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Distant Healing

Distant Healing on a Large Scale:
What do we do in a Mass Disaster?

Just about everyone who has studied shamanic practice somewhere has learned of and most likely participated in distant healing. Often in gatherings, it is routinely brought up for the circle's offerings. Most everyone knows that the basic practice involves: 

1) getting permission for the healing from the one requesting it,

2) personal cleansing and preparation,

3) moving into a strong shamanic state of consciousness,

4) summoning one's spirit helper,

5) giving the spirit helper the name and location of the one needing help,

6) asking the spirit helper to provide the most appropriate healing,

7) sending the spirit helper in the appropriate direction,

8) following them until they disappear from sight towards the horizon,

9) not following the spirit into the healing, itself, and

10) returning to ordinary reality and back to normal waking consciousness.

This is fairly straightforward, though some teachers believe that a precise address is also helpful (I do not agree, as any spirit helper worth its salt should be able to find them).

However, a lot of material has been passed around lately about shamanic distant healing (sometimes called distance healing) because of practitioners' desire to help following mass disasters. This came up during the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, and there are some unfortunate mix-ups and matters overlooked regarding such healing. I have used the Japan disaster as a situation from which we may be ab le to draw some conclusions regarding what to do in other disasters that involve numbers of people, perhaps unable to be contacted.

Distant healing, when applied to a mass disaster presents additional complications beyond sending such healing to an individual. It particularly raises ethical decisions, so I offer this short attempt at clarification to help us think through the ethics and practical steps of our work. Then, we can with greater assuredness, step forward in a healing capacity when meeting any of the large-scale disasters which periodically manifest throughout the world.

Shamanic practitioners tend to be a very compassionate group of people. We want to help, but don't always know how. The following will help, though I am sure it will not make the work seem any simpler. But, this is not simple work.

As I mentioned, the chief issue seems to be one of ethics. A standard of shamanic practice, as with other healing modalities, has been the recognition of the primacy of individual consent for healing. This clarifies the impropriety of those who try to use shamanic work for personal gain, power, or even malevolent intent. However, not always are we able to obtain a person's consent for shamanic intervention. If we are ethically motivated, we understand a sometimes-difficult dilemma that can appear. On the one hand, we recognize our need for a person's consent prior to our work. This restrains us from intruding into the power, privacy and right of others to determine their own future. On the other hand, we feel a wonderfully human, compassionate desire to help, and may be able to do so.

So, what do we do?

One email widely circulated among shamanic practitioners at the time of the Japanese disaster recommended first, before doing distant healing, for receiving consent from Japan. Although this is based on sound and agreed ethical principles among practitioners, it is unfortunately, not the whole story, nor may it be even possible. At the very minimum, there are two additional and highly important matters that deserve consideration.

First, there is the ‘Good Samaritan’ principle, where immediate peril, absence of financial compensation, and providing reasonable assistance in good faith at the level for which one is trained are all possible matters that at least legally, will need to be considered first. In this case, the tsunami victims at the time of the wave and flooding, and the firefighters dousing the hot nuclear rods at the facility were both instances of being in immediate peril. 

A person safely in a hospital and in recovery from a rescue from the tsunami is ostensibly not in immediate peril. However, the staff being so grossly overtaxed by the mass of patients who quickly overloaded their ability to care sufficiently, meant that immediate and unassisted peril may well exist. Even in a hospital.

An absence of financial compensation is necessary if one is to ethically base their unsolicited assistance on a Good Samaritan principle. Furthermore, one must provide assistance only up to the level of their training (not above). It is reckless for a practitioner to attempt to work beyond their training, even given the assistance is given in good faith and in a reasonable way.

Consent is something that an ethical practitioner must have prior to doing any work whatsoever. It is certainly possible to obtain a ‘carte blanche’ consent that would apply to whatever came up in our work, however as we were considering above, in cases where people in other countries are trying to send aid to Japan, this may be impossible. The Good Samaritan principle then looks for ‘implied consent’, meaning that someone unconscious, intoxicated or otherwise mentally unable to provide consent may be assisted without their expressed consent, if we reasonably believe that they in fact are unable to provide such consent and would ask for it if they could.

