The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
Jacques Yves Cousteau
After a long drive from California I have landed by the sea on the shore of Gibson’s Landing on the Sunshine Coast in BC. I’ve effortlessly flowed into this place of exquisite beauty, to the costal lands of the native Shishalh Indians. A warm, cozy home found me here before I even arrived. It looks out peacefully over the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island; such loveliness to once again be soothed by the rhythmic music of the waves caressing this visually stunning coastline. As I have steeped my self in the world of nature here, I am urged to write this month about the elements and our deep inner longing to belong and find communion with the Spirit that lives in all things.
Water is life. Where there is no water, there is no life.
Every life form on this planet must have water to survive.
There is something about water and the rhythms of its movement that stimulate the imagination. When I journey to the Spirit of water I remember that we all come from the water world. It is the heart of evolution and the source from which we drink life. Our ancestors crawled from the sea and we, in innocent arriving came from the watery world of our mother’s inner sea. A new born child is 78% water, while an adult male dries up to a mere 60%, so it is not an exaggeration to say that we are water. Throughout history water has been a metaphor for consciousness and unity, because it can reveal the depths of our intuition and its seamless, shapelessness surrenders to things as they are and effortlessly gives way to its container.
Water is formless, its shape can never be broken, it finds its home in the lower places and teaches us about humility, patience, surrender and freedom. It dissolves contradiction. It does not resist rocks or barricades and simply flows around all obstacles. Without water there is no life, nothing can grow or sustain. Water is in constant relationship with the other elements and dances with the moon and the celestial rhythms of the universe, just as the water within us pulls our emotions from the inner sea. Like we humans its cycles are circular, birthed from its source beneath the ground, it flows forth into the rivers which carry it to the sea and then in marvelous cooperation with the air and fiery sun, it evaporates and hangs in the air, until once again it falls to the earth in the form of rain filling the aquifers and so it goes. We belong to water and the spirit of water is a part of our essence.
A tender shower has begun to fall and the fluid drops of water are dancing on my rooftop becoming a symphony of sound harmonizing with the gentle waves at my doorstep. The water element reminds us of our thirst for union with the Divine, that thirst to be seen, to be whole and the intimate longing to belong. If we could just give our selves to Spirit the way that rain or a river gives itself to the sea, to surrender our false sense of separateness, we would remember that we have always belonged to the web of life. I am grateful to the teachings of the spirit of water.
To be loved means to be consumed in the flame,
To love is to shine with inexhaustible light.
In the heart of the ocean there is a cauldron of boiling sulphur heated by the molten core that burns at the center of the earth. Above our heads is the fiery sun, the source of all life giving energy on our planet. “As above so below!” And it is said that at the center of our hearts is a flame that burns and gives light, that is a mirror of the eternal flame of the Divine, the flame of pure love. Fire is a reminder of the light within and as we cultivate our inner flame we become a light unto the world.
At the heart of human evolution, consciousness and culture is fire and the burning desire for union with the Divine. What separates us from the rest of the animal world is our mastery of fire. Beginning with our ability to employ the use fire for warmth and to ward off threatening predators, we have used it to produce weapons, cook our food, provide us with energy for our growing population and it has had a major role in forming communities. Fire brings us together! It teaches us about freedom, boundaries and intentionality. Fire has the power to cleanse, consume, destroy and regenerate. Since the beginning of history shamans have performed fire ceremonies to offer that which is no long necessary to its flames, send prayers to the Spirit that lives in all things, and perform healing rituals. The spirit of fire is alive and passionate, it can burn right down to the essence. It is the source of light and illumines the darkness.
When we burn through the myth of separation and experience our interconnection with all life we gain a renewed sense of awe and wonder. It is here that we discover love! Our inner fire becomes the fire of passion towards another, a project or any longing, which in turn ignites the heart and allows our inner light to shine through. It allows us to take our longing beyond the safety and comfort of our culturally tranquilized lives and express our soul‘s deepest longing into the world. When we give ourselves to our fire we are transfigured into our essential essence.
