Eihwaz – Yew – Do you see the pattern we’re in? Three weeks ago, Eihwaz visited, followed by Raidho, then Raidho reversed. We’ve been on a journey through our shadowlands, and this week we’re nudged to draw a conclusion about it.
Last week, we discussed self-doubt and failure of imagine as culprits limiting the experience of shamanic journeying. This week, we continue in Part 2 of that dialogue, with:
Over-rationalization. One of the most valuable skills of the modern mind is the ability to rationalize observations, information, experience. In truth, there is great need for rationale in spirit travel, as it provides us the necessary anchor to know when we are pushing beyond our boundaries, to know when we’re venturing too far into our unknown and need to retreat. Reason, and to a degree ego, foster our sense of control, mitigates negotiation and compromise, and governs self-importance. Each of these attributes bring stability to ecstatic trance, though when over-developed cause it to stall.
Confronted with students who over-rationalize their journey experiences, questions that most frequently arise are, “Is it real?” “Am I making it up?” “What if I only see what I want to see?” These are all very logical and responsible inquiries that I encourage as healthy self-checks. Assessment of the journey experience allows us to derive meaning from our observations, as well as our feelings about them. The ability to hold our impressions in this way can shed greater light in how they facilitate meeting our intention for the journey.
However, when the scrutiny doesn’t stop at gentle prodding and progresses to over-rationalization of trance, the intended soul work can’t be completed. To those who become stunted in a loop of recursive logic, I pose these questions: “How do you determine what is real?” “Are you making this up compared to what?” “What do you want to see?”
Most of us, upon deep examination, have few criteria for what we determine is real; thus, we conclude how little value such a measure has, not just in ecstasy, but perhaps throughout life. Likewise, ascertaining that what we make up has as much value as something we don’t make up, or as what something someone else makes up, releases self-judgment regarding the observation. For those who don’t have clarity on their expectations of journeying, I have them think of something they want to occur in the trance. When I facilitate them to engage with the desired occurrence, without fail the interaction and dialogue is unexpected. It becomes the difference between plotting a course and being led.
The core of over-rationalizing ecstatic trance events lies in realizing that what we have often asserted as beliefs are most often assumptions. Journeying challenges assumptions we have made about how we perceive reality and ourselves in it. When soulful interaction holds meaning for us, it becomes intuition. When we feel that personal truth, it is real.
Unwanted outcome. As inebriating as the distance created by over-analyzing whether we created a journey experience is the shock of realizing we didn’t. Entering into the finer workings of ecstatic trance plays havoc with our habit of setting expectations. Whether we mean to or through no conscious effort of our own, when we attune to the mastery of soul travel, we bring with us certain expectations of the flight and its results. That said, sometimes we see things we aren’t prepared to see. Such revelations can blind-side so thoroughly that we are left questioning the role of journeying, if not shamanism, in our lives.
Most of us expect that trip to be smooth and captivating, validating in some way. While the journey experience is intensely riveting, on occasion it’s profound through sobering, if not staggering revelations. Harkening to our cultural lack of an animistic worldview, often fledgling journeys give a first glimpse into how that hunger has shaped our spiritual lives. An otherwise blissful experience of homecoming into the spiritual manifestation of ourselves, into acceptance and full realization of self, can be extremely stressful, certainly traumatic. As well, some students new to the practice embark on journeying and are met with known wounds that need deeper tending, or discover hurts they hadn’t sourced, prior. A joyful meeting with a deceased loved one can change perception of life in such a way that while the journey was lovely, how one returns to carry that experience forward can create an emotional dilemma. Others meet a facet of self demanding radical change in waking life, adamant expression in an unsupportive community. While each of these possibilities offers vast opportunity for healing and growth, they present intense spiritual crises that must be resolved to master shamanic journeying.
For these unwanted outcomes, grounding around the journey experience is required. Ideally, discussion about the ley of the soulscape and all that it may serve up is discussed prior to experiential exploration. As well, skills in mindfulness and emotional release are identified, honed. Support systems are mapped and engaged. With this mundane awareness, in the event of finding unwanted outcomes, a plan can be laid to foster and midwife those experiences and feelings to assimilate into wisdom.
For students who encounter unwanted outcomes in journey, I facilitate them back into trance right away. Such crises become initiations, that unaddressed create spiritual post-traumatic stress, or soul loss. The sooner they can be confronted and healed, the more solidly journey can be approached again.
Considering the challenges of shamanic journeying for modern seekers, while the mechanics of shamanic journeying can be learned in a weekend class, developing the compass for how to do so cannot. Mastery of ecstatic trance isn’t just about refining the ability to journey, but to know what to do with the spoils of spirit travel. My best advice to modern shamanic students is find a mentor who can give context, thus support the ongoing destination, as well as practice, practice, practice.
