Why Do We Still Need Shamans?
Posted September 7, 2018
By Kenn Day
Standing at the firelight’s periphery, the shaman has, through eons of time, served as both shield and intermediary between the community huddled around the fire and the vastness of the unknown. Today’s shaman still holds this position, but the nature of both community and the unknown have changed beyond recognition. Almost no one reading this lives in a tribal culture as a cohesive whole, and the unknown is defined as that which cannot be measured by science.
But we still peer into the darkness together, searching for connections between ourselves and our ancestors, the Earth, and each other. These same connections have defined more than 70,000 years of human existence, where the most important unit was the tribe, the clan, the whole — rather than the individual. It is only in the past few hundred years that this structure has broken down so far that those of us born into today’s Western cultures no longer know what it means to belong in the same way our ancestors did.
This shift from tribal consciousness — identifying as the group before the individual — to post-tribal culture has left us with an invisible wound, a deep yearning for connection, for union, for the immediate and palpable presence of our ancestors and the spirits that populate the world. This wound is invisible, because it rests beneath our conscious mind, out of sight of our experience of everyday life. Yet it manifests in every part of our lives, from parental/child disconnections to addiction and abusive relationships. We only sense an undefined hunger that drives us to seek solace in alcohol, drugs, or anything else that seems like it might be that for which we are starving. But nothing we reach for in this way can fill the void.
These are the needs that today call to the shaman. The need for connection; to know where we belong; to know where we come from; to feel we are a part of something larger than ourselves; the need of all these parts to realize themselves as one complete whole. When these universal human needs are not met, when we find ourselves instead feeding our hunger with addictions and self-abusive choices, we lose something of our humanity.
Years ago, I coined the term Post-Tribal Shamanism to define the shaman’s altered role in modern culture. Many traditional shamanic tools, like soul retrieval and energetic healing, still play an important role in the work of the post-tribal shaman. The focus of the work itself, however, has shifted…
In tribal cultures, the shaman maintains the health and cohesion of the tribe as a whole. Individuals are treated in service to the good of the community in addition to their personal wellbeing. The post-tribal shaman’s community consists of those individuals to whom they are in service. It is now the individual who needs to be supported, empowered, and healed, with the goal of restoring community as our wounds are addressed.
In soul retrieval, for example, the tribal shaman generally performs the retrieval for the client, journeying to the location of the fragment, capturing it, and “blowing” it back into the client’s body. In our current culture of extreme individuation, it can be much more effective for the shaman to engage the client in the process, to bring them on the journey and have them experience directly the return of missing soul fragments. It is also important for the client to recognize they have done the work and are responsible for integrating the retrieved parts of the soul back into the self.
The post-tribal shaman still stands at the edge of the light, though now it is cast by computer screens, mobile phones, and LED lights. The darkness has also changed. Becoming deeper and less easily navigated, even by the light of day. As long as our need for wholeness exists, there will be shamans who call us into the sacred space where we all feel a profound link with each other, the Earth, the Divine, and our ancestors — and where we rediscover the healing power of deep connection with the self.
Kenn Day is a nationally recognized lecturer, educator, and author with over 25 years’ experience exploring the mysteries of the human spirit. He founded the Foundation for Post-Tribal Shamanic Studies and the practice of Post-Tribal Shamanism, developing the essential teachings of shamanic practice for those who grew up in the highly individualized culture of the West. Post-Tribal Shamanic Studies espouse that the reality models and techniques of traditional shamanism can be effectively adapted for use in our post-technological society.
Kenn’s books, Dance of Stones: A Shamanic Road Trip and Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways have been foundational in the development and popularization of Post-Tribal Shamanism as a path of personal development for adherents of neo-shamanism.
A founding member of the Institute for Human Development, Kenn began alternative healing studies with hypnosis, NLP, and creative visualization techniques. He has studied Indigenous forms of shamanic practice, as well as shiatsu, movement technique, traditional massage therapy, jin shin do, and other body-centered therapies. He was a member of the founding faculty of the Academy of Chinese Acupuncture in Lebanon, Ohio, teaching medical qi gong and tai chi.
He is a massage therapist certified since 1981 by the Ohio State Medical Board. He is a Certified Systemic Constellation Facilitator trained in Systemic Constellation Work pioneered by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. Kenn has taught over 3,200 workshops worldwide, including Canyon Ranch-Tucson, Atlantis Bookshop- London, and the PhysioPhysical Institute- Chicago, among many others.
To visit Kenn’s website, click here.
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This article appears in:
2018 Catalyst, Issue 18: Qigong Global Summit
Patricia's recent article on the
Cycle of Healthy Decisions
Since 2000, I have been passionate about helping people maintain mobility, strength and an over all sense of healthy balance in their lives. My foundational training is in Shiatsu, which is a form Asian bodywork that is holistic. In a time when doctors and health practitioners have become very specialized, I help fit all the pieces into the big picture, and help people with everyday lifestyle changes that bring the results they desire. In addition to Shiatsu, I am certified in deep tissue bodywork, Ayurvedic nutrition, and a national certified yoga teacher. I work with a wide range of clients - from people who are trying to address chronic illness or pain and lessen the effects of aging, to Iron Man triathletes and professional ballet dancers, and everything in between.
