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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 1
As a nuclear physicist and former university professor, Claude Poncelet may seem an unlikely choice to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on shamanic practice. Yet, Claude has taught shamanic spirituality worldwide for more than 25 years, and has recently written the book The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. In this episode, Tami and Claude discuss the innate sentience of all matter, the points where science and shamanism converge, and the practical benefits of a leading a shamanic life in the modern world. They also speak on the shamanic art of shape-shifting, both as a spiritual practice and a path to physical healing. (73 minutes)
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Claude Poncelet. Claude is a physicist specializing in nuclear physics, astrophysics, and cosmology, who taught at the university level. Claude Poncelet 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 21st-century evolution of shamanic practice—one that will delight, empower, and open eyes to new dimensions of our strange and marvelous universe.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Claude and I spoke about [what "sentience" means] and how the matter of sentient beings is also sentient. We talked about the interconnectedness of life as seen through the eyes of a physicist—and also seen through shamanic vision. We also talked about Claude’s practice of shape-shifting—a practice that he’s been doing for more than 20 years—and how now, at age 77, Claude is working with shape-shifting as he faces and deals with a life-threatening diagnosis [of metastasized lung cancer] that he recently received.
Here’s a quite provocative and moving conversation with Claude Poncelet: Claude, in your new book, The Shaman Within, you make a really strong statement. To begin with, I’d love to talk with you about that. Here’s the statement: "Everything that has form in this world has a spiritual dimension."
So, I’d love to start by talking about that. Meaning, in the book you talk about how there’s such a thing as "the spirit of a house" or "the spirit of a car" or "the spirit of my computer." So, help me understand that.
Claude Poncelet: In my experience, if I may—my lifelong experience of living in the world, experiencing the world, and through my shamanic practice—I have come to understand that Reality—and I would use a capital "R"—is larger than just the physical world that we see around us. That it does include what I call a "spiritual dimension."
So, in addition to what in science we would call "the physical dimensions" of space, time, energy, [and] matter, there is a spiritual dimension. This is the dimension of the world that all spiritual traditions try to access.
Shamanic practitioners or shamans—over time—have put a lot of emphasis on the spiritual aspects [and] spiritual dimensions of nature. The trees, the rocks, the animals, the elements of water, air, fire, the earth. They have spiritual dimension—what in our terminology we would call the spirits of these nature entities.
Everything else that we as a human species have constructed through our technologies—whether it’s a house or whether it’s a computer or car or phone [or] a pair of shoes—is made of earth materials. It’s made of made of earth-stuff. It has a spiritual dimension itself. It has taken a new form physically, which nature does all the time. We, as part of nature, have given a new form to something—made it into a car, for example.
So, there is a spiritual dimension to a car. To the extent that we can recognize that spiritual dimension of everyday items that we use, this [totally] changes the way we use these technologies, the way we approach them, [and] the way we live in this world.
TS: You know, for whatever reason, I easily accept the idea that there’s a spiritual dimension to a sentient form like a tree—like you said, rocks, et cetera. But when it comes to thinking that there’s a spiritual dimension to my iPhone, what I notice is I think, “What is that? How do I contact that? What does that mean?” I’m in disbelief.
CP: That disbelief, Tami, is to me something that’s welcome, because it’s a natural first reaction to all of this. I’ve had that experience myself. There is nothing, really, that I can say mentally or intellectually that can change that disbelief directly. One really needs to experience that sacred aspect—that spiritual aspect—of even, let’s say, a cell phone.
The shamanic journey—particularly that one where we learn how to change our states of consciousness to enter that spiritual dimension—to make contact with that spiritual dimension—allows us to make contact with the spiritual dimension of our phone in the same way as we would make contact with the spiritual dimension of a tree. It is that experience, I think, [that] then tells us, “Yes, this is the way the world is. This is the way Reality is.”
Again, when we say “sentient beings,” for me trees are sentient and—as you mention—rocks are also sentient. For me, the matter from which these are made is sentient. The particles. The atoms. Science is actually going in that direction, showing that elementary particles actually compute—that elementary particles process information. So, science is getting to also realizing that sentience or intelligence goes much farther than what I would say has been our more limited view.
When we bring together matter that comes from rocks, that comes from trees, that comes from water, that comes from other parts of the earth [coming] together to create a new entity or new form (a cell phone), there is sentience. There is a spiritual dimension there.
