Diamonds in the Dark
Responsibility: A Bridge across the Arc of Time
Responsibility, Retrieval and Renewal
’There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious.’
In reality, the door between the physical world and the imaginal world is always open. Everything that we create on this Earth is a dance between what we imagine and how we bring that vision into form.
How we imagine the world to be is how we perceive it to be. The Inner Shaman knows this and shamans the world over understand the importance of freeing the imagination from old stories and meanings that no longer serve us as individuals, communities or as a species. The story that we are separate from each other and from nature still has a lot of momentum and power in our world. But as I travel, I see more and more people turning their imagination towards new possibilities. And it’s an obvious thing to say, but once we realize we have a choice, then we do. Sometimes it’s good fortune that wakes us up. And sometimes it’s a shock that makes us reassess our priorities.
Either way, to bring about lasting change, we need life energy. So I’m going to share with you a powerful shamanic technique that will give you access to the energy locked in your past. It’s called the SEER Process. ’Seer ’ is another word for ’shaman’ and in this case ’SEER’ stands for Systemic Essential Energy Retrieval. The practice has its roots in the Toltec recapitulation traditions of South America. The ancient seers of that tradition understood that the main reason we find it difficult to integrate new understandings, visions and ideas is because we’re already using all of our available life energy to maintain who we think we are. It takes a lot of life energy to keep the mask of self in place. Being practical people, the Toltecs turned their attention to discovering a source of energy that wasn’t being utilized. Their brilliant discovery was that there’s a massive amount of energy in the events that shaped our sense of self. The more emotional charge those events have when we remember them, the more life energy is being used to keep them frozen in time. The Toltecs devised a methodology through which they could revisit each situation, release what didn’t belong to them and reclaim the life energy that had been used to keep the event frozen. Recapitulating the past became the central way of gaining more energy in the present. The Toltecs were also able to retrieve aspects of themselves that had got lost or put to one side along the way, and in so doing to become more whole in themselves.
EMBRACING THE PAST
The Inner Shaman knows the importance of embracing the past. If we leave it unexamined, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. But if we summon up our courage and take responsibility for our inheritance, we can transform it into high-octane fuel for creating what we are dreaming now. In this way, our medicine — the combination of our transformed experience, our Unbroken essence and our allies — becomes strong.
Early in my shamanic journey, I discovered the link between my own inability to feel my emotions and say what was in my heart and the trauma of my ancestors in the concentration camps of the Second World War. The inhumanity of that hell on Earth froze their hearts into silent submission. I experienced their terror and it overwhelmed me like a tsunami. Over several years, I gathered my resources until I felt strong enough to visit Auschwitz and do my own soul retrieval work there. The results of that journey transformed my life on every level. I was able to feel again and, step by step, release the ancestral terror, fury and grief I had been carrying.
I believe that all of us, given support, can break the chains of the past. I’ve witnessed people from a huge variety of cultures and backgrounds, carrying all sorts of horrors and hurts, standing up with newfound dignity and saying: ’This suffering ends here. I refuse to carry this any longer. And I refuse to pass it on to others in my life or to the next generation.’
Tony, an apprentice, put it like this:
I first came across Movement Medicine when I was in prison. I’d been struggling with addiction for a long time, getting clean, picking up, getting clean and picking up again. Rachel Morris [a trained Movement Medicine teacher] brought the work to us once a week. It was hard at first. I’d only ever danced in clubs. I was in my head all the time. We all were, worrying about what other people were thinking. But I started to look forward to those sessions. For the first time in my life, even though I was in prison, I got a taste of freedom.
When I was released, I went to Devon for a 10-day workshop with Ya’Acov and Susannah called ’Initiation’. It was hard. The majority of participants were white, mostly women. Most of them weren’t English either, so there was a language barrier. My head was playing games with me. I was thinking, They can’t know a thing about me, a black guy. Maybe all they know about me is what they read on the front page of a newspaper. I felt awkward, separate, not as good as them. But they went out of their way to welcome me, to include me. I had to close my eyes to get into it. But I started to relax and the work started to make sense to me. I started to feel it all in my body.
