions that we would take in ordinary reality to try to change that situation.
In my case, it’s actually helped me to be even more active and working in the ordinary reality to change things. But, the spirit gave me guidance on how to do that in the most appropriate way. I’ve learned, for example, that if I do work to try to change the way a company is acting and I come to that with a lot of judgment and hostility, I’m not going to be very effective.
So, the guidance I get leads me to a great deal of more effectiveness in my activism—if you wish—with a company like that.
I’ve also learned—by the way—from those spirits. They gave me a different perspective when I ask them for guidance. That is, to think about the people in that company. Am I judging them all? Who am I to judge? Now, I can disagree with what they’re doing and try to change their way of doing things. But the judging is a barrier to being effective.
So, these are reminders that I get from spirits when I work with them.
TS: Now, Claude, in talking about shamanism in the twenty-first century in the second half of your book, The Shaman Within, there’s a really interesting section on journeys to the spirits of the cosmos. You talk about how—here, in this time of the Hubble Telescope—when we know so much about the cosmos that we didn’t necessarily know in the past, it affords us new ways of relating to—and you go into quite some detail about journeying to black holes, quasars, pulsars, and supernovas.
I found this section of the book so thrilling. So, I really want to dig in a bit here and talk about this. Tell me a little bit about how you started experimenting with journeying to these different cosmic bodies.
CP: I’m a physicist, and cosmology has been a passion of mine. Over the years, I moved somewhat away from nuclear physics and into astronomy and astrophysics, and then into cosmology. I think, for me, [it] is the most exciting science these days because—as you say—we know so much. Not a week goes by without a new discovery out there with one of our telescopes either in space or on the Earth. We’re learning so much—and learning that we know so little about the cosmos.
So, I had this passion as a physicist for knowing more about the cosmos. Clearly, as a shamanic practitioner, I wanted to know more about the spiritual aspect of the cosmos. Here, I had no outside teachers or ordinary-reality teachers for this. So, I really had to depend on spirits to guide me and to help me in journeying.
I [started] journeying to nearby objects in the solar system—various planets, comets, and asteroids, and whatnot. Then [I] went on outside—the other stars and the galaxy. And then further out into all the different objects—the quasars and the pulsars and the supernovas and the black holes, as you say.
This has been a very wonderful experience for me—one of great teaching. I spent time in the book about this because I am so convinced that this is an essential aspect of spiritual work these days. That is, to connect with the spiritual dimension of the cosmos. There’s a number of reasons for that.
On the one hand—and I talk a bit about that in the book—but for millennia, thousands of years—probably since the evolution of the homo sapiens—we have been very Earth-centered until very recently even in our cosmology. We felt—this was about 500 years ago—that the Earth was at the center of the universe. It’s only very recently—in the past two, three generations—that we have totally uprooted that understanding and realized that we are a small speck of a planet around a very ordinary star, among billions of stars. [We’re] in a galaxy which is itself one among hundreds of billions of other galaxies—some with trillions of stars and lots of planets.
So, the perspective of where we are in this universe is bound to change human consciousness, [as well as] our relationship to our planet and to one another. I think this cosmos-centeredness—as opposed to Earth-centeredness—has not yet been fully absorbed, I think, by us humans. But it is coming. The science is getting to be more and more absorbed [and] taught. I see my grandchildren, for example, are much, much more aware of their place in this universe.
I think that, as that happens, we need to recognize also the sacred of the spiritual dimension of the cosmos. There’s various reasons for that. One, I think, is [that] as we connect not only with a picture of a galaxy or of a supernova from a telescope, we connect with the spirit—the spiritual dimension—of that supernova or of that galaxy. We deepen our own spiritual journey or spiritual path. It’s a very powerful connection.
I know I find, for example, the guidance from those spirits is very different from the one I get from spirits of nature on this Earth. There’s something else—it’s a different dimension out there.
Another reason is that—for me and for those that I have had the privilege to teach—connecting with the spirits of the cosmos deepens our understanding of interconnectedness. Not only are we connected to this nature on Earth and to everything else on Earth, we’re really connected to the far reaches of the cosmos. Of course, science has been telling us the same thing. We all come from the Big Bang. Most of the heavy atoms that are needed for life all come from this supernova that helped create our planet and everything that’s on it. So, this feeling of interconnectedness becomes so much more real.
Thirdly—and this is maybe the most important—is that as we as a species go out with our technologies more and more into space—as we are doing [on] the moon, Mars, and maybe farther out—it is so crucial that we not objectify space the way we have objectified the Earth. And then [we] destroyed the Earth, used it for our own needs. [We] used the resources of the Earth without any regard for its well-being. We’ve totally objectified it. This is still going on a great deal.
