Harvest: Partnering with the Source and Serving Life
Your Life as a Shamanic Journey
’Wherever there is a suitable environment for the fulfilment of Life, it will fulfil itself.’
The heart of a shaman’s life is in the integrity of their relationships — with themselves; with others, one to one; with their community, ranging from their local plants, minerals and animals to the web of life across the planet and out into the universe; with the imaginal world, including their ancestors, descendants, spirits and allies; and with the Great Spirit. For the shaman, fulfilment isn’t just personal, it’s based on their love for life and commitment to all life.
Susannah and I and David Tucker, a dear friend, once took a group of people to visit Sumpa, the Achuar elder shaman who we visited earlier in our journey, just a few weeks after his wife of more than 60 years had passed away. He was deeply sad, but he took the time to thank us for coming to see him. He told us that the healing he would be offering us would be the best medicine for his own broken heart. He proceeded to work with every single one of the 20 members of the group with exquisite care and attention. The next morning he told us, with tears in his eyes, that our visit and the opportunity to offer us healing had reminded him that he still had a reason to live.
For the shaman, finding fulfilment means serving life from the deepest place within. In the modern world, it means not only having the precision of a clear mind and the ability to think critically and challenge the limitations of their own perception and knowledge, but also having a well-developed kinaesthetic and emotional intelligence. Shamans are able to move safely between the imaginal and physical worlds because of their strong connection to both. And the result of that connection is that even the most basic of everyday tasks can be infused with the magic of ritual.
The different stages of shamanic training are marked by initiations. An initiation is a ritual designed to mark significant change. A good initiation takes us out of our comfort zone. It puts us in a situation where we have to find a new level of humility, strength and connection to a higher power in order to survive. It also gives us the chance to reveal what we have learned to our elders and community and to be recognized by them — an aspect of community that is highly valued by the indigenous communities we know.
In the modern world, life in its wisdom gives us many challenges that we can learn to recognize as initiations. Moving from childhood to puberty and adolescence, committing to a relationship, becoming a parent, losing close family or friends, moving to a new home or job, turning 50, going through the menopause and becoming a grandparent are just some of the moments that can benefit from the focus and prayer that initiation rituals can provide.
Sadly, one of the things we have lost in the modern world is the art of initiation. And if you want to know the result of generation upon generation of young people going through adolescence without being initiated, just turn the news on any day of the week.
When our son was 13, we put him through an initiation. He said goodbye to his mama, who was going to visit a friend for 24 hours. As she left, he told her that he didn’t want her not to be his mama anymore. She told him she would always be his mother but when she returned, she would no longer be the mother of a child but of a young man. She left him with me and seven men he had known all his life and had invited to be there. The initiation we had planned for him involved him spending four hours sitting in a circle of stones in the darkness, contemplating questions we had given him about the best and the most difficult times in his life. When he returned, he had to present his answers to us. He was then acknowledged as a young man and we had a great feast to celebrate. It was a simple ceremony, but one in which he had to find inner resources that up until then he didn’t know he had.
If our elders don’t initiate us, we have to find ways of doing it for ourselves. The fantastically anarchic and self-organizing rave scene of the 1980s was a perfect example. In the UK alone, more than a million teenagers every weekend went out in search of initiation. They danced all night, ecstasy fuelled and love driven. Complete strangers gave each other what friends and family couldn’t — the solid gold of a moment of genuine recognition.
’I see you! You’re alright, mate.’
’Yep! And so are you.’
Every connection that was made heightened the euphoria until that circle was so strong it lifted everybody up. ’I am a worthless nobody’ was transformed into ’I am part of something incandescent and irrepressible. I belong to this “we” and it’s bigger than “me”. It’s filled with a power of love I never knew existed. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever you’re on, I’m with you and you’re with me and we’re alright.’
And so it went, weekend after weekend. And how did society respond? Did we go to our community shamans and respected elders and ask them what this outburst of uncontrollable joy and self-discovery was? Did we recognize the genuine need that was being expressed and enquire into how we could make it safe for everyone and genuinely beneficial for us all?
No. We made it illegal and tried to close it down.
I’m not talking about the pros and cons of drugs here, I’m talking about the genuine need for rituals and initiations that take us past our everyday selves. That stretch us beyond our known limits and show us what we are capable of. I’m talking about rituals that open up spaces where we can discover prayer that’s physical and real because it’s coming from so deep inside us that all we can do is get out of the way. Rituals that transport us into a genuine connection with the wider community that we belong to and inspire us to make our contribution. So that when Monday morning comes, we’re not depressed because we’re facing a life that feels empty and meaningless. We’re inspired because we know who we are and what’s ours to contribute. Any society that replaces guided initiations for its adolescents with smartphones and nature deficit disorder is asking for trouble.
