Monday, December 19, 2011

The Shaman's Paradox and an Excellent Fedora

I would like to think of myself as non-materialistic. It fits with my philosophy and ethics and general worldview, so when I find myself coveting something that is – to my view – outrageously expensive and unnecessary, I have to take a moment to be mindful of what is happening.

Now, I will admit to having a fondness for fedoras and that I try not to leave the house without one. I like a warm head and shaded eyes...and I suppose there's a bit of my sense of identity wrapped up in it as well. My dad wore fedoras, and this is one way for me to express my loyalty to him. However, I generally find my fedoras on Ebay and pay no more than $50 for one, which should last me for many years. So I was surprised to find that, when I came across some truly amazing hats – the kind "they don't make anymore – being produced by a little company in Tennessee, I was so taken with them that I am seriously considering ordering one, even though they start at $800.

At first, I tried to laugh it off and let it go, only to find that the idea of wearing such an excellent hat kept re-emerging. So I took a look at it. What was is engaging about this? What deep hunger is it tapping into? Why can't I just shake it off and be done with it? It took awhile sitting with this quandary before I realized what it was about.

One of the aspects of life as a working shaman is that, on the one hand I need to keep myself very grounded in the everyday world, in order to be able to do my work and relate to my clients. On the other hand, I need to stay in touch with Spirit/Soul, in order to do my work and relate to my client's souls. I spend as much as six hours a day in soul awareness, working with clients, in addition to my own personal practice. So keeping myself grounded in the relative world of the ego is sometimes difficult. (It helps to have a lovely wife and daughter, who keep me engaged with their loving presence.) I call this the Shaman's Paradox – that I need to live and function in two apparently contradictory realities at once. Buddhists – who have an excellent vocabulary for this sort of thing – refer to it the relative and absolute. It's not that it's so difficult, but it does help to have "things" to anchor me into the the relative world. Since my ego is already aware the permanence is an illusion, it really likes to have something that is at least long-lasting. These hats remind me of the fedora I wore in art school – a gift from my friend Troy Gerth. It was a buttery soft, fur felt stetson, probably made sometime in the mid-40's. It disappeared at a senior party in the foundry, right before graduation, and it was a great loss.

When I think of wearing one of these fedoras, I feel myself suspended between the relative and absolute – enjoying the beauty, quality and comfort of the relative world, while appreciating its fleeting nature with equanimity. This brings me to a place of peace about my apparent obsession with ordering a very expensive, custom made fedora, but it doesn't get me any closer to doing so. However, it does keep me very aware of what I yearn for in this relative existence. When I hold such a well-made object, constructed from the best materials, I experience the beauty of it's design, the care with which it has been made, the sensual quality of its material and the sense of all these elements coming together in a meaningful way – assuring me that there is value in this experience of being human and being Here. I realize that I look for these same qualities everywhere in the world – in myself and in friends, in my home and – apparently – in my hats. Not such a bad thing, I think.

Note: I visited with my dear friend and mentor, Eli, yesterday. When I told her about the hats, she said, "You should do like they do in Italy. Put it on your wish list and ask your friends to contribute. Then you could have a present from all of them that you would really love."

I'm considering this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shaping Your Life

I just returned from my morning run and am reflecting on the lessons it offers me about life. At the moment, my body is just beginning to take me seriously again after a month off and then a couple weeks back in training. For the first week or so, it was treating each workout as a one off – not really expecting me to continue. After all, it's not easy getting out of bed at 6:00 to go meditate and it's even more difficult to then put on my running shoes and go out into the cold (below freezing!) dark night and run three miles. So why would someone who enjoys being warm and comfortable and getting a full night's sleep even contemplate such a thing?

