The Contemplative Shaman: Harbinger of the Next Age
“Space ain’t man’s final frontier. Man’s final frontier is the soul.” –Arrested Development
I’ve long had an armchair quarterback’s amateur fascination with lives that are lived on the cutting edge of human potential, and the deepest admiration for those pushing the boundaries in various fields. I could spend hours on YouTube channels like People Are Awesome, watching one superhuman stunt after another performed with physical bodies that seem far less fragile than mine. Organizations like Mensa and the Swedish Academy (awarders of the Nobel Prize) help push the intellectual envelope, while the popularity of TED talks show the general public’s appetite for new, innovative ideas across all fields of interest.
It led me to wonder: What would such a movement for the advancement of human potential be like in the context of religion and spirituality? 
If that sounds like an oxymoron, it is religion’s fault, and primarily (but not exclusively) the Abrahamic faiths. Tapping into the infinite creativity and vast potential of Homo sapiens’ interior life should have been religion’s MO all along. In retrospect, it was a horrible long-term marketing plan to proliferate the idea that people are inherently not awesome and must rely on the grace of a supreme being completely outside themselves in order to do anything worthwhile. Even if there is a half-truth to that, a half-truth in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing, and religious institutions have abused the power of the illusion of our separation from the Divine for too long. Spirituality must reclaim that power, hopefully before the shelf-life of belief contrary to empirical evidence is expired and God is completely dead.
There is less distance between the secular/scientific and mainstream spiritual approaches to human potential than one might think. When Alex Honnold scaled a 3,000 foot sheer granite wall with his bare hands and no ropes, that was damn near as miraculous as walking on water. The difference is that free-soloing El Capitan, while extremely improbable, we now know is physically possible, whereas walking on water was never meant to be possible if you’re not the Son of God, or perhaps —earmuffs, Christians— nothing but an allegory.
And so, like Adam extending himself toward but never quite reaching the metaphorical finger of the Divine, we will always fall short of the glory, and are dependent upon the church to show us how to bridge that gap to fulfill our potential.
Until the truth gets out that the limitless Divine is within us just as it is without us. Bad news for the God racket; Good News for humanity. Spreading this Good News is the mission of the Avant-God.
The thesis statement of the Contemplative Shaman series is that this mission is not merely a feel-good story nor a masturbatory exercise for navel gazers, nor a remedy for existential panic —it is an elemental part of the development of our species, no less significant than the emergence and intricate refinement of the cognitive mind which distinguishes us from our fellow earthlings. The properties of Divine wisdom —which include intuition, conscience, compassion, agape love, and holistic thought— are actually adaptive traits necessary for our survival in the fractured world that our cognitive intelligence created. Only this wisdom can bring us back into harmony with each other and with Nature.
There is a strange paradox in modern civilization: a world that has grown less violent but more volatile, that seems to be at once evolving and disintegrating. Both intelligence and wisdom are broadening and deepening across the populace in most cultures, but our religious, political, and economic institutions are still ruled by the same strain of power brokers who (though actually not) seem more flawed and brutish by comparison.
In so many fields, it seems, there is this hump that limits our potential that we are so close to getting over, and when we do we will be able to achieve wonderful things as a species, but we are stuck where we are, and can’t seem to get out of our own way.
The Next Age is a set of speculative ideas about what it could take to get us over that hump, and the role that an Avant-God spirituality can play in scaling it. Drawing on the change in perception that comes along with non-dual awareness and the embrace of monist cosmologies like Taoism and pantheism, we propose that the Next Age would be a paradigm shift beyond the predominance of cognitive, comprehension-based processing of reality, and toward an increased use of intuition –the inherent seat of Divine wisdom, a quality of the human organism bridging its limited perceiving self to the universal Self.
