1 + 1 = 3 - Responsibility: A Bridge across the Arc of Time

Shaman: Invoking Power, Presence and Purpose at the Core of Who You Are - Ya'Acov Darling Khan 2020

1 + 1 = 3
Responsibility: A Bridge across the Arc of Time

The Inner Shaman’s Guide to Relationship

’You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.’


The potential alchemy that the Inner Shaman brings to all their relationships is 1 + 1 = 3. Two embodied humans who are aware of themselves and able to expand that awareness to include each other will generate a creative and fertile space called conscious relationship. When both people care for that relationship as if it were a third entity, so much more becomes possible.

The Mesa Practice is the Inner Shaman’s way of learning how to stay aware of their own backbone as they expand their awareness to include another, and is the basis for more honest and clear one-to-one relationships of all kind. As we become more aware of our internal world through interoception, and as we strengthen our second skin through practice, our boundaries become clearer. And the clearer our boundaries are, the better prepared we are for the Inner Shaman’s approach to relationship. Knowing our ’No!’ is a prerequisite for knowing our ’Yes!’ The more aware we are of ourselves, each other and the space between us, the clearer our communication and our capacity to see, be seen and be with the other.

I’ve heard it said many times that to be in a good relationship with another person, you have to be in a good relationship with yourself. While there is some truth in this, it’s far from the whole truth. I’ve learned so much about how to be in a good relationship with myself from my long-term one-to-one relationships. I’ve learned that any relationship worth its salt will take us to our own edges and beyond, again and again. And despite our habit of complaining about the people who push our buttons, the Inner Shaman knows that if we want to find our power and put it to good use in this life, we have to take responsibility for the histories we bring with us into our relationships.

I’ve also heard it said that if life is a school, relationships are a university. For the Inner Shaman, relationships of all kinds carry the signature and brilliant precision of our old friend the Great Choreographer. I’ve noticed again and again how, with impeccable timing, life puts the people in front of me who deliver just what I need to become a little more conscious of who I am. Recognizing that our perception of other people is never accurate without interoception is a big step. If we know, when conflicts arise, that life is always trying to teach us more about who we are, then when we are triggered by another person, we’ll know that the often painful emotions we’re feeling are nobody’s fault. They are signposts on the road to healing our broken heart. The pain we feel, though touched by what is happening in the present, is old.

It takes courage to take responsibility for our own experience. But when we do, we gain so much more clarity about how we are creating the continuous stream of disappointment, disillusion and conflict that is part of this territory.

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes, even often, relationships are frustrating, unjust, unbalanced and unconscious. Sometimes we all need to let off steam and have a damn good moan about all those bastards who make our lives so complicated! However, there’s a big difference between letting off steam and actually believing that someone else is to blame for our experience. Now, I’m not saying that we can’t be wronged by another person. Clearly we can. But the Inner Shaman knows that freedom is rooted not in blame of self or other, but in responsibility. And responsibility means the willingness to ask ourselves, ’What is my part in creating this?’

When we are triggered or feel threatened, regardless of whether the perceived threat is real or not, we go into the fight-flight-freeze response, and in that state we are rendered incapable of seeing or hearing one another accurately. These triggers are inside us, and from the Inner Shaman’s point of view, they get activated so that we can become aware of them and take responsibility for them. The deeper we travel, the more the Inner Shaman will help us to recognize the personal material and undigested experiences of our ancestors that we are carrying. These are ours to deal with, and though it may take time, if we do it, we will realize that none of us are without blame and none of us are without blood on our hands.

Taking responsibility for what arises inside us is a skill we need to learn and go on developing. And the sooner we start, the better. Admitting that we create our perception through the story we tell is a revolution. Having said that, I love it that there’s always the chance that when we are present, wherever we look we’ll see the Mystery smiling back at us, and the fortress around our heart will dissolve as if made of illusion.

In one-to-one relationships, the harvest of revealing our vulnerability and our power is a much deeper intimacy. Telling the truth, though scary at times, leads to more safety. In friendship, more intimacy leads to a much deeper understanding of ourselves, each other and the dynamics in the space between us. In sexual relationships, more intimacy leads to infinitely better sex, which is one of the most potentially healing and mutually empowering ceremonies I know. Now that’s a harvest worth shovelling some shit for.

