The nature and wisdom of triggers in the shamanic narrative, and guidance on how to release them.
A component of shamanism that makes it different from other esoteric paths is servitude to a community. How one defines community can be as unique as the shamanist, herself. When I began my Masters work in 2010, learning what community I serve was a key focus. From my admissions essay through my thesis, I aligned my work with creating the Tribe of the Modern Mystic. I don’t know how it dawned on me, as I’d spent 12 years creating and sustaining The Saferoom Project, a peer support nonprofit for adult survivors of child sexual assault. I’d also devoted 12 years to deepening my shamanic path, personally and in working with others. I fully expected my formation of community to comprise some facet of assault survivors, though no matter how much I devoted to that work, I was pulled to mentoring intuitives in spiritual emergency. No matter how I put out the intention for working with survivors to be my community, the clients and students who darkened my doorway were budding seers and healers, every day people reeling from some experience of the wyrd that left them wholly changed and oppressively alone in their transition.
The first time I heard the phrase “spiritual emergency” was from my therapist in 1994. It had just been added as a diagnosis in the DSM-IV the year before. The day we met she told me that she could help me with symptoms of dis-ease in my life–depression, low self-confidence, PTSD, though she said flat out that she felt my distress was of a spiritual nature. She explained spiritual crisis as an awakening, in which the soul or consciousness is expanding more rapidly than the emotions or psyche can process. I can’t express what a unicorn she was, in the mental health care profession back then, able to make that statement with certainty. I spent just under 3 years working with her, experiencing great improvement of my symptoms, though the day we terminated, wholly affirmed that I was still experiencing spiritual crisis. Within two weeks of that last session I committed to deeper teaching on my shamanic path, had a soul retrieval, and felt relief from crisis for the first time in my life.
I didn’t want to walk back through that. To explore my capabilities in helping others assimilate spiritual crisis into soulful awakening required me to re-examine my rootless beginnings as an intuitive. It would force me to recall decades of knowing I was different in a way that defied vocabulary, the endless frustration and depression around feeling called to something that had no boundaries or guidelines, the loneliness of a solitary path, and the fear of many inexplicable phenomena that were part of my norm. I didn’t want to walk back through any of those things or the feelings they stirred. Yet in greeting the stories of others, mine re-emerged as a strong shamanic narrative, encouraging others to stay the course and affirming that they weren’t alone. Along with reviewing my history of spiritual emergency came unexpected emotional snarls tangling my abusive childhood once again with my spiritual path, even if only that both were occurring at the same time, that despite trauma from those different sources, the pain felt the same.
[learn_more state=”open”] An isolated hour with someone who utterly understands you can’t sustain next to weeks, months of inundation from others who don’t, and likely can’t. [/learn_more] I also began to see patterns of those struggling into awakened life coping with mental illness, separation from lifelong beliefs about self, religion, and cosmology, and a resounding lack of support from loved ones during this intensely jarring time. Their therapists didn’t understand, and neither their clergy, community, or other caregivers. I found myself at the center of a gathering of people who badly needed support in an area that, like it or not, I was providing. Yet, in those tenuous relationships, I realized they needed more, just as I needed more. They needed to hear it from someone besides me, more frequently than their routine trip to the local shaman, from a voice that could be engaged as needed, from others who understand what they were going through. An isolated hour with someone who utterly understands you can’t sustain next to weeks, months of inundation from others who don’t, and likely can’t. Most of them never spoke of the supernatural events in their lives to anyone but me. They entrusted me with their most precious secrets. How in the world would I create community when we had all been so ostracized in our personal lives that we couldn’t even speak our truths unless we thought only the Divine was listening?
In indigenous cultures, this dialogue would likely never happen. Not that they don’t experience spiritual emergency. They do–it’s called initiation. It’s called enlightenment, because they understand that enlightenment isn’t a sudden, dazzling solution to all of your problems. It cracks you open from the inside and requires you to rewire, start over, and do nothing the same. Shamanic cultures wouldn’t have this dialogue because they are born into their communities. They come into the world with the support system to witness, honor, bless, and grow their wild, intuitive selves from day 1. Such is not so clear in the west.