Such a shift would be no less profound in scope and magnitude than the Copernican Revolution. This is an apt comparison qualitatively as well, for both paradigm shifts involve a trust that the sensory information available to an individual organism is limited by space-time perspective, and that Nature, like the elephant in the courtyard investigated by blind men, has holistic properties that simply cannot be grasped individually by sensory data gathering and cognition. Deeper knowledge, we’ve learned, requires trust in something inclusive of but greater than oneself.
The Copernican Revolution helped establish the collective inquiry process known as the scientific method as a superior means of gathering information about our physical reality. The next great shift in perspective, we speculate, will address our metaphysical reality, our “final frontier,” and re-empower the individual to listen to and trust his/her intuition.
Essentially, this means making a leap that seems to go from collective knowledge back to a kind of egocentric individualism (and Part One will explore in great detail how the precursor to this leap, still confined within the limits of the cognitive mind, are creating the narcissistic tipping point phase we call “hyperindividualism”), but we intend to show that the non-dual nature of intuition means this is actually a leap forward toward trusting the Divine wisdom of the universe to speak through us.
The deliberate cultivation of intuition is what we mean by “contemplative” practice. Parts Two and Three will look at how contemplative, Logos-centric spirituality differs from religion based on the verbal matrix of words, and how they both fit into a natural pattern of emergence building toward the Next Age. We will look at the changing role of the shaman in these emergent phases, eventually clarifying what it means to be a contemplative shaman (probably not what you think at first glance).
The proliferation of aptitude for and attention to processing of intuitive information, spurred both by deliberate contemplative practices and natural selection of these traits, would lead to a phenomenon that we’ve named as though it were a different humanoid species —Homo intuitus. Whether this represents an actual descendant species to come in the distant future, or a radically altered adaptation of Homo sapiens to come relatively soon –or another option altogether, such as an artificial intelligence and/or a development of transhumanism– is beyond reasonable speculation at this point, so we don’t pretend to know, but we will touch on the reasons why each is a plausible outcome toward the end of the series.
This seems like a good place to mention that this series (as well as everything else on Not Two for that matter, but especially this) is being written and presented as part of a speculative cosmology that is not attempting to be authoritative. The ideas behind the contemplative shaman are a culmination of about twenty-five years of observation and free thought, following threads of intuition, seeing and seeking out logical patterns of behavior and meaning, and studying source material from a variety of disciplines, but none of what would qualify as research in a strict sense. I respect the various sciences utilized here and avoid drawing upon any known falsehoods, but I am not a scientist myself, and it has never really interested me to build up an arsenal of authoritative sources from among those who are. This is partly due to an inkling that I could spend a great deal of energy doing this, while someone else could just as well compile a bibliography of authoritative sources to make a contrary thesis, so why bother. It is also partly due, perhaps, to a personal hyperindividualistic streak that would prefer an incorrect thesis I can call my own to jumping on a horde that, for now, can call itself Right.
But mostly (to segue back to the topic at hand), I feel the conviction at the baseline of the thesis itself: that Reality never conforms to our ideas about it; that it is what it is, and our words will either clarify or obfuscate our perception of it, but never define it. There are many ill-fated ways to describe Reality, but there is also more than one path to clarity about it, and no individual way is ever more than partial in its scope. I personally find the ideas leading to an emergent contemplative shaman and the hypothesis of a Homo intuitis to come very clarifying and illuminating, and calming of any anxieties I am prone to feel toward the future. If they do not produce something similar for you, feel free to discard them. Ideas are made of a unique substance that is both recyclable and compostable –what is false will dissolve into the firmament, and what is true will come back in a more useful form.
 I’m well aware that there was literally a thing called the “human-potential movement” in the 1960s and 70s, a precursor to New Age spirituality, which is said to have originated under that banner in the 80s. I think there was much about HPM that made good sense and fits well into the evolutionary curve of our model —in particular, that it was an authentic awakening device that catered to the hyperindividualism of its time and place— but ultimately it is not the thing that will usher in the Next Age as described here. The Avant-God is a Self-awakening movement, not self-help. My take on self-help is summed up succinctly in this image to the right.
Emergence of the Contemplative Shaman