When I first began my exploration of shamanism over three decade ago, I found that the ethnographic characterizations of the shamanic state of consciousness sometimes described experiences of light, pulses or otherworldly sounds. I later realized from my own firsthand explorations that these words were the shamans’ attempts to convey how their ordinary perception of reality was shifted while shamanizing.
When I have asked tribal shamans to describe their experiences, they variously describe the spiritual realm as being light-filled or having sounds as its essential framework. Since, without form, reality is certainly difficult to describe, metaphors like “light” or “sound” are used to relate the experience of a vibrational world. From the world view of the new physics, Superstring Theory asserts that all matter is the result of infinitesimal, vibrating strings. Each different wave form or vibration, produces a different kind of subatomic particle.
Curiously, Quantum Theory also suggests that when these infinitesimal bits of reality are observed they change they how they behave! The keystone of this theory is that there is no phenomenon–no reality, until it is observed! This “Observer Effect” implies that the physical Universe is the direct result of “consciousness.” I think of consciousness as our nonphysical experience of Self. It is the conglomerate of our enlivening essence (spirit) and the continual expressions of our thoughts and our feelings.
So, the shift of perception that a shaman experiences allows him or her to see, feel and/or hear glimpses of the throbbing fabric of vibration that creates all matter. More importantly, this kind of personal revelatory experience transforms the individual. Once someone has been granted a peek into the nature of reality and begins to work within this realm, it becomes more difficult to hold old, limiting beliefs about what is “real.” Since vibrations continue to shape the form of matter–that is, continuously creating our physical world–it becomes increasing impossible to say anything is “fixed” or permanent. In my experience, the non-ordinary experiences of reality that are inherently a part of the shamanic journey and other shamanic methods, can actually begin to transform the way a shaman perceives ordinary reality –if they allow it to happen.
What a shaman sees in the world, who they meet, and what they experience becomes so much more precious as their hearts begin to more clearly grasp the fundamentally transient state of it all. A kind of poignant sweetness and deep sense of awe about Nature, humanity, and the larger cosmos grows within the shaman.
This initial transformation is useful. Since if our consciousness truly changes reality through observation–it implies that we have a spectacular responsibility to become more and more intentional about the quality of our consciousness. The natural shifts that occur through exposure to the non-ordinary can become joined with a desire to make the changes we create in the weave reality’s fabric to be ones that heal, nurture and sustain Life.
It takes lifelong practice and persistence to transform thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. This usually means changing the beliefs we hold which arose in our earliest moments in life. These beliefs are held in the conscious mind where they are easier to change and also in the unconscious mind where they are sometimes illusive. In these cases, we can look to our dreams, notice how we regard ourselves, the people we interact with and the situations in which we find ourselves. Using a sort of loving scrutiny on our dreams, our life and behaviors, we can become aware of discrepancies between how we consciously desire to perceive the world and how we actually view the world unconsciously! This can support getting a handle on what needs more attention from us to be able to take a more positive direction.
Those who have committed themselves to the path in earnest tend their inner landscape with the passion of a dedicated gardener! The “weeds” of old prejudices and thoughts get lovingly turned into compost, the tender shoots of new perception get supported through visits to the helpful spirits in nature, through communities of companionable souls and by journeys into the realms of spirit. At the center of the inner landscape, the heart is given more and more room to spread it’s deepening roots. In turn, the heart nurtures everything it touches.
This inner experience is at once highly personal but is also dynamic as it is also affected by our interactions other beings. Our interactions have an impact upon others, which in turn, impacts us. This creates further opportunities to notice and transform ourselves in a never ending, marvelous circle. It becomes a delightful game of learning and growing–nurturing and healing. Through being an observer and thereby a creator, the nurturance and healing we experience of course affects the world, too. Our entire life becomes one of intricately interwoven, mutually impacting relationships.