On the third day, we were working with the relationship with Mother. I went into the room in the morning and there were all these photos of people’s mums on the wall. I felt really emotional. My mum had died while I’d been in prison. I’d made amends with her before, but then I’d relapsed again and never got the chance to make it up to her. Ya’Acov was asking us to put ourselves in our mum’s shoes, to imagine what life was like for her, the struggles she’d been through.
But it was the ancestor work that really got me. Especially because the room was full of white people. There went my head again, thinking, What do you guys know about pain? But then I remembered, I’m here to do my work. And there it was: the colonial times. They were under the whip. They had no freedom of choice. They were separated from their families. All that abuse and all that rape!
I could hear Ya’Acov saying, ’Let your body be like water. Water always finds a way through.’ And then I was crying like I’d never cried before — floods of tears. I got that this was healing. Ya’Acov was saying, ’Stay on your feet, keep moving.’ My legs were going, but three women came and held me up, two at my sides and one in front. We were in eye contact and suddenly I felt something I’d never felt before. People can say that they care or even act like they care. But at that moment, I felt cared for. I felt it.
Now, whenever I dance, my ancestors are there — my mum, my dad, my sister. I’ve felt my dad’s pain — coming to the UK all alone to work, how his father treated him. And I’ve been able to understand him and forgive him. It’s that healing energy — it helps me to feel what my ancestors felt. Just surviving from one day to the next. Under that whip. I feel their pain, but I’m not living it. When I dance their story, their oppression, it’s a freedom dance. I’ve moved from feeling that oppression to knowing I’m protected. The dance puts me in a trance, out of my head, and I feel it.
My intuition has come alive now. I’ve started to see myself in a different light. My self-esteem has gone up. I don’t always make the right choices, but this Inner Shaman, the wisdom, it’s there all the time.
No matter how broken we may feel, as long as our heart is still beating we have it within us to rise up with the morning sun and use yesterday’s disappointments and hurts as motivation to break free today. I love that about our species. And in the dream I’m dreaming, I see more and more people becoming aware of the value of facing the past. Though we can’t change it, we certainly have it within us to change our relationship to it and update the meaning we have derived from it.
The SEER Process is an excellent and effective tool for transforming our relationship to the past. Quite simply, it works. And the result is a massive surge of creative energy in the present. Imagine for a moment what life would be like if you were no longer dragged down by the weight of your history, but fuelled by it.
SOUL LOSS AND SOUL RETRIEVAL
Of course, it’s not just our ancestors’ experiences that need our attention, but also our own. As children, we’re like sponges: we soak up information in every way possible from the environment we’re in. We’re also brilliant survivors. When we’re faced with intolerable situations, we have the capacity to disassociate from our physical body and escape to the imaginal realm. And just as the physical body is capable of isolating threats to its health and separating them off in order to ensure the best possible running of the system, the psyche is capable of doing the same. In the shamanic world, this separation is called soul loss. It doesn’t sound good, but it is genuinely good news. By packing away aspects of ourselves, we keep them safe from harm. And when we find the support and internal strength to face, feel and release the pain of those experiences, we can reintegrate the parts that dissociated. That is soul retrieval.
It isn’t always easy. The Inner Shaman knows that healing is possible, but healing sometimes means accepting that some wounds leave permanent scars and the best we can do is learn to live with them. At other times, healing means profound and even apparently miraculous transformation. In all cases, shamanic healing takes persistence and care. We need the safety and courage that the Dancing Warrior brings. We need the warm and clear presence of the Wounded Healer. We need the patience and love of the Wise Elder. And if we are to imagine doors where once there were just brick walls, we need the humour and creativity of the Dancing Fool. With all of these in place, I’ve been privileged to witness many people recovering from some of the worst kinds of trauma we can inflict on one another and becoming some of the most empowered and creative people I know.
