Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action
In Touching the Jaguar, Perkins tells the dramatic story of how, when he was a Peace Corps volunteer, his life was saved by an Amazonian shaman who taught him to “touch the jaguar,” to change his reality by embracing perceptions that transformed fears into positive actions.
Despite that experience, Perkins fell back on what business school had encouraged him to do. He became an economic hit man, convincing developing countries to build huge infrastructure projects that put them in debt to the World Bank and other US-controlled institutions. Although he had been taught this was the best model for economic development, Perkins came to see that this was simply a new form of colonialism.
Returning to the Amazon years later, he observed the damage caused by foreign companies and the destructive impact of his own work. He was struck by the example of a previously uncontested Amazonian tribe that touched its jaguar by uniting with age-old enemies to defend its territory against invading oil and mining companies.
Now, for the first time, Perkins details how shamanism converted him from an economic hit man to a crusader for transforming a failing Death Economy (exploiting resources that are declining at accelerating rates) into a Life Economy (cleaning up pollution, recycling, and developing resource-regenerative technologies). He describes the power our perceptions have for molding reality, both individually and globally. And he provides a strategy for each of us to change our lives and defend our territory—the earth—against current destructive polices and systems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John Perkins is an author and activist whose 10 books on global intrigue, shamanism, and transformation including Touching the Jaguar, Shapeshifting and the classic Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 70 weeks, sold over 2 million copies and are published in 35 languages. As chief economist at a major consulting firm, he advised the World Bank, United Nations, Fortune 500 corporations, US and other governments. He regularly speaks at universities, economic forums, and shamanic gatherings around the world and is a founder and board member of the nonprofit organizations, the Pachamama Alliance and Dream Change.
An excerpt from Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World by John Perkins
Meeting the Jaguar
I started to write this book as a bridge that would connect my previous books on Indigenous cultures, including Shapeshifting, to those on global economics, including Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I had no idea that it would turn out to be that and also become much more.
My journey began in 1968 when, as a US Peace Corps volunteer, I was sent into the Amazon jungles of Ecuador to form credit and savings cooperatives—something I soon learned was impossible. Once there, I met Indigenous people who were coming into contact with my world, the industrialized world, for the first time. They lived in harmony with nature and yet were constantly fighting their neighbors to protect their territories. Animosities dated back centuries. Then something unexpected happened.
Foreign oil and mining companies arrived and began to destroy their forests.
The Indigenous people realized that their only hope was to “touch the jaguar.”
For the Aztec, Inca, and Maya the jaguar represented power and valor, the epitome of physical strength and mental awareness. Today, in the Amazon, touching a jaguar during a vision quest symbolizes the courage to overcome doubts, challenge enemies, and break through obstacles. Because it can see through the blackness of night and has excellent peripheral vision, the jaguar is said to embody our ability to look into the dark parts of our souls, view all that is around us, determine our path to the future, and take actions that will guide us along that path. Local stories tell of lost hunters led back to the trail by a jaguar and of jaguars that saved lives by giving animals they had killed to incapacitated people starving in the jungle. Although the jaguar is dangerous, it is also known as a gift giver; its gifts may be physical, psychological, or spiritual.
An Amazonian shaman once told me, “‘Touching the jaguar’ means that you can identify your fears and barriers, confront them, alter your perceptions about them, accept their energy, and take actions to change yourself and the world.”
When the big oil and mining companies arrived, the people of the Amazon realized that the thing they most feared was no longer their neighbors; it was the invasion of their lands by foreign corporations. They had to confront that fear. They had to touch the jaguar that would give them the gift of wisdom and strength needed to break through the barriers of old biases and traditions. They had to change their perceptions about their neighbors; they had to take actions to form alliances with age-old enemies to protect their world.
Then they understood that the real threat was bigger than those companies; it came from the mind-sets of the nations that ravage the earth for its resources. They saw that their lands were in danger of being commandeered by outsiders who wanted to take control of their economies, lifestyles, minds, environment, and even their forms of government—in other words, outsiders who were determined to colonize them.
The newly formed alliances took it upon themselves to go to the thing they most feared—us, people from the world of the colonizers. They asked me to deliver a message to those people about the urgency of shifting the destructive patterns of the industrialized civilizations. They requested that I bring them a small group of individuals who had the capacity to create networks for delivering this message globally.
Once our group arrived in the Amazon, we were challenged by Indigenous people to transform our perceptions of how we relate to them and to our home, the earth. They asked us to replace old values and systems based on social hierarchies and exploitation with ones that honor egalitarianism and compassion; they urged us to decolonize our own minds, economies, and lifestyles. And they counseled us to stop defining ourselves in terms of “us versus them.” They pointed out that if they, who had been enemies for so long, could join forces to protect their territory, then so could people from different countries, cultures, and economic and political systems, like the Americans, Russians, and Chinese. Old antagonisms could be dropped to confront a graver danger. They challenged us to join forces to create a world our children and grandchildren will want to inherit.
It became obvious that what the Indigenous people were asking us to do was something they themselves had already done. They had altered their perceptions to change their reality; now they were urging us to do the same.
While writing this book, I discovered that I was telling stories of true events that are so bizarre they seem like fiction. Amazonian people who were officially uncontacted when I first entered their territory came to see something about us that we did not understand about ourselves. They recognized that our drive to colonize others was causing us serious harm. It was creating a global economic system that was consuming itself into extinction, a Death Economy. Driven by a goal of maximizing short-term profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs, this Death Economy had been aggressively promoted by economists and politicians in the 1970s and 1980s. Prior to that, when I was in business school in the late 1960s, CEOs had been taught to take good care of their employees, suppliers, and customers and the communities where their businesses operated and to earn reasonable returns for their investors.
As a former economic hit man who contributed to the expansion of the Death Economy and as one who has lived with the people of the Amazon and apprenticed with shamans, I’ve come to understand my obligation to change my own perceptions and to do everything I can to help transform dysfunctional systems into ones that will serve us—all life on this planet. I take heart in the knowledge that for most of human history our ancestors created social-governmental-economic systems that focused on long-term benefits for people and nature and were themselves renewable resources. The Indigenous people who still live that way were and are urging us to transform the Death Economy into one that cleans up pollution, regenerates destroyed ecosystems, recycles, and creates technologies that restore resources and that benefit, rather than ravage, the environment—a Life Economy.
I want to make it clear that I don’t idealize or villainize individual Indigenous people. My own experiences have taught me that there are treacherous and virtuous ones, brutal and peaceful ones, and psychotic and well-balanced ones, just as there are in all cultures. What I respect is their communal commitments to the long term. Their philosophies and actions are dedicated to taking care of their environments, their cultures, and their offspring. The stories that Indigenous people have long told their children—and now us—such as the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, the Mayan Prophecy of 2012, and the Legend of Etsaa and the Evias, offer powerful teachings about the ability each of us has to overcome obstacles, to change our perceptions, and in so doing, to alter reality. In this regard, those stories have much in common with the myths embedded in cultures around the world and with the practices of modern psychotherapy and quantum physics.
This book discusses the damage I perpetrated as an economic hit man and the reality-changing lessons I learned in the Amazon. It goes on to describe the work I’ve done for the past forty years to meet my jaguars and apply the lessons I learned to alleviate the harm I helped cause. It delves into the problems that current greed and short-term perspectives are causing. And, perhaps most important of all, it presents actions that you, the reader, can take to change your life and help all of us humans live more harmoniously with nature and each other.
Reprinted from Touching the Jaguar with the permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Copyright © 2020 by John Perkins.