The Shaman, ANAM article concerning the Individual and the teacher
in Shamanic Training Practice
By Joe Mullally
Shamanic workshop programs, good shamanic teachers and patient mentors are a huge help to all of us on the shaman path. Yet not withstanding the ongoing importance of such companionship and instruction, we must not forget that fundamentally each of us relate and work with spirit in our own unique way, and so much of our progress depends on developing this individual intimacy with spirit through our private daily practice. Group activities then, must not distract us here or become a substitute for the work we need to do by ourselves.
Each individual's shamanic practice is different because each person is different. We have different talents and natural abilities, different ancestors and lineage, different ways of relating to the world. Each individual's contract and relationship with spirit and animal and land will reflect this. Shamanic growth and training is intimately concerned with exploring, celebrating and exploiting our 'individual' unique difference. To be genuinely open and of service to others, we must first learn, know and celebrate our own heart.
Much of what we experience here will be unique. In fact, the very 'personalized' nature of such experiences should indicate to us all the stronger how firmly we are connected to our own path - and not merely imitating the practices nor seeking to replicate the experiences of others.
We all recognize however, that spiritual loneliness is not easy. When we start out first, many of us search frantically for validation of our visions. We trawl through the testimonies, teachings and experiences in the various books, newsletters, articles and 'yes' internet sites, looking for something that makes sense of it all. If we find it - all is well and good. However, if we do not, we start to deny and dismiss our experiences, getting ourselves into that disappointed, downward looking, doubting frame of mind. This reaction on our part is unfortunate, because the hard cold fact is that most of our most personal shamanic experiences will remain forever unique to ourselves, with not even the slightest possibility of our communicating them to others in any meaningful intelligible way.
And the best means by which to judge a shamanic experience lies not in it's similarity to that of another, but in the ancients' own time honoured method of judging such things - where judgement is based solely on results. For instance, when an old village shaman got a shock in his arm and saw it followed by the death of a client on each of four occasions, the next time he felt it, he readily accepted it was telling him again that a client would die. There was no need to refer to other sources for confirmation, or to check whether sages had ever come across anything like it before in another age or culture. The results spoke for themselves, and they still do.
If you felt intuitively tomorrow that you could cure cancer by rubbing your spittle into a person's scalp and you did it and it worked - then the roads would be jammed for miles with people wanting to see you. They wouldn't wait for any scientific explanation, all the rationalists in the world wouldn't deter them coming, and no matter where you fled they'd follow you and seek you out. Your practice would be based singularly on your successful results.
Shamanic books are invaluable for the insights etc. they give into the various intriguing practices and ancient rituals in all the indigenous cultures they describe. My own shelves are full of them, I read them avidly and I treasure and love them all. And I've learned something new from every single book. However, when a writer takes to distilling out 'the definitive' shamanic routines, or 'the core' techniques and 'the universal common practices' of shamanism from their collected material, what results must be seen as the author's own conclusions. Strange then, how often we find familiar theories repeated by others in later books as empirical facts. Why is there such a passion for reductionism here, for distilling everything down to a shortlist of confident declarations on how shamanism does and does not work. What is so wrong with leaving all the possibilities still open, with leading the reader instead to an understanding of how truly vast the subject is, and with encouraging all the mystery, ambiguity and contradiction to go on living for us long after we have put down the books. Isn't that how shamanic traditions constantly challenge us in practice, and isn't this the way the work changes and evolves continuously in real life!
Precious little will ever be known of ancient practices now anyhow, and even if it were all known and if everything was meticulously thumb-nailed and deftly catalogued, none of it might still correspond to our own personal experience. Shamanism is constantly moving and changing in time with the way each generation relates to the earth and the way the earth responds to them. The work continues to be informed today by the living working experience and the results of all it's many modern day practitioners everywhere, just as in bygone days it was informed by the experiences and results of the people living then, who practiced it their way.
When a shamanic teacher puts forward their system of rituals, worldviews or routines - these represent that teachers work in practice and reflect the heritage to which they are aligned. Such training will indeed prove very powerful in informing our own work, and yet our own path may yet remain distinctly different from that of the teacher. On occasion we may very well travel to places and levels within a few months that the teacher themselves has never reached and never even heard of after twenty years of their own travels. Conversely, other areas which are vital to the teacher for their own work, may have little relevance to us in ours. Sometimes it does happen unfortunately, that a mentor, sensing their own position questioned, feels compelled to steer a pupil back to the 'safer' ground of their world view and their teachings. This is very wrong in my view. It is also a great pity too, for at least two opportunities are lost - the opportunity for the pupil to celebrate freely and grow their own unique ability from the experience they have openly shared - and the opportunity for the teacher themselves to learn and grow through exploring something different, or through looking at something already familiar in this completely new way.
As teachers, I feel, we are called upon to accompany each pupil on part of their journey, not to bring them onto ours. In good pupil teacher relationships, the teacher always learns at least as much from the pupil as the pupil does from them. The older, and more 'experienced' and more 'settled' we all get however, the harder it may be for us to allow our 'holy grails' be tested or tumbled down .... and yet is this not all the more reason to persist in actively encouraging difference .... A healthy lack of respect for established norms is so traditionally shamanic after all! .... and besides, the real reward of seeing a pupil we've encouraged, developing from strength to strength in their own power and practice is surely one of the greatest blessings we can ever receive in this line of work .
Many more insights on traditional healing practices in Joe Mullally's book The Healer's Secret
To check out the complete book The Healer's Secret Click Here
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