These are a few challenges we may encounter in ecstatic journeying. Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism covers several more concerns about shamanic journeying, and how to resolve them.
In the first phase of the Thursday Betwixt Series we’ve discussed diverse possibilities in allies available to support the modern shamanic path, and to a great degree that of animism. Moving into phase two, I’d like to talk about how we do what we do on those paths. As this topic is a bit in-depth, it will span two posts.
A definitive technique of shamanism is ecstatic trance. It’s regarded as the pièce de résistance in modern shamanic education, often to its own detriment. For those unsure, journeying is the term most often used to describe the process of shamans engaging the spirit world. Referred to as ecstatic journeying or shamanic journeying, starwalking, skywalking, the process encompasses setting an intention, then traversing the layers of the spirit realm with one’s spirit guides for healing or insight retrieval. Often paced with drumming or other rhythmic induction, specific tempos induce a theta, or light dreaming, brain state.
Sometimes confused with pathworking and guided visualization, in which participants are guided in what to see and do, journeying involves a more organic approach. When learning to journey, a general framework is followed to access the ecstatic state, though what occurs once in the spirit realm is entirely unique. The particular framework is based in a specific cultural approach. Upon mastery of theta trance, the framework used can be as personal as what occurs in the journey, itself, if a framework is necessary at all.
For most eager shamanic students, journeying is vivid, lush. Deep emotions stir and challenge how we hold our changed psychology in waking reality. For many, those first flights out fulfill a deep longing to connect, or reconnect as it were, with the unseen, that other belief systems or practices don’t provide. In those early stages, journeying seems to provide answers to everything, and for that reason it can be addicting, even escapist if not done with care.
However, for some students of the mystical, accessing trance states poses particular challenges. Where the will may be strong to learn ecstatic practices, the mind sometimes prohibits allowing them. As westerners who are mostly not raised in an animistic life view, our decision to release the veil and immerse into seamless awareness can challenge our experience of form. How we respond to that challenge determines the value that we place on journeying.
Over the course of deepening my relationship to the practice of ecstatic trance, I’ve encountered several factors that confound modern soul travelers. As a teacher of ecstatic technique, I’ve observed that most modern studies teach how to journey, though omit what to do with what comes from it, how to process the life changes it inspires.
Below are four challenges we encounter in journeying. Sometimes only one of the following creates stumbles, though some students experience a combination:
Self-doubt. Many of us were not fostered to have faith in our own experiences, those of tactile five-sense origin, or ones of a more metaphoric, figurative significance. Culturally, we have been conditioned to distrust our imaginations as contributors of meaningful data; thus, some people struggle to accept trance experiences as relevant. They can’t get past questioning whether they saw or heard what they did. Unable to accept their own observations, the journey experience cannot unfold; thus, intentions for soul healing cannot be fulfilled. A complicating factor in self-doubt is that most often the students who experience it never expected to. With that realization, an element of shame becomes involved.
Resolution of self-doubt in journeying usually relies on altering factors in the perception of self in formed reality, so that relaxation into the trance experience and affirmation of it can occur. Common proclamations of self-doubt that I hear regarding journeying are, “Nothing happened,” or “I think I saw/heard/felt something, but I’m not sure.” Most often when I work back through the journey experience with students who express doubt as such, what I find isn’t that ‘nothing happened.’ Rather something did happen, but it was dismissed due to a lack of faith in personal perception.
To release self-doubt, I support students in accepting their every intuitive impression. I challenge them to accept every perception as fact, no matter how surreal or far-fetched. If the sky is suddenly purple with yellow polka dots, I encourage them to accept that for that moment, it was exactly as it appeared. If a second later, the same sky is cerulean blue with fluffy white clouds, honor it as such, and move on. No analysis required, just honor the observation and move on. Through encouraging them to realize that both perceptions are true and unrelated to each other, the need to compare or judge either perception is relinquished.
Intuition requires confidence. When the need to judge observation is released, journeying can be accepted as another way to experience awareness. In blessing all observations, the emphasis isn’t on accepting all data as fact, but on processing all perception as real. The empowerment of accepting all of our experiences as real opens pathways in journeying we would otherwise never find.
