Q&A with John Perkins, Author of Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Yourself and the World

What is TOUCHING THE JAGUAR about and why did you write it?

One of the main themes of Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear into Action to Change Your Life and the World is that perceptions mold reality. We have the ability to change our lives as individuals and societies by altering our perceptions. 

The book uses my personal story to illustrate this relationship between perception and reality. It describes how a change in perceptions converted me from an economic hit man (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). And it provides a strategy for each of us to change our lives and defend our home, Earth, against current destructive policies and systems.

The reason I wrote Touching the Jaguar is actually another theme. In summary: 

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 the 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 EHM, using perception-changing techniques to convince 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 to describe these events and explore the concepts behind them. Then I wrote 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. 

People often asked me how I could be the author of these two seemingly different genres. Touching the Jaguar answers that question. It explains that the shamanic idea of molding reality through perceptions is also the basis for modern economics, psychotherapy, quantum physics, and corporate marketing. The book offers us hope to transform systems that are failing us to ones that will serve us and future generations. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a consultant and how that has influenced your view on our current economy? For example, given that we are likely going to experience a worldwide global recession, what advice would you have for political leaders to help the economy recover?

The only way we are going to “recover” is to admit that we do not want to return to the old “normal.” The Death Economy is the root cause of climate change, income inequality, species extinctions, terrorism and so many of our other current problems. It is based on the goal of maximizing short-term profits, regardless of the environmental and social costs (for businesses) and maximizing short-term consumerism (for individuals). But that goal is merely a perception. We can change that perception. The new goal should be to maximize long-term benefits for all people and nature.

My advice to political leaders and also corporate executives is that in order to avert a long term worldwide global recession they need to focus on investing in a Life Economy. That means that we pay people to clean up pollution, regenerate destroyed environments, recycle, and create new technologies that do not ravage the earth and devastate the very resources upon which the future depends. Just think of what this world would be like if our tax dollars went to pay companies like Raytheon and General Dynamics to make equipment and processes that mine the plastic floating around in the oceans and regenerate environments destroyed by oil leaks and mining operations, instead of producing war machines. Moving into a Life Economy does not mean that we have to live in caves. On the contrary, it takes us into a whole new governmental-social-economic system that is itself a renewable resource, that pays investors decent rates of return to create a truly sustainable, just, and fulfilling human presence on this planet. 

There are many indicators that this transformation was underway before the coronavirus pandemic. Political initiatives such as the Green New Deal, movements like conscious capitalism, innovative approaches to business that include B Corporations, benefit corporations, cooperatives, local banks and farms, alternative energy technologies and approaches to farming, and the creation of the Long-Term Stock Exchange are just a few examples. The August 2019 Business Roundtable meeting was a highly significant signal of impending change; CEOs from 192 of some of the world’s largest corporations promised to “abandon the idea that companies must maximize profits for shareholders above all else” and instead “commit to balancing the need of shareholders with customers, employees, suppliers and local communities.” 

How can a person overcome his or her fears when the world is a dangerous place for them?

I wrote Touching the Jaguar in part to answer that very question. At the time, I had no idea that we would be hit by the coronavirus. But I did know that what we had previously considered as “once in 100 year events,” like hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and other such dangerous occurrences were happening every year or so. I knew that we had to confront our fear of change and take the actions necessary to create new lifestyles, economies, and the other ways we humans relate to the Earth. 

The book provides a strategy for each of us. It encourages readers to answer the following questions:

1. What do I most want to do for the rest of my life? What is my dream, my bliss? 

2. What are my jaguars, my fears – the barriers that have kept or might keep me from do that?

3. How do I confront my jaguars and alter my perceptions in ways that will empower me to move forward?

4. What actions do I take for me personally?

5. What actions do I take to make the world a better place? 

To overcome his or her fears, a person should answer each of these questions and then take daily actions to implement them. These actions can be as simple as sending out a text or as complex as running for public office – and everything in between. I go into much more detail and offer a daily ten-minute practice in Touching the Jaguar. The answers to the five basic questions provide the basis for facing our fears in a dangerous world – or simply to make life better, more satisfying and fun.

How has shamanism influenced your life?

Shamanism saved my life, as I explained earlier, and then it changed my life by teaching me the power of perceptions. I know that many people who had jobs similar to mine when I was an EHM stayed there even when they knew it was wrong because they were stuck in old perceptions, including fear. Because of my experiences and trainings with shamans I understood that I could change myself and I could also use what I’d learned at my EHM job to turn a failing system around. I could work to transform the Death Economy that I’d helped promote into a successful one, a Life Economy. 