You need to experience it. It’s a fairly simple process to do. I think all of us have that capability. This is why I call my book The Shaman Within. We all have within us—that’s part of the human condition—this capability of not only becoming aware of that spiritual dimension in every form in the world, but also of actually contacting, connecting [with], [and] having a relationship with that spiritual dimension.
TS: So, Claude, I want to take this a little further—because I notice as you’re talking, it’s asking me to change the way I perceive the world. Meaning, I historically have perceived the world as, you know, this rug is kind of not sentient and the engineer in the other room is. By you talking about the elementary particles being somehow alive and sentient, I’m realizing that maybe I need to think about the rug differently.
CP: I think we do. It’s important also to realize that this—call it intelligence or sentience of different forms on this planet Earth, whether it be human beings, a tree, a tiger, a cup of water, or a rug—is of a different nature. In other words, the sentience of a rug is essentially different from that of a tree. And yet, it is there. There is—and I like to put the emphasis here more on the sacred than just on any form of intelligence or ability to communicate in this ordinary world, which is usually what people think about having [sentience].
The spiritual aspect of every form, including a rug, makes it that it is sacred. It is part of the divine whole. [This] is, after all, what most spiritual traditions tell us—that everything is connected. It’s interesting that in certain spiritual traditions, certain rugs [that] have been given some special ritual are considered sacred. I think that we can do the same with the everyday items that we live with.
TS: Now, you mentioned that it might not be that difficult for someone who’s interested to use this form of the shamanic journey and contact the spiritual dimension of—it sounds like—anything, really. Absolutely anything. So, I’m wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about how to do that.
CP: Let me say that kind of the key to make that connection with the [sacredness] of other forms with the spiritual dimension—let’s call it “with the spirit”—of an object, an animal, or of an element is through intention. It is with the intention—which is not the same as will. Intention is really being very clear in our essence, in our mind, in our body. Our intention is to connect with the spirit of—let us say—my cell phone.
One can enter into a silent, meditative state and be open. There is no effort [demanded] here. Very often, we try to make an effort to communicate with the spiritual dimension. The effort is actually an obstruction or a barrier. It is better to put out the intention—to trust in our ability to do that and to feel the connection, to feel the presence of that spiritual dimension.
What happens there is that it is our own spiritual dimension—we, as a member of the human species. People may call it “the soul” or “divine essence” or “true nature.” I call it “the authentic being.” It is that true essence [that] is connecting with the true essence of the spirit of that object—of that cell phone.
Again, when we are in that state of pure intention and meditation (we can call it an altered state of consciousness or the shamanic state of consciousness), we find ourselves in the awareness of interconnectedness—that everything is interconnected. This is a basic principle of shamanism and of many spiritual traditions, as you know. As we are moving into that state of interconnectedness, naturally we are connecting from our own spiritual dimension to the spiritual dimension of the object. We recognize it. We feel it. We may see it. It may show up through our mental mind as an image. Or we can hear a message from it through the auditory [system]; or could be as a kinesthetic feeling. People have different ways—all of the above.
It’s a knowing and a contact. A communication can be established.
TS: I’d be curious to know if you could give us an example of how you made contact in your practice with the spirit of an object of some kind, and what that was like.
CP: I do that on a regular basis. I think every day I probably do that dozens of times. Whenever I get into my car, I connect with the spirit of the car—its spiritual dimension. I thank it for driving around. I ask it to keep me safe.
I do that with my computer. Whenever I open my computer, I establish a relationship with the spirit of my computer so that I when I connect with it, it shows itself. In my mind, I’m very visual and auditory. And so, I actually see it with my eyes closed in a certain form. That form can change. The form in which I see it is a method by itself of communication.
I do get guidance. You always have to ask. I ask my computer to provide me guidance as I am working on a certain topic. I do get guidance. Suddenly my computer will remind me, “You need to Skype your sister in Belgium. She’s waiting for you to communicate with her.” I hear these messages.
To give you another example, I have been communicating with the spirit of my book, ever since I started working on the book—knowing that it was slowly taking a form. I could see the image of the spirit of the book evolving over time. It’s been a constant companion for me. I have learned a great deal. That’s why—for me—I don’t feel [like] the sole author of this book. I feel that this has been a collaboration.
