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Why Would You Want to Attend Shamanism workshop if You Don’t Want to be a Shaman?

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This is a particularly important question for me, since the great majority of those who take my shamanic workshops do NOT in fact plan on becoming practicing shamans. I’ve asked many the question over the past couple decades, and the best answer I can compile from all those answers is that the shamanic lifestyle and spiritual practice is one that fills in necessary gaps in the human experience for many living in our current Western culture. 

For many, this simply means connecting to a world that is larger than their own individual experience. As I have mentioned more than a few times before, we humans have been around on Earth for 70,000 to 80,000 years, and during 99% of that time, we were born again and again into cultures which expressed the spiritual reality of the inner world in the customs, ceremonies, rites and rituals of the outer world. In this way, there was a sense of congruence between the inner and the outer experience. This led to a relative sense of ease. It is essentially the same as when you feel yourself to be congruent with how you are presenting yourself to others. That feeling of “I am what you see” can be very comforting and empowering. 

Over the past several generations, and every increasingly so, this sense of congruence has been eroded away by the advent of technology, industry and all the myriad aspects of the modern and post-modern world that literally take attention away from the inner experience by causing us to focus solely on the outer. This can be addressed initially by just coming into contact with that inner world, as we do in the first workshop – Opening Inner Doorways – where we encounter the World Tree and each other and so much more! It is this re-introduction to something that our soul remembers, in a preconscious way, that I believe so entices many of us toward things shamanic. The inner self says, “Yes! I know this! It is True!” And our outer self – our thinking mind or ego – must acknowledge that there is “something” that it/we feel drawn to. 

For many, this re-introduction is enough. It validates as much as is necessary, and so fulfills the need. These people rarely continue beyond the first few workshops. They have what they need and feel no compulsion to continue. But a great many still feel drawn deeper, toward a Mystery that they intuit awaits them, and is accessible in some way through this new set of tools and technology. 

For those who continue, the path begins to separate and head in many different directions. For some, it becomes a process of self-healing; addressing trauma and old wounds in a way that is self-empowering and renewing. For others, it is a means of awakening the outer self to the richness and depth of the inner. 

As we go deeper, and I include myself in this, because I am very much still on this journey myself, we discover more and more of the Mystery of the Human Experience. We explore the depth of the soul, and find that there are ever deeper places awaiting us. This is one of the best parts of this process – that it is indeed “bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.” Perhaps Dr Who is a shaman? But fedoras are definitely “cool!”


What is a Mesa, and how is it used in post-tribal shamanism?

In Spanish, mesa simply means “table”. Growing up in Arizona, I was used to it referring to the big, flat-topped mountains that were often sacred places to the native Navaho and other nations that lived near us. The Quero of Peru use the word to refer to the traveling altar/medicine bundle that is carried by some of their native shamans.

As I have worked with Grandfather, over the past three decades, I have come to use a prayer rug as a travel altar. This rug is placed at the center of the circle in all of my workshops, where it holds a center stone and a constellation of tokens, each one representing one of the individuals in the workshop. 

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Kenn with Mesa at ConVocation in Detroit.

To really understand how the Mesa works, it helps to know a little about altars in general. To put it simply, an altar is an intentionally liminal space, a space set apart to act as a portal through which we can interact with the world of Spirit. Everything we place on an altar becomes more than the object itself. For instance, when we are creating an ancestor altar, we place tokens to represent the ancestors, and those objects magically “become” the ancestors. This is a way to welcome the ancestors into our physical world and our homes. 

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When we place the mesa at the center of a community, be it a weekend workshop, a years long training, a group of healers or a family, the effect is to begin drawing them all into a deeper alignment and connection. As the One Center stone is placed in the middle of the mesa, it creates the axis about which this new whole will turn. As the individuals place their tokens upon the mesa, they become a part of this greater whole. The mesa becomes a the threshold between the worlds – between this world and the shamanic realms. 

As the individuals begin to deepen their connection, they may shift the location of their tokens. These shifts serve to draw up the growing awareness of this communion, in which the separate selves become the one self. Words don’t do this process justice, but the experience is transformative. 

When used in the setting of one’s home, the mesa can hold tokens of your family, ancestors or larger community. These tokens/elements can be added and withdrawn as needed. 