I’ve been on my healing path since I was six years old. From the age of seventeen I began my shamanic path. At twenty-seven I began working with others as a facilitator of healing. I realize now, as with all spiritual truths, the shaman doesn’t find the community, the community finds the shaman.
If you feel a need for such support not only of your experience, but in the development of your mystical life, learn more about the Tribe of the Modern Mystic. My life’s work, my heartsong, and my compassion welcome you.
In shamanic work is the concept of soul loss, or when an aspect of the soul has become distanced (I describe it as “shelved”) and can’t re-engage with the earthly consciousness. Souls are infinite, made up of limitless soul parts that travel in and out of our awareness. This soul traveling is the natural progress of growth, widening our awareness, expanding our consciousness. In times of trauma, when a soul part leaves and can’t return to the earthly consciousness, that’s when problems arise: chronic illness, feelings of depression, lack of motivation, feelings of not being completely present. Such is the path of soul loss in an individual. When considering collective soul loss, these factors plus another comes into play, making mass soul wounding more challenging to heal.
Horrific, heart-wrenching tragedies, such as the killings at Sandy Hook, in Nigeria, China, Portland, Colorado, at Virginia Tech, Columbine, 9/11, cause collective soul loss. Natural disasters such as Katrina, Sandy, the 2004 tsunami, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, result in mass soul wounding. As a population watching tragedy from afar, once we can process beyond our instinctive reflex to assess self and realize we are physically unaffected by the disaster, our hearts go out to those who were. We grieve for those lost. We mourn for those who lost loved ones and survived. We devote compassionate support to the affected community, through donations, prayer, providing manpower. We watch through the haze of the media circus, judicial process, and/or legislative attempt to prevent future disasters, seeking release, perhaps even hope, vindication.
Somewhere along that road we begin to realize that we are more affected by the tragedy than we realized, and we feel guilty for that fact. We feel that because our lives were not directly impacted by the disaster, we shouldn’t be disrupted in the daily honoring of life. We shouldn’t be stunted or disconnected from our joy. We shouldn’t feel it as much as we do. We feel selfish for thinking that we need healing, and for turning that heart focus to ourselves, rather than those in the immediate community.
Guilt and ego are the key inhibitors to healing collective soul loss. To devote healing to the whole dynamic, to treat the wound of collective soul loss, we have to include ourselves in honoring what happened, how it left us feeling, and in the healing offered. We must grieve the dead, even if we didn’t know a single one of them. Have compassion for the survivors, and all of the dark days ahead of them as they put their lives back together. Support them and their community in the way that we best can without depleting our own resources. Then repeat that whole process for ourselves.
Animism teaches us that we are all connected in the web of all things. As trauma in our personal lives creates perceived fragmentation of our souls, so collective trauma results in the perceived tear in that web. Only by remembering that we are all connected do we heal. Nothing heals in isolation, but through the combined efforts of us all. We must do what we can to express support for the immediate community, then our healing efforts must turn to our own wounds, knowing that what we heal in ourselves generates healing for others. This is the shamanic narrative. Through the creation of our own healing stories and sharing them, we inspire others to speak their stories. We create a bond focused on collective healing, assuring wellbeing for all.
Take time to reflect on your healing story. Write it down, if it helps, or draw it, paint it. Express all of the feelings wrapped into your experience of the healing process, and know that in doing so, we all heal. We all move closer to wellness.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.
When I began my shamanic practice almost 15 years ago, I found very different cultural perceptions of modern soul healing than those I run into now. I’ve written about contemporary approaches to shamanism, and how we have remade our perceptions of soul healing. Many people now know what a shaman is, what a shaman does. They know concepts that a mere decade ago were shrouded in mystery: soul retrieval, soul loss, soul wound.
In the more recent years of my shamanic practice, I find a pervasive belief that soul healing should in and of itself be enough. There is an expectation that it’s a quick fix, a miracle cure for everything. Along with this travels the belief that we shouldn’t need medication, surgery, therapy, a balanced diet. Many people now believe that the singular trip to the local shaman should make us well and sustain us through our days. This hope is neither new nor culturally centric. Ancient and indigenous shamans informed us that soul healing, indeed, cured wounds and instilled miraculous wellbeing.
