Thursday, I received the latest addition of the The Journal of Shamanic Practice, published by the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. Within, there is a fine article by Tim Cowan. Tim writes about our collective tendency to wish to intervene in, and heal, everything that goes amiss in the world. He suggests, following, and quoting, the late Barbara Myerhoff, the heart of shamanic practice is finding balance between the good and the bad, suffering and compassion, action and acceptance. (Sandra Ingerman has written similar thoughts regarding recent heartbreaking events in Japan.)
In his article, “The Tao of Shamanism”, Tim uses the metaphor of The Tao to suggest we think carefully before using shamanic influence to respond to potential, or actual crises, even disasters. Sometimes we might best do nothing, trusting Pachamama to be the self regulating system she is. (I was reminded of an idea in climatology that efforts to change the weather in one place, inevitable change the weather for other places as well. One may prevent a storm drenching participants in a celebration at place “A”, only to have the energy involved in producing that storm create storminess for persons at point “B”. Similarly, efforts to disrupt hurricanes, thus preventing them from striking the U.S. Gulf Coast, risk depriving the Everglades of water, eventually dropping the water table for all of South Florida, and creating severe drought.)
Tim encourages us to just be present to the unfurling of events, providing care for the human, and other, victims of disasters, yet not trying to change the underlying structure or unfolding of events. I imagine he is addressing our culture’s, and thus our own, essential, inherited, fear and hubris. I wonder at our belief that our actions will NOT have unintended, perhaps more harmful, effects than those associated with the events we are seeking to change. (This is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice quandary.)
At yet another level of awareness and meaning, we recognize that everything in the universe is interconnected. When we understand all creation to be interwoven, we begin to acknowledge our place within a web of complex relationships. Because we are human, we love and care, feel happiness and grief, as our lives, and the lives of those we love, unfold. In the moment, life’s dramas are real. Yet, the interweaving of all creation implies everything is all right, even when it isn’t. How do we find the courage and the wisdom to hold this extended view, even in the face of cataclysm?
I imagine our task is to be fully human, which means to be alive to, and to care passionately from, each of these levels. We need to work to stop genocide and global climate change, and to aid the victims of tidal waves. Yet, we must also see that we humans are part of, and dependent upon, vast and complex processes essential to the very workings of a living planet. We must recognize that with so very many people living in the world, we will of necessity be caught up in events that are natural phenomena, yet seem disastrous to us. We are challenged to somehow keep perspective, humility, and gratitude even in the face of tragedy. (Or to regain them over time ,once we have, inevitably, lost them.) Humility may mean realizing we cannot cure all ills, and our very efforts on behalf of some, may make things worse for others.
Humanity insists we care and work. Humility teaches us to have compassion, to breathe, and to let go. Shamanism insists we find balance. These can be very challenging lessons.