Much is written about the mystical and spiritual dimensions of shamanism, including how to work with the Elements, the nature of shamanic journeying, and the ins and outs of soul-level healing. However, what can get lost in the mix is the perspective underpinning all of shamanistic practice.
The foundation underlying the spiritual side of shamanism is the understanding that all beings are connected and interrelated. We are all part of one giant soup. Taking this lesson to heart not only deepens our appreciation for shamanism, but can have profound influence on how we live in modern-day society regardless of any specific spiritual practice.
In modern culture, the egoic notion of separation from each other and the natural world is repeatedly reinforced. We venerate the individual: the self-made executive, the person who overcame all these odds, the “most valuable” athlete, or the solo rock star. There are no pronouns in English that we capitalize except for “I,” indicating that we consider it to be the most important word in a sentence.
This concept of separation is in direct opposition to what native tribes took as indelible fact: life is one giant partnership between all beings. Chief Seattle famously reminds us, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together.”
When I teach an introductory class on shamanism I spend a significant portion of time focusing on this. Without grounding in this perspective, the shamanic techniques lose context and meaning, and can easily get lumped into mystical spiritual experiences instead of a promoting a profound connection with life.
Regardless of any spiritual practice or specific shamanic technique, putting the perspective of partnership and interrelationship front and center in our mindset breaks down the modern-day notion of separation. It helps us move from a perspective of “I” to one of “we,” and provides a platform for us to transcend much of our human woes.
For example, we are able to move beyond victimhood. Victimhood is rooted in the perspective that life happens “to” us and we are powerless to affect it. When something happens that we find displeasing, or painful, a victimhood mindset will take it personally. Shifting into the perspective of relationship, we can be in relationship both with our pain and the cause of our pain. We are then an integral part of the situation, and our actions and reactions can change the nature of our experience.
Instead of, “I didn’t get this job, the Universe hates me,” it can be, “This job and I weren’t the right fit for each other. Spirit is working to teach me things and help me find a better fit.”
Self-Doubt Loses Meaning
Self-doubt takes on a very different meaning when we look at it through the lens of relationship. “Oh, I can’t do that,” Self-Doubt exclaims, “I’m not good enough.” It reinforces the idea that you are an entity operating on your own, and you have to perform flawlessly in order to have some desired result.
Instead of, “I’m not enough to talk to the attractive woman across the room,” what if it’s not your job to impress her? If you look at the meeting of someone new as a relational experience, then there is a shared sense of responsibility for how the meeting goes. The pressure is no longer solely on your shoulders. Approaching the meeting from a place of cooperation engenders a flow that ultimately promotes an easier connection.
You Are Never Alone
If we are always in relationship, how can we ever be truly alone?
One of the most powerful teachings I have ever had was from my friend and mentor Dr. Steven Farmer, who noted that many native languages do not contain a word for “object.” The idea that everything is a being is deeply rooted in their perspective of life.
Shamanism speaks of the Star People, the Tree Beings, the Stone People all as these conscious beings who I can and do have a relationship with. If everything is a being, then I am never alone.
That doesn’t mean I won’t ever feel lonely, of course. I may feel lonely if I’m not connecting with others in a meaningful way, or if a significant part of who I am doesn’t feel seen or honored. However, I can take that sense of loneliness as a chance to explore other relationships, other dimensions of myself, or other ways of relating to who is around me.
In addition, I am always in relationship with Spirit. I stem from Spirit, and she sees me wholly and completely. To be alone means I am cut off from all other beings, which is truly impossible. Even in my most lonely of moments, I will still have Spirit to connect with, and will therefore never be alone.
Competition Turns to Cooperation
Competition is also rooted in this idea of separation. Competition assumes a zero-sum game, where in order for one person to win, someone must lose. In order for me to gain, someone else has to sacrifice. Again, when we turn to the idea of interrelationship, this argument loses relevance.
As an acupuncturist and shamanic practitioner, I am not in competition with the other healers in the area. All our work is dependent on having a quality, trusted relationship with our clients. The skills and energy I bring to a client are unique to me, and will only be the right fit for a certain group of people. Clients who are a better fit for other healers will naturally gravitate towards them.
The same is true for restaurants, auto mechanics, hair stylists, and romantic partners.
Making it Personal
Even beyond the items I have listed above, consider the implications of applying the perspective of “everything is a relationship” to things such as food, alcohol, money, work, vacation, your car, your home, your phone, your computer, the weather, the news, hope, fear, stress, anxiety, medicine, your to-do list, your past, your future, or your body. Seeing yourself as in relationship with all these things has the power to transform your experience of your life.
I offer a suggestion for a way to deepen your own sense of interrelationship.
Consider something in your life that you struggle with. That could be money, or relationships, or a specific person or event. For this exercise, I wouldn’t choose something that is particularly traumatizing, but something where you find you get caught in resistance, frustration, anger, or victimization. If you are unfamiliar with shamanic journeying as a practice, you may think of this as a meditation or a daydream in which you ask the spirit of that struggle or situation to speak with you. The intention is to ask Spirit to show you how you can view that struggle through the lens of “everything is relational.” Ask what this deeper understanding of that situation holds for you. Listening to recorded drumming music can be very helpful during this experience.
A client of mine performed this journey to better understand the death of his grandfather, who passed when he was 12. His grandfather was his hero in life, and my client was really stung by that loss. The journey revealed to him the importance for him to lose his grandfather even though he was the only person in his family to fully honor him for who he was. There was a conscious memory for my client of what it meant to be fully seen and unconditionally loved, which served as an anchor for him to reclaim that later in life, after straying into some murkier waters.
That realization was a huge relief for him, and it helped him view his grandfather’s death with greater purpose and meaning, freeing him from some of the anger and sadness he held, thirty years after he passed. It also helped him see the importance of him stepping into those murkier waters of unhealthy relationships and false identities assumed as a necessary step for him to fully claim his own right to love and be loved fully.
To appreciate shamanism fully, we must embrace this understanding of how we are always in relationship. From there, the depths of journeying, divination, ceremony, calling in the Directions, and working with the Elements come into far greater meaning. Taken beyond specific shamanic techniques, applying this underlying perspective of interrelationship can have a profound effect on your entire life.