Modern reality shows us something different, however as this in-depth review tries to point out. Many seekers invite soul healing into their lives, then experience an initial phase of euphoria and wellbeing, only to eventually take on symptoms of dis-ease or imbalance again. It becomes curious then to explore why, when we are better informed and eager for healing, did soul healing work so thoroughly for the ancients when it doesn’t seem to for us. If belief in miraculous soul healing isn’t new, why are contemporary enthusiasts not receiving miracles? What function of modern life makes soul healing different?
The short answer to that question is mindfulness. Foremost, in ancient shamanic cultures, the soul healer was the doctor, the dietitian, the pharmacist, the therapist. Moreover, these mundane acts of healing were done with the intention of their spiritual significance alongside their physical and emotional properties. In ancient healing, the mindfulness of these important approaches to healing was inseparable from their spiritual counterparts. For the majority of contemporary wellness enthusiasts, body-mind-spirit are three vastly different territories that don’t overlap. Why would the difference in how we look at healing modalities and aspects of ourselves affect how we heal?
What our forefathers knew that we have forgotten is the significance of an animistic worldview. Animism extends far beyond seeing Nature as soulfully imbued or respecting the energetic validity of manmade objects. Animists realize that all things have souls, are connected, and interact within that bond. In other words, they all have agency. This life view formed the basis not only of spirituality for the ancients, it was the social construct that made tribal life thrive. It reinforced that all approaches to healing are of the soul, and that we are accountable for each other. The healing of one is the wellbeing of all.
Further, it made the concept of tribe much bigger than just consisting of humans. It honored that the space humans occupy is a living breathing part of community, and everything that dwells in that space is, as well. Significant to this concept is that shamans are active participants in this greater tribe, which not only benefits all involved, it provides much unseen support for the shaman to do her job.
Tribal support was a vital component of any mode of healing. Just as caregivers fed and tended the wounds of the healing patient, they also witnessed the healing story (shamanic narrative), provided accountability to stay on track, and could empathize with the healing path. In this way, the positive effects of a singular healing spread throughout the tribe.
In the West, we are not an animistic culture. Instead, we revere individuality. We don’t have a strong sense of collective responsibility, support, or giving, particularly as related to spirituality. Given that, often imbalance returns because we have no one in our everyday to talk to about our new balance. When we have no one with which to share our euphoria, we have no one to help us sustain its momentum. As a result, we don’t spawn healing in others from our healing stories. Our core beliefs don’t incorporate that the sickness of one indicates the dis-ease of all; thus, they can’t create healing for many from the balance of one.
Likewise, because we don’t have a sense of tribal connectivity, we don’t create healing constructs to support staying well past the initial euphoria. We don’t see other modalities of healing that would help with our recovery process as having spiritual power. We internalize a lack of connection to tribe as a separation of the aspects of ourselves: mind-body-soul. When we approach soul healing as “only healing that which is soulful or pertaining to the soul,” we miss vital opportunities for renewal and wellbeing on all levels. The isolated way in which we view soul healing modalities and community affects our ability to heal and stay well. When we focus only on what we perceive as the soul, we stop supporting the other layers of ourselves, we stop empowering ourselves to stay healed.
Spiritual healing isn’t a replacement for life skills. In the New Age we have been taught that we should only focus on the soul. As humans, separating concepts into compartments helps us work with them, understand them. As animists, we know that all things are soul — even these other layers of Self. When we devalue the physical and emotional components of ourselves, the message then becomes “If you heal the soul, the rest will follow,” perpetuating the myth that these levels of our being are separate to start with.
To create and sustain soul healing we must bring some sort of awareness into everything that we do. When we decide that we want to heal, we must become active participants in that process. This truth is the core of animistic perspective. In the West, often we don’t know how to be active participants, and soul healing, itself, doesn’t teach us. However, only part of soul work is spiritual. The rest is just plain work. If we don’t already have some way of holding mindfulness through the mundane parts of our day, we’re not going to suddenly have it when we approach soul healing.
Mindfulness is learned from meditation. Through meditation we learn to be in our bodies. We become present with purpose, without judgment. As we master these skills, we align with the layers of ourselves, which directly affects our ability to connect with others. As we connect with tribe, we maintain healing. With the ability to bring this open, interwoven world view into our spiritual practice and healing, the more likely that healing will root into our lives, and sustain.