Perhaps because I am an extrovert, I seek companions with whom I can share my life. These beings help to mirror my reality as it shifts and give me opportunities to “walk my talk” and help reveal the places inside of me that still require attention. In turn, I provide the same “service” to them through the framework of Reverent Participatory Relationship. This phrase is what my friends at True North and I use to describe a way of interaction. It implies feeling and expressing a profound respect or veneration as well as a willingness to show consideration or appreciation. Secondly, it is participatory in that we engage in what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law defines as, “the action or state of taking part in something: as in association with others in a relationship or an enterprise usually on a formal basis with specified rights and obligations.” In this context, the “obligation” may be seen, at least partially, as intending to remain considerate and respectful.
The Quechua-speaking pacos or shaman-healers of the high Andes refer to this idea of mutual, respectful interaction as ayni which is translated as “sacred reciprocity.” They believe that this state of being–which must be always monitored and lovingly attended to–is the basis for health and well-being. By referring to this mutually beneficial interchange as sacred, it helps us to understand that there is a kind of holiness to being in right relationship. In other words, the implication is that, when we interact in this manner, we are somehow more in alignment with the fundamental framework of existence. And if the ideas of Quantum Physics are true, we are also perpetually participating in the continual recreation of that framework.
While all of this may sound terribly heavy, it doesn’t have to be. Instead it is possible to cultivate an attitude of loving kindness and even a childlike playfulness–remembering to always keep the heart at the center. This way of being has been true of the tribal shamans with whom I have studied.
For instance, ninety-four-year-old, Ulchi shaman, Grandfather Misha gave fully and freely of his heart in ceremony, but also in the simple interactions we shared. Through a remarkable set of circumstances, I had the pleasure of taking care of him during our time together. Since it was unbearably hot that week with temperatures above 100ºF, we spent a good deal of time just sitting together in the shade. While neither of us spoke the others’ languages, he and I communed easily from our hearts. He spoke in the Ulchi language about the trees and birds, and I spoke about all of it in English and somehow we understood each other. Through this bond, we developed a depth of trust that was extraordinarily immediate and profound. We were laughing and sharing together as if we had known each other for years! This connection also gave me the opportunity to provide a level of caring usually reserved for my own family members. For example, he allowed me to wash his face, neck and chest with a cool, damp cloth which I fetched when I noticed he was beginning to get overheated and later on he asked me to administer his eye drops. Even though we’d never bet before that week, our heart connection made our time together joyful and easy.
While much younger, Fredy “Puma” Quispe Singona a paco from Peru is also someone who “comes from the heart.” He weeps easily when talking about his beloved Pachamama/Mother Earth and is very active in supporting people in his community in the same spirit as he cares for his son, his wife and larger family. His own grandfather, Don Maximo Quispe used to say during ceremonies that the first thing one should put into a gratitude offering was one’s heart. Puma continually places his heart forward in the world and in essence makes all of his life a sacred ceremony.
AiChurek, a fiery Tuvan shaman with whom I’ve studied, was as passionate about having gotten paid pregnancy leaves for all the shamans in her government licensed clinic as she was about performing an offering ceremony, teaching or a administering healing. She told us that she felt that her role as a shaman was to take good care of all beings–behaving lovingly as one would with a friend.
Another person who embodies a heart-centered and loving way of being is my friend Bhola Banstola. He is a twenty-seventh generation shaman from Nepal who will be again living with my partner and I for a week this month. During that time he will be offering a wonderful workshop and performing individual healings.2 As I have witnessed over the several years we’ve been fortunate to know him–he will also maintain the same loving attitude while he is praying, ironing his costume, eating, shopping and trying to pack his suitcase.
Shamans like Bhola and the ones I’ve mentioned above, have all internalized a humble and grateful way of being in the world that is a treat to experience. Each in his or her way, recognize that they are tickling the Super Strings that form the physical world. The same is true for us all and the resulting “music” we experience is up to us!
© 2010 Evelyn C. Rysdyk
This originally appeared as my column, Modern Shamanic Living, in Inner Tapestry. A sample of my previous columns may be found on their website at: http://www.innertapestry.org/columns/shamanic-living.html