Not every counselor is going to want to incorporate breathwork as an adjunct to his or her counseling practice. Nor will every counselor be attracted to use breathwork for her or his own well being and self care. This is as it should be in a pluralistic society. But every counselor and every client breathes. The breathing patterns of a counselor as well as a client tells a great deal about their moment by moment state of ease and resourcefulness in their lives. The growing field of breathwork is contributing valuable data to the conscious and therapeutic use of this simple yet powerful tool we all have right under our nose.
The Journey of Don Antonio Arguello, Urban Shaman and Artist
Claudine Jeanrenaud, Ph. D.
Not a gallery but a cave. Not a picture of light and bravery, but the pulse of expectant life under the frozen veil that separates the worlds. Not a threat either but a certainty. The spirits are real, be they the Eternal Feminine, its perpetual companion Death, Brother Compassion, Grand Father Eagle, the gigantic princely Wild Mountain Man or last, but not least, the god of uncertainty and change, a dubiously smiling Mercurius.
They are not safe, they are not threatening either. If you feel fear, it is your own. They are just what they are.
It is simply the nature of feminine power to be grand, flashy and flower-like, generously fertile, and somewhat haughty. It is your loss if you feel diminished by it; it is your gain if you feel empowered and energized by it.
Death! Again not a threat, a certainty! Dont run! Death will catch you from behind! If you are an anthropologist or a student of symbolism, you will see the Great Mouth as the entrance to the greatest cavern mankind must face; if you are like me, youll just see that Death has the last laugh! Dont run: its a waste of time!
Did you think the Wild Mountain Man was going to devour you? He is too sophisticated for that! Agelessly present in his gargantuan frame, dressed of velour and golden thread, donning a heavy Christian cross on his chest and boar fangs that glisten in his mouth like the bestial power that we must deny ourselves, he contentedly regards your awe. Good or evil? Wild or sophisticated? Threatening or welcoming? Does he serve the God of Heaven or the Goddess of the Wild? Could he have the audacity to be and do both in a world that recognizes only one?
What about you, silent Grand Father? The first born in this gallery of spirits, the oldest spirit on earth no doubt, your bony face and empty eye-sockets tell of infinite time, of wisdom so profound that we can hear the sound of a stone bouncing into its cavernous depths forever and ever and ever
Now, Brother Compassion, the Siberian Shaman with the bright heart, the Christ-like unconditional acceptance and Marian-like healing love, why do you cry?
But beware of complacency: Mercurius is waiting for you at the next corner! He knows something, something that you dont know. Perhaps he will tell you, perhaps he wont. Perhaps the knowledge would be a relief. Perhaps it would confirm your worst fears Are you brave enough to face the challenge?
Oh, wait a minute did He move? Or did I imagine it?
Art as Shamanic Tool
Art, in its many forms, has been used since the dawn of mankind to communicate with Otherness. It has been utilized in daily ceremony to curry the favors of the spirit: prior to hunting, war, healing practices  or rites of passage. According to Shamanic artist Jace Collins "The earliest artists were shamans who used their art to maximize energies for the tribe." He puts it succinctly when he says: "Art is Magic."
Don Antonios art is best understood in the context of the evolution of shamanism in contemporary urban society and when contrasted with classical or civilized religious traditions such as Islam, Judaism or Catholicism. These traditions are essentially religions of remorse . They claim to uphold moral hygiene and public health by embracing a dualistic system with one male god who represents light, spirit, and goodness, and his opposite, an earth entity who carries evil, darkness and temptation. Salvation rests on accepting the one male god.
Shamanic systems are pagan and give equal respect to multiple deities (referred to by Bertrand Hell as ambivalence  , meaning equal valuing of both good and evil). Such systems celebrate the rhythms of nature and call onto earth spirits for healing and guidance. Much of shamanic imagery therefore represents earth spirits that are considered evil by classical religions. This is the case with Arguellos art. Yet, this same ambivalence has enabled shamanism to survive extermination in many a religious war as shamans integrated "civilized" deities into their pagan systems. This results in what Frobinius  called an amalgam of beliefs. For instance, in the New World, rituals can be equally well opened by the "Lame One" (equivalent to the Nordic Odin or the Germanic Wottan), Satan (its Judeo-Christian counterpart), or Saint Peter (the Catholic keeper of the gates of Heaven). In fact the same shaman has been known to shift from one to the other of these archetypal personalities within the same ceremony  . This is consistent because the different deities embody the same essential pattern of obliterating boundaries or lifting the veil between the worlds, thus enabling communication between the worlds.
