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Adaptive Flexibility

The Shaman's Adaptive Flexibility:
The ‘Spokes Tree’


In this forever changing and sometimes forceful world that we live in, it is pretty well understood that constantly being stiff and unyielding makes it pretty difficult, if not impossible, to get by. On the other hand, if we head out into our physical, ordinary reality with a healthy flexibility and work adaptively - a little like 'ordinary reality Akido' - our capability to effect positive change becomes multiplied. This increased capability through remaining adaptive is something that is completely true for the shamanic practitioner in non-ordinary worlds as well.

To explain this, I would like to present the following interesting situation. A practitioner wanted to go talk to a tree in order to learn something important about herself, the tree, or even the land upon which they stood. Learning to talk with trees is something that shamanic practitioners at our school experience fairly early on in their training. Shamans always talk to trees, just as they talk to rocks, creeks and mountains. The world of the practitioner is one in which teachers surround us everywhere. 

Shamans go to the land to listen to how it is doing, but also for what it has to teach them. When we go to a tree for a lesson, there may be many things that we learn, and what we are taught can be very different from what we might anticipate. In the following situation, the practitioner involved was very open to whatever information was going to come to her: perhaps some might say ‘too open’, because she was amidst a stand of many trees, and they all had something to say! In fact, it was utter cacophony. Like an unruly classroom of schoolchildren, too many trees wanted to speak at the same time.

Perhaps similar to a classroom teacher, we might think a stern look should be our first response, and we might not be too far off base! But what if that 'certain' look that an experienced teacher has learned to deliver (and to which the class has learned to respond!) is not enough? The situation of too many trees talking at once, happily, does not arise too often in a shaman's life. But when it does, how should, or could a practitioner deal with it? 

I bring this up, not because we have a particular problem with overly talkative trees these days, but because this practitioner and her response says volumes about the nature of an adept practitioner's work. In shamanic practice, time can easily be of the essence and grave matters may be at stake. Learning how to handle difficult non-ordinary situations is crucial, for the work needs to be done despite apparent obstacles, and in this era of fewer practitioners in the world, we may be the only one available and able to see it through.

I will let the practitioner first describe what happened:

“I Called in the Directions (an orienting and grounding ritual) this morning and then I did the Feather Dusting (a kind of cleansing) on myself. I could feel stuff releasing, particularly in the throat chakra area and heart area.”

“…I went outside to talk to a Tree on my Land. I had tried earlier but all of the Trees wanted to talk to me and I got overwhelmed (I have over 20 very large trees here). This time I asked that one Tree to be the ‘spokes tree’.”

“I was drawn to the Tree at the corner of my property which my Dad thinks might be a sour gum. Because of where it is situated, I can’t easily get to the trunk, but I touched one of the limbs hanging down.”

“I did some dusting first, then asked the Tree what it had to say. I felt some energy come up my body and the Tree said I needed to bring energy up and through (like sap). And I felt the Tree as it was rooted to the ground, and spread out to the sky. It indicated a joyful feeling as it reached for the sky.”

“I moved around to a different spot. This Tree is actually 2 trunks and I wondered if it was one tree or two trees. I touched a limb from the other trunk and got the sense that these were twin trees.” 


First, it is significant that this practitioner, when extending her non-ordinary perception, was drawn to something that was hard for her to physically reach. Practitioners are often pulled towards something that is directly in front of us, but the mere fact that she was drawn towards something that was far off in a corner somewhere may be saying a great deal about her sensitivity and appropriate choice. To find ourselves reaching towards something with difficulty involved may be (though no rules here) a sort of ‘extra validation’ that our perception is ‘on track’, for it is more likely that if we were just meandering and not fully tuned in to a shamanic state of consciousness, that we would be attracted to something far easier to reach.

Also, a little background is called for here. 'Feather Dusting’ is a shamanic clearing technique that removes potential interference between ourselves and something or somebody when we do our work. And, her practice of talking to trees is quite normal. Shamans often talk to trees, just as they converse with the multitude of other beings who inhabit this Earth.

There are a great many aspects to this practitioner’s work that day which could be fruitfully explored. For instance, during that morning’s personal dusting, she felt release around her throat and her heart areas. What could this signify? What also might be important, is the lesson of bringing energy up ‘like sap’, or the ‘rootedness’, as well as the reaching and spreading towards the sky that she was shown. Moreover, the fact that she was drawn to a tree with two apparent trunks, which with closer listening, were explained to her as being twins… what might any of these things mean, particularly for her?

Practitioners learn quickly that what we are shown, hear or feel in this state of consciousness may easily be ‘unpacked’ into many, many pieces of information that might prove important to us. The visions we receive are mere glimpses into a world that is likely to be full of depth and clarity. In a sense, it is as if visionary glimpses such as these turn out to be suggestions of where to then, further explore, rather than being anything like complete lessons themselves.

However, even receiving all of this information is just the start. After learning what we need to know, just as importantly, how then do we go out and actually effect change in ourselves or the world from this information. In shamanism, the term used to describe obtaining information is 'divination', and although such practices are important, they still are only part of shamanic practice, and probably the smallest portion at that. By far the bigger piece of any shamanic work involving divination is then doing something with the information that is gained.


This practitioner was fortunate. For whatever reasons, she instinctively came up with a very workable strategy of asking the multitude of trees for a 'spokes tree' to speak for them, when faced with the confusion and muddle of trying to listen to the clamor of many. This is also just good, common sense. It is a wise thing to remember that we always have adaptive strategies we can call on in the non-ordinary worlds, just as we can in our ordinary reality. The non-ordinary word is full of confusing situations, and much may depend on the wit and grace of the shaman to work through such situations when they arise, because they will.

Whether it is one tree that you must single out to speak for the rest, or whether it is any of other innumerable situations where your creative handling of the moment is called for, as a practitioner, you are likely to have to be quick on your feet. You will eventually meet a situation where you will have to come up with a ‘workaround’ and devise your own unique approach to deal with what needs to be done.

In fact, such situations are probably more frequent in shamanic practice, rather than the exception!

In the non-ordinary world, just as in the ordinary, adaptive flexibility is crucial to successful work. A practitioner's flexibility and ability to adapt to unique situations, combined with unending and stubborn determination to succeed, will together see you through the many apparent obstacles that are certain to come.