Soul retrieval means returning to the past with all the allies and support we have now. We don’t go back in order to re-experience what happened. It was bad enough the first time. We go back to change our relationship to it. Our Inner Shaman knows how to use the power of embodied imagination to do that. They acknowledge and release old emotions and create fertile empty space so they can retrieve our qualities of soul, our diamonds hidden in the dark. If you’re reading these words, you’ve already more than survived whatever life has put in your path. If you are willing, your Inner Shaman can show you how to transform that past into medicine.
Many years ago, I was fortunate to meet an extraordinary medicine woman who was known by her students as Grandmother Thunder. She was Argentinian by birth and had spent her early teenage years in the notorious concentration camp known as Bergen-Belsen. I met her just two weeks before she died. Two of her students asked me if they could bring her as a guest to a Movement Medicine workshop I was teaching in Amsterdam. I was honoured to have her there. She sat in a chair at the side of the room and witnessed our work. She knew she was dying and had already made her peace with that. The reality of mortality and the grace of acceptance shone from her.
At the end of the day, we had a short conversation. Her students asked her to bless me, but she told them, much to my amusement, that I was already blessed enough. Instead, she had a request. She asked me if I would be willing to take half of her ashes to Israel and find a suitable place somewhere near Jerusalem to scatter them. I was touched and agreed at once.
Two months later, I was on a plane to Tel Aviv to run a five-day workshop and her ashes were in my backpack in a small jar wrapped in a beautiful silk scarf. By then, her students had told me a little more about her life. She’d experienced the trauma of seeing some of her family die in Bergen-Belsen. And, in some ways even worse, she’d seen how the people who survived often did so at the expense of their dignity and humanity. When she was liberated from the camp on 15 April 1945, at the tender age of 15, she’d pledged her life to healing. And she’d been clear from the beginning that any genuine healing had to include her relationship with the guards at the camp and the land and people of Germany.
When she was 70 years old, she’d taken part in a vision quest on land not far from Bergen-Belsen. She had been due to be out for 72 hours without company, food or water, but on the second morning the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the quest leaders had been worried about her. So they’d asked for a volunteer from the support team to go and check she was okay. A young German man stepped forward.
He was expected back within a few hours, but he didn’t return that day or during the night. Eventually, at the end of the quest, he returned with Grandmother Thunder, arm in arm. It was clear to everyone who saw them that something significant had transpired between them.
It turned out that the young man’s grandfather had been one of the guards at Bergen-Belsen. The young man had always carried a heavy burden of guilt about his family’s Nazi past. But out on that mountain, just as Grandmother Thunder had intended, healing had taken place.
Grandmother Thunder worked tirelessly her whole life to connect with those who were supposed to be her enemies. She was one of those people who just refuse to believe in the ’us and them’ story.
In Tel Aviv, there was a strong older woman called Rivkah on the workshop who had heard I was carrying Grandmother Thunder ’s ashes. She told me she was studying with a holy woman who lived in the desert. After the workshop, a few of us, including Rivkah, drove to Jerusalem to find a suitable place to spread the ashes; I realized I had no idea how we would find a good place, but Grandmother Thunder had been a powerful medicine woman and I felt certain that something would guide us. Then I remembered the holy woman.
Rivkah phoned her teacher and she agreed to help. The plan was to call her when we reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. When we arrived in the hills surrounding the city, we found a place to pull over and called. The holy woman asked us to be still while she meditated. We sat quietly for a few minutes, waiting in silence. Eventually, she told us she was ready to give us directions.
She hadn’t asked us where we were and this was before the time of satnavs, but she gave us precise instructions and we followed them. When we ended up in a suburban area in the hills, it didn’t look promising, but Rivkah told us we were nearly there and if we took the next left, we’d find a small forest that would be the perfect resting place for Grandmother Thunder ’s ashes.
It was like being in a dream. Sure enough, we discovered a little forest and walked into it, glad of the shade and the fresh scent of the trees. After a while, we found a small clearing with a large tree at the centre. It was a beautiful place. We sat there quietly, then began to drum and sing. The mood was celebratory.
