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.