What I Learned From 12 Years Of Studying With A Shaman

For 12 years, I had the amazing experience of living with the Huichol people, an indigenous tribe that lives in the mountainous region of central Mexico. During my time there, I studied under their shamans, and apprenticed with one shaman in particular named Don José Matsuwa, who lived to be 110.

During that time I worked the fields alongside them in the rugged landscape and discovered many of their secrets. They are some of the healthiest, happiest, wisest people I've ever met.

There are many lessons I learned from the Huichol shamans. One of them is how to make small changes in our everyday habits and lifestyle in order to become more balanced and productive. Here are four ways you can be more like a shaman in your life.

1. Always look for something new in your routine.

Among the Huichol people, who live very close to nature, every day brings a new set of opportunities. They're the ultimate optimists. We tend to fall into ruts in our life — in relationships, with how we care for our body, in our jobs, and so on. You can be more like a shaman by adopting an attitude that knocks the old negative or stale way of being out of your life. Envision how you'll look, feel, and be perceived by others. Then see yourself with this new attitude working well for you, whether it's a new way of relating to family members, a change in your workout routine, or just a fresh way of thinking about your contributions to the world.

2. Learn to embrace challenge and view it as normal.

If you could see the steep mountains on which the Huichol people plant their corn and other crops, you might wonder how on earth they get the motivation to do it. Here's how: They don't focus on the size of the hillside. They only focus on planting one kernel at a time until the entire slope is covered with tidy rows. It's such a good lesson for those of us who groan, procrastinate, or feel sorry for ourselves when we have a daunting task to accomplish. Challenge is a normal part of life. See the challenges in your life as chances to learn, perfect your skills, and get smarter.

3. Stop rushing through your life and tasks.

I used to be amazed watching the Huichol people in their 80s and 90s carry massive loads on their back up and down the mountain every day. Many among them live to be 100 and more, and work until they day they die. They're the most productive people I've ever known, and yet they move slowly, take naps, sit around and laugh with their friends and family, and relax a lot. They're able to get so much accomplished because they simply put one foot in front of the other and focus on what they're doing in the moment. Doing a difficult task slowly and methodically is a great way to accomplish a goal. Pushing yourself to the limit and stressing over deadlines is not. Slowing down allows your body and brain to function at their optimal efficiency.

4. Be today who you want to become tomorrow.

A Huichol shaman knows his limitations, but is always striving to do better and be better. The shaman seeks balance and wisdom, and is content in the quest. It's that simple. We can learn from this attitude. For example, wanting more work-life balance but then taking on more than you can handle is an example of living out of sync with how you want to live and be.

If you want to be happy, surround yourself with supportive people who love you. If you want to be healthier, practice behaviors today that support your mental, spiritual, and physical fitness. Ask yourself every day, "Does this behavior/decision/person help me move forward, or block my progress?"

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