You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The earth is our home. Her lush, verdant landscapes reflect back to us our own inner beauty in the deep silence of her soul. She nourishes us and gives us a place to stand. For Four and a half billion years she has harbored life and birthed diverse populations of sentient creatures. These ancient landscapes hold the memory of time and all that has come before us. The echo’s of our ancestors footsteps live on in the tabernacle of stone, their songs ride the winds of time and sorrows are contained within the deep mysterious depths of her oceans. The clay that dances in our bodies contains the remains of our decedent’s blood, bones, breath and bodies.
To belong one needs a sense of place. This is perhaps the greatest gift of the earth. Our human identity lives in the “whereness” of her landscape. Everything that is human, language, culture, meaning, thought and beauty, could not exist without a sense of place. When we desecrate, abuse and pollute the land with our greed and blindness we tear apart the very fabric of our own existence. As a human civilization we have become dissociated from the source of our maternal creator. It is no wonder that human madness is the governing principle of our time. How else can we explain the putting profit before life, starvation in the face of the earth’s abundant offerings, and endless war over profit and ownership of that which we can never own in our transient existence?
To find our way back to belonging to the earth family we need to recognize what John O’Donahue calls our “cosmological elitism” and allow ourselves be humbled by the silent offerings of our provider. When we recognize our mother and honor our place in the web of life we will truly know what it means to belong. As we look to the horizon ahead with clear eyes, silent mind and a grateful heart we can experience our Divine calling and know our soul’s path. Walking this path is our destiny and the future of life on this magnificent planet is in our hands.
Air is not as innocent or as unaware as we might believe.
Despite its invisibility, it seems to register everything
that happens within it.
Air reminds us to attend to our unique, invisible and precious interior habitat. The brutalization of our natural world is merely a reflection of the neglect and abuse endured in our own hearts. It is time to honor, respect and love all that arises in the secret chambers of our own heart of hearts. In our Cartesian, Newtonian, Scientific world-view we have come to respect only that which has form and can be measured. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince reminds us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Air contains the space of all possibility and is the center of possibility is the heart. By dropping down from the head into the heart we can hear the still silent whisperings of our heart’s longing. It is only in this invisible temple of belonging that we can experience what it means to belong.
Our habitual focus has been on what Alan Watt’s called our “skin encapsulated ego” and we have neglected to recognize that the space of air surrounding us gives us our shape and form. Like water it is fluid and gives way to our movement. While each human body is separate from every other, the space around us contains the blueprint for our existence and connects us with all life. We live in a world of boundless air that allows us to move freely through our lives. Our dance through life is a kinetic sculpturing of the form that houses our intentionality. Movement is life and all growth is movement. Life is an ongoing process of experiencing sensation and responding to it as we move through space.
We need air to live. We are born into breath and die when the breath is extinguished. The Latin word for breath is Spiritus, and as in many other languages, it points to the relationship between air and Spirit. Breath allows up to let go of the remembered past and imagined future. Attending to our breath allows us to enter into the eternal presence and connect with the Spirit that lives in all things. Our in-spiration comes from our interaction with the space of air that surrounds us. We are nourished by the trees and plants that provide us life giving oxygen as we feed them Carbon Dioxide with our out breath. All of life is a circle and every breath is a prayer.
As I sit here in this place of beauty, feeling the connection to the elements and the web of life I have a sense of belonging like never before. In the stillness of nature I am overwhelmed with gratitude and a feeling of belonging to all that is and all that arises in my heart. May you too experience the power of embodied presence and take a moment to be grateful to the elements for the essential and absolute gift of teaching us how to belong to the universe.
With love and blessings,
Shamans take their bodies with them when they journey.
People often ask me why I dance? Those who know me might expect a lengthy response, but I will try to be concise. I dance to deeply feel the emotions that get released when I move, to discover how the shapes of my movements reflect my habitual patterns in the external world. I dance to move into a grounded presence where all my senses are open and alive. I dance to connect with the elements of the natural world and the spirit that moves in all things and I dance to enter what shamans call non-ordinary reality, by moving through the veils that separate the world of the heart from the world of the mind… Ever since I first danced with Gabrielle Roth in 1974 I have been practicing a kind of embodied shamanism.