Whatever our age, the next initiation is never far away. As the seasons turn and the years go by, the more we become who we are, the stronger we will be, the more impact we will have, and therefore the more responsibility we will have to take for our choices. But as we grow in our practice, we’ll start to trust ourselves and the powers that guide us more. If your journey with trust is anything like mine, you’ll become more and more aware that life is the master and the best we can do is dance and be as creative as we can with whatever it brings.
THE NINE LIFE CYCLES
In our Movement Medicine work, inspired by Gabrielle Roth’s Cycles work which we taught for more than a decade, we see the whole journey of life from birth to death as an initiatory journey through nine developmental cycles, each with its own archetypal teacher and task. The nine life cycles describe the archetypal development of the human soul and are also a very useful map for developing any creative project. Any new idea needs a good mama to receive it, see its beauty and nourish it so that it can grow. You know now that we tend to repeat the stories from the past that have not yet been digested. Incarnation can be quite a process and how we began our journey in this life will continue to be echoed in all our beginnings until we do the work of digesting that original experience. The good news is that with the help of the Inner Shaman, we can do exactly that. Whoever our mama was or is, once we recognize that we can lean in to the support of the Great Mama under our feet, we can forgive, move on and embody the quality of healthy mothering that is a necessary part of any new beginning.
And once that baby project becomes a child, it will need a good archetypal papa to give it a strong hand at its back and say, ’Go on child, grow. Shine like the sun. Yes! Yes you can!’
Events in the present often catalyse us to re-experience events from the past that are unacknowledged or incomplete. When this happens, the Inner Shaman smiles. Though they recognize that there’s work to be done and it’s likely that all kinds of emotions will be bursting their banks, they also know that when we become conscious of what was previously hidden, we discover a rich vein of natural wealth in our psyche. We’re all capable of using the stones on our path to build bridges, not walls. Though the cards we are dealt clearly make a difference to where we begin, we have a lot of choice about where we end up. As I have continued to work with the formative experiences of my early life, some of which have roots that go far back into my ancestors’ experiences, more and more diamonds have become visible in the apparent darkness. Some of these are in the form of personal allies who have helped me at difficult moments in my life and have remained with me. I’m confident you’ll discover that the same is true for you.
Each year Susannah and I run a nine-day course to work with the nine life cycles. It’s called ’Initiation’. We take participants on a shamanic journey to extract medicine from the past, creating meaning from it that is grounded in self-acceptance and injecting a strong dose of dignity into their foundations. From there, with this newly discovered resilience at their back, they can see their lives afresh and dream a road ahead that is congruent with who they are and what really matters to them. The essential teachings that are the backbone of the course are the basis of a nine-day ritual that I’m going to invite you to do now.
PRACTICE: THE INNER SHAMAN’S JOURNEY THOUGH THE NINE LIFE CYCLES
Being aware of the heroic journey you are on will strengthen your compassion for yourself and others and ultimately your capacity to bring your dreams to Earth by harnessing the raw material of your life experience. When a situation triggers you into reactivity, your Inner Shaman’s capacity to stay steady and recognize who inside you has been triggered and what their story is will be a significant benefit to you.
This isn’t about attempting to be a spiritually perfect human. It’s about being real, kind and honest with yourself and others. In this way, the work that is yours to do will become visible and you’ll be well on the way to enjoying the deepest fulfilment you can have in this life.
This is a powerful ritual and I’m going to suggest that you do it over nine consecutive days. An hour a day will suffice. Since it can be catalytic, you may wish to place some extra support in place. You could ask a friend to be with you and even do the work together, side by side. Remember the Dancing Warrior knows when they need help.
· Look over the nine life cycles map below. It describes the journey we are all on. Note which cycle you are in and what is touched within you as you consider its archetypal teachers and initiatory tasks and opportunities. Every time I do this, I discover something new.
