Dancing in the shadow

The self of my dreams came the day I found out that there was gold hidden in my darkness, that there was light shining in my bad behaviour, and that there was power hidden in the traumas of my past. Debbie Ford

One of the less obvious influences on Chakradance, often overshadowed by the more apparent influences of the Hindu-Tantric chakra system and shamanic trance-dances practices, is Jungian psychology.

While the Chakradance facilitator is all too aware that his or her role is to ‘hold space’ for the experiences of the dancers, a very Jungian concept, as is the use of mandala art to ‘contain’ the numinous experiences and energy of the dance. These Jungian aspects are often not obvious to the dancer.

I often refer to Jungian archteypes that people may encounter in their dance journeys, these will often manifest as visions of scenes that play out as interactions between archetypes like mother and victim, warrior and servant.

I have written about archetypes in these other posts. 

The experience of Chakradance is described like a ‘waking dream’ where the dancer lets go of their conscious, thinking mind and allows the unconscious mind to communicate through images, feelings, colours and insights.

This week another Chakradance facilitator posted about Chakradance as a way to interact with our shadow, a Jungian concept for the aspects of self that we are either unaware of or actively suppress because we are ashamed of that aspect of ourselves.

At a time when my shadow, in the words of Led Zeppelin, looms taller than my soul, and having just read a truly awe-inspiring post by a Jungian writer – see here – I felt one of those lightning bolt moments.  (Like a lightbulb moment but way more dramatic.)

Something’s coming up. Let’s see if it can articulate itself here…

Chakradance is a journey within. Using the chakra system as a map to consciousness, we dance beyond the everyday, five sensory awareness into a deeper experience of ourselves. With our eyes closed and our imagination as a guide, during Chakradance we experience our inner world as a waking dream. Many people see visions in their mind’s eye, encounter beings, ancestors, animals, different landscapes which all tell a story about the disposition of our inner self.

In the new Chakradance cycle, called Freedom, we have a different guide for each chakra who takes us on this journey. But I have found many people intuitively find their own guides in the dance as well, be they humans, ethereal beings or animals.

After participating in a Chakradance cycle, many people are surprised at the visions and experiences, not to mention the insights and transformations in their real lives, that they encounter.

It is so astonishing to uncover this unconscious aspect of ourselves, and to realise our conscious, day to day self is like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitudes we all contain.

So when we immerse ourselves into the sound and movement of chakradance, what will often arise is aspects of ourselves that we have not been aware of. This can be visions, emotions or insights that are experienced in a loving and beautiful way. Sometimes we are ready to shift and release less attractive aspects of ourselves. These might be long buried memories, strong emotions, or even aspects portrayed as menancing creatures who come out of our subconscious dark zones. 

Like a deep-water diver, encountering sharks or other prehistoric and primal creatures that we may be afraid of, our first reaction to these is often fear or repulsion. But just as sharks have a vital role in the ecological wellbeing of the ocean, so our own shadow has a purpose. 

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed. D.H. Lawrence

For me, when I began my Chakradance facilitator training, and I was dancing and studying the modality intensely on a daily basis, I had a number of powerful experiences. The most profound for me was an experience in the Solar Plexus Chakra, which not only happened in the dance but also in my dream life. This showed me something was shifting at a deep level in my psyche.

I was awoken from a dream, quite literally, with a bang. In my dream, a large metal pot or cauldron blew its lid with a loud explosion. As a result of reading Jung and experiencing Chakradance, I was becoming more curious about the messages my subconscious communicates to me in my dreams.

After waking from this dream, I felt quite agitated and unable to go back to sleep. There was the strongest feeling that this dream was an important message from my subconscious and I intuitively felt it was somehow related to my solar plexus chakra. So after discussing this with my Chakradance teacher, I moved on to this chakra. During the dance, I had a very powerful experience.

The dance of Manipura (the solar plexus chakra) begins with a flame, and as the music intensifies, the fire increases, and I danced like wildfire. I became one with the fire, I was fire, flickering and wild. It felt incredibly liberating and powerful, and then all of a sudden my perception shifted dramatically.

The experience transformed from being elemental fire, to being ON fire – being burned, encased in flames – and all the powerful emotions that came with it. Horror, fear, panic. Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. 

I had flashbacks to memories of being hurt as a child, and a great rage rose within me. Ending up like an animal in all fours, I growled and raged, releasing suppressed emotions held within me since I was a powerfless five year old unable to fight back against her abuser. 

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster. Carl Jung

Recovering in child’s pose, I found myself saying to myself, “that was then this is now, it is safe to be powerful now.”

As I incanted this affirmation, came a vision of a fiery cauldron burning away the hurts of the past, all those experiences where I was persecuted, shamed, or abused for expressing my power.

I would love to report that since then I have never been less than powerful in my life, but it doesn’t work like that. In my life aspects of my shadow, like that scared and angry child, the one who was unable to be powerful and speak up, are still there.

The difference is that I know she is there, and I can see when that energy emerges, when I get petulant or sulky, when I over react to perceived criticism or rejection. These days, I am more mindful, more aware.

And I have made a sacred place for her, where she can be safe to express whatever she needs to. It’s my way of integrating her, without annihilating her. Because she’s part of me. If she hadn’t taken on all that rage and shame for all those years I may not be here today. Today instead of wishing her away I try to honour her. She’s a feisty five year old who screws up her face when she’s not happy and I love her!

I have also tapped into an inner wellspring of power that I never knew I possessed. Now when I dance the Solar Plexus I embody the energy of a fiery God – Shiva Nataraj – or a powerful warrior and feel these numinous qualities flow on into my life.

We need more people who are not ashamed of, or embarrassed by their pain, but who can instead respond to their own and others’ suffering – as an unavoidable facet of the human condition – with love, patience, sympathy, nurturing and respect. True happiness, after all, does not exclude sadness, but rather embraces it within the living paradox which personal wholeness demands. Maureen B Roberts

So what is this shadow? And why do we have it. And yes, you do.

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed that on the journey to discover your inner secrets and mysteries, you will encounter the dark, hidden crevices within your psyche. He called this place the “shadow self.” It is also called the lower self, animal nature, the alter ego, or the inner demon – the place where the unowned side of your personality lives.

The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we may try to hide or deny. According to Carl Jung, it can be said to consist of energy patterns, known as selves or sub-personalities that were disowned — pushed down into our unconscious in childhood, as part of our coping strategies.

Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept to describe how our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves” in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life.

Your shadow self is the part of you that stays unknown, unexamined, and out of the light of your conscious awareness. It is the part that is denied or suppressed because it makes you uncomfortable or afraid. Whatever doesn’t fit your image of your ideal self becomes your shadow.

Jung asked, “Would you rather be good or whole?” Many people choose goodness, or more accurately ‘correctness’ as a means to belong in society, and as a result, are internally fractured. There is your persona, the part you want the world to see, and your shadow, the part that you don’t.

What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion. This may be by means of physical symptoms in the case of a neurosis, or by means of incidents of various kinds, or by unaccountable moods, unexpected forgetfulness, or mistakes in speech… modern man protects himself against seeing his own split state by a system of compartments. Certain areas of outer life and of his own behavior are kept, as it were, in separate drawers and are never confronted with one another. Carl Jung

Jung believed that what you resist in life tends to persist and even become stronger. If you resist your dark side, it becomes more solid. Hence by trying to be good and suppress our shadow side we actually make it more powerful.

As Jung often said what we refuse to face in ourselves, we project into others and onto life creating an external world that seems to reflect our own worst nightmares. We create self-fulfilled prophecies of the stuff we least want.

I think I first became aware of my shadow 18 years ago. Having hit, in 12-Step parlance, my rock-bottom through alcohol and drug abuse, I found myself sober in a 12 Step program. Suddenly I had no Dutch courage, no medicine, no anaesthetic, and no buffer between myself and reality. I had started using alcohol to numb my feelings at age 15 so at age 25 I had acquired zero emotional maturity or coping mechanisms that didn’t involve a drink, a fix or a pill.

I found myself sitting in cold and dank church halls and community centres – where many AA meetings seemed to be held – with hideously bright fluorescent lighting – “ve have vays of making you talk.” Even though I had spend much of my ‘drinking years’ in dank bars, the veneer of alcohol always made everything sparkle, it gave me a warm inner glow, and the dim lighting covered a multitude of sins.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell

Now I felt exposed, transitioning from a creature of the night to an attempt at daytime normalcy, I found myself squinting and blinking at the brightness of the world, like a mole forced out of her hole. Supermarkets were particularly painful. The combination of the bad Muzak, over-lit endless aisles of stuff and people was pergatory for me.

Especially the people. Early detox from alcohol is defined by it’s combination of the physical shakes and extreme paranoia. I was sure every person in the place was watching me trying to wrestle control of my hand to pick up a packet of cereal or extricate money from my wallet. If someone actually spoke to me, it all became too much, the walls would start closing in and I had to abandon all my shopping and leave.

It was a shock to see what a ‘shadow’ person I had become, more comfortable in the dark, shadowy side of life, invisible, afraid of the most ordinary things.

In the AA program I was forced to confront my ‘defects of character,’ another ways of describing the shadow aspects of my behaviour. For someone who had meticulously avoided any emotions, or difficult aspects of myself, this was a hideously confronting process. On a daily basis I was faced with the choice of facing my shadow or facing complete annihilation. It was not a happy time.