Failure of imagination. Often, limitations in journeying are the result of limited awareness. What we can’t conceive, can’t be. To draw on a contemporary energy medicine teaching, life force follows awareness. What we put our attention on leads us forward. It allows us to fulfill our intention for journeying. However, some people don’t have strong creative problem solving skills, a requirement for meeting ecstatic intentions successfully. They may be entirely confident in their observations, but they don’t know what to do with them, how to move them forward in a way that fulfills the intention. Sometimes called ‘negotiation’ by traditional shamans, unleashing boundless imagination not only ensures meeting obligations in the journey space, but solidifies the personal experience of it. Imagination is needed in journeying not just for navigation, but for interaction with the spirits of the worlds, themselves.
The common model followed as the journey map for most modern seekers is that of a triple cosmology including the Upper, Lower, and Middle worlds. There are countless other cosmologies. Those raised in shamanic cultures are likely to find their way around these worlds more easily than those just honoring a cosmology for the sake of learning to journey. For that reason, upon arrival in the spirit realms we quickly find a lack of sign posts to point us along, or the legend we discover is unlike what was expected. The road just ends. In some cases, a spirit animal, or totem, may not be as forthcoming with information we need. How, then, can the journey proceed?
When students feel constricted in their imaginations, I direct them to call in their five-year-old superhero personas. Many adults are uncomfortable reaching back into the limitless imaginations of their youth, seeing that untamed logic as archaic, erratic, invaluable. The truth is, that wild mind can solve anything, because it knows no bounds. This primal youth knows how to ask for directions from a bird. It understands that when the road dead-ends, it’s okay to weave between the grasses. It rests comfortably jumping off a cliff to soar higher.
When we can realize that every facet of the spirit world is alive and responsive, we begin crafting our unique dialogue. Yes, the ability to intuitively read and navigate the events and symbols of the spirit realm meets our needs for the journey, though it also sets the stage for how future journeys unfold. Ecstatic trance is a dialogue that builds with every adventure. Forming this fluid relationship with the mechanism of journeying is the core of the ecstatic practice. This merging of the imagination with the spirit world teaches us how to decipher personal signals. It enables us to form relationships with guides, scapes, elements, forces, absolutely everything in the journey space. These relationships are what shape the shaman.
Next week, Part 2 will further discuss challenges in journeying, and ways to overcome them.
These are a few challenges we may encounter in ecstatic journeying. Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism covers several more concerns about shamanic journeying, and how to resolve them.
In this series we’ve talked about needing humans as part of our spiritual support. I’d like to elaborate on why we specifically need groups as part of our spiritual support.
You would think that for animists, community is an easy one. The perspective of animism assumes awareness of, if not connectivity with souls. Most of us modern seekers project that view largely onto what we were domesticated to perceive as inanimate: trees, cars, rocks, clouds. Further, we’re more comfortable seeking soulful meetings with rattlesnakes than another person. Specifically, a lot of us are more at peace with solitary affinity, and avoid groups like the plague.
Not without good reason, of course. Most modern animists emerged from the church. We arrive back in the wild having chosen to leave an organized belief system that no longer works for us, and any structure that even remotely looks like it. However, when we make those kind of breaks, we realize in hindsight we’re leaving more than a belief system.
If you’re like me, having grown up in a small community that revolved around a tiny country church, my family and church social engagements were inseparable. The same people I saw at Sunday services, choir practice, and youth group, were the same people I saw at Sunday lunch, the Saturday matinee, school ballgames, and birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. They were the same people who gave my mom rides to work when the car broke down, had us over for cookouts, babysat me and my sister, and brought casseroles when there was a death in the family.
Despite however hypocritical, support is ingrained with the belief system; thus, when we leave the church, we leave such help behind. We are trained from an early age to believe that amenities are faith-based, and faith changes, they disappear with relationship. These mundane deal-breakers are like attempting to leave an abusive marriage. Congregation members stay with a faith they don’t really believe in because they can’t sustain without the material supports of the community. Ie, the community would disown them across the board, if they leave.
Likewise, the tangle of religion-of-birth and family can create incredibly painful interactions. Leaving can alter families forever, particularly if those relationships were already strained. Again, some people never break from the church because they can’t bear to lose family ties. Sometimes interconnection does come with strings, and we have hard compromises to make in extricating ourselves from them. This emphasis on situational support grooms us to put spiritual needs last.
Many of us also haven’t had good experiences with groups beyond church doors. Whether focused on earth-based spirituality, a specific cultural path, healing modality, soul practice, community interest, sport, or hobby, it isn’t long before we realize the problems of organization affect every collective. At some point in development, every group has power struggles, personality clashes, imbalance of support, a lack of necessary guidance. Such is the human plight of meeting in numbers.
All of these experiences with groups shade our ability to connect collectively, as animists. When we allow such painful experiences to shape how we come together in groups now, we miss a vital component of personal growth. Don’t misunderstand–there’s certainly room for a healthy, progressive solitary path in any -ism. My concern for whether such isolation is truly working lies in how overall spiritual wellbeing continues to develop and grow. In most cases, it doesn’t, not just due to going it alone, but from choosing solitary out of fear.
