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Shamanism in the Modern World
Many years ago, a powerful shaman named Twin Dreamers said to me, “We are all born wild like a mountain lion. To live in civilization we become sheep at a very young age. We become tame. But we are not house pets. We are fierce and wild by nature.”
Are you fierce and wild by nature? What thoughts and feelings do these words evoke in you?
Twin Dreamers is a Kuna Indian of Central America. She is also a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields, an extraordinary group of native women who are the guardians of an ancient wisdom born of the sacred feminine that has been preserved and handed down from mother to daughter, shaman to apprentice for many thousands of years, and she is one of my teachers. For the past thirty years, it has been my great opportunity to study and work with the Sisterhood of the Shields, becoming a full member in my own right and a bridge between their ancient and our modern worlds.
There is one thing that the women in the Sisterhood want each of you to know: You are the shamans of the 21st century, no less worthy of the world of sacred healing rituals and the great mystery than traditional shamans centuries ago. The difference is that you and I come into the equation far less prepared. The modern world into which we are born has made it so, for ours is a world that has taught us to move far away from our instinctual natures. Children are told to speak when spoken to; women are taught that to speak of our power is to be shunned by much of society. We are allowed to be beautiful and rich, even famous, but we must not raise our heads above the crowd and be different. Men and women, alike, speak with voices that are strangled by the conditioning of our society and the expectations and demands of others, rather than what is important and true for us.
The modern human being has developed an extraordinary ego. Because of this ego, we think we are better than the flowers, better than the animals and the birds, even better than other human beings and races that are not our own, and we separate ourselves from the world around us. Yet deep inside us is a longing for the wilderness of the spirit and the power of other worlds. We know we have this magical power, for we get glimpses of it when we travel through inner space in the process of healing ourselves, when we see a baby born, watch a flower bloom or find the universe contained within an atom.
But how are we to access this power that we feel all around us and know is there, the unseen power that dwells within the mysterious corners of our lives and calls to us to be better than what we have become? For we have become too accustomed to borrowed knowledge. All our lives, we sit and listen as others tell us about their experiences and dreams, their understanding of the way things work. In school, we sit through lectures, read books and answer questions designed to see if we have learned enough about what is contained within those books, and we are rewarded only if we are able to squeeze ourselves inside the narrow confines of this learning environment. This is a very mental way of learning in which you gain power by going up the ladder, where you will find a few people at the top and everybody else at the bottom, struggling to get up the ladder somehow. And it is a way of learning that spills over into much of what we do for the rest of our lives, long after we have left the formal school system. Tragically, it is also a way of learning that tells us that the unseen power that we know is there really isn’t there, precisely because it is unseen. Albert Einstein had enormous problems with this kind of learning, hating rote memorization to the point that one of his teachers suggested he leave school since his being there ‘encouraged other students to disrespect their teachers.’ He left high school to study math, physics and philosophy at home and went on to become one of the most brilliant minds of all time.
This is not to diss the school system in a world where quality education can mean the difference between success and failure, even life and death. It is, rather, to acknowledge that there are many things that the modern way of learning leaves us ill equipped to handle. The result is that while our science and technology put the whole world literally at our fingertips, we are living today with greater stress, chaos and confusion than at any other time in human history. And this is where the world of the shaman comes into play.
Shamanism arises from our own experiences. It is very much related to the harmonies of the earth, to finding balance and harmony with all that is around you, regardless of whether you like what is there or not. A shaman knows that all things are alive; that all things are part of the great oneness of life, not separate and apart; that all things have energy, purpose and a far deeper meaning than what we see on the surface. Without the honey bee, there is no pollination. Without pollination, crops will not grow and our world would face a famine of unfathomable proportions. We are different from the honey bee, yes; we each play vastly different roles in the cycles of life on this earth. But how do we separate ourselves from the honey bee, elevate our “worth” over its? A shaman is one who knows how to choreograph the energies of the universe, of all of life toward a higher purpose.
My shaman teachers have never told me what it is that I must learn. They teach me by putting me in situations – sometimes quite terrifying – where I have to grow and change in order to survive. Then the learning becomes true and real within me, and the teachings become a part of my conscious awareness of my own life. They believe, as do I, that you cannot teach anyone about life, nor can you heal in a world that urgently needs healing, through endless explanation and lecture. People only truly learn through experience, through exploring what confronts them and finding in that situation their own strengths and weaknesses, whether in the physics lab or raising children. Once you do that, you can shift the energies within you to a place of harmony and balance. If you want to find the universe within the atom, you must move into the atom within yourself so that you can explore it from the vantage point that is uniquely yours.
As Ani, a Nepalese hill woman who is also a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields, told me,
People have denied the possibilities of magic, the light that is real even though it cannot be touched. The strange dimensions of life happen just as much as scientific discoveries. In actuality, ‘black hole’ discoveries are the beginning of proof of the strange and magical dimensions of our existence. ‘Strange’ usually means only that it is something that occurs out of our frame of reference, out of our realm of experience. ‘Strange magic’ means beyond our understanding or the limits of our minds, something that is weird and bad. In reality, mind is like a rice bowl and rice is our knowledge. The rice is limited only by the confines of the bowl. Be a magician and stay open to the mysteries. Let your wisdom reach beyond the limits of ordinary mind. Life, existence, is a mystery. Symbolically, your knowledge is not limited to a simple rice bowl, and that is the way it will always be. Instead of fighting for the rice bowl, fight to make beautiful rice.
Shamanism teaches us how to enter the wilderness of the spirit and the power of other worlds that we so long to experience. Go out into a garden and sit with the plants. Just sit in silence with them. Become one with them; talk to them and let them speak to you. The flowers that have a fragrance are asking you to notice them. They are more highly evolved than the blooms without fragrance. The scent brings you to them and enables them to evolve and become more like you, more human. Then you can truly know the beauty and magic of your fierce and wild nature, because you are it!
About the author:
Lynn Andrews is the New York Times and internationally best-selling author of the Medicine Woman series. She writes extensively about her experiences with Twin Dreamers and Ani in Star Woman and Windhorse Woman, A Marriage of Spirit, respectively. To learn more about Lynn’s life and work, go to her website at www.lynnandrews.com.