Evelyn C. Rysdyk, author of the book, Modern Shamanic Living, is a Teacher of Shamanism, healer & artist in joint practice with C. Allie Knowlton, LCSW, DCSW as Spirit Passages. Since 1991, Spirit Passages has offered workshops across the US and Canada including the world's only graduate level training in advanced experiential shamanism. In addition, they have worked with hundreds of people in their private shamanic healing practice at True North in Falmouth, Maine. Featured in the book, Traveling Between the Worlds, interviews with 24 of the world's most influential writers and teachers of shamanism.
It has always interested me that people around the United States and Canada continue to sit in the presence of and learn from indigenous shamans. Being no exception, I too, have studied with teachers from various tribal traditions. Certainly, the rituals of indigenous peoples hold fascination for students of shamanism but I wondered what is it about these people and/or their practices that were so enticing to Western students?
In my own experience, when one knows and uses the shamanic journey process and has a daily spiritual practice, the interactions with tribal shamans simply provide confirmation of what we may have already learned from direct contact with our own spirit teachers. Yet, nearly universally, western shamanic practitioners continue to long for the presence of indigenous men and women with a deep sense that these individuals have something genuinely important and even necessary to share with us.
Even the indigenous teachers themselves have a powerful drive to connect with the people of North America. This lead me to ask simply, what is the nature of this mutual attraction?
According to our friend Fredy "Puma" Quispe Singona, an indigenous teacher from Peru, he and others are drawn to the shores of North America to teach for several reasons. As his people and the rest of the world, seek subto emulate our culture-the very wisdom he is teaching will soon be lost in his own country. In a recent gathering, he tearfully described how the ancient practices of making offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) are being forgotten. Some of the men who farm the land no longer enter the fields with reverence. In the past, like a lover asking permission to enter his partner's body prior to intercourse, a man would make an offering of gratitude to the Earth before breaking her surface with a plow. Now his people have begun to act without the consciousness of the earth as a living being. In an emulation of our North American way, Puma's people have begun using chemical fertilizers and have started a degradation of the land's ultimate ongoing fertility even as here we are relearning to farm organically. If we look around us, the entire developing world is engaged in a wholesale destruction of the environment through enacting behaviors and methods learned from our culture-even as there is a tide of environmentalism and respect for the Earth growing in this hemisphere. As a society, we believed the illusion that because we had abilities to shape our environment, we had the right to wield our "superiority" over other forms of life. Having forgotten our place in the larger scheme we now find ourselves falling victim to the resulting destruction of our global environment.
So, Puma teaches here in North America because he believes in his heart that he is planting the seeds of wisdom that the world will later reclaim as a part of its emulation of our culture! He said this place is a kind of power center which draws the attention of the world's people. Therefore, by making conscious, positive choices we have the capacity to become a power center for holistic spiritual knowledge and wisdom as well. We have the power by living a more connected, spiritually aware and heart-centered existence to change the world for the better. This is an enormous responsibility and challenge.
Shamanic spirituality has always been intimately connected to survival. At its origins with our hunter/gatherer ancestors, a shaman's work was based on helping his/her tribal group successfully negotiate a healthy path through the perils of both the seen and unseen worlds. Whether it was locating the migrating herds of animals on which the people depended for sustenance or tending to the sick with songs and medicinal plants, the shaman's success has always been measured by their people's ability to survive and thrive.
For most of us in the Westernized world, we no longer worry about finding food or mending a broken bone, yet the business of survival still requires our attention. When we stepped out of the hunter/gatherer model of societal organization and embraced agriculture, we attempted something no other species had done before. We used our abilities to change the face of the land and control the fate of other creatures. And we have seen how this long chain of choices has created immense global difficulty. The survival of our species now depends on our ability to accept the responsibility for our choices. We need to remember the splendor of Nature and our place within it. While it is not possible to reclaim our ancient lifestyle, it is possible to reclaim the understanding we once held about the precious nature of all beings. Healing the wounded Earth is clearly only possible by us, on this continent, choosing to follow a healing path.
As I mused about this further, my thoughts jumped to thinking about the population of our country. Who are we? People with roots that extend all around the world live in the United States. We come from many different places, Scandinavia, the Middle East, West Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Pacific Islands to name just a very few. Yet in spite of our varied origins, each and every one of us shares an important trait. Whether our ancestors came here by free choice, because of famine, to find new lands, at the hand of brutal slavers, as refugees from war, or as literal outcasts from our homelands- everyone of us is either a displaced person ourselves or the descendent of a displaced person! Even the original settlers of this continent were moved to reservations by sub-sequent migrations of people from Europe.