I suspect that many authors—and I know this is the case for many scientists—have that kind of relationship with the work they’re doing, which goes much further than the ordinary, physical reality relationship. They may not be fully conscious or aware of it, but they have inklings about it. A lot of people who have written about their work talk about those kinds of relationships with the objects they’re working with.
TS: Yes. When I hear you talking about having a sense of connection to your car, thanking your car, and asking your car to protect you as you drive around, I’m both impressed by living in such a sacred way—and what that would be like to be so grateful and connected to everything in my life.
But I also imagine the listener thinking to themselves, “I don’t know. I think this guy might be a little cracked,” or something like that. I know it’s a little harsh to put it that way. “He’s a scientist? How can someone who’s a scientist be saying this?
“I mean, I understand Sounds True authors who—you know, people, whatever—[are] in love with their imagination or who knows what. They’re artists. They’ve taken a lot of hallucinogens. But this guy is a nuclear physicist! How can he be saying these things?”
CP: And that’s a question I’ve heard before. From—
TS: I imagine!
CP: —people and students of mine. And friends and relatives. It’s a very good question. The first thing I want to say is that my training and practice as a physicist has really been a major help in my probing, discovering, and ultimately adapting the shamanic practice—or generally, a spiritual practice—and understanding more about the world.
Let me explain this a bit. The scientific training I received—which is what all scientists receive, some of them with better teachers than others. I am thankful to the good teachers I received. It instilled in me an excitement about exploring and understanding the world we live in. This instilled for me—even in my age—this is something that excites me about science. Discovering how this beautiful world of ours works.
This exploration, to me, led me also to take notice of the various unusual experiences I’ve had over my life—which I think every one of us do. Things that we might call just pure coincidences, or déjà vu, or things that we don’t understand. They’re like special connections with our world—different spiritual happenings [for] us. For me, I wanted to explore those too. This was part of my scientific training and excitement, if you wish.
Many of these experiences—call them shamanic or non-ordinary experiences, including that of connecting with spiritual dimensions of matter—were things I could not explain with the science I had been taught. The science I had been taught cannot explain those. I understood that there was another dimension to reality—as I’ve mentioned—which science has no access to, but which spiritual traditions explore and have access to.
The shamanic tradition and other spiritual traditions, [as well as] science, are both exploring the same world, the same reality. They both are looking through different windows into this bigger reality. So, science cannot explain the spiritual experience, and spirituality or shamanism cannot explain what the world is like from a physical point of view. But because both shamanism and science—or spirituality and science—are looking at the same overall reality, there has to be consistency—what I call "consistencies and synchronicities" between science and shamanic knowledge.
And indeed, there [are]. For me, that has been an exciting exploration. Particularly in the field of physics and quantum physics and cosmology and, even now, in neurosciences. The theory of complexities and chaos theory—we are finding that science is explaining the world using concepts that are more and more similar to what the shamanic and other spiritual traditions have been talking about, sometimes for thousands of years. So, there is a coming-together, which I think is to be expected.
Now, my scientific skepticism has also been very helpful to me. I think skepticism is something that I value a great deal and I wish—to be very honest—that sometimes some of my shamanic students would have a little bit more of [it].
In other words, skepticism is where you really go inside and you really ask yourself, "Is this for real or am I making this up? Is this my ego or my narcissism that wants to experience certain things and the things that [are] experienced?" It is a question that [is] important for us to ask. They’re the same kind of questions we ask in science when we’re skeptical about experiments that are taking place—where we want to have other people verify those. It’s the same kind of skepticism that we need to use in our shamanic or spiritual tradition.
TS: Now, you talked, Claude, about there being "consistencies and synchronicities" between the viewpoints of science and shamanism. Have you seen any inconsistencies? Things that [are] just like, "No way, these things just don’t go together." They contradict each other.
CP: I have not. There are, certainly, a number of scientists who are very skeptical or unbelieving of the existence of another dimension—of a spiritual dimension. [They] would try to come up with theories that would explain those. And sometimes, you might see some contradiction there. But this is more on the theoretical level.
I really have not seen inconsistencies. What there are—there are certain, as I say, physical phenomena. Most physical phenomena cannot be explained by a spiritual tradition, and vice versa. They are two different aspects of this same reality.
