Framing Mental Health Within the Shamanic Experience

????????????????????????????????????????My education on this concept initially came from my own personal experiences and then began to expand further as I worked with shamen in other cultures and heard other people’s stories. This was a journey on which I was half led and half thrust into and I can assure you… it wasn’t for the faint of heart!
I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity about life from a very young age and as those around me went about their own lives and experiences each day, I spent much of my time with my nose pressed up against the window of the universe, looking to see what else was out there. I’ve now come to believe I was simply answering the call of my own DNA and my cellular memory in an awakening to who I authentically am and my purpose here which culminated from many lifetimes as a shaman before this one.

I’ve always had gifts beyond the ordinary senses (many people do) but in 2000 as I began my formal training in earnest in the field of energy healing, something else began to develop for me as well. From my studies and some experiential travels which included natural healing concepts in numerous ancient and distant societies… Native American… Tibetan… Japanese… Mayan… African… Huichol… Peruvian… Mongolian… Australian Aboriginal… I noticed numerous common threads from each one.

All had a higher awareness and wisdom expressed through their own specific cultures and yet they very similar in their effect even though there had been no contact between these tribal communities during that initial period. They were able to access information beyond their ordinary realities from a collective source. They were also rooted in their own version of shamanism which by its very definition, is practiced with a very strong connection to the Natural World as well as through accessing realities which exist beyond this one.

When I first learned about shamanism about 38 years ago, it woke something up in me… a passion and deep “knowing” I’d never had before and which has only expanded through the years. I began to feel like the puzzle piece that had just found the puzzle I fit in. I was “home”. What was also fascinating was the more deeply I felt connected to this way of “being”, the more I began to have experiences well outside what most consider normal, including other healers.

Normal is nothing more than a choice on the dial of a washing machine… especially for me! With each increasing experience I found myself in which took me farther and farther out of my realm of reference, I was forced to look for the explanations and solutions myself but also very thankfully, with an array of support from a small circle of friends and healers who “got” it.

At the base of my formal study in this field is physics. I’m a person who has a very hard time accepting something without understanding the “why” and “how” of it but I’ve always been an “open-minded skeptic”. I came to understand that every single thing is connected… spiritually… mentally… emotionally… physically… and physics is the vehicle it all rides on. This also includes shamanism.

What does this all have to do with the subject of mental health you may be wondering? Belief systems are very powerful… enough so to cause a psychotic break from (a) reality when we’re exposed to something too far outside our immediate comprehension. I have worked with many people… particularly young adults… who possess some astounding gifts of “sight” beyond the usual.

I recognize them energetically often before they even open their mouths to speak. Although they have different, unique talents and individual personalities, there’s also a commonality among them as well. They’re very bright… creative… empathic… compassionate… intuitive… independent thinkers and old souls who have more often than not been diagnosed with multiple mental health labels. Many have been drugged and sent through the mental health system to no avail but there’s a glaring aspect of mental health support missing for those who are actually experiencing things the “system” can’t explain.

Insurance companies don’t recognize this either and so even the professional who may have knowledge of this type of experience, can’t get insurance to pay for any treatment without giving the issue an existing diagnosis even when it’s not correct. WE need a call for change in how we react to, diagnose and treat people who may very well be going through much more of a spiritual awakening and much less of a brain malfunction. It can create poor self-esteem, fear, terror and a heaping amount of anxiety… that seed at the root of many if not all of the mental health issues.

I developed PTSD directly caused by my shamanic experiences and a few psychotic episodes until I learned how to stop them. It took a number of years and a dogged determination to learn to first step beyond the fear, overcome it, gain the clarity to understand what and why it was happening, learn to protect myself on an energetic level, step fully into my position and power as a shamanic healer and finally to assist, support and empower others.

There’s always a much wider, universal view of things… We do ourselves an injustice not to be aware and willing to look beyond the initial judgments from ourselves and others about what may not be understood and to go further to the truth of what actually is. Everyone benefits from compassion and support. It’s not about necessarily agreeing or understanding but simply stepping back from the judgment and lack of kindness that seems to creep forward when we can’t wrap our own perspectives around something. We truly don’t know what we don’t know until we learn it and we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.

There is a growing interest in shamanism. It’s referenced in the media everywhere. Classes, workshops and books are popping up in growing numbers. I personally consider it disrespectful to take a course and consider oneself a shaman. Shamanism is passed down verbally and experientially from shaman to apprentice or through a near-death experience or some similar, extreme action. Shamanic energy is recognized by those who also feel a strong tie to it as I did. WE “recognize” it in each other. There are specific reasons for that. It can be utilized by everyone though in ways which benefit our own personal growth as well as that of the collective.

Our planet has been harmed greatly and as mankind has continued to destroy the hand that literally feeds it, we’ve come to a point where we’re awakening and yearning for wholeness again in increasing numbers. That equates at the most basic level, back to our connection with our Earth and ALL life… that basic wisdom that the ancients knew so well.

