If I asked you to picture a shaman, what would you see in your mind’s eye? A lone mystic, sitting cross-legged in a cave somewhere, wreathed in fragrant smoke, chanting mystical incantations to the unseen forces that shape our lives? Maybe someone in an extraordinary costume with a whole variety of exotic objects hanging and rattling as they dance?
If so, prepare yourself for a shock: there’s lots more to shamanism than waving feathers and having far out visions. I’ve been studying shamanism for 30 years – I’ve devoted my life to the art (in fact, I’ve even written a book about it.) So, in this article, I’m going to redraw the boundaries of what you think you know about shamanism and do a little shamanic healing on seven persistent myths about shamanism.
1. Shamanism in general does not require us to believe in anything. Shamanism gives us practical tools to experience our connection to the greater powers of nature and the mystery that animates it all for ourselves, and as such, is a path of self-empowerment. Movement Medicine Everyday Shamanism (taught and created by the School of Movement Medicine) invites you take a journey to embody your soul and bring what you dream to earth through nine gateways, helped along the way by creating your own direct connection to the spirits of nature through your moving body.
These nine gateways are divided into three journeys.
– The alignment of body–heart–mind to reconnect us to the source of our own empowerment.
– The power that is available to us across what we call the ‘Arc of Time’ – a shamanic journey through the past, present and future in order to reveal how we can take responsibility for our lives and find the deepest contentment available to us; namely, being who we are and offering what we’ve got.
– We call the third journey ‘The harvest’. In this journey, our own unique ‘soul print’ is revealed and we discover the deep connection between our own fulfillment, the interconnected web of life that we are all part of and the realisation of who we truly are.
2. I have found – through working with thousands and thousands of people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, economic circumstances, ages and realities – that deep down, we humans are all super potent and creative beings. From Africa to North and South America. From Japan to Croatia. Rich and poor. Young and old. Every one of us has the power to transform our pain into healing, our disempowerment into empowerment, and like the phoenix, to rise from the ashes of the past and be renewed. This has led me to understand that:
Everyday shamanism is for everyday people like you and me. It’s down-to-earth and inspiring. It’s practical and poetic. It’s about our everyday relationship to the web of life to which we belong and on which we depend. It reminds us through direct, embodied experience that we all have something totally unique and valuable to offer. Shamanism helps us to recognise the gifts in our life experience, whatever our circumstances, and in doing so, heals the sense of lack, disconnection and loneliness of spirit that is such a mark of modern life. Through showing us who we are and what we have to give, shamanism gives us the tools to live a soulful and inspired life.
3. The past, far from being a burden or an excuse, is a source of high-octane inspiration and life-force energy that we can access and make use of in the present.
When we stop being the victims of our past and start to be the co-creators of the present and the future, we have embraced another shamanic principle. Movement Medicine Everyday Shamanism shows us how to dance free from the victim–persecutor–rescuer dynamic that is as the heart of so much of our human suffering and enter the magical realms of the dancing fool, the dancing warrior and the wise elder who hold the three keys of a) the power of creativity, b) the power of choice and c) the power of love.
4. Shamanism and science are closer together than you might think.
Modern understanding of how the brain functions has started to build a bridge between science and shamanism. Wiring our brains up to machines that measure what parts of the brain are active when we are in trance or when we are in a lucid dream has begun to give us the ability to map altered states. Modern neuroscientific understandings such as neuroplasticity have started to build the bridge between what the shamans of antiquity have always known and the scientists of the modern day have started to find proof for. Shamans gain access to what is sometimes called the ‘info realm’ through trance. That realm is the realm of universal knowledge about life and particular knowledge about patients who ask for healing. We are just beginning to understand the connectivity between the brain, the heart and the body, and the effect this has our day-to-day lives. Our capacity to change our relationship to reality by becoming conscious of, and taking responsibility for, the meaning we give to our experiences is one of the core tools of empowerment that shamans have always used. We are now starting to understand that memory is not the solid and immovable library that we once thought it to be. Rather, it is open to interpretation and this gives us so much more possibility in opening ourselves to a new story that empowers us to be the best of who we can be.
5. The shaman’s drum is one of the healthiest, safest and most powerful tools for changing our state that there is.
Healing means accessing more resilience to dance with what life brings. One of the most powerful and direct routes to opening the state in which healing can happen is through rhythm. The shaman’s drum is the oldest tool we have for reliably changing states. Studies of brain patterns by researcher Dr Melinda Maxfield found that a steady 4.5 Hertz (Hz or cycles per second) for at least 15 minutes can transport shamans into altered states of consciousness. This 4.5 cycles per second corresponds to a trance like state of theta brainwave activity, a far more creative and open state of mind than our everyday consciousness. This is why sometimes shaman’s refer to their drum as their ‘horse,’ as it allows them to travel from one state to another.
6. Practice makes the master. Not anyone can be a shaman but, anyone can learn to benefit themselves, their families and their environment through shamanic practice. Tiger Woods said, ‘it’s amazing! The more I practice, the luckier I get.’ Shamanism, like any other technique or practice, is the same. What we give our energy to will grow. Practice connection and you will recognise your connection to the powers of nature and to the spirt that animates all life. Practice listening and you will hear. Practice loving life and you will feel so loved by life.
Shamanism, like any other discipline, requires practice. Shamanism is about relationship to the wild instincts and deep health and harmony of nature inside us and beyond us. For instance, through giving our attention to the 70% of us that IS water, we can learn how to bring the qualities of fluidity, depth, connectivity and flow into our everyday lives. The more we recognise the waters as sacred, the deeper this relationship goes. Therefore, having your morning shower becomes a beautiful opportunity to be in direct connection with the waters of life. Like any relationship, the more attention we give to it, the deeper it goes and every one of us has it within us to connect to the powers that give us life in a much deeper way.
7. How much we receive is totally connected to how much we give. This is the shamanic law of reciprocity. The more we give, the more we receive. The more we receive what life is offering, the more we have to give back. Shamanism in general, and Movement Medicine in particular, give us the tools to unblock, heal and nourish the infinity loop of giving and receiving. The result of this is one of the great joys in life. It has brought me dignity, purpose and profound satisfaction and I am certain it can bring you the same.
We have been trained to focus on what we lack, materially, spiritually and on every other level. But when we choose to change our focus and start to recognise how much life is giving us, and to then base ourselves in gratitude for that, we immediately connect to a deeper place of contentment and from there, our growing is as natural as the cycles of the seasons.
If this article moves you, I’ll look forward to meeting you through the pages of my book Jaguar in the Body, Butterfly in the Heart and indeed in person should you feel the ancient call of the shaman’s song inside you.
Until We Meet Again,
Ya’Acov Darling Khan