We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. Sigmund Freud

But, through this process I learned to be increasingly more comfortable with myself, all of myself, and embarked on a path of self-awareness and self-acceptance as I had never known before.

It was to be my first of many experiences, where I discovered that facing my shadow, no matter how painful or undesirable, brought untold gifts.

Eventually though I found myself again at a rock bottom. Having crashed and burned emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually not long after my fortieth birthday, again I was searching for answers.

As appealing as it was when I was happy, from this depressed state I found much of the New Age stuff very shallow. Wishful thinking, affirmations, faking it until we make it, are sometimes helpful to get out of the rut, but they cannot be long term life plans. True authenticity comes from facing the shadow. That stuff that lurks just beneath the surface that we push down with a myriad of avoidance strategies from sedation to excess busyness.

I am highly suspicious of any practice which focuses only on the light or positive aspects of our being. We are all made up of dark and light. A really simple way to uncover your shadow self is to see what really irritates you in others, what drives you bonkers. Is it disrespect? Arrogance? Greed? Inconsideration? Guaranteed the stuff you most resent in others is stuff you deny or repress in yourself. This is called projection, we literally use others as a screen to project our shadow traits onto.

Our journey of Self-Exploration is a bit like Dante’s Inferno. Before making our way out of “hell” we must walk through the depths of our inner darkness. Many religions symbolize these experiences well. Two famous examples include the case of Jesus who had to face Satan in the desert, and Buddha’s encounter with Mara (the Buddhist Satan) before his “awakening”.  Mateo Sol

We all do this, so there’s a couple of options, suppress it and keep frantically chanting OMs hoping that no one realises our murderous rage within, or acknowledge it. Take a look at it. Next time you judge someone else, either for the positive or negative – even jealousy often is us projecting our unowned good qualities on another person – witness that.

Be curious. Dive into it. Ask yourself, can I be disrespectful, arrogant, inconsiderate? Maybe sometimes these qualities are actually useful. Especially when used consciously.

When I stumbled upon Chakradance, something lit up inside of me. Here was the best of the New Age. A practice that combined ancient wisdom with modern psychology. It drew upon the Chakra system, shamanic dance and Jungian psychology. All practices which resonated with me. And best of all, it was music and dance! I had always found great freedom and liberation from my difficulties by pumping up the stereo and dancing myself silly. Chakradance gave me a framework to use this for my healing.

Any practice which takes us out of the conscious mind and engages with the unconscious, be it dance, creating art or music, meditation, immersing ourselves in nature, will help this more primal side of ourselves to emerge.

In Chakradance we dance into our unconscious, and then we create a mandala drawing so we can express all this beautiful untapped energy, and all the powerful images we encounter which help us to recognise these hidden parts of ourselves.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age. Walt Whitman

Because the shadow is often made up of primal instincts and urges we have repressed, as well as tribal and ancestral traits we have rebelled against, I feel that the base chakra is particularly relevant to this work.

When I was in India last year I took the opportunity to see an Ayurvedic doctor. In Ayurveda all aspects of self, mind, body and spirit are addresssed. So as part of the consultation, he discussed the state of my chakras. He felt that my physical and emotional symptoms indicated my base Chakra was weak – almost non-existant! – and needed activating. I have been practising the mantras he gave me and the chanting practice. When the Chakradance Reboot Your Base Chakra eCourse came up I immediately signed up.

I am a great believer in divine timing. As my shadow self seems to be bursting out causing me to act, think and feel in ways I find very overwhelming and challenging, I have this beautiful practice of Chakradance to ease me back into my body, to help me integrate all these aspects of self. Chakradance is gentle like that, it doesn’t force things to come up in the psyche, Jung believed that could be counter-productive. But when stuff is ready, it rises, and it feels so good to be able to dance through and integrate my shadow work.

In the base Chakradance we connect with our power animal. Dancing our power animal is one of the most powerful shamanic practices to revitalise and strengthen our spirit. Each animal brings its own strength, wisdom or medicine, and a connection to our primal, instinctual nature.

Mine is an animal who hibernates seasonally, and as such as we head into Winter here, I am reminded of the restorative power of cave-time, time to withdraw from the world, rest, nourish and replenish the body.

The work of the soul is not always sparkly and full of surrender-gasms. As Caroline Myss said the truly powerful and great spiritual moments are usually accompanied by great humility or suffering, as the metaphor of the birth of the messiah in a stable illustrates.

In my eyes, indisposed. In disguises no one knows. Hides the face, lies the snake. And the sun in my disgrace. Chris Cornell

During this time of increased shadow rising, I became increasingly depressed. Perhaps instead of something rising up, it was a place I descended into.

Weirdly my darkest nights of the soul coincided with the tragic suicide of my musical hero Chris Cornell. I felt that right there was my shadow, I so empathised with the darkness that took him on that lonely night in Detroit.

I drew on my love for my son to get me through, like a candle illuminating the dark I knew I had to survive the darkness for his sake. It sounds melodramatic I know, but when you are hanging on by a thread, you use whatever power you can.

Depression can be seen as a descent into shadow. It certainly feels dark, and as though every negative and undesirable aspect of self takes front and centre stage. However there is also a palpable shift in awareness as if a doorway into a previously hidden part of life is opened.

Depression is a wilderness where nothing makes sense or has meaning. As long as it doesn’t take me out completely, this mental blackout can be helpful. It often forces me to challenge what truly has meaning in my life, what has substance, what brings vitality and joy. And similarly to recognise that which does not.

Leading up to this bout of depression I had done some work with a spiritual healer that included soul retrieval. In fact I could pretty much pin the beginning of my descent to that time. I became curious about this link between soul loss, soul retrieval, shadow and depression so I began to read more about it.

Soul loss is the idea that parts of our soul or spirit break away during traumatic life experiences, leaving us less vital. In psychology this idea is known as dissociation, where a person may have no memory of the trauma or seem disassociated or overly detached from their current life.

In psychology they are not concerned with where these lost parts go, but in many shamanic traditions, there is an understanding that these parts have gone to places in non-ordinary reality or the ‘spirit world.’ Shamans are experts in tracking down and coaxing back these lost soul parts to be reunited the body of the person they were splintered from. This is soul retrieval.

Many years ago when I was studying shamanism in Bali, I had a conversation with a friend about this. As a psychotherapist he pointed out that the mind is always trying to find balance or equilibrium, and as such rejects anything that threatens this. Bringing back soul parts after many years, especially soul parts that were splintered off on account of trauma, must throw this balance of the psyche into turmoil.

I wish that soul retrieval were safe, simple, and filled with the white light of love and light that people think it is. But something cannot be powerful and safe at the same time. Mary Shutan

Interesting alongside this deep suicidal depression, I also had other old dysfunctional behaviours crop up. And I craved cigarettes so badly I actually asked a drunk guy for one, fortunately he said no. I haven’t been a smoker for over sixteen years.

What I began to intuit is that some of the soul parts that had come back were pretty dysfunctional when they left.

Whether you see these parts as repressed aspects of self or lost soul parts, the effect of bringing them back into consciousness is the same, they are strangers to the psyche who has been getting along just fine – or so it thinks – without them. Sometimes it is not a happy reunion.

And seemingly they had brought some of their old dynamics back into my psyche, throwing me into turmoil. In a way my shadow selves were ignited and fueled by this process, and I was left in a frightening shadow world where all I could see was darkness and hopelessness. Much like the teenage addicted and suicidal me.

You will have to stand someplace you’ve never been willing to stand before. Go to places you have deemed off limits. This is the time to take off the shell of your past and step into the rich possibilities of your future. Debbie Ford

Fortunately, weeks ago I had signed up for a Spontaneous Transformation workshop on stress and overwhelm. Spontaneous Transformation is a beautiful technique that addresses this very issue by dialoguing with these soul parts and helping them address the trauma in order to find a resolution, recognition and integration.

Through this daily practice and through Chakradance, I have found peace with myself again. And beyond that, these angry and hurt parts of myself actually taught me a lesson or two about how I could be kinder and support myself better in my life.

In India, the Hindus practise Aarti, which literally means an illuminating light in the darkness. I believe by bringing the light of awareness onto our shadow we can find gold there. Don’t throw away the treasure in your cave because  you’re scared of the dark – light a candle and see the gold in there.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul



The Shaman’s Blues

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Before I sink into the big sleep. I want to hear the scream of the butterfly. Jim Morrison

Recently, at a party, someone asked me about the Shamanism training I’m doing in Bali. As I fumbled my way through a rambling answer, it made me think, I really need an ‘elevator pitch’ to answer these questions.

The truth is, shamanism isn’t really something I can explain succinctly as a concept, rather it is something I practice, something that is unfolding to me. It is highly experiential. It’s outside of the comfort zone of the modern western mindset. So far outside of that zone, it’s like it grew wings, and flew to Neptune. To explain it, I have to ask you to set aside everything you think you know.

That said, I think its worth exploring. What do I mean by shamanism? What is my practice? Do I even want to call it shamanism. If not, then what?

And how do I convey all that to people without sounding like a complete looney?

“Oh yes, I commune with spirits, and I don’t mean a martini”

Enter the eminently eloquent Frank MacEowen, to save me from my tangled tongue (and unintentional alliteration) to describe it to y’all.