Each morning, when I start my run, I have to disengage from my rational mind in order to get out the door. I treat it as a habit - as some odd thing that I do without thinking. This gets me out to the sidewalk and around the corner. Next thing I know I'm pounding along the pavement, shivering slightly and already beginning to drop into stride. After the couple blocks, I look up and see the moon – not quite full anymore but beautiful – and my mood begins to lighten. The first mile drops away and I am warmer and feeling good. I begin to think about how life offers such wonderful opportunities – like running – to shape our lives.

Just as my choice to get up and run or workout most mornings shapes my life now and in the future, so do the other choices we make. The more intention and awareness we bring to this process, the more clearly we can determine the life we are choosing. One of the keys to the process is recognizing and taking advantage of the opportunities we are presented with.

Gratitude is the open doorway to abundance. This adage has fueled a lot of of growth for me. Realizing that by appreciating what I have and feeling grateful for the gifts I am receiving, I open the doorway for that flow to continue. I have since realized that having gratitude to my mother and father, for the gift of life I receive from them, lets my soul know that I am ready to receive these gifts – and all other good things.

Another opportunity to consider is joy. When we experience joy, we affirm whatever we are engaging in, lending its presence strength in the matrix of our life. So, pay attention. The more you feel joy, the more you welcome experiences that bring you joy.

A final experiment for you. Next time you park your car in a metered space, consider leaving all your emotional baggage with the car. As you put your coins into the meter, think of all the burdens that you are going to be leaving with your car, while it is parked. Walk away without them. When you return, be very careful about what you choose to take back. Give it a try. I thought of it on my run this morning and am curious to see how it will work.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Soul Healing

This term – "Soul Healing" – can be read in two ways: Either as the healing of a wounded or damaged soul, or the healing the Soul offers the ego. Shamanic practice makes use of both of these meanings.

First – a brief overview of what we mean by "Soul" and how it is viewed from a shamanic perspective. From the perspective of my teachers, each human being has at least three souls while they are alive in the physical body. One of these souls comes to them at birth from their physical ancestors, and ties them to these ancestors throughout their life and even after death. I call this the "Ancestral Soul." There is also a Soul that has lived other lifetimes before this one, and will probably choose to live other lifetimes in the future. I call this the "Reincarnating Soul" or "Infinite Soul." Finally, many shamans would consider the ego, the part of you that thinks of itself as "me" and which is formed by the interaction between your other souls and your physical body, creating an interface with the world we experience around us.

At the death of the physical body, the first two souls tend to move toward the ancestors, into the Under World, while the ego portion will tend to stay near the body until it gradually dissolves. Once in the Under World, the two remaining souls will rest, coming to resolution about their shared lifetime. When this is reached, the Infinite Soul will rise up through the World Tree to the Upper World, where it will make itself available to a new baby being born into the Middle World. Here it will combine with a different Ancestral Soul and gradually form a new ego.

When it comes to healing, these different Soul provide radically diverse opportunities. The Infinite Soul is the one part of the Self that does not change. Communing with this Soul; moving into the awareness of this Soul and resting there, is a profound healing practice that impacts all the other parts that make up our sense of self, including body, mind and energy. In short, this is done by a regular practice of sitting meditation that focuses on resting in Soul Awareness. The Ancestral Soul, on the other hand, is very likely to be carrying distortions from the traumas and wounds of previous generations of the family. These wounds can be healed to a great extent, if the Soul is willing and open to the process. Finally, the ego – if we are to consider this a soul as well – carries its own share of injuries from this current incarnation, much of which can be addressed by a competent therapist. Still, there are things that can be quite helpful in the healing of the ego, which modern therapists tend to shy away from. One example of this is "soul retrieval" which can be a very effective treatment for ego/soul trauma.

This blog post is only a brief overview. Depending on responses, I may go into more detail on this in later posts.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


When receiving instruction from a spiritual/shamanic teacher, it is important to place one's self in the most effective state of consciousness to receive the depth of the teaching. This is because, unlike subjects which which can be communicated through words, numbers, diagrams and the like, there are many spiritual teachings which can only be passed along through direct transmission.

