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.
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.