Living a Shamanic Way of Life
Shamanism is a way of life. It reminds us that everything is alive with energy and that we are all connected to and inseparable from a universal web of life.
When we teach Medicine for the Earth: How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins we talk about living a Shamanic Way of Life. People have been asking me “What does that mean”? So I am dedicating this month’s Well of Light Newsletter to exploring twelve key elements that I believe support living a shamanic way of life. Like any practice there will be days when you are fully engaged in all of these steps and others when you only manage to spend a few moments connected to this path. In the end, it’s all about love. We must first learn to love and embrace ourselves when we don’t do it perfectly. When we love the eternal spirit that lives within ourselves, we learn to love all life, as we are all deeply and profoundly interconnected with the web of life and the Spirit that lives in all things.
Shamanism is the oldest spiritual healing practice on the planet dating back at least 50,000 years. It is a system of Direct Revelation (all the world religions were originally based on this practice). The word shaman means “one who sees in the dark”. Shamans enter what is called non-ordinary reality, to access information that is not accessible to the linear mind. While it is useful to have a teacher and outside inspiration, the important thing is to become still enough to hear our inner spirit. The basic principle behind this work is that if we want to change the outer world of form and substance, we must first transmute the inner world of toxic thoughts, beliefs and assumptions into the golden light of loving awareness. We live in a time when the solutions to today’s challenges will only be solved by a spiritual awakening on the planet. Without this awakening, future generations (if they survive), will live very challenging lives. Here are some basic practices that can lead us to living in a shamanic way.
Your true home is in the here and the now.
-Thích Nhất Hạnh
1. Cultivating Presence: Our contemporary world is one of distraction, denial and disturbance. To live a shamanic life we must learn to focus the mind. Concentration on the breath is a traditional way of transcending our constant preoccupation with the remembered stories of the past and imagined fears of the future. Presence is already here. Mostly we aren’t. We must learn mindfully to put our attention on what is happening moment to moment or we miss our life.
Our intention creates our reality.
2. Living an Intentional Life: Intention is the key to living in an intuitive and self-revelatory state of awareness. Imagining the kind of world we want to live in and not being distracted by the daily dose of bad news or the myriad disruptions that present themselves moment to moment is essential to living the life you were born to live and manifesting the quality of living that is your longing. Letting your own luminous self shine needs only that you hold the intention to bring your light forth into the world and shine. All manifested dreams start with intention. Create daily reminders of the future you want to live into.
Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
3. Honoring the Web of Life: Humanity is, for the most part, suffering from a serious case of “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Every part of nature works in collaboration with every other part, except the human species. We must reawaken our relationship with the seasons, elements and cycles of the natural world to rediscover how to live in harmony with her. Shamans call forth their power from the trees, mountains, rivers, sun and moon. They know the spirits of nature are their allies. Indigenous peoples have always known that the role of the human on this planet is as a caretaker of the earth and all life.
The Navajo people have a saying: May you walk in beauty. In saying this, they mean never say anything that will create fear or harm in another. Do not
curse others with your words. Rather, bless them with words
that create beauty in their lives.
4. Walking in Beauty: Our perception creates our reality. Most of us have been trained by our culture to focus on what’s wrong rather that basking in the beauty that surrounds us. If we want to transform our suffering, struggling and despair we must attune ourselves to the miracle of just being here. It’s easy to find fault with our parents and ancestors, but can we celebrate all the things we appreciate about the vision of life on earth that they bequeathed us? Turn off the radio and TV news and open to the radiant joy of each breath. Celebrate the little things each day that bless you and make your heart sing. What you shine your light on will reflect your own divinity.
Some men see things as they are and say, ”Why?” I dream of things
that never were, and say, ”Why not?”
-George Bernard Shaw
5. Holding a Positive Vision for the Future: Psychology research has clearly shown that at the heart of most depression is not having a compelling vision for the future. It is important to hold a clear image of the life we want to live into, to literally have something to wake up for every day. Setting short and long term goals brings us more directly into contact with life. The future of life on this planet depends on our holding a picture of a positive future for our descendants and ourselves. Take the time to imagine and write down the life you envision today and watch the magic unfold.