You may ask why we would bother with a mesa. Why carry this around and set it up? The answer is, that this mesa is a powerful way to connect and engage the invisible world. And engaging the invisible world is essential to the practice of shamanism, in any tradition. 


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The best reason for experiencing the mesa is the experience itself. If you have ever attended one of my workshops, you know what I mean. 

Next up: Why would you want to train in shamanism if you have no interest in becoming a shaman? 

MetaDuality

The thing about life, the universe and everything, is that we experience it. We are conscious of it, and so we are separate from it. At the same time, though most of us don’t experience it, we are also NOT separate from any of it. We are all One. Every iota of matter, energy, thought, feeling, star dust and music is a part of infinity. That is the nature of infinity. Within infinity, all things are inevitable. That’s why we call it infinity. 

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The shaman deals with all of this from a somewhat different perspective than the average mystic, priest or cab driver, in that, ideally, we juggle both the infinite and the finite simultaneously. (This is a little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time…only bigger!) In a very deep way, this dichotomy between the experienced, finite universe of rocks and trees and clouds and people, and the infinite One that is beyond direct experience, is the essence of the shaman’s path. This is the root of the Invisible Wound of separation, which is both primordial and emerging in every instant. 

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That’s some big stuff. But what does it mean for daily life? After all, shamanism is nothing if not pragmatic. The most apparent application is the realization that we are all One, experiencing as many. With this realization, we can begin to see through the masks of appearance and opposition toward greater understanding and compassion for one another – and for ourselves. 

This compassion for self is a big one, because it is the root of so much. It is also one of the most difficult pieces of this amazing whole. It is easy to have, at least superficial, compassion for others. We see only their outer form, and can often forgive their non-virtuous actions much more quickly than we can our own. But we know ourselves as deeply as we choose to, and with this comes the need to accept these depths fully; to offer compassion for our mistakes, even when they cause harm to those we love. How else can we reach the root of our being, which reaches into both this finite world and the infinite? 

It is the miracle of this finite/infinite juxtaposition that forms the ground of the spiritual practice of post-tribal shamanism. With this practice, we can touch into that part of Self that dwells in the infinite realm. I often refer to this as Soul Awareness, but it is essentially the same as the Buddhist concept of Non-Dual Awareness. What makes the shamanic practice somewhat different is the next step, into meta-duality. This is the act of holding both dual and non-dual awareness as parts of the greater whole. 

The experience of Soul Awareness is not easy, but it is also not unreachable. It is directly available to each and every one of us. It is part of the very condition of humanity. Soul Awareness is what lies beneath the active, thinking mind, with its focus on the external experience of things and the internal experience of thoughts as “self.” 

When we manage to drop into this state, the experience (for want of better words) is one of a luminous field of awareness, with no sense of either self or other. There is a sense of gentle, blissful openness. Fear, anger, hate – these things cannot be sustained here. What arrises here is love, compassion, connection. Such is the nature of soul.

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Sitting in this state regularly begins to have an ever deepening effect on life in general. This impact can be furthered by gradually working toward taking Soul Awareness “off the cushion” and into your ordinary experience. This is a gradual process, but the key is being able to remember the experience of Soul Awareness, while in ordinary consciousness. This is where the “pat head, rub tummy” part comes in. 

This journey, which is its own destination, is always/never ending. As we become more aware, the horizon retreats and we see that there is more to understand. 

May we all come to know the root of this practice in our lives, and may it carry us gently through life and death, to arrive at the shore of this moment, forever. 


Expectations vs Reality


Many of us say we are looking for “community”, but what we really want is to be surrounded by people who love us and listen to us and will stick by us through thick and thin. Essentially, we have this idea that community is actually composed of a nicely sized group of best friends who swear loyalty oaths to each other, and share the same values, political views and spiritual aspirations. That is a tall order by any stretch of the imagination. 

Community is made up of all the people who make that community work. This means that, if your village needs a librarian, a farmer, a builder and a teacher, then they are a part of your village. It doesn’t mean that you have to like each other, or share the same political perspective, but you do need to acknowledge each other and work together. 

My dear friend and mentor, Elisheva Nesher, likes to tell a story about Shmuel the plumber. Elisheva grew up in a kibbutz, which is a traditional community. Everyone in the kibbutz contributes and everyone is included. Shmuel happens to be a total ass and nobody likes him, but when your toilet breaks at 4:00 in the morning and you call him, he comes and fixes it. So Shmuel gets invited to the weddings and funerals and people put up with him. He is a part of the community and everyone gets that. 