By "consistency," I mean that—let me first put it this way: There would be an inconsistency, for example, if science were to show that everything in this physical world of ours is separate. None of it is connected to one another. There is total disconnection; there is total separation. If this was the case, it would be inconsistent with what spiritual traditions and the shamanic tradition tell us—that everything is interconnected in to a greater whole.
Several centuries ago, there was a great deal of philosophical, scientific thinking [and] also experiments that would show that, indeed, the world was more of a [mechanistic] world that was working through separate parts that were not connected to one another. Modern science—again, particularly the physical sciences, but now even of course in ecology, in cosmology, and (as I said) in neurosciences—is showing now that everything is interconnected. Quantum physics has really shown that every single particle in this immense universe is connected with every other particle in the universe.
Now, that is a powerful statement of interconnectedness—and one that I think, at least to me, has almost more impact than learning that from a spiritual sage—that everything is interconnected.
To me, it’s normal that there would be this consistency. So no, I have not and I don’t expect to find inconsistencies. Of course, if there were, then I would just have to admit that I have more to learn.
TS: It’s interesting that you’re talking about the interconnectedness of all life, because one of the really interesting sections of the new book, The Shaman Within, was a chapter on shape-shifting. [In it], you talked about how shape-shifting has been central to your practice of shamanism and how, in understanding shape-shifting, this appreciation of interconnectedness is one of the ways we can have some insight into how it might be possible.
So, I wonder if you could explain to us a little bit about what shape-shifting is and how you got into it.
CP: Yes. And I like the question, because it’s always been—even for myself—kind of an amazement that, along with my passion to adopt the ancient shamanic tradition to our modern, technological world—which I think is a very important step we need to take. I was led by my spirit guides—by what I’ve heard from the spiritual dimension I connect with, was that I needed to go back and inform myself and start practicing in depth what is very, very ancient, traditional, and one could even say esoteric shamanic practice—which is that of shape-shifting. That is, transforming my own form—and this starting from the energetic form to the psychic form [and] ultimately to the physical form—into another being, another form of this Earth.
This is something that has been a—
TS: This sounds pretty sci-fi to me!
CP: It is! And it has, to me. It is true. It has [now] been a good 20, 25 years that I have practiced the shape-shifting. I really understood why I was led to—even as a scientist—to study that. As I learned the practices of shape-shifting—and I’ve been teaching this to many people. And actually undergoing some aspects of shape-shifting into other beings. Animals, trees, or rocks. Water and whatnot.
My scientific mind, of course, always led me with skepticism in two ways. They said, "How could this be possible?" They say, "This really looks like total science fiction."
And yet, my experience in practicing shape-shifting was such that I could not deny it. I could not deny the experiences I had of starting to shape-shift, say, to a tree. To deny that experience would have been unscientific for me, because this was an experience of the world for me. I could not explain it. And yet, it happened. I could not reject it without—for me—being unscientific, even though I could not explain it.
My understanding of it, of course, was as I became more aware through my shamanic practice—my spiritual practice of this interconnectedness of everything— that I understood also scientifically about the interconnectedness of all matter and all of energy in this world. It is because of this interconnectedness that the practice of shape-shifting is feasible.
And so, I understood, then, that the practice of shape-shifting was a very powerful manifestation on the physical, emotional, mental, energetic field of this concept of interconnectedness. Too often—and sometimes I still get there—[regarding] interconnectedness, I’ll say, "Oh yes. Everything is interconnected." But what does that mean, really?
In the shape-shifting practice, I’ve really gained an understanding of that interconnectedness, which became totally physical, became energetic, [became] emotional. Even my mind was able to grasp better what all that meant.
Now, I say in that sense the shape-shifting practice—I understood this as something that we need to perhaps reintroduce into this modern world. Which is why I included a chapter of it in my book—because of this importance, I feel, that for us humans on this planet to avoid destroying the ecology of our planet and destroying each other. We need to reawaken our awareness of this interconnectedness, which is based on the sacredness of everything.
And the shape-shifting practice is a deep way. Not everybody’s path, but it’s certainly a deep way to get greater insight into this interconnectedness—[which] then we can take into our everyday life.
TS: Can you explain to our listeners who are unfamiliar with shape-shifting how the practice works—maybe giving an example from your own experience?
CP: Let me take an example of shape-shifting into an animal, for example—which is maybe the easier practice to do for us, because we are an animal ourselves, as a member of the human species.
