In 2007 I visited Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). After a hectic couple of weeks, I ended my trip with a visit to two history museums. The first was large and expressive. The second had been hastily substituted onto the itinerary for the adjacent craft museum which was unexpectedly closed for the day.
This second museum was lackluster compared to the finer one I had seen that morning. I wandered through the exhibits willing myself to be open to learning something from my time there. I began to wonder how long I needed to give to this effort before I could leave. In this bored state my eyes passed over a small cardboard diorama depicting a unique period of civil rest in Burmese history.
Burma is located at the crossroad between China to the North, India to the west and the notoriously violent Khmer empire of Cambodia to the east past Thailand. Not surprisingly the Burmese people have endured many occupations and conflicts over the years.
At one time in their history the Burmese people enjoyed a rare period of peace and prosperity brought about primarily when a wise leader called for scholars from all parts of the Buddhist world to gather in the Burmese capital to compare and standardize scriptures. He realized no one would attach while their leading theologians were in Burma.
I had seen a video and other exhibits about this time period at the morning museum. As I roamed the afternoon museums my eyes wandered over a small colorless cardboard diorama I recognized as depicting this gathering of scholars. It showed perhaps 50 small figures sitting cross-legged on the floor with scrolls open on their laps. Facing this congregation from a slightly raised dais sat a similar figure. As my bored gaze traveled thoughtlessly over this scene, I felt a familiar sensation I have come to associate with the receiving of shamanic knowledge. Apparently the bored state I was experiencing had shut down my conscious mind sufficiently for me to receive a message.
I became the figure on the dais. In an unfathomable way, I was transported through time and space and became him. With the instant awareness typical to such an event I was flooded with emotions. I felt a sense of responsibility, a sense of fatigue and the overwhelming sense of humility his task took. Then, as quickly as it came, my reverie was gone and I was left to relive the feelings and wonder what they had meant.
I was sure they had meaning. I wondered if they suggested I should teach or organize others. How could I be of service to my fellow students, scholars and practitioners?
Recurring Themes of my Study of Shamanism
Since I began to study shamanism more than 20 years ago, several themes had recurred and developed.
1. Early on, I was often the only person in the room who made their living in the business world. Everyone else seemed to be a healing professional of some sort.
2. Probably because of this difference from my fellow students, I often said I studied primarily to understand myself and grow as a human being.
3. As I witnessed healing occur on a regular basis I considered it a side affect rather than a primary reason to practice shamanism.
4. I got to the point where I was learning more from my own practice and healing work than from ordinary reality teachers. I began to feel that there were too many teachers and not enough healers.
5. As I got older my compassion for the suffering of others overtook my commitment to the business world. I began to see my business work as a way to support the healing work. I realized what an honor it was to see and facilite healing. I committed to the healing work.
6. I became a reluctant teacher hoping to let the healing work speak for me.
I write this blog to help others on the shamanic path and as a way of teaching. So, dear friend, this story about the museum in Myanmar is both explanation of one root of my recognition of a call to teach and an explanation of one of the important lessons for a modern shaman. How does one prepare to receive shamanic knowledge in this culture?
How do we receive shamanic messages?
Intuition resides in the deepest, oldest part of our brains. This is the same place where primitive survival impulses such as the “fight or flight response” occur. On your path of shamanism you need to court this instinct in order to receive clear messages. You court it by paying attention. You need to understand that it speaks most often in a small quiet voice. It is very easy to miss. I can these tiny nudges “flirts”. They are most often heard as a tiny voice speaking against the flow of your proposed direction and often occur when the mind is allowed a moments rest. Such moments come at odd times like when you are sitting down on a toilet or hanging your coat up. In shamanic cultures this receiptive state is most often accessed with the use of drumming or other repetitive sound which stills the mind.
In the case I described above it was boredom and fatigue which invited a message into my conscious mind. Pay attention to the flirts which you receive, note them, and they will increase in strength and frequency.
Pau Wangchuk’s passing
Another event triggering this blog was the death of Wangchuk, a Tibetan shaman who lived in a refugee camp near Pokhara in Nepal. Wangchuk was a tiny very elderly man whose face beamed a smile and whose presence lit whatever space he entered. He would often be seen spinning a small prayer wheel constantly as he walked and talked, accompanied by his equally tiny blind wife. Wangchuk was recognized as a living treasure by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and as the reincarnation of a famous healer by the Dalai Lama. I had the good fortune to visit him in his home to learn from him and watch him perform healings.
I recall watching sadly as this frail man undertook healings for the small group of American healers with which I traveled. To my eyes, he glowed with love and light but I felt great concern for his frail body’s stamina to perform healing, even as I was aware of the power and spiritual support he received.
On the day I received the email announcing his passing I began to cry. My sadness and tears continued for several hours. I began to think my tears had more to tell me than just that I was experiencing grief. This tendency to examine my actions for deeper messages is also a characteristic of my shamanic path.
I began to realize my tears where due to my own sense of guilt. I felt incredibly fortunate to have received the gift of traveling to Nepal and learning from Wangchuk. What had I done with what I learned? I saw that it was possible to be a light for others; a commodity is short supply in this troubled world. Yet what had I done with the knowledge he shared? I had told no one. I had horded it for my own education, that’s what I had done.
In the past I had been mocked for my beliefs. That wasn’t too hard to take. I recognized they were unusual. What had been harder to take was the criticism for sharing knowledge too freely.
Yet, I treasured Wangchuk’s example. I found myself inadequately reflected it onto others. Wangchuk’s message is not new. He didn’t talk much. I feel he had the absolute conviction that magic was possible and that it came from love and the realization that we are all one. Separation is an illusion.
I examined why I hadn’t taught more. As I thought back to the 20 plus years of exploration of shamanic knowledge. I felt my teachers were better prepared to teach than I am. I don’t want to dilute, exploit, or plagiarize their lessons. When asked to teach eager young students I generally referred them to my own teachers. I also felt they taught much more ritual and structure than I was interested in. I am primarily interested in experiential learning. I have learned the most from my spiritual teachers. Among other things, I credit my ordinary reality teachers for helping me formulate the best questions to ask of my spiritual teachers.
Anyone can teach
I remember a particular beginning practitioner who was rushing out to teach others after her first class. Oddly, I remember this same student asking me a year earlier why I wanted to help others and truly not understanding my explanation.
I was happy for her desire to help others. I remembered the young mother who has nursed her new born child for one day and who became the very best teacher for me, another new mother, as we shared a hospital room on the first day I was a mother. Sometimes the best teacher is someone who has just learned the lesson and also understands what it feels like to be a beginner. I also believe that we each chose our own best teacher.
About the same time Wangchuk died, I received an invitation from a prestigious shamanic teaching organization to attend a class. The class was being taught by an individual whom I had taught informally a few years ago. I took this as an affirmation that I did have something to offer. This is another awareness to cultivate – the awareness of synchronicities and affirmations.
I hope, dear friends, that you find this information helpful. I will continue to write, and teach when asked. But mostly, I will continue to do the work.