[SL: This timely article is excerpted from internationally renowned shaman and bestselling author Itzhak Beery’s newest book, SHAMANIC HEALING: TRADITIONAL MEDICINE FOR THE MODERN WORLD. I hope you enjoy this segment enough to explore the entire text as well as its excellent prequels, THE GIFT OF SHAMANISM and SHAMANIC TRANSFORMATIONS. I’m thrilled and honored that my “shamanic” artwork appears on all three covers. If you enjoy these images, please check out my portfolio here. Happy reading and viewing!]
Indigenous people the world over have kept shamanic healing methods and perspectives alive for many thousands of years. Frequently, the carriers of these precious practices struggled to keep them alive, as their cultures and people were being conquered, outlawed, burned, and persecuted by more “technologically advanced” civilizations, which destroyed their temples, sacred places, and heritage. In an effort to preserve that heritage, practices, rituals, and customs were hidden in faraway hard-to-reach corners of Earth and practiced in the thick of night, in the depths of caves, or hidden at the top of remote mountains. These secrets were passed verbally from mother to daughter and from grandfather to grandchild for generations. Within our own Western cultures this wisdom was often hidden and buried in the texts of fairytales and lullabies as well as in religious symbols and rituals. They were also kept as countless superstitious beliefs and grandmother’s tales. In the past few thousand years, the three major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—forbade them and punished women who practiced them, sometimes by even burning them alive. We owe a debt of tremendous gratitude to all our ancestors who so dutifully carried this wisdom to our modern-day digital generation.
Shamanic healing returns us to the core principles of healthiness and a balanced life by using the gifts of Earth and those of the spirit world. It brings us in contact with all our senses and develops them, especially the sixth sense, which lets us connect to the unseen world and our intuition. With the proliferation of smart phones and other electronic gadgets, our brain more and more relies on them, making us more dependent and, yes, lazy. I call it “the Big Shutdown of the Senses,” as all the answers and information we are looking for are now easily available through gadgets. We have become less and less observant of and engaged in the world around us. For example, these gadgets “free” us from having to orient ourselves on Earth by the four directions in order to reach our destination: we just follow Waze, Google Maps, or what Siri tells us. We can learn time of the day and the weather by consulting the Internet or an app instead of observing the sky and wind. We don’t have to remember phone numbers, know much math, or memorize history or geography facts. We don’t even have to know how we feel or listen to our bodies; there are apps that do that too. Smart devices create a virtual reality and virtual communities on one small flat screen.
Shamanic healing returns us to personally experiencing our all-encompassing relationship with the universe and the true reason why we are here. Above all, it makes possible the survival of the human race on this miraculous planet we all share.
But before we start, here is a courtesy warning: what you are about to read is written from my collected and scattered personal notebooks, from my subjective memory, and from my accumulated and personal work experiences. As I am sure you well know, memories can be very fluid. Two people who take part in the same event describe it in two different ways and from two different points of views. For this reason, I have not included a bibliography, notes, or resources at the end of this book.
I hope that you will allow yourself to experience my stories with all of your senses. I assume it will require a considerable leap of faith. It is my modest personal journey and life experience, and by all means, I invite you to disagree or even prove me wrong. I am sure some of my teachers would say that they never meant or said this or that, or that I misunderstood what they said. It is possible; it is the nature of shamanism. It is an ever-changing personal journey of each individual shaman, sometimes contradictory, as is the nature of the world itself. Time and time again, my teachers would change the strict explicit instructions they gave me and would instead “improvise,” as the spirit instructed them at a particular moment and under the conditions that were presented to them. One teacher said, “Spirit told me to … ,” while another told me, “There is no right or wrong; it is in spirit’s hands,” which sometimes left me, of course, puzzled.
To keep the reading flowing and interesting, I have tried to write the book through adventures and storytelling from which the reader can extract the techniques and teaching. The generous teachings, which I am attempting to share with you, came mainly from my two teachers. Additionally I took some liberty to incorporate my other teachers’ teachings into the stories as well.
