The Hollow Bone - Encounter: The Shaman in the Modern World

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

The Hollow Bone
Encounter: The Shaman in the Modern World

A Personal Encounter with an Ancient Friend

’Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’


In the modern world, as traditional community structures have fallen away, we have had to recreate our idea of community and create new ways of making learning communities. Part of that work has been breaking away from the concept of communities as places of rigid taboos and dogmatic suppression of our individual expression. Indeed, the whole culture of the individual may well be a fierce reaction to some of the more repressive ways of the communities of old.

Though much of a shaman’s initiatory work traditionally takes place alone in nature, Susannah and I recognized early on that creating a new template for community was an important part of our work. Finding the people alongside whom we had felt safe enough to learn was and remains central to our own healing journey. As Susannah eloquently explained, ’Our intention is to create community without conformity and encourage individuality without separation.’

Shamanism, like everything else, is going through a process of evolution. I know that the shamanism I practise now is very different from when I began. The main change has come from the growing understanding that we are collectively heading for big trouble if we don’t make some radical changes now. Many of the elders from the surviving indigenous traditions of the world have received similar messages at this time. They have seen that they need to send emissaries into our world to share what they know and remind us of some of the basics we have forgotten. The urgency and speed with which they have stepped forward are indicative of the level of danger we are in and, given the way that most mainstream cultures have treated their indigenous people, also extremely brave. But the indigenous people we know have recognized that the prophesized time that will require the coming together of the best of all worlds is now. The shamans know we must find a way to weave together the collective wisdom and ingenuity of all cultures in order to thrive in a new era. Meeting your Inner Shaman will help you to know yourself more and, therefore, to know what role you can play at this ’all hands on deck’ time in our human story.

Susannah and I have been told by the shamans and spirits of the traditions with which we have worked that it is our task to translate what we have learned into healing modalities that can tend to the specific wounds of our own people. This has been the intention of our work and it is the intention behind this book.


The shamanic path involves a series of initiations through which a shaman learns how to be themselves and discover and deepen their connections to the land, the spirits and the Great Mystery that animates it all. They have to know themselves so that they can become the clear channel known as the hollow bone. This is the channel through which they can receive the healing for themselves that they will eventually bring to their community.

Like all shamans, I have come through a very testing journey and I continue to challenge myself to learn. I have made many mistakes along the way and I have made it my business to learn from them. I’ve noticed two things recently. One is, the deeper I go, the more embarrassing the revelations of my own unconscious become. The second is that I can be kind with what I uncover to the point where the pain goes out of it and it even becomes funny at times. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become much more accepting of my limitations, and I’ve been fascinated to discover that the more accepting I’ve become, the faster I have grown.

The ongoing work of self-discovery, which is the focus of the next part of this book, is a prerequisite for anyone working with power. We all know very well that collectively we have not handled our power very gracefully. This is down to the level of our development as a species. In other words, abuse of power is a systemic issue. What that means is that anyone working with power — and we all do, even if that is by refusing to touch it — has ongoing work to do so that our collective story with power can evolve. I cannot emphasize enough how important the conscious dedication of the power we gather through our work is.

The ’bone’ in the phrase ’hollow bone’ refers to the channel through which the shaman brings in healing. So, looking after the hollow bone on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels is a vital part of the Inner Shaman’s work. Taking care of our physical body and giving it ample time and space to express itself in all areas of the dance of life is important, while ongoing self-questioning clarifies and shapes the self. This commitment is the key ingredient in allowing the Inner Shaman to safely surrender to a higher power and become the healthy hollow space through which the mysteries of the Earth and the sky can communicate.

If you have done the practices so far, then congratulations. You have created fertile ground on which to meet your Inner Shaman in a more direct way. If you haven’t done them yet, I strongly suggest you do. Shamanism isn’t theoretical, it’s practical. It’s an embodied here and now experience of the reality of interconnectivity. When I began, I recognized how much of my education had been rooted in theory. I had learned to be disconnected from myself and therefore from the world around me. Only at night, when I dreamed, did I feel connected. The waking world was much more difficult territory for me until I found the experiential work of shamanism, which is designed to heal the story that we are fundamentally separate from one another and the world around us.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all part of one huge complex web of intelligence that thrives on its diversity. Most of us haven’t yet woken up to the simple fact that every member of this family of life on Earth, human or non-human, is worthy of a place at this table. This doesn’t mean we have to like or even agree with one another, though if we were able and willing to discover the unique thread of wisdom inside each of the different ways of viewing life, I believe we could transform into a benevolent presence on Earth. And if we wish to even survive here, we have to agree a new set of principles by which to live.