Today, this amalgam results in some humorous combinations. Ecuadorian Shamaness Liliane Navarette  joyfully offers a Lakota sweat lodge ceremony in the front yard of her high rise in the heart of Quito, alongside the pounding of the disco next door. But amalgam also opens the door to the penetration of some universal principles of power and transformation. For example, Toltec Shaman Francisco Hayhurst ] and Zurich trained Jungian Analyst Jeffrey Raff  both teach that playfulness and joy are the gateways to enlightenment, also true in Shivaic Tantrism .
Don Arguello takes this amalgaming to an extreme. The sculptures appear to borrow from a multicultural pool that includes Siberia, Scandinavia, Greece or Native American sources. But actually, this resemblance is incidental and may be due to the shared essential patterns. Arguello does not acknowledge the cultural ascendance of his works, he also refuses to give them names. Thus the references "Fur Man" or "Bones", leaving the viewer to project the appropriate name. This apparent "laissez-faire" attitude expresses a profound change in contemporary urban shamanic perspective.
Traditional Systems and Contemporary Urban Approach
While the fundamental transformative principles remain the same, their cultural interpretation by the two societies has changed considerably over the past century. To illustrate this change, I will use Hells 11 notion that shamanism is a science of disorder. In traditional systems, disorder is believed to come from 'outside' the individual or tribe. It includes wilderness such as glaciers, deserts, and any inaccessible and dangerous realm such as night or isolation.
Today, with the taming of the outer world, travel and technological knowledge, the wilderness has been de-mythologized. And with the impact of analytical psychology, internalized. So, while in traditional systems, breaking taboos such as cutting the wrong tree, hunting the wrong animal or at the wrong time awakens evil spirits, contemporary urban societys evil lies in the psychological realm. It is generated by ones own neurosis resulting from repressed shadows, fear of ones own depth, early childhood trauma, past lives and generational inheritance. While evil, in traditional systems, represents itself as many headed serpents, or venomous hairy beasts with bloody teeth and claws 12, evil in contemporary society appears as the dysfunctional mother, the abusive father or lover. Wild beasts such as the wolf, the eagle or the cat bare the regal demeanor of spirit powers who challenge the courage of the human into love in exchange for healing and power. Don Arguellos Cat story (see Arguellos initiation ordeal below) illustrates this point.
The role of the shaman has also changed. In traditional systems, the shaman is keeper of secret tools and retriever of souls. The shaman alone holds power while the supplicant remains at the mercy of the good will of the spirits. Healing power depends in part on the exact observation of all the details of a very complex ritual that has been handed down through the generations 13. In contrast, under the guidance of the 21st century shaman, and with the advent of individualism and the understanding of personal power, supplicant becomes participant. The participant is responsible for his or her own healing, not the shaman. The participant decides what details of the ritual he or she needs. The shamans power and expertise creates the vessel or sacred space for the ritual to become effective and then guides the participant to understanding the process. It is from this perspective that Arguellos 'laissez-faire' attitude must be understood.
Some aspects have undergone little change, however. For instance, no one becomes a shaman without a calling. In traditional systems, the call often manifests as an incurable disease that only spirits can heal, if and when the neophyte agrees to serve. In contemporary society, this illness maybe labeled a neurosis or an acute psychosis, but also regression in the service of transcendence 14 or the dark sea journey 15. At this stage, both the traditional and the contemporary perspective consider that the appropriate response to the call is to surrender to an initiation ordeal, such as a vision quest. The vision quest can take many forms. In contemporary society, it can be internalized by exposing oneself to sensory deprivation in the hope to attain an epiphany. But sometimes the vision occurs unbidden, i.e., without the neophyte having sought it consciously. Below is Arguellos own account of his initiation ordeal.