Indigenous cultures have always had a reverence [for the Earth] and fought for the spirit of the Earth. You know—Pachamama, Gaia, Mother Earth. That prevents us from destroying the Mother. We need to have the same aspect towards space. I fear that there is now a great deal going on—even some of it in science—that objectifies the cosmos. [It sees] it as just another way to exploit more resources for the benefit of us humans. I think we need to be very careful about that.
By connecting with the sacred of space—the cradle of the cosmos—is the only way we can avoid this over-exploitation.
TS: I’m wondering, Claude, if you could help give me a feeling for what it’s like to journey to one of these cosmic bodies. You could pick another planet, a star, or a supernova. Take your choice. But tell me a little bit from your experience [about] what journeying to such a cosmic body is like.
CP: I can share, and I share some of these experiences in the book. But I can share.
One of the deepest experiences has been to journey to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. I journey often to the spirit of our galaxy. I have a great relationship—I feel her as a mother. I feel the galaxy is my home—not where I live here. Not this planet, or even this solar system—but the galaxy is my home. I feel a great deal of love from the galaxy-spirit.
The black hole at the center of the galaxy was a very special journey for me. The first time I did that journey, I actually was quite almost terrorized—if you wish—because I didn’t know. It was like plunging into the unknown. I didn’t quite know what was happening.
I remember telling Noelle here, “This is what I’m going to do. Please keep an eye on me.”
TS: “Make sure I come back!”
CP: Yes! And so, as I explained, these journeys are journeys in the Middle World—where one [actually] journeys back in time, because we are journeying in space-time to the black hole. So, I had to traverse, leave the solar system, and then go by many, many stars toward the center of the galaxy—which is, by the way, in the constellation Sagittarius.
TS: Can you explain, Claude, this idea that you have to go backward in time? Explain that.
CP: Yes. The light we see from cosmic objects—including that from the sun, or when we see a star. We see stars around the black holes [and] they’re moving very quickly. That’s why we know there’s a black hole there. They travel at the speed of light, which is very fast.
However, the distances are very large. Our sun, for example. The light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach us. So, when we look quickly at the sun, we see it as it was eight minutes ago. When we see a star that is 30,000 light-years away—and a light-year is the distance that light takes a year to traverse—we see the star as it was 30,000 years ago.
The galaxy is hundreds of thousands of light-years wide, so when we go to the black hole—I forget the exact number, but it’s 50 or 60,000 light-years away. So, we see it as it was 50,000 years ago—if that’s the right number.
So, when I go to the black hole, as I see it, I’m going back in time as well as in space—which, for physicists in the material relativity of Einstein is quite common. We’re talking about space-time and travelling in space-time.
So, we go back in time when we travel. When we go to a quasar that may be twelve billion light-years away and we see it now in a telescope—for example, from the Hubble Telescope—we see the quasar as it was twelve billion years ago. So, when we travel to it, we travel back twelve billion years.
Does that make some sense?
TS: It’s kind of freaking me out, but I think I’m following you. Yes.
CP: That’s what’s exciting. It’s really bringing physics, cosmology, and shamanism together in a very exciting way.
Anyhow, when I do travel to the black hole—and it’s always good to take your time to get there—I see what’s around me. I see a lot of other stars and solar systems and whatnot. [I] get to the black hole. In my first experience there, what you get is what’s called “the event horizon” in physics, which is the last sphere that surrounds the black hole which is where gravity becomes infinite. Once you reach that, there is no return. You are sucked into the black hole.
TS: OK—I’m going to have to pause you there too. “When gravity becomes infinite.” I noticed—
CP: Yes. And again, that’s true at the center of the black hole, where you get an infinite point. Infinite density. But the event horizon—even light gets absorbed and cannot escape. [This] is why they’re called “black holes.” Now, we see objects because light reflects from them or because they emit light. But a black hole absorbs all light. Therefore, they are black. We do not see them. We know they’re there because—for example, in the middle of the galaxy—there are stars moving at incredible speed in a circular motion. We can calculate what kind of gravity is necessary to make them move so fast. That’s where we know that the only thing that could produce that gravitational force at that distance is a black hole. So, we know there’s a black hole there.
To answer your question, it took a great deal of—some call it courage, but it could [just] be craziness on my part. But I had all my spirits with me. I had prepared this. I had power objects with me. I had my allies with me—power animals and whatnot. I entered the event horizon, and then entered the black hole.