Although you appear in earthly form your essence is pure Consciousness.
You are the fearless guardian of Divine Light.
6. Seeing all Beings in Divine Light: Our identification with our ego and story of who we think we are keeps us separate from each other. Our character and personality has very little to do with who we really are, which is the eternal light of spirit. We don’t have to condone the behavior of someone to see them in their Divine nature, surrounded by the light of love. To honor the Spirit that lives in all things it is imperative that we practice seeing others in their Divine light. When people are truly seen, they begin to transform as there is no further need to engage in the dysfunctional ways they learned to try and receive the love and attention they never got.
Webster’s dictionary, defines integrity as a state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition.
7. Being in Integrity: Integrity has nothing to do with right and wrong, good or bad or being morally upright. It is about being true to our nature and honoring our word as our self. It means not leaving things undone and having the strength to engage in courageous conversations when they are needed. The world we live in is the one that comes out of our mouth. Speak the world you want to live into. Being in Integrity means practicing right speaking, thinking and acting based on the values that we hold.
What you appreciate appreciates.
8. Expressing Gratitude and Thanks Giving: It is so easy in our terminally busy lives to take the miracles that surround us for granted. We worry about our future; will I have enough money, time, love; we get caught up in fear, doubt and anxiety; and we rush around missing the life that is disappearing in the wake of our motion. Shamans always begin and end all ceremonies and every day with expressing gratitude for the ancestors, the elements, the directions, all the nature beings and the life they have been given. What we hold in lack increases, just as what we are grateful for grows.
When the inner garden is under cultivation and Spirit is present, harvests are regular events. The fruits? Things like courage, hope, love,
endurance, joy, and lots of peace.
9. Tending Your Inner Garden: A wonderful metaphor for our inner lives is to imagine it as a fertile garden. Whatever we plant there grows. If we sow seeds of fear, anger, separation and suffering our garden will resemble a garbage strewn abandoned inner city lot. But if we sow seeds of love, gratitude, joy, light and possibility we will reap a rich golden harvest of connection, abundance, health and prosperity.
Three things to remember in any discipline: Practice, Practice and Practice!
10. Engaging in a Daily Practice: Practice is a discipline. You don’t need to get it right all the time, you just need to do it. To live a shamanic way of life means that you practice every day. You find ways to remind yourself to engage in the rituals, ceremonies and activities of your path. One of the most important ways to keep going when you are distracted or don’t want to (the most important time to engage in practice) is to surround yourself with a community that reminds you of who you are when you forget. You are the Divine, trying to remember your true nature.
It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is
humility that makes men as angels.
11. Practicing Humility: We have an epidemic of loneliness in our culture. One in four people in the US have no one to call in case of an emergency. It is our ego that keeps us separate and is constantly measuring our sense of self worth against the hierarchy of righteous indignation. When we see the numinous beauty in others we experience it in ourselves and thereby elevate the level of love and goodness in the world. A true shaman knows that the work they do is coming through them as spirit. They are merely messengers, a hollow bone or conduit for the Divine to flow through. It’s time to get over ourselves.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
12. Being of Service: The happiest people on the planet are those who have learned how to serve. To give ourselves to a path of service is not particularly good or noble, it probably won’t make you a lot of money, but it will make you happy and bring greater meaning into our lives. Being of service teaches us humility and compassion – it dissolves the barriers of separation at the heart of all conflict in the world. A shaman lives in service to the whole of the community in the web of life.
If we would just focus on these 12 steps to living a shamanic way of life we could transform the state of the planet into one of beauty, love, compassion and peace. I invite you to join me in integrating these practices into our daily lives.
With love and gratitude,
The purpose of our lives is to be happy.