Cat Story or Arguellos Initiation Ordeal
"People always ask how I came to this work. I say it came to me. I did not intend to do this. It was like a buildup of old paint, layer after layer of events, learnings, life. The understanding of story is universal, so I offer an account of my calling in this way.
The tale begins many years ago and involves a series of three visions spread over decades of my life. It is the retelling of a shamanic initiation of death and rebirth. It begins with me as a boy of ten or eleven years old and in dreamtime, the time of no boundaries and of endless possibilities.
I am living with my parents in our home, a rambling adobe structure built block by brown mud block by my fathers hand from the very ground on which it stood. I remember it as a home where tortillas shaped by my sisters and hot from the coal were spread with butter that dripped down my chin in warm rivulets. I wanted for naught. I knew no fear. That is until the night when the first of these three visions occurred, when the great black cat arrived.
I was sitting in the kitchen, a simple room with a wood burning stove, chunks of jet-black coal in a tin bucket beside it. I sat at the worn pine table I had known all my life watching my mother stir the potatoes frying in a black cast iron pan. The tantalizing smell of roasting green chili peppers in the oven promised yet another meager but tasty meal.
I was the first to see the great cat, a black jaguar circling the house sniffing at the doors and chuffing at the windows. It was of extraordinary size, larger than any ordinary great cat. Its muscled body gleamed in its sure-footed stride as it paced restlessly before the window. It watched me as it would a plump prairie dog and I knew that it had come to consume me. And I was consumed, by uninitiated fear. The cat appraised me with its yellow all knowing eyes. I trembled with heart pounding terror.
The dark beast had managed its way into the house and consumed one of the family. Naturally, the family panicked and we all gathered in the kitchen where we had come together so often as the center of our life. My father, decisive as always, quickly boarded up the windows and open doors with available material, an ironing board, doors from cupboards, wooden planks. There remained one doorway that led to another room that had a door but that did not fit properly. My father, never believing in waste of any kind used everything, including this door, even though it had left a two or three-inch gap at the top.
Horrified, the rest of us remained in the kitchen, clinging to one another and praying loudly to the Virgin Mary for deliverance from this evil.
I could hear Cat prowling about the house and calling out in loud grunts and snarls. Until finally it shows up at the door with the gap. Its gleaming eye peers in at me, measuring me in anticipation of my tortured demise. I shrink away in deathly fear. My heart feels like it will burst and I pray that it will free me from this dread.
Somehow through the grayness of near death I concoct a plan. I realize that this dark manifestation is most powerful and can easily rip through this door. I reason that it either does not want to or does not know that it can, but I know that it can. I decide that when it looks in through the gap I will stick a knife into that searching eye. I go to the knife drawer and choose an old, long, carbon steel bladed knife: its surface gray, its edge dull. Again Cat appears at the gap and stares at me. I shudder but quickly approach and plunge the blade into the fearsome yellow eye. The blade pierces the eye and stabs harshly into the cat's brain. Cat, with an ear-searing howl, drops away.
I awaken and find myself in fear-tinged sweat, trembling yet relieved to be free of that dark beast.
Time passes and the apparition is forgotten, lost in the passages of time and age until one warm summer night, sometime between then and now, Cat reappeared from its subterranean lair. I had become an adult studied and practiced in the ancient arts of meditation and eastern discipline.
This second vision occurred again in dreamtime. I am an adult sleeping in the comfort and safety of my suburban bedroom. There is a full moon and the neat yards lay in shadow and pearl light. The sounds of the night brush lightly against my sleep: crickets, a dog barking in the distance, a fan hums softly at the window. I sense a difference in the night I cannot account for. It is quiet, too still, as if time has become thick and heavy. Another sound, more intrusive, pricks at my senses. It disturbs. I attempt to ignore it. It will pass if I give it no attention, lend it no energy. Yet it persists and has reached deep into my unconscious, into the black depths of hidden fears. I know what it is yet still fight to contain it in the cold graveyard of old bones and rusted iron fences. It cannot be contained. Cat had returned, larger, more menacing determined to devour me.
I now lay fearfully quiet in my deathbed where I had just moments before lain in innocent safety. The door to my room stood open and inviting to any intrusion of the shadowed night that now hummed with charged energy. My body quivered, my mind challenged the reality, my heart struggled against my ribs in truth knowing terror. Cat was in the house, coming down the hall, its claws click-clicking softly against the dulled oak flooring that would now never see refinishing and I, had no means of escape or defense.
