(Also published at my other blog www.shamanicfreestate.blogspot.com) In the early 80s, after university, I decided to live in a Buddhist community. This was a great disappointment to my father, who had assumed I would have a stellar career that he could be proud of. Onone visit back home, he got a bee in his bonnet about what Buddhists ‘do’. I didn’t really have an answer, as it hadn’t occurred to me to think like that. And the more I couldn’t answer him, the more incensed he got, because for him it was a simple matter, with what should be a simple answer. He kept repeating along the lines of well plumbers fix pipes, poets write poetry, what do Buddhists do? I tried saying stuff about meditation and ethics and enlightenment and all that, but it was nothing he could understand in terms of doing. I was, as it happens, working in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, but that, of course, wasn’t a general activity of Buddhists that I could invoke.
Buddhism, like any spiritual path, is essentially an attitude to life, on the basis of which the ‘doing’ happens. For us shamanistas, this attitude is well-expressed by Black Elk:
This is my prayer; hear me! The voice I have sent is weak, yet with earnestness I have sent it. Hear me!”
I haven’t found this attitude so fully expressed anywhere else but in what we in the West have come to term ‘shamanism’. Attitude is the wrong word, because it is not something added on. It is a way of being, a beautiful and loving way to relate to the earth, that is also true and real. It is based on how things are. And in bringing humans ‘down’, as we might see it, to the level of the elements and other forms of life, it elevates us, it shows us how to be noble human beings.
The Wikipedia definition reads: “Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.”
So I think that shamanism is not to do with whether you can do healing work or lead ceremonies. Shamanism is a context, a context of profound gratitude and relatedness to the natural world. These days, the world is something we take from. But the traditional (and more adult) attitude is that it gives to us. That is the basis. And it’s not the natural world in just the modern, material sense: it is that, but more, it gives us the power to live, and it is the spirit world. Spirit and matter are the 2 poles of life, inner and outer, if you like.
So it is this way of being, which is sometimes just an attitude because it’s the best we can do, that matters. That sense of profound connection to the natural world, for me, is occasional, if at all. I enjoy the natural beauty of the beech trees outside my caravan, and I enjoy watching the sheep eat, and sometimes my breath is taken away by the sight of the horses in the field beyond. But when I read other people writing about the importance of feeling our identity with the natural world, I easily feel wrong-footed, like I only have a faint glimpse of it. I also feel wrong-footed when people write (usually in their intros to their healing services) about how they’ve been seers, or something like that, since childhood. I know I certainly wasn’t. (Though I confess I’m slightly suspicious when people do that.) And then of course there are indigenous people, and I’m certainly not the real thing in comparison to them. Maybe I’m just human, and need to forgive myself, and remember that others probably feel, and have always felt, the same way.
|Protestant Work Ethic|
But the main point here is that more than ever, we live in a 'doing' culture, and we easily define shamanism in those terms, and when we do that we have missed the point. The term 'shamanic practitioner' seems to me to carry some of this bias. 'Doing' is easily the enemy of being, as it devalues being, says that if I can’t measure you, then you are nothing. Astrologically, I call it the western negative Saturn (see my astrology blog). It’s deeply rooted in western culture, I don’t think we can help but do it. It’s a dark spirit we carry with us. Being able to take a holiday from it sometimes is itself an achievement.