“There is a really strong sense of connection to the plant and animal world, and they do not see themselves as separate from those worlds in the way that we objectify nature,” says Schlitz. “It’s much more of an embedded awareness and consciousness. There is the idea that there’s an intelligence that comes through plants and animals. The Achuar are very symbolically oriented, so they see a lot of meaning in their encounters in a way that we do not.
”Terrifying dreams or visions, those that we would characterize as nightmares, are considered the most profound of Achuar experiences because they result in personal growth. Such dreams are exceedingly rare, but when they do come it is entirely at a time of the Arutam’s choosing. Children are taught to “move toward” the dream threat or obstacle. If they can successfully grasp it while conquering their fears, then the frightening vision will collapse and reveal its true nature and message. To run away is to reject a gift and to miss a golden opportunity.
A view of nature as a sacred, life-affirming source and a reliance on dreams to set a course of action are principles that are intrinsic to many native cultures, but the Achuar hold a unique worldview that entirely upends Western definitions of “reality” and “consciousness.”