On the one hand, we are so simple. We want shelter, warmth and nourishment. We want to be safe from the threat of being attacked. We want good health. We want to be seen for who we are, and for the most part, we want peace. We want to be loved and we want to love. We want to be free to be ourselves and we want to learn. We want meaning that touches us and purpose that motivates us.

On the other hand, we are so complex. We hold on to our memories as if they were happening now. We hold on to our hurt as if it could replace the soul loss we’re afraid we can’t heal. We struggle with power. We fight with tight smiles on our faces, pretending that we’re being so very reasonable while we’re stabbing each other in the back with that sharp finger of blame. We hide our hurts behind our furies and deliver our revenge without shame, claiming that some god somewhere told us to. Maybe worst of all, we hide our fear of difference behind ignorant certainties about each other that blind us to the spark of divine intelligence right there in front of us, trying to remind us what this theatre piece is all about.

The number one rule for the Inner Shaman in one-to-one relationships is to take responsibility for our 50 per cent of any challenges that arise and do the work to discover the roots of those challenges within our own and our ancestors’ histories.


Now that I’ve described the territory, let’s get down to work. I’m going to invite you to ask your Inner Shaman to work with the past, present and potential future of your relationships through four different lenses:

· Family relationships

· Lover/partner relationships

· Friendships

· Power relationships

All of these four areas of one-to-one relationship present different challenges and different opportunities for the Inner Shaman to learn. It’s quite likely that you’ll feel stronger in one area than another. I suggest you allow yourself to be fascinated by both your apparent areas of strength and your apparent areas of weakness.


Relationships map

I invite you to put yourself at the centre of the circle. Doing so is indicative of your willingness to take responsibility for your part in any and all of the relationships in which you find yourself.

South: Family Relationships

There are those who say that the deepest part of our intelligence chooses the perfect family and environment for us to grow up in. And there are those who wonder if perhaps they were adopted, so different do they feel from their family of origin. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. But a more interesting question might be: ’What needs healing from my experience of growing up in my family and culture, and how can I transform that experience into medicine so that I can become more responsible for myself and enhance the quality of all my one-to-one relationships?’

Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow shaman called Sergio Magaña about how long it had taken us to bring our medicine home to our family of origin. Both of us had taken the road less travelled and gone far beyond our family’s expectations of how we should live our lives. We recognized what a challenge the choices we had made had been to our families. And we regretted the pain our choices had brought them. But we also knew that doing our best to heal those relationships was as important as any other work we might be doing elsewhere. We both knew we owed our existence to our ancestors and acknowledged the struggles they and our parents had gone through. We were amused and touched to realize that it had taken both of us 20 years to feel at ease enough in ourselves to really show up for our families with our medicine. And we both understood that sharing ours meant honouring theirs in a new way.

A few years ago, I received a simple instruction in a ceremony: ’Next time you go to your family home, take your medicine with you.’

It had taken my family many years to see the value of the life I had chosen. And in all honesty, I had my criticisms of them too. For many years, I felt that I couldn’t bring my real self into the family for fear of being criticized and misunderstood. But recognizing that I was playing a full part in that dynamic by keeping separate and not recognizing my own criticisms really helped me to understand that it was within my power to change the dynamic.

Visiting family is always a good reality check. The status quo of the family system, whatever that is, depends on us all continuing to play our usual roles. Like a strong rip current, family systems have quite a pull. When I was with my family, I noticed that I was often acting as if I was a puppet being operated by invisible connections to the past, still acting as a child rather than an adult, waiting to be recognized and praised for who I had become.

The instruction I had received in ceremony had been an invitation from spirit to grow up and focus on what I could honour and praise in my family. And so I did. I went to see them, knowing that I had something to offer and I could choose to offer it freely, without concern about how it was received. That choice brought new life into the old system. We all seemed to open up to one another in a new way and our family table became a more heartful, listening and enjoyable place. I was surprised and delighted that such a simple choice could have such a positive result.