Shamanism has become a mainstream cultural buzzword in recent years. It’s truly everywhere you turn your head to, from hit movies to video and computer games and the music industry. Bookshelves are exploding with new titles for adults and children in the shamanic category. Magazine and newspaper articles abound; even mainstream-media-sensationalizing celebrities seek shamanic healing. Soccer teams and politicians call on shamans to help them win. New forms of shamanism are now popping up everywhere: shamanic yoga, shamanic reiki, shamanic trance dance, shamanic breath work, and shamanic astrology are just a few examples of this trend. Shamanic seminars, teachings, and adventure trips to faraway exotic places are plentiful and growing, and if you search the word shamanism on the Internet, you will see millions of entries. You might ask yourself, “What’s going on here, and why now?” There are many very good reasons.
The shamanic worldview is an antithesis to our Western industrious, scientific mind culture’s teaching, which celebrates and rewards separateness of the human race and the superiority of the individualist—exemplified by Ayn Rand’s writings—over the well-being of the whole community, vilifying codependency. Worldview that admires scientific brain power and control over nature and weather and of other people, worldview that sees success in accumulation of personal resources, wealth, and property, that values competition and lives in fear of scarcity, worldview that encourage a person to follow orders of governments, corporations, or dogmatic religious teachings.
Indigenous societies, however, hold the belief that the Great Creator, that great mysterious force that has no form or gender, created all there is for a reason, sometime unbeknown to us. Thus everything in our world is sacred and one and the same. In other words, humans are not superior in nature’s pecking order to other animals or the environment and thus should not have dominion over nature. They believe in interdependency; they believe in living in harmony with nature and sharing Earth’s abundance of resources without private ownership of the land. They believe people should experience and practice as their own spirits direct them.
My main realization when I first visited the rain forest was that every plant couldn’t grow without its supporting neighboring plants. Every animal serves a unique purpose to the whole ecology of the jungle, just as the jungle has a special relationship to Earth. If you remove a single plant or animal, the whole environment around it collapses. We truly are all interdependent.
The scientific and technological innovations of the past decades have brought about globalization, which has brought us closer together. Through satellite connections and the World Wide Web, we can reach almost every corner of the world; city and jungle dwellers can meet and exchange information instantly. People deep in jungles or on the tops of high mountains are exposed to Western ideas, music, fashion, and technological innovations.
We too are now able to comprehend and appreciate indigenous societies’ age-old wisdom, simple practicality, and stewardship of Earth. Within the diversity of their traditions we can find an outline for our own well-being and survival. Recognizing that although we have almost everything we need in our materialistic world, we are missing a deeper connection to our primal roots of the natural world and to our own nature. I believe we are all souls who yearn to be one, to reunite with all of nature again. Additionally, I feel, as many in our society do, an uneasy feeling that many questions about our current life complexities are not being answered by technology, mainstream religions, and institutions, which are failing to address and offer real solutions.
Interestingly, two trends are happening simultaneously. In the West, since the 1960s, people like Michael Harner, Hank Wesselman, and John Perkins, who were sent by the Peace Corps or their universities into the jungles of South America, Africa, or Asia, have been attracting people with their stories, books, and teachings, including myself. By studying with them, we discover that we can trust the unknown, our own powerful connection to the natural forces, and our ability to interact with those forces, as well as the importance of supportive communities. At the same time, following their ancient prophecies’ teaching of the arrival of new era of collaboration among all people on Earth, many shamans are coming out of hiding. They hear the call to share with us in the Western world their secrets, which have kept those societies alive from beginning of time.
What can be the benefits of shamanism for you? Spiritual, emotional, and physical healing are common benefits in the shamanic practice. It releases anxiety and stress, eases loneliness, and restores faith and the physical body’s vigor. Shamans view illness as caused by falling out of balance and being separated and disconnected from nature and one’s family and community.
Shamanism offers its practitioners an alternative way of life, personal empowerment, and a kindhearted community. Shamanism’s nonverbal communication methods seep deeply into one’s soul, activating the primary forces that trigger all of our senses. It helps us get in touch with our own dreams, magic, and mystery. Shamanism is a way to look at what’s going on around us and make sense of it without fear, guilt, or shame. As Lynn Andrews said, “Bring chaos into balance.” It’s a way to live in inner balance and connected to the matrix of life. It’s also an opportunity to create personal and community rituals and ceremonies for each stage of our lives.