The reason we go offroad isn’t just rejection of the main path. It’s also rejection of that base need to group with other humans, and denial of the necessary hoops we must jump in our personal development to deal with the trappings that come with being an active group participant. It’s really no wonder that when I start talking about community to clients and students, their eyes glaze over, because they associate community with suffering. Their psyche folds under pressure from not being able to separate support from confinement, manipulation (perhaps even bullying), dogma, hierarchy.
How do we become animists or shamanists in isolation? How do we develop and maintain healthy boundaries between the personal part of our paths that can never be shared, and the part of our ever-conjoined paths that craves conscientious balance with others? We can’t, until we honor how we arrived where we are.
The ability to find a group now rests solely on healing the wounds from joint interactions past. It’s the healthy thing to do, but it’s also the responsible soul thing to do. When we carry old wounds and try to engage with a group, we’re ripe for having those wounds re-opened. For those particularly introverted, even the base dynamics of group interaction can send us recessing deeper into isolation.
By facing social hurts of the past, we learn exactly what our boundaries are in new collective interactions. We come to intimately know what qualities make a good leader, contributor, witness, teacher, and supporter. As we make heart connections with these roles, we learn more about how to support ourselves and others. We internalize the very thing groups sought to teach us to start with: the true delineation lies in what needs we are required to fill ourselves, and the ones we need filled by others.
We don’t have to give up the Nature community for a human one. In fact, culling our feelings about interpersonal networking to support our spiritual path can inform and strengthen all of our other connections. As with learning what needs should be filled by whom, we refine when to turn to which community.
What needs does Nature fill for you?
What needs do people fill for you?
Who is your human community?
How do you bless it?
Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism – for the spiritually curious youth in us all.
Throughout the Betwixt series, I’ve talked about the significance of creating community along a shamanic path. I delved briefly into viewing ourselves as a valuable, informed member of our own spiritual council, encouraged readers to shapeshift into themselves to better step into their power. Taking that further, I’d like to talk about the many blessings and challenges of realizing the body’s inherent spirituality.
Most modern shamanic circles focus on all things soul. They touch on amorphous internal cosmologies supporting the whole, though the experience of the form remains demoted in that hierarchy. I connect this oversight to a tendency for modern shamanists to avoid Middle World work, as they tend not to explore the spiritual nature of what is most immediately around us. Rather focus is on higher guidance, deeper resonance.
The more I root into being here, the more I realize the body is the portal. It has all the answers, and knows the questions we haven’t thought to ask. We all get a body when we come into form, and it’s pre-wired and ready to go for the most soul rocking experiences imaginable. The body is intuition manifest. It’s the walking lexicon and interface, all in one. It’s how we are able to hear the mind, and the collection of a bazillion other senses that when we tune, remind us we’re animals. We’re Nature.
Yet we hit the ground running, to dissociate from the body’s wisdom. Ironically, the more we venture into spiritual community, often the less we incorporate the body’s perspective. We don’t often acknowledge that it has a perspective, let alone many. And the idea that every cell has a story… Well.
Pain, or some degree of discomfort, is often the voice we’re most willing to hear from the body. Again, it’s ironic, because it’s the one we least want to listen to. Because we live so outside the body’s experience of form, it is the dialogue of pain that presents a trove of information, expressing our experience as a world of hurt.
How do we wear meat suits, endure all the challenges doing so brings, and still remain connected with All Things? That is the challenge. There’s no one way or right way to do it, and each of us has a unique job in realizing our personal tribulations in staying engaged. My challenge around these involves being a cyclic person, from which I derive my most profound power.
For the record, it has taken me about thirteen years to write that last sentence.
What’s a cyclic person? Many things, the understanding of which is part of its unique challenge. Women identify with the phrase from the onset of menstruation. Certainly those who cope with fluctuating mood and mental health conditions relate. Men later in life comment around awareness of cycles, and how they affect their focus.
For me, it’s a combination of biochemical traits and chronic health conditions. I’ve never been diagnosed as having a mood ‘disorder.’ I have, however, been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Fibrymyalgia Syndrome (FMS) after a car crash in 2001, and have had minor strokes that among several outcomes, affected how I speak, read, and process data. While unofficial, my doctor approaches me on a spectrum of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). I work full-time. I maintain my writing career and my shamanic practice. I have a family, and a driving need to perform well at all of the above.