After a while, the wind quietened, the birds fell silent and everything seemed to be paying attention. It was clearly time to scatter the ashes. As we did so, I felt the spirit of Grandmother Thunder was so happy that a part of her had come back home. There was a beautiful blend of sadness and joy in the air as we left.
We took a different path back to the car, and just as we left the trees behind, we spotted a small wooden bench with a plaque on it. To our amazement, the English words on it said: ’This forest was planted to commemorate the lives of all those who died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. May you all find peace.’
Like many others, Grandmother Thunder showed us the power of choice. She imagined a healing road and then walked that road her whole life, touching many others on the way. She did it. So can we. The moment we recognize that we can choose a better meaning to take from the past is the moment we stand up and take responsibility for our lives. We stop looking for someone or something to blame and use the power we have to heal.
As I mentioned earlier, the most powerful and effective way I know of transforming our relationship with the past and bringing a whole lot more soul into the present is the SEER Process.
PRACTICE: THE SEER PROCESS (SYSTEMIC ESSENTIAL ENERGY RETRIEVAL)
The intention of this practice is to transform your relationship with events from your past, retrieve and welcome home aspects of your soul, and increase the life energy available to you.
This will take approximately an hour.
To begin, please make a list of nine events from your past that still have an effect on you now. How will you know? When you think of them, you may feel an emotional charge or a contraction in your body. They may irritate you like a thorn in your foot. Or they may make you wish to turn away.
I usually suggest that when you are doing this process for the first time, you work with a relatively minor event. It is also useful to walk through the process once before you actually begin. I suggest you then work with the nine events one by one, again over a period of 21 days. After that, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the effectiveness of the process and you can go on from there or just use it when you need to.
The process involves moving from the present into the past and back again. Whenever you are doing work with the past that may involve strong feelings, only go as far as you are able. If at any time things become too intense, just step back into the present, ground yourself, resource yourself and continue when you are ready. The key reality check is to stay in connection with your body and your present moment resources. If you lose that connection, you’re probably trying to take too big a step. Slow down. Take a smaller one. The results will be better.
This is a personal healing process, not one for doing work on behalf of somebody else without their permission (for example, ’I am doing this so that my colleague will recognize the foolishness of their ways’). Nor do we do this to send the emotional energy we’ve been carrying to anyone else. We may need to express emotion ’at someone’ in the past, but we’re doing this to release our feelings, not to dump them on anyone in the present.
Imagine a big extractor fan above you and switch it on before you begin, so that whatever is released is taken back to its origins. This is important.
· Set up your space and do whatever you need to do to become present in body, heart and mind. Move, drum, sing and feel free to use any of the practices we’ve already covered. Repetitive drumming music will help. Connect to your Inner Shaman and their archetypal helpers, and invite all that supports and guides you into the space.
· Imagine that the space in front of you represents the future and the space behind you the past. To your right, imagine your Wise Elder witnessing your journey. To your left, imagine what I call the storehouse of life energy. I like to see this as a beautifully organized storage space in which all the life energy that is locked in the past sits in labelled boxes, waiting to be made available in the present. Once you have done your work in the past, you will turn to this imaginary place and call back the life energy and soul that have been bound up in whatever story you are working with. (Ten minutes.)
· Turn towards your Wise Elder and go and stand at their side. Describe the constellation, i.e., ’The dancer is in the centre of the circle, resourced and connected to their medicine. Behind them, to the left of where I am standing with the Wise Elder now, is the past. To the right of that, opposite me now, is the storehouse of life energy.’
The SEER process
· Take a short time to describe the story you are going to work with. Describe it in the third person, i.e., ’When she was 21, this is what happened…’
· Point out the storehouse of life energy.
· And finally, point out the future road in front of the dancer (now to your right) and set the intention that that future will be free from the negative effects of the past event as a result of this SEER Process. (Five minutes.)
· Return to the centre of your circle and make sure the dancer in you is awake and present. Connect with the four elements physically and energetically. Visualize an extractor fan above you and switch it on. Still in the centre, see if you can allow yourself to feel in your body the effect this story has on you now. Let it move, but keep your breathing steady. (Five minutes.)
