Use Your Imagination! (A Dose of Shamanism for the Business World)

The human brain has been evolving for thousands of years. It is only within a small sliver of that time that our brains have been so pre-occupied with stimulation provided through electronic devices – our computers, televisions, mobile phones and the like. In contrast, for much of human existence the mind has used stories, metaphors, archetypes to entertain, inspire, empower. Our ability to tap into what is inside of us, our imagination, is part of our DNA.

This past spring I took a trip to Peru: to Cusco, the ancient city of the Jaguar, and to the Sacred Valley. I had the opportunity to meet several traditional healers – shamans – and to learn something about how these individuals use the imagination, in effect, along with other tools, to create shifts in energy that ultimately can lead to great positive change and growth on an individual level.

Could some of these shamanic tools work on a business level? Upon my return from Peru I was curious to find out.  So many companies are discovering that their traditional ways of operating no longer work as successfully today as they once did; could accessing the imaginative powers in a slightly unconventional way help create the shifts needed to transform their businesses? Would my clients find inspiration (and not just immediately show me the door) in the shamanic notion of Power Animals, for example: Serpent, Jaguar, Hummingbird, Condor?

Most of us have some familiarity with these animals. What would happen if we used our imaginative powers to call on the “spirit” of Serpent, Jaguar, Hummingbird or Condor as a way of accessing certain kinds of skills needed to confront a particular business challenge?

Serpent. The spirit of the Serpent is the spirit of creativity. Serpent has the ability to shed the past and create something new. The Serpent is also very careful, and pays attention to detail.

Jaguar. Jaguar has no fear. Calling on Jaguar spirit allows us to fully claim our power in a given situation. For the shamans I spoke with, Jaguar is also the spirit of compassion, of the heart, because to show compassion in confrontational situations is to demonstrate fearlessness.

Hummingbird. The spirit of the Hummingbird is the spirit of courage, and a reminder that great strength can come in small packages. Hummingbird spirit also confers on us the ability to taste life’s sweetness.

Condor. The Condor gives us vision, clarity, the ability to fly above the small details and see the bigger picture. The shamans say that Condor flies “wing-to-wing with the Great Spirit”, and so the Condor urges us to reach for our highest selves.

Sounds a little too far out?

Here in South Florida, the principal of a company I was working with, whose business was on the rocks, told me, “When I imagine looking through the eyes of the Condor I see a fence, and I see I have been trying to cross the fence again and again in the one place where it is too high. And yet now, from above, I see that just a little further down there is a break in the fence where I can cross through.” This expansion in vision allowed him to open his mind to some radically new options, which, put into place, have begun to turn his business around.

A consultant I was working with in Charlotte, NC, was confronted with having to give a seminar to a group of 400 people – the largest group she had ever addressed. Not unlike an athlete visualizing just how she would win the tournament, my client imagined she was the Jaguar.  “Instead of standing frozen at the podium, I walked around the room as I spoke, no, I was almost prowling, like the Jaguar. I imagined myself to be fearless – and I was.  The talk was the best I have ever given”.

Using the archetypes of Serpent, Jaguar, Hummingbird, Condor, a team can draw on its collective imagination and think creatively, even playfully, coming up with new possible solutions. What strengths will be needed to face a particular challenge, and what will that look like in the organization? What does it mean to let go of past assumptions and to act powerfully in this situation? How might fearless compassion change a hostile interpersonal dynamic? What is the bigger vision – and how can we as a group hold onto our sense of fun and enjoyment in our work even in the most stressful conditions?

Einstein said “it is not through the same kind of thinking that got us into our current situation that we will find the solution”.  By tapping into the innate power of our imagination – sometimes with the use of some unconventional tools – we can become “business shamans”, overcoming that ‘same kind of thinking’ and bringing into life the new solutions that are needed for today’s challenges.

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