A Shaman’s Blog
Ayahuasca – a cautionary tale
Here’s what Andrew, a client of mine, said about ayahuasca: “It was only after it got me into such a mess, that I realised that you should only ever take it if you are being supervised by a top shaman who knows how to handle it.”
But Andrew, like a lot of curious westerners, let some latter-day hippie introduce him to the drug. It wasn’t the short-term throwing-up sickness which bothered him, it was the way it knocked out his whole energy system.
I am NOT an ayahuasca shaman. That’s another tradition, far from the central Siberian one where I was an apprentice. But I have dealt with a few of its victims who have come to me for help in re-establishing their normal state of health.
There is no doubt that ayahuasca is powerful. Very powerful. But like a lot of powerful things, it can be equally powerful – and damaging – when used badly.
In Andrew’s case, his energy, which is stored in the lower stomach area, just vanished. For months. No matter what he did, he could not restore it. At the same time, he got pockets of black, negative area in his head, often moving about a lot.
Eventually, after a few sessions, he got better.
The ayahuasca made him vulnerable to attacks by any strong black energy hanging about.
It wasn’t easy getting him back to normal. Getting rid of the accumulated black energy in his body was hardest. It was relatively easy filling him up with white, positive energy, and even putting some protection round him. But the problem was making that last. The healing energy would dissipate then the protection would gradually weaken, and the negative energy would re-enter his being.
The point of Andrew’s story is not to say NEVER do this or that. But instead to say that whatever you do, if it involves altering your state of mind, or your being’s energy levels, then be very careful. Make sure you trust the competence of any practitioner.
Whether it is here in Britain, or abroad in South America, there are plenty of individuals who get access to ayahuasca and they sell it on to people who want to give it a go.
Shamanism – the origins of chi-kung
I remember while completing my apprenticeship in Tuva 2000, that it seemed to me that my fellow shamans were using energy to heal people in a similar way to the Chinese external chi-kung system.
But nobody in Tuva knew anything about it – under that name. There was no
reason why they should have. They were doing something their own way, employing a method which had changed little over thousands of years.
Then I discovered that many Chinese methods like chi-kung and acupuncture came originally from southern Siberian shamans.
The Chinese took these ideas and made them much more technical. They developed many, many exercises for people to move their own internal energy around their bodies.
But I think, after examining chi-kung, that the Chinese made it much too complicated. A lot of people spend more time thinking about particular exercises, or counting their breaths than actually dealing with the energy directly. The exception being zi fa gong, a looser, spontaneous version of chi-kung which might be closer to the shamanic origins.
I know that the idea behind many Chinese practices is that you spend years doing the exercises to get to a point where you transcend the exercises and get to an enlightened plateau.
But how many people, carrying out the exercises every day over reach that point?
In terms of the long slog, versus the short slog, shamanism is more like the path of Crazy Wisdom in Tibetan Buddhism. It is not necessarily better, nor easier, nor any more of a guarantee – but Crazy Wisdom might suit some people rather than others.
A shamanic apprenticeship is very different to most other apprenticeships. I remember comparing notes with my teacher’s only other pupil. He taught us very differently from each other. He taught us as individuals. He recognised our individual strengths and weaknesses.
Some things he would be strong about and very disciplined. In other areas he was deliberately vague, almost challenging me to kind out for myself by experiment.
He guided me towards discovery of knowledge rather than laying it before me on a plate.
There is knowing. And really, really knowing. And when you find something for yourself, you remember it more clearly. It has more impact.
In the end, everything is a question of balance. And the balance varies from person to person. Some people need, and perhaps thrive better with a balance weighted towards a more academic discipline, using the building blocks of certitude to achieve a wealth of knowledge.
For others, that kind of balance stultifies, slows them down, fixes the mind too much. They respond to the freedom of questioning, of individual experimentation.
Just because – as in the example of energy practices like chi-kung – that shamanism came first, it doesn’t mean that its balance suits everyone.
But whatever you practice for your own health, you should ask yourself the simple question – is it working for me?
And if it is, then little else matters.
Siberian Shamanism – the differences practicing in the West
There are many differences treating patents here in the West – I live in London, UK – and healing people in Siberia, where I was taught.
Here people are faced with many, many specialists in conventional and alternative healing. Often shamans in the West are the last resort for patients who have tried quite a few other very different therapists.
