Singing to the Choir

I had an experience this weekend, which I suspect that I inflict on others all the time: treating my personal perspectives as if they are universal.

I participated in a 14 hour workshop this weekend, offered free of charge, by two shamans who are teachers with The Four Winds Society, an organization founded by Dr. Alberto Villoldo. Dr. Alberto worked in western medicine, and then spent decades living in jungles where he encountered shamanic knowledge about nature, life and death, and the destiny of human beings. Now he is sharing this ancient knowledge (50,000 years old!) with our western world.

It’s clear, just listening to him speak, that his knowledge was acquired out of deep experience, and that this experience allows him to now speak to others in a way that inspires them to embark on their own paths. But most of us can’t just pick up a book or attend a class and be inspired to leave behind all our skepticism, our lifelong accumulation of favorite beliefs, and our backpacks full of heavy stones. It takes a readiness to change before the right catalyst can open a door in us—as if we had found a key by the wayside and only then realize we have been standing before a locked door all our lives.

This weekend I got to see how I respond to ancient teachings—even when I have no doubt that they flow through veins of vital understanding of what it means to be a human being. My response was tentative, like an animal that isn’t quite hungry and cold enough to approach the campfire. I could sense that I was on the edge of a congregation of fellow listeners (as many as 3,000 participants may have logged in to this online introduction to Shamanic training). It was clear from comments racing past in the chat box at the speed of thought) that much of the content was addressed to those who had heard it before. For me there were parts that felt like I had wandered into an advanced class on how to maintain your car when I had scarcely ever opened the hood of mine. It was clear than many commenting in the chat box are themselves engaged in training to become Shamans.

A point of contact for me was that our human heart was treated as the central chakra; both during this life and as the portal for those who have passed on but need a shaman’s help to relinquish lingering ties to their familiar lifetime.

Some parts of the presentation felt like being at a Catholic service and hearing that a cracker is the body of Christ and the wine his blood. (As someone who has not immersed themselves in that way of looking, those symbols lack the power to move me.)

So there I was, watching my computer screen for 14 hours this past weekend, unable to speak, or make up for my lack of preparation; but I could feel the truth of a perspective other than my own trying to influence me.

There were some points of contact that touched me more deeply, like a song in a foreign language can stir us but then have no way to lodge among the familiar themes already cycling within us.

The main teacher (Karen Johnson) lost her son five years ago to a heroin overdose. Like my son, Jon, he was 27 years old and—without dramatizing it in the least—she shared that she had given up a lifetime appointment as a federal judge and embarked on years travelling in difficult places across the globe, eventually discovering that she was already embarked on the path of a shaman herself.

I feel that having begun to be aware of my own body centers, I am taking baby steps towards a world view in which energy centers are fundamental and embodied life is just one dimension in a larger cosmology of being.

But an abiding question remains: how do I step into visualizations and become open to a new vision, which might reverberate, animate, and support me if I allowed it to?

It seems that—when I try to step outside my familiar ideas and practices— everything new shows up as visualization. I guess that’s not surprising. What other faculty do I have available than a capacity to imagine alternatives to the world view that settled into place years ago?

I just hope that something new and unexpected can awaken my heart (which in all systems of faith is the doorway to spiritual awakening); so that fresh visualizations can inspire my thinking mind to learn and to grow. Like Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, who weaves by day and unravels by night, may I also keep alive a vision of the future whose threads are hope and an awakening loyalty to the voices of my heart.

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