Life Betwixt – Shaman 2.0
Soul Healing? Check. Now What?
You know the phase that comes after realizing you have no glaring soul wound to heal? No? You’re not alone. Loads of other people don’t know it, either. That curious place does exist, though. Chances are you’ve experienced it and weren’t sure what it was. I’ve experienced it, and it’s a topic that comes up in close shamanic circles and sessions with my clients. So why aren’t more people talking about it?
The short answer is because we don’t have elders to lead us beyond that point. But keep reading.
In the New Age, a state of being spiritually healed is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist. For every ailment there’s a spiritual wound; likewise, there’s a spiritual solution. Being without spiritual blemish isn’t part of the new dogma, just as it wasn’t part the old dogma. That humanity carries an innate soul wound is a very old precept, we’ve just wrapped it in shinier insecurity.
I realize that what I’m putting forward flies in the face of most avenues of alternative and holistic healing, though here it is: sometimes there’s not a spiritual connection to ailment, dynamic, dismay. That’s right–I said it. There’s not always a spiritual core of life’s malcontent, and in this post I’m going to explain my logic behind that, my experiences that support it, and how that state can be recognized.
My Initiates and clients probably get sick of me repeating that cosmology is one of the two key ingredients to successful integration of a soul tending life (the other is ritual). Cosmology is how we make sense of the Multiverse. It’s the very personal ladder that allows us access to Other worlds. In base terms, it’s the lore that speaks to our brains and hearts to engage us in All Things, and help us glean meaning from that interaction, which can be applied to everyday life.
In shamanic teaching, we learn a cosmology to assist in journeying, or traveling out of our bodies, into the designated spiritual space to gather healing or insight into some dynamic for self or others. In indigenous cultures, people are born into their cosmology. It provides the structure for everything they do, not just spiritual interactions. It’s social, environmental, psychological. When one among them is selected as shaman, cosmology education is already in place. It isn’t learned alongside the rigors of ecstatic trance, itself, and what’s expected as shaman.
That amalgam of things to learn at once points to a significant difference between traditional and modern shamanism. Not only are many students in the contemporary set running from an ill-fitted cosmology, they usually don’t have a personal one. I tell every Initiate and student not to underestimate the distress that mere finding personal relationship to cosmology can stir, let alone that combined with learning to traverse said cosmology–to say nothing of when a fond cosmology changes. Learning journeying and a cosmology both at once is often as stressful as what brings one to shamanism, to start with.
Given that state of importance, the way we teach cosmology is highly relevant. Most modern shamanists teach it as the upper, middle and lower worlds, which serves several purposes. It gives a relatively familiar ladder to someone who otherwise doesn’t have one, it’s easy to work with, it’s without emotional charge, and it reflects layers of consciousness our brain is already familiar with: unconsciousness-consciousness-transpersonal consciousness.
A problem, though, is this triplicity is put forward as the cosmology of all shamanism. It’s a model of some approaches to shamanism, certainly not all. There are many nuances of other worlds, many cultural representations of other worlds, far beyond mere three. Keeping an open mind to that possibility expands opportunities for awareness, and isn’t awareness the key to healing?
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Up to this point, we’ve touched on what I refer to as mostly external cosmology, in the shamanic sense of traveling out. In/Out. It’s all relative, but let’s work with it, for now, and discuss internal cosmology. You know the one–Body-Mind-Soul? We’ve all had it shoved down our throats in the realm of wellbeing until we could scream. It is a cosmology, though it isn’t presented to us as such. This trio is usually put forward as the model of perfect balance, which should be striven for at all times. Everything we eat, think, and desire is equally measured against each branch of this model, if we’re observing good health and balanced wellbeing. Right? Hmm.
What about the chakra system as internal cosmology, connecting us to the external? What is the likelihood that every chakra will be perfectly in balance at all times? If not, is that spiritual failure?
Energy Work and Shamanism
“Soul healing fixes everything.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that energy work has no place in shamanism, or that real shamans don’t do energy work. Likewise, if you’re doing it correctly, soul healing alleviates the need for medical, psychiatric, or emotional care, thus overrides any need for other healing modalities.
My response to those suppositions is you’re either perfect or seriously tired. Shamanism at its heart engages the work of spirit allies–Nature Spirits, Guides, totems–to assist us in doing our work. They bring specific knowledge to healing, and they help us hold the space to manifest it. The shaman-Guide relationship functions this way so that we don’t deplete ourselves and our own energy as we serve community. In this way, shamanism is functioning as intended.
Yet, in order for shamanism to be intended we must actively participate. We have to show up and will what of ourselves is to participate, to do so, full tilt. This willed active engagement is why we create space (ie, why ritual) for our work, which if you’ve ever done for back-to-back ceremonies, rituals, or client sessions, you know it wipes you out. The best laid mandala or invoked altar space in shamanic work requires you to be fully there, regardless of spiritual aid start to finish.
