Sacred Reciprocity: Nourishing What Feeds Us

Giving back to Nature

A shaman knows that everything is alive and has a spirit. It is easy to understand that animals, birds, plants and trees are living, but to the shaman so are the rivers, mountains, oceans, stones, hills and everything else in our environment. In a shaman’s eyes, nothing can be separate from the living fabric of the spirit world.

The village, the hunter’s bow and sacred objects have spirits, too. Human-made things can become inspirited as they are created. Through use and care, they become stronger. Indeed, through our interactions with any object we inspirit them. Our cars, our tools, our house and many other things, too become alive. We intuitively understand this since we often encourage our car to start on a cold morning or when it is having trouble running. We behave as we do because in our heart, we have come to recognize it as a living being. Sighing with gratitude when we enter our home in the evening is similar to a child surrendering to the embrace of a loving grandparent. We feel enfolded and safe. Through our love and caring, we have transformed things into beings.

Groups and organizations have a spirits, too. There is a spirit in every family group, tribe, church and school. These organizations nourish their members and are in turn energized and renewed by their participants. When we feel buoyed by “team spirit,” we are literally getting support from the spiritual entity of that group. When we feel energized by a visit to the local nature center we are receiving nurturance from the organization that sustains it. When we feel that we have grown and changed in a class, we have drawn energy from the organization that ran the program. When we have spend a few quiet hours in a library or local bookstore we have been fed.

In a tribal society, the shaman’s role is to act as a facilitator between the human realm and that of the other spirits that inhabit the environment. Through interaction with these spirits, shamans understand that the intrinsic interdependencies among them all sustain life. In addition, shamans know that we are so interconnected that we are in a constant dance of mutual impact upon one another.

The many spirit beings are also potential sources of power for the shaman. This is essential, as a shaman’s ability to heal is based upon the power-filled relationships forged with the spirits. Since their shamanic abilities are dependent upon these affiliations, shamans understand the fundamental necessity for keeping these alliances healthy and strong.

An attitude of harmonious give-and-take becomes the guiding principle in exchanges within those associations. The shaman-healers of the high Andes refer to this idea of mutual, respectful interaction—which must be always monitored and lovingly attended to—as ayni, which is translated as “sacred reciprocity.” By referring to this mutually beneficial interchange as sacred, they underline a kind of holiness to being in right relationship. In other words, when we interact in this manner, we are somehow more in alignment with the fundamental framework of existence.

When we choose to step back into this more ancient way of being in the world, the relationships we forge with the natural world can provide comfort, a sense of peace, a feeling of oneness, and strength that can be attained no other way. In effect, we develop a sense of “being home” wherever we are on the planet. This reconnection with the spirits of the Earth also provides us with supportive energy. It is the kind of energy that can help any of us to move through life with more joy, clarity, and purpose.

In other words, when we operate with love and caring in our lives, we refresh the spirits around us. In turn, these spirits are able to return the favor with their vibrancy. We step into a cycle of nourishment that is reciprocal and sacred.

You don’t have to be a shaman to draw strength from alliances with other spirits. Our friends and loved ones nourish us. Our pet’s presence can encourage us when we are feeling down. The rushing river calms our soul. These spirits provide us with nourishment as palpable as food and water. If any of them were to suddenly go way, we would grieve and feel a pain in our heart. Our own spirits would sustain a loss through their absence.

Shamans understand that any spirit may be wounded, weakened or diminished. When this occurs, that which is enlivened by that spirit begins to weaken. It is obvious that if we do not feed our child, dog or plant, they will eventually die. The same is true for the spirits of places in nature. If we do not lovingly attend to keeping a river or the ocean healthy, it can no long sustain life. This holds true for every being in our world. If we take more spiritual, emotional or physical nourishment from something than we replenish, the spirit of the organism cannot be sustained. We cannot withdraw support and nurturance without continually giving something back. We must maintain and nourish what feeds us. Since the cycles of life are like a wheel, when that which nourishes us is lost, we begin to diminish, too. We cannot thrive in an energetic or spiritual vacuum. When the beings we depend upon for nourishment die, we die a little, too. It is an inescapable truth.

A shaman intrinsically understands that like members of a hunter-gatherer society, we are surrounded with other beings with whom we need to maintain harmonious balance in order to create a mutually beneficial situation. In ordinary terms, that suggests that we need to attend to the spirits of beings around us. This is especially true for those spirits from whom we draw strength, power, emotional support or joy. We need to recognize that the fundamental interdependencies with nature, with other spirits and with each other are critical for our emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and ultimately our survival.

Organizations and groups have spirits and so are like living organisms. As such, they can also be diminished when we take nourishment without returning the favor. Just as with other spirits, when they begin to die, we are diminished, too. It is important to begin thinking about your school, your local library, the workplace you really enjoy, your favorite bookstore, your treasured sacred space or places you express your spirituality are actually spirits themselves that need your care and nourishment. So how do we reenter the way of being that allows us to work with these spirits who surround us? The answer is learning how to be in reverent participatory relationship with them. The word reverent implies feeling and expressing a profound respect or veneration as well as a willingness to show consideration or appreciation. Participatory means that we take an active part in the relationship.

It is easy to take things and organizations for granted. They’re simply there and we take what we need. However, as we become more conscious, we begin to recognize that this kind of behavior is both childlike and selfish. Like the shaman, we start to look for ways to put energy back into the wheel so that the spirits are sustained. In turn, the group or organization will continue to have the energy to sustain us. It is about doing our part in creating a healthy and balanced world. In this way our actions become extensions of our spiritual intentions.

When we open our eyes to the idea that everything that we enjoy in life requires our energy to survive, we can more easily find ways to do it. In real terms, that means buying goods from a local businesses, giving time and or money to the organizations that care for your favorite parkland, volunteering at your church, helping to spruce up your favorite beach, supporting the work of your favorite spiritual or educational venues by attending their programs and continuing to look for ways to support anything that supports your quality of life.

As we step into more conscious, mutually beneficial and reverent interactions with the beings, places and organizations in our life our spirits receive more energy. This is a way to begin transforming the dominant culture’s paradigm of irresponsible exploitation. With the exclusion of those who follow a more holistic worldview, we as a society do not generally do a good job of nurturing the beings around us. Nor do we see our fundamental interdependencies with nature and with each other upon which we depend for our survival.

For those of us that are warriors for a better future and how want to enjoy the benefits of being continually nurtured ourselves, we have the power to feed and love those beings that sustain our world. When we undertake, facilitate and encourage interactions that are focused toward reverence and participation we are actually transforming our reality. In this way, we turn away from the nihilistic, exploitative nature of our larger culture and instead focusing our energies on what we more of in our world. It is clear to me that if we want to reshape our current human culture into one that’s more ecologically sound, we can start by making reverent participatory relationship our guiding principle—with nature, her creatures, our favorite place and organizations, each other, and with our Earth.

© 2013 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is


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