Shamanism – the practice of entering into a non-ordinary state of consciousness and leaving ordinary reality to acquire knowledge, guidance, or healing energy. Shamanic spirituality is one way of listening deeply to ancient powers in the land and within the human soul. Frank MacEowen

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Okay. Got it? Not really? Alright, I’ll explain it some more. But to be perfectly honest, I can describe it until I’m blue in the face, which would be entertaining yes, but you really have to experience it to understand. Here goes…

Essentially, shamanism describes the oldest living paths of spirituality and healing, dating back tens of thousands of years, found in cultures all around the world from ancient times up to the present day, and yet many people don’t know what it is or are confused about the practice.

Part of this confusion stems from the term ‘shamanism’ itself, which is used describe a group of diverse traditional cultural and spiritual practices, even though they are not all one and the same. However, the remaining practices that continue in the world today do share many common approaches to healing and living in commune with the natural and spirit worlds. Hence the use of a common word to describe them.

Anthropologist Mircea Eliade in his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, wrote that shamanism underlays all the other spiritual traditions in the world, and that the most distinctive universal feature of shamanism—but not the only one—was the journey to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness.

It all sounds rather fanciful to the Western mind. Journeying to commune with spirits? Why, just hand me that crystal ball and hit the smoke machine… Woo-woo!

Michael Harner makes the important distinction that shamans do not ‘believe’ in the world of the spirit, they actively engage there.

In shamanic cultures, where shamans interact with spirits to get results such as healing, it’s no surprise that people believe there are spirits. But the shamans don’t believe in spirits. Shamans talk with them, interact with them. They no more “believe” there are spirits than they “believe” they have a house to live in, or have a family. This is a very important issue because shamanism is not a system of faith. Michael Harner 

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While shamanic practices vary across cultures, there are many ‘core’ practices that are universal or near-universal and these constitute ‘core shamanism’.

Shamanism is a spirituality rooted in the idea that all matter has consciousness and that accessing this ‘spirit that lives in all things’ keeps the natural world, including us humans, in balance, healed, and whole. A shamanic practitioner seeks to be in relationship with the spirit in all things – a path to sustainable harmony not only with all humans, but with each and every plant, animal, and spiritual entity that is a part of our world.

The anthropologist Michael Harner, who established Core Shamanism, writes that “the word ‘shaman’ in the original (Siberian) Tungus language refers to a person who makes journeys to non-ordinary reality in an altered state of consciousness.”

Michael Harner says that using such a term helps people to understand the type of healing being undertaken, and avoids the often negative connotations of other culture specific terms like “witch doctor”. Although the term is originally from Siberia, there is evidence that the shamanic practices existed on all inhabited continents. So it’s essentially an umbrella term for similar traditions found the world over.

Shamans are often called “see-ers” (seers), or “people who know” in their tribal languages, because they are involved in a system of knowledge based on firsthand experience. Shamanism is not a belief system. It’s based on personal experiments conducted to heal, to get information, or do other things. In fact, if shamans don’t get results, they will no longer be used by people in their tribe. People ask me, “How do you know if somebody’s a shaman?” I say, “It’s simple. Do they journey to other worlds? And do they perform miracles?” Michael Harner 

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A shaman is a man or woman who uses the ability to see “with the strong eye” or “with the heart” – according to different cultural interpretations – to travel into hidden realms. The shaman interacts directly with helping spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness and perform soul retrievals, retrieve lost power, as well as remove spiritual blockages. The shaman also divines information for the community. Shamans perform a multitude of roles in their communities, acting as healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.

Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit. Shamans speak of a web of life that connects all of life and the ‘spirit that lives in all things’. Everything on earth is interconnected and it is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humankind and the forces of nature.

Shamanism is a system of direct revelation. One of the major ceremonies a shaman performs is called a shamanic journey. In a ‘journey’ a shaman enters into an altered state of consciousness and travels into the hidden realms that many describe as non-ordinary reality – like a parallel universe to ours.

The Otherworld is the interiority of place, just as the human soul is the interiority of an individual. This is not to say it is “inside”, but rather that it is hidden and invisible, and its depths cannot be penetrated by ordinary means. Jason Kirkey

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The Australian aborigines call non-ordinary reality the Dreamtime. In the Celtic traditions it is referred to as the Otherworld. In these hidden realities there are helping, compassionate spirits who offer their guidance and also their healing help. There are also some not-so-helpul ones and the skilled shaman knows how to avoid those ones, with the assistance of their personal power animals or spirit allies, who act as guides in non-ordinary reality.

Tori McElroy writes that this specialised, sacred role of the shaman exists in many cultures, and the accounts of shamanic trance-journeys are remarkably similar around the world. The ecstatic trance seems “to open the human mind to archetypal experiences transcending cultural boundaries.” The spiritual realms are almost always experienced in three layers: the middle world, equivalent to the physical plane of the earth, the upper world, equating to the heavens above, and a third that lies below the earth, or the lower world.

Certain psychologies might tend to identify the Otherworld with our psyche; the inner realm of the human mind and soul, and that the going-ons there are reflective of our own processes. Other people might lean towards the more spiritual or mystical understanding of the Otherworld as an actual place, a spirit-world, inhabited by very real beings. What is actually important is that no matter how we understand the Otherworld, in all the stories in which it plays a part, those who experience it are transformed. Jason Kirkey

Each culture interprets these realms a little differently, but there are such strong similarities of experience it suggests that the pattern of imagery arises from the journey process itself, rather than from cultural expectations.

There is even evidence that the shamanic journey may have been part of the development of all religions, and although the practice has all but vanished in many cultures, remnants of it exist in myths and traditions. This is where core shamanism can assist in the reconstruction of these practices, for example in Celtic shamanism and druidry.

There are a variety of ceremonies that shamans perform. Like priests, they lead ceremonies to welcome children into the world, perform marriages, and help people transition at the time of death. They lead ceremonies to mourn the death of loved ones. There are important initiation ceremonies performed to mark certain transitions in a person’s life such as from moving from childhood into adulthood.

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Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to go into an altered state that frees the soul of the shaman to journey into the invisible worlds. Many traditions also believe that music, drumming, singing, rattling, helps to attract the helping spirits.

Because it is not an organized religion as such, but rather a spiritual practice, shamanism cuts across all faiths and creeds, reaching deep levels of ancestral memory. As a primal belief system, which precedes established religion, it has its own symbolism and cosmology, inhabited by beings, gods, and totems, who display similar characteristics although they appear in various forms, depending upon their places of origin. John Matthews

Indigenous Australian shamans use the didgeridoo and click sticks. Some traditions use bells. The Sami people of Lapland and Norway also use monotonous chanting called “joiking”. My mother heard a recording of women chanting and told me it reminded her of the way the women sung, usually as they performed group tasks, in Ireland where she grew up.

So why bother journeying? Shamans journey to assist their community and its members, whether to transition through stages in life, or out of the living realm, or to heal illness. Shamans look at the spiritual aspect of illness. An illness might manifest on an emotional or physical level but the shaman is looking for spiritual imbalance or disharmony, which can cause the illness and prevent its healing.

I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Led Zeppelin

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Sandra Ingerman, my teacher and experienced shamanic practitioner, has found that most shamanic cultures around the world believe that illness is due to the loss of the soul. It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma a piece of our soul flees the body in order to protect itself and preserve the integrity of the overall soul. The soul is our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.

In modern Western psychology, this is understood as dissociation and post-traumatic stress disorder. In either case, a fragment of the psyche (meaning “soul”) breaks off to preserve the integrity of the whole.

The helping spirits who inhabit parallel worlds to the human world have a perspective that often cannot be seen by a practitioner in ordinary states. Therefore shamans work in partnership with the helping spirits in performing healing work, including soul retrieval, where these lost soul parts are coaxed back ‘home’. In many hospitals in the United States, Native American shamanic healers work alongside Western doctors to heal patients.

Inevitably when journeying, shamans become extremely connected to the spirit in nature, the the land spirits, and to the local plants and trees, and receive information about their potential healing properties. This is a more sensible explanation of plant medicine than simple trial and error. The plants themselves have wisdom and a willingness to share this with us humans.

To live life from this sort of truth would require us to acknowledge the needed reciprocity between this world and the Otherworld, inner and outer, humans and nature. However, this sort of recognition of the interconnectedness of all things is exactly what is needed to heal the perceptive split between these realities. To do this we need to cultivate the ears of sacred listening that can hear the profound music of the Otherworld and bring our fragmented soul back into the wholeness of the soul of life. Jason Kirkby

creamSo why do I find shamanic journeying so very appealing? I think it’s because I have been inadvertently doing it all my life.

Music is a doorway into the realm of the soul. Jason Kirkey

My dad is to blame for my passion for music, he ignited an insatiable fire when he gave me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band for my 8th birthday. Now I wonder if I should blame my love for the esoteric on him for the same reason.

There is a song on that album called ‘Within You Without You‘. It was George Harrison at the height of his immersion into the Maharishi’s following. In 1967, The Beatles — along with actress Mia Farrow and musicians Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love — made a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, India, the headquarters for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the bearded, long-haired guru who gave the West a somewhat toned-down form of Hinduism called Transcendental Meditation.

I knew none of this. I just listened to the song, the lyrics. It blew my little eight year old mind.

Can’t you see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you. George Harrison

This album also marked the Beatles descent into psychedelia, both in the form of psychotropic drug use and the ensuing art and lyrical shift that emerges as a result of opening that particular ‘door of perception.’ For a young child, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was not a great imaginative leap, akin to the journey down the chocolate river in the Roald Dahl classic. And yet that imagery left an indelible imprint on my mind.

