Sunday, May 12, 2013
For Enquiring Minds, a Shamanic C.V.
How I did I become a shaman? Someone asked me to tell the story. Indeed if I'm going to offer this course on the weekend of July 20-21, I should present my credentials. It's only fair.
The problem is, to tell the story of how I became a shaman would mean telling the story of my life. It would take a long while and be tedious to read. It could be equally tedious to write it all down, come to think of it. Good lord.
Even the short version is likely to go on and on. I'll post several pics here, to break the tedium.
I have always been a shaman, just like you, just like everyone. By that I mean everyone feels energy, senses the subtle flows of time/space. I'm certain you've had the experience of walking into a room full of people - a meeting, a party, a funeral or whatever - and sensing something immediately. Sometimes you walk into a room and are drawn into a happy feeling. That can even happen at a funeral by the way. Sometimes you walk into a room and immediately sense some sort of imbalance. There are those who call these imbalances "negativity." The point is, you can feel it. Everyone can; it is part of our birthright, as human as a prefrontal cortex and opposable thumbs. I could give a hundred examples, but I've probably made my point.
Some have more of a knack for this kind of sensing, in the same way that some are better suited to playing clarinet or fixing appliances. Some of us work well with wood, others are great gardeners or cooks, others are artists of the mind, thinkers and scholars. Shamans feel everything. It's a blessing and a curse.
The way shamans have become shamans, throughout history, in all the stories I've read, is by way of a call. The calling involves a trauma of some kind - a grave injury, insanity or terrible illness. From the north pole to the south pole, in every culture I've studied (not nearly all of them, should say) the story is the same. A shaman is an odd child, usually an orphan, or treated horribly by the family, or just weird. There is injury, illness and/or insanity after which the shaman becomes acquainted with spirit and animal guides and hooks up with a teacher or two. And the rest is history, as they say. Some shamans study intensively with a human teacher or teachers. Others work directly with spirit guides. Every one of us needs training.
I love the Haida myth about the beginnings of shamanism. They say that after they created humans, the gods realized the people were too stupid to understand the language of the world. Grandfather Eagle volunteered to teach us. He was the first shaman.
Though I have always been a shaman or at least a mystic, I wasn't called to the path until I was almost killed during a collision involving a Southern Pacific freight train and the mustard yellow Datsun B210 I was driving that day. While I was unconscious (for a few days), I have no doubt that, between the worlds, as we say, some serious negotiations were taking place.
After I woke up (startling the nurses who believed I was in a long-term coma) I began studying herbal medicine. I radically changed my diet, began taking long walks and also started seeing an osteopath. I went to Europe, expanded my world view. I was on my way.
In order to recognize my calling, I was hit by a freight train. Rather amusing to think about.
Nevertheless, that event was an awakening. This was when my formal study of shamanism began. Though I didn't know it consciously, I had become a healer in the rough. I was 26 years old.
The first part of my study in healing involved self examination. I spent ten years on the psychotherapeutic couch when I lived in San Francisco and had great health insurance. Know thyself is the first rule of shamanism. If you don't, things will go very wrong.
I took the de rigueur pilgrimage to India where I witnessed first hand the way spirituality can be a normal part of the daily routine. On the way to work, people leave offerings at Shiva shrines that are everywhere in the city of Varanasi. When they bathe in the Ganges, they are literally immersing themselves in a goddess. The life of the spirit is ongoing in India. Seeing that firsthand was a revelation. I wasn't the first, nor will I be the last, to receive a spiritual jolt in India.
After that, in San Francisco, I studied and taught Reclaiming tradition witchcraft for many years. I was initiated twice and facilitated dozens of shamanic death/rebirth initiations for others over a fifteen year period. During the 1980s in San Francisco, the Goddess was alive and magic was afoot, as the bumper stickers said. At the time I got involved with Reclaiming, across a wide swath of spiritual traditions, the feminine divine was being rediscovered. Jews were hosting feminist seders, Christians were immersing themselves in the deep history of Mary Magdelena. Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote Women Who Run With the Wolves, and Marija Gimbutas published books about ancient goddesses and matriarchal societies. (Her theories have since fallen out of favor.)
Reclaiming was an earthy, grassroots, down-home community of ambitious, good-hearted people dedicated to empowering others with the fecund energy of the earth goddess via transformative pagan ritual and practice. We would live in harmony with the seasons and the moon, we would celebrate the beauty of the green earth, we would call down the power of the moon and the divine feminine. In so doing, we would grow stronger, more courageous, we would reclaim our power. I gravitated towards Reclaiming though I could have followed feminist Judaism or Buddhism just as easily. A wave of spiritual feminism was moving through the Bay Area. It was an exciting time.
There was an agenda within Reclaiming, unfortunately, which revolved around the idea that empowering the masses might lead to healing the planet, always a grandiose ambition, no matter who undertakes it, yes? The people who created Reclaiming were hard core lefty activists, seeking a way to super-charge their political activism. When they connected with earth based spirituality, an anarchist, allegedly egalitarian, politically active community was born. This is where I first learned how to sense and shape energy, about ritual and trance journeys and transformational energy work.
Along with my work in Reclaiming, I studied with many of the top dogs of spirituality in the Bay Area. It was a banner time to connect with the shining lights of spiritual learning, especially in SF. I learned to meditate from Jack Kornfield before Spirit Rock, when he taught in a community center in Marin County. I learned storytelling from Angeles Arrien, and took my first workshops in shamanic healing with Vicki Noble.
Believe me when I say I had the best teachers. I really did. I had many teachers, too, which - anthropologically - is rare for shamans. The concentration of super star spiritual teachers in the SF Bay Area happened to coincide with the time I lived there.
I could keep dropping names, but I'm sure you get the point.
I studied not only with the bright lights of spirituality, but with some of the darkest, troubled teachers in the Bay Area. Trolls. As well as the refined, beautiful teachers of spirituality of that time, there were many dark and twisted spiritual guides - of course. I studied with some extremely disturbed "teachers." I don't regret it. From some teachers I learned what to do, from others, what not to do.
I had a well rounded education in the Art, to be sure.
When I moved to Washington, I began working directly with the land and have ever since. I met a woman from the tea growing foothills of the Himalaya who eventually, after several years of work together on Civil War battlefields, inside the U.S. Capitol, and with the Masonic geometry of the city's design, brought me "into the blood" of Mongolian shamanism. It's within that tradition that I'm most comfortable.
What I'll offer in the weekend course is an amalgamation of techniques gathered from all my different strains of training and experience, in shamanism, bodywork, massage and Reiki. I have the credentials, for sure.
Yes I have spirit guides. I have animal guides. I have past lives. But I also have a sense of humor. I recognize that in this culture, at this moment in history, my path is not mainstream - quite an understatement. It's an interesting dynamic to negotiate, believe me.
But in terms of all of human history, what I do is commonplace, venerable. Humans have always practiced shamanism. I maintain it is the oldest profession. And as I say all the time, as a shaman, the world I live in is never boring.
And now I am tired of talking about my journey. I hope I've provided sufficient information. I'm eager to return to writing about the work itself, rather than my history. But I'm open to questions, of course. Those considering taking this course should know who they will study with.