It’s very difficult to describe the experience. I haven’t had that kind of experience in any other journey. But it felt like there was no more time. I was fully in the present moment. I felt fully connected with everything—but not in any sense of feeling connectedness. I was connectedness. I was connected. It was a sense of love and compassion [that] was so deep that I couldn’t even put a name on it. It just felt incredibly, “Now, this is where I want to be.”
Actually, what I’ve learned is not that it’s difficult to visit a black hole and come back. It’s difficult not to stay in a black hole, because we want to stay there.
So, when I teach this practice to students, I always have certain rituals. I have them sign a piece of paper and whatnot, where they promise to return. It feels [like] this is where you want to be. You don’t want to go out.
It was a profound experience, and I had an intention the first time. Every time I do a journey like this, I always have an intention. Again, for me, that’s very important. That’s the cooperation with spirits. Going into the black hole, I remember my first intention was that I wanted to learn something more about myself. That was my intention. I had a great, profound learning while I was there.
TS: What did you learn about yourself?
CP: I wish I can say—I do share it in the book—but the black hole talked about truth and love, and told me that these are the same thing. [You use] two words, but it’s the same thing.
So, that’s been a great revelation and needful for the work for me, as I understood that deep truth or deep love as being one and the same thing—and being in me. Something I needed to manifest.
That’s an example of a very deep journey. But a journey to a supernova is quite different. Now, supernovae [are] one of the most violent phenomena in the cosmos. A huge amount of energy being—you could call it an explosion, but a huge explosion. Huge amount of energy. Often, [this results] in the creation of a black hole and a huge expanse of matter being ejected everywhere.
I’ve learned a great deal by being in that—often, in a supernova, I will merge with the spirit. [This] means that I become the supernova and experience that explosion and expansion. I’ve learned a great deal about violence—the difference between the cruel type of violence that we so often see today unfortunately all around the planet and the natural, organic violence that exists in nature. That has a very different purpose, and [we have it] in ourselves—which I understand is a source of creativity when it is used for the purpose of creativity and of transformation.
A star will not produce any element higher than iron in the table of elements because iron doesn’t fuse. So, all the elements that are necessary for life—the higher metals and others that are essential, [such as] magnesium and potassium and others—[are] all created in the explosion of the supernova. So, [in a way] the supernova has helped create life.
So, this explosion—if you will—of this violence was necessary as the source of all life and the life of every other species on this and other planets.
TS: Now, Claude, I have kind of a weird question for you. But as you were talking and you were talking about the galaxy being your home, I thought, “Well, why stop at the galaxy? Let’s keep going! The Earth’s my home. The galaxy’s my home. What about the system of galaxies of which our galaxy is a part?”
CP: You are totally right. You hit me right there, Tami. I love the galaxy and I’m realizing that I’m still being too parochial. You said it right. My home is the universe. It’s the cosmos. It’s this immense cosmos.
I started by thinking, “Well, my home is here on this piece of the Earth.” Now, it’s on this continent. Then I went—as I grew older—and became a more shamanic and environmentally conscious. “No, my home is the whole Earth.” Then, as I went into cosmology, of course [I] realized that I was limited. “My home is the solar system. No, it’s much bigger. It’s this galaxy.” As you say, absolutely, that is still very parochial.
There are hundreds of billions of other galaxies. That’s all our home. My home.
And of course, at the peak of cosmology, physicists now are talking about other universes—what is called a “multiverse.” That our universe is one of a multitude of other universes. That’s become very difficult for the mind to hold. [Laughs.] It’s already difficult to hold our immense universe—our home—but maybe it’s even more than that. It’s mind-boggling and exciting.
TS: Do you think it’s possible—?
CP: It’s possible, and I find it in myself and others that I’ve worked with who have the same thing. It happens as almost a simple shift in our consciousness. “Oh, yes . . . This galaxy is my home. This universe is my home.” Once you get there, it becomes so obvious. I think it becomes obvious because our soul—our spirit—has always known that. Our ego-mind—our personality—likes to be much narrower.
But once we absorb that and our mind fully absorbs it and accepts it, it fundamentally changes our relationship to the Earth, to other human beings, to other species. There’s no way that you’re going to hurt anything on the planet Earth [once you have that consciousness]. It makes absolutely no sense to do that. We’re this sacred little speck among this immense, sacred universe. We have to take care of it. That’s our job. That’s our role.
