The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017
I don’t believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.
It was a beautiful spring day in 1983. I was on vacation with Shelley, my wife, in Verona at the Piazza Brà, drinking an espresso and admiring the ancient Roman amphitheater. This was where we met Aaron. I was drinking my coffee when I suddenly heard a loud commotion. Looking behind me I could see people crowding around a man who was clearly having a seizure. It was as if an invisible pile driver was pounding his body into the ground; his body was moving downward with massive staccato jolts. His convulsing body was surrounded by a mass of people, who were making a lot of noise in their distress. Police officers joined the bystanders but seemed unable to offer any assistance.
As I sat watching this drama, I heard a man at an adjacent table express his disapproval of the scene. I turned around and gestured with my arms up and hands open to indicate a kind of helplessness with the situation. He looked at me with a probing but not unfriendly intensity, and then he very politely asked in perfect English if he could join us at our table. We said, “Yes, please do.” We shook hands and introduced ourselves as he sat with us. He had a dignified appearance, this man in his mid- to late forties with grayish white hair and suntanned olive skin. This was Aaron, a man who would change my life.
I asked him why he was angry. He turned and pointed to the scene. The collapsed man by now had a swarm of people around him; the police were finally starting to get a grip on the situation and were pushing people back to enable the man to have some breathing and recovery space. Aaron said, “I am angry because there is a doctor at one of the tables, but he does not want to get involved.” I asked, “How do you know this?” He then drew his chair closer and studied me, and I felt as if I was being scrutinized. He started to speak, and for the next hour I sat transfixed, as if I was in the grip of a magical enchantment. He told me about my life, my dreams, my hopes, and my dark and painful experiences. It was if I had become an open book, and my inner secrets were being revealed page by page.
The background noise faded away, and unexpressed emotions began welling up from within me. Tears rolled down my face. He paused for a moment and signaled to a waiter for more coffee while I attempted to regroup and assimilate what had happened. We sat for a few moments in silence and drank our coffee as I tried to recover my former confident and relaxed composure.
He then said, “Our meeting was not simply chance. I am one of the most well-known psychic healers in Italy.” He expanded his arms. “People come from all over Europe to consult me for healing.” He pointed at me and said, “You!” It looked as if he was searching for a word, and then he continued, “are a very good person and you will be doing the same work that I am doing.”
The coffee had enabled me to get my composure back, and I quickly dismissed this. He looked at me with a stern expression and responded, “This is a serious matter, and I do not make jokes about this!” As I was absorbing this, he said, “I will now give you a blessing.” He placed his hand on the top of my head and spoke softly in Italian. As he was making his blessing, my body felt like a cauldron, with liquid fire burning within and moving upward. Waves of energy pulsated through me, and intense heat flowed from my spine, up through my head and down to my shoulders, along my arms, and into my hands, which now felt as if they were red hot.
Shelley was watching this exchange with total incredulity and said, “This is nonsense!” Aaron looked at her and gently replied, “You will be presenting Howard with a baby.” Shelley burst into tears and didn’t say a further word. She was no longer skeptical because we had been trying for a while to start a family.
Later he invited us to dinner with his family and gave us a wonderful tour of Verona, complete with a visit to the balcony of the Casa di Giulietta that recreates the romance of Romeo and Juliet. Before we took our leave of each other, he presented us with gifts, including bottles of wine. His final words were “Our work with you is done,” and we fondly said our farewells.
A week later I was back in London at my place of business. I entered the elevator and pushed the button to go up. Suddenly my stomach flew into my mouth, and an enormous force began crushing me. The lift was out of control and plummeting at great speed. I knew without a shred of doubt that then and there I was going to die. As soon as I realized this, I was gone, out and away, soaring from my body, which became infinitesimal as it receded in the distance. Then I was somewhere, disembodied in an indescribable “other” place. This place pulsed with colored waves of light, and I knew that I had to make a decision, to either live or die, and I decided not to die. As soon as I made the decision to live, I was back in my physical body.