My teachers in school used to always say, “like begets like,” meaning certain attitudes or actions will create more of the same. This is very true when cultivating habits. Most of us have experienced some form of the downward health cycle - got too little sleep, so we need coffee to get us going in the morning, and sugar to fuel us through the afternoon slump, and a drink to help us wind down in the evening. Although that scenario might be unavoidable from time to time, it is not a path that leads to optimal health over the long term. Conversely, the upward moving cycle of healthy habits is made one decision at a time, like little stepping stones carrying us along the path ever closer to our health goals. This approach of many little health focused decisions is successful because it is not overwhelming. Just choose one healthy thing to focus on right now - maybe it is taking a deeper breath, or a sip of water, or sitting up straighter. Great! You just took a step in the right direction. One healthy decision leads to another, each one building on the last, creating momentum that adds up to some big health impacts. This strategy of being “action focused” instead of goal focused is extremely important because you will be able to track your actions much sooner than you can track your results. It gives you instant feedback on how well you are doing. You might not always be able to have control over the situations, but you do have control over your actions. Everyday focusing on your healthy actions leads you inevitably towards your healthy destination.
9 Steps in the Cycle of Healthy Decisions
1. K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple Sweetheart Whether starting a new health routine, a new diet, joining a gym, or making New Year's resolutions, it is tempting to use this fresh start as an opportunity to give your whole lifestyle a make over. Don’t. Make this easy and your goals attainable. What is the one healthy choice you can make for this day/week/month and really stick to it? When that gets easier, then add a new one in.
2. Get Hydrated! Luckily for us, carrying a water bottle everywhere we go has become the norm. But are you actually hydrated? Once there was the suggestion of eight x 8 ounce glasses per day, but as we now know, one size does not fit all. The new recommendation is to drink 1/2 ounce of water per day for every pound you weigh. That means the average man that weighs 180 pounds needs to drink a minimum of 90 ounces of water per day to keep his organs in optimum health. For him, this is 40% more than the previously suggested amount that was one size fits all. Yet, a 100 pound teenager needs to drink a minimum of 50 ounces to keep their electrolytes balanced and healthy. Increasing water intake by even a little helps create a level of natural satiety, and thus curbs cravings for salty and sweet foods and cuts calories. Increasing water has proven helpful in balancing blood sugars and reducing the chance of diabetes, lowering blood pressure and reducing risk of heart disease, increasing healthy kidney function, reducing inflammation and edema, improving digestive motility, and reducing symptoms from seasonal allergies. It is an easy healthy choice you can make while in the car, in a meeting, or waiting for the kids to finish sports practice.
3. Move 20 Minutes a Day This is not new information. For years we have been told that this sedentary lifestyle is slowly eroding our health. So you need to take a good look at what is keeping you from being consistent with this healthy choice. Schedule it in as if your life depends on it, because it does. Pick something you enjoy, and do it. We need a combination of some full body strength training or resistance training mixed with some cardio for heart health. Walking, biking, and swimming are all low impact and extremely good for the lungs and heart. For fat loss, you can shorten the time to 15 minutes, but push yourself to do intervals of 1 minute at an accelerated speed, then 1 minute at a normal speed to let your heart recover. Repeat these intervals throughout the 15 minutes. Make it fun! Play out in the yard with the kids or grandkids. Turn on some music and have your own cardio dance party. Try a yoga or pilates class. Just keep moving.
4. Eat Produce and Protein When it come to healthy decisions about eating, all meals and snacks should revolve around 2 parts produce and 1 part protein. For your 3 main meals half of your plate should be filled with produce, mainly vegetables. Then the other half is split between protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans) and healthy carbs (sweet potato, rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread or pasta). Snacks can be comprised of fruit and nuts/nut butter, or veggies with hummus or cheese. Eating a larger portion of
vegetables is an easy step towards greater health, because they are nutrient dense and help fill you up, while having relatively few calories.
5. Make a Grocery List Having a grocery list and sticking to it is your secret plan for success. This goes hand in hand with step #4. Having a grocery list ensures you have the produce and protein on hand for your meals and snacks. You can either approach it as meal planning for the week, or write down your favorite produce and protein staples to have in your kitchen. Having a list will also help you save time when at the store. You will find that most of your healthier foods, produce and protein choices, are along the outer wall of the store because they are shipped in fresh and many need refrigeration. Right before you get to the checkout, take another look in the cart to make sure you are making healthy decisions, because if you bring it home chances are you will eat it.