It isn’t that our approaches to soul healing aren’t working. Rather, it’s that our way of holding our awareness doesn’t support our soul healing. Imagine how great it would feel to have a community that helped us hold our awareness toward wellbeing! That singular aid alone would vastly improve our balance. Perhaps the message from our animistic elders isn’t that we forsake other modalities of care in favor of soul healing, but that we begin to see them all as having value. When we can see the value of the many good things we do to maintain balance in ourselves, the more we will see evidence around us of balance supporting us.
More on the Huffington Post.
Hi Kelley my name is Lucy. When I was around 14 I went to church on a regular basis. One night after saying a prayer I got in bed and I started feeling a weird sort of electricity running up my legs, then suddenly I couldn’t move, scream, or think. A really disturbing voice next to my ear whispered bunch of random numbers. At church they’d said demons sometimes attack and told me to pray, “In God’s name I repel you.” Since I couldn’t scream or talk I said it in my mind until this thing finally let go of me. It was horrible. I was terrified at being paralyzed, though the voice scared me.
I’m 24 now and I can’t get over that event, or all that happened after. I still sleep with a light on, and when alone I feel someone is watching me. I cannot walk alone in the dark because I feel I’m gonna see something I even have panic attacks. I really need help I don’t want to be afraid anymore.Thanks for your note, Lucy. My feeling about what you went through and how it has affected you is one that is common for many intuitives: spiritual emergency. A spiritual emergency or crisis occurs when we have an experience outside our belief system, or when we experience spiritual growth in a way that we can’t emotionally process. In short, it is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) of the soul. On an unconscious level, a switch gets flipped, that compounded by fear, doesn’t just unflip on demand. The result of this heightened state of consciousness is that you feel is if you never left the moment the voice spoke to you. Part of you feels like you are still there, creating a state in which everything feels frightening and predatorial. Some symptoms of spiritual emergency range from irrational fear, changes in personality, feeling attacked by atmospheric forces, depression, hypervigilance.
Often a trauma induces this reaction, though it can also occur after intense wonderful brushes with the supernatural. Some refer to such an experience as the classic “shamanic death” or “initiatory shamanic wound.” Regardless of the nature of the catalyzing event, when you have a spiritual experience that alters your ability to enjoy your life, you have experienced and are in spiritual crisis. Having established that, the question then becomes, “What do you do about it?”
You are a very sensitive person, who demonstrates an ability to connect with the unseen. Whether that is something you want to pursue under your control is for you to decide. What is important at present is that you find a way to reclaim your power and release the pattern of PTSD from this experience.
When I look at the moment that you heard the voice, I see that you experienced soul loss. This is a naturally occurring result of trauma, in which an aspect of the soul leaves and can’t return. A soul retrieval with a shaman can bring the soul part back, or help it return to All Things. What is peculiar about this particular moment is that your fear doesn’t center around the voice, or even the experience. The ongoing PTSD is about your fear that if you return this fourteen-year-old soul part, that it will happen again. The thing is, this soul part is highly intuitive, and she has information for you about how to use this ability, control it, set boundaries for it. In fact, by not returning her–thus your personal power–a self-fulfilled prophecy is being sustained. Without the wisdom of this soul part, the experience of the voice–the fear–is repeating, constantly. By bringing back this soul part, it can finally stop, you can set some limits on how you engage your intuition, and you can feel in control of your life again.
I recommend that you find someone who can stop the spiritual emergency with a soul retrieval. There are other approaches; this is the one I am most familiar with. I can help you with that remotely, or I can possibly recommend someone near you, to help you do it, in-person. However you move forward, I understand that you are asking for help. This means that you are ready. In order to move beyond that experience at fourteen and feel whole in your life now, you will have to face the fear. In doing so, you won’t have it anymore. You will finally step out of that frightening moment, and have your life back. The anxiety and the hpyervigilance will end.
My best to you, Lucy.
Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma. Revised second edition now available, with a foreward by shaman, Christina Pratt.
Along with it, look for Gift of the Dreamtime Reader’s Companion
Recently released is Real Wyrd – A Modern Shaman’s Roots in the Middle World, my collection of true paranormal experiences as a lifelong intuitive.