Get Curious … Remember …

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Experiencing Life Through the Perspective of Another

 

On my second trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica with a humanitarian, dental, non-profit organization called Great Shape/ 1000 Smiles, I again found myself working in a remote, jungle community called Walkerswood at the local school… in fact, the only school. It was a series of small, run-down, dirt-floored buildings joined together by sidewalks, metal bars in the glassless windows & surrounded by a rough-shod playground.

The kids, who ranged in age from 5 through 17, were more than curious as we hauled in box after box of dental equipment & chairs. They couldn’t wrap their minds around our odd ways either, whether it was petting or talking to the myriad of poor, starving dogs everywhere or wincing at the sight of bug-covered food that they would eat without a second thought… bugs & all.

Although the principal & staff cared greatly for these children, they were very strict about manners, obedience & the effort they put into their studies. I was even asked to speak at their monthly PTA meeting! The parents initially had a difficult time believing we would actually volunteer to take  time away from our own jobs & families & pay our own airfare to come there & not want something in return. Their own survival had always depended on having to hold so tightly onto anything they could get.

It was also an expectation throughout the community that if someone’s child was caught misbehaving, whichever neighbor happened to see them could take it upon themselves to mete out punishment which often included hitting them… the old “spare the rod… spoil the child” mentality.

The second day there, I met a teenage girl, Dana… 15 years old… who lived nearby. Her developmentally disabled brother attended the school & although she was no longer a student there herself, she could often be found helping with him or just hanging around. Her mother was a local healer… a very spiritual, church-going woman who was well-liked & respected in the community.

As we struck up a conversation, I asked why she wasn’t in school. She had attended previously & had actually been a very good student. At some point though, she’d come down with an auto-immune disorder which slowly robbed her of her ability to function. Often exhausted, she would ask the teacher to be excused. Her mother, being very concerned, had taken her to various local healers with no luck. She was finally able to get a clear diagnosis from a medical center some distance away.

Unfortunately because of the culture there & a lack of understanding, that explanation wasn’t well-received by the school staff. Assuming she was just being lazy, her teachers became so hard on her she eventually dropped out of altogether. Fortunately by the time we met, her symptoms had begun to go into remission & her strength & energy were slowly returning.

Since we were short-handed, this seemed like an ideal opportunity to have her work with us as a team member & build her self-esteem at the same time… a win-win! She seemed to have a natural aptitude for dentistry & before long she was performing a number of tasks quite well. The change in her demeanor was palatable & it did my heart good to see her confidence in herself grow.

Each year as our trip came to an end & we prepared to go back home, there was always a dinner back at the hotel to say “thank-you” to everyone who had participated & give them a chance to say their good-byes to so many they had developed strong bonds with. Everyone shared how much it had meant to them to really be able to help but they also felt they’d received so much more in return.

Our team invited Dana to come spend the night at the hotel in my room so she could attend the dinner & with her mother’s permission, she excitedly agreed. I knew this would be a great experience for her but I had no idea what an adventure it would be as well… for both of us…

She arrived carrying a change of clothes and an old, ragged towel in a paper bag. I explained it wasn’t necessary for her to bring her own towel as the hotel supplied them for their guests. I then told her to go ahead & feel free to take the first shower. She headed into the bathroom as my roommate & I took that time to kick back after a long, hot day.

About 20 minutes later, out she walked… tears in her eyes… red blotches all over her skin. Surprised & concerned, I asked her what was wrong. “I tried to stay under the spout” she said “but the water was just SO hot, I couldn’t stand it anymore!” To my dismay, I realized she had never been in a shower with hot & cold running water before.  I thought about how naïve I’d been not to realize that. Most Jamaicans shower in rainwater they trap in vats on their roofs. It’s a tropical climate so water heaters aren’t used, even though there are days I’m sure it’s chilly. They simply can’t afford the electricity or plumbing.

I apologetically explained the situation to her & helped her get ready for dinner, all the while trying to ease her extreme nervousness.  By the time we got to dinner & seated ourselves, the poor thing looked like she was going to pass out!

As our dinners were served, I noticed one of the Jamaican waiters standing by the wall near our table, quietly & quickly came over to her, placed her napkin in her lap for her & showed her the silverware. Once again, I realized she had never been to a restaurant… never experienced the nuances of having her glass filled with water or ordering from a menu. Again, I felt like I’d failed her in not being aware enough of the circumstances she came from. No wonder she was so anxious!

There are many people who live in the U.S. who also go without these things as well but even more Jamaicans do. So many of us in this country are so blessed to have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a chance for an education, clothing, charitable organizations who are available to make up the difference & opportunities for some type of dental & medical care should an emergency arise at least. We can’t know what we haven’t yet learned & sometimes it’s easy to forget to appreciate what we haven’t had to go without.

Gratitude is our gift to ourselves & to the collective because if we can’t see our own reasons to be grateful, we’re not near as likely to be there to support & empower others.

                                                 GET CURIOUS… REMEMBER…