The practice takes place through an altered state of consciousness—a shamanic state of consciousness. Or a "journey state," if you wish, where you enter into contact with the spirit of that animal, [which] you will see or feel in front of you. There is a practice, which I describe in my book, where [we’re using our own energy fields]—and I use the chakra models for that. We align our energy field with that of the other being—in this case, an animal.
And it’s through intention that we can align the chakras. There’s a way of doing this starting with the Will Chakra, which is where the intention is focused.
It’s through this pure state of intention, with no effort that, in my experience and that of the many students I have taught, a first shift, transformation, or metamorphosis occurs in our own energy field. We start taking on the consciousness and the energetic awareness of the animal.
It’s a very profound experience, where my vision changes. My hearing changes. I start seeing the world in a different way. I go deeper into it. Other aspects of my being—including, ultimately, bodily feelings—start changing. I can start feeling changes in my bodily structure that start mirroring what the animal’s bodily structure is.
It’s a very profound experience—particularly if you do this kind of shape-shifting and then go out in nature, for example. Which is something I love to do. My experience even as a partially shape-shifted form—even if I only take the energetic form of an animal or part of its awareness—my interaction with the world is totally different. My perception of it is different. I’ve had interactions with other animals—real animals, in this case—in a shape-shifted form, which I could never have had as a pure human species.
And I know all this sounds very strange. But yet, if we’re all interconnected, of course it’s possible. This can be done. The only way to know that it’s possible is to experience it. I cannot convince you, Tami—or anybody else—that this is something that can be done. I have done it. And as a scientist, these are experiences [that] I have repeated probably thousands of times over those 25 years. I cannot reject those. And the same for what I’ve seen with students I have taught.
TS: Now, I’m with you in terms of being able to follow this sense of being able to shape-shift into an energetic experience. I think where my skepticism—and we’re friends, Claude, because you said you like the healthy skeptic. But I think where my skepticism comes in is the physical aspects.
So, if someone was shape-shifting into a tiger, would they actually start—and I’m just going to say it—growing claws? That’s hard for me to imagine. I can see that they would feel inside like they were. But actually physically manifesting that? I find that hard to believe.
CP: And it is hard to believe. This is a practice that is also one that is so profound—it’s a deep spiritual practice—that it is not a practice that one does to show off to other people.
CP: You know? In my own case—and I know people who practice it—this is something I do privately. The total transformation of the body into the body of a tiger is something that I would hope that the spirits will let me achieve sometime during my life because I believe it’s possible.
The literature—of course, both anthropological literature as well as that of explorers and others—have documented many cases of shamans in many different cultures that have had fairly total physical shape-shifting experiences. This is a tradition that we find in all cultures. I’ve had interactions with shamans in the Andes of Peru, in the Amazon of Ecuador, and northern Amazon—where I know they are shape-shifting. They talk about it.
So, this is—again—something that is hard to ignore. It’s quite possible, even if it’s a not a full bodily change. You can start, for example—and I’ve seen this in myself and in others—roaring like a tiger, which people would be unable to do if they were in their own human form.
What’s also interesting—and I wrote on this in my book—is how other animals are very sensitive to even more subtle changes or metamorphoses of our form—particularly the energetic one. I recalled a case, for example, where [I was] backpacking in the Sierras and [saw] people on horseback coming. I was learning there about shape-shifting. [For hours,] I had been shape-shifting and trying to walk as a tiger. I didn’t pay attention. And when these people on horseback came, the horses reared and almost threw their people on the ground. They had to go take a big circle around me. They could not understand what had happened.
Neither could I at first, until I realized that the horses clearly noticed the tiger essence in me. [This] has taught me how to modulate when I shape-shift—to make sure that I don’t interfere with my form with other animals, or even other people who may be very sensitive to that.
TS: As a physicist, how do you understand that it’s possible for physical matter to shift like that through human intention? For the physical body to shift like that? How does that make sense?
CP: That’s a question that I have not resolved. I have given a lot of thought to that.
It’s known that [at] both the particle level as well as the molecule levels, there can be quite a bit of transformation. Some of it can be spontaneous. Some of it—in a human body, for example—can be the result of connection with our neurons in the brain.