Now I’m not someone who has always lived in his body. Shortly before my first encounter with Gabrielle my Rolfer, Dub Lee, said to me, “Michael, you’re the only person I’ve ever worked on who doesn’t realize he has a body.” A bit extreme, but probably true. I experienced a lot of trauma, shock and loss in my early years and had suppressed a lot of emotion. My body was tight, lean, strong and I thought invincible, but numb. It wasn’t until I began to move with Gabrielle that feelings began to be released, my intuition and instincts sharpened, and I became conscious of a luminous interior world. Yes, like most shamanic healers, I am a wounded healer, and my wounds have become portals for exploring the infinite spaciousness of the unseen world. When I began studying with Sandra Ingerman (www.sandraingerman.org) I realized that I had been studying shamanism through dance and movement and it was then that I began to deepen and expand my practice.
Your body is the church where Nature asks to be reverenced.
Marquis de Sade
Embodied Shamanism is the practice of being fully in our body when we participate in the practice of shamanic journeying. In this practice we take our body, senses, instinct, intuition and emotions with us as we explore the realm of non-ordinary reality or merge with our allies from the hidden world. We attain an altered state of consciousness through movement, drumming, chanting and surrendering our ego to our astonishing senses and the cellular wisdom that has been handed down to us through the ages. In this way we have an opportunity to meet with our power animals, spirit guides, hidden folk, allies and helping ancestors from the formless realms of the upper, lower and middle worlds.
There are a billion miles of unexplored wilderness
between the head and the feet of any given person….
Non-Ordinary reality consists of that which is outside the common realm of our everyday occurrences. It is beyond the constraints of time, immeasurable, infinite, invisible to the untrained eye and is the home of allies from the hidden world. This is a place that shamans have visited for over a hundred thousand years to receive guidance, perform healing, and solve personal and community issues. Shamanic journeying always starts with our feet on the earth. We are of the earth and the clay that dances our body is nourished by her. The earth is the temple of our belonging and feeds us with the power to reach for the heavens where we draw on the invisible realms of Spirit. By moving with the earth and the rhythms of nature we recognize with our hearts that everything is connected and alive.
Dissociation is characterized by a disruption of usually integrated functions of memory, consciousness, identity, or perception of the environment.
American Psychiatric Association
Some of us feel that the extraordinary power of shamanism is threatened by the move towards out of body experiences and dwelling in mental constructs that have lost the power to produce results and perform the healings for which shamanism has always been known. As the troubles of our times have been increasing many of us have learned to escape from reality by leaving our bodies through disassociation, a state in which some part of a person’s psyche becomes separated from the rest of the personality and we become fragmented and experience a loss of wholeness, energy, strength and focus. Many people have used shamanism to do spiritual bypassing, which shields us from the truth, disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the shadow issues that need to be attended. Bypassing is about checking out rather than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we generally don’t even know we are doing it. Spiritual bypassing is a form of repression, usually triggered by feelings we can’t tolerate or think we shouldn’t be experiencing. We need to travel with our body – it is the light vehicle in which we move through life and experience the spirit that lives in all things.
Our bodies are our connection with the natural world and the web of life. If we are out of body, we have lost our power to make changes in ordinary reality. The cellular wisdom of our bodies has been handed down to us from the beginning of time and everything we need to fulfill our evolutionary unfolding is contained within our bodies and has been handed down by our ancestors. Without being in the body we can’t experience the evolutionary impulse of life itself. We have available to us a map of the universe in every cell of our body, which is a composite of star-dust made up of the basic elements from the beginning of time. Our bodies are in a constant process of becoming, refining and adapting. Many of us are traumatized by the speed of changes happening in our world. Embodied wisdom is very much needed at this time on the planet. This is how we will move into an interconnected community and way of being that works for all life and supports a viable future for our descendants.