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Only here in the USA do people seem to have the expectation that everyone in their community is going to be their best chum. Even in our families, we don’t always get along. In fact, many of those looking for an idealized community also reject the most authentic basis for the real thing that they already have – their own biological family. 

Communities are generally defined by duration and location. 

Duration. A group of people can’t just decide to “be a community” and expect that to work.  They need to be around for quite awhile before they can gel into a real community. Historically, and in much of the world today, people in villages remain there they’re whole lives, living and working within miles of where generations of their ancestors are buried. 

Location. We need to spend time in close proximity, working together on projects that are meaningful to us as a group, in order to generate the mysterious thing that happens when all the many become the one. Community is not something that really happens online, or the you only see someone once a year at a festival. It takes much more commitment, dedication and investment than that in order to really function. 

In addition, it can help to have shared goals, values or spiritual traditions. But these are by no means essential. 

To sum it up: Community may not be what you think it is, and searching for that ideal may, in fact, be keeping you from finding the very real thing that you don’t realize you are missing – a community made up of real people of all ages and descriptions, sharing the same space and working together with you. 

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Next: The root of community the soul, from a shamanic perspective. 


In Search of Community


 Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone. 

-Maya Angelou


Ever since the first hairless monkeys climbed down out of the trees and started hanging around bonfires together, we humans have had a profound relationship with “community”. Much of this relationship is founded on the essential truth that we NEED community to survive. This was more apparent in the days of our distant ancestors, because of things like lions and tigers and bears! It takes a community to fight off a vicious predator. 

For most of human history, the idea that we need community was not questioned. It was assumed. In fact, being exiled from your community was seen as a fate worse than death. But in the past several generations, we seem to have lost the immediacy of this need. We still have it. Even those who think they are living off the grid and not relying on their fellow humans for anything, couldn’t have reached their degree of isolation without help from others, even if it was simply the fact that they were raised by something other than a pack of wolves. But it seems less absolutely necessary, and is often balanced by a sense that “other people” take up a lot of our personal space and that we would really like a little bit less of them. 

Never-the-less, the need persists. The fact that it is no longer as clearly connected to our basic survival just makes it less apparent, and more confusing. For instance, if you need to have at least ten strong men to go hunting with so that you and your family will survive the winter, it’s clear that you need community and you don’t quibble about “what it is”, you just do your part to help out the rest of them so that you know they will be there for you as well. But when it FEELS like the only time you really need someone is when there is a refrigerator to lift, you may have less obvious motivation to help out others in need, and you may even question if you have a real NEED for community at all. 

As community has become bigger expanding from roving nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers to villages, town, cities and nationstates – it has also become more abstract, perhaps because our actual contact with it on a daily basis has become less clearly articulated. In a small, traditional setting, you might engage with a group 20-50 other people on a daily basis. These encounters would be connected with work, play, socialization and getting from one place to another. They would include individuals of all ages, and heirarchical distance between the highest and lowest members of the community would not be very great. The depth of your interactions would vary, but you would know literally everyone in your community, with the reasonable expectation that they would remain a part of your daily life for as long as they – or you – lived. You would engage in a way that made you an unquestioned part of the community as a whole. Your sense of belonging would flow from this mutual recognition, and there would be no need to “find yourself”, because you have no sense of being lost. 

The situation today is quite different. There are probably an even greater number of people who you interact with fairly regularly, but only of few of them will be constants throughout your life. The quality of our interactions is based on this expectation of their short-term nature. We don’t assume that the fellow who checks out our food at the grocery will be willing to help us move our furniture when we need it. 

On the surface, this all seems fine. We live in a complex society, which has evolved over many thousands of years. Many of the needs that were once met by tightly knit community are now outsourced to various service industries, and yet – we still hunger for belonging, to be a part of the larger self which is community. 

Where does this hunger take us? Tune in next week and I will share my thoughts and experiences on that! 



This is What Winning Looks Like!