6. Preparation is More Reliable Than Luck Sometimes you get lucky and you have more time at lunch than expected, or the special at the restaurant is a healthy option, or there is a veggie tray at the party...but you can’t count on it, so it is better to have a plan. If you have a busy schedule, it is important to look ahead and know when your mealtimes will be each day. Try to space your big meals about 4-5 hours apart, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop, which can lead to grabbing whatever “food” is close and fast. Packing your own lunch and snacks for school and work means you always have a healthy option close by, and is a great way to save time and money. I pack my lunches for the week all at once. That way in the morning I can just grab and go. Before heading off to a party with lots of snack foods, I try to make sure I have had some veggies or a salad so that I am not super hungry or tempted when I walk in the door.
7. Plan Your Indulgences We all have favorite foods that are less than ideal, and like to indulge ourselves with a treat. And you should from time to time, so you don’t feel deprived. If we feel limited, it is harder to stay on track and we tend to rebel against the healthy cycle. Enjoy yourself, but planning makes sure you don’t over do it. Our planned indulgences should be about 10% of what we eat, resulting in a couple guilt free indulgences per week.
8. Stay on Track by Keeping Stress Manageable All too often when our schedule gets busy and stress increases, our coping skills and healthy habits decrease. But it is during those times of high intensity that we need to feel our best and keep a clear head, so we can get it all done. Try to have a couple of
“go to stress reducers” that help take the edge off and keep you on track. Here are some common techniques that my clients use. Focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. Do 5 minutes of yoga to reconnect to your body. Step outside and get some fresh air. Take a short walk. Listen to an upbeat song to lighten the heart. Color or make art to help refocus. Read something inspirational. Open up and laugh.
9. Go to Bed This is the one piece of advice that I see missing from most articles like this one. Get better sleep by going to bed a little earlier. It can really be the missing key to it all. The ideal time to go to bed is between 9:30-11pm. The hours you sleep before midnight have twice the restorative benefit. The body tends to break down your food and clean itself out between 11pm-1am, and repairs are mostly done between 1-3am...but only if you are asleep during those times. Hang in there, I know this is big one for people to change. But every little bit helps. Try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier than usual. Then each week try pushing it back another 15 minutes, until you hit that 9:30-11pm range. Imagine waking up feeling rested, not needing sugar, caffeine or snacking to make it through the day. Better sleep balances hormones, reduces cortisol, and reduces risk of diabetes and heart issues. This one healthy decision packs a big punch making other healthy decisions to fall into place with greater ease. As a mom, going to bed a little earlier meant I could get up before my day officially started and have a little quiet “me time” to workout, or read, or get a jump start on my day.
This all sounds good, but where do we start? Start with the most movable piece, the point that seems the least intimidating. For most people the easiest place to start is just by drinking a little more water. This has a big impact on the brain and nervous system, blood and muscles. Next, work on getting those 20 minutes of movement in each day. If you start moving, you will immediately begin feeling better. And when you feel better, it is easier to make healthy decisions on what you eat. Exercise also helps prepare you for a better night’s sleep.
We tend to start strong when creating a new habit, because we have broken through the resistance we might have to change, and are excited by the results we hope to see. It is natural for that enthusiasm to wane after a couple weeks. We get busy, and other areas of our life seem to take over. We are seeing our efforts, but the results we desire may still feel far off in the distance...this is when you need some external support to help you stick to the healthy cycle you are creating. You can journal about what your healthy actions are and how they will carry you to your goals. Share them with a family member or friend for
accountability. Don’t go it alone, ask for help. Ask someone to join you for a walk or your 20 minutes of exercise. Make a healthy meal to share with a friend or neighbor. Talk to others that you know have been successful at integrating healthy habits into their lives to inspire you to keeping cultivating the healthy cycle of decisions. Trust the process and stick to the plan. Try to make it through the first month, then you will have built up enough momentum to help carry you through the rough patches. We all have a rough day from time to time, don’t get stuck there. If you happen to get off track, just acknowledge it and commit to doing at least one thing during the rest of the day to get back on track. Instead of focusing on the mistakes, remind yourself of the good choices you have been making and how they have made you feel. once had a teacher tell me, “You just have to be healthy a little more often then not, try to be good 51% of the time”.
In this modern day of technology there are tons of tools available to help you stay on track with your healthy actions. There are fitness trackers made by Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin that connect to an app on your phone to help you keep track of heart rate, steps, exercise, water, food, and sleep. They also provide healthy tips to help keep you motivated. In addition, there are several fitness apps to download to your phone that do everything from helping plan meals and suggest recipes, to creating customizable workouts where you pick the length of time and difficulty and they stream a video to your phone. Some of my favorites are MyFitnessPal, PEAR, FitStar and Pocket Yoga. For encouragement, there are also several online communities of others interested in the same healthy decisions and addressing similar challenges.
This article appears in the Kroger April supplement. Look for it in your mail!