What are spirits? Where do they live? 

According to my Indigenous teachers, spirits live everywhere, in people, animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers — everywhere. They are energies that continue even after material bodies die. As Einstein showed, matter and energy never end, they just transform. Indigenous people say that means that the spirits pass on to other forms. I love that idea. It makes facing our physical mortality so much easier.

Did you experience any serenity or synchronicity in your journey? If so, how?

When I was chief economist at a major international consulting firm, I thought I was living the American dream. I’d grown up the son of a teacher in rural New Hampshire. Suddenly I was flying first class around the world, staying in the finest hotels, wining and dining with presidents and ministers of state in the very best restaurants. And I was making a very good salary. However, eventually it struck me that I was miserable. 

After about 10 years on the job and a growing sense that what I was doing was wrong, I took a vacation in the Virgin Islands. One evening I was sitting in the ruins of an old sugar plantation high upon a hill overlooking the sun setting on the Caribbean. It seemed totally idyllic. Then I realized that that plantation had built on the bones of thousands of slaves. After that I realized that the whole hemisphere was built on the bones of millions of slaves – indigenous Americans as well as ones from Africa. That forced me into the realization that I too was practicing a kind of modern slavery. I didn’t put people in chains, but I did enslave them in debt, fear, and false perceptions of what economic development meant. I suppose you could say that that experience was a form of synchronicity. 

Sitting there on top of that hill, I made a vow that I would never do that work again. And it brought me an immediate sense of serenity. A couple of days later, I returned to my headquarters in Boston and resigned. Now that I have committed my life to writing and speaking out about the need to transform the Death Economy that I helped promote into a Life Economy, I am happy. From the time I was young, I wanted to be a writer. Now I’ve published 10 books that have sold more than 2 million copies. I am living my dream.

What positives will come out of this current era with the virus, global warming, late-stage capitalism? 

My hope is that we are waking up to the fact that we live on a space station, the Living Earth, that we humans command its navigational systems, that we are steering toward disaster, and we must change course. The positives will result from turning this Death Economy into a Life Economy. If done correctly, it will transfer jobs from those involved in making war equipment, performing useless financial “gambling” (Wall Street shenanigans), and other such activities that benefit a few of the very rich to those that pay people and corporations to regenerate, restore, recycle, and create renewable and sustainable technologies.

Whats the most powerful thing youve learned in your work?

I’ve learned that human reality is determined by human perceptions. There are no countries, religions, or corporations except as we perceive them. When enough people accept a new perception, reality changes. This is the basis of modern psychotherapy, quantum physics, and corporate marketing, as well as shamanism. It gives me great hope because it says that we can convert the Death Economy into a Life Economy by changing our perception of what it means to be successful.

Whats a vision youve received or experienced about the world and/or state of the world?

We are in the process of waking up and making the transition from a Death to a Life Economy. We see it in recent movements such as the Green New Deal, Conscious Capitalism, B-Corporations and the statement by the Business Roundtable of nearly 200 of the world’s most influential CEO’s that profit maximization can no longer be the only goal, that businesses must also commit to achieving the goals needed for a Life Economy.

Do you have advice for people who are seeking something bigger than themselves in this world that often feels careless, isolating?

Yes, I encourage people to dive into understanding what brings them joy (their passion in life) and what skills they most enjoy using, to examine the obstacles (jaguars) that might prevent them from doing that, and then to touch those jaguars and receive the inspiration and energy to move forward. For example, my passion is writing. My jaguar used to be “my English teacher didn’t like my writing.” When I touched that jaguar, I realized that my English teacher didn’t like Bob Dylan’s writing either, and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It empowered me to write.

I offer a detailed step-by-step approach in Touching the Jaguar for people to examine what they want in life, how it contributes to a better world, what jaguars stand in their way, and how to touch those jaguars. It’s something everybody can do for less than 10 minutes a day or however often they want. It is easy and fun.

Whats the next step in your work?

I intend to keep writing and speaking about the need to transform a failed Death Economy into a successful Life Economy and about the means to make that happen. 



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 have 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 has been initiated by shamans from several Indigenous cultures. 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. For more information: www.johnperkins.org