What Core Shamanism Has Given Me

By Timothy Flynn

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Last night I sat down to update a very special essay. Adding to this document has become more onerous with each passing year. It is an ode to my friends who have died too young, taking their own lives intentionally or through drug and alcohol abuse. For many, midlife seems to be the tipping point, some others never made it past their twenties.

My most recent entry was an ex-girlfriend from high school and college. A mother and vital member of her community, she apparently chose to end her life after a battle with addiction. She is the sixth such death from the close circle of friends of my youth. Each person’s story is of course unique, each person was struggling with their own sorrows.

Perhaps the high number of these kinds of deaths is due to the unique circumstances of my life. Perhaps I just gravitated toward sensitive, troubled peers. I may never know, and in the end does it really matter? Something is amiss and healing is needed. The specific cause for each person wounds may never be known, it’s the healing that is important.

This morning I got up at dawn for my daily spiritual practice. It has developed from a variety sources including dance, meditation and martial arts. Its taproot is the shamanic journey as taught by The Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS). I may not journey every morning, or even every week, but my relationship to non-ordinary reality, as communicated by the FSS in a broad set of teachings, nourishes my practice.

In the grayness of this cloudy dawn, the spirits instructed me to remember the fullness of my relationships with those who have died, drawing on the strength of our youth and the community we made up for a time. They helped me to avoid getting mired in sorrow or self pity and gave me a respectful means to support those I love who have died in this way. Inevitably I took time to reflect on a topic that seems endemic to the human condition "why them and not me?" I don't know if it actually saved my life, but I credit core shamanism with moving me out of the trauma of my youth and into the fulfilling adult life I have today.

It’s easy for me to forget how much I've gained from the FSS work. I'm often more interested in applying what I've learned than I am in reflecting upon how I've grown personally. The excitement many of us feel about our own potential as shamanic practitioners is a testament to the integrity with which the FSS teaches.

I arrived at the Foundation’s metaphorical doorstep both as a client much in need of healing and as a spiritual seeker. Perhaps it is this combination that results in so many passionate practitioners of core shamanism - we receive healing and simultaneously we arrive at a seminal point in our spiritual quests. As I remember those of my peers who have died by their own hand, I see the most sensitive and brightest ones amongst us. These are the natural born healers, buckling beneath the weight of their own suffering. They were not as lucky as I to find healing at a young age.

Could they have become successful shamanic practitioners? Who can say? I know many of them struggled with profound questions. Though they would likely not have described themselves as religious or even spiritual, they were all yearning deeply for something profound: a tangible path to the sacred.

That may sound like a leap to some, but having been close to them and having witnessed many of them struggle, I feel they yearned for a way to bring their suffering into a context in which healing could occur at a level that was soul deep. That kind of healing can only happen in a world that is both numinous and immanent. That is a world in which the presence of the sacred is available for intimate contact.

We are in need of a means of accessing the sacred that is neither trapped in a religion, nor cut of from its trasformative power. We have needed this for many generations. Perhaps others have found this resource elsewhere. I have not, nor have many of my contemporaries. Indeed much of my early searching through meditation assumed a shamanic worldview, though did not express it. The original practitioners of Zen meditation grew up in a world animated by spirits. Their context was different. Somehow I feel my own meditation lacked power in part because I had not first established a deep relationship with the sacredness of life.

I may return to meditation as the heart of my practice. I may find solace in a religion or a community of spiritual seekers who share my values and desires. But all of that work will happen within a sacred worldview because of the work of Michael Harner and the FSS. Remembering that world – “re-membering” my relationship to that world is a lifelong practice that will likely sustain me through more difficult times to come. The FSS has given me all of that.

One wonders what our culture would look like if shamanic practitioners were as well known and prevalent as therapists or physicians. We may not have been able to save the lives of all of my deceased friends, but I feel confident we could have saved most. That may be a bold statement, but it is this kind of boldness that my peers and many others in our culture need.

I'm sure we've all seen friends and family members who could have benefited greatly from shamanic work. Often my healing suggestions have been turned away because core shamanism is lumped together with religion or some New Age cult. If the stigmas associated with religion and spirituality were not attached to core shamanism, imagine how many more people could be helped. We must strip away the deceit that has hidden shamanic practices from our culture if we are to avoid the kinds of losses I'm seeing in my community. We must restore this natural, basic and tangible path to the sacred in our culture.

As we, the converted, make our way through our lives it is easy to be quiet about our discoveries. We don't want to be presumptive or unethical in sharing what we've learned. Beyond the healings we have received and have given there is, however, a greater message to be understood and transmitted: We all have, through our own practice or the help of a shamanic practitioner, the ability to recognize and begin to live in the sacredness of life. It takes no religious commitment or any equipment other than the faculties we were born with. As people who have been empowered with that knowledge, I believe we have a responsibility to communicate it to others.

My relationships with these people have not ended with their deaths, only changed. The death of friends and loved ones changes dramatically when viewed from a shamanic perspective. The sense of generational healing, of addressing the malaise of a culture robbed of its shamanic traditions, becomes inescapable. Indeed, the past itself becomes available to healing as the compassionate helping spirits are not bound by time and space.

Let us make certain our voices echo this work across the generations, reaching out with the spirits to help alleviate the suffering in our world, but also talking about the bigger gift it has imparted to many of us. This work is an invitation to the sacred that must be passed on once it has been fully received.

I will probably continue to chronicle the loss of my friends, as we all chronicle these and other losses within our hearts. Reading these losses to a world that is sacred and filled with infinite possibilities makes it a burden I think I can bear. Without our connection to the sacred, who among us could stand such sorrows?

Timothy Flynn is a shamanic practitioner and database expert from Royal Oaks, California. He is a graduate of the Foundation's Three Year Program in Advanced Initiations in Shamanism and Shamanic Healing and the Two Week Shamanic Healing Intensive.