Shamans don’t live in a Walt Disney Fantasia land. They visit the imaginal realms in order to bring back inspiration for the next step they and their communities can take now. Part of their role is to bring the voices of nature, the ancestors and the spirits into the conversation. When we don’t give nature a voice in the decisions that affect our future, we shouldn’t be surprised when nature needs to make itself heard.

It’s time for us to evolve. I dream that our current crisis, including all the polarization and suffering in our world, is bringing us to a collective initiation into a new level of consciousness.

For this to happen, we must experience the difference between working with shamanism as a set of ideas and allowing ourselves to embody our own unique manifestation of the Shaman within. The Inner Shaman is a universal archetype, but when we call them, it will be with the intention that they will help us to know our own personal version of this energy so that we can bring it into our life in an appropriate way. If we do that, it will benefit us and everything to which we are connected. And the more this happens, the more of us there will be who are listening to the non-human voices and the non-physical wisdom that are important aspects of our guidance system. If that happens, if nature has a voice in the corridors of power and the decision-making structures of our human societies, I, and many others, have seen that we can turn this corner and evolve.


Since I know that the archetype of the Inner Shaman is alive and well and just waiting for us to invite them into our lives, I am sharing with you the steps that have helped me and many others to do this in a grounded and empowered way.

Traditionally, shamanism is taught through practice. The apprentice learns by watching their teacher ’s way of working and by spending time alone in their own practice. In this way, they learn under the guidance and protection of their teacher. Through ongoing personal work, they discover who they are and how to work with the specific spirits, guides and energies that are particular to them. When this happens within a lineage, it is not just the teacher that is behind the apprentice, but the collective wisdom and spiritual power of that lineage. The practices I am sharing with you that are rooted in Movement Medicine have a strong lineage behind them. I am about to invite you to make a connection with some of that lineage so you can connect even more strongly with your Inner Shaman.

My own experience has shown me that as a result of growing up in the industrial world, with its mixture of brilliance and banality, I have needed to mend the connection between the rational and liminal worlds. When I began my practice, those worlds often clashed. On the one hand there was the glorious recognition that the imaginal world I had always known was in fact real. On the other, there were still bills to pay. So I know that the Inner Shaman needs a foot in both the practicalities of the everyday world and the inspiration of the imaginal world. All the practices that you have done so far have been designed to build a strong bridge between them and they will be a solid foundation for you now.

The Inner Shaman is a natural and skilled part of who you are. They have been with you as potential for a very long time. It is now time to meet them consciously and uncover that potential.


Your purpose in this ritual is to become present in movement, call to all your allies and connect to your condition, your intention and the dancer in you. From there, you are going to invoke and experience the hollow bone and the archetype of the Inner Shaman coming through you.


You will need a minimum of one hour for this, but feel free to take longer. I suggest doing it at night just before you go to bed.


· Set up your space with care and attention. Making sure that you have rhythmic music is vital. Using the same simple drum track will suffice. Don’t use any music with lyrics in a language you understand. You don’t want distraction, just rhythm.

· Once you have done your invocation and called in your personal allies and helpers, take time for Awakening the Dancer, then work with the Tree of Life and the elements, including the Mesa Practice, to connect the elements inside you with the power of the elements outside you. I want you to be standing at the centre of your own circle, strong and fluid, connected to the elements through the roots, trunk and branches of the Tree of Life, feeling the spirits of those elemental powers around you and the physical presence of the elements within you. This is all about embodied presence and being in the muscle and bone of your being.


· Now, state your specific intention for this practice. I suggest the following, but feel free to improvise:

I affirm that this is a safe space for me to do my work. I call all support and protection. I call the ancient archetype of the Inner Shaman to come through me now. I wish to meet this ancient friend, this archetypal energy, and experience my personal connection to it. I wish to know the support and good medicine it is connected to so that I can know myself more, be who I am and give more of what I’ve got.