I recently wrote about how having cyclic focus affects my ability to manifest the things I want. The bigger picture of my changing tides is that I work hard to fully encompass the many voices in my body. I talk to my body, emotions, and mind(s) as discrete beings, and I also hold dialogue with the conditions that I manage. I call FMS in and we talk by a stream in my Lower World. I frequently have tea with my neurotransmitters. I recently walked with my body to a mausoleum, where we released eras of sick relatives from my ancestral line. Likewise, when my mind just can’t find a foothold in the reality that I want it to, I sit with it where it is. I keep it company, giving it what blessings I can, then I go to sleep, and wake to see where we’ve arrived, because I know it will be some place different.
I’ve said often in articles, classes, and sessions, you can do all the soul work and healing you want. If the body’s not in a place where the mind can accept it, spiritual healing can’t stick. I’m willing to go all-in and say it won’t stick.
Where is your body, really? What feels great about it, and what doesn’t? Does it talk to you? Do you listen? I promise, your body is a prophet in disguise, and that disguise is the limitations amassed trauma has put on your beliefs of what your form can accomplish.
Get out the superhero cape. Put it on, and whirl around a few times. Ask your body what it most needs from you. Ask the conditions you manage how they inform you, how they cradle you, and how they alter your perception of the ordinary.
Give up your vocabulary, linear movement, and perceptions of how your form relates to the space around you. Become the brand new being you were when you got here, and see what it has always known, without impositions or corrections. Shapeshift into your body as it is, now. Let it choose the sounds that come out. Give it the freedom to move the way it wants to. Transform into the formlessness of deep being, and dive into what information lives there, because that is who you are.
This observation isn’t about learning the story of your body. It’s about learning your body’s story of you, and those are not the same experiences.
Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism – for the spiritually curious youth in us all.
Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place. ~Rumi
So often we talk about totems, helping spirits, deities, Guides–which are all well and good. There are other influential souls with whom we can enter into deep relationship, and they’re right under our noses, every day. I call them our Home spirits, though I suspect they can be identified many ways.
These are the Nature spirits, land elders, and the consciousness of your actual home–the dwelling in which you live–who are guardians with whom you are in relationship all the time. They may be your favorite hellebores in the side garden, the cactus in a planter by the front door, the lawn, itself. They may be souls of indigenous land keepers, elementals that have never been in form, the spiritual manifestation of your town or bioregion. The soul of your home, each room, every beam, can engage you.
Being aware of spaces and how we use them, move through them, contribute to them, are affected by them, affect them–all of these are important. Despite that we use them for spiritual practice, most of us don’t bring them into our personal spiritual practice. We’re more conscientious of the rituals we do in spaces, the fetishes bring into them, the altars we build in them, yet how often do we actually engage the spirits of our home space? How often do we inquire about the needs of the land’s elders? How do they embrace (or not) other cultural flavors/allies of our spiritual path?
Acknowledge them, first of all. Create an opening to interact with them. Get a feel for what beings are ever-present in your home space. Invite them into your etheric space and communicate with them. Are they ones you already engage with, or are they new? How are they connected to the land, the home? How do they want to connect with you? Ask what they need from you. State what you need from them.
This ongoing dialogue is key to being fully present in an animistic life, certainly in fulfilling the role of shaman. Historically, shamans served the tribe, a particular territory. Their relationship with the Nature spirits of that terrain enabled their success at caring for their tribe, at growing into their skills, and in working with other shamans, other terrains.
We don’t all have the same access to nature. Some live in city flats, others on farms, carefully manicured suburbia–none of which really matters when we consider the uniqueness of the relationships we form with and around our personal space. For that matter, some of us aren’t that enthused about direct interface with Nature. Sit with that contradiction, truly. Honestly open up to what your role in working with local spirits is, and what they need from you. You don’t have to suddenly become a gardener, wilderness enthusiast, or master of sacred space. But you do have to become the master of your sacred space, or at least its willing host to be part of its mastery of being, of relating. These spirits are the eyes and ears of the places in your life that you can’t attend. They are the true guardians of your home, your personal domain. You are the manifestation of theirs.
When I first started working with the Home spirits of our current residence, I was greeted by many. They told me that in order for the balance between the physical and spiritual world to sustain and evolve, every place must have a human conduit. There must be a sentient bridge through which an exchange of life force happens, a consolidated awareness is forged, and all involved benefit.
We can’t deeply root into our own gifts and fulfill our needs until we connect with the spirits most immediately around us. They’re viable. They are important to our personal path, and our relationship with them is vital to the collective path of the planet. They are the roots we so often try to find in ourselves, forgetting they were already there.
Working with Home spirits isn’t just about where you are. It’s about where you’re going, where they have been, and where the planet needs to be.
