Jazz 455: Creativity & Consciousness Studies Mysticism & Shamanism Course Syllabus

Jazz 455: Creativity & Consciousness Studies

Explorations in Consciousness

Mysticism & Shamanism

Martha Winona Travers

mtravers @ umich.edu

Winter 2012/ Weds 6:00 – 8:00

What the people of the city do not realize is that the roots of all things are tied together. When a mighty tree is felled a star falls from the sky.”

Chan K’in Viejo. Quoted in Joan Halifax,

The Fruitful Darkness

In this course we will explore two world views: “mysticism” & “shamanism.” Within these world views, certain assumptions about the nature of consciousness are embedded. Both mysticism & shamanism share the perception that individual human consciousness is part of a larger consciousness in which the entire Universe participates.

The mystic, as represented for example by the poetry of Walt Whitman, experiences a mingling of his or her ‘small self/ego self’ with other beings and realities. So Whitman can write, “There was a child went forth; and the first thing he saw, that thing he became.”

The shaman also experiences this mingling of selves and is a healer in the tribe. Typically, the shaman is one who can move between worlds. S/he can cross from one reality to another and back again without ‘getting caught’ by either reality. The shamanic perspective often includes a perception that the individual consciousness can enter into larger consciousness & in some way affect or alter reality by so doing. Hence the chant in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, “The story you tell is the story that happens.”


Course Texts:Stephen Harrod Buhner. Sacred Plant Medicine: Explorations in the Practice of Indigenous Herbalism (ISBN:I-57098-086-1 paperback/ I-57098-085-3 hardcover)


Jeremy Narby. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (ISBN: 0-87477-964-2)


Course Assignments:


In this course, you are learning nature-based contemplative practice. These nature-based contemplative practices will be explained further in class. There will be regular journal assignments connected to these practices: schedule to be announced.



In addition to the journals, there will be three formal essays in this class.

Essay #1: Response to Narby’s Cosmic Serpent. 5 page minimum. Due: February 1.

Essay #2: Response to Buhner’s Sacred Plant Medicine. 5 page minimum. Due: February 29.

Essay #3: Reflections on the Course. 4 page minimum. Due: April 11.

Describe your process of learning nature-based contemplative practices, differences

you see/experience in yourself since the beginning of the term; how your experience of the natural world has changed, new insights that you have gained, etc. Include your

thoughts, questions, comments about mysticism and shamanism as represented in the course content & in the course reading.


Attendance: Course grade is significantly dependent upon being present in every class. You may miss one class without needing to do a make-up. If you miss more than one class, in order to not have your grade affected, you must do a make-up by visiting one of the meditation/contemplative experiences listed below & by writing a one-page description of your experience; due by the last day of class—April 11. Any student who misses more than three classes—even if a make-up is done for two of them—will not receive an A.


Winter Weather Advisory.

I do not live in Ann Arbor. If we have a very snowy or icy day, check your email before class to be sure we are meeting.



To make up class, you can attend a sitting meditation session at one of the centers listed below. You may also email me to suggest a different contemplative practice at a different center. These are simply the ones I know about. To have the experience fulfill the make-up requirement, you need to write a one-page journal reflection describing your experience.

Please check by phoning the center before you go to confirm that the address has not changed and to find out the time when sitting sessions are open to the public. Also check to see if there is a charge or a donation. Please let me know if any of the phone numbers or addresses have changed.

1) Zen Buddhist Temple. 761-6520. Packard. Check the timing, but I believe they have a Sunday afternoon 4:00 sitting service that is often attended by college students.

2) Siddha Yoga Center. 3017 Miller Rd. 734-726-0318. I believe they have a Thursday evening sitting that is open to guests. Again, phone first to check on timing & appropriateness of your visit.

3) Jewel Heart. 1129 Oak Valley Dr. 994-3387. There may be a fee; phone first.

4) Friends Meeting House. 1420 Hill St. 761-7435. This is the Quaker meeting house. They have a Sunday morning service. The service is silent. You can ask for more information when you phone.

5) Canterbury House. 721 E. Huron. 665-0606. This is the Episcopal Church center on campus. They have a Jazz mass on Sundays. Phone for details.

Let me know if there is a center, temple, church, synagogue or other organization that offers meditation or contemplative practice to the public that you think I might add to this list.


Further Reading:

John Bakeless. America as Seen by its First Explorers

Henry Beston. Herbs and the Earth

Henry Beston. The Outermost House

Doug Boyd. Rolling Thunder: An Exploration into the Secret Healing Powers of

an American Indian Medicine Man

Walter Holden Capps, ed., Seeing with a Native Eye: Essays on Native American Religion

Barry Cottrell. The Way Beyond the Shaman: Birthing a New Earth Consciousness

William Cronon. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Wade Davis. One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest

Masaru Emoto. The Secret Life of Water

Alan Ereira. The Elder Brothers: A lost South American people and their Message about the Fate of the Earth

Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness

Jamake Highwater. The Primal Mind

William Morris. “Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” in Political Writings of William Morris, ed. A.L. Morton.

