Shamanism & Psychology

I’m a Clinical Psychologist, which means I’m supposedly trained to deal with the more severe “mental disorders”. But I have to ask which mental health issue is not debilitating? And why is only the word mental in there? The meaning of “psychopathology”, from Ancient Greek, is illness of the soul. Surely this is always a journey of Soul retrieval.

At bottom, what Shamanism and Psychology have in common is a search for the daily regulation of our inner state. Trauma leads to the dysregulation of our mood and behaviour. Shamanism teaches that there are only 2 energies in this Universe: fear and Love. We all want to feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. We want to restore a deep and personal Attachment Bond. In my view, this involves a process I call Recovery from Life. Because Life happens to us all, and it’s not always easy or pretty.

This morning I was taping up and stapling the binding of my old copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves, which a so-called “Borderline” client scribbled all over back in 1997. I thought it was rendered useless, defiled, and had bought another copy. Shamanism has taught me about the ways of Redemption. Do I fear illness or do I throw love at the problem? Love, may I remind you, is not rescuing.

In my practice as a Psychologist, I try to remind people that the real task at hand is Self-Love. Rescue yourself. The following are the tools I like to provide people with because, like Shamanism, I believe Psychology needs to be practical, concrete and empowering:

Firstly, when you wake up in the morning, say thank you. Create your day, realising that life is not happening to you, you are happening to life as a co-creator. Morning rituals steer your boat in the direction you want it to go. Set an intention. Speak it aloud. Because forgetting is the human condition, stick an Affirmation up next to your bed so that your first reminder is of your Magnificence. If you have low self-esteem, like everybody else on this planet, stick a series of Affirmations all the way down the corridor to the bathroom and make it your practice to read them every time you need to wee.

Being versed in the 12-Step paradigm for addiction, I tell clients that there is no healing without Daily Application and a Higher Power connection. We all have devoted destructive habits, that is what the word “addiction” means, from the Latin. Be Helped. Use rituals throughout your day as markers and points of Connection. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety or abstinence; the opposite of addiction is Connection. Connection to a Higher Power, to ourselves, to each other, to Nature. Also known as a Return to Love.

One of our most challenging tools to practice is stillness and listening – in other words, Being rather than doing. This involves having the courage, or rather the trust, to sit with feeling and to drop into presence with yourself and your hurt inner child. It is a re-parenting process. Where there has been trauma and where there is therefore great fear, there is no way to do this other than with the Help of Source, Spirit, or whatever you want to call The Great I Am. I remind clients to let a Power greater than ourselves do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This kind of surrender and powerlessness is ironically very empowering because it re-establishes our God connection, for want of a better word. It restores safety.

In my view we can broadly categorise the world’s population into people who do this, and people who don’t. Be compassionately careful of the ones who don’t. And then there are those who look like they do, but certainly don’t – and that is a whole talk in itself. All of us are Human. We all have limitations. We are all Equal.

We work with the body and body memory, where trauma is stored. When triggered, in other words when we are pulled back in an age regression to childhood wounds, we allow the experience to affect us and feel the sensation in our body, letting go of the story in our heads. We let the feeling flow through us and out through our feet, recycling back to Native Nothingness, to Mother Earth, to Love. Release and relief are the objects of the game. Dancing, shaking, drumming and singing assist with this. You can even howl and walk like a monkey if you prefer.

In the pause, as we connect to Spirit, we turn away from automatic reactivity. We consider a Response instead. We listen, we receive a higher wisdom.

We clean up our Stinking Thinking. With Awareness, we notice how much our critical inner parent berates us. We acknowledge its attempts at keeping us safe, we thank it for sharing, but we tell it, we are now trying something new. With ongoing Affirmations throughout the day, written, spoken, sung, whispered and shouted, we declare that we are always doing the best we can, that we support ourselves and Life supports us, that we are lovable, loving and loved. In fact, that we are Love. Through Commitment, we consistently jump from the fear page to the Love page. When we notice we are looping old negative tracks in our head, use a phrase like Om Tara, Om Tut Sat or even “Oh f**k” to help you switch – and create new neural pathways in your brain. We can choose our thoughts. Thoughts become things. So fake it till you make it!

We examine the false beliefs and narratives that have been handed down to us over generations. We realise our freedom to make a Handmade Life. We keep turning our energy towards Creativity, which is our God-given state. What Psychology would call Self-Actualisation, agency, an internal locus of control. Creativity and spirituality are synonymous. Full-stop.

Because we are composed of energy, we recognise the need for energetic and psychic protection. We learn to use our words as kind and true boundaries, because we honour ourselves, our needs and our wants. We visualise a bubble of light around us in difficult situations. We separate from what is not ours, releasing it with Love and detaching. We stop behaving in inauthentic ways involving blame, hatred, revenge, and caretaking. Instead, we allow ourselves to gently suffer more than our so-called enemies are prepared to. We hold that loaded gun they give us and we don’t shoot it. We feel our feelings, do a ceremony and maybe paint something instead.

We do rituals to cleanse ourselves of others’ energy – in water, with fire, the earth and the air. Also known as an Aromatherapy bath in the garden with a candle, for our more conservative clients. Nature is a balm that can restore us to our core, true, or authentic self. Compared to our wounded and false self. As our eyes and ears open, we realise there are panthers, bears, birds and dead people who can help us with this. We can take visualisation and manifestation a step further by journeying deeply, with the help of music or a drum, into these less conscious realms. There are answers there, from our highest and wisest self. We take note of our dreams. We restore our intuition and listen to our gut.

For Freud, who was a Godless Jew, our ancestors were the people who fucked us up: the transgenerational transmission of trauma. The sins of the fathers across 7 generations. Nowadays, we thank them for doing the best they could with what they knew and we can cut cords, bonds and ties where necessary. We can release soul contracts by working on our personal growth and keeping our side of the street clean. Be the change you want to see. You cannot fix a problem with the same energy that created it.

This Quest is not an easy one, and it involves safely meeting your Inner Child, in the Presence of the Divine Parent, using basic techniques like left-handed writing and drawing. Simply imagining yourself, dressed as you are right now, curled up in a foetal position in your own heart, works.

With a Return to Reverence, we pull back from that focus on others which Life has taught us. We refuse to believe fear, which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. We feel it, but we know our Trust is greater than this illusion. We heal from co-dependence and an addiction to abuse, which is a self-destructive attempt at self-soothing. We realise we are not a doormat, but the Persian carpet on the wall. We achieve states of bliss by tapping in, but we can equally navigate life in a kind of street yoga.

This is what I have been taught, and it is what I teach at a private psychiatric clinic in Stellenbosch that uses Mindfulness techniques. I pass myself off as a Transpersonal Therapist in an attempt to make these ideas more welcoming and palatable. Clients need to be reminded that when the wave hits, something greater than ourselves is the lighthouse in the storm. Shamanism has taught me that we are in fact the lighthouse, and to damn well start behaving like one.

I’d like to thank Reverend Two Crows Flying, from whom I am learning in her Return to Reverence course, and all the women in that group who equally support and teach me. I’d also like to acknowledge the work of Miranda Wannenburgh and her Change Matters practice here. May we shine this light in the darkness. Aho.