“We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.” S. Kelley Harrell, Gift of the Dreamtime – Reader’s Companion
In the Thursday Betwixt series, we’ve talked about the various guides that can be gleaned along our path–both spirit beings and mundane–and the significance of each. We’ve somewhat talked around why community is important, though I’d like to take that deeper.
Whether undertaking to learn journeying, to fit for the role of shaman, or experience soul healing through any range of modalities, the number one contributing factor to pitfalls along that path that I see time and again is lack of community. I work with people for whom a class in journeying has cracked them down the middle without proper understanding of how to carry that changed perspective into regular life. I mentor people who want to serve as shamans, though function as the only animistic person in their familiar. I have sessions with clients who leave elated, only to crash a few days or weeks later.
Each of these examples presents some form of initiatory crisis. After experiencing some sense of awe, distress became greater. I could cite multiple reasons that the ecstasy ebbed. Could be lack of engaging personal spiritual discipline on a daily basis, or maybe poor or lacking mindfulness skills. Perhaps healing wasn’t brought to its fullest potential, or deeper needs for healing were hidden. Fear may be dominant. There may be a lack of tools for how to deepen and ground spiritual emergence. I see each of these omissions often; however, the one downfall I see in almost every case of distress after ecstasy is a lack of community. People, in general, don’t reach out for support.
Often clients don’t want to feel pressured to schedule a followup session, which is understandable. Students don’t want to circle the same material. However, leaving the burden of communicating their spiritual needs on them doesn’t work, particularly if they can’t recognize it for what it is. They are so high at the time of the initial shift, they don’t see the point of having to return, to revisit hallowed ground. Yet without a workable plan in place to support and sustain their initiation, they start to feel distress. They don’t set a followup because they feel the first shift must not have really worked, because they are ashamed that they couldn’t hold onto their healing, or they become afraid of how their mundane needs to change to support their soul. Often guilt is a motivating factor in a client not returning to his/her teacher or practitioner.
On a more practical level, many people are socially or geographically isolated from others who share their spiritual path. They don’t have people near them to connect with, or they’re afraid to out themselves as a follower of a divergent belief system, or as someone uses alternative healing methods. Likewise, people fear not being able to afford community, whether that’s an inability to pay for followup sessions/classes , give donations toward a drumming circle, or shoulder the responsibility of the interpersonal exchange that community requires.
What is community? What purpose does it serve? How does it influence healing? The teacher or practitioner is part of the community and should be openly appealed to as such. Any spiritual leader who offers classes or sessions in soul healing should be available for what comes after. That said, this single role doesn’t form the whole of a community. It informs the drive to actively participate in one. The group that supports us needs to be people with whom we can speak openly, to whom we can listen steadfastly, and with whom we feel a close sense of belonging.
What is sometimes called the shamanic narrative, or healing story, is the tradition of healing through community. The idea that through sharing our story, we recognize commonalities, inspire, and evoke healing, creates the basis from which others gain the power to identify, share, and heal through their own stories. In this way a single story heals a village.
That’s the spiritual and neurological magick. The grounded function of community stems from something far more basic: the needs to be heard and to listen. Sometimes all we need is a witness. Other times we need input, tools, another modality, accountability, structure, empathy. We don’t find these resources alone. Certainly, we may consult spirit guides and totems, though most people who are experiencing distress at a personal level also have problems making functional use of altered states. If we can’t talk about our experiences, our experiences can’t mature into a workable lifestyle that sustains healing and the completion of the initiation.
Consider what groups you participate in. Do they support your truth? Do they even know your truth? Do you avoid groups? How might community affect your healing? How might sharing your healing story affect someone else?
In the Betwixt series focusing on mundane support for skywalking seekers, we’ve talked about reciprocity with guides, taking the baton from guides, and finding etheric support in the life force around us. What about that of our immediate formed community, as in the people around us? How do they fit into our spiritual, if not animistic, Dream Team? How do we decide who should be on our Team?
Most new to the path of actively connecting with aliveliness rely heavily on spiritual benefactors, as in guides, spirit allies, engaging totems in trance or alone in Nature. However profoundly those relationships impact our lives, we can’t substitute them for human connection.
Of course, we can, but should we? Is it healthy to? Is it complete? I’m open to arguments that we aren’t all wired for the same kind of interpersonal connection. To clarify, I’m not talking about introversion versus extroversion. Rather, my emphasis is on deep, honest assessment about where humans fit into our animistic path. I meet so many animists who are deeply connected to, tend, and are tended by Nature, but care fuck-all about humanity. They want to save dolphins, though aren’t motivated to meet their neighbors. Such a visceral disjunct in one area affects how we relate to every species.