Now, we know—and I know in healing with a disease that I have now—that I’m working on this. Where I can actually, through my intention, help bring about some biochemical changes in my body. I think mind-body effects like this have been studied for a long time. Even though there’s still a lot of doubts about it among the more mainstream medical fields, if you look at the scientific literature there’s more and more understanding that we can—through our thought process, through our intention—make major modifications to the biochemistry of our brain as well as the biochemistry of other parts of our body. It certainly comes in when we use meditation, for example, to remove stress or anxiety in us. It goes through biomedical changes that occur through intention.
Now, it is possible to bring about those changes. And so, I see no reason why—in a more advanced or extreme case—we could not actually change more of the biochemistry of our entire body into something else.
TS: Now, you mentioned that you’ve been working with a healing challenge recently. I know, in talking with you—you called me a couple months ago, right before this new book, The Shaman Within, was scheduled to be published—and mentioned that you were actually dealing with quite a life-threatening health situation. An advanced form of lung cancer—
CP: That’s why I—fairly soon after I sent you back the galley proofs of the book, I was diagnosed with Stage 4, advanced lung cancer, which was metastasized to the brain and through parts of my spinal column—through a couple of vertebrae.
[This] was a shock to me, because I don’t have a family history of cancer and I don’t smoke. I have what I thought was a fairly normal diet, exercise regimen, and my spiritual life.
This experience, for me—this happening—well, it has changed my life totally. I live now with this fatal illness in me. There’s also been a deep spiritual experience. My shamanic practice has helped me a great deal—as well as my scientific understanding in this case—to deal as well as I could with this cancer.
One of the understandings I had immediately—partially because of my shape-shifting and my understanding of the bodily makeup of my body—was that these cancer cells in my lungs and in my brain were my own cells, and they were ill. This was not something that was coming from the outside. I was not attacked by a cancer. I was not a victim of a cancer. This was something within me.
From the start, my approach to my cancer has been one where I’ve really been in daily contact with my cancer cells. I express love for them. I express gratitude for what they’ve brought to me, for my lungs. These are cells that have helped me breathe for many, many years. I expressed gratitude. Because I’ve learned a great deal through this illness and having to deal with it, I thank them for all the learning that they’ve brought to me.
And so, I’m not fighting my cancer. I really have respect and love for my cancer cells.
What I do next, then—and I do this every day—I ask my cancer cells (after loving them and expressing gratitude) whether they would, [use] the biochemical energy of the chemo I take and the spirit of the chemo I take; and of all the different kinds of nontraditional healings and herbal supplements and other things I take; and all of the love and wonderful healing energy people are sending me. I ask them if they would transform themselves—metamorphose themselves—into something that is beautiful, then leave my body and go into the spiritual world.
So, I do that when I take my chemo. And I’m very fortunate to have a special mutation in my cancer cells that allows me to have a very advanced chemo, which is a pill I take every morning and which does not affect my immune system. So, my quality of life has remained fairly good.
And as I take that chemo pill, I do a ritual every morning with it. I have contacted the spirit of that special chemo pill, because it is made of earth-stuff itself. I work with the spirit of my chemo pill, and I do a ritual every morning. It’s been very important to me—these are messages I’ve gotten from my lung cells, cancer cells, as well as from the spirit of the chemo—to ask that my healing also provide healing for our planet Earth, which is in much need of healing. [Also,] for other people who are suffering from cancer—particularly those in countries where they have no access to the kind of medical care I have.
So, I do this every day. It’s a whole spiritual practice for me, linked to my medical treatment. To me, that is totally normal.
And my shape-shifting practice has helped me. As I practice my shape-shifting, I ask my cancer cells to shape-shift themselves again into something beautiful—something other so that they can leave my body.
So far, my tumors have shown they have disappeared from my brain. So, I will live with this the rest of my life. I know that. My intention from the start has been if there is any—if this is the time for me to go; if the spirits tell me, "Well, let it be,"—then I need to go. However, if there is the slightest opening for me to work and survive, I want to live another 20 years—which is my intention here, because I love this world.
And so, all my practices of working with the spirits—the sacred aspect, the spiritual dimension of everything around the world—has been very helpful and important for me in working with the traditional medical and nontraditional medical treatments in my own cancer.
TS: I notice I feel very moved hearing you talk about your approach. I mean, I’ve heard so many people talk about wanting to eliminate their cancer cells—like, playing some kind of Pac-Man game or something like that. Get them out of here! Get them gobbled up and gone. Your approach seems so different to me.