Guttural sounds punctuated the panting and patient breath of this harbinger of nocturnal death. I, on the other hand, dared not breathe lest it give away my presence. The darkness filled the doorway. The fierce drumming of my heart revealed my cowering person to the yellow seeking eye of my tormentor. My fate stood yards away and I lay paralyzed in fear drenched sweat. Cat crossed the threshold and in one leap, a fluid arch, stood at my bedside.
In that fated trembling moment I thought, Ah, there is a means of escape here. Remember your training. This is but a vision So, in desperation, as Cat gathered itself above me, I struggled to free my self from this jolting vision. Cat reached toward me with its open jaws, I in turn, reached into my body and wrenched my soul free of the inevitable death dealing strike. Cat retreated into the murky depths, as quickly as it had arrived, to lay dormant waiting for an unguarded moment when it could finish its determined task of dismemberment of my soul. Once again I had thwarted the beast, first by fight now by flight.
Time in its inevitable way passes and Cat is relegated to the dustbin of memory. A decade, or so, later a third and final vision occurred. I am sitting in meditation, before my simple altar, the sweet smell of burning sage heavy on the air, peaceful in joyful repose, reflecting on the fortunes of my life and the resolved sorrows and regrets of the past.
Unexpectedly, I find myself out of doors. The sky is clear, the air fresh; there are pine trees to the front and to the left and to the right of the clearing. Behind me scrub oak bushes rustle in the breeze. The smell of forest compost is on the air. I breathe standing in the middle of the clearing, deeply taking the earthy smells deep into my lungs when my ear catches a sound in the bushes. I hold my breath. I strain my hearing, not wanting to accept what I know is prowling in the bushes, pacing, watching. Cat has returned. My heart seizes in my chest and the knowing explodes in my entire body. Every cell quivers, every atom responds and shrinks in terror. Cat has returned and is there to finish me off for sure this time.
I look to the left. There in the trees, rustled by a breeze, entities begin arriving. There is a counsel of five glowing figures with human shape but no distinct features. Their aura pulses faintly blue to green. They confer among themselves in hushed and urgent tones. I cannot hear what they say, yet I know they are there to watch me.
From behind me the dark menace brushes aside the foliage in a passing whisper, its massive paws a soft leaf-treading footfall in contrast to the heavy thud of my heart against my ribs. I will sit here very still. Maybe Cat won't see me. Maybe Cat won't think I am food if I don't run. I know I am being watched. Cat approaches me from behind until it stands at my back. I am trembling and my breath is labored. A thick musky animal odor surrounds me. The rumbling throaty sounds vibrate the very air I suck into my lungs. The panting moist breath of cat on my neck makes my hair stand on end. It bristles. Cat circles me, then sits a bit to my right. I squeeze my eyes tight, trying to shut out this horror, and conclude I'm going to die. There is no escape this time. I cannot fight. I cannot run. Give me a quick, merciful death, please, I whisper to the black demon. I will not struggle. I do not want to be mangled and torn to bits.
I offer my throat to Cat, knowing their preferred way of killing is through suffocation. Cat approaches me and I surrender my life to it, my mind purged of all thought. I wait to feel its fangs sink into my throat. Instead, a great dry, rough tongue licks the right side of my face from bottom to top, pulling open my right eye in the process. I see Cat withdraw and am confused. Cat circles me once again in the opposite direction and sits directly across from me.
At that point, I transform into a great cat, a black-panther also, but of normal great cat size. I look to my left at the shining entities. One of them nods to the others and they leave. I say to my self, "Yes, I have passed my test." In that moment I understand that I had learned an essential lesson I needed to learn, the "art of transformation." In the act of accepting death, my great fear of death had been transformed into power, personal power, of equal strength. Also I had acquired my power ally, Cat.