The Great Mystery
Incarnation and coming to Earth
The Mother/Earth Mother/Divine Mother
Connection with the mother, the body and learning to receive
The Father/Sun Father/Divine Father
Connection with the father, friendship, play and learning about structure
The Nascent Self/The Dreamer
Being recognized, welcomed and initiated as an individual in the community
Individuation and experimentation
The Personal Dreamer (*)
Responsibility, family and work
The Sacred Dreamer (•)
Self-knowledge, contributing what you have and harvest
Fulfilment, sharing wisdom and Benevolent Death, retiring from the world
Gateway to Death
The Great Mystery
Letting go, realization and surrender to Benevolent Death
(*) The personal dream is taking care of the foundations of life: work and finances, and family if that is part of your journey.
(•) The sacred dream is what you are here for: your purpose, your offering, your bliss.
I suggest that you work with each cycle in order, beginning with incarnation and ending with Death. Each day, work with one cycle as follows:
· Name the cycle and your intention to learn as much as you can from it.
· Set up your space in the normal way with as much focus and attention to detail as you can. How we begin a journey makes a big difference to the quality of that journey and where it can take us.
· Arrive at the centre of your circle and connect to your resources, using any of the foundational practices. Make sure your body is warm, joints mobile, breath deep and steady and your Inner Shaman and their medicine present. Remember that emotion means energy in motion and welcome your heart and its intelligence into this ritual.
· If you are working with a cycle you have already lived through, turn around, look at the road that has brought you here and be present, rooted and resourced at the centre of your circle.
· If you are working with a future life cycle, imagine the path of your life unfolding in front of you.
· Give your attention to the cycle and acknowledge your current relationship to it. How does it feel in your body and heart? When working with the past, what stories do you have about what happened in that cycle? When working with the future, what is the best outcome you can dream for that cycle?
· Invoke the archetypal teacher associated with the cycle to work alongside your Inner Shaman and all their helpers. This is the Unbroken energy that will help you to heal the wounds caused by your experiences. For instance, if you had a difficult relationship with either or both of your parents or guardians, the Mother/Father archetypes can help you to feel the Earth under your feet and the sun in your heart and receive now whatever you didn’t receive then. For the Inner Shaman, blame and emotions associated with the past are there to be expressed and are temporary. Lessons learned from the past are permanent.
· Once you feel the presence of the cycle’s archetype, step back into that cycle as the Inner Shaman, taking all your medicine with you. As you know through your work with the SEER Process, you have the resources to change your relationship to the past and the meaning you have taken from it.
· Acknowledge, express and release what you find:
o Through connecting directly to the medicine of the archetypes and sending that back across the arc of time.
o Through calling those parts of your inner community that feel lost in the frozen landscapes of the past into the warmth and protection of your heart. Embrace them and welcome them home.
If you ever find yourself overwhelmed, you’re going too fast. Slow down. Breathe. Step back into the present, ground yourself in your moving body and continue with less intensity.
· When you feel your work with the cycle is complete, ask:
o ’What lesson can I take from this cycle to support myself in my present situation?’
o ’What help was present for me at that time that I was unaware of? Are there any allies who wish to make themselves known and become part of my personal mesa and bring more spiritual strength to my backbone?’
· Take the time to notice how present the archetype associated with each cycle is for you. Embody them and invite them to share their perspective. All these archetypes can become a helpful part of your inner community.
· Consider your relationship to the initiatory task of the cycle.
· Once you reach the cycle you’re currently in, acknowledge how far you’ve come. It’s really important to celebrate your success as well as acknowledge the work to be done. Ask yourself:
o ’How am I doing with my personal dream and with taking responsibility for my life?’
o ’How am I with my sacred dream?’
· You can now look forward to the cycles that are ahead of you. Step forward into your future. Dream an unfurling road that inspires you and includes your relationships with yourself, others, your community and your allies.
· Once you’ve spent time with all nine cycles, their archetypes and tasks, step back into the middle of your circle. Imagine all these parts of your inner community around you. From the central perspective of the Inner Shaman, sit in council with them and ask if any of them have anything more they wish to communicate.
· Complete your work each day in the normal way, remembering to thank and release all you have called. Take some rest and digestion time, find an incantation that distils the essence of your work and take a simple step that is congruent with what you have done.
· When you get to the end of the final day, take some extra time to bring together all your incantations and all you have learned and give thanks for this rich harvest of your life’s experiences and the dreams you have for the road ahead.
Congratulations! The work you have just done has been a powerful step towards fulfilling the unique blueprint of your soul.
Whenever I do a healing, I always ask the patient to plant a tree so that the benefit of the healing can go on growing through the seasons and bring blessings to others in the present and the future. I suggest that you find something to give that honours what you have received and is appropriate to your circumstances. Nothing is too small. Everything matters.