So how can you bring shamanism into your life? You can read a book or an article on the Internet, take part in a workshop, or experience shamanic healing. But most importantly, start by going to the source. Nature. Observe its life cycle and its flow. Learn to revere and celebrate nature and the environment around you. Go outside of your sheltered life. Worship every blade of grass. Find a tree that is “calling” you and hug it. Close your eyes, listen to the birds calling you, and breathe in deeply. Form a connection with the tree. Feel the interconnectedness that flows between you and the entire universe. Feel your body as the tree trunk. Feel your legs turning into roots, deepening into the earth, pulling in nutrition and energy from Earth’s core. Feel your hair becoming the tree leaves and branches fed by the heat of the sun. Feel how you are becoming a bridge between heaven and Earth, between Father Sun and Mother Earth. Feel the connection between you and all other trees. Now, ask the tree a personal question and wait for an answer. I do it often, and I’m always amazed by the wisdom and insights I receive.
I’m sure that you’ll feel self-conscious doing that, afraid your friends and family might think you are a bit weird, which reminds me of a story my mentor Ipupiara once told me.
“Every morning my wife and I went to one of Washington, D.C.’s parks to hug a tree, in a simple honoring ceremony. One morning, a young boy of a family that also used to come at the same hour saw us performing our ritual. The boy spontaneously ran toward us and asked me curiously, ‘Uncle, what are you doing, why are you hugging these trees?’
“With great patience I explained to the boy, ‘You see, trees are living beings too, just like you are. Trees, through their branches and leaves, connect to the sky—the heavens, the sun, the stars—and with Mother Earth. They are holding the world together.’ And I showed him with my hands and my feet. ‘When we hug them we become connected to the whole world, and we don’t feel alone. Each tree has its own personality: some bear fruits; some do not. Some are green all year long, some shed their leaves in the fall, some have deep roots, and some are shallow. Some are tall, some are short, just like people.’ And then I asked him, ‘Do you know that trees can talk to each other through their leaves and roots?’ The boy looked at me with surprise in his big eyes. ‘You can speak to them too, and they will understand and send your prayers. Here, touch this tree. Hug it. Can you feel its energy?’
“The boy stretched his small arms around the tree and hugged it strongly, and then with a big smile on his face, he nodded his head up and down for yes! Then without saying good-bye he ran to share his experience with his watching family.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened next,” Ipupiara said with a smirk in his eyes. “A few days later the whole family came toward us. ‘We saw you hugging trees for a few weeks now. Can we participate in your strange ceremony too?’ the father asked. I gladly invited them to choose a personal tree for each one of them. In the following days more people joined in until a few months later, we had a regular group of tree huggers. It was so beautiful.”
You can agree with me that Ipupiara showed courage and determination. By connecting with nature, following his heart, and feeding his soul through a simple ritual, he created a loving and supportive community of former strangers. That is why ancient shamanism is so relevant today.
SHAMANIC HEALING by Itzhak Beery Copyright © 2017 Destiny Books. Printed with permission from Inner Traditions International. For more information visit www.InnerTraditions.com.
Itzhak Beery is an internationally recognized shamanic healer and teacher. He was initiated into the Circle of 24 Yachaks by his Quechua teacher in Ecuador and into the healing tradition of his Amazonian Kanamari pagè teacher. The founder of ShamanPortal.org and cofounder of the New York Shamanic Circle, he is on the faculty of New York Open Center and Kripalu. The author of SHAMANIC TRANSFORMATIONS and THE GIFT OF SHAMANISM, he lives in New York.
Sol Luckman (cover illustrator) is a pioneering ink painter whose work has been featured on mainstream book covers and award-winning author whose books include the international bestselling CONSCIOUS HEALING and its bestselling sequel, POTENTIATE YOUR DNA. His shamanic novel, SNOOZE: A STORY OF AWAKENING, winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Award for New Age Fiction, is the coming-of-age tale of one extraordinary boy’s awakening to the world-changing reality of his dreams. Sol’s latest book, THE ANGEL’S DICTIONARY: A SPIRITED GLOSSARY FOR THE LITTLE DEVIL IN YOU, winner of the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award for Humor, reinvigorates satire to prove that—though we might not be able to change the world—we can at least have a good laugh at it. Then again, maybe laughter can transform the world!