TS: Now, Claude, have you ever attempted a journey to the whole of creation—including everything? All the—
CP: Yes. There’s a journey—[which] I have done and taught in some very advanced workshops—to the spirit of the cosmos, our own universe. It is quite a profound journey to do that. Yes, it is totally possible. Our whole spirit is sacred. It has a spiritual dimension; it has a spirit to it. It’s a beautiful journey.
My recommendation is: I think it’s good to go step by step. For people getting into this, I ask them, “Have you ever journeyed to spirits of the Pachamama or of Gaia?” Let’s start there—the spirit of the whole Earth. Then go from there. Let’s go to the spirit of the sun, the spirit of the moon, of all our solar system, and ultimately of our galaxy. Then move from there, ultimately, to the spirit of the cosmos.
But it’s a beautiful journey. It brings learnings that are very unique to the spiritual dimension of the cosmos. It has taught me things about life, death, and relationships [that] are a bit different. It’s difficult to explain that, but it’s a bit different than what I would learn from a tree or a water body here—spirits of the Earth. Again, there is no value judgment there. They’re just different kinds of learnings. We should take advantage of it. We live in this cosmos.
TS: Now, Claude, we’re coming to the conclusion of the second part of our conversation related to your new book, The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. As a last question, I’d love to hear what you have to say about a word that you emphasize in The Shaman Within: “impeccability,” and the importance of impeccability when it comes to our life and our shamanic practice.
CP: Yes. Impeccability is a concept that both [my wife] Noelle and I found central to our own shamanic practice, our own lives, and our teaching. “Impeccability” is a difficult word to describe, and I make an attempt of that in the book. It is not excellence or perfection. It is really more [to deal] with the intention of being impeccable that is in total harmony with everything [that] one has around.
For example, in the shamanic practice, I find it is extremely important to practice and learn about impeccability—in doing the shamanic journey, in doing a ritual, in contacting spirits. What that means is really letting our own divine self—our own spirit—be fully manifested with our ego—our parts, our minds, our imagination, all that—at the service of our own divine self. Then, that enters in contact with the spiritual dimension of other beings or other things.
This requires a great deal of practice. Our mind—or ego, or persona—I even call one of our ego parts “the shamanic ego.” That is, it’s an ego part that thinks it is spiritual. But it is still part of the ego. It takes a great deal of time and practice to really reach this purity of intention [with] enough of contact and collaboration with spirits. I call it “impeccability in the shamanic practice.”
I’ve also found for myself—and then in others—that I could not practice impeccability in my shamanic practice if I was not also practicing impeccability in my day-to-day, ordinary life. In other words, I could not separate these two. If I wanted to be impeccable in my spiritual [and] shamanic practice, I needed to be impeccable in my professional work, in my family work, and the way I lived every day. In the way I drove my car, in the way I related to people.
I realized that, too often, I would separate these two. I would try to be—once I did my shamanic practice—to be very impeccable. Then, I would not be impeccable in a lot of my actions in my ordinary life. I said, “We need to impeccable at those.” Which means for me, for example, that even in my psychological self I need to be impeccable. I cannot separate, for example, doing psychological work on myself—doing natural work, physical work, on myself—from my shamanic work. I needed to be impeccable in the way that I treated my body. I needed to be impeccable in dealing with my mental health, dealing with my physical health, dealing with the way I use my mind.
So, impeccability in ordinary reality for me is essential for impeccability in non-ordinary reality, and the opposite is true. To be impeccable in ordinary reality, I needed to learn how to be impeccable in non-ordinary reality. They’re one and the same thing.
I found that very important because I think that, too often, we tend to separate the secular from the sacred (again). I was raised in a religion—the Christian religion—and it struck me how during a certain time in the church and whatnot that we needed to be very impeccable and religious. But then back home [and] back at work, it didn’t really matter. There was a separation there. I still think that in our culture—particularly in Western culture—we tend to separate our spiritual life from our ordinary life. For me, one needs to be impeccable in both.
That’s been a [striving] for me. I often say that I don’t think one reaches impeccability, ever. This is something that—it’s like democracy or sustainability. It’s something you always go toward, but there’s not perfection. There’s always a way to do that better. I hope that by the time I reach the day of my death that I will be in a state of as much impeccability as I can.
So, I think that is a daily work for me.
TS: I love what you’re saying, Claude, about impeccability in [both] non-ordinary and ordinary reality. I was thinking, “How is it that Claude Poncelet is such a kind, present, attentive, person every time I talk to him?” And now I think I have the answer.
I’ve been talking with Claude Poncelet. This is the second part of our conversation about his new book, The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. Claude—thank you so much again. I always love talking to you.
CP: Thank you, Tami. It’s been a joy and a pleasure to talk with you.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.