Kelley– I was misdiagnosed with epileptic seizures at the age of 15, and was put on many different anticonvulsant medications for over 10 years. None of it helped, and none of my EEG’s showed conclusive evidence of epileptic seizures. I have only recently realized that my seizures are due to some kind of spiritual blockage. I have been able to control them better, but not completely, and would love some insight into what I need to do further to either have them under complete control, or to harness their power. When I was a teenager, and my spiritual awakening began, I had very vivid, powerful dreams, I could dream walk, I had prophetic dreams, I could communicate with my spirit guides easily. I can no longer do this, and it is rare that I have restful sleep. Any insight into this problem would be immensely appreciated! Love and blessings! – Niki
Thanks for your note, Niki. The message that I got from your guides is that some facet of your soul is seeking a different way to express that deeper part of your consciousness, specifically through training in spirit walking, or shamanic journeying. The aspect of your soul that I met with indicated that she is eager and waiting for you to work with her in learning to journey out with purpose to some intended healing. My feeling is that this will sate the part of you needing that release and expression, and it will help manage your physical symptoms.
Also, if you can acquire a naturally formed salt water pearl, this is a powerful fetish to have in your toolbox of spirit travel allies. It came to me very prominently in working with this aspect of you. If you have or can get one, keep it with you when you sleep, and as you adventure into learning to journey. The salt water pearl brings you grounding between spaces, and assures your ability to bring something beautiful from discomfort.
Generally speaking, seizures occur when a facet of the soul attempts to leave the body but is confined for some reason. The soul is infinite, and aspects of it naturally come and go as they need to. This is how our consciousness expands, provokes new thoughts and beliefs. When an aspect of the soul wanders out due to trauma and can’t return, shamans consider this state soul loss, or soul separation. Soul loss can manifest in many ways, such as chronic doubt, depression, pain. Soul parts are returned through a process known as soul retrieval. The phenomenon you have experienced can feel just as bad–when a soul part needs to wander out to expand and release, yet can’t. This state leaves you feeling trapped in yourself and spiritually isolated.
I don’t recommend learning to journey alone. Let me know where you are located and I can help you find a teacher. If you are open to distance learning, I can help you with that. I don’t think this means that you have to commit to the servitude of shaman hood or hone the intuitive skills of a mystic, so much as just give yourself this outlet for now. Cultivate it and stay open to what it brings. I wish you healthy, passionate travels, Niki!
In a culture in which more is better and excess is revered, the ramifications of consumerist decadence on spiritual wellbeing are pervasive. The urge to overconsume is everywhere. Try finding a unit price of a single item that is cheaper than buying in bulk. Economic considerations aside, the commercial appeal to the baser hunter-gatherer mentality always pushes, “Why have one when you can have three?!” Value meals, bulk household supplies, combo insurance premiums, BOGO clothing … You name it, we bloat it, then encourage all our friends to join in. We over eat, we over consume, we overspend, frequently all at once.
True to capitalist form, when we identify such a cultural dilemma we not only exploit it, we make it entertainment. Obesity, hoarding, and clutter litter prime time slots on network programming. Ironically, we sit on our couches and tune in to watch other people lose weight on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” TLC hosts the reality television show “Hoarding — Buried Alive,” programming that precariously peers into the lives of those who not only can’t stop over-consuming, but can’t throw away evidence of it. Animal Planet raises the bar higher, presenting “Confessions: Animal Hoarding,” delving into the lives of people who keep pets as possessions, often to the detriment of owner and animal. The trend has even caught on in contemporary fiction. To be released next year, “Coveted” by Shawntelle Madison, is the first installment of an urban fantasy literary series about a female werewolf hoarder. To date, the main character is a werewolf who hoards holiday knickknacks.
It’s easy to look at these extreme examples of overconsumption and believe that these people are different, they are ill, unlike us. What does that judgment say about our culture, over all? We consider excess a cultural right, perhaps even a means to greater social mobility. Having more stuff fills our needs, right? If that’s true, why, then, do we see the pattern of overconsumption and clutter creating immobility, and how does that stagnancy affect us spiritually?