Another knowing I came to receive was that I was to work with others as I had on my self, guiding them in their spiritual quest. For in surrendering myself to Cat, I had unwittingly surrendered my life to service. I began having visions about how to proceed; get a drum, play it, learn its many voices. I learned the power of the drum. I then found out that what I was doing was nothing new. There was a centuries old methodology for spiritual healing and empowerment called Shamanism. Other Shamans writings helped me understand my own experiences and provided me with the language to communicate the experiences.
This story is a quick way of cutting through a lifetime of events that shaped an unwilling person such as my self into service to the community for more than a decade. My early years as a child attending a Catholic school immersed me in spirituality. The saints and angels and demons all commanded my respect and just fear. I related with them on a personal level."
Arguellos Shamanic Development
In his adult life, Arguello became a psychiatric nurse. This role afforded him the opportunity to encounter the full range of human spirit. Employed at a forensic psychiatric unit he witnessed the darkest aspects of human nature where he learned to guard his own spirit against the attacks of the criminally insane "who would just as soon kill you than say hello". In his own words:
"My time with the criminally insane taught me about dark energies that could harm or kill. I learned to protect myself from these energies, those that did not learn paid the price. The period of time when I withdrew from the world, after a difficult divorce, and undertook meditative practices to help stabilize my wounded spirit, moved me in the direction of my calling.
My calling has taken me to experiences I would not, in my wildest imagination, ever have envisioned in my earlier years. Astounded, I accepted offers to lecture and do ceremony in halls and churches and universities across the country, and discovered that there is a thirst for spiritual meaning and connection.
Now, fifteen years later, I am older and tired, but it does not matter as I have my power ally, a great black Cat, walking by my side to protect me and to lift me up when I stumble and fall."
Later working with delinquent youth at a juvenile detention center, he envisioned their inherent potential and discovered ways to re-awaken their wounded spirit with his shamans drum. Well read, an excellent drummer, he authored a book "The Death of the Last Dragon" and produced a CD of Shamanic music, titled "Spirit Songs in the Key of (z square plus c)." He has lead countless ceremonies where he drums a sacred space for apprentices spirit flight towards healing places. He himself entered a grave to test his courage in facing Lady Death and says that he now knows that when his time comes he will go to her without fear and willingly as to an ally.
Arguello the Artist
When asked how his childhood prepared him for his destiny s an artist, Arguello recalls:
"One recollection is of my father, retired from the darkened depths of the coal mines, who would take me to a nearby hillside where a tan sandstone stone block sat in its weighty permanence. I did not question his intent for this block of stone knowing that in due course it would be chipped and worked into an image of his choosing, usually with a religious theme.
The immediate task to transport this mass from here to there dominated my thoughts and actions. The end product did not enter into the equation at that moment. From these experiences I learned to be in the moment, to not doubt that I could overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my path and that the journey cannot be separated from the destination."
The Birth of the Cave-Gallery
Today Arguello calls himself a "retired shaman." But does a shaman ever retire? Or does he merely shape-shift into another form of service? He describes his process thus:
"In retrospect I can identify that the process was put in motion by a friend and artist who had painted mythical figures on walls of my journey room and these served as prima materia. Four painted figures that adorned two full walls were progressively transformed. The initial painting portrayed a tree with extended limbs and an imp growing from its center. Then it became an imp with tree like limbs that reached for and encircled an egg shaped feature that held what appeared to be a woman in an embryonic state. The final figure of this series depicted a goddess image in splendid gold trimmed robes.
Compelled, I added a necklace of semiprecious stones and red glass disks to her bare breasts to emphasize her goddess attitude and give it dimension.
The Grandfather figure followed. Constructed of hide, feathers, and the skull of an animal yet still lay close to the surface of the wall. Fur Man came next emancipating away from the wall, then Bones and next an anima figure with full breasts and haughty demeanor, each figure increased in volume and separation from the surface.
Finally the form stepped free from its attachment and stood independent in a truly three-dimensional figure of impressively grand and imposing stature, wearing custom made finery created by a gifted and sighted seamstress and friend.
Now with 'Shelleyesque' or perhaps with Pinocchio consciousness the figures demand activation. The final figure, under construction, will tower at fifteen feet and move about, activated by an operator, and will expel jets of flames from its eye sockets and a laser beam from its mouth. My hope is that finally these manifestations will be satisfied in their demands."