Arnie Mindell. The Shaman’s Body: A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community

John Muir. The Wild Muir: Twenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures

Helen and Scott Nearing. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in aTroubled World

Mary Oliver. New and Selected Poems

E.F. Schumacher. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

Leslie Marmon Silko. Ceremony

David Suzuki. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering our Place in Nature

Don Alverto Taxo. Friendship with the Elements (available at www. ushai.com)

Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird. The Secret Life of Plants

Henry David Thoreau. Walden

Alan Weisman. Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World

Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass


The mystic experience:

“We two, how long we were fool’d,

Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,

We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,

We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,

We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,

We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,

We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,

We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,

We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes

mornings and evenings,

We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,

We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down

We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance

ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,

We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods, we spring

on prey,

We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,

We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves

rolling over each other and interwetting each other,

We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious,


We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence

of the globe,

We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,

We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.”

Walt Whitman

Doodling in Math Class: Snakes + Graphs

Doodling in Math Class: Snakes + Graphs:

Celtic Storytelling in Wales

Celtic Storytelling in Wales:

A Start of a Hello

Goodbye class! And hello, a permaculturist lifestyle.

Beyond Sustainability: The Methodology and Practices of Permaculture made me think a lot about the way we lived, the things we value, and what we can change. After taking this class, I feel a lot more educated about the broad topics that exist within the permaculturist world, and because I know they exist, I can now look more into them and try to improve the way I live, for the sake of myself, my great grand-children, and the planet.

The twelve permaculture principles listed in Holmgren’s book were all integrated within the course through different trips and some principles were clearly everywhere, especially Observe and Interact.

I think this class is a great kickstart to introduce students to a new living style that will ultimately bring benefits to the future. One thing I would change, if I could and it doesn’t cause too much discontent in others, is to have to class more often! It’s a great stress reliever and we learned a lot of things about living in a way that is more mindful of the environment and efficient systems. Also in our era, one environment-related class like this should be one of the requirements to graduate.

I would also elect to search for an internship, but it might not end up being exactly an internship. Many internships I found were only for students already in the pharmacy program and a lot of people I talked to (professors, advisors, other pre-pharmacy students) advised me to apply to become a pharmacy technician. I will continue looking for more opportunities throughout the school year for more pharmacy related things and also try to apply for positions as pharmacy technician. Thank you, professor, for all your hard work in teaching us and helping us with our futures! I am really glad I took this course.

Outside of Class Activity

During one of the weekends I went home, I helped out (a little) at my uncle’s farm.

I helped feed the chickens and put a new small chicken into the coop. There was one rooster that picked fights and bullied all the hens, and there was one hen and one other rooster who fought back.  I ended up sitting there talking to them (but mostly myself) for about an hour while my uncle gave his Siberian Husky a bath and prepared food for the children inside.

When I walked inside, I saw that my younger cousin owned some electronics but rarely touched them. Instead he asked us to go outside and shoot with him. I didn’t exactly know what he meant but then he pulled out a bow and arrow and a BB gun. I realized his lifestyle was a lot different from mine, and a whole lot more active. There was a lot of space to run and put targets and cans to shoot at, and meanwhile he told me a story about how his dad was practicing shooting in the barn with a real gun and his little sister walked in and almost got shot. It sounded so unreal to me, mostly because in my life, I don’t think I have ever seen a real gun in action. He asked me to try shooting the gun and I held it with one hand and he exclaimed, “Ohohoho, look at you, one hand already!” And I didn’t understand at all, but he explained, “You have to hold it with two to stabilize it, unless I guess, you’re pro with one hand.” I remembered that I learned that before but I didn’t recall that fact when I had to put it into practice. He then talked fondly about running around the farm and catching fireflies during most nights in the summer.

Later, they ate small heads of corn and offered me one. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as the ones we find in the grocery store but it tasted more . . . real? Or natural? I’m not sure how to describe it. It seemed like they did not depend on grocery stores for their main source of vegetables or fruit, and even though I had my laptop with me, I didn’t feel like opening it up on the farm. Perhaps it was the atmosphere or because no one else used their electronics during the day, even though they did have them. I had a lot of time to be bored, without the hustle of information from the social media and the Internet.

We went outside to pull some weeds in the fields but ended up trying to get cars to honk. We got about thirty of them to honk. My cousin Andrea also saw her teacher walk past and back to where she came from, and past again, and back again, in that span of three hours. Her tire broke and she was getting one of her relatives nearby to help her get a new one and replace it.

So even though it wasn’t exactly an outside of class activity, I think I learned a lot from spending the whole day at my uncle’s farm. His lifestyle was completely different to the lifestyle I had. I live a sedentary one but my sister is very active and she agreed that it still was a whole lot different. She said that living at a farm seems like it would give her a lot more street smarts and a lot more interaction with how nature works. Life felt a little more simple during our day at the farm, a little more productive, and a little easier to handle.

More Greenery (Op-ed)

I believe that gardens should be a more widespread thing. Roof gardens, backyard gardens, anywhere. Gardens are necessary because they provide many benefits–such as reducing carbon dioxide in the air, providing healthy, accessible food, and it lets you save money.