For many of us growing up in the industrial world, our family has been a source of trauma and has damaged our basic trust in others. But I have been privileged to witness many people healing their wounds and returning to their family homes with their heads held high. The result has often been genuine transformation in seemingly rigid family situations. For the Inner Shaman, healing is a necessity, not a luxury. ’The chain of suffering ends with me’ is a very strong motivation and I want you to know that, as impossible as change may sometimes seem, with the help of your Inner Shaman, you are capable of creating a miracle.

East: Lover/Partner Relationships

The first thing to acknowledge here is that for the Inner Shaman, there’s no such thing as casual sex. Once we open up to another human being in that way, it’s like going from the first analogue internet connection to the fastest digital speed available in terms of the bandwidth of information that passes between us. That can be a wonderful thing and, as we all know, it can be quite the opposite.

As you now know, for the shaman, sexuality is the most potent and sacred gift we’ve been given. It is the elemental forces of life dancing through our physical body in a way that touches the very essence of our spirit. It has the power to create life and to literally make (as in manufacture) love. And I’m not just talking about babies. Making love is a ceremony in itself.

With intimacy, sexual ecstasy, and the profound spiritual and physical nourishment it brings, is much more possible. Intimacy means honesty. It means living without secrets and having an ongoing commitment to healing shame and feelings of inadequacy. I dream of a world in which we are taught to honour our sexuality, recognize its power and use it to enhance our lives and the lives of those we share it with.

In the modern world, long-term relationships in which both partners are committed to supporting each other in being truly themselves are rare. Even rarer are long-term relationships in which both partners recognize that genuine intimacy is the key to a sex life that actually gets better and better over time. I have been with Susannah for 33 years. In that time we’ve taught each other how to be the lover we’d always dreamed of. There’s no way we could have done that without facing our shit together and going to the edge and back in many ways. Anyone who tells you that a long-term relationship is easy hasn’t been in one. If we are with anyone for long enough, everything that might come between us and our capacity to love will show up. And the edge is never far away. I don’t know of any long-term relationships that haven’t been to that edge and very nearly fallen off it, my own included.

In 1998, Susannah and I were living in a five-storey house in Nottingham. We had moved there to work out if there was life in an unconventional form of relationship we were discovering, which was triangular in nature. We all learned a lot until it became untenable for many reasons and the third party graciously stepped out. What followed was the hardest time in our married life. We really didn’t know how or if to find each other again.

One day, we were sitting on high stools at the breakfast bar. The kitchen floor was red quarry tiles which we’d polished back almost to their original best. We were drinking wine out of a pair of Dartington crystal glasses that we’d been given for our marriage in 1989 and we were having the same frustrating conversation that we’d been having for several months. We were completely stuck between a rock and a hard place and at our wits’ end.

At one point, I held my empty wine glass out over the edge of the breakfast bar and said to Susannah: ’This is our relationship.’

I then let the glass fall, fully expecting it to shatter on the hard surface. What actually happened was one of those pearl moments in my life that I carry in a little pouch hidden inside me. I hope to have the time just before I die to take those pearls out one by one and offer them back to life with my full gratitude for their artistry and beauty. That day I watched as the world went into slow motion, that well-known state that accompanies moments when death is present. The long-stemmed glass hit the floor and bounced twice on its side before settling into place, fully upright and totally unharmed.

I literally gasped in shock. And I knew right then that the conversation was over. The vows I had made on our wedding day had faced the storm and stood firm. I picked up my drum there and then to sing for and thank whichever helping spirits had caught that glass and steadied it and us in the same heartbeat.

That wasn’t the end of our challenges, but it was the beginning of a new chapter. Step by step, we travelled through the tricky terrain of unacknowledged hurts and betrayals that had led us to that edge.

Each time we find the courage to track the original pain from our childhood or from our ancestral line that has found its way into the space between us, intimacy grows and making love lives up to its name.

West: Friendships

Friendship runs through life like a river, keeping the landscape alive and fluid. Good friendships help to keep us afloat when storms come. As time has marched on, my good friends have become more important to me. The further I have travelled, the more I have recognized just how important honest, loving friendships are to anyone who dares to wield power in this world. And whenever we take new steps on our journey, we need friends to acknowledge us, keep our feet on the ground and help us to fly.