Perhaps they will, and then, perhaps not
The Spirit Sculptures as a Portal to Otherness,br>
Arguello builds his environment to shift viewers into another reality. He sees those sculptures as only part of the vehicle, with scents, lights and sounds contributing equally to the transporting effect. Again, he doesnt name them, thus "Bones", "Fur Man" or "Three-Dimensional-Figure". The other names are mine. Naming them, he feels would limit the viewers experience by forcing his own interpretation on them. His intent to allow for others perception has since been confirmed repeatedly by visitors comments. One person saw the sculptures as "spirits made visible by clothing." Another visitor saw her father who had died inaccessible, but now was making himself available for her through "Mercurius" to complete unfinished emotional business. Another saw what they thought was shadowy material. Another felt nurtured while in their presence, and yet another transformed. A six-year-old saw the figures as gods to be bowed to and honored. Each viewer, in his own way, brought meaning and understanding to the experience. Indeed, Arguello believes that to create a portal for others to access non-ordinary reality while keeping out of the way is the work of the contemporary shaman.
Shamanic Art as Co-creating Conscious Evolution
With contemporary urban societys increasing emphasis on personal responsibility, Urban shamans have realized a revolutionary step in the relationship with the deities of other realities. Carl Jung 16 called this new relationship co-creative, implying a partnership of different but equally valuable powers. Arguello calls it Conscious Evolution.
For Arguello, observing the organic transformation that occurs during the creative process, surrendering to and not interfering with, the unfolding manifestation of spirit in matter leads to conscious evolution. He stands in respectful partnership with Otherness, as a co-creator, and invites the awed viewer to dialogue with It. Of course the ruthlessness and uncontrollable force of Otherness cannot be overestimated. Consciousness is often wildly challenged. The co-creative shaman must remain calm in order to channel this force towards evolution, not devolution. For example, when "Bones" came, Arguello had to make peace with Death by entering the grave and meeting the Lady. "Fur Man" wanted Arguello to experience unconditional love by practicing no-judgment during polarizing political or sociological arguments. To "Mercurius" he gave his own face only to discover that it took on the fantastic proportion of the Unknowable. Could Arguello recognize himself there? Or had his features been stolen only to take a quantum leap into a dimension where Arguello had no choice but to surrender control and knowledge? As for the "Three-Dimensional-Figure", for some it manifests what might be the result of a marriage of Earth and Spirit in all of its awesomeness. But for Arguello, it was simply the joy of manifesting the unspeakable side of the masculine.
"Discussion of conscious evolution is prevalent in greater numbers of diverse groups. The question is: Hhow does one engage in conscious evolution? One critical element is the awareness that the evolution of consciousness can be consciously affected. In the Shamanic context consciousness is viewed as a malleable construct and a basic tenet on which the practice is based.
Creativity or art that does not rely on established standards is a method by which conscious evolution can occur. The Burning Man Festival held on the Blackrock Desert, is an excellent example of this concept. This type of art employs creative consciousness. It directs ones focus to the underlying process where ideas and images gestate, move through their development to grow, or wither away, or be birthed fully formed.
Minute cellular changes in our bacterial ancestors formed our present cognitive level. From a Shamanic viewpoint the time span is irrelevant. What is important is that those minute shifts occur to speed up our conscious evolution. Unfortunately, creativity in our species has often been a curse rather than a blessing. For it has advanced technology to the point of surpassing our social development and therefore may lead in destruction. If we are to survive, we must evolve."
So, looking again at Arguellos process of co-creating conscious evolution, it appears that his task, like yours and mine, is to evolve consciously by first surrendering to the spirits, with discernment, not judgment. Then by emancipating from the two-dimensional condition of life. Then, by accepting the paradoxical nature of being and uniting within oneself opposites such as earth and spirit, death and laughter, fear and attraction. Arguellos art allows the spirits to speak intimately to our souls wounds. Those forces normally act within us unconsciously. Arguellos art gives them and us a mirror so that we might become conscious of them, and they of themselves. Consciousness opens the path to insight, evokes freedom of choice, and empowers self-transformation. This perspective, Arguello believes, is the hope for the next evolutionary leap of mankind.
Collins, Jace. 2003. Web page www.coquinaarts.com.
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