When I was apprenticed in Tuva, Southern Siberia, I was taught to expect a complete range of ailments to treat. But it was important to look past the initial complaint to detect other underlying conditions.
Curing the problem is one thing, my teacher would say, but if you can, try to give your client a way of avoiding the same problem coming back.
If you are interested in really helping the patient – rather than earning money when they keep coming back with the same condition – then it makes sense to help them look ahead.
Because Siberian shamans use a lot of different methods – including extra-sensory powers, herbal remedies, astrology – it is a holistic approach to healing, so it’s not surprising we take after-care seriously.
I remember one woman coming to see me in London. She had a persistent pain in her jaw. She had been to her dentist several times, and to hospital, but she couldn’t get rid of the pain. The specialists couldn’t identify where it was coming from. I was able to get rid of the pain in one session, but she was an anxious woman, and I knew that if she didn’t deal with her extreme anxiety, the pain would soon return, for it was a by-product of that anxiety.
So I gave her a few exercises to do, and a few suggestions about avoiding stress.
Some patients see the sense in this. They understand the connection. But others do not. In the West, many clients have an expectation that the healer will deal with the problem and that will be it.
They don’t see that how they go about their every day life could be a serious determinant factor in their health. And surprisingly many are just not interested in making changes in their lifestyle to avoid stress.
There is a big set of differences between clients in Tuva, and in Europe. For a start, everybody in Tuva knows exactly what a shaman is and what is involved.
They also know that shamans work with very powerful energies which can be dangerous if not harnessed properly. In the West I’ve known clients who have dabbled with a drum at home, thinking that shamanic practices are softly benign and safe. It’s just as well they didn’t succeed in connecting with dark energies.
It’s rather like juggling with razor-sharp knives – if you don’t know exactly what you are doing, you’ll get hurt.
Another difference is that a much higher per centage of Western clients suffer from anxiety. It is a major difference I noticed once I began practicing here. And it is a hard one to deal with. If an individual is addicted to anxiety-creating behaviours, her or she will find it very difficult to change.
Most people will know someone who rushes and fusses all the time, 24 hours a day – even when they are doing things which are beneficial. They will be late for their yoga or tai-chi class. They will struggle against the traffic, and struggle to find a parking space, and they will arrive late and flustered, expecting to be calmed and instantly sorted.
Even organising a healthy diet can be a worry for some people. For they will worry over labels, worry about ingredients to the point of creating anxieties which undermine their healthy choices. The anxiety levels in the UK also seem higher than in Italy where I practiced for a year. And the Italians seemed more prepared to take on board that they have some responsibility for avoiding stress.
Some of the answers are so simple. A lot of it is a question of balance. Simple common sense. Except I remember my father telling me: “The trouble wi’ common sense, son, is that it’s no sae common.”
Siberian shamans deal with a wide range of problems, including clearing people’s homes of built-up negative energies, but most treatments of individual illnesses entail extracting negative energy and putting in positive energy.
While that’s true here, too, the additional problem of a constant background anxiety usually has to be addressed. The client has to be helped to find a balance. And that does not mean extreme diets, extreme exercising, nor an extreme lifestyle.
You don’t have to transform yourself into an athlete, or a hermit-monk. It is possible to achieve a balance while continuing to have a job, to be a mother or father, son or daughter.
It doesn’t have to take up all your time.
And you don’t have to become non-smilingly serious.
Some of the most jolly, fun-loving and cheery people I worked with as a musician, were Tibetan Buddhist monks. They are always laughing and playing practical jokes on everybody.
If you think this is leading up to a mystical revelation, you’re wrong. We all know the answer already. It’s inside us. It’s something we’ve heard from our parents and grandparents.
Everything in moderation. It’s so much easier to follow than the ever-changing dietary advice you get about NOT eating this or that, and how you MUST eat this…and you MUST do that, but NEVER do this.
Sometimes you may need to rush, but when you don’t, then take it easy. Fit in some exercise. Make time to do things which make you happy. Make someone else happy. Have a drink, if you feel like one. Or two. But not so many you fall over.
As you become less anxious, you will become stronger too, and more resistant to the negative energies being put out by all those people who just don’t see it.
And it will be easier to treat you, too.
A lot of people pursue connections with spirit. Some are successful, some not. But for some who are successful, they sometimes get a lot more than they bargained for, and it turns out to be a nightmare.
There are also individuals who are not looking, and spirit comes to them. And it’s unwelcome, and it disturbs them. And in some cases it drives them to clinicians with drugs.