If we are to be successful in pursuing our dreams and becoming who we are, we need to ensure that we have people around us who are unafraid to challenge us and delighted to laugh at us and with us when we trip up along the way. The only thing that is certain is that we will.

Real friendship involves sacrifice. But when we give ourselves wholeheartedly when our friends are in need, unexpected teachings and rewards come to us. Many years ago, I was in a ceremony being held in a large and freezing cold marquee in Belgium. The stove wasn’t working and rain was falling outside. We were there with a dear friend who was going through a torrid health challenge. The makeshift toilets were outside and at one point I noticed that he had been gone a while. I got my coat on and went outside to look for him. I found him stuck in the loo in some discomfort. I stayed with him for a while, getting colder and wetter by the minute, until one of the shaman’s assistants showed up and said he could take over. I was so relieved to hand my friend over and go back inside. I quickly took off my wet clothes and got inside my sleeping bag to try and warm up.

I was just getting comfortable and getting into my own journey when I heard the quiet yet insistent voice of my Inner Shaman asking me, ’Ya’Acov, what does friendship mean to you?’

I resisted as long as I could, but I knew I couldn’t stay in the now cosy warmth of my own cocoon. Eventually, feeling miserable, I extricated myself, put my cold, wet clothes back on and went outside again. My friend was still in pain, so I stayed with him, singing and praying in the rain. There was one moment of relief when the humour of the situation burst through and we laughed so hard that I got warm and his pain eased. Finally the rain ceased and he was ready to exit the toilet. The organizers had lit a fire outside and we sat as close to it as we could to dry out. I felt so bedraggled and wet, yet good, whole and peaceful sitting with my friend by the fire under the clearing skies. Sometimes, the strongest healing is to simply surrender and be at a friend’s side.

Like fine wine, friendships mature. None escape moments of conflict, misunderstanding or disagreement. If we stay around another person long enough, we’re going to get to know their gremlins as well as their luminosity. Just as they’ll know ours. An old shaman once told me that the challenges that life places on our road are the stones against which we sharpen the blade of our intent. Challenges in friendships are the same.

And sooner or later Death will come into the room and remind us that our time here is relatively short and there’ll be no time left to settle for second best in ourselves, another person or the space between us.

North: Power Relationships

Power relationships are relationships where there is an inbuilt power differential between us and the other person: for example, teacher and student, boss and employee or parent and child. From the very moment we are conceived, we all experience the immense vulnerability that is part of these relationships. As children, our mother, father and the community we are born into hold the power of life and death over us. And the structures we inherit from the families, cultures and histories we are born into form the unconscious ground of our challenges in one-to-one power relationships.

There’s no denying there are colossal imbalances of power in the world and there have been, and continue to be, huge injustices in historical and socio-political power relationships. They are part of the ground we walk on and have an effect on the power dynamics between us. There’s also no denying we have inflicted massive hurts on one another. I want to encourage you to look at how you are in your power relationships and take it as an invitation from your Inner Shaman to create something new.

Once you’ve invoked the Inner Shaman, it’s a fair bet to say that they might just team up with that quiet voice of conscience inside you. Every time you step back into the shadow dance and insist on playing another episode of the Victim—Persecutor—Rescuer—Hungry Ghost series (After all, if there’s a problem, it has to be somebody’s fault), you might just hear that little voice reminding you that every situation (Yes! Every situation!) is an opportunity to practise. Practise what? Remembering your resources. Recognizing that how you are perceiving the world probably isn’t how the world actually is. Showing up honestly, with integrity. Recognizing the power you do have, taking responsibility for your part in creating any situation you are in and learning the maximum you can from it.

If we do continue to claim to be the casualties of everyone else’s bad behaviour while paying little or no attention to our own, liberation will elude us and sticks, stones and damning judgements of all kinds will continue to polarize us. It’s time to get real about and take responsibility for the underlying hurts we all feel. I strongly believe that the Inner Shaman’s direct connection to the one kind of power that nobody can give or take from us — the personal power of a human being who knows who they are — is both the way through and the way out. My friend Jake often reminds me that the most dangerous thing we can do with our power is to deny it. As we become empowered through our work, we need to acknowledge our power and constantly update our picture of ourselves to avoid falling back into old habits.