I freely admit, in the past I’ve dissed Camp Humanity, and since have realized what a self-defeatist victim stance such is. An assault on all is an assault on me. As a result, I was faced with the limitations of my personal power from not being better connected to humanity, and the truth that my skills in deepening any relationship rely entirely on my intentional engagement in every relationship–animal, plant, element, human, discarnate… Of course, as we must become intimately aware of where we stand with humanity, we need to be vividly clear on what people we appeal to for help, and frankly, those whom we do not.
How do we connect with people as spiritual allies? When in distress or need, most of us look to our partners or other loved ones for total support, only to wonder why the relationship implodes. First, one person can’t hold everything, especially if it’s expression around a deeply personal or traumatic event. Even if it’s just sharing of an experience outside that person’s belief system or experience, such a departure can create dissonance in the relationship. Second, just because our loved ones adore us and want to be supportive doesn’t mean they’re equipped to provide the depth of witnessing or assistance that we need, that which an objective, trained professional can provide.
And what if we don’t find that trained professional? Many on the animistic path are dubious of working with caregivers in traditional modalities. We fear judgement, we fear change as much as anyone, and we often don’t know who or what to look for, particularly in times of distress. Along with those is inability to find the best-suited modality to meet our needs. Some of us of are land-locked, socially isolated, and limited in available resources. Further, sometimes it isn’t personal help that we need, but education, information. Sometimes we just need to connect with someone who knows what we do not.
The people on your Team don’t have to be professionals. They can be listeners. Sometimes all we need is someone to witness our vision, our experience, our plans. We don’t necessarily need feedback, reframing, or a nod, just a caring person. I’ve witnessed many seekers abandon a budding path because they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their experiences. They didn’t have a human community with whom they could share, seek guidance, find encouragement, sit in the woods, or overcome challenges. For such people, that lack of support eventually generates more stress in their lives than the experience that drove them out of the frame to begin with.
Like it or not, most of us need people as part of our spiritual path. We need the intimacy of sharing and creating space, exchanging experiences. Even the animal instincts to smell, feel, and hear the presence of others alters how we tread our soul travels. We also can’t ignore each other as facets of our own healing, as mirrors and/or projections. We can’t ignore where we as individuals become a collective.
Explore what interpersonal connectivity you need. What skills and personalities do you need in the people around you? What ones can you do without? It’s just as important to be clear in what you don’t need, not because you’re afraid to reach out or try something new, but because your truth says to move on, because mindlessly filling with relationships you don’t need distracts you from connecting with those you do.
To get a feel for who should be on your Dream Team, look at the people in your life. Do they fill you? Do they drain you? What does each individual bring, that none other offers? How do you bless them? How do you affirm them? How do you let go of relationships you don’t need? Where do you excel in human interconnection? In what areas could you use some work?
In examining the people in your life, look at modalities of healing and learning. Challenge yourself to consider your concept of healing and healer, of learning and teaching. What modalities do you implement regularly? Do they fill your needs? What modalities do you avoid? What ones would you like to try? How do you best learn? What approaches do not serve you?
Consider the following roles in examining human relationships and your spiritual path:
These are but a few possibilities. Even if you don’t make humans a core facet of your animistic path, acknowledge that they are in some way significant to it. Challenge yourself. Amongst those fetishes for animals and plants on your altar, insinuate some praise for your people–those you know, those you will never know, those you have let go. Honor the Dream Team, and it will find its way in blessing you.
First off, thank you for the enormous support and comments on the Betwixt series. I’ve gotten so much feedback, praise, and insights, and I’m grateful for your thoughts.
In this series, we’ve talked about how vital it is to incorporate the ecstatic experience into the everyday, if both are to evolve. We’ve covered how the relationship with Spirit Guides must serve as inspiration for self-initiated exploration and healing. Allowing our own insight to guide us was a powerful topic, as were learning to call on the unnameable ally, and how western folks can better approach working with ancestors. In this instance, I’d like to explore how we connect with All Things through the body.
There is an assumption that when we discuss anything spiritual, we’re automatically referring to something beyond the body layer. One of the greatest omissions of New Age “wisdom” has been that of the body. We’ve heralded amazing techniques that teach us to be more mindful and guide us down our spiritual paths,but the body as innately spiritual has been overlooked.We tend to separate approaches to wellbeing into Mind-Body-Soul, as if they are actually separate. We take care of the body (?), we feed it, we give it exercise, though we don’t generally hold the perspective that the body is spiritual. We consider it the vessel of what is spiritual. The thing that New Age dogma hasn’t thoroughly addressed is that the body is the constant through which we experience everything. Without its health, its neurotransmitters, its processing ability, what we intuit has no meaning, certainly no application. It’s more than the temple.