· Prepare yourself to step back into the story, taking all your resources with you. Feel your ground. Feel the Earth. Feel the power of the Fire inside you.
· Take a deep breath and step back into the story, knowing you are there to lend your resources to it and bring movement to it. You can move, speak and express yourself freely on behalf of the you who experienced this. You aren’t looking for emotion, but if it’s there, give it movement and sound. Sometimes this process is very quiet. Sometimes it’s very loud. Give yourself 90 seconds now to express yourself, then take a short pause to regather your resources. Give yourself another 30 seconds if you need it. (Three minutes.)
· Well done. Now call the healing presence of the Waters to flow through the landscape of this story. Let your body become as fluid as the Waters. Release your joints. Breathe and let the Waters wash slowly through you and through the whole scene, purifying as they go. (Two minutes.)
· The next step is shaking medicine. Let yourself shake from the inside out, like a butterfly in a cocoon, so that your whole system is able to shed the tight skin of this story. Take as long as you need. Shake softly, shake strongly. Trust your Inner Shaman to lead the way. (Two minutes or more.)
· Now step back into the present and take some time to feel the space you have created inside you. Breathe it in.
· And now turn towards the storehouse of life energy. Open your arms, your imagination and your heart and say out loud:
I am calling back all the life energy that has been locked inside this story, every time I have remembered it and felt its repercussions. I am calling back the quality of soul and the life energy that I have been separated from as a result of this story.
· Call the power of the wind and the breath of life. Take a deep breath and imagine yourself being flooded with this returning energy and soul. Dance them into your bones, your muscles, your blood, your very cells. Visualize them. Own them. They are your life energy and soul and are now available to you. Circulate them through your system, breathing slowly and deeply. (Three minutes.)
· Turn back briefly towards the past and acknowledge this story as part of your past. You may feel differently towards it now. Acknowledge what is true. Remember, when you are dealing with more difficult experiences that may have been repeated many times in your life, you may have to take smaller steps in order to free yourself completely. (One minute.)
· Now turn 180 degrees to face your future. Find a simple incantation that distils the essence of this process. For instance, if you were working with a story in which you felt your creativity was dismissed or not received, your incantation might be something like: ’I am free to be creative and my creativity is well received.’ Embody it, feel it, give it energy. Repeat it out loud. (Two minutes.)
· Imagine yourself, at some point in the next seven days, taking a small step that is congruent with your incantation. This will help you to know that you are integrating this SEER Process into your day-to-day life. The simpler the step, the better. Step forward into that future and imagine yourself taking that simple step. For example, if your SEER Process has been about not speaking your truth, you might imagine yourself in a situation where in the past you would have silenced yourself and this time taking a deep breath and speaking up.
· Turn around, imagine the part of you that did this SEER Process and thank them. Acknowledge them for their work. Wink at them. Blow them a kiss. (One minute.)
· Step back into the centre and see your future self acknowledging you. In turn, acknowledge them. Wink, blow them a kiss, congratulate them. This simple practice builds a little imaginal bridge between the dream and the actualization of that dream and it’s an important part of integrating your work. (One minute.)
· Turn to your Wise Elder, thank them and welcome them back into your heart.
· Thank and release all that you called.
· Write down your incantation and the future step associated with it.
· Look in the nearest mirror and smile!
· Then take some time to rest and receive the echo of your work.
Well done! Brilliant work. Now you’ve got it, use it. It works. And the more you do this, the more confident you will become in your Inner Shaman’s ability to use the power of their embodied imagination in this way. Their intention is to face the truth they uncover and move past it to discover the rough diamonds in the dark caves of the past. With time and practice, we can polish those diamonds until they shine like stars in the night sky.
We need light to be able to see in the dark. To be who we are, responsibly, we need all the strength and resources that the Inner Shaman brings. We need to deepen our connection to the Unbroken and our own unique medicine and to bring a more authentic Self into all our relationships. And that’s exactly where we’re going next. Let’s take a leap into the Inner Shaman’s guide to relationship.