Time stopped for me, and the world stood still. I found myself calmly looking down at my body, and it felt as if I had all the time in the world. I thought I must be able to do something! I tried jumping up (something that I had seen in the Road Runner cartoons), but I couldn’t move upward; the law of gravity did not permit that. And then suddenly I knew with total certainty precisely what to do. I got into a crouch position, took out my handkerchief, and shoved it into my mouth. The elevator crashed, and I experienced the shock of impact, although I felt no pain because I was momentarily knocked unconscious.
I came to lying face down, unable to move. The lift appeared to be rising slowly, and the door automatically opened. People were gathered outside (I later found out that the crash had been heard all over the building), and I was carried out to an ambulance and taken to a hospital.
My life from that moment on was never the same.
Recovery was a slow, painful, and uncomfortable process. Whereas before I had been active in sports, working out at the gym, running, keeping fit, and so on, I was now unable to stand up. My knees had been compressed and couldn’t support my body weight; I had to wear a large, uncomfortable orthopedic collar around my neck because my neck had been fractured and could no longer support the weight of my head. My lower back was crushed. My jaw was still sore from the impact, but if I hadn’t stuffed the handkerchief in my mouth, I would most certainly have chopped my tongue off with my teeth as, at the moment of impact, the lower jaw smashed into the upper jaw. I realized that if I hadn’t gone into a crouch to absorb the shock through the body, I would have been killed by the fracture of my spine. How I knew exactly what actions to take was an intriguing mystery. It wasn’t as if I had an emergency contingency plan for elevator crashes.
Over the following months, I was in a lot of pain and experienced great feelings of despondency, resentment, and bitterness. I became vacant, absent from life, and I occupied myself by sitting down and looking out the window. I remember spending entire days gazing out during the autumn, watching leaves fall from the trees, studying the patterns they made, observing how they were rustled and blown about by the wind to form new patterns.
Of course, other things were going on as well. I was being seen by top-notch doctors and receiving all the other benefits that my company medical insurance provided. But the prognosis was always the same: “Sorry, nothing we can do. It will take time.”
During these difficult months, a friend suggested that I see an alternative healer. I thought, “Why not? I have nothing else to do!” The sessions I had with this therapist were pleasant, and I found them to be relaxing and helpful. The therapist used a mixture of bodywork, massage, and energy healing. This went on for a few months, until one day, as I was lying on his massage couch, an unusual glaze came into his eyes, and he began speaking in a noticeably different voice. He had suffered from a stroke, and his speech since that event had been slurred, but this time it was eloquent and sonorous. He asked, “Howard, do you want to become well again?”
I was stunned by this question and somehow couldn’t get an answer. I had to struggle with it: Do I really want to get well? Finally, after what seemed like a long time, I replied, “Yes, I do want to.” I realized that I had become used to being feeble and embittered, and had not even considered that I would really recover. Then, still in this unusual, calm voice, he said, “Howard, forgive all the people that you blame for the accident.” “OK,” I thought, “I can do this,” so I closed my eyes, gathered myself, concentrated with all the force I could muster, and said, “I forgive all those people that I blame for the accident.” At that exact moment, it felt as if a great heavy mountain started to lift from me. I felt light, even weightless. I only became aware of this massive weight on me as it dissipated. It was an incredible experience.
When I looked back at him, the glaze from his eyes had gone, and he looked confused. “What happened?” he asked. “Something came over me, and I don’t understand it.” I told him what had taken place; I was baffled and concerned that he didn’t remember. This was definitely a bit weird! Nevertheless, I felt so much different, uplifted and clearer.
Over the next week in this excited and elated state, I of course overexerted myself and subsequently strained my body, and it was back to lying down in bed to recover. As I lay resting, I placed my hands on my chest for comfort, and within seconds, waves of sensation pulsed and washed through me, and the pain went away. The next day, I was again in pain, lying down, and the same thing happened. This went on for about a week, and then it dawned on me that when I placed my hands on my body, the pain disappeared like it was being flushed away.