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
For close to a hundred thousand years shamans have traveled to non-ordinary reality by dancing, singing and calling on all of their senses to meet the spirits and allies of the hidden world. Conversely, neo-shamanism is the practice of drumming participants into a theta state of relaxation while they are laying on the floor This leads many people to journey in an out of body way, but our shamanic ancestors have always taken their bodies with them when they journey. Embodied shamanism is a practice of increasing our body awareness, expanding our movement vocabulary and merging with the infinite powers of the universe.
I have been invited by the Shift Network to lead a seven-week course called Embodied Shamanic Coaching: A Journey into Whole-Body Living and Heart-Centered Mastery. I will write more about this in my next newsletter. The course will run from December through January with a 2-week break during the holiday season. I hope you will join me.
With love and blessings,
The earth is the clay that is our body.
Our blood is the ancient waters that flow through our veins
The air is our breath that connects us with the Spirit that lives in all things
and the fires of passion that burn in our heart are the gifts from the sun
and the molten core of the earth. It’s all connected!
We give thanks for the blessing of being.
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only
ones among you who will be really happy are those who will
have sought and found how to serve.
There are big changes coming for all of us on this beautiful blue planet. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, black, white or yellow, the changes are coming and they are coming fast. They will affect each and every one ofus as well as generations to come. Even the least aware of us feel it: a quickening of our life style, a churning in the stomach, a tenseness in the air. The old world order is rapidly changing and the new one is still undifferentiated. Regardless of our attempts to work harder, be smarter or do things differently the complexity and magnitude of change that is needed to meet the escalating challenges of the future are coming towards us like a runaway freight train. The automatic knee jerk response is to protect our families and ourselves; to take care of “our own”. But, this reaction only reinforces the myth of separation that is at the heart of the suffering, despair and habitat destruction that has been growing and threatening all life on this planet. We are all in this together.
We are in the time of what Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning, the shift from our current industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Our fragile earth can no longer sustain the perpetual growth cycles of our global economic system. We have the tools and resources to transition to a social economic system which supports all life and can lead to a more deeply connected, egalitarian and peaceful world. To be in service to the Great Turning is to overcome our habitual behavior and be in action towards the kind of world we want. But, even more important than that, we need to live the dream now, by focusing our intention on what we want to bring forth in this time of transition. Our thoughts, words and actions need to be aligned with a larger vision, one that encompasses all life. What would our lives look like if we were able to see the light in all people, while acting in service to our common dream of a world that works for the children of all species, for all time? Are not our actions today the most important gift we have to give to our descendants?
“Service is the only possible response to a world in chaos that is
falling apart in every way…”
We tend to say, “I don’t have time, I’m struggling to make ends meet, I’m not big enough, smart enough, rich enough, or just somehow flawed and not enough. Each of us has all the skills we need to contribute to the changes that are necessary. The way this is expressed is as unlimited as our individuality. We are enough to meet the present with clear eyes, to give a kind word or take the hand of someone who is dying and afraid, and that’s enough. Being of service is a way to cut through the chaos of our lives and the world in order to find clarity and thrive in these changing times. Serving others takes us out of our limiting stories and lets us explore the depths of consciousness within our universal humanity. It teaches us to love our own heart and all that arises within it, and it softens us to the human condition of fear, denial and suffering. We become tenderized, open and vulnerable as the walls of separation dissolve and we learn what it really means to love, for service is love in action.
Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to our
true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves,
but for the many others whose lives we touch.
We cannot care for others and sacrifice ourselves in the process. This can lead to burn out, illness, frustration and despair. To be of service we must take care of our basic needs, take time to be still in nature, exercise and take care of bodies. This is a gift we not only give to ourselves, but to our families, friends, the people we serve as well as future generations. To really make a difference in the outer world, we need to cultivate the inner one with caring attention and a grateful heart. To steward our whole self, heart, body, mind and spirit, is to become a good steward of our planet. This is when we can truly give the gift we came here to share with the spirit of life itself.
True service does not come from ego or self-glorification, it comes from recognizing ourselves in the sacred otherness of all beings, it is an act of inter-being “… (the nature of inter-being, there is no true well-being that does not consider the well-being of others.” – Thich Nhat Hanh) It is here that real happiness lies. This is a spiritual truth that has passed the test of time. Those of us who selflessly serve their community will find peace and joy beyond words and worldly pleasures.