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From there I leap-frogged into what I see now was a shamanic love of music. Music took me on a spiritual journey.

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You’ll find that it’s stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
Are somewhere just being their own. The Byrds

I loved the psychedelic sixties. I emulated its art and fashion. Its mindset. I loved the sit-ins, the peace rallies, the flowers, the unbridled hope for peace and love, man.

And the music. Oh my. How I loved the music.

Holed up in my room, draped in batik fabrics, incense burning, posters of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison adorning my walls. I listened non-stop to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Cream…

Led Zepplin and Deep Purple sang songs of Mordor and Taliesin, steeped on the Druid-shamanic tradition of Britain. 

The Byrds sang the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which describes the natural cycle of life and death, the ebb and flow of the seasons and of life itself.

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven. 

deep purple taliesin

Jim Morrison channeled his Native American spirit in those epic songs that really took me places – “ride the snake, to the lake, the ancient lake, the snake is long, seven miles…” More recently, these lyrics came to me in a journey and guided me along to that very lake.

The Doors were perhaps the most unashamed to embrace the shamanic roots of their lyrical inspiration. Being named for the Aldous Huxley book The Doors of Perception, Jim Morrison was no stranger to journeying, and his songs can take you there.

The Doors of Perception is a short book by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1954, detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. The book takes the form of Huxley’s recollection of a mescaline trip that took place over the course of an afternoon, and takes its title from a phrase in William Blake’s 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Of course I found this book on dad’s extensive bookshelves, along with a beauty of a book by Colin Wilson called The Outsider which introduced me to many authors of his ilk, and of course the entire Beat generation of writers. Whilst providing a context for my own sense of outsider-ness.

There’s a whole other post in the connection between plant medicine and shamanism, but suffice to say the sixties were a hotbed of opening the ‘doors of perception.’ But like my own experience with psychedelics in my twenties, without sufficient intent and reverence for the plant spirits, it is easy to get lost there.

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Did I love this music because it sang of my spirit’s yearnings? Or did the music shape me? Probably both.

I was a star-gazer, a collector of special stones, shells, and leaves, an animal lover. A nature child, happier up a tree or in the ocean than anywhere contrived by humans. Listening again to The Doors perform The End, I hear the undulation of the journey process.

Music is your only friend. Dance on fire as it intends. Jim Morrison

The surrender to the rhythm and vibration. Shamans dance to shake off the anchor of the ego that binds them to this reality. I danced to these songs by candlelight and incense smoke and lost myself to the lyrics of nature love, rocks, stones, flowers, talking to trees and animals.

 Do you believe in rock ‘n roll? Can music save your mortal soul? Don McLean

The songs and art, inspired as it was by Indian art, found a seeking soul and guided her home. It was a rocky road at times. My teenage years were a journey through hell. Depression and addiction marked my soul journey through the initiation of the shadow. I sought chemical escape, but without a guide or a clear intention, I merely lost myself. I emerged bruised, broken, and emptied out to be a hollow bone.

It was not long after our early human ancestors developed the capacity for language that music began to develop as well. There is something about music that connects us more deeply to each other and the world than language could ever articulate. Jason Kirkey

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You may think it’s a stretch of the imagination that the psychedelic music of the sixties led me to shamanism, but to a person of a shamanic culture this would not seem strange. Music, both as sound and a storytelling device plays a major role in shamanic cultures, especially in the oral transmission of stories in the European culture.

The presence of the spiritual in music is something recognized by all ancient cultures. Celtic mythological sources are full of references to music in relation to the spiritual and the Otherworld. Music serves as an archetype in the sense that it is a recurring mythopoetic theme or “image” pointing to a collective experience of the human soul. In Celtic mythology this theme is music as a doorway or threshold to the Otherworld, and the transformation towards wholeness that comes with such an encounter. Jason Kirkey

The first grade of druidry is the bardic grade, where the initiate learns to recite stories, poems, and songs as a way to convey knowledge and evoke a blurring of the boundaries between this world and the other. The Australian aboriginals have their song lines, where they literally sing the land. And the Irish had their place name stories called the Dinnsheanchas.

Ireland has a great store of traditional music and there is a great diversity of style and nuance. Each region has a distinctive tradition. One can hear the contours of the landscape shape the tonality and spirit of the music. The memory of the people is echoed in the music. John O’Donohue

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So while it’s a stretch , it’s not a completely unfounded one.

In shamanism an important journeying tool, used to connect with one’s spirit allies, is a power song. My power song came after keening an Ani De Franco song repeatedly while the ocean’s waves crashed over me. I was utterly heartbroken at the time, and the complete annihilation of ego brought on by this devastation opened me up to the elements in a visceral way.

This experience could be seen as sacrilegious to some – a spiritual awakening via popular music, indeed! – or as a demonstration that music still carries at its essence the transformative power to shift us into another world.

Music plays the central role in Celtic soul-restoration, forming the most subtle net to help the soul parts reassemble. Caitlin Matthews

The music, the foray into mind-altering chemicals, was all part of my initiation into spirituality.

My dad, who has been such a powerful influence in my life, is in and out of hospital now. He has such strong will, but I know that won’t keep him going forever. In shamanism, there is a great many practices that address all of life’s transitions, inducing death. So this morning I listened to the most recent lesson from the Shamanic Journeying course I am doing online with Sandra Ingerman.

Words cannot express my gratitude that I will have these skills to assist dad. How beautiful that I have already done a power animal retrieval for him, I told him what his animal was and he grinned from ear to ear – he bears an uncanny resemblance to said animal. He doesn’t have a clue about this stuff, and yet at some level his spirit knew and was gladdened.

Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know,
The piper’s calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind? Led Zeppelin

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Now I can tell him that when his the comes there’ll be a loving spirit there to guide him across the boundary between worlds. It will be someone who has passed over that he loves and trusts. How beautiful is that? And I don’t say it from blind faith or wishful thinking. I say it because I have met these spirits myself. And because for tens of thousands of years, spirit has been helping us make these transitions, if we only knew how to connect with them.

Death as a rite of passage, a conscious transition, in comfort and peace. With loving guidance.

In the Celtic traditions, spirals symbolise so many aspects of life, and the circle is a metaphor in almost all shamanic cultures. Nature moves in cycles, seasons, days, shamanic cultures have always revered these cycles, for survival yes, but also the wisdom of recycling life, not becoming fixed or attached to anything, “to everything turn, turn, turn…”

As I share my Dad’s last years on this plane, I have reflected much on all he has shown me. He has always been a man who embraced all the abundance of life. Wracked with disability and health issues from birth, his irrepressible spirit saw him make a dream life for himself, travel, education, family and a heart-led career. He became editor of his own journal, the only option for a frustrated writer in the pre-blog world!

Now, it is my turn, all that he has shown me has contributed to who I am today. My responsibility is to be courageous, to not hold back on the burgeoning worlds I am experiencing. To be brave and open and trust that I can can use these otherworldly guides to navigate this transition.

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So in answer to my own question, I guess I’m okay to call this shamanism. It seems a little arbitrary to name it anything, given that it has been a part of me long before I knew it to even name it. I have always bucked against organised religion, and naming this feels a step in that direction. However naming it also opens me up to a wonderful community of fellow practitioners. The important thing though, it not what I call it, but the very tangible results it produces in my life, and the lives of others.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you. Gaelic Blessing

Cead Mile Beannachta! (One hundred thousand blessings)

Images:

Album cover and poster art from 1960’s and 1970’s

Sources:

Sandra Ingerman, Walking in Light

Shamanism by Tori McElroy

Jason Kirkey, The Song of the Earth. Music and Healing in the Celtic Tradition

Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone
An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan

University of Minnesota, What is shamanism? 

Singing your soul home

sambrown5Our task is to chant the world, chant the beauty. The world is a reflection of our chanting. Billy Yellow

Considering that this post is based on the chakra of communication and expression – the throat chakra – it seems rather ironic that this week I have experienced a chronic writer’s block, as well as a more pervasive block in my emotions and self-expression, that has left me feeling more angry and frustrated than expressive.

Maybe it’s something in the air, the planetary alignments, it seems that everyone is out of sorts this week. We are all like pressure cookers waiting for that final blast of heat that pops our lids.

And yet, surely the purpose of opening up our energy centres is to allow these very blocks to surface and be cleared.

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Rainer Maria Rilke

The throat chakra has always felt to me like a gateway between the realms of ordinary and non-ordinary reality. Here we transcend the element air and move into ether, the great void of potential energy. In a realm of subtle vibrational energy, any thought, sound, or intention can immediately shift things energetically. Here creation begins.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world. The Dhammapada 

It is here, in this etheric world of sound and vibration, we begin to understand how our thoughts and words have power. How the intentions behind these sounds really do contribute to our reality, to the world’s reality. And then the task becomes how to shift these often entrenched ways of thinking and speaking, our learned reactions to the world, and create a higher vibration that lifts our spirit as well as the collective energy field. Chanting does this. Creative expression does this.