CP: You know, I’ve had even very close family members and relatives who at first would tell me, "Oh Claude, I know you’ll win this war against this cancer. I know you can fight it to death, and you’re going to win." And I always had to go back and say, "This is not a fight. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want a war. There’s enough fighting and enough war on this world. I want to love, to respect—to work in cooperation."
To me, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t want to take any special credit for this. From the start, it made a lot of sense to do it that way. They are myself, [after all], and I love myself. I love my body. I love this world. I’m very thankful to my body for having permitted me to live so long and benefitted from this great world. So, to fight them just makes no sense to me.
TS: I’m curious: when you received your diagnosis, did you immediately do some type of journey to try to understand, "Why is this happening? What’s the message? Why is this happening to me?"
CP: Yes, I did. Let me answer this in two ways. The first journey I did—my wife, Noelle, was there with me and she was journeying at the same time. I just asked spirit generally—all my spirit helpers; my power animals and spirit guides—to explain to me what was happening to me. I wanted more understanding. It was a very powerful journey, because I was immediately taken in this journey out in space to a point where I could look down—along with the spirits that were with me—to the Earth. It looked even smaller. It looked like maybe a soccer ball. It was even further out than what the moon astronauts saw it like.
And I [immediately] heard the spirits say, "The planet Earth is hurting. It’s ill. And your body is hurting and is ill." I immediately understood that what was happening to me was just a microcosm of what was happening to so many other species on this Earth—to so much of the waters and the mountains and the rocks. As we know, the ecological destruction that is happening on our planet Earth—almost all of it the result of we humans.
When I got that message, I understood that I was just part of something bigger here. Whatever healing I would attempt to do and receive as I moved forward needed to be connected to the feeling of the Earth—that this was one and the same thing. Again, there was this connection. So, this was very helpful to me.
I also understood—and this is the other part of the answer to your question—that (and I talk about this in my book in different ways) I am, as a human being, no more important than any other being on this planet Earth. I am no more important than a small insect or a blade of grass or a stream going down a mountain. All these are part of nature. I am part of nature. We are different—different forms of complexities that have come out in the evolution of life and of our planet and of this universe.
But I have no more value than any of these other forms. We are just equal parts of life—of existence in this universe.
And so, very quickly—to me, the question of, "Why is this happening to me?" became irrelevant. Now, I could see just in front of my house—I can see it now as I look through the window—a beautiful, gorgeous oak tree, which I loved [and] which suffered from sudden oak death, which is a disease oak trees have in California. And yet, the scrubby little oak next to it is in full health. But that tree I loved died from it. Why that tree and not the little scrubby tree that I never paid attention to—to whom I’m paying attention now?
Again, these are not questions that I have answers to—that even should be asked. We’re all part of this wonderful experiment that is existence in this universe. Some of us have diseases. So, this was very helpful to me.
It became a matter then—how do I, in a sacred way, approach this disease? And I’m very thankful for the medical treatments that have been available to me. I know they’re not available to probably 90 percent of the human species. So, I’m very, very grateful for that.
I want to approach this in a very sacred way. You know, using all my shamanic practice—recognizing the sacred in those treatments. This has really helped me in dealing with this disease on a day-to-day basis.
TS: I want to pick up on one thing that you said, because once again, if I lived with that view, I would have to live really differently. So, it got my attention. [This] was when you said, "I’m no important than anything else in this world, including an insect." I definitely think I live with the presumption that I’m more important than the mosquitoes that I kill, for example. I think most people do. So, what you’re saying is actually very radical.
CP: I think most people do and I think most people in Western culture do. When I’ve spent time with indigenous people—which I have the opportunity to do, for example, with the Achuar tribe, which is an indigenous tribe in [the] northern Amazon. [They are] pretty much untouched by modern civilization. For them, it is clear that they are no more important than an insect. This is the way they live.
So, I think I see that more as a cultural phenomenon. It’s a very anthropocentric phenomenon. Anthropocentrism—which means that, somehow, we humans are the center of everything. We’re more important than everything. We are the peak of the evolutionary pyramid. This is something that is very unique to our kind of culture—which, of course, has now spread around the planet very much. It’s something that is fairly recent in terms of the human species.