Then a few find their way to shamans. Shamans are in a good position to understand and help, because, unlike psychiatrists, they actually work with spirits all the time. In fact we call up spirits to help us help our clients in many different ways.
Sometimes it can be frightening, especially in the early stages of your apprenticeship, because some spirits are powerful – and bad. In the Siberian tradition I was apprenticed to, some shamans are better able to deal with those dark spiritual energies than others. Often we have to fight them on a client’s behalf.
I remember several fights with sometimes mocking entities who were present in a client’s home. They were well-established and were preying on the client and they did not want to leave. They were challenging me and it was a fight.
For clients who are spiritually aware it can be particularly painful for them when unexpected visitors call. Most people will suffer the effects of negative energy without knowing what has caused it, but those spiritually aware clients will actually see these spirits. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to handle them.
There is a range of remedies. And shamans will deploy several at the same time. You can give clients protection. You can get rid of spirits.
But spirits will always want to come back. If they sense a weakness they can
be attracted to an individual and they will attack.
One thing clients can be encouraged to do is to do their own spiritual ju-jitsu. When they see a negative spirit coming, they recognise it and deflect it. The fact that they can see what’s attacking them can empower a client. They can face up to the spirit and push it away.
Of course not everyone has the power and confidence to face down malevolent spirits. But a good effort often works, and I’ve had clients who have seen off repeated attacks, and who have eventually freed themselves from unwelcome visitors completely.
Some spiritually aware clients have to be persuaded to stop themselves flying into the spirit world on an adventure. One client I know has shaman-like abilities to go flying – but she does not have the strength or ability to cope with what she finds.
Until she can learn how to deal face to face with spirits, it is safer for her to just not go there.
There is- in the west – the notion of spiritual tourism. The idea of popping into the spirit world for a bit of fun. And I’ve met some people who think it’s perfectly safe for everyone.
Now I love Formula 1and I think I’m a good driver. But I know that if I were to buzz round a grand prix track at 200 mph I would crash spectacularly.
Sure, some individuals can do it. And they enjoy it. But many of us wouldn’t get past the first corner.
When it comes to dealing with spirit, we should all treat it with respect.
THE DANGEROUS SIDE OF SHAMANISIM LITE
Rob was in a bit of a state when he fixed an appointment to see me. And what was so annoying, was that his suffering was completely avoidable.
It wasn’t his fault though.
He explained that he had read about shamanism, and it interested him. So when he saw an ad for courses in shamanism he signed up and went along.
The instructors were friendly, and well meaning. Their message was that anybody can enjoy the excitement of shamanic flying.
Rob – I’ve changed his name to protect his identity – told me: “Looking back, I should have seen that in fact they were making shamanism a kind of leisure activity.
“There was no talk of responsibility, of healing or helping people. It was all focussed on the individual doing it. It was all a bit of harmless fun.”
Nobody suggested that there could be a dark side to flying. Just latch on to a spirit, and you’ll be all right.
I’ve written before about how a lot of people ignore the dark side, and how in Siberia, where I studied, individuals are often reluctant to accept the calling. They know that shamans will come face to face with malevolent spirits with whom they will have to battle.
There is clearly an enthusiastic market for shamanism lite. But it can be dangerous.
I’ve met enthusiastic, new age individuals who told me that all energy is good energy – or at least, you won’t be victim to black energy if you haven’t done anything wrong.Well, following his tutors’ instructions, Rob got a drum, a beater and some incense. And he tried it out at home.
At the first attempt, nothing happened. At the second, after a couple of minutes or so, Rob was overcome with dark and doomladen feelings and fears. He couldn’t quite work out what was happening. Nothing was very clear. He could hear nothing, but nevertheless sensed something communicating with him.
He stopped drumming. And the feelings and the spirit disappeared. And he thought that was that. But the next morning, without drumming, without even thinking about the experience, the whole thing repeated itself.
It stayed with him for a few minutes. And left.
It kept coming back. He got more and more worried. He couldn’t stop the repeating episodes.
So he found me, and got in touch.
It wasn’t a difficult problem to rectify. But what was infuriating was that it shouldn’t have happened.
It’s like learning tightrope-walking on a wire strung between two very, very tall buildings.
Of course, people are entitled to treat shamanism as an entertaining leisure activity if they wish.
But best be able to recognise the dangers when you step over to the other side.
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