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Art activates the creative impulse in the brain-body-mind system, which to me is the God Impulse. It opens the portals of both our inward as well as our outer sensory systems. We are no longer encapsulated bags of skin dragging around dreary little egos. With art and music we become an organizing environment, our frequencies are raised. And we become re-frequenced with regard to world and time. And that is why the artist and musician often is the one who tells the emerging story, because their frequencies and their sensitivities have been honed and heightened to the point that they are picking up the rhythms of awakening. Jean Houston

In ancient cultures there was a perception of a divine harmony in the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets – the music of the spheres. The ancients designed their temples and stone circles based on these natural cycles. According to Joscelyn Godwin, Professor of Music at Colgate University, “the Australian Aboriginal culture, which is our planet’s longest continuously existing culture, has a 50,000 year history of using music to maintain the natural order. They perceive the landscape as a series of ‘songlines’, each representing an aspect of their cosmology, and they sing these songs to keep the life energy of the earth and the people in balance.”

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. Rumi

Australian aboriginals believed that without knowing the songs of the various species of plant and animal life, and being able to communicate with the nature spirits in this way, they literally would not survive. Like many indigenous cultures, their rituals, songs, dances, and art were interwoven with, both the practical matters of monitoring the seasons and moving to suitable shelter and hunting grounds, to matters of the spirit and living in harmony of the whole of creation.

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The throat chakra is representative of this concept of ‘as above, so below’, heaven and earth, our inner and outer worlds.

Our throat chakra is a bridge between our inner and outer selves – who we feel we truly are, and how we represent ourselves in the world. Lisa Erickson

Vissudha is the chakra of truth, communication, and expression. Represented by the archetype of the communicator, or alternately, as I have experienced this week, its shadow archetype, the silent child – realised as an inability for self-expression, self-doubt, self-criticism, and negative perceptions.

It’s hard to imagine how I would shift these blocks on my own, I am so thankful to be a part of my shamanic and Chakradance communities where there is a wealth of shared experience, wisdom, and support.

My teacher Sandra Ingerman is very humble in both expressing her difficulties over the years with aspects of journeying, and emphasising the need for practice. It’s not meant to be easy to become a ‘hollow bone’. We do get distracted by our mind’s chatter.

In shamanic journeying we aim to be like a hollow bone, to leave our ego-mind behind and allow spirit to carry our consciousness on the journey. In order to achieve this, we need to find rituals that allow us to leave our ego state of ordinary reality, to ’empty’ ourselves out, in order to become a receptacle for helping spirits, and to journey to the hidden realms of non-ordinary reality, or the ‘otherworld’ as the Celts so poetically refer to it.

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This week I had the pleasure of teaching two Chakradance classes, one of which was focused entirely on the throat chakra. This chakra corresponds to the element of ether which, according to Carl Jung, is the sound and substance of the angelic realms.

By the time you reach this chakra, you are operating at a mostly vibrational level. Although the chakra is based in the physical throat and affects physiological areas of the throat, the ears and the thyroid gland, the energy of this centre is large and subtle, and very, very blue.

To harmonise the throat chakra, we use sound, through humming, chanting, singing, even shouting to release any pent up energy. If you are anything like me, every few weeks I need to play loud metal music and ‘sing my guts out’- it’s incredibly cleansing!

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all. Emily Dickinson

In Chakradance, we revert to an ancient form of heavy metal, the chanting of mantra sounds. For the throat chakra the sound is ‘ham’ – pronounced like ‘hum’ not the cured meat!

A mantra is a sacred sound which, when recited or chanted repetitively, can bring about a vibrational connection with certain aspects of the subtle energy body, higher self, or spirit. The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”.

The most well-known mantra is probably the “om”, “ohm” or “aum.” The syllable “om” is first described as all-encompassing mystical entity in the Upanishads. Hindus believe that as creation began, the divine, all-encompassing consciousness took the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound “OM”.

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Before creation began it was “Shunyākāsha”, the emptiness or the void. Shunyākāsha, meaning literally “no sky”, is more than nothingness, because everything then existed in a latent state of potentiality. The vibration of “OM” symbolises the manifestation of God in form, it is the reflection of the absolute reality, without beginning or end, and embracing all that exists.

The mantra “OM” is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme. When taken letter by letter, A-U-M represents the divine energy (Shakti) united in its three elementary aspects: Bhrahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction). [Wikipedia]

In the ancient Egypt, Athens and Rome, for example, sound was understood to be the fundamental creative force of the universe. You find knowledge of this in the sacred texts of different traditions. For example, in the book of Genesis, it is written “And the Lord SAID ‘Let there be light’” and in the Gospel according to St. John, is the statement “In the Beginning was the word”- the creation of the universe occurring through sound. Jonathan Goldman

Mantras can be used to resonate and harmonise the chakras, starting with low tones at the base, moving through mid-tones at the heart, and high tones at the crown. Interestingly the do-re-mi tones – as in “Do -a deer – a female deer…” – align quite nicely with the chakras. So many of us Western-raised kids have been singing basic mantras without even knowing it.

To penetrate the mysteries of music is to prepare for initiation into those fathomless mysteries of man and cosmos. Joscelyn Godwin

Try this Johnathan Goldman vocal toning the chakras video – it only takes 8 minutes and you’ll be buzzing with good vibrations.

Preparing for the throat Chakradance, I was chanting ‘ham’ for many hours this week. I observe a state of deep calm and ‘otherworldliness’ come over me after these chanting sessions. We all need different techniques to access a state of non-ordinary reality. For me being in a sacred space, either my space or nature, chanting and dancing, or making acoustic noises with drums or rattles, really helps me transition.

Spending time in communion with the throat chakra has highlighted a need to find my voice, to express myself, to make sound, both as communication and expression. Something happens to my soul when I voice this unfettered expression. Many of my partners have been powerful personalities and great singers and I have always tended to stay quiet in their midst. By vocalising with passion, I am finding my own voice, and suddenly it is like a dam bursting, and so much emotion that has been held back is allowed to flow freely.

In shamanism we find power songs or soul songs, which often come through a deep connection with the land.

You need to learn that there are songs that can connect you with the Earth; there are dances that you can dance. When you go to a place on the Earth, if the land calls out to you and says dance, then you should come alive and dance for the power in that spot. You should let a song come up out of you for the Earth, and the words don’t really matter; it’s the feeling. Pretty soon, as you open up to that kind of energy, you’re no longer simply you; you’ve become an Earth spirit, just feeling and hearing everything. That’s what we do at many of our ceremonies, we transform. Sun Bear

Back in January, I found my power place, sitting in a rock pool by the ocean. I started singing an Ani DeFranco song, but soon I was just crooning, wailing, I don’t even know what sound-making was coming from deep within me. It just came and I kept singing it and the more I sang, the more I felt that the ocean was holding me in my pain. That somehow my pain was a gateway to this kind of openness that would allow me to sit in the shallows and make these sounds. I was completely carried away, without inhibition.

Smiling with the mouth of the ocean
And I’ll wave to you with the arms of the mountain
I’ll see you. Faith No More

That emergent song stayed with me, and I use it in ceremony to connect me to that place of power that I connected with. It is a place within, but I also visualise that physical place and reconnect with the spirit of that land that so generously bestowed its power on me.

A power song is said to connect us with our helping spirits: power animals and guides, and to call our power home, both in the summoning of these spirit powers, but also singing our lost soul parts home. This correlation between voice and power makes sense to me.

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Finding voice is a theme in Celtic stories, like this one of the bard-poet Caedmon. Caedmon arrived in Ireland in 650, into a highly musical culture. At gatherings a harp would be passed around and everyone had a turn, singing and playing.

“Often at a drinking gathering, when there was an occasion of joy when all must in turn sing with a harp, when Caedmon saw the harp nearing him, he arose for shame from that feast and went home.”

One night, after quietly slipping out of another gathering, he went to tend the animals in the stables. There, “When he set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: “Caedmon, sing me something.”

Caedmon responded, “I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither.”

To which the figure responded, “Nevertheless, you must sing.”

“What must I sing?” asked the bewildered Caedmon.

Said this mysterious figure: “Sing to me of the first Creation.”

Caedmon then launched out in a fine blaze of song, with an erudition and musical intelligence that he never known before. The day following, he described his dream to his foreman, who brought the event to the attention of the Abbess Hilda. Caedmon’s gift was tested and confirmed when he composed and sang for her and her counsellors. 

Excerpt from The Shamanic Odyssey: Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience, by Robert Tindall and Susana Bustos 

sambrown2Caedmon’s song, like those who still sing in traditional shamanic cultures, had the quality of creating the world anew. When the bards sang, although they told the old stories and myths, each telling created these stories new, and their listeners experienced these tales as vivid visions through the power of the bard’s voice. The song literally took them on a journey.

Sing in me, muse, and through me tell the story of the man of many ways. Homer

In the Irish bardic tradition, stories were meant to evolve and change over time. A talented bard could deliver an old myth with exactly the power needed in that moment to bring about healing, wisdom, and transmutation.

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. Muriel Rukeyser

In the Irish mythological cycle, the poet Amergin invoked the spirit of the land, the goddess Éire, and cajoled her to give over the land to the people, by singing of his spiritual connection with the land and it’s animal and elemental spirits:

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combatants,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in valor,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance in battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire. Amergin

What he is saying, is that he is the spirit that lives in all things. In a shamanic state we can journey to any aspect of the spirit that lives in all things – we can connect with the salmon or the boar, the lake or the sun. The separation of energy and matter we experience as a barrier in ordinary reality, simply does not apply in non-ordinary realms.

