When most people think of a shaman, there’s a clear image that comes to mind: someone wearing a feathered headdress, burning palo santo, chanting rhythmically and beating a drum.
While some shamans do fit this description, dressing in native garb and performing traditional rituals doesn’t really make you a shaman — and neither does traveling to the Amazon and drinking ayahuasca. Shamanism is about something much more profound at the heart of these rituals.
For thousands of years, shamans have acted as guides for the healing and spiritual lives of their communities. Many forms of shamanism have developed as each culture created its own system for relating to the forces of nature. What unites these different types of shamanism is the quest for our true inner nature — our connection to the nature that lives around and within us. The very heart of shamanism is, and has always been, this journey to access this power with ourselves.
Shamanism is often called the world’s oldest religion, but it is also science. It’s the study of our inner nature. This ancestral science explores the connection between human beings and their environment, developing human consciousness in order to achieve greater harmony between the individual and the natural world. Shamanism sees man as an integral part of the web of life, and in the symbiosis between person and nature, the shaman activates an innate intelligence that allows one’s inner nature to be developed and enhanced.
The shaman himself is a sort of guide. Shamans don’t just reside in this world, they journey between the human world, the world of nature, and the spirit world. Through the use of techniques like drumming, sacred plants, chanting and dream-states, the shaman accesses states of consciousness through which he can communicate with different dimensions of being and channel their energies back into the human world.
Today, we face the challenge of finding new ways to relate to nature. As modern people, we must apply our ancestral knowledge of nature within the context of a world of technology, increasing speed of life, rapid change and globalization. The way we live our lives today has left many people feeling disconnected from nature. We’ve forgotten that human beings are an integral part of nature, inseparable from the web of life. This is a great loss, for when we fail to develop our relationship with nature, we are not able to fully develop as human beings.
This is probably why so many of us today feel drawn to shamanism. The calling to know nature within oneself is turning more and more people to the wisdom of this ancestral science, and shamanism seems to be everywhere now. Thousands of plant medicine ceremonies take place every week in cities like New York and Los Angeles, ayahuasca tourism has become a thriving industry in South America, and shamanic journeying techniques have become incorporated into many different contemporary healing practices. It’s not difficult to see why. We need shamanism. The shamanic knowledge of our ancestors offers uniquely important guidance for facing the challenges of modern life and reestablishing our relationship with nature.
But in our exploration of these ancient practices, we also need to acknowledge that the circumstances of our lives are very different from the natives of the Amazon. In my own training to become a shaman, I studied for 15 years with tribes in the Amazon, where I was initiated into the indigenous medicine traditions. The shamanism I practice today, however, is very different from what I learned in the jungle. Why? Because the rituals of an indigenous shaman are designed for his people and his environment, and the practices I use are designed for people living in cities, running businesses and interacting with technology. To generate an impact on an everyday, material level, I’ve chosen to use language that’s practical, not mystical. I believe that shamanism should help people to live more deeply in the world they’re in, rather than act as an escape to a different time and culture.
Each one of us can develop our own personal form of shamanism. The first step in developing your own shamanicpractice is to recognize that you are more than just the rational mind. The shaman operates from the intellect, but he can also operate from other levels of consciousness that possess their own wisdom and intelligence. Whatever connects you with your innermost nature is a sort of shamanism. Although you can take a break from your current life to meditate or do any other spiritual practice, the simple exercise of your own work can also become a shamanic practice. This is up to you to realize what is your ‘medicine’ and how you can bring that to the world. Maybe your art, your communication skills, even your business can be your medicine as an expression of your sacred power – a way to connect you with your true nature, touching and improving other people’s lives. This sacred power jut manifest in the present, it doesn’t come from the intellect, but from the body.
From there, you will begin to rediscover your body as a part of nature. Remember: you are not your mind. The body is nature, and you are nature. There is a place within every human being where we and nature are interconnected: this is where the shaman resides. No matter how disconnected from the natural world we might feel, we can all come home to this place within.