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Western and Shamanic Healing: a Collision of Paradigms

Western and Shamanic Healing
A Collision of Paradigms

What happens when a medical intuitive, firmly trained in medical practice, ‘looks’ for what is unhealthy? What will she see? What do any of us see when we learn shamanic healing after a long, enculturated awareness of human physiology and its illnesses? How do we respond when our clients come to us with concerns based on a contemporary medical paradigm?

I received a very interesting report from an accomplished medical intuitive. She is well trained, and already enjoys a career that is quite ‘on the edge’, in a contemporary medical hospital where her intuitive skills have found a place to thrive. Through her referrals, patients were discovered to have hidden health problems that had not been recognized. Because of her gift, people have received critical medical treatment that otherwise might have come too late.

This woman's report is significant because it challenges contemporary shamanic practitioners to reconsider the spiritual work that they are doing. A curious problem is appearing because today's shamanic practitioners are quite likely to also be at least somewhat versed in contemporary healthcare understanding.

Most everyone has seen a physician or other certified and licensed health practitioner for something. Difficulties arise not because medicine views the body differently than shamanism, nor is it a problem that shamanic practitioners know something of the medical paradigm. Both ways of seeing are tools. The problem is how a shamanic practitioner can use them without confusing them.

Today's healthcare rests on a paradigm of physiological understanding of biological causes and effects. A 'paradigm' is a broad construction of reality. Cultures, and even eras of human history accept paradigms through which the world is generally understood. Here, it is how those in the medical profession understand illness. Through the eyes of a shamanic practitioner/medical intuitive/medically trained individual, we have the opportunity to see for ourselves the difficulties that arise when shamanic and medical/physiological paradigms collide.

Paradigms change. Throughout history, ways of understanding reality changed when enough information gathered to show a fresh, internally consistent way of understanding that seems to provide a better (more comprehensive, more explanatory) way or understanding than what had come before it. This then, becomes a new world view: a paradigm. The successful outcomes of medicine, for instance, brought enough of a challenge to previous paradigms with their less complete explanations, to cause cultures to largely let go of older ways of understanding illness and shift to a newer one.

Many of us today have grown up within a culture that understands human wellness and illness from a medical and physiologically oriented paradigm. However, today's shamanic practitioners are attempting to bring our largely forgotten ancestral understandings back to the present. And, it is a different world. Today, we are separated from each other such that we pass each other on the sidewalk without acknowledgement; we are alienated from an Earth that is no longer recognized as a living whole; we suffer disconnection even from ourselves... This, and more, actually constitutes much of the cause for illness in the present era. We yearn for a wellness that is no longer recognized as important, and thus not accessed. The resulting turmoil and suffering of our planet and its inhabitants screams that we have somewhere lost something necessary for our survival.

In our struggle to step forward, shamanic practitioners are stepping back.

We have been reaching back to a shamanic, spiritual paradigm, which has presented some unique challenges. Successfully regathering such an ancient world view is not simply a theoretical challenge; it manifests in each step we take. What does the shamanic practitioner 'see', for instance, when she or he brings their spiritual, shamanic divination practice to the human body? We grow up within a physiological and medical world view, yet the shamanic practitioner proceeds to peer into wellness and illness from a spiritual perspective. The collision of paradigms cannot be avoided.

Let’s take a look at how one practitioner stepped into her spiritual work, yet brought with it her medical way of understanding.

She reports;

"I knelt next to the woman and rattled a little, took some deep breaths and closed my eyes. I started with a kind of quick total body scan with my hand directly over her and feeling the energy. I could sense areas of warmth and areas which were cooler. One place on her body, over her heart, wanted my hand to linger, so I did. I got a visual in my head of an object which looked like a large seedpod. The energy here was more vibratory, I could sense a quickening in the woman. I noted this and moved on. 

I didn’t feel anything else quite as drastic as the energy over her heart but I did feel changes in temperature and density of the air over her body. Some places my hands wanted to linger and some my hand quivered more than others.

I... told the woman what I saw and felt. She told me she had just been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and had started medicine for it. I know that when I saw the seedpod, my immediate impression was that she might have a growth or tumor in her breast. I didn’t say that...

