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A Sacred Earth Once Again

    A Sacred Earth   

               Once Again

                                      By Steve Serr

                                                You can listen to this talk, recorded
                                              January 28, 2011 by letting the player 
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                                                        Or you can read it, below.

                                                                        (mp3 format, about 20 minutes)

The Earth was once admired, even worshiped, though human sensitivity has become distanced from our Earth and its natural forces. As a consequence, we have become distanced from the emotional and psychological wisdom and healing our Earth offers. With the myth of ‘progress’ and civilization, human-Earth relations are being lost. The loss of this intimate relationship is the core of what is becoming the single most toxic source of human and Earth problems.

In pre-history, shamanism ‘sprouted’ among people living in an intimate relationship with the Earth. Today, we most commonly know of shamanism as a source of healing techniques: technical procedures that find their power from the natural relationship humans once had with nature. Shamanism thrives because of the relationship, where nature and psyche co-exist in an integrated whole. However, shamanism is so much more than healing techniques: it is an ancient and powerful posture towards self and world that enables healing by proceeding from this integrated understanding of humans and the Earth. Shamanism is a holistic, natural spirituality.

We need a functional cosmology. How many times have I heard shamanic practitioners talk of profound experiences they have had of understanding or insight, received through one or another, simple shamanic practice. Such practitioners incessantly recount significant revelations that took them by surprise. Take for example, this discovery from a woman who happened to notice a red-tail hawk flying in circles above her. She was engaged in a shamanic practice that opened her up to the healing and potential wisdom of the Earth, and then she saw the hawk. This apparently plain encounter caused her to leap across any separation between nature and herself. She realized that there was a message being given to her by this large bird flying overhead: “Let your spirit soar… Free (your) spirit, fly freely… changing the way you look at things.” One could counter that anyone could have plopped down a hundred dollars for a psychotherapist’s chair and realized something similar. How intriguing it is, however, to note that the natural world has an immediate therapeutic healing potential. Simply by engaging in a shamanic practice built on the recognition that our Earth itself is healing, we can be opened up to this.

Birds fly around us all of the time. Sometimes they try to fly across four-lane highways and are left in crumpled tufts of feathers at the side of the road. Those who plant lawns chase them away when they peck at new lawn seed, or feast at their apple tree. On the other hand, we love them when they sing outside our window, that is, except when we are trying to sleep. For many, birds are simply a delight or a bother, depending on what their personal interests are at the time. If we are planting a lawn, preparing to harvest apples, or trying to sleep, we chase them away. If we are sipping our coffee at the kitchen table window, we succumb to their song. For much of our lives, if we notice them at all, we see them as we, in our human-centered way, find them helpful or a hindrance to our immediate desires: an object of beauty, bother, or disinterest.

The ‘functional cosmology’ that we seek may already be present – at least a glimpse of it – glimmering amidst our most ancient cosmology. This primal, shamanic Earth-centered spirituality begins from the early realization that birds, as well as the rest of nature, are profound teachers and healers. However, if we do not recognize the wisdom and healing they have the potential to bring us, we are apt to consider them simply a detail, a nuance, or unimportant matter. When we are distanced from the natural world, we lose the opportunity to realize the blessings of this world, even in our immediate lives.

It so happened that another practitioner, a man, also had an encounter with a bird when through a shamanic practice, he opened himself up to experience the wisdom of his natural world. He emotionally recounted;

“Suddenly a small bird flew in over the river in front of me, from the left side, and began to fly circles in front of and around me. I know he knew I was sitting there against the stone wall. At times, in his circles, he would fly straight at me, before breaking off, left of right. I was totally captured by its dance, exclaiming, ‘Oh my, oh my’ as the tears welled up and ran down my face. It flew just… darting, swaying, down over and close to the churning water… (it) finally exited left as it had come in, but the tears did not and would not stop.”

When later, in a shamanic journey, he contemplated the meaning of this encounter that was so plainly profound and important to him, he realized that the bird was “…quite simply, you at your best. That’s what you look like when you are grounded, alert, and alive. When you can’t remember who you are or how to proceed, just think of that bird flying over the river and over you as being yourself. That will bring you back.”

The Earth and humanity are both begging that we humans develop a cosmology and spirituality that begins to heal the Earth, and ourselves. For the Earth, it is our technological assault on the biological community that has led to her pain. For humanity, it is our estrangement from the healing of the natural world that has led to our social and psychological ills. Living in cities, behind walls, locked away from the soil by thick slabs of concrete, we become neurotic with our narrowed view, uncomfortable in our core, tenuously searching for meaning and peace in a kind of sheltering prison of our own making.

I believe this is why there is a growing surge of interest in shamanism. Gaia is calling us back to her. Shamanic healing practices that grew from an intimate relationship with the natural world are being sought precisely at the same time as our growing human recognition of the tragedy our separation from the Earth. Shamanism is a spiritual life, a relationship with a healing Earth that once reestablished, enables us to lessen the destruction and begin the healing of both ourselves and our Earth. Be prepared in shamanism, to find wisdom and understanding, and peace.

I believe that some clues towards a functional cosmology for today may be found amidst the sensibilities and world view of the most ancient shamanic healing techniques. To move forward, we may first need to step back. Shamanism grew from the Earth, a product of an intimate relationship with Gaia. The spirituality that flows through shamanism may be different from what we need in today’s world in order to repair our relationship with the Earth, but I believe there are essential elements in shamanism that fulfill this need.

What we need is a spirituality that leaves us in gratitude for Gaia, reverence, and a commitment powerful enough to motivate change in our behavior. The ancient forms of shamanism may not fit perfectly, but there has to be potential in a spirituality where watching even the smallest aspect of Gaia, a simple small bird flying back in forth, brings wisdom and leads to tears of gratitude and joy.

© 2010, Steve Serr