To Mentor and be a worthy instructor

30 12 2010

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.

Shamanism and Menopause

30 12 2010

In the ancient temples such as Delphi, the priestess and oracles were middle-aged women because of the recognition of the spiritual power which is released after menopause. It isn’t a coincidence that so many spiritual seekers are postmenopausal women. In general the statistic is 70/30 female to male ratio in workshops I have attended. There are probably many reasons for this. There is often an unfortunate imbalance of power in workshops – both from this female to male imbalance and also from the inability of individuals in the group to control and balance their individual power.  In an effort to be effective, participants often use their own power rather than connecting directly to the source. This is neither successful nor appropriate.

Being in the Flow-The Mind/Body Relationship

30 12 2010

When you consistently practice shamanism, you begin to recognize that events seem to happen easily with little thought or effort on your part. You need a job or a place to live and it appears. Conversely, when you are not in the flow, your best efforts are thwarted. You feel like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. You can be working very hard to complete a project and despite your heroic efforts, you can’t think or work yourself out of the situation. This is another important principle of shamanism – when you can’t think or work yourself out of a situation, become an observer and step back away from the situation.  Give up the allusion that you have control.

In traditional shamanic societies the shaman lived closer to nature and is more physically active. Many shamanic traditions utilize “the gait of power” or “passes” or some other physical activities to manipulate and focus power. That is, they use their bodies in a way that helps them align with the flow of energy which is not best helped by thought.

The recognition of charkas and meridians, and the release of emotional responses during massage are examples of the interconnection between the physical body and the other levels of energy such as the emotions, mental and spiritual bodies.

Second charka – it would take a long blog to address charka energy but this is an important topic and one that requires a different approach in modern society than in traditional shamanic cultures because of the increasingly sedentary nature of our lives.

Shaktipat, the possibility of instantly communicating enlightenment from a guru to his student or the possibility of instantaneous healing is always possible. However, the opportunity is greatly increased by preparing the body to receive greater energy flow. Therefore the physical fitness and free flow of chi are highly desirable.


A Serious Discussion about Ayahuasca

16 12 2010

If you are looking for a little light reading, this isn’t it. It starts of easy enough but gets tougher.

It is such a pleasure to be in Santa Cruz. This is a place where everyone seems to be searching for greater understanding and a better quality of life in one way or another. Some are seeking it through time spent in nature. Others sample the infinite smorgasbord of spiritual practices available here.  Still others work hard at living healthy lifestyles by eating nourishing food and building strong relationships with family, friends, and animal companions. Actually, many people here are pursuing most of these goals simultaneously. It probably isn’t surprising then, that recently a number of people have asked me about the use of peyote, ayahuasca and other mind altering plant medicines. Other people are reporting their experiences to me. Many people are interested in these powerful teachers.

To put it in perspective, these hallucinogenic plants are only a few of the many helpful medicines derived from nature. There is a rush among pharmaceutical companies to discover more plant medicines and duplicate them chemically for profit.

The primary difficulty I see, aside from the fact that their use is often illegal, is that people are trying them without proper preparation and guidance. Their use is a sacrament and deserves preparation and respect.  Comparing our lifestyle with that of the Shipibo people demonstrates my point.

The Shipibo People

The Shipibo are a group of about 35,000 people in northeastern Peru along the Yuki Yaki River, a tributary of the Amazon River. They come from a land near the mountains, somewhat higher and dryer than the Amazon. They have lived in this area for 6000 years and are not nomadic.  They are a combination of two peoples, the Kanebo and the Shapibo. The Kanebo were aggressive people knows as headhunters who, fortunately, adapted the peaceful ways of the Shipibo.

The Shipibo have a very different concept of life than we do. Their language is all present time which makes it hard to organize tours or commerce. There is no concept of doing things for the future.

The Shipibo believe they were formed from the patterns on the back of the anaconda which is the pattern they associate with protection. This pattern is said to include movement and balance which can also be experienced as music. The Shipibo believe healing comes from using our reptilian brain, which is one of the oldest parts of the human brain.