By direct transmission, I mean that the teacher and the student share a field of charged energy, through which the teacher shares a profound experience or realization with the student. This is not something that can adequately be described, nor can it be communicated through books or film. Though it is possible, if the student is truly ready, for the transmission to arise spontaneously.

Back in the late 70's I had the opportunity to attend a siddha yoga event. I was quite young and very resistant to the idea that there was anyone who knew more than I did about anything of interest to me. However, I had been attending a small local siddha practice group for awhile and had memorized a couple of the chants, so I thought I would give it a try. The first day, I sat with my legs turning to lead and fire, feeling gradually more and more excluded and disconnected from what was going on around me. I was able to get something out of the guru's talks, but I found that my mind insisted on questioning everything he said, and that I would often miss points, because I was busy refuting something in my own head. I finished that day frustrated with myself and with the whole experience. Worst of all, I was stuck there for another day.

I began the second day without any expectation other than boredom and discomfort. Late in the morning, we began one of the chants I had memorized and I was able to keep up for a change. It seemed like we chanted the few simple lines of sanskrit for hours, perhaps days. At some point, I realized that I was smiling and that my body felt warm and expansive, rather than painful and congested. The chant finished and we sat in silence for a long while. Glancing around, I saw that others were also smiling and I found that it felt good to be sharing this with them. Then the guru began to speak. I don't recall anything that he said, but do remember laughing with others at some of his comments. At one point, he paused and and turned toward me, looking into my eyes. My body shuddered involuntarily and he smiled and turned away, continuing his talk.

Nothing else remains in my memory of that day. It is as if a very small and precise nuclear explosion went off inside of me, wiping everything clean. To this day, I cannot put into words what I received in that moment, but it remains within me, and has helped to lead me to other teachings. One thing is clear though, I was extremely fortunate to experience the event is such a way that it peeled away my resistance, doubt and inhibitions, leaving me unknowingly prepared to receive that spark of realization.

Over the many years since that event, I have slowly come to realize just how important preparation and attitude is in the process of receiving spiritual teaching. I now realize that much of the meditation and chanting that so many spiritual practices use, places the student into an extremely receptive and open state, where they are most capable of engaging the energetic field of the teacher and of receiving what passes through that field.

In my own teaching, I try to be transparent about this process of preparation, letting my students know that the most important things that they will receive from the workshop will not come from what I say, but from their experience of being present in the shared, charged space.

There is of course, a place for discernment as well. To accept the instruction of any teacher, myself included, without discernment is potentially dangerous. But the time for judgement is after the teaching is received. Then is the time to try it out. Put it to work in your life and see if it has meaning to you. If it does, then you know that you have received something of value for you. If it does not, then you know that you can move on.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Become a Student of Gratitude

I was thinking about gratitude yesterday – it being Thanksgiving Day and all – and feeling particularly appreciative of all those teachers who I have received from over the past 52 years. My Beloved wife pointed out something to me the other day: That it's not enough to offer gratitude to those teachers who I naturally respect and appreciate. I also need to be grateful to those teachers who I may have had a less than completely positive experience with.

There is a wise old saying that "gratitude is the open door to abundance" and I've found that to be very true. For instance, the more gratitude I have felt toward my ancestors, the more I have been able to receive their blessings and the gifts of this life. The same is true when we look at those teachings that we have received – which could be anything from the multiplication tables to meditation techniques. If we look with gratitude upon those who have passed these teachings on to us, then it makes us more capable of receiving them and putting them to use in our lives.