– Dalai Lama
It’s a new year and while there is much to be grateful for, there is also a collective fear in the air as wars wage on, ecosystems continue to deteriorate, and inequality grows. If the purpose of life is, as the Dali Lama says, to be happy, we seem to be missing the mark. But, what if happiness had nothing to do with our possessions, outer circumstances or even our challenges? What if it was an inside job? There is increasing scientific and spiritual evidence that we can cultivate joy and happiness by developing presence, perception and practice. There is also indication that joy and happiness are contagious and might very well bring about the shift in direction towards a more life sustaining way of living and being on the earth.
As a journalist and researcher I have a tendency to read a lot of scary material about what is happening in the world. My radio show, teaching, consulting and workshops come out of my commitment to make the world a better place – to inform, inspire and support the revolution in consciousness towards a more sane, humane and just world. Recently I realized that I had a belief that with so much pain and suffering in the world it would be arrogant and self-centered for me to be happy. But wait, there’s so much beauty and goodness in the world. Could it be that recognizing and embracing the beauty and joy that surrounds us, pain and suffering could be alleviated? I had fallen into the media trap of focusing only on what isn’t working when there is so much to celebrate and be grateful for in our world.
Our joy and happiness is up to us. Our suffering or well-being is not solely determined by what’s happening in our present circumstances but to a large degree by our relationship with what is happening.
– James Baraz
Christine Price, my Gestalt meditation teacher often used the quote, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” But, can we really choose to be happy and joyful? We are bombarded with negativity in our culture. Newspaper editors have a phrase, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Advertisers use our feelings of inadequacy to sell us their products. Our culture encourages self-indulgence and competition over cooperation and reflection in myriad ways. What if our children were raised to put happiness above “winning” and joyfulness was the measure of our success?
So what does presence have to do with choice? Most of us spend very little time during our days being present. We are either driven by our past experiences or concerned over our imagined future. These mental states of denial of the now are what constitute the voices in our head, limiting our happiness. We could continue to live as an expression of our egos, or be present, here and now. This is the first step towards choosing happiness and joy in our lives.
The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future.
– Eckhart Tolle
Being present with what is happening moment to moment is a practice. As any meditator knows, the mind is a busy place. It’s like grand central station and there is a new train leaving every minute. The trick is to not get on board! We can choose to stay beside the track and watch the train go by. As the thoughts pass through, we can put our attention on our body sensations, feeling emotions, and focus our awareness on what’s happening in the moment. We can focus our attention on looking for the beauty, love and joy that surrounds us. We can choose to find joy even in the most difficult of times. This is the secret of the sages and why we so often see them smiling, even laughing. It’s not that they don’t see the tragedy, the suffering and the challenges of life. They just don’t dwell in them and instead focus on the beauty, joy and wonder of life itself. Being happy and joyful is something we cultivate by looking for it.
Since the beginning of history focusing on the breath has been a way to slow down the chatter and become more mindful, more present. When we slow down and observe what is happening in our mind and body a whole new world of possibility and perception opens up. We come alive and we have the opportunity to make a real choice. It is only from this place that we can choose authentic happiness. Every day when we wake up we can choose life, happiness and joy. We can choose to not deny our humanity and circumstances but to embrace them inside of the joy of just being alive.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
– Viktor E. Frankl
When we choose joy our hearts open, we feel an expanded sense of connection with others and the web of life. We have challenges, but we know we are not our circumstances. We are so much bigger than that! Shamans know the importance of honoring the spirit of the elements and receiving the unseen guidance of the Spirit world and power of nature. Our breath connects us with the spirit of air, our body is the clay that dances with the spirit of the earth, our tears are from the water from which we came and connect us to our compassion and the cycles of life and our passion is the fire that comes from the sun and gives us light and life. Let’s be thankful for the life we have been given and celebrate. We are so much grander when we are joyfully grateful and our life resonates with life itself.
It is possible that by stepping fully into the joy of being human we could ignite a fire in the hearts of every person we touch. You know people like this, people you just want to be around because they are over flowing with joy and happiness and it’s contagious. Think of a world gone mad with joy, happiness and celebration. How beautiful life could be if we focused our attention on bringing more joy into the world… I invite you to join me in practicing the cultivation of joy in your life and bringing your happiness out into the world. Let’s have a joy-filled coming out party. Let’s dance and sing to the beauty that surrounds us. Let’s be joyful for the world and the future generations… Know that our joy has the potential to transform the world!
