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Practitioner Strength

The Importance of the Shaman's Body:
The Strength of the Bridge Between the Worlds

"My intention was to travel to the upper world to meet with my teachers... My journey began at the base of the tree of life as usual; however, a form of my spirit helper was there immediately…"

"My spirit helper and I traveled to another place within the Upper World.  We came to a large tree. I intuitively knew this was a sacred tree, and many have gathered around this tree in a circle of ceremony. There was a very large, dark opening in the tree, and I was asked to come inside. I was afraid at first, and so I asked my spirit helper if this was safe. He assured me this was a safe place as we were in the upper world and my teachers were waiting inside."

"I went inside and it was extremely dark. I couldn't see a thing; therefore, I had to rely on my inner vision, my intuition and my spirit helper. I heard the sounding of ceremonial drums. The darkness began to light. I saw a native American man to the right of me. I felt very light headed, and I began to see visions and flashing items before me. The native American had hooks in his chest and was performing the Sun Dance. I was a little fearful that they were going to ask me to do this also. I heard that I was not being called at this time for that purpose. I then saw a native American man and saw flashes of his bones and skull. I saw images of a cactus and a drink. I felt even more light headed and the visions became stronger… I felt almost drunk, and I felt like I was going to get sick to my stomach…"

"This journey was different in that I felt very "altered", and I felt as though I was dreaming it. I felt like I was observing my own journey as well as different ceremonies. I was instructed (by spirit help) to drink lots of water after my journey and to stay away from dairy products. I was also instructed to spend some time drumming each morning and things will be revealed to me. I felt sick and was ready for the drum to call me back. As the drum began the call back, my spirit helper appeared and led me out of the tree. The tree hugged me, and I felt a great love. I traveled back to ordinary reality the same way I traveled to the upper world. I thanked my teachers and power animals as I usually do."
"When I came back to my sacred place (in ordinary reality, after the journey), I still felt ‘different’ and light-headed. I did the call back again as this was a deep journey. I decided to relax a bit and drink some water as they instructed. However, I continued to feel light headed and nauseous. I remained on couch the rest of the evening and went to bed at 8pm. I felt fine when I woke up this morning. My question is:  Is this ‘normal’ to experience such altered states? What should I make of this? I will certainly journey again as I was instructed, and I will inquire about my ‘visions’."

"I am just seeking... thoughts in regards to altered, physical sensations I experienced."

Concerns about experiences like this do arise, and for a good reason: the shaman has a physical body, within which his or her non-ordinary work finds a place where that work can take place. Because shamanic work is so involved in the non-ordinary realities, the practitioner’s physical body is often under-appreciated in its importance. Most of the interest and concern of shamanic practitioners goes to the experiences that happen during a journey, or the healing that takes place through the shaman’s efforts, being the non-ordinary bridge between the worlds. This question brings up a very important aspect of shamanic work that has unfortunately been far less than fully considered in light of the fantastic non-ordinary experiences that most often take ‘front and center’.
Simply, the shaman’s body is the ordinary reality vehicle within which the non-ordinary work is able to happen. It is often said that the shaman travels between the worlds, but this is not entirely correct. Yes, the shaman does travel, but what is less fully understood is that the shaman does not merely travel, but becomes the bridge itself that connects these worlds.

It is only within the shaman’s body that the healing and divinatory (retrieving information) visionary experiences can find a nesting place. There is no such thing as ‘only imagining’ or ‘only feeling’, which is one of the ways we hear contemporary snipes at visionary and other intuitively experienced phenomena. In fact, it is the very existence of the physical mind and body that allows these visionary perceptions to be felt, seen, heard, and recognized for what they are.

Shamanic work necessarily involves a tremendous amount of strain on the shaman’s physical body. Practitioners are well familiar with the enormous drain in energy they experience after some of the more advanced practices. Certainly, even journeys for the retrieval of soul parts or power (such as with power animal retrieval) can be tiring.

There is also a great deal of difference to the degree that practitioners may feel physical effects from their work. Different people come to shamanic practice with widely varying strengths on the one hand, and challenges on the other. Some who are naturally strong in some areas, may find themselves significantly challenged, physically and psychically, in others. There is no flat equivalency in how different people’s bodies and minds have develop over the course of their life. We develop particular strengths over others as we mature and then turn to shamanic work, and the consequence is that we may easily discover we have other areas of needed growth and strengthening. Such areas may only appear after we begin learning and experiencing different forms of shamanic care. For instance, when practitioners make deep and powerful journeys into non-ordinary reality, the kind of outcome that this person experienced can occur.

There is a great need to bring the body and mind into tremendous balance and health when we give ourselves deeply to shamanic practice. This work can be very wearing on the body and mind. Over the millennia, it has been repeated many times and in many different ways, that the practitioner must even be able to ‘enter the abode of death, and return.’ There is a depth to this message that holds a teaching that will be revealed to the practitioner when the time is right, but let there be no question before that time of the enormity of strength, of mind and of body, that a shaman must have. This is often hard for new practitioners to comprehend.

Practitioners can easily be feeling the aftereffects of a journey that was particularly powerful or important in some way. Sometimes, the importance of a journey can be signaled by the consequences one feels in their body.

There is no rule about this. The shaman works in both ordinary and non-ordinary reality with an ordinary reality body. Thus, a shaman may also have a touch of the flu, or had not been drinking enough water or eating enough food in the hours prior to a journey. Perhaps when a practitioner is feeling physical effects of their work, it could be some other physical ailment for which a physician would be able to determine. The bottom line is that the shaman’s body demands at least as much care as he or she gives to the spiritual practices that are pursued. Never discount one or the other.

As practitioners, we need to develop superior strength, balance, grounding and health in both body and mind. A psychic as well as physical imbalance can easily knock us off our feet amidst the utter fluidity of non-ordinary reality, and the demands that navigating such fluidity makes on us. It has been said that the shaman must become the master of both realities: the ordinary and the non-ordinary. We understand how important practice protocols are necessary for crossing the non-ordinary realms. Here is the other side of this: we need just as much strength, flexibility, immunity and stamina in our ordinary body as well. We have to become very strong if we want our bodies to keep up with our shamanic work.

It is a simple fact that the shaman must be far more balanced, flexible and psychologically strong than most people, for most others do not have nearly the same psychological demands placed on them. The same is true of the shaman’s body: the vehicle for the shaman’s work must be powerful and healthy. Proceed firmly and assuredly in both physical and non-ordinary realities. You must be strong, because you are the bridge.