In my mind, I've been retracing the steps of my life, offering gratitude to all those teachers who have impacted the journey so far. From teachers in grade school and high school to martial arts instructors and the fellow who taught me hypnosis, way back in 1978 – it is quite a list. I imagine I will be filling in the blanks for many years to come, and adding new ones from the present as well. It is a strangely uplifting process, which I would recommend to anyone who desires to be a more effective and grateful student of life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ambiguity of Shamanic Practice

In art, when two shapes are very close together or touching, this creates a visual situation that is often uncomfortable for the viewer. This is even clearer in the classic image that can be seen as either two profiles or as a vase. The mind can look at one or the other, but has difficulty seeing both simultaneously. In a similar way, the shaman is constantly dealing with a much larger paradox: That of the soul and the ego. The awareness of the soul is non-dual and lacking in the sense of self, while the consciousness arising from ego is locked into the dualistic world of time, space, and all the related bits and pieces.

This makes for a situation which most people find distinctly uncomfortable, but which is necessary for the shaman to maintain in order to do the work of healing the soul level wounds. Much of this healing is accomplished by the shaman maintaining an open awareness of soul while holding the client within the field of this awareness. This allows the soul of the client to align with the client's ego in a productive and healing (and Mysterious) way. This is a fascinating subject in its own right, but for the moment, I am focusing only on the ambiguous nature of the practice for the shaman.

Another classic example of the ambiguous nature of shamanism is Journeying. This is usually done by extending the consciousness of the shaman into a different body – one that is capable of moving into and through the three worlds and beyond – while still maintaining some function in the physical body and ordinary consciousness as well. So you are sitting in your physical body and speaking to a client about what you are experiencing simultaneously in your shamanic body. This is rather like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time – only more so.

The root of this ambiguous nature is simply this – and it actually applies to everyone and everything, but shamans tend to be more impacted by it – that the nature of existence is both absolute and relative. This means that the relative world – the one we generally consider "real" – is present on one hand, while on the other, the absolute is also present. To make this a tad clearer, I will offer my personal favorite creation story.

Before the beginning and outside of space, the One rests in its own awareness. This One contains all that is. It is a resonating singularity, unexpressed in any way, until it looks into the void and sees its own reflection. Its response is to jerk away from this reflection, this "other." This response sends the One away from itself. This movement creates the very space through which it moves, and creates time by moving from one moment to the next. This flight from itself continues until the One – now manifesting as two – begins to yearn for the wholeness of itself. Much like a rubber band will resist being drawn out too far, and upon release, will try to return to its original shape, the Two/One begins to move back towards its source. However, having created the relative world of duality, it is now trapped within this creation. As the separated parts of the whole come back together – now manifesting as the primal duality of Matter and Energy – they find instead that they cannot reunite, but can only connect in a more limited fashion. Matter is suffused with energy and becomes animated. Energy is contained by Matter and experiences resistance. This mutual experience is the birth of Consciousness. Consciousness is the reflection of the Awareness of the One, within the world that is created by its dissolution.


Friday, November 11, 2011

revving up the blog & the difference between Shamanism and Therapy

Okay - so. Just has a meeting with some students from the University Marketing Department, who gently reminded me that I need to be updating my blog at least once a opposed to once every six months. In the interest of getting off on a fresh start, I offer the following:

A couple weeks ago, someone questioned the validity of my delineation of shamanism and psychotherapy, and I was not able to give a satisfactory response. Having given the matter some thought, I'm still not sure I can clearly articulate the difference. However, I am becoming much more aware of the quandary.

What I have said is that "the psychotherapist aims to heal the mind, while the shaman aims to heal the soul." While this is true, at least in many cases, it doesn't really address the fact that "soul" and "mind" are only words we use to map the landscape of the human experience. I cannot even say that the tools and intention of shaman and therapist are all that disimilar. The more I work with really excellent therapists, the more I come to see what they are doing as shamanism by another name. At the same time, the way the psychotherapeutic literature describes the process excludes much of that the shaman offers.

As a shaman, I can go to places on the map of human experience that most psychologists or therapists are trained to avoid. I can speak of the spirits of ancestors and of connecting with missing pieces of the soul, or of journeying to the spirit of the land to make peace with the place you live. On the other hand, I do not work in terms of diagnosis and I am constantly holding an intention of integration toward wholeness in my awareness, which guides my words and actions when in session with a client. Perhaps it is this difference of focus and mapping that allows me to differentiate my work from that of the psychotherapist.