I hope you will join me this month in discovering where it is that your divine gifts are wanted and needed and offer them to your community and the world. This is one of the key issues we will be exploring in the upcoming Shift Network, Shamanic Coaching course.
with love and blessings,
“You carry Mother Earth within you,
She is not just outside of you.
Mother Earth is not just your environment.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
What is Shamanism?
This Tuesday we will begin the 3-day Shamanism Global Summit I have been working on this project for the past 3 months and am excited to see it come to fruition. In addition to the inspiring interviews of amazing shamanic luminaries from around the world, you can download my new book, Living a Shamanic Way of Life: A Path of Direct Revelation – both free of charge.
Some people have been asking me, “what is shamanism anyway?”
Shamanism is the oldest spiritual healing practice on earth, dating back at least 40,000 years, and some anthropologist are now saying as much as 100,000 years. Early practices, techniques and rituals have formed the foundation for most of the world’s religions. It is a path of heart, of exploring the inner invisible world. This path is based on the belief that all illness, disease and disharmony, both physical and psychological are a function of a loss of essence through some physical or emotional trauma. It is further believed that not only humans, but every thing has a spirit. This includes institutions, communities, technology, all of nature, even places and buildings. Shamans draw their power from the natural world. I’ll never forget when I was in Ecuador and a shaman asked me “where’s your mountain”, that was when I really got the relationship that shamans have to nature?
Shamans know that if we want to create lasting change in the outer world we must first explore and consult the inner, unseen realm, which is often referred to as non-ordinary reality. Shamans consider this unseen realm real and Ordinary Reality a dream. Shamanism is a system of direct revelation, a practice that involves the practitioner attaining altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.
A Shaman’s View of the World
Shamans hold a systems perspective of the universe. They talk about the “web of life” and how everything is connected: trees, animals, the elements, ancestors, the stars and planets. Everything is interconnected and what happens to one part of this web affects the whole. Their view is holistic and outside of time and space. The deeper Physicists and the sciences delve into the mysteries of the universe, the more it validates this ancient perspective. Shamanism is a global cosmology that has been evolving since the beginning of time. One of the reasons it has survived massive persecution and oppression is that the wisdom is innate to the natural world and is continuing to evolve and expand like the universe itself.
We humans tend to hold our selves above the natural world and forget that we are an integral part of this web of life. Contemporary society sees nature as something to conquer, subdue and that the rivers, trees, earth and elements are simply commodities, resources to be extracted and used for our benefit. We have strayed so far from our connection with the natural world that we think nothing of polluting our habitat, desecrating our life support system and sucking the very blood out of the earth to feed our greed and accelerating consumption. How else can we explain our putting economics ahead of human life? Shamanism is a practice that can bring us back into balance and harmony with the earth to preserve and cultivate our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
Shamans are Wisdom Keepers
Shamans are men and women from around the world who are keepers of ancient wisdom techniques used to perform healing and maintain the well being of their community and its members. They help people transcend their normal, ordinary, and often limiting definition of reality and the fixed ego based world-view that keeps them from experiencing growth and the fullest expression of their vision for themselves and the world. Shamans work with what they call helping spirits, which are found in non-ordinary reality. These spirits assist in bringing healing to individuals, the community, and the environment. They are also consulted with when specific healing information or guidance is needed.
A true shaman would rarely, if ever, refer to himself or herself as a shaman. Much like the business community, someone becomes a shaman based on their experience and the results they produce. We all have the capacity to access this inner spiritual guidance. Some people are more open and have a greater natural ability, but everyone can become a shamanic practitioner. I do hope you will tune into the Shamanism Global Summit next week and hear from the great shamanic teachers of our time. I also look forward to hearing if you enjoyed my little e-book on Living a Shamanic Way of Life: A Path of Direct Revelation.
May we all learn to walk in beauty and live out our highest destiny in service to the future children of all species for all time.
With all love and blessings,