This Thanksgiving Day, as I was driving through the seasonally colorful landscape of Indiana on the way to my wife’s family for the holiday, I thought back to our last trip to Ireland in 2014. It was about halfway across the Atlantic and our daughter Meghan was not sleeping well on the plane. Patricia and I had passed her back and forth a few times and she was now on my lap as I tried to doze off so as not to be quite so jet-lagged when we landed in the morning. I had just drifted off when Meghan shifted rather energetically, kicking me solidly in the abdomen. I came awake with a start and muttered, “I just can’t win!” Patricia looked over at me from where she was having even less luck sleeping and replied, “This is what winning looks like!”

I let that sink in. She was right, of course. Here I was. My beautiful daughter resting in my lap, beside my beloved wife, taking a group of 21 students, clients, family and friends on a two week trip to Ireland – and I was still finding something to complain about. It was true that there was really nothing I could do about my predicament. The airplane was full and it was clear that none of us were going to sleep. All I could do was surrender, which is not my forte. But the surrender meant I no longer was struggling to make the situation other than it was, and the next thing I knew, we were landing at Shannon. 

Isn’t this often how it is? We run into a little turbulence and all at once we can’t see all the blessings of our life – only the trials. It is so easy to let the little exasperations derail our day, our experience of the moment, our life. So this has become my spiritual practice for the past several days – to focus on the things that make this life so full and enjoyable and worthwhile; to accept those tribulations that arise and not struggle with them, trying to make them bend to our wills. 

Some difficulties are easier to surrender to than others. Some get pretty sticky, and I find myself caught by them and dragged into struggle. But generally, this practice has helped me to be more grateful and appreciative of all the amazing people in my life and all the blessings that surround me. With all of that, even the sticky problems are a little less insurmountable. 

May your holidays be filled with the blessings of your ancestors!


Slow but Sure

For most of my adult life, I have been driven by what I saw as important, profound and meaningful goals; the sharing of spiritual teachings, building spiritual community, connecting with the Divine, becoming an internationally respected shaman…. 

When I met my wife, I made it very clear to her that my career came first, because it was “important”, and that my relationship with her came only after the requirements of my career were met. She would not have put up with this, if she didn’t believe that at some point I would come to my senses. Fortunately, after some difficult years, I did. 

I gradually came to realize that what was/is truly important is right in front of me. My wife and daughter, our family, our friends. It’s not that my work is not important at all, but that its importance is really that it leads me and others to this awareness of what is more relevant. 

Now I realize that what all the teachings and practices really lead to is the capacity for us to lead meaningful, fulfilling and ordinary lives as human beings. This means having children, working, playing, loving, laughing, crying, growing old, and eventually dying. When we have all of this, we have the answer to the question of “what is the meaning of life?” The answer is very clear. We live it every day. 

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Taking a walk with Meghan in Kenmare, Ireland. 

We may think that our ancestors didn’t realize this, but perhaps they did. Or better yet, perhaps it didn’t occur to them that there was a question. 

Wearing the “Shaman” Title in Public

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Perhaps the most important reason that I coined the term post-tribal shamanism to describe my work, is that I wanted to differentiate it from the important work being done by shamans in tribal contexts. Equally, I wanted to clearly define the community I am called to serve: those born into and raised in our post-industrial, first world culture, so prevalent here in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

In acknowledging my calling and taking the step of putting “shaman” on my business card, I was putting myself in a vulnerable place. There are a number of folks who hold a very ridged  view that no one who is not a native member of a tribal culture, actively practicing a traditional form of shamanism within that culture, should use the term “shaman” to define their work. This is a matter of both semantics and of cultural appropriation. My intention has always been to clearly state that what I am doing in not from tribal or indigenous sources, in spite of the many commonalities. I can’t do anything about the discomfort they many have with the semantics. This must have done the trick, because I have had little to no problem with such people. I’ve even had one notable advocate for tribal rights tell me that, “what you do is different. We don’t have a problem with that.” I guess this is why I don’t show up on any of the “plastic shaman” lists on the internet. 

I would like to have found a different word that describes this work; one that doesn’t step on anyone’s toes, but there is not one. Or at least I’ve not found it. (I am open to suggestions, but I have discarded a great many already.) 

To me, Shaman means that person who has always stood between the human community and the unknown. When humans live in tribes, then the shaman serves a tribe. In our post-tribal culture, we serve whoever comes to us in need. 