The Shipibo are known as the singing people. Their “Icaros” are songs infused with prayer. These songs are usually not written nor are they fixed. They never sing a song the same way twice. This concept seems strange to them.

The Shipibo avoid conflict. For example, when they cut down a tree they first consult with the spirit of that tree for permission. When they harvest a crop, they offer thanks. When they walk on land, they ask the land’s permission. Like many societies that live off the land, they live in close harmony with all of nature.

As part of their plant culture they use ayahuasca to have visions. They look for visions relating to fishing, marriage, childbirth, illness, community issues, etc. During these visions they memorie the patterns of the plant visions they see. The patterns of the plant songs are woven into fabric which can be looked at for a guide in how to sing that particular song. These fabrics are also used in healing. The patterned fabric is placed on the body to work against imbalances in the body. There are basic easy patterns everyone knows and more complex ones that only the elders remember. Unfortunately this information is being lost as the younger generation move away from this way of life.

The Shipibo do healing work with the plant patterns.  They move their hands along the patterns and see the tangles as explaining the problem. They can sing a thread out and unwind the tangle. They commonly sing several songs for several weeks as they work through an issue.

The patterns of the plants can also be accessed by putting the plant juice into water. It is then consumed as the patient sings the song of that plant medicine. There are plants and patterns for each organ, such as the circulatory system and muscles. The song can be put into veins, bones, kidneys, eyes. Old trauma patterns, emotional shock patterns and patterns associated with the spirit of heart and mind can be seen. They don’t analyze or compartmentalize the cause of illness or trauma as we do.

Shipibo healers who have visited the United States expressed horror at seeing so many unreleased shock patterns and traumas. They expected that because of adequate food, housing, doctors, and other the availability of other necessities we would be balanced.

According to the Shipibo, when you sing you open your body, emotion, and spirit. It is a way to start to share with people without being overwhelmed

They often eat special plant diets while avoiding some activities. Specific dietary restrictions are prescribed according to their needs, songs, illnesses, etc.  They ingest specific plants to have the spirit of that plant help them. It is a way to have that plant’s special ability velcroed to them. Then sing their intention into plant, bless with tobacco, while also following a regime such as taking plant baths while carrying the intention that the plant spirit enters through their skin. They emerge with the songs of those plants, with familiar spirits, or the spirits associated with power places. They may visit a power place, ask permission, connect with the guardians of the place and make an exchange – leave something and absorb power.

Shipibo fabric represents Amazon River. They sing songs of fabric telling of love and joy. They sing the song while they make the fabric. Later they sing its patterns to activate the fabric which may be worn or hung on a wall.

Their choice of which plant to work with is not random. The healer will start by observing a person’s energy and may feel the person’s pulse. Healing may include extraction or massage. The healer sometimes uses their own breath to send energy to cause something negative to move out of a person.


The use of plant medicine, including ayahuasca, is only one part of complex healing processes among people like the Shipibo. Alone it is less effective than when it is part of a complete regime. It has merit. Anyone considering its use should also consider other choices, such as slowing down, dialoguing with nature, and especially seeking out help in releasing old trauma patterns. Trauma patterns, such as an emotional shock pattern from past fright can interfere with a person’s present harmonic pattern. Dangers such as may  come from someone or something interfering with a person should also be released. For instance, a person can be negatively affected by angry relatives.

Final Words

The beauty of blogging is that I get to say how I see things. We Americans are, dear friends, addicted to quick results. I call it short-attention-span theatre. The use of plant medicine is, like the use of many other healing modalities, best used as part of a total program of work allowing time for the work to integrate. This work requires commitment and dedication and time.  Workshops, gurus, and books have much to teach us. However, we need more time spend on fewer lessons, rather than more lessons. If you often experience deep healing but your life does not change, slow down. You have everything you need.  Do the things that help you find it inside yourself.