Here is the full transcript of filmmaker and photographer Phil Borges’ TEDx presentation on Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening at TEDxUMKC conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening by Phil Borges at TEDxUMKC conference
Good evening. One of the things I love about visiting indigenous cultures is it lets me step back in time and see how we all lived centuries ago. And in doing that, I’ve noticed so many things — things that we’ve gained, and things that we’ve lost.
And one of the things I’ve really noticed is the fact that our relationships are much different. And first of all, our relationships to the land. In indigenous cultures, there is no grocery store, in tribal cultures, especially, no utility districts, no water districts, no fast food restaurants. Nothing stands between them and their survival other than their own ingenuity and their own knowledge of the earth. And they have a very intimate knowledge of the Earth. And it’s always astonished me.
This one Hawaiian woman who was at the beach, and I met her. And she saw this crab flipping out of the sand, out of the hole. And she said, “Look, the sand is going to the North. There’ll be coming a storm tomorrow.” And sure enough, there comes the storm, shows up tomorrow. So, their knowledge — they’re more or less the PhDs of their place on the planet.
The other relationship that I’ve noticed that is so tight is their relationships to each other. Again, they don’t have the institutions. They don’t have social security. They don’t have an IRA or 401(k) Plan. They don’t have elder-care facilities. They completely depend on each other for their survival. And that produces a real tightness.
I’ve noticed women at a well in Africa, for instance, they’re sitting around, joking and talking, they are nursing their babies. And the woman that needs to go get the water will take her baby and pass it to another woman, she’ll start nursing it. That woman will see her goat run off and she’ll pass the baby to a third woman and she’ll start nursing it. So those kids are kind of even raised communally. They live in extended families, and that brings a real tightness.
The other relationship that I want to talk about tonight is their relationship to spirit. And it’s a very strong one. So, this is Malick, and her great granddaughter, Jasmina. And they spend all their time together. 14 hours a day working in the garden. And I’ve seen this in Africa, Asia, South America, and I ask, “Why are these two people so different, together all the time? There is this big age difference.” And they said, “No, no. You don’t understand. Jasmina is just about coming out of the spirit-world, and Malick is just about to go back into the spirit-world.” So they really do have the most in common. And they literally pray to the spirits of the forests, the mountains, the rivers; they put spirits in everything. Their ancestors’ spirits are so important to them.
So, in the beginning I sort of looked at this as superstition, uneducated, naive-thinking. And over the last 30 years I’ve slowly changed. And I want to talk you a little bit about how that change came about.
So, about 25 years ago, I was doing a project in Tibet on their human-rights issue there, and I had the opportunity to go and meet the Medium, the channels, the Oracle of Tibet, the Dalai-Lama’s oracle. And it took place in this little monastery. And there were about 16 monks in there, they led Medium in, sat him down, put this big hat on his head, and a very heavy hat, his face turned kind of red, the monks started chanting and beating their drums. And he kind of went into this trance, and he started talking in a real high-pitch voice. And the monks started writing down everything he was saying, and then, after about 5 minutes of that, he fainted, and they literally had to carry him out of the room. And I just watched this, and I was just wondering: is this a performance? Did he have a heart attack?
But two days later, I was able to interview the Medium. His name was Turpin, he was 30 years-old at that time; he is 50 now. And he said that he didn’t remember a thing that he said when he was in this trance. And he felt very weak right afterwards, for a day afterwards.
So I said, “Well, how did you become the Medium? And how did you get this job?”
And he said, “You know, when I was younger, I had started hearing these voices. I started feeling very ill, and I was very confused, and in fact, I thought I was dying at one point. An older monk came to me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a gift’ and he taught me how to go in and out of a trance. He nurtured me, he stayed with me for the whole year.” And he’s now Dalai-Lama’s Oracle, The Oracle of Tibet.
So, two years later, I was doing a project for Amnesty International up in the northern part of Kenya in the Samburu area, and I was taking pictures of these people. And my guide turned to me and said, “You know, their predictor has told them that you were coming to take pictures of them.” And I didn’t think too much about that because there I was taking pictures of them. But he went on to say, he said, “They also said, that she said, that you would hide from them when you took their picture.” And I said, “No, I don’t hide, I use very short lenses. I ‘m usually right in front of the person when I take their portrait.”
And that night I was at home, cleaning my lenses, packing my bags, and I realized, yeah I’ve brought my new camera that I’d never used before, and it’s this Panoramic camera. And this is the way I’ve got a focus of that in total darkness. So, all of a sudden I thought “Well, that’s a coincidence.” My assistant said, “That’s amazing.” So, it was just something we kind of fowled away, but I at that point decided what I wanted to do is start actually seeking out these people that go into alter-states of consciousness in order to heal or predict for their tribes. And that’s what I started doing.
And so, by the way, here is the woman that was the predictor. And I did take her picture with a panoramic camera. Her name is Seculin, she is 37 years old, or was at that time, five kids. And she had the very same story as the Medium of the Dalai-Lama. When she was 12 years old, she started having visual hallucinations. She started feeling sick and dizzy and her grandmother came and said, “You know, you’ve got a talent”. And she nurtured her through it.
So I literally went around the world, and doing my human rights work, and started finding these shamans. And the way we would find them, that they never introduce themselves as a shaman. You’d never know who they were unless you ask their community members, “Who is the healer here?” “Who goes into trance?” And they would tell me and lead me to the person.
So this is Nomage, she is a Mongolian shaman. I’ll just show you some of the 40 — this is Morrigan Yazzie, he is a Navaho medicine man. This is Linza. She is a shaman in Eastern Siberia. Minca-towee, a shaman in the Rawani tribe, in Equador in the Amazon, and Equador — and one of the last shaman I interviewed was right on Pakistan-Afghan border. There is a group of animists there, called the Kalash. And there is only 3,000 of them left, and they are surrounded by Islam. And they hold on to their animistic beliefs. And they are very interesting looking. They are blond hair, blue eyed. They say they are the remnants of Alexander the Great’s army. And they are very fun-loving, they make their own wine, but I went there because I was told that there was a 6-year-old boy that was being initiated to be a shaman, and I wanted to see him. So everybody that I had interviewed up to that point had been a shaman for years. I wanted to find somebody in that process of initiation.