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Seeking Your Power Song by Kristin Madden

Find a place where you feel safe and are unlikely to be disturbed.
Make an offering of thanks to the spirits of this place and to the Creator. Ask for their blessings and protection in this work that you are about to do.
Enter shamanic or meditative trance by your usual method.
Go deep within your Self. Find who you are at your core, beyond your identity and the roles you play in this world. Feel yourself embodying the True You as you are filled with the energy of the multiverse. You are open to healing energy and to communication with spirit guides.
Begin to sing from this place of vitality, honesty, and power. Allow all you feel and all that you are to flow into your song. Be aware of any changes in your energy or body as the song becomes part of your being.
When you feel you have experienced what you set out to do, or that your song is complete for now, give thanks to all those that walk with you, guide you, and enliven you. Sit in silence for a moment and take note of how you feel. Then return to normal consciousness.

If you don’t feel confident entering a trance-state, simply sit in nature, in a place that appeals to you where you can be undisturbed, and begin to hum or chant and allow yourself to be carried away with the sounds and the sensual feel of the place. Notice the sounds, the smells, can you feel the breeze on your skin, the sunshine?

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away. Mary Oliver

Allow yourself to be immersed in this place, this sensory connection will enable you to shift from your purely rational mind into a full body sensual experience of the place.

Don’t worry if a ‘song’ doesn’t come, just get used to experiencing the spirit of a place in this way. Over time, you’ll find as your sensory awareness awakens, you’ll begin to express your connection with the place in a creative way. Just let it unfold.

The stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own. Mary Oliver

 

Bless!

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Art by Sam Brown – view at ceruleansam.com and on Facebook

Sam began painting fantasy and science fiction themes which he still enjoys today. Over time, subjects such as anthropology, metaphysics and mysticism began to influence the content of his paintings and led to his magnetism toward the archetype of the spiral. A pattern seen throughout the Universe, the spiral has been utilized by many cultures over time and has several meanings associated with it. One being that of a spiritual journey… a spiral path which we all share.

Visit Sam on Facebook to see his creative process in action – it’s fascinating!

 

Sources:

On Earth as it is in Heaven: an interview with musicologist Joscelyn Goodwin

Shamanic Song among the Ancient Celts on Roaming the Mind – the online home for the writing and work of Robert Tindall and Susana E. Bustos.

 

Patience, patience, patience, and faith

Nautilus-Shell-36The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea. Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Ah the sea! Such a great teacher. If only I could be more like the sea. And herein lies my problem with life. I don’t wait patiently, openly, I’m always grasping, searching. I’m rarely choiceless. I almost always know exactly what I want, and what everyone else should want too, if I could just get my way, everything would be perfect.

I have never been ‘empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.’ I am always digging, wanting more, cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.

Someone who resides deep in my heart called me on this behaviour during the week.- giving me great cause for reflection. And although it is always hard to be shown one’s shortcomings, I am grateful.

You see, I finally understand where I go wrong with the things I love. Not just with people, but with everything.

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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I haven’t seen the gifts in my life as gifts from the sea, as serendipitous presents washed upon my shore. I have seen them as a Christmas present to be opened and devoured in one sitting. And even then found wanting and greedily exchanged for more stuff at the Boxing Day sales.

I haven’t just allowed things to unfold to me in their own time and way, I have always cajoled, pushed, pulled, manipulated, controlled, forced, or tried to anyway.

I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Shovelling in as much as I can. There’s no savouring or appreciation of the bounty. There’s no faith that it will be there if I slow down and appreciate it, and that I don’t need to be so greedy.

But I am glad of the lesson, of truly seeing how my problem is, not so much in manifesting gifts in my life, it’s the lack of respect and faith I show them once they do appear.

I would like to say I’ll be different now, but it’s too soon for that. All I can hope is that I’ll be more aware, more conscious.

Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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As I reviewed my last post, through another’s eyes, I saw this greed and grasping. It wasn’t pretty. Here I was commanding that the universe must deliver my intentions, in my way, on my timeline or I would, what? Lose faith, give up?

In the face of a year that has brought gift after gift after gift, my arrogance, my lack of respect and appreciation, was astounding to me.

And in the past I would have beaten up on myself, but that too is not appreciating the gift. This insight, this perspective into my subconscious driving forces is a huge gift. And I won’t disrespect it. I won’t expect it to flood me and change me overnight into some more spiritual version of myself – whatever that means.

I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance, in full self-attendance. A condition I can’t really call being alive. Mary Oliver

Even as I write there is the awareness that in a month, or a year, or an hour, this realisation will again shift and break apart into infinite drops of seaspray and become something else. And at some point I’ll hold on too tight to it, I’ll decide it could be improved somewhat, if it was more like this, less like that. And then it will slip through my fingers, like trying to hold onto water. But that’s okay too.

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me. Mary Oliver

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Scott Alexander King writes that spiritual knowledge, and the power that comes with it, must be approached with a committed, objective mindset. We cannot learn true wisdom in a weekend workshop, or a degree course. He says, “Before questing for spiritual attainment we must first dedicate ourselves to becoming a whole person; a process that involves surrendering our familiar self to Spirit, so our authentic self, hidden deep within, can emerge reborn.”

I think this is the real learning I am receiving from this year of intentions. I have been set on a course, but of course I was never going to reach my destination in this year. So rather than trying to tick off the boxes of my intentions, a greater gift is to see where those intentions have pointed me in new directions, where they have allowed my heart and mind to open to new and wonderful experiences, to where I have been fundamentally altered as a human being.

True wisdom must be deserved. It must be gathered over a lifetime of study and embraced as a way of life.  It must become a path of the heart explored with absolute devotion. We must be prepared to face our fears and conquer them and turn our weaknesses into strengths and our darkest hours into gifts of power.  Scott Alexander King

This week in our shamanic community, we have been journeying to connect with an element of nature. As I saw myself stepping outside onto my balcony, in my mind’s eye, a great tidal wave of water rushed toward me.

I was shown how water has always been with me, in childhood dreams I would lift a latch door in my bedroom floor which led me to the ocean, I would swim and meet water beings. I have many dreams of tsunami waves, of being engulfed, claimed by the sea.

This wave took me to the ocean where I swam with fish and sea turtles, and then to a river where I splashed and played with a group of otters. It was a very loving, healing, energy. The message from this water elemental is to be light and flow and play.

Water does not resist. Water flows. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. Margaret Atwood

Nautilus-Shell-34I had a similar message from my upper world guide, who is a light being who took me to the farthest star in the universe. He took me to a crystal cave where there was a pool of water that was swirling in emerald green and azure blue healing waters.  The light being had me swim in the healing waters and told me to play, so I somersaulted and played with other light beings. It was so refreshing to my spirit!

In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence. Kahil Gibran

Spirit is telling me to lighten up, to be the light I want to see in the world, to play and laugh and be joyful. There is a time to be serious and solemn, but there is also the need for light heartedness.

In a subsequent journey with water. Water again came up onto my balcony and sucked me into it’s undertow. This time I became water. From water I evaporated into the sky. Raining down into a river, then emptied into the sea. Moving fast this time, I felt a little fearful of the power of water in full force.

Deep and rough ocean waves, huge and gray-green with dark depths beneath, crashed around me. Fear arose strongly in me, and as if in response to my fear, I was washed up on a beach where I sat and talked with water spirit/deity.

They communicated to me that there was no more fear to be felt in rough waves than calm waters. Water doesn’t fear the deep ocean more than the tranquil bay. Ego, attachment to form creates fear. Water has no attachment to form. It flows. It lets go. It trusts. I went back into deep ocean with this sense of trust. The experience became more excitement than anxiety. Deep, dark ocean depths roiled beneath me, and I sensed my unconscious there – there was much more of myself, of life, to explore. I felt a fear of my deepest darkest depths, and yet sensed its untapped power.

The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you. Mary Oliver

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The weekend heralded the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Solstice literally means ‘standstill’ and for three days the sun appears to rise at the exact same point on the horizon. This week leading to the Summer Solstice has been overwhelming for many. A reminder that the powerful solar fire energy can be harnessed for good or evil.

The idea of a standstill is a powerful one. So often, and particularly at this time of year, life becomes so busy and so focused on getting through the end of the year. and surviving Christmas, that we forget to slow down, to breathe, to check in with our emotional state. If the traffic on the roads are any indicator of this, we are all being thoughtless, impulsive and selfish.

The Solstice is a time when the energies of nature, of the otherworld are closest in communion to our ordinary reality. As such it is a wonderful time to commune with nature. In this way we can stop and stand still and breathe. We can experience that there is more to life than our fabricated sense of reality.

All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better. Mary Oliver

I celebrated the Solstice with a dance ritual on the Friday, Chakradance on Saturday and a druid ritual on Sunday.

We met at the grassy plain atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Communing with the sun, earth, air and water we honoured the elements, the nature spirits and our own divinity, we made vows for the year to come. Then we feasted and swam in the ocean. It was a beautiful celebration of life’s rich bounty.

Coming home I took a bath and a deep sadness overwhelmed me. “Oh for God’s sake, when will I be free of this grief?” I exclaimed to the water.

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My heart is opening. What greater gift could love bring me?

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Affirmations for healing your heart chakra by Natalie Southgate, founder of Chakradance

I am open to love and kindness.
I give and receive love freely.
My heart is full.
I forgive myself….
I have so much to be grateful for.
The love that I give comes back to me many times over.
I am connected with other human beings.
I am at peace.

Affirmations are positive messages for our inner self. It is always best to make affirmations personal, so use the affirmations above which really resonate with your inner self or create some of your own. Spend some time each day, either silently or out loud, saying and feeling these positive messages for your heart. Natalie Southgate

Bless!