Wherever there is free space, we need gardens because the amount of carbon we humans put out is too much for the plants in the world to absorb alone. They need support from even more plants. These plants should be encourage by humans, who have cut down countless trees to make room for ourselves. To give back, even if the original actions were made long before we were born, we should plant things again. The place should be as green as it was when the humans were not there.

In the Permaculture Class at U-M, we learned that the forest used to cover the entirety of Michigan. When people came to settle in Michigan, many of these forests were cut, but now it is making its way back up to the original percentage of land coverage. However, just making it to the original is not sufficient because we have been burning many fossil fuels. This releases more carbon dioxide into the air than before, when the forests covered the entirety of Michigan. So we definitely need more greenery in the world to bring the carbon dioxide to a normal level. 

Carbon Footprint


Wow, it takes 4.1 planets to support my lifestyle! It’s really surprising because it seems like we go through life day to day easily. We don’t often have to worry about running out of food in the market or running out of electricity, and we are not strained too much to have the basics of living. But the strain put on the planet is a completely different story!

There are a lot of things I can do to decrease this strain, such as use less electricity and growing my own food. Maybe using the car a little less or just walking that extra mile.

I think it was good for me to do this because it made me realize how one person can have a large impact on the world and changing the little things really do matter.

Last Words

This was one of the most rewarding classes I’ve taken this semester, and most of that is due to its applicability beyond the course. The class was structured around the ideas presented in the textbook and Holmgren’s principles, which were discussed during a fraction of class time. While that was all very standard, what made the class especially entertaining and memorable was the time we spent actually observing the principles in action. We visited quite a few locations that employ popular permaculture structures, such as the Campus Farm with its herb spiral and Chiwara R&D Lab with its hoophouses and hugelkultur. Going to the Nichols Arboretum and learning about the practical uses of various herbs also distinguished the class as especially rewarding. But finally, the class was most special in the way it pushed us students to rethink and reconstruct our lifestyles. For me, I never would have known about or visited the Ann Arbor Farmers Market or the People’s Food Co-op if it weren’t for this class, nor would I have realized that my waste and consumption are really unnecessarily high for a 17-year old girl – obviously I shouldn’t be using up 3.7 planets.

Admittedly, this class was a bit of work for a 1-credit class, but I don’t mind the blogging. It’s the first time I’ve ever blogged, and it was a fun experience at least. I liked having to go to the Farmers Market and the People’s Food Co-op and snapping pictures there as well. Class outdoors also was one of the most refreshing parts of my week. I did not like reading the textbook; however, as this is an educational course on permaculture, I realize it was a necessary component of our learning process. In general, the class and its workload were pretty well-designed and thought out properly, but I might suggest cutting down the external reading, such as the textbook and magazines, and instead discuss them during class time, which was definitely more educational for me. 

The EcoQube

One of my favorite websites to visit when I need (“need”) to waste time is reddit.com…and recently I found out there’s a subreddit for permies, r/permaculture. While browsing some of the more popular posts on r/permaculture, I came across the website for a Kickstarter project called the EcoQube, which is a desktop ecosystem that grows flowers and herbs.

This picture of an EcoQube is taken directly off of the Kickstarter web page. It is NOT mine.

The idea for an EcoQube originated with two UC San Diego students, named Eric and Kevin, whose love for aquarium systems has spawned their own company, Aqua Design Innovations. As you can see, it’s a very beautiful, multifunctional home decoration that is, as most permaculture structures are, low-maintenance and self-sufficient. It is an object built for both fish and plants to survive, and taking advantage of the function-stacking principle to sustain the cube. In simple terms, the fish excrete waste, which is then purified by a filter which uses the plants, before finally being turned into fertilizer by a built-in aquaponics system. There is no need to change or replace the filters, the water remains clean as possible, and its immense efficiency is all compacted into one small, aesthetically pleasing cube.

Personally, I’m very impressed by the careful design and thought put into this structure, and the beauty of the end result. While permaculture structures are undoubtedly efficient, I don’t always find them visually appealing (hugelkulturs anyone?), but this EcoQube combines both physical attractiveness and functional efficiency.

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter project webpage:


The People’s Food Co-op

Last week I visited the People’s Food Co-op! There are really diverse, expansive arrays of organic, local food products.

Such as this one:


There was plenty of fresh produce in a section connecting the cafe and the store. The cafe was pretty packed.


Also in the connector passage between the cafe and the shop is a salad/soup self-serve bar. Everything looked fresh and delicious – and it tasted great too! There were free samples; the one I tried was wild rice with autumn squash.


The shelves of the store were stocked with items of all kinds: dry pasta noodles, packets of tea, fruit preserves, various types of flour, homemade peanut butter, and more. The store was filled with only natural, healthy products free of chemical alterations, pervading a sense of wholesome goodness throughout. They were having a special on holiday flavored tea – 2 for $5 – so naturally I spent the remaining $5 in my wallet:


The People’s Food Co-op was a generally uplifting place to be; even if I didn’t buy anything, it was worth the walk to take a look around the store/cafe.

Edit: I can’t figure out how to make the text the same size. </3