Shamanism is a word adapted from the Tungus culture, referring to the practice of accessing energetic and non-physical realms for the benefit of individual and community healing. Most people relate it to indigenous cultures. What if I proposed that there is a shamanistic practice natural to western industrialized civilization?
I’ve trained traditionally with Native American teachers for over 35 years. Yet as a westerner, I have always felt that I needed to find and embrace my own shamanistic traditions. Psychological Shamanism is a mystical practice that includes scientific knowledge, especially as it relates to brain function.
My Mescalero Apache Medicine teacher and adopted father taught me how to use crystals, rocks, and feathers as tools for transforming energy in the physical world. There are many cultures that use plants and animals to help connect with mystical realms. Grey Antelope, a Pueblo Medicine Man, used songs for shamanic communication. Once, when he visited me, I took him to the Pacific Ocean. He started singing as we approached the waves. I looked out across the ocean and saw something that looked like a gigantic snake going up and down. I squinted at the creature I had only seen before in fantasies, then turned to stare at Grey Antelope. He nodded and grinned as he kept singing. He sang in his native Tewa and the only word I could consciously understand was “Sea Serpent.”
So what are the tools inherent in western shamanism? European civilizations tend to explore the world through the lens of awareness and consciousness. From Descartes to Darwin, from Socrates to Freud, Western civilizations have focused on the mind as its primary tool of investigation. Like all shamanic tools the mind needs to be treated with respect and care, because it has the ability both to cause devastating destruction and to create profound innovations and enlightenment.
If the mind is the shamanic tool for Western Culture, what does that mean? It means we need to explore the capabilities of the mind. This is why the scientific explorations at IONS are vitally important. We need to understand consciousness and expand our capacities to use it for healthy relationships. Then Western European culture can develop proven methods of communicating with sea serpents and all beings on this precious planet we call home.
First, we need to know how to use our own mind, which is the basis of Psychological Shamanism. To get a sense of what I’m referring to, I invite you to try a personal experiment:
Explore How Different States of Consciousness Affect You
Here are three different states of consciousness. After experiencing each one go to Questions to Aid Awareness.
- “Negative-Consciousness” — Start with creating negative and critical judgments about yourself. Unfortunately this seems to be something Western Civilization excels at. There are so many cultural messages of “I’m not enough: smart enough, fast enough, rich enough, etc.” You can also try versions of “I’m ugly. No one likes me. I’m a failure.” Once you have created a barrage of criticisms in your mind, go down to QUESTIONS TO AID AWARENESS.
- “Positive-Consciousness” — Take several deep breaths and let go of all the past thoughts. Now bring in positive, encouraging messages. Say to yourself some version of “I am enough. I’m capable, lovable, successful, worthy, deserving.” Breath in each positive thought slowly, letting it sink into your awareness. Think of times you’ve experienced love – towards yourself or others (including animals and nature). When you have filled yourself with affirming thoughts go to QUESTIONS TO AID AWARENESS again.
- “Spiritual-Consciousness” — Build on step #2. Take all the affirmative feelings and add in spiritual awareness. Think of the amazing advances IONS has created to show the possibilities for human potential. Bring hope and wonder into your awareness. Think of a time you experienced, or imagine experiencing, a spiritual connection where the universe (by whatever names you use for the great beyond) affirms and celebrates you! It might help to think of times in nature, hearing music, meditating, or being with someone special. Breath in the deepest spiritual uplifting experience you can imagine. Feel your body expand with it then go to QUESTIONS TO AID AWARENESS again.
QUESTIONS TO AID AWARENESS: (do this step after each of the explorations above). How does your body feel now? Your stomach? Your shoulders? What’s the quality of your breathing? What emotions are you aware of? If you were to draw a picture right now what would it be like? What one or two words best fit your internal state? How creative do you feel? Rate your current stress level on a scale on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high).
Once you have a sense of your current state go back up to #2 Positive-Conscious and then #3 Spiritual-Consciousness.
What did you notice when doing the exercise? Were you able to change your consciousness by changing your thoughts? Which state of consciousness felt most familiar? Which did you like the best? Studies have found that the more positively a person is thinking the less stress they feel, the more creative they are, and the better their mind works (increased memory and cognitive functioning). There are numerous techniques for becoming aware and changing our mental patterns. What Psychological Shamanism focuses on is how to clear the mind so that you can access the mystical realm.
Some of the Core Practices of Psychological Shamanism include healing your consciousness through the “Love Fountain” (creating a deep well of self-acceptance). Healing past trauma through “Psychological Healing” (similar to physical healing). We are becoming more aware and accepting of amazing incidents where people are physically healed through prayer, meditation and mystical means. That same type of healing can be applied to psychological/emotional wounds and illness.
“Gathing” (Guided on your path) is another core principle of Psychological Shamanism. It’s a method of tuning out fear, criticisms and culturally non-affirming messages so that you can listen deeply to your intuition and follow a sense of your unique path in life. This is vitally important because everyone has a role in healing the world today. I believe it is an interweaving of all of us together that is necessary. We need to look to each other and ourselves, rather than depend only on leaders to change the world. I live by the principle that the more authentic I am, the more I encourage others to be their true amazing selves and the power ripples out into the world.
Thanks for taking the time to explore the realm of Psychological Shamanism. Western Culture has become so influential in the world that we, who are Westerners, need to embrace our own shamanistic traditions to more fully respect the mystical practices of other cultures. We especially need to bring in the spiritual to balance our technological advances. We need to add the unique abilities of Western Shamanism to the circle of mystical possibilities to create a whole and healthy world for all to enjoy.
I am working on a book on Psychological Shamanism and offering workshops at IONS EarthRise campus. The next one is February 24th where we will explore the Core Principles of Psychological Shamanism.
Jan Ögren, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist, international author and “resident shaman” at EarthRise. She has apprenticed with Native American teachers for over thirty years, learning to walk in both the “normal” world and in the mystical realms. She lives in Northern California with her partner and an annoyingly intelligent cat. For videos, books and workshops go to: www.JanOgren.net