Images by Kathy Morton-Stanion

Ocean sized

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Wish I was ocean size
They cannot move you
No one tries
No one pulls you
Out from your hole
Like a tooth aching in a jawbone… Jane’s Addiction

Last week I was a Chakradancing shaman-priestess of the Goddess. This week I am a librarian huddled in the Romance section of the library in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Why? Heartbreak, disappointment. You know, the usual suspects.

I thought, nay, I was dead-sure, that I was training in shamanic ways in Bali in February. It was all a happening thang until work said ‘no’ to me taking leave at that time. And then, I just lost the plot. I mean emotionally, I didn’t go postal and shoot up the library or anything. My rage is within.

As such, I really haven’t wanted to publish a post until I ‘felt better.’ I’ve been procrastinating, not wanting to write what I was feeling. I was in such a positive frame of mind last week. This week, not so much.

Feeling that I’d be contradicting my “I’m not broken” statement by, well, having a breakdown, I just wanted to hide away and not write anything.

But then the clouds cleared enough for me to realise that being unbroken is not the same as being unaffected by life. Of course disappointment and heartbreak will affect me deeply. Of course I feel devastated when things I have proclaimed to love and want don’t come to fruition for me.

That’s not broken, that’s the opposite of broken. That’s real.

It ain’t easy living…
I want to be
As deep
As the ocean
Mother ocean. Jane’s Addiction

So I realised this week that I have some odd ideas about how I ‘should’ be – and how I ‘should’ react to things. Just because a relationship isn’t working doesn’t mean I’m not devastated when it ends. People, many people, told me when my marriage ended that I was “better off without him.” And perhaps I was, didn’t mean it wasn’t the most painful experience of my life.

People also tend to say “it’s not meant to be” when we miss out on opportunities that we have set our hearts on. It may be true, but it doesn’t diminish the sharp stab of disappointment.

I was made with a heart of stone
To be broken
With one hard blow
I’ve seen the ocean
Break on the shore
Come together with no harm done… Jane’s Addiction

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And if, like most people, you’ve weathered your fair share of loss, grief, and disappointment in your life, that latest hurt is inevitably going to feel like one more cut, along with the other thousand you are in the process of healing from.

So after beating myself up for crying at work, crying in the shower, crying in the car, listening to Adele very loudly, and crying some more, I finally gave myself a break.

Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us. Brian Jacques

And I thought, so what if you’re overreacting? So what if it’s not meant to be? So what if it’s not the right time for you to study shamanism in Bali with a man you love dearly? So what if there’s plenty of fish in the sea?

It hurts. It really hurts. So pump up Adele and sing along as loud and with as much tears and snot as you need to get through this and honour your feelings.

And what I found when I surrendered to the feelings of loss, sadness, disappointment, rage and grief was that they were like waves. They’d come in and ‘whoah!’ Whoosh off I’d go. It would feel intense, overwhelming, literally like I was dying of pain. And then. It would subside.

It reminded me of my dear friend, G. I reached out to her in solidarity in the late stages of my pregnancy. I knew her, but not very well. But I had no friends who had had babies and I was scared. She had traversed that magical, mystical rite of passage into motherhood with such grace.

When I asked her what labour was like, I think I said. “Is it painful?” And she laughed. She said. “It helped me to see that it came in waves. So I’d ride the wave and it would get really intense and then it would break and the next wave would build.” That made the pain manageable.

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea, I am the wave of the ocean. Amergin

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I’ve used that analogy a lot since then. We also rang each other everyday during our divorces. On any given day, one of us would be an absolute cot-case and the other would be doing a bit better. That’s why friendship works, don’t you know, because we are not all crazy on the same day!

We were like wounded soldiers leaning against each other for support, staggering away from the battlefield. Sometimes we’d miss each other’s calls and just a simple text “the storm has passed” to let the other know we were okay.

I find it fascinating, these analogies of storms and waves. Jung believed water, particularly the I ocean was an archetype for the subconscious.

Nature is the only place I feel sane this week. I’m practicing being in nature with all my senses. Closing my eyes. Hearing the sounds. Feeling the breeze. Smelling the earth. Tasting the air.

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.” Sylvia Plath

Sensing removes me from thinking and brings my focus into the present moment. It’s also incredibly lovely. We miss so much when we are stuck in our heads, thinking, ruminating.

Nature is ever expansive. When we observe the horizon and the vastness beyond, when we listen to the sounds the go on infinitely beyond the audible. When the smell of flowers and leaves and salt-sea air fills our noses and mouths with scent and tastes that stir the deepest most ancient recesses within us. Everything expands. Our vision, our senses and our spirit.

In nature, our spirit pulses and resonates to this throb and thrum of life. The mental chatter becomes just a small part of a greater cacophony. Thoughts drift away. Emotions are soothed. Our bodies calm down into the steady, strong heartbeat of the earth.

The hard thing, I think. Is trying to decide what to do when my head starts hurting, and my emotions rage out of control. Take this Bali trip, for example. I was so sure it was ‘meant to be’.

There are many tangled threads of want, need and desire. I want to do shamanic training, Bali is the closest place to do the training I want to do. I’ve been wanting to go to Bali for years. I haven’t been away without children for 15 years. My ex has been to Asia at least 10 times in the last 5 years. The most recent time was for his honeymoon a few weeks ago.

My ex getting married rocked me more than I had anticipated. It was not the usual kind of jealousy – I don’t want to be with him. It was just the reminder that in the five and a half years we have been separated he has travelled extensively, bought a house, and gotten married. And I, well I haven’t.

Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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My love was going to Bali with me. So it seemed like such a golden thing. Shamanism, love and Bali sunsets. So when work said no to leave, I was gutted. All these different disappointments came into play simultaneously.

I kind of lost the plot. I needed to cry and all I could do was crouch at the back of the library pretending to shelve the romance novels. And cry. Yep. Pretty pathetic.

I mean I thought, to myself, ‘you could quit your job.’ I really thought about it. I mean if this was my destiny, that would be the right thing to do. But I have a child. Taking those kind if risks seemed crazy. And what if it wasn’t my destiny? What if it was just my wilfulness?

There are no easy answers. My friend also says God’s will should be effortless. Meaning it should unfold without angst. Do I believe that? I used to. I’m not sure what I believe anymore.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on. Mary Oliver

So I didn’t get what I wanted. Instead I’m trying to get to a different shamanism course. I applied for a great role at work, and went to an interview. Because life goes on. It just does, so I may as well too.

And I’m teaching Chakradance! It is the most wonderful, nurturing experience. I really feel like I am a shaman when I lead a class.

Last night in the third eye Chakradance, where we dance our dreams into reality, I saw myself in a – fabulous feather outfit, complete with head-piece – leading a huge group of people in a dance journey, standing on a lush green hill. And I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s okay. It’s all okay. It’s going to be okay.

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Just now I received an email from the Shamanic teacher. He lives in Bali, he does courses there year-round.  ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.’ Whispers the universe.

So why do I create such big waves in my life? Why can’t I just be calm? Why can’t the ocean be calm all the time? Because things need to be churned up sometimes, a good shake up allows the detritus to rise to the surface and be dumped on the shore. It’s part of the cycle.

Divinity is in it’s omniscience and omnipotence like a wheel, a circle, a whole, that can neither be understood, nor divided, nor begun nor ended. Hildegard of Bingen

It reminds me of that scene in the movie Parenthood. Steve Martin’s character has just discovered – after losing his job – that his wife is pregnant with their fourth child. He’s sitting at his kid’s school concert, which goes haywire, and he begins to feel as if he’s on a roller coaster. At first he’s panicked, but then he remembers his grandma saying “Life is like a roller coaster, just hang on and enjoy the ride.”

Surfing the waves is like being on a roller coaster, it’s out of control and terrifying but simultaneously exhilarating. A calm ocean is peaceful, but there’s no movement.

In this way, experiencing emotional suffering can be a healing opportunity. Events can trigger an emotional response, say sadness, anger and grief, these emotions may be stored in our subtle body, our energy meridians and even our physical body, and as they are stirred up by this fresh experience we can release them.

So re-feeling of the old pain of our lives is a vital opportunity to address old patterns, thinking and emotions and to let them go.

To do this we must honour the feelings, we must let go of judgement and criticism. For me this means not berating myself for being over-emotional, over-sensitive, and over-reactive.

The reality is I grew up in a home where expressing emotions was discouraged, then I spent the next twenty years suppressing my emotions in various ways, of course I have a surplus of emotion ‘stored’ in my system. I’m I the process of a massive emotional detox. The truth is, in our culture, if you have embarked on a spiritual path, most of us are.

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Our culture doesn’t support emotional expression very well. We don’t have appropriate rituals and support for trauma. In traditional shamanic cultures, if someone suffered a loss or trauma, after three days the whole community would gather and the shaman would perform a healing and soul retrieval.

Can you imagine? Every car accident, assault, medical procedure, break-up, loss, grief, trauma you have suffered in your life, being acknowledged and healed at that time, so your body didn’t have to bear the accumulation of this pain.

But that’s okay. I don’t live in a shamanic culture, that doesn’t mean I can’t use their wisdom and practice to heal and release these emotional wounds.

As such I have been journeying this week, going into a state of non-ordinary reality to seek guidance on how best to work through the things that are coming up for me.

