“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.

Photo by Kip Soep ~ flickrWhether 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?