There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophecies. The men of old in their simplicity, unlike young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from an oak or a rock, it was enough.
– Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus
I’ve been contemplating writing about what it looks like inside me when I’m in the Shaman mode and what can happen.
I feel a bit nervous about describing my inner journeys as a shaman because what happens inside is my particular and peculiar way of internal experiencing, and not a description of “How this works.”
That said, a description of shamanism I like is, “practices that involves a practitioner journeying to non-ordinary realities in altered states of consciousness in order to perceive, interact with, and channel transcendental energies into this world.”
In terms of “non-ordinary” realities, I would include the psyche, the language of dreams, imagery and sensations, as well as enhanced states of somatic and emotional sensing.
And most importantly I would include love.
(For more about the historical and cultural context of shamanism, see my other post, Shamanism-A Very Brief History, coming soon.)
So… “Yo! I’m a shaman and I’m ready to roll!”
Well, more like I’m ready to talk a bit about how I relate to the label of shaman, with all its loosey goosey, romanticized, demonized, culturally appropriated, AND freshly relevant content.
First a little about me. I was born with some traits that, as troublesome as they sometimes were, contributed to the shamanic component of my work, both as a healer and an artist. I never lost the ability of a child to fantasize and imagine. Over the years, I discovered that when in a healing context the images that would appear would more often than not have some direct relationship to what was going on, and in a sense, provide me with a window into the body and mind of the person I’m working with. There’s an old saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That definitely applies to the imagery that can appear in the focused context of healing.
For reasons entirely my own I’ve been doing disciplined meditative and mindfulness practices since a very young age, so I’ve had a lot of experience and practice in traveling the inner worlds. I have a degree of synesthesia, the crossing over of senses. For example, I can see sound, hear visuals, smell feelings, and so on. And as an artist and teacher in the music industry for some fifty-nine years, I’ve had a lifetime of working with the creative process, which in of itself is a shamanic sort of thing; in both the creative and the shamanic process, channels are opened into perceptions normally hidden from view, and there is also a need for a radical level of authenticity.
There’s a lot more involved in the skill of helping people than the shamanic component. But I’m going to focus here on some of the more “shamanic” things that can happen in my work.
Generally, I’ll begin a session with prayer and invocation, and a request that whatever is brought forward be for the highest good of both the soul I’m working with and myself. Then I go into a deliberate state of quiet, of becoming nothing, and I stay within that quiet as long as I need to, with the intention of shifting from, using the language of Chinese medicine, personal chi to universal chi. Or you might describe the process as shifting from the personal, constantly self-referencing ego to a state of awareness that is more spacious, open, and connected to a greater intelligence and a constellation of potential helpers. I’ll even call it spiritual or cosmic with a smile.
When this shift happens, the experience is very tangible. Nothing vague about it whatsoever. Sight, sound, even tactile sensing become richer. There is a sense of being in an immeasurably large, dynamically evolving space. By dynamically evolving I mean what I perceive in this larger space is constantly morphing, sound, sight, and sensation, and I’m aware of a multitude of doorways into different views, worlds as it were. My job at these points is just to observe and witness. Not yet to act.
Now that I’ve got a solid presence in this state of altered awareness, I can get to work. I can get to know this person before me.
Usually this is a process of meaningful, connected dialogue with the one I’m working with. Deep listening and education when useful. “Hey this is what trauma looks like and here are some ways to work with that.” Because I am listening, sensing and appreciating that person, the tuned in senses, the imagery, start to take form towards information and energy relevant to them.
I’ve learned that often the more informative, useful and relevant imagery can be “ugly” and/or illogical–at least on a surface level–and how important it is to not dismiss or correct the imagery, or the thoughts that arise. More often than not, these are doorways to a moment of healing.
When the hold of the personal self–the ego–is relaxed, what also gets released are the limitations and restrictions the ego needs to perceive as reality. Without the ego laying down the law, there are less conditions restricting what can be perceived within these larger fields of awareness.
Here are two instances to illustrate this process.
I worked with a wonderful young man, I’ll call him Bill, who had suffered a broken neck from falling off a ladder during his work as a construction carpenter. The area we were mostly focused on was life change. Towards the end of one session, Bill said he had a lot of tingling in the right side of his face and neck and asked me, “Can you do your shaman thing.?”
After I did the set up in myself, shifting from personal chi to universal chi, what felt right was to place my fingers very gently on three areas of Bill’s neck and shoulder. As I maintained the connection to Bill through the field of Universal chi, deliberately stepping beyond what I might know or not know and allowing myself to respond from that larger, non-ordinary reality, there was a wavelike motion of energy I could sense between Bill’s body and my hands. There was also an instinct to go as gently and slowly as possible. I could tell that it was more important to soften and draw energy out from the afflicted area than to add energy. After about 15 minutes of this process, I felt that was enough and transitioned out of the state. Bill told me that the tingling and discomfort were completely gone.
I didn’t know that Bill had an acupuncture session scheduled after me. As it turned out the acupuncturist needled the exact same three points I had worked on, and Bill went into a mild convulsion, frightening to him and the acupuncturist. That made sense. Bill had damaged nerves that could only handle a small amount of energy. My treatment soothed and evened out the energy moving through his damaged nerve paths, but the additional stimulation of the needles moved more chi than the damaged nerves could handle. The therapeutic takeaway from this experience with Bill was that sometimes less is better than more. Shamanic dosage.
I’ll describe another session to illustrate just how unpredictable this shamanic seeing can be, and again the importance of not arbitrarily dismissing what I perceive. My client, we’ll call him Joe here, came to me with a serious condition of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots in his right lower leg. He was working with doctors and also eating Natto, a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soy that acts as a blood thinner and is used to reduce and remove blood clots.
Toward the end of the summer that we worked together, we had a session where he asked me to go into shaman mode to see if I could help with the pain he was feeling in his right lower leg where the blood clots were. In this case what showed up in my interior vision were a multitude of leech shaped forms radiating a lovely blue light. They were popping up in the oddest places, not just where the blood clots were: toes, head, wrists, heart and so on. I’ve learned not to flinch when the weird stuff shows up. All I needed to do was just watch these shapes do their thing in his body – in my head.
After that bit of shamanic witnessing, Joe said about 80% of the pain was gone. He had an ultrasound later that day that showed a considerable decrease of the blood clots in his leg.
I won’t go so far as to say my work dissolved those blood clots. But afterward I realized that in nature leeches exude a powerful blood thinner from their mouths in order to keep the blood liquid and drinkable. Leeches are still used in modern medicine in some situations where there’s a need to topically prevent blood from clotting during a procedure.
Who knows? Maybe angels can show up as leeches.
I can go into all sorts of conjecture about why and how this works, and I don’t even have to use the lens of shaman. That would make a fun night of conversation. But I want to keep this blog short and sweet. So I’ll finish with a lyric from the song, Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. These words touch upon shamanic perception.
“Ripple in still waters,
When there is no pebble tossed
Or wind to blow”
– The Grateful Dead