Individuals who overeat, over-consume and hoard may be poorly balanced spiritually, even energetically. The etheric field is comprised of the body, the chakra system, the body’s meridians, and the subtly perceivable electrical and ethereal space around the whole works. What we call life force (chi, ki or prana, depending on your cultural influence)is an electrical force that moves smoothly throughout the etheric field when we’re healthy, connecting us with the etheric fields of others, of the planet, etc. When we’re not well, the flow of life force gets out of balance; thus, we don’t connect so well with our environment. We start to lack energy.
Looking specifically at the chakra system — seven or more primary energy bridges roughly visualized along the spine — we can see and measure our stages of development in the formed world. Roughly speaking, our upper spiritual chakras allow us to connect into the soul realm; thus, they connect us with our spiritual purpose. The lower earth chakras root us into the nature realm, giving us the tools to manifest our purpose. When chakra imbalance manifests in overactive Earth chakras and under-active spiritual chakras this state indicates more energy is devoted to material “stuff” than to tapping into the soul’s needs.
The imbalance can also occur the other way. An overactive crown and under-active root indicates too much emphasis on escapist dreaming of spiritual plans, leaving us without the motivation to actually enact them. When we fall out of etheric balance, we generally don’t feel well emotionally, physically or both, and our lives stagnate. We care less about taking care of ourselves and our space. In short, when we stagnate life goes on, literally and figuratively piling up around us. Clutter without mirrors the clutter within. In our ideal state of divining our spiritual needs and bringing them into being, we’re healthy, connected to our space, and balance our consumption according to true need.
Another spiritual factor influencing the drive to overconsume is commonly called soul loss, or what I think of as “soul shelving.” When we suffer a trauma from which we feel we aren’t moving on, the shamanic narrative interprets that state as a facet of the soul having become inaccessible. Everyone experiences soul loss at some point, as it is a natural state of healing and growth. When we need access to that soul aspect and can’t reconnect with it problems arise, such as chronic patterns of depression, distress in relationships and in fulfilling personal obligations. If soul “loss” isn’t recognized for the spiritual lack that it is, we attempt to fill ourselves with anything that will temporarily make us feel alive. In a compromised spiritual state, it’s too easy to think that we can buy happiness. Superficial filling distances us emotionally from what we don’t want to deal with. What we can’t feel, we can’t heal.
Eve Ensler shared similar insight on emotional filling and its dissociating effect on the state of her health in a recent presentation “Suddenly, my body.” Her story expresses the epitome of the common belief, “If I ignore it and fill myself with something else, it will go away.” It didn’t for Ensler. It doesn’t for anyone. When we examine such stagnancy through the lens of soul loss, we become able to integrate our power into a focused, functioning drive toward wellness in our personal lives.
In an animistic worldview, all things are connected. What, then, is the collective soul price? The immediate impact lies in the earth, itself. Disregard for the self reflects disregard for the environment. In his book, “Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth,” Ralph Metzner describes that interconnectedness as resulting in ecocide. Modernized humans, by virtue of how we live, are at war with Nature. The trash from living lavishly has to be discarded in some ocean, some forest. The resources to supply our demand have to be extracted from some precious naturescape. By harming the planet we’re harming ourselves, and vice versa. On a level closer to home, we look again at the etheric field, through which every thing is connected. What we don’t heal in ourselves we pass on to others. It shows up in our relationships, our children, our work performance. It affects how we live in the space around us, how we treat ourselves and others. Our obligation to heal our spiritual wounds lies not only with ourselves but to every thing.
Promising is the fact that within that connection lies the power to heal over-consumption and clutter. When we begin to declutter our lives, we create a domino effect of wellness. By becoming mindful of our own living style, we can stop the cycle of excess. We become aware of what we need versus what we want. We become aware of others’ needs. In that awareness we take better care of our surroundings and learn to foster their health, as well. When we make peace with the state of our physicality, we unearth the sources of emotional and spiritual needs and we begin the journey to heal them. We start to feel empowered. When we feel better we incorporate better living patterns for ourselves, our health improves, and we raise the life force of every thing. In that union, how we choose to live in our personal lives and space truly does affect the life force of All Things.
Bless us all with radiant wellbeing by taking exquisite care of yourself.