· When you call, what do you notice in your body? Be patient. This process can be fast or slow, and the most important thing is that you are present in your body as the Inner Shaman lands there.

· Go through your whole body again, feeling the difference the presence of this archetype makes. Do any feelings or images arise? Breathe, move, expand and contract and let this shamanic being show you how they dance.

· Great. Now face the four directions one at a time and bow, introducing yourself anew from this place within you. I find it’s best to speak out loud, even though at first I often felt like a fool for speaking to something I couldn’t see! You might say:

I am the Inner Shaman inside this human being. I am finding my ground through this body, heart and mind. I wish to deepen this human’s connection to the four directions and to the elemental powers. I am here to open the doors between the worlds of dream and manifestation.

· Let the Inner Shaman visualize, embody and deepen your communication with the spirits of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind. Let their presence support you in letting go and allowing these elements to move through the hollow bone.

· Keeping your body moving, send your attention down into your roots. Feel them spreading out under the ground and invite the Inner Shaman to show you how they connect to the Lower World. Spend some time with this.

· Invite the Inner Shaman to connect with your branches and show you how they connect to the Upper World. From this vantage point, acknowledge where you are and where you have come from. See the challenges you have faced and the potential medicine you are carrying. See where you are in your life now and where your road is leading. Whenever possible, let the Inner Shaman be moved by their connection to what they perceive. As Gabrielle Roth used to say, it’s time to ’disappear in the dance’.

· Now come back to your heart, to the trunk of your body and to the Middle World, the here and now, the bridge between the superconscious and the unconscious mind. Be in your body, with the Inner Shaman’s guardians present in the four directions and above and below you. Ask the Inner Shaman to show you what resources they have for connecting with the Middle World and for bringing your heart’s desire into this world for yourself and for all you care for.

· Call on all your helpers, known and unknown, to support you with this. Helpers may be teachers that you know, animal spirits, ancestors or the elements themselves. Trust yourself and know that the world of spirits is no different than the physical world in as much as there are all kinds of beings in it with all kinds of intentions. Knowing that you can say a strong and clear ’No!’ is a prerequisite to being able to say a clear ’Yes!’ Maintaining a clear boundary is always good when encountering the unknown. Whenever I meet energy that is unknown to me, I always ask: ’Are you here for my highest good?’ I’ve been taught that the spirits don’t lie. If you don’t get an answer, the Inner Shaman will know how to make it unequivocally clear that you are only interested in meeting and working with energy that is there for your highest good.

· Ask the Inner Shaman whatever you wish to ask them, for example, ’Dear Inner Shaman, how am I doing with this ritual? Is there anything you would do differently?’ Don’t be surprised if they have a sense of humour, or are feisty or mysterious. Try to be open to who they are and how they perceive the world.

· Before you finish, take some time to simply allow the Inner Shaman to go inside the rhythm and move. For a little while, just put yourself in their very capable hands (and body, heart and mind) and let go. Become that hollow bone and, as you keep moving, see where this takes you.

· Once you feel you have completed the practice and have had whatever conversation you are going to have for now, ask the Inner Shaman to come into your dreams and to tell you how you can deepen your connection with them. Ask them what they need from you to become your friend and ally in life. Tell them that you wish to get to know them better over the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Listen deeply through your body, heart and mind. Answers can come in many ways — words, images and/or feelings.

· Once you have finished, thank all the powers that you called and release them. Have a good shake.

· Thank and release each element.

· Thank and release your allies.

· Make a few notes about your experience.

· Think of one simple action you can take in the days to come that will help you to know that you are integrating this ritual.

Congratulations. You have met and started a relationship with the Inner Shaman.

Remember that relationship is always a two-way street. That’s why when you are asking to come into contact with the elements and the powers of life, it is good to give something back. Consciously saying thank you through your dance is good. Even better is doing something in your day-to-day life to honour what you have been shown. Why not plant a tree or make a donation to the Pachamama Alliance or Survival International to honour the indigenous peoples who have kept the essence of shamanism alive? Reciprocity is the key to a good relationship. And it is an act of empowerment to recognize that you have something of value to offer as well as something of value to ask for.


This brings us to the end of the first part of our journey together. You now have an excellent foundation for going deeper. Shall we?