Immediately following this realization, I felt a kind of “fuzziness” around me, extending about six inches from my body. It was not unlike a low electric current. I could also see iridescent, translucent streamers emanating from my fingers when I touched this field of fuzziness. I started to experiment and found that this invisible fuzziness was around everything. It could be touched and was malleable. I used to make up balls of this electric fuzziness and play ping pong, bouncing it off the ceiling and walls, catching it and throwing it again. Apart from these small and entertaining diversions, the most important matter was that I was making real progress; I could feel that I was getting well. The pain was considerably easier, and my back was becoming increasingly more flexible. The hardness in my back progressively changed from feeling like a heavy slab of concrete to that of a softer and more yielding material. Bit by bit, I could increasingly move my back and bend down, and I didn’t need to wear the collar anymore. Even my knees could bend, and I was overjoyed at achieving the ability to walk up a slope. I felt so damn good!
During this period of healing, I experienced some unusual encounters. I remember one night lying in bed asleep, and I kept on hearing a voice whispering repeatedly, “Howard, wake up, wake up,” directly into my ear. I woke up and there in front of me was something like an illuminated cinema screen floating in the air. As my eyes focused on the “screen,” I could see a group of Tibetan monks dressed in red and saffron robes smiling and enthusiastically waving at me. I was amazed by this wonderful vision, and I really enjoyed it. Then the voice spoke again: “Watch carefully. This is what you have to do, and we will show you exercises that will help your back to get well.” Then the scene changed, and the Tibetan monks all lay on their backs and showed me a set of exercises to get my injured back healed. When this was done, they gathered again and with beautiful and warming smiles gently waved goodbye. The floating screen faded away and disappeared. Needless to say, I followed their instructions, and they really helped.
It took two years before I could really resume my life, go back to work, and generally get out and about. In the meantime, I helped a friend with his chronic back pain. I found that I was able to work with this fuzzy field to release pain, very much like I had done with myself. Gradually, through word of mouth, people started to see me for healing. It was an unusual experience because as I focused on the person, I experienced a sense of uplifting and heightened awareness, and I found that as I held an image of the person in my thoughts and saw that individual becoming well, strong, and healthy again, the person experienced a positive reaction. If a person who had a bad back came to me, I would visualize the back becoming strong, firm, straight, and supple, and without a single word taking place between us, the person’s back would kind of “unroll” and become straight. I didn’t understand the mechanism at work or what was going on, but I did have a strong desire to find out more, so I decided to explore this strange “thing” that was going on within and around me. I used the term thing because at that stage I had no understanding of what was happening to me. All I knew was that it worked.
During this transient developmental period, all kinds of unexpected phenomena took place. I became increasingly more conscious of the field of energy around me, and one day I became aware of what I can only describe as a thick steel band clamped around my forehead. The more I focused on it, the more it constricted. It felt alive. The pressure around my head became so tight that my forehead began to ache. I knew that I had to remove whatever was causing the constriction. It took about an hour of intense concentration, and I was sweating so hard that it felt like physical exertion, but gradually I was able to weaken the metal-like band, particle by particle, and get leverage, and then slowly, very slowly, I wrenched the clamp off my forehead.
As soon as this was released, the room filled with dazzling, flashing sparks of color. Colors blazed everywhere; the whole room vibrated and shimmered with stunning hues. The experience was so intense that I had to go outside and walk to the local park to get some air. However, as I moved, this luminescent vision grew even more vivid. I could see pulsating, radiant flecks dancing around people, but this flow of color was not only around people; when I arrived at the park and looked at the trees, I saw an iridescent glow surrounding them. I was totally mesmerized by this astounding experience, and after spending some time wandering around the park, enjoying this exciting display, I made my way home. When I arrived at my house and sat down, I saw a beautiful, scintillating, glowing pink cloud. This pink cloud approached me, and I heard soft, gentle words inside my head that said, “Peace.” I felt a glow of warmth and happiness, and the pink cloud gently flowed into me. I had never felt such warmth, friendship, and love. Love cascaded and streamed through and around me, reaching out far beyond. The only way I can describe it is as if I had been touched by an angelic presence.
