I’ve been thinking about money, a difficult subject. In many First Nations communities, shamans and other healers do not receive payment for their services. In those communities, healers usually hold day jobs, and heal in their off hours. Rather than paying for the healer’s services, families and individuals bear the costs of ceremonies and other healing rituals. Thus, both the work, and the economic costs and benefits of healing, are spread throughout the community. Traditionally, the person seeking healing, their friends and family, and even friends of friends contribute in order to ensure the success of ritual and ceremony. Healing is a decidedly public and communal activity from which the healer receives limited, or no, direct economic benefit.
In modern Western healing traditions,the focus of healing, and the accompanying economic activity, is on the individual. Both illness and healing are presumed to be personal and private, and usually the individual is responsible for payment of any fees for service. (This payment may be indirect, perhaps through third party insurers.) Further, the individual and the family are understood to be isolated and encapsulated economic entities, removed from both the human and natural communities, and responsible for the outcomes of their illnesses and dilemmas.
I find myself holding a more traditional worldview, and understanding of the healing process. At the same time I am embedded in a fee-for-service market economy. Clearly, there are deep and profound contradictions where I stand. (The Laughing Shaman playfully addresses some of these! )
This was brought home to me not long ago, when I received a request for shamanic aid from someone who was visiting the local area. This person had been working with the shaman of the West Coast for some time, and was planning to continue that work. I was asked to address issues which had arisen during their stay in Vermont.
At the end of the session I discovered that the West Coast shaman was charging $250 for an hour and a half session. I was curious how my client, a student, could afford those fees. It turned out they saw the shaman frequently, and paid for sessions by doing without many basic necessities, a situation which appeared to be exacerbating the illness. At the same time, neither the shaman nor the client had made any effort to engage the client’s family and friends in the healing process. Indeed, the client actively rejected my suggestion they do so.
In some odd way, illness and troubles had ensnared both the healer and the patient in a very Western style trap, a trap that resisted changes that might have facilitated healing. Of course, they were not, and are not, alone or unique in their quandary. We urban healers, deeply embedded in the dominant economic and social system, must negotiate the challenges and contradictions inherent in the system, and often find ourselves mired there. After all, we need to eat.
Oddly, even as we find ourselves caught up in the market economy, we may benefit from challenging a system built on conformity, isolation, and greed. After all, our current social system seems designed to create economic gain from the unhappiness and illness of its citizens, including healers and other health care providers. It seems to me, thinking together about the contradictions inherent in our work, and options for truly facilitation healing, though challenging, is a conversation worth having.