So: with inability to give consent (which for a practitioner, would be inability to receive consent), and a case of immediate peril, and a reasonable judgment that the person would want the assistance if they could ask us for it, provides much room for sending distant healing. However, even when all of this is considered, the ultimate responsibility for the decision to assist rests on each practitioner.

This brings up an alternative: by enlisting our spirit helpers as our envoys, we can in essence, send them to serve in a ‘Good Samaritan’ manner themselves. In this case, one might simply call the particular spirit helper of one’s team who either specializes in distant healing or is otherwise suited to do it, and require of them that they provide healing to those adults who are either asking for shamanic work or who are in immediate peril, can’t ask for shamanic help, but would if they could.

Different principles apply in the case of children. In Japan, for instance, after a person has reached 20 years of age, they may consent to medical treatment. Anyone under 20 must have consent by their legal guardian, most often being their parent. If they are under 20, and their guardian does not cancel the child/youth’s consent for treatment, the treatment can proceed. In the US, this age is 18, and such matters regarding legal rights of persons vary from country to country.

What this means with respect to distant healing is that it is the legal guardian of the underage person who must provide the consent, or as we discussed above, the implied consent when looking at the Good Samaritan option.

One must honor the codes by which people live, and these are often found in civil or religious law, whichever the person has taken as their own. Obviously, this involves so many variables that in many cases, a clear standard for working is far less than clear. However, we must do the best we can.

So: how do we send aid in this case to Japan, or to other situations of mass disaster?

You have to ultimately decide, for you are the one who will then carry the responsibility and what you tell your spirit helper rests on your shoulders. After thinking it over, this is what I decided.

I would tell my spirit helper to go rapidly to the place that needed help:

1) to provide assistance to anyone who asks for it, and to assist in a manner that would be most helpful for them so long (in the Japanese situation) as they were over 20, and to do the same for all who were under 20 when their legal guardian was asking for it. This is not so unusual a consideration, as there is a great deal of shamanic understanding in Japan.

2) to provide the same immediate assistance in the way it would be most helpful to people who were unable to ask, yet who would do so if they could, so long as they were not receiving aid and were in peril.

3) to provide immediate assistance to anyone under 20 (again, in the Japanese situation) who was in peril and not receiving care, in the way that the parent would want if the parent were unable to ask for it for their child, but would if they could.

After weighing the above or additional considerations that stand out as important to you, then how do we do a distant healing? Engaging in shamanic practice, as with all care-giving, must rest on the level of your training. Thankfully, sending distant healing is not complex. So, as long as you have a guaranteed upper or lower world spirit helper with whom you have developed a practical healing relationship, the process is quite straightforward.

First, cleanse (such as with sage) and prepare yourself so that you are closest to being the ‘hollow bone’ and thus able to communicate most effectively with the spirit world

Then, rattle or drum, or simply call your spirit helper to you, preferably facing in the direction of where you plan on sending the healing. If you are calling an upper world spirit, raise your arms and summon them to you, if from the lower world, reach down to beckon them forth.

Raise your own power with all of the fervor you can muster as you enter a shamanic state of consciousness, and call until the spirit comes to you.

Clearly express the desire for sending distant healing in the manner you have determined is ethically sound, and make certain the spirit understands their responsibilities and the parameters of their work.

Once understood, strongly send them on their way, and follow them in your shamanic state of consciousness until they disappear over the horizon.

Then, let them go and do their work. Do not attempt to follow. This is now in their jurisdiction.

Return to ordinary reality consciousness, rest, and carry on with your day. Perhaps donate to a reliable relief agency, or do whatever you feel is appropriate, but you have done your shamanic work.

Ethics has not been as carefully reviewed during shamanic training as it deserves. Although shamanic healing long preceded most of the contemporary care-giving modalities, it's contemporary training has failed to keep pace with the development of professional standards in other healing practices. There are at least two articles on ethics and shamanic integrity on this website that I highly recommend you consider. Every practitioner will face quandaries and dilemmas that require crucial, and often delicate ethical decisions.