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Who are you?
I am John Perkins, an economist by education and shaman by training and now a social-environmental-economic activist, writer, and public speaker. My books have sold more than 2 million copies, been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 70 weeks, and are published in at least 35 languages. I’m a founder of the Pachamama Alliance and Dream Change, nonprofits that partner with indigenous people to protect environments and build sustainable economies.
When I was a Peace Corps volunteer (1968–71) deep in the jungles of Ecuador, my life was saved by an Amazonian shaman who taught me to “touch my jaguar”– change my reality by embracing perceptions that transformed fears into positive actions. After that, I did what business school had encouraged me to do. I became an economist and then chief economist at a major consulting firm; in reality I was an economic hit man (EHM), convincing developing countries to build huge infrastructure projects that put them in debt to the World Bank and other US-controlled institutions. Although I had been taught that this was the best model for economic development, I came to see that it was a new form of colonialism. Returning to the Amazon, I observed the damage caused by foreign companies and the destructive impact of my own work; and I was struck by the example of a previously uncontacted Amazonian tribe that touched its jaguar by uniting with age-old enemies to defend its territory against invading oil and mining companies.
I wrote Shapeshifting and four other books on Indigenous cultures, and then Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and three other books on global intrigue and economics, to expose the truths behind the exploitative and destructive system I’d helped develop.
Now, in my latest book, Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World, I detail how shamanism converted me from EHM 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). This book describes the power our perceptions have to mold reality — individually and globally. And it provides a strategy for each of us to change our lives and defend our territory, the Earth, against current destructive policies and systems.
I’m based on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle, but I spend a great deal of time with Indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Colombia, and Guatemala, and also at events where I lecture around the world.
What do you write?
I’ve written ten books: five books on Indigenous cultures and shamanism, four on global economics and intrigue, and now Touching the Jaguar, a book that connects those seemingly divergent themes.
I got started writing as an only child who spent his summers with his parents at a small cottage in the woods on a lake in New Hampshire. On rainy days, shut in the house, I started writing stories — first stick-figure cartoons and then short stories — to entertain myself.
There are no themes I avoid, although I focus on ones aimed at inspiring and empowering people to make better lives for themselves and a better world to pass on to future generations.
I love what I do. All my life I’ve been enthralled by stories of magic and magicians, like Merlin. I’ve come to see that writing is true magic, and that in fact “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
Where do you write?
I write wherever I happen to be: my home, in the woods, on airplanes — anywhere. It is my form of meditation. I said earlier that I’ve written ten books. The fact is I’ve written ten books that I sought to have published and that have been published. I’ve written many more just for myself, because I enjoy the process and because doing so hones my writing skills.
I write on a computer keyboard. Sometimes, after some event or conversation, I take notes — often dictating them into my cell phone — that later may become integrated with my writing.
When do you write?
I try to write every day, unless I’m doing something that is offering ideas or experiences I may later use in my writings, such as hiking through the jungle with my Indigenous friends. Because I love to write, I do not need to discipline myself with word counts, etc. I do sometimes need to discipline myself to stop writing so I can answer emails, pay bills, do the laundry, and other such things.
Why do you write?
I’ve always loved stories — reading and telling them. Although I write mostly non-fiction, I do it as a story-teller, in what’s known as a narrative non-fiction style. I know that people relate more to stories than just facts. These days, I focus on transforming a failed Death Economy into a Life Economy and personal transformation, as I mentioned earlier.
I am motivated by current events. I want to address the many crises we face today, including climate change, income inequality, environmental destruction, and virus pandemics. I am inspired by the positive responses I receive from the books I write and the talks I give about our abilities to accept the messages from all these events, our power to change our perceptions of our responsibilities as human beings on this planet and, in doing so, to alter the reality of the institutions and life-styles we create and perpetuate.
I speak at venues that range from an international economic summit in Russia to a music festival in Costa Rica, from a business school in China to a Conscious Capital conference in the US, and from universities to corporate seminars. Everywhere I go, I find that people are waking up to the fact that we live on a fragile space station, Earth, we are navigating it toward disaster, and we must change course.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I seldom get writer’s block. When I become tired of what I’m currently writing (is that writer’s block?), I take a break and write about something that fascinates me personally at that moment, or brings me joy. After that break, I usually find that I can return to the previous piece newly inspired and invigorated. Or, in the few times that doesn’t happen, I let go of that writing project and move on to another one. I do know that we can’t wait for inspiration to hit. Writer’s have to write!
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
You may have guessed it. I love being in nature and with Indigenous people who live close to nature — the Shuar and Achuar of the Amazon, the Maya of Guatemala, the Kogi of Colombia, and others. And I love taking small groups (up to 15 people) to visit such places and to learn from the local people, especially the shamans. I also enjoy speaking at events — live or virtual — exchanging ideas with others. I jog and meditate in the woods every day, when I’m home.