I notice more and more these days, my hesitation around the word “shaman”. Even if I myself identify as being on a shamanic path.
Perhaps it is because of how much I have seen this label misused; and with kind of an underlying arrogant assertion as to an individual’s power and mastery of connection to spirit.
The true shamans I have known, do not seem to describe themselves as such. And I am always struck deeply by the humility of my own teacher.
I’ve seen him travel a whole day from one side of the country to another, in a car totally unsuited to the land’s rough roads, when his own vehicle was broken down – deeply honouring his commitment to the work he’d promised to do. Arriving at my home with his sleeping child, nearly at midnight, and declining to take the offer of my freshly made bed I’d prepared for the both of them. He’d already said before that he didn’t mind to sleep on the floor (when I’d mentioned the limited space I had in my home). Yet, I wanted to offer more than that for his effort in coming, and had been ready to give up my own comforts.
Or the time he’d travelled just as far to offer a sweat lodge ceremony, with only three of us in attendance. Tending to a blazing fire in the midday heat of a scorching sun, for what would essentially become my own private ceremony – the two other attendees helped with the fire at intervals throughout the process, and so I was the only one to spend the entire time within the Inipi (the tent where the sweat-lodge is conducted).
It was in fact a powerful experience, that unwound some trauma I had after a poorly-held sweat lodge that had left me feeling violated at a soul level, and with severe pain in my joints for a week after. That, too, was an experience I don’t regret – it taught me many things, including about the spiritual ego, and the wariness I should have around those who proclaim themselves to be shamans.
But after my teacher’s ceremony, I emerged feeling such deep renewal and recalibration on so many levels. The contrast in approach was like night and day. And not so much down to physical method – it was more of an energetical matter. How does someone carry themselves? What motivates them to do the work? Is it their own ego and greed, or a true genuine desire to heal and support peoples’ growth?
Perhaps my aversion to the label of “shaman” also comes from my experiences of what a shaman in fact does. It seems contradictory to attach to the label of an identity, when the work of a shaman involves embodying a certain fluidity of character – to act merely as a channel for the messages of spirit to flow through.
There’s been times where I’ve been triggered by my teacher’s “ego”, which was not really his ego at all, but a reflection of my own. A shaman will, through their work, hold an unveiled mirror to your soul, to expose the deepest darkest parts. Reveal your shadows, so that you have an opportunity to heal them. To become more luminous – as my teacher says.
So how do you know who is real, and who is not? I also by no means want to suggest that anyone who calls themselves a “shaman” is fake. Labels, too, can have benefits: we live in a society where labels are used all the time, and it can feel necessary to function with labels and titles in order to connect with those around us, in a way that they can understand and relate to.
My best advice, then, for navigating any kind of exploration into shamanism (or for that matter, any holistic healing work) is to really examine – how does the practitioner live their own life? What example do they set for others? Are they truly walking the walk, or just talking the talk?
My teacher didn’t seek me out. I found him. Be wary of those who market themselves aggressively and make loud claims about what they can do for you. Is their energy overly focussed on what they can “get” – clients, money, work…?
Or is it about what they can give, how they can be in devotional service, and their focus on continued personal expansion, growth, betterment – that they can provide ever-more deeply to others and to the earth.
And one last thing – know that we are all constantly growing, evolving, changing… all on a healing journey together. All too often we lock ourselves into fixed perceptions about people, situations, relationships. When in truth, everything is always in constant flux, a cycle.
Make sure to ask these questions constantly. Check in with your inner voice, and don’t “follow” anybody. The ultimate teacher is within you: the goal is to find our own connection to spirit and be liberated from reliance on any one master or system of rules. Others are here to help us on our paths – but during our earthly incarnation, we are all students of a power far greater and beyond us… in the universe out there, accessed through the universe inside our own hearts.
Love and blessings on your journey.