After all this, my perception expanded in new directions. When I looked at a person, I saw shapes and forms around them. When a person came to me for healing, I saw animals around them. These animals could communicate with me. Sometimes they showed me images, and at other times I would hear their words whispering in my ear. They would tell me about the person, the cause of the illness, and the practice or medicine that would be helpful to that individual. At times I felt that I was becoming very unbalanced, even crazy, yet what kept me on the ground and held me together was the fact that it worked. I had absolutely no frame of reference to explain what was happening to me.
I also started to encounter the darker negative forces that abound. One episode that has stayed in my mind concerns an old friend with whom I had been out of contact for many years. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to him as “John.” He asked me to help him with his severe migraine headaches. The migraine attacks were so vicious that he was often laid low for days on end. It is relevant to note that he had become a heavy cocaine user and had gone into dealing as a way to finance his habit. One day we sat down together to work on his migraine. Just as I started to move into the receptive, meditative visionary space, I was suddenly punched hard on my forehead. The force knocked me off my stool, and I fell onto the floor. I didn’t see it coming, and I asked John, “Why did you do that?” He looked at me in total surprise and said, “I didn’t do anything.” I felt very unsettled and disturbed by what had happened. My forehead was sore, and in the mirror I could see bruising coming up at the location where I had been struck. I told John that I needed to rest and that we could follow up at another time. I asked him to leave. As soon as he went, I had to lie down. I felt extremely weak and unwell. This situation got worse day by day, and I felt that I was fading away; I had no energy and it was a struggle to get up. Doing basic everyday chores was exhausting. I was listless and depleted of energy.
After a few days of this fatigue, I again brought all my focus and attention into my body. In my mind, I saw every organ, every gland, and every system in my body become alive and pulse with energy. After doing this for hours, I needed a break and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. As I was sitting down, I felt a strange feeling, a kind of vibrating “murmuring” sensation at the base of my spine that grew and grew in intensity. Suddenly it was like a volcanic explosion, with red-hot lava shooting up along my spine and then all through my body. I couldn’t move; it was if I was paralyzed, glued to the chair. I could see and feel waves and bands of light swirl around me. This continued until late at night, when suddenly, with a mighty whooshing noise, all this hot lavalike energy shot out the soles of my feet and into the ground with such force that my legs were thrown up in the air. I had been purged of every trace of the junk that had been punched into me. The kundalini energy at the base of my spine had erupted. As soon as this purging was complete, the glowing pink cloud appeared again and flew back into me through my forehead. I felt fully restored and again had that deep experience of bliss and love. A force outside of my conscious self had intervened and saved my ass. I knew then that it was not John who had attacked me but something with him, or more precisely, something put on him.
As I sat down to reflect on this, a strange apparition materialized in the room. It had the appearance of a snake with the head of a lion. The snake came closer and paused in front of me. I knew that this was an ally, a helper, a protector, and, most important of all, a friend. I didn’t know how I knew this; I just felt it. I reached out and stroked the furry lion mane, and it spoke to me, saying that it was a guardian and necessary for the work I was doing. I realized that I needed all the help I could get!
Well, back to this “thing” with John. A couple of days later, he called me and asked again if I could help him with his migraine. We arranged a time, and he came around. He sat down on the chair, and I looked at him, but this time with considerably more wariness, and I saw what appeared to be a steaming pile of excrement on top of his head. As I continued to study this, I saw sparks and tendrils of light being drawn from him into this pile of excrement; this “thing” was feeding off him. Gingerly I extended my hands and lifted this putrid substance off his head. This substance felt very slimy and repugnant, and I put it on the floor and quickly stepped back. Instantly it grew into a shadowy amorphous mass towering above me. I was very alarmed by this and didn’t know what to do. I felt great apprehension, and then I remembered the lion-headed snake that had been recently introduced to me, so I called this guardian to help me.
There was a blinding flash, and the dark, shapeless mass vanished. All that remained was the pungent odor of sulfur and burnt meat. John was looking at me very strangely; he said he saw a flash of light and asked where the smell was coming from. I told him what had happened and made it clear this obscene thing had been drawn to him by his use of cocaine. He looked so different. His face had become younger, with the lines smoothed out, and his expression glowed. He was delighted that the migraine headache had vanished. I suggested that he look at himself in the mirror, which he did, and he returned with a great big grin on his face.