With love and joyful blessings,
We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.
When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
I am currently writing a book that integrates my shamanic practices with three decades of Organizational Development work. Organizational Shamanism (OS) is the practice and application of ancient shamanic techniques to solve contemporary organizational and community challenges. It is a whole systems approach to gathering information that can help us to revitalize and energize the spirit of our organizations and tap into new levels of creativity, intuition and wisdom not available with contemporary perception. OS focuses on transforming inner states of consciousness to bring about outer change, and taps into a creative potential beyond limiting beliefs and assumptions.
I am currently looking for companies that are interested in trying these new approaches to solving organizational issues. If you and your organization or any one you know are open to applying this pioneering work in your company to bring about organizational change please give me a call. Or email 530.277.0937 or michael@WellofLight.com
In Original Mind, neuroscience and learning pioneer Dee Joy Coulter takes us on an odyssey back to our “beginner’s mind,” and into our many undeveloped potentials. Through fascinating research, insights, stories, and engaging practices largely overlooked by other “brain science” books, she challenges us to question the conventional definitions and limitations of our minds, and then to move beyond them into a state of unlimited presence.
What would it feel like to experience the world again like a child-deeply engaged with our senses and filled with wonder and creativity?
Original Mind takes us on an odyssey back to our “beginner’s mind,” and into our many undeveloped potentials. Through fascinating research, insights, stories, and engaging practices largely overlooked by other “brain science” books, neuroscience and learning pioneer Dee Joy Coulter challenges us to question the conventional definitions and limitations of our minds, and then to move beyond them. This delight-driven odyssey explores a vast landscape of untapped dimensions of consciousness, including:
- How to see again with the fresh wonder of an infant
- Calming, Enriching, Magnetizing, and Self-Regulating-four keys to character development and emotional resilience
- How reading profoundly changes our brains, and how to develop the remarkable capacities of the “pre-literate” mind
- Engaging the body to enrich the art of thinking
- Boredom, Complexity, Ambiguity, Permeability, and Novelty-five “tolerances” to liberate creativity and joy
- Protecting-and expanding-our cognitive faculties as we age
- Blending newfound intuitive skills and “school-learned” abilities to navigate the complex demands of the modern world, and much more
Dee Joy Coulter, EdD, is a nationally recognized neuroscience educator with a master’s degree in special education and a doctorate in neurological studies and holistic education. In addition to 14 years as a special education teacher and program director, she served on the faculty of Naropa University for 20 years. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.
I hope you will listen to last week’s interview with author Leonard Jacobson, who teaches us how to become fundamentally present and arisein mastery of the mind and ego, so that we are no longer involuntarily pulled out of Presence. His book the Journey to Now
Leonard Jacobson is deeply committed to helping others break through to the joyous experience of living in the NOW. He teaches how to become fundamentally present and how to arise in mastery of your mind and ego, so that you are no longer involuntarily pulled out of Presence. He has been teaching people how to be present for over 30 years. Leonard has the unique ability to support others in entering directly into the experience of the awakened state.
All elsewhere being World,
how many times have I stood
in the bright shadows of a wood,
no track or trail leading in, out-
as though ground coverrenewed as I went through?
I sometimes own the moments where I stand
alone. Everything else is air
and arbitrary firings of neurons
we call memory if they happened,
fantasy if they didn’t- same pictures.
Call it prayer, then,
the moments where I’m not aware
even of how lovely the moment is-
not liking, not disliking-
not aware there is a moment
until I’m back in the world
and remember it- construct it
in my mind as having been beautiful.
I’m too often bitten by silence.
My mother called it dawdling,
the ex, brooding. My students call it
The kindest students bring me back gently.
But I live most when silence,
shade, and light like this harvest me,
a kind of prayer I’m gathered to,
not the prayer I clutter with will or words.
- Paul Allen