… I have done Reiki for years and I feel energy with my hands. I have, in the past noticed even at my job at the hospital, that when I put my hand on people to take a blood pressure or something like that, I get sensations about their state of being both physically and emotionally. I have been very judicious with this yet have made simple remarks which surprise people that I am so intuitive. Many times, I have sent people from my (medical unit) to the emergency room without definite evidence that something is wrong and they are admitted with serious issues. I sent one man in the very beginning stages of a stroke and saved him from a very serious outcome. I also sent a man to his doctor, based on a hunch, and he was diagnosed with cancer..."

This medically trained professional is in the midst of a profound paradigm collision; one which all shamanic practitioners face after a lifetime of being growth and education within a contemporary, medically oriented culture. Squarely facing and truly working with this shift means teasing apart different ways of comprehending reality in shamanic healing, and this can be a challenge.

First, let's put one thing out their first: shamanism does not work with a cancer or stroke. Why is that? Don’t people go to see a practitioner precisely because they are finding problems in their life? Why not medical ones?

Yes, they do. And that is why this practitioner’s experiences are so important. She raises issues that underlie all of contemporary shamanic practice. Her challenge here, is also our own: to know the difference between medical and shamanic paradigms so as to know what is shamanic healing.

Cancer and strokes appears in a human body when viewed from a completely different paradigm from that of shamanism. It is a view that sees tissue, blood, bone and all the rest that makes up human physiology interacting in causes and effects that result in wellness or illness. However, everything about shamanic healing is based on the recognition that important matters - including wellness or illness in people’s lives - may change following the healing work of practitioners and their spirit helpers. What is happening: it seems like a contradiction!

Anything that shows up in a person’s life, whether it is in their body (such as a medical illness), their mind (such as psychological suffering) or their life circumstances (such as misfortune), may be related to a spiritual problem. May, yes, but not necessarily. What is important to realize is that spiritual and medical issues are not the same thing. Spiritual issues may be related to any existing ordinary reality concerns, or they may not. When we are exercising our shamanic awareness, it is the spiritual aspect of what is before us that we are sensing and working with, not a physical, psychological or social one.

There is no doubt but that this practitioner has a gift, a ‘medical intuitive’ with an extraordinary perceptive and diagnostic sense about the body’s functioning. Intuition is an ability that may serve a shamanic practitioner, but intuition is not shamanism itself. Intuition is an unconscious psychological ability to observe and recall complex multitudes of delicate, overlooked, and subtle details of present and former experiences and knowledge, and recombine these quickly into a realization for which even Sherlock Holmes would arch his eyebrows in delightful surprise.
Many people can do this, in fact, most of us have at one time or another tapped into our intuition. However, understood from a shamanic paradigm, shamanism is not just intuition.
This practitioner is very familiar with the medical side of things. This has been her career. Yet it precisely because of this training that it may difficult for her to separate her spiritual practice from her medical one. The potential complication is that ordinary reality knowledge and awareness can cloud and confuse spiritual awareness and spiritual knowledge. The shamanic practitioner's ordinary reality abilities - such as physiological knowledge of structure, function and illness in the human body - must be set very much to the side when doing shamanic work.

Much of our human vision and understanding, gathered from years of learning about and living in the physical world, is quite different from what the shamanic senses can ascertain. What is wonderful is that the same human being who can gather knowledge in ordinary reality, can also slip into non-ordinary reality and see differently. From this ability came the shaman.

The shamanic practitioner we are following here is a medically trained professional, and from her perspective, the immediate hypotheses of such things as a ‘growth’ or a ‘tumor’ would be quite understandable. She learns of previously diagnosed atrial fibrillation and all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a convoluted mix of shamanic and medical paradigms. She is approaching her work with a shamanic practice and still considering medical illness!

'Cancer', for instance, is not something that a spiritual paradigm will see, since cancer involves a medical and physiological paradigm of wellness and illness due to specific kinds of cellular, biochemical and physiological causes and effects. On the other hand, the shamanic paradigm wonders about such things as a potential loss of power, the absence of a soul part, or the presence of an intrusion (which an extraction would remove), or more. These are spiritual matters, not medical.

Curious. To step forward and bring shamanic healing to ourselves, each other and our world, we must set aside – even if temporarily – our de-spiritualized medical, psychological and social paradigms. We have seen their advantages, however the limitations of such a world are proving too much for our Earth to handle. Shamanism is being remembered and brought back to an era where the paradigms that guide humanity have critical consequences.

Our efforts as shamanic practitioners to facilitate the healing of our clients means reconnecting with a world view that sees health as being whole, knows the Earth as inextricably interconnected and living, and recognizes physical, substantial reality as only a small portion of all that exists.

Stepping forward means stepping back.