Now, as we know, a lot of the former hunter-gatherers—when we look at current hunter-gatherers, [they] do not have that kind of anthropocentric feeling. What’s important to realize is that if I have the same value—which I’m convinced I do—as a mosquito, I am different from that mosquito. And I have a different role in maintaining harmony within nature—within this world. Which I think is fundamental to why we’re here on this planet.
The mosquito has its own role. These are different, for the roles are different. The nature is different. But the value is not. The mosquito has a spiritual dimension. It is sacred. And it’s this sacredness—and it’s interconnected. It’s part of the whole, just as I am part of the whole.
And if I were to think I am more important—I have a higher value—for me, is to bring in separation. I’m separate from the mosquito because I’m more important. I have more value. This is [contrary] to my understanding of connectedness and of being part of the whole.
Does that kind of answer your question? This has been my experience, because I did not always feel that way. But through my practice, I’ve really understood that I have no higher value than any other being on this planet—or, for that matter, in this universe.
It actually brought in a huge amount of relief and almost a certain amount of joy because now I was part of it. I was not separate from it. I was different, and I could value my difference to the extent that I can use that difference for the good of everything else—which, unfortunately, we humans still have a lot to learn about.
But it made life for me much more pleasant—much more joyous. It made much more sense. And again, as a scientist, to me this made a lot of sense. Why put a certain value on ourselves?
I made a journey once to a spirit to find out more about this evolutionary pyramid, because we’ve always thought humans were at the top—the most evolved species. There’s still a great deal of thinking about that, which I think is a dangerous type of thinking.
So, I wanted to get some more insights. I journeyed to spirits of different animals, different trees, different other beings from this Earth—just to find out what their thoughts about that [were]. And the responses I got were all fairly humorous in the sense that says, "Well, who says there’s an evolutionary pyramid? You humans have said that." Now, if there is a pyramid, then somebody’s got to be on the top, of course. And of course, if you decide that there was a pyramid, who are you going to put on top but yourself? [Laughs.]
Again, this made a lot sense to me. The understanding—and by the way, evolutionary biologists are starting to get there, to the understanding that we’re not talking about an evolutionary pyramid anymore. Science is getting closer. We’re talking about a much more complex evolutionary structure than one going to something that’s more and more and more evolved.
The complexity theory—and I, again, am talking as a scientist—is a theory that says that starting with some very simple interactions—this is what computers are based on. You know—the ones and zeroes that interact with one another in the computer in very simple ways. You can, through complexity theory, naturally [and] spontaneously arrive at very complicated, complex structures. This is what evolution has done. It’s led to a very, very complex structure.
Starting from the Big Bang, with some simple interactions among particles [and] leading to more and more complex structure. Ultimately, [to] structures of life. Our human brain is a very complex structure. I see a bird flying in front of my window. The way a bird is structured to fly in such an elegant, superb way is an extremely complex structure.
There are many different complex structures all over the world. This is what makes Earth such a beautiful place, and so is the cosmos.
But to place a higher value on the complexity of the brain and the complexity of the makeup of a flying bird is again, I think, a very arbitrary decision. And not surprising that we would do that. That’s where the anthropocentric feelings come in.
But once—in my experience and of those who I have discussed this with—[we] see that no, I am no more complex or advanced or valued than this beautiful bird that just flew in with such elegance, I feel connected with that bird. I want to protect it. I know that that bird will do whatever it is to protect me. We are part of the same life force on this Earth.
So, I encourage everyone to think that way. Try it. It’s a different world.
TS: Claude, we’re going to have to have a second part to our conversation someday, because I’m really enjoying speaking with you and feel that you’re helping me see through more sacred eyes. I really appreciate that. So, we’ll have to have a second part of our conversation, because there’s a lot more that I want to talk with you about.
CP: I would love to do that. This is not a simple matter to talk about. I often say when we talk about the spiritual dimension of reality, we are using a language that has been created to produce—to describe—the ordinary part of reality. And so, it is not fully adequate language. Sometimes, it is difficult to get across some of these experiences. I would love to talk to you again, Tami.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Claude Poncelet. He’s the author of a new book, The Shaman Within: A Physicist’s Guide to the Deeper Dimensions of Your Life, the Universe, and Everything. Claude—great to be with you, and we’ll talk more.
CP: Thank you very much, Tami.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.