This is a dance. It takes two to transform. The shaman and participant come together and in that convergence a new spirit is created. It is a single energy, a single flowing spirit that moves in the direction of the intention for the healing session or ceremony.
When your dance partner is trying to perform the tango while you are dancing the samba, neither partner can continue as a duo. There is a disconnection, a disharmony between what each of you is doing and what you think the other person is doing. There has to be a common thread that weaves this dance together. That thread is intention. Intention unifies the movement. It helps to focus and set the boundaries. It helps you know what steps your partner is taking, and what steps you need to take in order to allow them to guide you on the journey.
The shaman’s job is to create the space or the container for this to happen. They first open and then hold the space, guiding the movement by way of intention and supported through their invocations. They maintain a spiritual connection that allows them to channel new energies into the space while cleansing and releasing energies or spirits that are ready to be purged.
At the same time, as the participant, it is your job to remain open to the energies that the shaman is calling; to receive them. The more relaxed and calm in mind and body, gently focused, and free of resistance you are, the more receptive you can become. Receptivity to the process is a cornerstone of shamanic work and helps facilitate its efficacy. It is loosening the body and freeing the mind so that you can move in the space – follow the lead dancer – effectively.
In the same way that shamanism is co-participatory between shaman and participant; it is also co-participatory between the shaman and the spirits. Just as you are being guided to relax and receive, the shaman is doing the same thing. They are guiding themselves into a state of consciousness where they can receive the spirits and be guided on how to conduct the ceremony. Without the spirits, none of this would be possible. The shaman has to surrender to receptivity in the same way that you do. This is the role of mediator between worlds that is often discussed in traditional shamanistic studies. The shaman acts as the gateway between worlds: yours and the spirits. Through this connection, an all-directional triangle of energy is created. It looks and flows like this:
The shaman connects with and receives the spirits. The spirits lead the shaman, who in turn leads the ceremony, the movement of which in turn leads you. You connect with and become receptive to the shaman, and your connection with them turns into receptivity and connection to the spirits. In this way, each element of the dance is connected and interacting as one.
Anytime there is disconnect or resistance at any part of the flow, the process is hindered. This is a spiritual art that requires total participation: from you, shaman, and spirits. It is not a "show up and be healed" experience. The spirits will offer to help you, and they will only be able to do so in the amount that you let them. The shaman acts as a gatekeeper to the spirits he or she has trained to work with. Surrender and receptivity are active principles. They require your engagement.
And in doing so, in the receptivity and openness to the journey, the dance moves with fluidity and elegance. The experience is not so difficult. The shifts become palpable. Your perception heightens and becomes more refined. The understanding of what is happening is expressed with more lucidity. There is a feeling of movement. The work is being done.
This dance, this spiritual art is an invitation to empower yourself. It is an opening of space for you to take an active role in your transformation. It is a practice of empowerment, a dance of trance - formation. And in this dance, we dance together.
Mongolia has a rich shamanic history. Under Russian influence throughout the 20th century, shamanism became illegal and was forced underground. Despite the external pressure to eradicate the practice, shamans continued their craft until Mongolia gained its independence in 1990. Since then, there has been a revival of shamanic activity throughout the country. People are finding that these ancient rituals and practices, still intact from the ancestral past, are effective tools for navigating the multidimensional landscape of their contemporary world. They navigate politics, economic disparity and hardship. They investigate and uncover forgotten histories, reawakening their ancestral connections. This allows them to find meaning -- to literally re-member themselves, their people, the spirits of the land. This speaks to a key component of shamanic practice: the ability to create a world filled with meaning, depth and connection. This helps to fill gaps that remain in a scattered cultural, spiritual and social arena, one that actively sought the dissolution of shamanism and by extension, a way of life.
For Mongolian anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger, this was not only a story close to home but a story to tell. In her account Tragic Spirits, she traces the evolution and implications of this newfound growth and interest in Mongolian shamanism.
I've always, always had a vision of integrative, comprehensive healthcare that includes not only lots of options, but options that address all dimensions of experience. Bringing shamans and other kinds of folk healers into the hospital setting is, at least to me, a no-brainer. There is room for all perspectives. Seemingly contradictory philosophies about health and healing can coincide. If it's truly about health and healing, then the opposition between modalities and perspectives shouldn't really matter; it's not about being right and castigating everything else. Health and healing should be about effective, safe and comprehensive care.
And in a Merced, CA hospital, this is exactly their way of approaching healthcare. The hospital has acknowledged the importance of cultural medicine and practices, and they now have a hospital-wide program that incorporates shamanic healing rituals alongside Western medicine. Largely initiated by the Hmong population in the region, patients, practitioners and hospital staff are all in accordance with the positive beneftis the program delivers. In the Ecuadorean mountain town of Riobamba, a similar program has been implemented, with similar successes. This kind of cultural incorporation, as well as working to bridge the philosophical gap between Western physical medicine and shamanic spiritual medicine, is an approach that could well enhance the overall efficacy of medical care everywhere. Read both articles here:
Matt Toussaint has immersed himself in shamanic practice and exploration for the past 10 years. He currently resides in Peru where he serves as an apprentice shaman and facilitator at a plant medicine retreat center. Read more.