How did an ayahuasca ceremony with a shaman in the Amazon rainforest force bestselling author John Perkins to face his fears?
The answer provides the foundation for his latest book, Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World, and how transformed from an “economic hit man” to an activist for transforming what he calls a “failing Death Economy” into a thriving “Life Economy.”
Perkins joined Freedom Media Network founder Curt Mercadante for an in-depth interview about his new book.
“When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in 1969 and living deep in the Amazon rainforest in territory controlled by the indigenous hunter/gatherer Shuar tribe, I was dying at one point,” he recalled. “I got very, very sick. I couldn't stand up without help. And the nearest medical facility was three days through dense jungle and awful roads up high in the Andes. So a shaman actually saved my life.”
Unable to make it to a modern medical facility, Perkins decided to sit with a local shaman.
“And one night, he took me on a shamanic journey, what we might call a vision quest. And while I'm on that vision quest, my eyes were closed. I'm very, very sick,” he explained. “And I'm seeing these visions, and I see this amorphous shape in front of me. And the shaman says, ‘touch the jaguar.’ Well, I look all around like, ‘oh my god’. My eyes pop open. And I'm in the jungle.”
"Where is the jaguar?" Perkins asked the Shaman.
And the Shaman responded, "No, no, no, close your eyes, touch the jaguar you see in your vision."
“And so I closed my eyes, as the morphous shape shifts into a Jaguar,” said Perkins. “And there's a voice like my mother saying, ‘Son, the food and drink will kill you.’”
Perkins explained that up until that point, he had been eating a number of foods, including “squirming white grubs living out of a rotting tree.” This, he says, was much different than the “mild, bland foods” he was raised on in rural New Hampshire.
He also had been consuming local “spit beer.”
“People in the Amazon don't drink water because they know that the organic matter, something's in the river, the falling trees, they pollute the river,” he said. “So the women make a kind of beer called chicha by chewing and spitting the manioc root. It ferments, and then you can add water to this alcohol, it's okay. So you’ve got to rehydrate in the tropics and drink a lot of that spit beer.
“But I realized that every time I'm drinking this spit beer, eating these squirming white grubs and other things, I'm hearing a voice saying ‘it'll kill you.’ That creates a perception in me, that then turns into the reality, and I'm getting really sick. At the same time I'm seeing how incredibly robust and vital the Shuar are. And many live to be very, very old, if they don't die in a hunting accident or something like that.”
By urging him to “touch the jaguar,” the shaman was urging Perkins to face his fears, but also change his perception from one that believes these new, exotic foods were harming him to one that believes they are actually nourishing his body.
“And so on this one shamanic journey, I saw that it was not the food and drink that was killing me. This was local, organic, nutritious food,” he explained. “And I saw that it was my mindset. And after that the shaman told me, ‘touching the jaguar means you face your fears, you face your barriers and you touch the jaguar that's standing in your way. But when you touch that jaguar and you stop running from it, you stop denying it. When you touch that jaguar, when you face your fears, when you face your barriers, suddenly you're given the information or the strength and the courage to move forward to a new reality.”
Perkins explained that it really is a mind-body connection, based on what he calls the “perception bridge.” He said the reality was that he was eating spit beer and white grubs, and his initial perception was that this reality was killing him. Once he changed that perception to believe the food really was making him healthy, as it does the Shuar, that same food and drink was able to take him “to a place of health.”
He said, “But on that perception bridge stands a jaguar that at first seems to keep you from moving from the old reality to the new reality. It's the voice telling me, ‘I can't do it.’ But once you touch that, it says, ‘Hey, no, it's making these people healthy, therefore it's not killing you.’”
“And we can apply that to basically everything in our lives, Curt. And so this idea of touching the jaguar means facing our fears.”
Perkins’ 2004 book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” spent 73 weeks on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and has been translated into 32 languages. The 2016 update, “New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” brought the story of economic hit men and jackal assassins up to date and chillingly home to the U.S.
In our previous story, Perkins explained the definition of an “economic hit man.”
You can watch Perkins’ full discussion with Mercadante by clicking here.