As I initially proposed in my book, Modern Shamanic Living, some of this displacement clearly has its roots back in the time when we humans changed our ways of being from hunting and gathering to farming and herding. At that juncture, we separated ourselves out as "masters" of other species and began a long journey of displacement and separation that has culminated in our current, tenuous state of being. Perhaps the root of our inner and cultural angst is that we are individually and collectively longing for Home.
Upon having that awareness, I grabbed my dictionary and let one definition take me to the next one in a stream of consciousness. Here is what I discovered. My comments are in parenthesis.
wild adj. 1. Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed
indigenous adj. 1. Occurring or living naturally in a particular environment; native.
2. Intrinsic; innate
environment n. 1. The circumstances or conditions that surround one; surroundings.
2. The total of circumstances surrounding an organism or group of of organisms, esp. a. The combination of external or extrinsic physical conditions that affect and influence development of organisms. b. The complex of social and cultural conditions affecting the nature of an individual or community
displaced person n. 1. A person that has been driven from his/her homeland (or connection with his or her's environment) by war.
war n. 2. A condition of active antagonism or contention (perhaps even with the environment itself)
antagonize v. 2. To counteract ( to act in ways that counteract the natural rhythms and processes of our environment)
From this examination of words and meanings my mind extrapolated a few simple propositions. Firstly, that we as a people are a collective of displaced persons in contention with our environment. Yet, even as we are in contention with our environment as a whole, we also are touched by a deeper and more profound longing for Home. And the home we ultimately long for isn't Norway, Somalia, Ireland, India, or Peru. No, I believe the longing we feel is directly connected to the more ancient longing for our reconnection to the living Earth and all her creatures.
No matter what continent they may have arose upon, our ancestors were once indigenous people. As such, they held and believed in the same profound wisdom that tribal people still hold-that is that every plant, bird, animal and insect is an member of a larger family of Life of which human beings are also a part. It is ironic that the cutting edge of science-the Human Genome Project has proven what each of our ancestors already knew. That is, that the entire ecosystem -every living being-is a part of who we are. The DNA we have inside of every one of our cells carries a library of the entire biosphere. In other words, the phrase used by the original Americans-All My Relations-is quite apt. The myriad of beings around us are part of us and we are part of them and yet most of us have only a vague, intellectual understanding of this awe-inspiring truth.
I believe the greatest challenge we face, and indeed the responsibility we carry is to relearn, remember and renew our connections to the larger ecosystem-All That Is. Future generations depend on us stepping back into context with the beings around us and regaining the ancient paradigm of being wise and loving stewards of our Earth. Simply put, we need to be reunited with the rest of our family.
Our souls long to be in, what Dr. David Reilly, the lead physician of Glasgow's homeopathic hospital refers to as, "Reverent Participatory Relationship." with all beings and the very Earth herself. Fortunately, it is also something that most everyone can bring into his or her life quite easily. You can begin by making small steps, to reintroduce yourself to the creatures, plants, elements, and natural places right around your home. All that you need to begin is a natural curiosity, a desire to live a more integrated existence with the spirits of the natural world around your home and/or office and a field guide or two. Begin noticing things like the phases of the moon,what birds come to your feeder, in which direction the weather and winds enter your space and which of your trees buds first in the Spring. These tiny actions can truly begin to bring you a sense of really being "at home" in your world.
Many scholars believe that there is an intrinsic human desire for magic-the sense of awe and mystery about the world-deeply embedded in our consciousness. Maybe that is the powerful impetus that has driven the exhaustive explorations of our planet and beyond. We long for true wonder and when one wonder loses its appeal we search out another. Perhaps this longing, is a hunger for the ancient ways of perceiving the world and her creatures. That could certainly explain the fascination that many hundreds of thousands of people feel about Earth-centered spirituality and for the healing rituals of the cultures that still retain these perceptions. Many of these same people are also deeply involved with environmental causes and movements for social change. Their passions are fueled by the understanding of our interconnection and interdependence on each other and other species. And the more deeply a person explores these especially delicate interconnections- the strands that create the fabric of life on Earth-the more awestruck and humble to magic we become. Our ultimate survival as a species hangs on such slender threads however these threads may still yet weave us a future that can be something splendid indeed.
Learning the names and habits of the beings that share the land around your home or office may be viewed like the steps we weave with another human being during courtship. If, in fact, you choose to enter into this adventure with the mind set of someone wanting to fall in love, I believe that the rewards can be profound. Imagine how different your world could become if people began to live from a deep, heartfelt relationship with the larger environment. Imagine a time when people no longer feel an isolated and anguished longing for Home. Such a wonderful possibility is indeed within our reach. It is possible to reclaim the magical connections that our different peoples lost along the way to the twenty-first century and that the Earth, herself, awaits the outcome of this pursuit. And the spirits of the natural world who are persistent in their willingness to stand beside us, are whispering their encouragement.