I will dwell on this more. Thanks for getting me thinking about this Joshua.

Monday, May 9, 2011

moving on...

Okay. I am going to let go of deer hunt part II, since it's been sticking in my craw for the past few months without any movement. Instead I offer this train of consciousness clearing of my virtual "throat" to kick out the jams and get the juices flowing.

Ahhhhhhhh! So much happening. So many little discussions, distractions and destinations to explore. I am currently engaged in an on-line workshop in Tibetan Meditation. Yes, I know. I was a bit leery at first as well. On-line workshop in meditation? Really? But it does seem to be working and - like anything else - it's really all about what you put into it. I've been getting up at 6:00 AM in order to sit and practice my QiGong before Meghan (my adorable and demanding almost 1 year old daughter) gets up in the morning – otherwise it just doesn't happen.

Patricia, Meghan and I spent a couple of weeks at the end of March over in Ireland, which is a great place to be at just about any time, just outside Kenmare, County Kerry. We walked an average of 1.5 hours a day and actually did very little that we had planned, instead staying close to "home" and making sure that we had Meghan back at the self catering Holiday House for her afternoon nap and bedtime. This did not leave time for my planned hike around the Ring of Kerry, or any of the other mildly ambitious ideas I had for how we would spend our vacation. Mind you, I am NOT complaining. This was possible one of the most enjoyable and relaxing vacations we have had yet - and that's really saying something.

But I really said all that just to set up for something only vaguely related. Our friend Lisa flew over from Germany to stay with us in Ireland for 5 days and we got a few decent chats in. On one of those chats she managed to stir up some shadows I've not had to deal with for awhile. She was pointing out - in my own mind - that I have the capacity to be extremely successful as a shamanic teacher, writer, etc. She believes that I could teach over in Europe and I know that she's right. So I had to ask myself, why am I not pursuing this?

Okay. There are a few layers of answer here. The most immediate reason is that I am very involved in being a new papa, and that is not a process that I want to be any less engaged in than I am...usually and for the most part. Workshops and conferences in other cities already take me out of town approximately every other month. I think that's probably enough for now. That easily brought the consideration to a halt, at least on a superficial level – but I gradually became aware that it was still ticking away at deeper levels. When I hear about a wildly successful teacher who is offering essentially similar or even lesser material than what I do, I sometimes find myself struggling with my decision to put my "work" on a back burner for awhile.

Initially I saw this as my ego feeling jealous that it wasn't getting its just deserts for all the work it was doing. (My ego/I can sometimes get rather full of myself.) So I passed it off with a compassionate smile, assuming that it would dissolve, as such things tend to do. Instead it stuck around. It took me a couple weeks to realize this. It came to me just recently as I was reading about this recently disrobed zen monk/priest and feeling torn between righteous indignation at his sexual misconduct and compassion for the hungers and shadows that have driven him there. It suddenly occurred to me that I am not being entirely aware of my own process here.

I tend to be rather good, or so I allow myself to believe and pride myself in, at paying attention to what my soul, spirit allies, ancestors and teachers want me to be moving towards. This is probably more true than not, but in this case, I realize that I am actually cowering from what I see as "success." While my reasons are perfectly reasonable, they are also allowing me to avoid something I fear: That if I actually become "too" well known or well paid, my shadows will start chewing on me as well. And so maintain a pretty low profile, make sure I don't do anything that would attract "too much" notice, and tell myself that I am showing integrity by being a good husband and father.

It occurs to me now that, while true – this is also a pile of crap. If I was really ready to face my demons, I would easily find ways to move my work of Post-Tribal Shamanism forward while still having quality time with my family.

Not a comfortable place to find myself it. Just goes to show you, as soon as you start resting on your laurels, they will start poking you.