DEVELOPING A SHAMANIC PRACTICE

ALTHOUGH JOURNEYING TO MEET WITH OUR helping spirits is a keystone of shamanic practice, it is certainly not the only component.

The journeys themselves are extremely important, but equally important is the integration process.

Integration refers to the way in which we bring the lessons of Shamanism into our daily lives.

This process involves both acting upon the knowledge we receive from our helping spirits and moving through our lives in a more intentional way.

We have to make a conscious decision to allow the sacred to permeate our lives.

A young man approached me after a shamanic workshop to ask for advice.

He told me that he was regularly immersing himself in ceremony but still finding himself disconnected from nature and spirit in his daily life.

He had dedicated ceremony days where he would cleanse his space, set up his altar, honor the directions, and then spend time in sacred space connecting with spirits and working on healing.

But outside of these dedicated ceremony days, he was feeling disconnected from his spiritual work.

As we talked further, he explained that he kept a rather strict separation between his spiritual work and his mundane life, due to the nature of his profession.

My suggestion was to reframe the way he saw the split between the sacred and the mundane and to find ways to see the sacred in the everyday, both inside and outside of ceremony.

If we can understand that we carry the sacred with us always, we can realize our connection to spirit is constant, even when we are not engaging in elaborate rituals.

Ceremony is more than just specific rituals, and if you allow it to, it can become a way of life.

As we begin to see the sacred in the everyday, we can begin to realize that all aspects of life are also sacred.

Even the simplest, most mundane act can be sacred if performed with the right intent.

This young man had two issues stemming from his situation: maintaining privacy and performing integration.

In reality, these two concepts do not have to be at odds.

Integration is the process of bringing the lessons of our spiritual work into our mundane lives.

This is a constant, ongoing process that we will continually undertake throughout our lives, because it is never complete.

However, it is essential because spiritual and emotional shifts do not result in a changed life if we do not bring those lessons into the mundane realm.

When we are able to see the sacred in all aspects of our lives, we will find ourselves moving through the world with more care, gratitude, and intent.

This is the beginning and basis of creating a shamanic practice.

There are many behaviors we engage in without realizing how meaningful they really are.

The most obvious example of this is in the way we use our voices.

Our voices are our most basic ceremonial tool, holding the power to shape our lives.

At the very least, we should be mindful of our words so that we are not putting energies into motion that we do not intend to.

The power of words is such a widespread metaphysical concept that it is seen in practices across the world.

For example, in Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, language holds the power of creation.

Reality is created through words. Whenever we write or speak, we are in relationship with the element of air.

Our helping spirits pay attention to what we say, so it behooves us to use discernment and be intentional.

Another behavior I would like to discuss is the smoking of tobacco, because it is such a common Western habit.

Mainstream tobacco smoking has long been disconnected from its ancient ceremonial origins. Commercial cigarettes, with all their additives, are a far cry from the pure tobacco leaves smoked by indigenous groups in a ritual setting.

However, tobacco is still present in the mainstream and it is being used casually.

In many Native American and indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, tobacco is considered sacred.

More specifically, it is believed that when one smokes tobacco, the spirits come to listen to our thoughts and words, considering them prayers.

If we are not intentional in how we are engaging in that behavior, we may find our unintentional or unwanted prayers answered.

For those who choose to smoke cigarettes, I suggest becoming aware of the thoughts and words you are projecting while engaging in that behavior.

I often think of the people I see standing outside on work breaks, complaining about their lives as they smoke.

Are those really the messages anyone wants to be sending to spirit? For those of us who do not smoke, if we choose to incorporate tobacco into our ceremonies, we can do this by burning pure tobacco leaves in a fire-safe dish.

As you burn these herbs, choose your words carefully and ask the spirits to listen to your requests.

There are many more behaviors we could discuss in specificity, but instead, I will leave you with the overall advice of being more thoughtful in all areas of your life.

Pay attention to the behaviors you engage in, and analyze the messages you might be unintentionally sending to your helping spirits.

The way you care for your body, the way you eat, and how you interact with those around you are all part of your ceremonial work.

The more energy you spend on something, the more you indicate to your helping spirits that this is what you hope to attract.

We must also learn to center our practices within the context of our lives.

This does not refer only to our spiritual and emotional lives, but also the literal environment we work and live in.

While teaching a workshop in Brooklyn, New York, I was explaining to the group of students that we start our journeys by envisioning ourselves in a meaningful place in nature.

A couple of folks raised their hands, concerned they would not be able to journey, because the landscape they were familiar with was extremely urban.

One woman asked if the size of her spot in nature mattered, because her special place was very small, as tends to happen in dense urban areas. Environmental issues aside (for now), the size of a natural space is not an impediment to a shamanic journey or practice.

Every place in our world needs healing, and arguably urban centers need it most of all.

Despite the lack of green space, urban centers still have helping spirits, many of whom are working hard to heal the land from the loss of the landscape and creatures that used to be there.

The spirits of a place also take on the load of helping those who inhabit it, so the denser the urban center, the heavier the load these helping spirits have to bear.

If you live in one of these places, I urge you to work on understanding what it means to do shamanic work within that context, and to extend your practice to the land and space around you, which we will discuss in greater depth later in this book.

As we start to reframe the way we look at and move through the world, we must continue to work on ourselves.

Once of the most important lessons in living intentionally is learning to manage our ego.

As we each work on tempering our ego, we also have to tackle the concept of power.

One of the goals of shamanic practice is to increase our personal power.

However—and this is a very important aside—the goal of power within Shamanism is not to have power over others.

When we speak of power, we speak of personal sovereignty.

The term sovereignty usually refers to a political state’s ability to govern itself.

Within the context of spiritual work, it refers to our power over ourselves.

One of my teachers would always start ceremony by stating, “I am sovereign in this space.

We are sovereign in this space.” Through Shamanism, we learn how to take control of our bodies, minds, and lives, and how to wear our metaphorical crowns.

When we evaluate our growth, the benchmarks lie completely within ourselves.

We should not be comparing ourselves to others, or trying to gain power over others.

As shamanic practitioners we must also learn the lesson of personal responsibility.

As we start to understand that we co-create our realities, there must be an accompanying understanding of responsibility.

This means being discerning and intentional in our actions, and a willingness to face consequences.

We also cannot continue to blame others for our experiences.

We will never be able to control the behaviors of others, and it is inevitable that we will suffer trauma at the hands of others.

However, we are responsible for how we react to these events and how we let them impact our paths.

This does not mean we should deny our feelings in these circumstances.

There is power in our emotions, and trauma is one of our most powerful teachers, which we will discuss later in this book.

That said, we must learn how to process and integrate trauma in productive ways.

We can always turn to our helping spirits in these moments.

There is one last concept that is absolutely crucial to shamanic practice: gratitude.

We must come to understand that everything the earth provides us is a gift, and to express our gratitude for it.

Our shamanic work should never be approached with an attitude of entitlement.

We should never believe that we are owed anything by the earth, by nature, or by our helping spirits.

Everything they provide us is something to be profoundly thankful for; and the more we understand this, the more we can start seeing the abundance in our lives.

As you develop your shamanic practice and engage with your helping spirits, always thank them for the medicine they are sharing with you.

Ultimately, the most important element of your shamanic practice is what you bring to it.

Whatever form of ceremony you choose, you must come to it with the determination to allow change within yourself.

The point of all the ritual work we do is to uncover our own depths and transform. Without this willingness, there is little purpose to engaging with our own psychological and emotional baggage