Rapid-fire information floods our minds. We strive to complete goals and acquire knowledge. We tick off things from our endless lists of things to do. This is life in America at this time.
It is no wonder that we are all seeking ways to take the ‘short cut’ through life experience. After all, speed is highly valued and rewarded.
In shamanism this American valuing of the ‘fast track’ plays out in a variety of ways. For example, some people pursuing mastery choose to pursue a few weeks or months of training with South American shamans, taking a fast track. The excitement and anticipation of ingesting the mind-altering plants native to these lands, is second only to the misconception that this is the express train to becoming a shaman. If you live in South America, the use of mind altering drugs would be considered a part of the initiatory introduction to the life of the Shaman. But we don’t live in South America.
And what we may miss knowing (as we fly in for a workshop) is that the indigenous peoples of these cultures have expectations of the shaman’s role which are quite different than ours, and their apprentices spend years working with a true Shaman before being considered someone who is even moderately capable of caring for the spiritual life of a community. Though there may be tremendous benefit to spending some time with our indigenous neighbors in South America, it may not provide the depth required to be an effective practitioner in our very different and modern North American culture.
We know that spiritual mastery is not a quick fix – our histories show us that spiritual mastery can take decades, if not a lifetime—or lifetimes. True, souls are born showing talents such as a predisposition to ‘know’ or have enlightening experiences, but these talents do not define mastery. Like a child born with perfect pitch, they still need classic music training in order for their gift to blossom.
In our modern-day spiritual practice, we are confronted with the complexities of modern life in the United States. A Shaman not only attends to the spirit of the person, but also to adjusting the spirit to its community and culture. Dis-ease within or without can benefit from Shamanic assistance.
We must be comfortable and capable of being the practitioner for whoever shows up seeking our assistance. Unlike our ancestors, our modern culture is highly sophisticated in matters of the mind and emotions. We are confronted with clients who want to be ‘met’ where they are…wherever that may be.
We shamanic practitioners here in America have to do our own deep inner work in order to be able and willing to step out of the way, suspending judgment, releasing our own fears and thoughts, and our own childhood and life traumas and dramas, to be 100% present for the person who has sought our help. Training in appropriate boundaries in relationship with clients, for instance, is essential to creating a space of safety which in turn enables healing to happen.
Going back to the concept of fast track, to folks who want to fly instead of drive into the role of the shaman - flying is fun, yes. It takes us to our destination quickly. However, when we drive instead of fly we experience the bumps and potholes in the road. We may get lost for periods of time and have to work our way back on track. We smell the air, feel the earth, and (hopefully) experience the depth of life in the humans and all beings along the way. It takes us a great deal longer to ‘arrive’ at our destination, yet the riches, experiences, and knowledge gathered through the longer journey cannot be compared to the swiftness of arriving quickly—and with potential spiritual jet lag.
I use these metaphors to help demonstrate the importance of not taking short cuts in our spiritual development. Shamans in indigenous cultures apprenticed for many years before being trusted with even minor responsibilities in ceremony and healings.
Yet, somehow, despite the fact that we live in a world with multiple modern-life distractions, we have the misconceived belief that we can, and should, get this spiritual initiation and apprenticing done fast so we can get on with our lives and our work as a shaman.
In my own training studying with highly respected shamans they repeatedly stressed that ego is an aspect of our humanness that does not relinquish control easily or quickly. We must practice and practice and practice to truly become the hollow bone. There is no short cut on this path. You have to walk it or drive it; you cannot fly through it.
Those of us who are called to this path as shamanic practitioners should not expect to “become” instantly. We need to experience the many bumps in the road, getting lost, getting back on track, smelling the richness of the journey and stepping into the fear and anguish, finding and working with our shadow, and then again finding the release, the joy, and the fullness of life on this path. There is no quick flight path to deep experience.
We must do this multiple times to be honed, polished and refined in order to become, even in some small measure, the practitioner that the people of these modern times need and deserve…practitioners with depth of experience from their own spiritual path and initiatory experiences and whose love and compassion coupled with personal commitment and training make it possible for them to be the hollow bone. We can expect this will take many, years or even decades.