So then how do you bring shamanic healing to a specific ailment for which no Guide shows up? From which no soul part is missing? For which no intrusions are present? Which reveals no soul trauma? Are you just going to turn yourself inside out and force some spiritual mojo from your own depths? Are you going to tell yourself or a client that the ailment isn’t all that bad, because there’s no soul component? Are you going to think you failed as a shaman, because a problem didn’t display a spiritual source?
That’s where energy work comes in, or can. Wounds can exist in other layers of our being–Mind-Body–and they can wreak havoc that looks a lot like soul weariness. This observation doesn’t mean that they need soul healing. What it means is that other levels of our being are crying out to be addressed, in ways that soul healing can’t accomplish. The beauty of energy work is that it’s passive, by design. You show up for it, set the intention, put in the needles, touch the meridians, hold the hand positions, etc, and stay out of the way for the rest. Yes, training teaches how to accomplish these techniques in specific modalities–which I highly recommend exploring. Maybe there are Guides along for the ride of this work,too, though in my experience, they function far more hands-off than in intended soul healing. The bottom line with energy work is that it’s readily available. Intention on/Intention off. It brings a very different approach to healing than soul healing, and usually leaves less impact on the practitioner, as well. It doesn’t leave you tired, because you aren’t involved in directing what’s happening, as with soul healing.
Just because successful soul healing has been accomplished doesn’t mean that needed life skills have been imparted. It doesn’t in-and-of itself instill the confidence to or knowledge of other resources that allow that healing to give way to new life patterns, thoughts, beliefs, or relationships. It is possible to experience things like chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and fear, and they be connected to no soul wound. We can be at peace in soul, yet life is life. It marks us on all levels, not just the soul. The body is the body, and the mind… yeah. Though these aspects of our internal cosmology overlap in influence, they exist in their own worlds, with their own rules of engagement, their own perspective of the past, and their own projections of the present and future. If we are to be truly functional shamans, we learn the rules and resources for each of those worlds as thoroughly as we can, so that we recognize when we’re out of our depth, when we need to call or defer to other resources, and perhaps when we just need to witness. Remember, the lore of cosmology is the basis of psychology (mind). The nourishment of form (body) determines how well the soul manifests. We need all of our internal cosmology well-functioning to be well people. We must address woulds at the other levels.
Awareness beyond soul isn’t just in regard to working with others. Many come to shamanism as the result of a personal healing need. However, moving from the place of needing healing into the role of shaman, into servitude to community is something else, entirely. In ourselves, as shamans we are responsible for recognizing when we have reached or surpassed the point of “physician heal thyself.” Instead of thinking we’re overlooking a soul source for a distressing present, of feeding insecurity that we’re not doing our job well, realize the focus is not on the constant quest to find soul wounds. Rather, it’s to sustain a healing awareness across all aspects of being. To dredge up spiritual ennui where there is none will eventually create it, which generates a state of the physical or psychological wound not having been tended, on top of soul distress. It yields a dynamic that becomes post-traumatic stress.
When Internal and External Cosmologies Meet
The short answer is some things must just be tended. There is no endpoint or schedule. There’s no clear indication that it’s done on every level, or that we are healed. We are required to cultivate a very different set of skills built around tending that which prolongs and need attention. For this reason, I’ve built my spiritual practice around soul tending, rather than healing.
It’s okay for there to no longer be a focus on personal healing. I know, it’s strange territory, after being told since birth that we bear original wounds. At some point, we have to face our psyches and bodies. To continue stressing the soul above them is escapist and evades a significant portion of our experience as humans. Likewise, at some point we must turn our focus and practice over to work with others in some fashion. We must step into soul tending, fully.
The fact that life can still deal leveling blows doesn’t mean we aren’t also obligated on this path to serve community. The fact that we as shamans deal with mundane pains and rigors doesn’t mean we’re not ready for that transition to leadership. It takes radical honesty and awareness to realize that point for what it is, and not stall our growth as shamans because we need there to be a soul wound to justify our discontent.
Life is a mixture of many aspects of being, all interrelated and load-bearing. Address all aspects at the level they need and deserve. This is Shaman 2.0, for which we have few working templates in the modern context.It’s the one in which life happens, and you walk the walk with the wisdom you’ve mined from all the years of personal soul healing. You readily use the tools you’ve been given and created, to stay true to your path. It’s scary, also clear and liberating.
Again, we have no elders on the subject. We are creating them, now. There’s no teacher for this part, no fall-back. It must be lived.
Thank you for venturing on, despite.
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