In current practice, and in my own view, there are at least three necessary elements that a person needs to have in order to be an effective shaman. 1) The calling - This is both the talent and sensitivity with which to work in the shamanic realms and the experiences that focus their attention into these areas and generate the willingness to be of service. 2) Initiation - Usually received in early life, this can be a singular or multiple trauma that wounds so deeply that it engages spirit in the process of survival and healing. 3) Training - Solid truing from a teacher or teachers who actually know what they are doing. No one or two of these elements suffice. 

Being a shaman is not something to use to build ego, neither is it something to be ashamed of. It is a calling that is greatly needed in this culture, and there are many people who are awakening to this call. I hope to be of service in helping them to realize the call, receive training and become initiated, so that they to can wear this title with authenticity and integrity. 


Off to Ireland Again!


From June 9, 3014

It's the beginning of our third full day here in beautiful Kenmare, and this is the first day that I've managed to get the blog site to work.

Patricia warned me before we left that Mercury was going retrograde and would remain that way for the whole trip. Even without the heads up, I would have figured it out by now. But despite communication snafus and interruptions, this has been the best time yet! There are 24 of us in all, staying at the Ardmullin Holiday Homes in Kenmare. Apparently I cannot add photos to this blog on my iPad just yet, so until I remedy that, you will have to use your imagination.

We arrived at Shannon airport at about 8:30 in the morning on Sunday and were met by the Kerry Coach driver named Derry, who was like a compilation of Patricia's Irish uncles. The coach was perfect. We did not miss having to drive. We stopped off at Adare Manor for breakfast, thanks to Derry, who happens to know the manager. Then a quick stop for groceries at a Super Valu and it was into Kenmare to unload our bags and settle in. I managed to stay awake for the walk into town for dinner at Foley's, then crashed about 20:00 and slept for ten hours straight.

Our first full day, known as Day Two on the itinerary, was spent getting everyone comfortable finding their way around town. After one of our flock missed a turn and wound up taking an extended walk, I made sure that everyone could find their way hame from town. Dinner was at O'Donnabhain's Pub, which is owned by our landlord here. They had a fellow playing traditional irish ballads on guitar. He managed a version of a reel so that Meghan could demonstrate her prowess at irish step dancing.


Yesterday - Day Three - was our first day trip. The coach picked us up at 9:30 and we drove up to Killarney, stopping at Ladies View to give many of the tour their first view of the Lakes of Killarney. Have I mentioned that there are 24 of us? We had to leave Meghan and her nanny behind that morning, because Meghan hadn't woken up yet and we have firm rules against waking sleeping children. In Killarney we took a jaunting car ride (pony cart) which we have been wanting to do for the first few times we were here, so it was about time. Beware the bad jokes. Okay. It's time to get dressed and walk to town for Market Day. More later!

Shamanism in Tribal and Post-Tribal Contexts

I am going to address a couple of the things I hear most often on Facebook pages and other forums dedicated to shamanic traditions. 

“No real shaman ever refers to him or herself as a shaman.” and “No real shaman charges for their services.”

Let’s consider tribal culture for a moment. First off, the primary unit of this culture is communal – the tribe itself. This is something that is simply impossible for most modern Americans to grasp. Your very concept of “self” is radically different from someone growing up in a tribe. Further, the community of the tribe is quite closely knit – much more so than small towns in our own culture. Even more so that extended families. These are cultures in which everyone knows what is going on with everyone else, to a degree that would be quite uncomfortable for folks from our culture. Now, if someone is chosen by the tribe’s shaman as an apprentice, everyone knows this. They know how that person is doing with the process of learning and initiation and they know when that person receives the blessing of the shaman to begin working. For the initiate to go around proclaiming him or herself a shaman would be ludicrous. They already know. 

In our culture, in shamanic practices, we have clientele who we have never met before they come to see us. There is no community net of people who already know what we have been through and that we have received our teacher’s blessing. What we have is word of mouth – and business cards. 

You see, not calling yourself a shaman has everything to do with the tribal context, and nothing to do with shamanism. 

The issue of charging for your services is another case of the same thing. The tribal communities still function on barter and exchange. They don’t use money in the same way that those of us in the post-tribal culture do. So naturally the shaman doesn’t get paid in money. However, the shaman does get paid in food and labor and whatever else he or she needs. 

Once again. Charging money for anything is a matter of cultural context, not shamanism. It is important to be able to view shamanism as it is, separate from the tribal context, if we are to be able to practice it in a meaningful way in our post-tribal context. 

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 © Kenn Day 2017