Gentle nurturing support is what I received. Guidance to take baths and ground myself in nature. The body and spirit will process this, given time and the space to do so. By honouring the work of my soul, by listening to what emerges for me in my life, I get to release off baggage and clear space for my true spirit to emerge.

This is what Frank MacEowen, in his book The Celtic Way of Seeing, calls “the conscious process of soul refinement.”

Affirmations about nature from bmindful.com and healingwithcrystals.net.au:

My spirit is nourished by spending time in nature
I am blessed to have the richness of nature around me.
When I commune with nature, my own blessed spirit is renewed.
Today I will spend time alone in nature.
I live naturally in all ways.
I live in harmony with all that is around me.
I am completely refreshed after communing with nature.
I accept, release, and allow space for the exchange of energy.
Natural diversity inspires wonder and awe in me.

Nature is always in flux. Waves crash on the shore. Leaves fall from trees. Nature always letting go and coming together anew. Let go. Rides the waves. It’s okay.

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. e.e. cummings

Bless!

 

Art by Robin Mead Designs

You’re not broken

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We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole and great body. Joan Halifax

You’re not broken. You don’t need fixing. There’s nothing wrong with you. If you could just sit with yourself, and feel your true nature, and love yourself as you are. If you could love yourself so much that all the fragments, all the broken off pieces of yourself would come flooding back to be in the majesty of your being.

Find what is natural, not what is normal. Panache Desai

I am fascinated at the moment with the Arthurian Legends, the priestesses to the Goddess, the knights, the shamanic magic of Merlin, I am currently reading at least different three books about it.

The ‘Mists of Avalon’, as with all Arthurian Tales, present many archetypes of woman. The difference in their fates appears to be an issue of power. Those who felt abused by life ended up in the convent finding peace in God’s forgiveness. Those who acted in the service of the Goddess stayed powerful and active in the world. Then there were those who were destroyed by a selfish desire for power.

How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole. C.G. Jung

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Is is possible that we can reframe trauma to be seen as a service to the Goddess? Not the inflicting of the trauma itself, but the life force that keeps us going on, striving towards wholeness. Or if you prefer a less religious version, as a pathway to individuation of the Self.

For me, when I feel hopeless and broken this idea brings great comfort. It is becomingly increasingly apparent to me that I have reached a fork in the road where I can see myself as damaged and in need of constant healing, and suffering in irredeemable pain. Or I can walk the path of power, that there is nothing wrong with me, that all this pain and healing and awakening has led me to a place where I can guide myself and others along the path to wholeness.

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing. Rabindranath Tagore

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As is my want, I am reading several books at the moment. It is a strange practice that walks a fine line between powerful cross-pollination of ideas and total confusion.

I have picked up Vagina:A Biography by Naomi Wolf where I left off – namely at the part where it ceased to be an “oh wow!” journey into the wonder of the female sexual nervous system and forayed into some – truly frightening – anecdotal evidence of the degree and longevity of the effects of sexual trauma on physiology and psychology. Not to mention on mental wellbeing, sexuality, and creativity.

Simultaneously I am reading Jungian and mythological accounts of the Arthuriam legends, and about shamanic soul retrieval.

The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness. Madeleine L’Engle

As such there is a melting pot of ideas in my mind – which fuelled by some celtic inspired rituals to the triple goddess has inspired me to purse this nexus of goddess power/shamanic soul retrieval and psychic healing from sexual trauma, and all it’s associated long-term issues for a person’s mind, body and spirit.

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

Naomi Wolf travelled to Sierra Leone in 2004 at the height of the civil war. She visited a camp where literally hundreds of women – who had suffered brutal sexual trauma at the hands of soldiers – were housed. Jimmie Briggs – founder of the anti-violenece organisation ‘Man Up’ – wrote that the victims of sexual trauma seemed more affected in some ways that any other trauma of war, he says, “It is as if the light has gone off in their eyes.”

grilmirrorwolfWolf also writes about a condition called Vulvodynia – a condition I suffered from for many years during my late teens and early twenties, undiagnosed beyond being told “it was all in my head.” Turns out it was in my head, not psychosomatic as the doctor suggested to me, but a condition of the nervous system, which affects the pelvic nerve, causing painful sex as well as affecting general wellbeing.

Wolf writes that sufferers of this condition also present as if the “light has gone out of them.” Often expressing a lack of will to live.

Wolf hypothesises that damage to a woman’s pelvic nerve has an effect on their neurological function, affecting vitality, depression, and even their will to live.

Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself. Dictionary of Word Origins

I wonder if it’s possible to heal these women, whose “light has gone out of their eyes”, even those who have been so damaged by rape and sexual trauma that the very fabric of their being has been torn?

This description of the light going out of their eyes, speaks to me of soul loss, and I say that as someone who has experienced trauma and depression and a loss of hope. I also speak as someone who has found healing and path to wholeness again.

As twee as it may sound – to those who haven’t experienced the journeying practice – I wonder can shamanic healing and dancing life into their souls through Chakradance and moving meditations help these victims of trauma? I believe it can. I believe Chakradance can be a gentle, loving, and self-managed soul retrieval process.

So what is soul retrieval?

Shamanic journeying varies slightly from culture to culture but it is a system of healing that has been continuously in use for over 40,000 years.

Shamans divide the spiritual cosmos into three worlds; the Upper World, the Middle World, the Lower World. A missing soul essence may be found in any of these worlds. Shamans most often use the beat of the drum to take them into an altered state of consciousness and carry them in spirit flight into the hidden universe of these worlds. Once there, they meet with their helping spirits, power animals and spirit teachers. It is the spirits who then lead the shaman to the places where lost soul essences are found. Working hand in hand with their spirits, the shaman retrieves the lost soul and carries it back to the person who is awaiting its return. The soul is sung back, blown into the body and welcomed home in a beautiful ceremony. Beth Beurkens

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Journey work is done by entering a meditative or trance-like state, a theta brain wave state, through the use of repetitive drumming or other percussive sounds, singing, chanting, bells rattles or dancing. In this state we can journey to non-ordinary reality, to the realms of spirit, where we can communicate with guides, power animals and reclaim lost parts of our spirit.

Being able to engage with the realms outside of what we call our life is the role of the shaman. Our vast Universe and our expansive life is made up of layers upon layers of energetic realms. It is within these realms that energies can get lost, trapped, bogged down or wounded. Our soul, when faced with tremendous pain, suffering, loss, trauma or fear, can often retreat in an effort to protect, to hide or to grieve. The roots to our soul loss can go deep into our life story and often we find it challenging to trace them to the cause of our unbalance on our own. Lisa Meade

Soul retrieval, one aspect of journeying, addresses the idea of soul loss. The idea being that those of us who have experienced trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, especially where our physical body was violated or threatened, may have had a soul-splintering experience, where parts of our soul literally fled to the far reaches of the universe, and stayed there.

Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life. Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out – and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away. Robert Moss

Sandra Ingerman writes that in psychology this state is called disassociation, but little attention is paid to where the self goes, or how to get it back. Rather it is viewed more as a psychological pattern of coping with trauma.

The main symptoms of soul loss are issues with personal power, difficulties with healthy boundaries, loss of vitality, or even loss of the will to live.

When we talk about soul we are really talking about light. In returning the soul parts and lost vitality to the client we are really returning light. Sandra Ingerman

One of the many techniques a shaman uses – in addition to singing, chanting, howling, yipping, dancing, stomping, waving leaves around, and smudging you with smoke and essences, it’s a very noisy, vibrant experience – is to blow the spirit into your being. As a passionate devotee of yoga and the Vedic wisdom that ‘breath is life’ I really like this idea.

If you’re not familiar with the practice of shamanic soul retrieval watch this explanation and demonstration by Daniel Leonard:

Try this soul retrieval practice for yourself on Tai Carmen’s blog post on Soul Retrieval – you’ll have to scroll down for the practice, but the whole post is worth a read.

When you pray, you visit the kind innocence of your soul. This is a pure place of unity which the noise of life can never disturb. You enter the secret temple of your deepest belonging. Only in this temple can your hungriest longing find stillness and peace. John O’Donohue

dreaming-with-horse-spiritAffirmations for wholeness by Trina Brunk:

I welcome all my feelings. I am willing to receive my soul’s communication through my feelings. I am whole and my feelings are part of my wholeness.

I give thanks for the blessing of life and all the loving support I receive from my forebears. I give back what is not mine.

With every breath I easily release attachment to emotions. The emotions of others have no effect on me. I experience balance and wholeness on all levels of my being. I am at peace.

I release my attachment to being right. I trust the flow of life and I effortlessly, joyously allow it to carry me. I empty my mind and enter the silence and here I am blessed, replenished and healed.

I no longer defend against knowing what I know, seeing what I see, experiencing what I experience. I accept my wholeness. In my undefended innocence I am whole.

Forgive me my blunt assertions in this post, forgive my contradictions. I mean no offence to those who suffer – all these ideas are nascent and unformed. They spring from a hope and a desperate desire to believe there is the potential for wholeness for myself and all people who desire to be restored to their true vitality, no matter how great their suffering.

Bless!

 

Sources:

Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman

Soul Retrieval by Tai Carmen

Vagina: A biography by Naomi Wolf

The Shaman’s Way by Michael Harner

 

Images:

Spirit Of Fire

Shamanic_Soul_Retrieval_Reiki

shamanic-soul-retrieval

dreaming-with-horse-spirit

mending

women in mirror