In the midst of winter, during the darkest of days and longest of nights, on the brink of a new year -- there is no better time for this.
As part of this year's resolution for change, and commitment to transformation, I am offering free shamanic sessions as a community giveaway.
That's right. No red tape. No fine print. A clear and simple gesture. A gift to anyone and everyone who wants to experience change and transformation through shamanism.
I have been training in and studying shamanism for several years, and I am at a very important part in the process. And so I am compelled to open this door and see what comes my way.
These sessions can be arranged however you wish, addressing whatever it is in your life that you want to change or see movement in. Spiritual, psychological, emotional, physical. Whatever it may be, the shamanic journey starts in the same place. All you need is the willingness to participate and begin the process.
There is no better time for this.
Experiences that push the boundaries become a dream oft forgotten. What do we do with this vision, with the dream once awakened? Is it well kept and hidden, safeguarded from the pangs of another dream called reality? Do we shout it out for all to hear? Are these words empty if not felled on deaf ears? Do we wait in poise like a wild cat stalking its prey, so patient and determined, lulled by yet another dream, a dream of a dream come true...
Last week I attended a vision fast guide training at the School of Lost Borders in Northern California, near Death Valley. The program included a 4-day and night fast in a chosen spot amidst the sun and rock -- no food, no shelter, no people. Just you, your pack, a few gallons of water, the landscape... and your intent.
People come to this ceremony for many reasons. To mark a significant change in their life. To release or let go of something. To heal and grow. To face fear. To receive vision. To transcend and transform. Yet in paring down the essence of why, every reason or purpose for coming to this ceremony is revealed as born of a common spirit, a common impulse that moves you in your depths.
Something is out there, and I am going to find it.
This impulse is in response to a growing need unfulfilled by the rhythm of a mundane modernity. It just isn't enough. There is something else, something more. A question unanswered. A sense of need, even desperation clawing at the deepest recesses of your longing. And it's not in vain or in passing; no, it grows and grows until it turns into a roaring that comes to define your life.
For some people, they just want to know. To know what it is. To know what it is they really want, and what they are willing to give to find out.
And so they come. The people come. It may not be a deluge but it is a flow. The rivers run, the rains come. Even in the midst of crag and dry and drought, the rains come.
For some it's their whole lives in question, and this is what they take to the fast: What am I doing? Who am I? Or it's simple, more refined: Do I take this new job? Do I need to relocate? It's often a transition from one phase to the next, a marking of passage: Adolescent to adulthood. Adulthood into elderhood. A quest marking marriage or parenthood. A quest for physical or emotional healing. It's in response to a spiritual desire or crisis. Asking the "big" ones: What is the meaning of life? What is the point of all this? And what is my place in this world?
Regardless of what it is, the common element binding each purpose together is the initial desire to perform the vision quest ceremony in order to mark or change something -- to become whole with something and fulfill that task, whatever it may be. Beyond this, it is only the courage and strength required to go forward, to undertake the journey.
Shamanism can sound arcane, exotic, distant, "other" -- and in the minds of many Western people, this is precisely how and where shamanism exists: somewhere "out there". It is liminal, on the edge of normalcy. The shaman is someone who dances and chants strange sounds to a rhythm only they can hear, a dancer in their own dimension; a crazy, eccentric person out of touch with "reality", moving to the beat of a long lost superstition.
For many people in modern society, who are so used to the comfort and security offered by technological advancement and amenity, the idea of practicing shamanism simply doesn't fit into the typical modern lifestyle. So what relevance does a so-called ancient, primitive practice have in the urban, modern world?
To really understand the relevance of shamanism in today's world, we have to first understand what exactly shamanism is. One of the first things to understand is that the pop culture portrayal of shamanism is not accurate. It is based largely in fantasy and gross generalizations that are passed along through various means -- texts, media, hearsay, beliefs, academia, etc. The propagation of this kind of thinking reinforces and creates common misconceptions and mysteries that continue to characterize what people know about shamanism. Yet, fundamental to knowing what shamanism is, is understanding that the only way to accomplish this is through your own participation and experience; the nature of shamanism is entirely experiential.
Shamanism is defined herein as an exploration of consciousness. Consciousness is defined as a state of being. Every thing that is manifest, including yourself, everything in your world, your thoughts, the universe, the past and the future -- all of these things are understood as states of being, or expressions of consciousness. The physical space is an expression of consciousness. The computer or device that you are reading this on is another example of consciousness -- which is simply something that is. This is what is meant by a state of being -- it exists, it is experienced. This ultimately leads to the understanding that consciousness is an expressed state of life, which is understood as synonymous with experience.
Thus, shamanism is a means of exploring the entirety of life and experience.
Shamanism is often considered one of the oldest forms of spirituality in the world. The word 'shaman' comes from the Turkic šamán, referring to a kind of indigenous Siberian religious (or spiritual) specialist. Practices akin to those observed in ancient Siberia have been documented and experienced in many (if not most) cultures around the world, contemporary and ancient. Because of these perceived similarities, the word 'shaman' has become an umbrella term that signifies a host of religious specialists and spiritual practitioners worldwide.
In traditional societies the role of the shaman was multifaceted. Commonly recognized as persons of knowledge, the shaman held the simultaneous role of healer, spiritual guide, diviner, and ritual specialist. Classically viewed as a mediator between worlds, the shaman sought and received guidance and knowledge from the spirit realm in order to solve problems and overcome conflicts found within human society. One of the hallmark features of a shamanic practitioner is their ability to enter specific altered states of consciousness with the intent to access the spirit world and successfully return with whatever it was they were seeking -- a healing method, a solution to a problem, knowledge, the whereabouts of something, a song, the answer to a question, guidance, etc.
This traditional or classical view of shamanism has grown and expanded to include a growing number of modern contexts, practitioners, and manifestations typically situated within the general matrix of alternative spirituality. There has been an increasing movement in Western culture and society to re-birth or re-create a shamanism for the modern world. Prior to this recent surge of interest in shamanism, Western culture considered shamanism backwards, psychotic, superstitious or simply irrelevant. For many decades, even centuries, this widely held view of shamans and shamanism pervaded and persisted. An unraveling of the Western narrative that ultimately wrote off shamanism can be summarized as follows:
Nevertheless, and despite the negative or inferior view held in common of shamanism and shamanic cultures (and perhaps because of it), the shaman has loomed large in the Western psyche from its inception. Starting in the mid 20th century and continuing into the contemporary cultural-spiritual landscape, shamanism is now viewed as a key element relating something vital that Western culture lost and would benefit tremendously from getting back. The view of shamans as backward, crazy, and irrelevant people living in a nostalgic past gives way to an understanding that holds shamans and their traditions in high esteem. Shamans and shamanic cultures are now seen as more spiritually advanced and in touch with nature, their lack of technological amenity a liberating boon rather than impeding obstacle. This perception by Westerners holds to the notion that shamanic cultures embody an archetype of everything that went amiss in the West during its march towards modernization. This has led many people to seek out teachers, traditions, and shamans from indigenous cultures worldwide, from ancient Europe to Siberia to the Americas and beyond, in order to learn and ultimately bring shamanism back to the West.
The result is an ever growing and morphing "field" of contemporary shamanism that expresses its influence everywhere from hospitals and among medical professionals, to psychotherapy and mental health clinics; in churches and universities, filling shelves in bookstores and New Age shops; at cultural festivals and expos; and in the homes, offices, and places of interest for many people and practitioners honing a deeper connection to their spirituality and fulfillment in their lives. How this will continue to grow and change is contingent upon and limited only by the hearts, minds, and spirits of this burgeoning shamanic culture in the modern world.
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.