It seems to me that we are living through the adolescence of our species. We have learned a lot. If we are to learn more, we need to grow up and dream a new dream. I know we can. We just need a few things. We need courage and mercy in equal measure. We need to create safe spaces where we can release the trauma from our collective unconsciousness about power relationships of all kinds. We need to know that our experiences and our feelings are going to be heard. We need to go beyond political and historical rights and wrongs. Like it or not, we are all family here. No exceptions. Choice by choice and action by action, every one of us is deciding how this human drama will unfold.

Remember the alchemical blend that the Inner Shaman is looking for in all their one-to-one relationships: 1 + 1 = 3. It’s time to bring this enquiry into the powerful container of ritual space. We’re going to cross the arc of time to learn from the past, acknowledge the present and create an up-to-date vision for the evolving future of all our relationships.



You will need one hour for this practice.


· Set up your space in the normal way and then create three signs: ’Past’, ’Present’ and ’Future’. To begin with, place them in the South, the direction of family relationships.

· Once again, 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 previous practices. Music with a repetitive rhythm will help. Connect to your Inner Shaman and their archetypal helpers and invite all that supports and guides you into the space.


South: Family relationships


Past, present and future relationships

· Once you feel present, step into the South of your circle with the clear intention of working with the family dynamics in which you learned about relationships. Begin in the centre in the present. Ask your Inner Shaman to describe through your movement and through words the current condition of your one-to-one relationships with your family. Enquire as honestly as you can, using all the skills you have practised so far to embody what is true.

· Now, sense the arc of time that stretches from behind you, from your past with your family and the past of your family, all the way to the space in front of you, to your future and that of your descendants (even if you have no children yourself).

· Step back into the past, taking with you all the resources you have now. You’re looking for the root experiences that shaped your family relationships and still affect all your one-to-ones. This is basically a fact-finding mission, so just make a note of what you find, especially any specific incidents that still have an emotional charge for you. These are all good stories to work through at some later point with the SEER Process. For now, if emotions arise, simply allow them to move.

· Okay, good. Once you’ve finished, step back into the present and do whatever you need to do to resource yourself.

· Look into the space ahead of you, the road to your future. How might you develop these relationships as you move forward? Consider this from the present.

· When you are ready, step firmly forward into your future and pay careful attention to what arises in your body, your feelings and your imaginal space. The future is uncertain, but the Inner Shaman is more than capable of receiving new information that can help you to ’dream in’ the best possible outcomes for all your one-to-one family relationships. As always, only focus on your own behaviour, on what you are responsible for. Don’t imagine the changes that you think others should make. Those are up to them and not your business. Take whatever time you need here.

· Once you are ready, step back into the present. Take a moment to digest what you have learned and resource yourself again.

East, West and North: Sexual relationships, friendships and power relationships

· Now repeat the process in the East with your sexual relationships, the West with your friendships and the North with your power relationships. Whenever you step into the past, remember that you are there to witness the work that needs to be done. Gather the information from each direction so that you have a list of juicy events for your SEER Process work.

Centre: Evaluation

· Once you have finished, spend some time back at the centre of the circle, digesting what you have learned. See all these different types of relationships around you and ask yourself:

o ’What would help me most to take responsibility for myself in all my relationships?’

o ’What needs to change inside me so that my relationships will realize their potential?’

o ’What does the alchemy of 1 + 1 = 3 look like for me?’

o ’What do I wish to give in my friendships, partnerships and other relationships?’

o ’What do I wish to receive?’

o ’Who do I need to become to give and receive this?’

o ’What really matters to me in my relationships?’

o ’What kind of a family member/lover/friend can I mature into and how can I develop responsibility in my power relationships?’

· Take some time to write down all the events from the past that showed up and design a plan to take them one by one through the SEER Process.

· Then complete your ritual in the normal way, making sure to leave enough time for the echo.


I think George Bernard Shaw was channelling his Inner Shaman when he reminded us that it’s up to us whether we choose to be ’a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making us happy’.

This work with responsibility in relationships is an ongoing and fascinating journey. You now have your Inner Shaman’s help as you move forward. Let’s see how they can help you now, as you focus on the profound and urgent task of taking your place in relationship with the wider community of life of which we are all part.