The shamanic path is an ancient way of exploring the landscape of consciousness from the soul level. Shamans walk between the worlds of normal reality to altered states where they communicate with the spiritual plane to bring back messages of healing. Routinely, the shaman faces extreme human suffering from the unthinkable acts their patients experience through trauma, grief and loss, and emotional upheaval. Their challenge as community doctors is to transform a patient's pain, from sorrow, emotional crisis, or crippling sickness back to health through balancing spiritual life and the psyche.
Shamans use many traditional forms of healing from their tribe (or society) like art, dance, inspiration from nature, and traditional medicines. With these methods and their own gifts, they bear the heavy burden of a patients suffering, bringing back spirit medicine that works as a salve to the soul to treat the physical, emotional, and mental illness. Ultimately, shamans gain understanding about health and wellness and living life without fear through their own experience with debilitating sickness. Often times, they are erroneously labeled by foreigners outside their culture as mentally ill or psychotic due to their extremes of religious ecstasy or other forms of ‘anomalous’ experiences considered well outside the range human experience.
It’s called the ‘shamanic death’ because the initiation path is particularly fear invoking. The initiatory rite of the shaman is well documented throughout history. Within their own culture and often at young age shamans are identified by a set of unusual circumstances. Usually mysterious physical symptoms, vivid lucid dream states, and an ability to communicate with nature on a much deeper level, they are ‘called’ to serve a deeper purpose in their community. This calling from the other side is the archetypal symbol of the shamanic path and what Carl Jung labeled, The Wounded Healer. Shamans must face a terrifying journey managing their emotions, learning different forms of consciousness, and coping with the disabling of their physical body. This intentional crisis is a psychic wounding manifested by a strange sickness found to be untreatable by modern doctors. The shaman’s plight then, is to experience the wide-ranging forms of consciousness and emotional lability that goes along with it, even terror, to transform their sickness from within, through contact with their own soul life. Due to the extreme nature of the death process, which is disturbing psychologically and physically painful, often times they are left ostracized outside of society while they learn to face the inexplicable loss of their identity. Shamans must see and experience their own ‘physical’ death and shedding of their ego identity to understand the inner-truth of the soul’s existence. Courage becomes second nature and an ally as they trek through unfamiliar spiritual terrain that haunts and terrifies. Courage is a necessity because there is no other way around their path, the must go through it. According to tradition, if a shaman refuses the call, there is an overt warning that their daily life or mundane existence will become even worse if they don’t answer. This misery experienced in the ‘real world’ forces them to accept their purpose. Many shamans resisted the call and suffered for it. Once healed, or transformed, they re-enter society and have a greater understanding of their purpose and see through nature and the spiritual realms their unique gift and how they must live a life of service. Because it is a shamans destiny to shamanize, if they are not practicing their form of healing, their own energy becomes stagnate, and their sickness exacerbates. They must become experts at handling matters of the soul for the health of not only their own life, the community as well.
The shaman’s wounding varies greatly because of individual differences and community social norms that influence the behaviors and perceptions of the group at large. Typically, there is a period of intense isolation where the shaman endures physical pain, weakness, and suffering. Along with the physical symptoms they will come into contact with a spiritual world, which will completely transform their personality and alters their identity. Some examples are intense life-like dreams (sometimes called a vision quest), meeting spiritual entities, or communication directly with nature. These experiences help to assist and educate the shaman into their new reality, which is to walk between the worlds of life and death. They learn of the ability to use the natural forces all around them, which they can tap into, at will. Shaman’s have self-reported seeing their body torn apart limb by limb, drowned, and even carried off by animals and devoured. During this death process they feel a heavy surrender, a deep acceptance of a true indestructible identity underneath the physical existence they didn’t know before, called the inner spirit, which lends confidence and a new understanding of life and death. Next, their body reforms with a gift bestowed upon them. Once they re-enter society they give the gift back through their life, courage, and compassionate understanding of the origins of sickness. They share the priceless process of surrender in all their pursuits including, how to bring health and balance back to daily life. A tipping point all shamans must reach through their unique wounding is fearlessness. Having courage in the face of the depths of despair in the human psyche, they must build unfettered courage to face what comes across their path along the way.
Greater Empathy for Self and Others
One of the great gifts the shaman experiences through their wounding is the capacity to heal through fearlessness.
As they experience their own death, they have greater understanding of their purpose with the realization there is no death on the physical plane. Because they can travel between the worlds, this ability affords greater confidence to approach life without fear. They have an understanding of the invisible wounding, that the spirit or soul self is indestructible, and see it as a form of pure energy, with distinct consciousness.
Because fearlessness is the cornerstone to their daily practice, it leads to living life with empathy and a unique understanding of pain and intra-psychic conflict resulting in instability. A shaman’s life is marred by human pain, which is beautiful and tragic. It is said of the wounded healer and also of the shaman, “just because you can heal, doesn’t mean you don’t hurt.” This poetic license is the root of their compassion.
It is the compassion for oneself and the wounding we experience through physical reality, which leaves us open to exploring life with a fierce willingness to let go, and face challenges as they come. Shamans understand the physical pain experience intimately, so they have greater compassion and empathic awareness which is needed to put their patients at ease with confidence.
In addition, their unconventional methods and awareness allows them to experience life with detachment, because they know all experience in life is transitional.
Shaman’s teach spiritual wisdom and this essential philosophy: Learning respect for the human condition means having compassion for self, the unique and individual process of wellness, and value for all life and living life on life’s terms.
How to Overcome Fear from Shamanic Awareness
1. Become a hollow bone
Shaman’s must make contact with their soul life regularly in order to keep vital spiritual life energy alive and moving through their physical embodiment. Like a bone in the forest floor that has been stripped of all decay, spirit can move through easily and quickly, through their own consciousness to allow healing. Shaman’s understand that all matter has consciousness and they interact with these different forms of consciousness constantly. This knowledge helps them act as a conduit for others, as they have learned, to strip away ego, doubt, and worldy concerns. The ancient shamans use techniques like the ‘hollow bone’ for soul contact. Soul contact can be art work, meditation, dancing, singing, or making time for being in nature. Start with a few simple steps: ground yourself daily, start a practice for clearing the mind of negativity, and breath more spirit into the physical body. Different forms: tai chi, qi gong, yoga, meditation, dancing like eurythmy, still point breathing, holographic breath work, energetic horse work (see Tao of Equus)
2. Letting Go and Understanding, There is no Death
In every shaman’s journey, they must confront their own death head on. Whether that is dismemberment, mental illness, or ego-identity crisis they understand the process of death, letting go, and surrender. Through this transformative death process they have a unique understanding that there is no death or dying because they surrender to something bigger, their own soul, and guides to help them heal. Understanding that life continues, through this physical crisis and wounding helps the shaman rely on their soul in a much more direct and powerful way in daily life. Once healed they continue to experience life, albeit on the soul level, more fearlessly. Fearless action comes in the valuable art of knowing that death is a construct only in the mind. Once learned, life becomes a joyful experience rather than a painful process.