Most of our mindfulness and ecstatic exercises to bolster the mind and soul lead us out of the body. And frankly, many masters of such techniques teach them as such, as if observing life beyond the body fixes everything. It most definitely can expand our understanding of a great many things, though unless we can ground that information back into the vessel housing us, unless we can interpret that ecstatic trip in a way that better grounds our physical reality, trance isn’t worth much.
The reality is, the body is Nature. It’s wild, and it’s already connected to All Things, that is every living thing in Nature and beyond. Cosmology isn’t out there. It’s in our cells, and always has been. We don’t have to journey out to get that. In fact, only ever journeying out is missing a vital component permanently residing within: the body doesn’t have a relationship to the soul. The body is the soul. The ability of our body to know this isn’t broken. It didn’t fall, it didn’t disconnect. It’s always been there. All we have to do is remember that fact. We have to learn to witness through it, and develop our unique system of understanding what its information is telling us.
My clients and students often joke about needing an owner’s manual for being human, for getting through the human experience. In reality, that’s what the body is. It’s the perfect system of feedback for our choices, discerning our truth, our health. How, then do we allow the body to become the divining rod? How do we become the fully sentient, between-worlds being we were meant to be? Most of us don’t recognize when we’re fully, deeply in our body. We don’t know how to get there. We want to know our life purpose, the best use of our innate skills, and to help all of cosmology better itself, yet we don’t know how to seat into our own bodies to tend ourselves.
Sometimes changing only a very small part of our ecstatic process produces dramatically altering results. Learning to go more deeply into the body’s wisdom doesn’t have to be any more detailed than that. For instance, take a skill already known, such as shapeshifting, something we all learn fairly early in shamanic education, a skill we generally use to connect with some ally outside ourselves, and apply it to the body. We shapeshift into animals trees, rocks, elements, plants… Shapeshift into ourselves!
Maybe each time we shapeshift into ourselves, the same sense of self comes. Perhaps a new one does. It doesn’t matter, because we are infinite. The more we come into our body’s experience of soul, the more we live no division, the more we learn the body as ancestor to everywhere we’ve been, and everywhere we’re going.
The introductory segué into the Betwixt series has focused on lesser realized spiritual allies that assist us along our path. In this post, my focus is on the ancestors, and how in the western world working with them is a bit different than that of indigenous cultures.
A topic that comes up often in regard to spiritual counsel is the ancestors–those of our family line who have lived fully, persevered through the experience of the form, then moved on to anchor the wisdom of that formed experience into guidance for their earthly successors. However when we in the west talk about working with ancestors, generally a great deal of healing must come first.
In shamanistic cultures, emphasis on dying well goes into how one lives, which is to say, people who live with an eye toward the unseen, die without as much (or any?) baggage. They tend not to take the unresolved affairs of life into their deathwalk. Of course this is a very simplified view and by no means categorical. Regardless of culture, people engaging a foot in both worlds tend not to sit on trauma. Their soul retrievals are done immediately after wounding; thus, they don’t carry etheric scars into the afterlife. As a result, healing doesn’t have to be done after death, to ensure them as ancestral allies.
Western culture doesn’t generally embrace living with an eye toward preparing the consciousness for death. We are more likely to experience soul loss that sustains over a long period of time, and isn’t resolved prior to death. When we die carrying those traumas, that life force has to go somewhere. Where it goes is to the living. Our wounds in death are carried on, in the formed experience of our successors.
As our culture doesn’t readily teach skills to release the drama of our own lives, it scarcely embraces the concept of amassed trauma passed to us from our ancestors, let alone how to heal it. Because of this, in order to work with our ancestors as allies, we first have to ensure their wellbeing. We must heal the troubled legacy they have left at our feet.
For some that can be easily done. For others, it may be more involved, and require help of someone who sees the dynamic more objectively. You don’t have to be a shaman to do this work. You don’t have to want to develop intuitive abilities. This kind of release work can be done purely to release any dynamics held onto by your ancestors–physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual–so that you, in turn are free of these dynamics, as well.
However best suits your spiritual practice:
When we give attention to releasing the suffering of those who came before us, we clear the space more appropriately to address our own. Healing them doesn’t mean that we are suddenly free of affliction. It means that what afflictions we are faced with are ours, and not the result of thousands of years of amassed trauma. From helping our ancestors shift from suffering into release, we gain allies in the work our own lives require. We become ready to realize that relationship and embrace the insight of our lineage.
Know that in taking responsibility for the healing of your own ancestral line, you bring healing to us all.