Welcome to Chuck’s Place, where Chuck Ketchel expresses his thoughts, insights, and experiences! Many of the shamanic and psychological terms used in Chuck’s essays are defined in Tools & Definitions on our Psychotherapy website.
Recently, I received a copy of a translation of a chapter from the Spanish edition of Carlos Castaneda’s 1981 book The Eagle’s Gift; this chapter is absent from the English edition. I was not aware of this missing chapter and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Like all of Castaneda’s works, it is timeless. Today, from this chapter, I select the proposition of skimming for discussion: the process that all human beings undergo to perceive a world of solid objects.
Seers, shamans who see energy as it flows in the universe, describe a universe filled with luminous filaments that they believe embody an infinite variety of perceptual possibilities that impress themselves upon our senses. What gives rise to the cohesive world we live in is a process of selecting only certain energetic filaments. This is skimming. Shamans call the resulting ability to perceive a world of solid objects the first attention. In effect, the selected filaments are highlighted while others disappear into the background, ignored and dismissed. Shamans claim that children are naturally open to the vastness of these filaments and only through the process of socialization by the adults in their lives are they taught to narrow their selection process to arrive at the agreed upon perception of the world. Children’s perceptions of imaginary beings, ghosts and creatures that evoke night terrors, might better be understood as a time when expanded perceptual possibilities are still readily available, before the dominance of the first attention has set in. These children are frequently brought to therapists who participate in the socialization process by helping children to learn to dismiss their “empty imaginings” as fantasy, not real and substantial.
The older we get the more intense the socialization as the boundaries of the first attention, with rationality at its core, become thicker and almost impossible to penetrate. What results is a completely known and predictable world: innocence lost. Shamans are emphatic that once the first attention is consolidated it admits no knew perceptual possibilities, all sensory data is interpreted to conform to a rational world of solid objects. The appearance of any “irrational phenomena” is quickly shrouded in doubt and skepticism, explained away and subsumed by the constructs of the first attention. The first attention will never be convinced of a world beyond itself.
Shamans have discovered that to retrieve our lost innocence, that is, to explore the full potential of our perceptual possibilities, we must cancel out the first attention, if only for a moment. Shamans and non-shamans alike have discovered that psychoactive drugs can cancel the first attention and allow for expanded perception. However, the danger with drugs is that once an individual leaves the first attention under their influence they may not find their way back. In psychological terms this failure to return is called psychosis. The shamans of Carlos Castaneda’s line discovered that dreaming and physical movements called Magical Passes are far superior approaches to leaving the first attention and accessing what they call the second attention, where an individual perceives energy untethered by the restrictive skimming of the first attention. These methods allow the practitioner to develop mastery and control of the second attention, which becomes a perceptual option to be exercised at will or by intent.
Shamans appreciate our fuller evolutionary potential to access both the first attention and the second attention. They understand both addiction and spiritual striving as attempts to actualize this fuller potential. Their contributions include pragmatic methods to safely enter a world of energy. The point is to arrive at a viable second attention that can perceive energy as fluidly as the first attention perceives a world of objects, not to expand the first attention to include the second attention, this is not possible. This is the shortcoming of trying to prove any irrational experience to the rational mind. The goal is to have the option to fluidly access and live in both attentions. Ironically, we do anyway; we simply don’t realize it or dismiss it. The dominance of the skimmings of the first attention makes the fuller reality fade into the background, but it is there nonetheless.
When confronted with this paradox, a world of solid objects and a world of energy, Carlos asked don Juan whether indeed objects were solid. Don Juan answered that of course objects were solid, but first they were energy. He urged Carlos to fully appreciate the miracle of the first attention, but to actualize his fuller potential by restoring his innocence in the second attention.
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Until we meet again,