John, unfortunately, did not stop or reduce his cocaine usage, and a few months later the migraines returned with a vengeance. He contacted me and asked for help. I treated him again, albeit with a lot more awareness on my part, and this relieved him, but this cycle didn’t end, and I regretfully realized that unless he made the decision to stop, all the time and effort would be fruitless. I also didn’t appreciate having this nauseating, obnoxious mess brought into my house. I saw John again a couple of times over the next months, and he had changed. He looked as if he was being consumed. His face was drawn, and he had lost a lot of weight. He had a very negative and aggressive attitude, and there was no way I could reach him or offer any support. It was time to break contact, which I did, and over the next few days he left sinister messages on my answering machine. Whatever had got him had him.
The experiences with John had taught me a lot. I clearly saw the effects of hard drug use and extreme negative thoughts in a different way. I became less naive and knew that there were tangible energies out there. Some were benign and helpful, some not so benign. I understood that our practices and attitudes act like magnetic forces, drawing those energies to us, and in turn they are able to influence us. It was an awareness of the “dreamer dreaming the dream and then the dream dreaming the dreamer.”
On this theme, and around this time, I had another important teaching, one that I have endeavored to fulfill to this day. It was a direct teaching by these invisible beings. This teaching was not fluffy; it was made difficult due to my innate stubborn streak because I felt like I was being reprogrammed.
I found that if I had a negative or unpleasant thought about a person, my head immediately felt as if it was being crushed in a vise, and it was painful. The pain would stay with me for hours afterward. If, however, I had a positive, enhancing thought about someone, I felt a wonderfully warm glow flush through my body, which left me in a virtual state of bliss.
I knew that these actions were being imposed on me from “outside” of myself, and I absolutely resented this. I saw it as an imposition on my free will; if I want to be unpleasant, that’s my business! I confess that I resisted this as much as I could, even though I knew deep within that the purpose was aimed at making me a better person. However much I tried, I couldn’t prevent it, and eventually I realized that I had to seriously change my attitude and become aware of the nature of my thoughts. What really upset me most about this whole affair was that it gave my well-developed ego a hell of a bashing. I was being trained by these incorporeal beings or spirits in exactly the same way that a donkey is trained—using the carrot and the stick—except that in this scenario I was the donkey! They certainly have a good sense of humor.
So I sat down and considered a way to resolve this, and I figured out that I had no choice but to discipline my thoughts. I had the notion to place a metaphorical “thought supervisor” in my mind. This supervisor had the appearance of a traditional British policeman in uniform and helmet holding a truncheon. His task was to inspect my thoughts before they were transmitted. This entailed stopping the negative and disharmonious thoughts and transforming them into gentle and gracious thoughts before they were broadcast into the world. As this function started to work, I no longer suffered from the viselike pain. After a period of time, I was no longer even aware of the presence of this “policeman”; positive thinking had become natural and ingrained in me. Even now, when I am really tempted to have an unkind or aggressive thought about a person, I have to dissipate the thought itself and replace it with an amiable or neutral thought. I had figured out that thoughts have power, that they are a form of energy that can influence reality and have an effect on people.
This is not a fallacy by any means, and I’m not proposing anything out of the ordinary here, as you yourself may have had experiences of manifesting in the world what you are thinking, whether positive or negative. The fundamental premise is that our thoughts are vibrational waves that connect to energy on the same wavelength, thus drawing people or events to us that are on a similar wavelength. Although this concept is not scientific per se, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest not rejecting it out of hand. Subjective events are hard to measure, and one of the greatest challenges of quantum science is explaining the phenomenon of the observer influencing the experiment simply through the act of observing.
I found that another benefit of managing my thoughts was that it stopped me from being reactive in difficult situations and provided an opportunity to be brutally honest with myself as to why I wanted to react and why I felt the way I did. Where did those feelings come from? Often they came from a sense of being hurt or offended by another person. I have learned to understand that the painful emotions are mine—they belong to me—and in fact the other person has done me a service by reflecting back to me my unresolved wounds. If you work with this attitude, it really is a gift, a blessing rather than a violation of some sort.