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Courageous Dreaming? Really?

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This book, Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World Into Being, caught my eye a year ago in a local bookstore, so I requested a review copy from the publisher. Now, before I get into reviewing the book I need to say something about Hay House Publishers. courageousdreaming

I both admire and am horrified by Hay House. As a publicity and marketing machine, they are unparalleled. Their self-help authors can publish companion CDs, DVDs, card decks and calendars to complement book sales, and get virtually unlimited exposure on their internet radio station and Hay House-sponsored tours and events. I wish more mainstream publishers had the marketing zazz of Hay House.

On the other hand, there is everything else. Hay House has singlehandedly ruined the sky blue/lavender color scheme, for one. Almost all of their products and many of their authors’ websites are invested heavily in this look, which I guess is designed to evoke calm, timeless wisdom unsullied by earthly bodies or the misery of the unenlightened. Yet as a result of its overuse, I find myself automatically bracing for bad writing and dubious content as soon as I spot it.

Hay House is the baby of Louise Hay, famous for declaring that we create our own reality and then proceeding to defend her philosophy even in the face of the most egregious human circumstances. Mutilation and abuse? Yup, if we experienced it we created it. Poverty and starvation? Double yup.

What she lacks in ethics and discernment she makes up for in sheer chutzpah however, by declaring that Hay House is a significant contributor to planetary healing. As a result of all this, it is impossible for me to separate any book published by her from the fact that it was published by Hay House.

Alberto Villoldo was at one time a student and colleague of Stanley Krippner, a man whose research on dreams, shamanism and consciousness I greatly admire. Sadly, that association is not enough for me to give Villoldo’s book a glowing review. The author’s bio reveals that he left his clinical psych position at San Francisco State to pursue an apprenticeship with Amazonian healers. One wishes that he had not left quite so much behind when he set out on his quest.

Villoldo’s prose is ponderous, and the points he makes are riddled with flaws. (Chapter Five begins with this gem: “As a species, we humans are very intrepid.” Medic!) Basically he presents a story of how we as individuals and a culture have fallen from grace, how we are suckling at the teat of an empty materialistic dream, and how our only chance of survival is to awaken to the wisdom of what he calls the “Earthkeepers.”

He never gets specific about exactly who the Earthkeepers are, but he seems to refer mostly to the Inca shamans he has developed relationships with, and to whom he regularly goes on expeditions with students and fellow seekers. Yet at different times he also lumps Amazonian shamans, sub-Saharan African medicine men, Taoist sages, and ancient Greek philosophers into this same group of Earthkeepers. Keeping up with all his rhetorical sleight-of-hand made this reader cranky.

Fortunately for us, we need not wonder about the specifics of who the Earthkeepers are, because Villoldo is here to translate their messages for us. Hence blanket statements like Chapter Nine’s opener: “The Earthkeepers believe that to live fully and dream courageously, we must wake up each morning and live this day as if it were our last.”

For all its hype the book has some ideas that may help some people. It is ironic, though, that underneath its shamanic trappings the meat of the book is comprised of fairly standard psychological ideas and re-treads of The Four Agreements. Villoldo gives us the Earthkeepers’ four types of courage: Jaguar, Hummingbird, Serpent and Eagle. These correspond to the mind, the soul, the actions, and the spirit. He also seems to say that they each affect a different building-block of human DNA, though I will spare you a thorough review of all his specious scientific references.

Never mind that he constantly makes sweeping generalizations to bolster his case. In the end, his message is simply that we need to be courageous enough to follow our dreams and hold fast even when obstacles are thrown in our path. He advises us to be creative, reject perfectionism, reject grandiosity, study our dream symbols, be mindful and truthful, live in integrity, remember to laugh, forgive and forget, and be grateful. I’ll bet the Earthkeepers agree.