Encounter: The Shaman in the Modern World
’We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow, suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.’
Shamans have always used what’s available to them to bring their particular blend of practicality and out-of-the-box invention to their communities. In today’s world, the Inner Shaman has the added task of discovering how to combine ancient knowledge with modern understanding of what it takes to transform individual and collective trauma into medicine. This is the bridge across time the Inner Shaman must cross. So, the tools of a modern shaman are just as likely to be a laptop and a playlist as they are to be a drum and beautifully beaded feathers. I like both.
In my work, I have been privileged to witness many thousands of individuals, from many places, cultures and mindsets, bravely struggling to see past their own deep conditioning and rediscover the magnificence, creativity and kindness of their own soul. This has left me with the belief that the shamanic practices that we use in Movement Medicine and that I will share with you in the chapters that follow will be well known to the Shaman in you. I believe that the Earth is crying out for us to remember what we already know.
Modern scientific insight has now converged with ancient shamanic wisdom to reveal that the universe is a complex and interdependent system. This revelation is changing our understanding of the physical world and our place in it. We know there is bad news. The media seems to revel in it. But there is good news too. For the first time in the history of our species, we are engaged in a global conversation about the wrongs of war, inequality, slavery, racism, the abuse of power and the pandemic of sexual abuse. We are becoming aware of a whole host of injustices. We are waking up to the mass extinction our way of our life is causing. The current climate, both political and weather wise, is catalysing us to challenge our apathy and look for new solutions. The study of epigenetics is revealing that we carry both the strength and resilience of our ancestors and their undigested experience. Einstein warned us that we cannot use the same paradigm that created a problem to create the solution. So we know we need inspiration. We need to expand our consciousness if we are to break the chains of suffering and pass on a more evolved story to those who come next.
This has been true for me and I have seen the same in every one of the thousands of people I have worked with over the years. As I grew up, left the relatively safe confines of my own tribe and ventured out into the world, I began to question some of the things I had taken for granted. My thirst for knowledge, a meeting with death when I was struck by lightning on a golf course in my early twenties and the connection to spirit I’d had for as long as I could remember led me on a 30-year initiatory journey from neurotic young Jewish warrior to the shaman that my teachers were telling me I was.
I described in my last book how I came to accept that role. In this one I am inviting you to experience for yourself just how powerful the Inner Shaman can be in your life. In this first part I will give you the basic practices to prepare the ground for your first encounter with them. Later, we will go much deeper, but please don’t underestimate the importance of the early stages. Shamanism is powerful work, and in the modern world you need to be embodied and present in order to make proper use of whatever the Inner Shaman may show you. I have found that a good grasp of the basics is worth its weight in gold when you get to the deeper and more challenging work to which your healing will inevitably bring you. The more attention you give to the foundations, the further you will go.
When Susannah and I got together, we discovered very early on that we had a shared mission. Simply put, we wanted to find or create a body of work that supported all who engaged with it to heal their relationship with themselves, with others, with the Earth and the community of life, with ancestors, descendants and spirits, and with the power to consciously create with life and the Creator.
At the centre of our practice and study is a contemporary shamanic ritual that has taken place each year for the past decade. It’s called the Summer Long Dance. The Long Dance is a contemporary shamanic fusion of everything we have learned and the alchemy that it rests in is the marriage of ancient and modern shamanism that infuses our work, much of which I intend to share with you in this book. The ritual is a mending of what has been lost, but it is also a stepping into the here and now. It’s a place to grieve and a place to dream. It holds at its heart the prayer that we can come through our current challenges and change the dream of life on Earth. It gives those present the opportunity to dedicate their considerable power to serving life as well as receiving all that it has to offer. This is modern shamanism, and the power of this ceremony, and all the work I offer, is rooted in the basic practices I will share with you here.
Modern shamanic practice is a space for your indigenous self, the part of you that remembers your connection to matter and to spirit, the part of you that is unafraid to let the rhythm take you, shake you until you’re empty and then lift your heart towards the Mystery. It’s a place in which to acknowledge the pain in the world, and inside yourself, and to gain the resources to do something about it, a place where prayer doesn’t mean ’believing in’ but ’being in direct relationship with’, a place where you can honour your ancestors and listen to the dreams of descendants yet to be born.
The practices I am going to share with you will invite you to enter the unknown. We won’t use drugs or plant medicine. But you will connect to the intelligence of your body, heart and mind. You will be invited to discover the medicine that is in your past and be given tools to help you be more present and call in and embody inspiration for the future. You will meet your ancestors and discover the powerful effect your imagination is already having on your life. Healing will come, and I have every confidence that you will discover more of your potential to be yourself and make a difference in this world. My spirits tell me that an awakening is happening and that everyone is invited.
I want you to know just how powerful, creative and healing contemporary shamanism can be. Imagine a huge white tent in a field, with a decorated Tree of Life at the centre and 200 people dancing to the shamanic fusion soundscape of drums, guitar, sax, piano and didge. We’ve been dancing for three days already and many of us have been fasting too. There’s a super strong and exquisite Movement Medicine woman (that’s my sweetheart) conducting the band, translating the alchemy of the moment into sound to help the dancers let go. There’s a Sápara shaman (that’s my brother Manari) sitting in prayer, whistling the melodies of the forest into the mix. To my right, our son, Reuben, and his brother Jonas, bring in the medicine they’ve been gathering on their own paths and add young jaguar energy to the ceremony. And I’m there on my feet, singing out my heart as we shed tears and sweat our prayers late into the night.
Imagine now the luminous quiet that descends so sweetly after the storm. We are all bathed in the sweet nectar of the night. Healing falls like warm rain and our open, tired bodies receive the blessing of seeing in the dark that ritual brings.
So, dear traveller, welcome to the journey. Your Inner Shaman is waiting and we have some foundations to build. We will begin with Awakening the Dancer, learn about the Nine Steps of Ritual, work with the Tree of Life, meet the elemental powers and undertake the Mesa Elemental Practice before having our first encounter with the Inner Shaman. Then the doors between the worlds will be open.
Ready? Steady. Go…