Sober Shamanism

It’s easy to think that shamanism is somehow about this wild and untamed, unkempt and estatic/hallucinagenic aspect of our human nature. When in fact shamanism is more about how we connect, communicate, and understand the mystery of the cosmos and the phenomena of the world around us. And that requires an embodied state of awareness. Be here now. Be aware. Be awake. Be in the unfolding present moment of the magic that is the gift of your physical life here on the planet. Almost all shamanic training ( I am referring to my training) focuses on not running but facing shadows, fears, emotions, inadequacies, all in the context of navigating this complex tricky world. Finding connections and doorways in order to find a state of belonging and purpose.

The world we live is full of magic… not just the magic of ideas and dreams but the crazy beautiful, elegance of stuff and substance… the tiny particles that dance and attract to make trees and sunlight. This physical expression of mystery and the desire to create itself drives this world and the larger cosmos forward.

On this planet we humans engage in the tasks of survival and evolution. Our success can be seen in the adaptation to a wide spectrum of climates, geographical locations and dietary patterns. One example of this is the human desire to articulate ideas and concepts which became the 7,000 plus languages that now are spoken across the globe. We can also see this in the diversity of arts, traditional clothing, folklore/mythologies, spirituality and social structures.

This planet evolves as it adjusts to the constant growth and destruction of its physical dynamics. Human evolutionary ecology has interfaced with this process. Forcing the early hominids to evolve in response to change which in turn pushed the physiology to grow a bigger frontal cortex in the brain. That in turn allowed for more complex processing of the environment and the synthesis of ideas. Problem solving became more nuanced and the journey to discover new technologies to improve life began. The desire to know and understand branches out in many directions: science, medicine, arts, agriculture, design, etc….

Life is not for the faint at heart… life requires the will to live in it.

Shamanism in it’s simplicity is the recognition of something called “anima” the spirit in all things. This anima can be addressed, communicated and negotiated with to create a more symbiotic relationship between all living things. It has been hypothesized this this is the earliest form of religious or spiritual ideas. The diversity of geography and social/cultural values and the needs to create a sustainable relationship to the environment further modifies the symbols and processes used to affect the awareness of anima and it’s relationship to a given group of people. That is why what we call Shamanism looks as diverse in the expression and the experience it offers all over the planet.

Over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a strong trend to narrow the definition of shamanism and its diversity to the use of psychoactive plants. Not only does this hurt traditions and practices it opens the door to a complete misunderstanding of how shamanism works.

These traditions of these plants and their use were regulated in their respective traditions by medicine people/healers who understood the importance of the plant and it’s potential to shift someone’s perception of the world to awaken greater understanding of consciousness/connection. Under the right circumstances these plants are affective in that capacity. Out of context and traditional use these plants and traditions become vulnerable to exploitation and for some species of plants eradication through over harvest and use.

Unfortunately, most people are only presented with the concept that shamanism is the use of hallucinations and psychoactive botanicals as the primary means to engage with the mystery or find meaning in the world. I had a teacher early on my training who basically said there are no short cuts… You train your mind. You practice. It’s not about having a drug induced experience it is about having an embodied experience. I have been grateful for those wise words because practice gives you the ability to develop skills to navigate inner awareness and responses to the environment you live in. For me that has opened the world to me in ways I never could have imaged.

There is risk and a danger especially in the environment of a more privileged society that is seeking spiritual identity to abuse these traditions and plants for selfish misguide experiences. This falls under the guise today of spiritual awakening. When in fact it is more in alignment with spirtual by- pass and recreational use… embodied as a sort of ethno spirtual tourism experience. People are encouraged to travel all over to the world to have an experience to add to their life list. Without considering the consequences or impacts on the people who hold these traditions, the economic, social and environments. The lack of suport to manage these plant medicines can lead to addictions to these plants in order to try and further sort out the experience. There is also a “black market” of groups and professed healers who promote and promise magical results from the plants here in the states. This has it own ecology of risk and danger.

I titled this blog “Sober Shamanism” to begin a dialogue about the direction that this ideology has taken. I have witnessed the abuse of these plants and the dark climate it is creating to divert the traditions of shamanism towards something it is not. I fully believe the world needs shamans as seers, scientists, artists and societal healers and commentators. To do that the path for education in this work has to be grounded in the practices and traditions that are sustainable. Their is a responsible sobriety that needs to be part of the evolution of shamanism in remaining relevant and an insightful contributor to the earth and where are going with humanity.


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