Archive for the Shamanism Category

Checking In…

Posted in Autumn, gratitude, Healing, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 2, 2015 by Standing West

The rains have gotten colder. The tomatoes are putting out the last of their fruit, but the mums are having hell of a good time for themselves. Even though we’re busier than we have been for quite some time, the hours and minutes don’t seem to carry as much weight as they used to.

I spent the morning painting miniatures and listening to the rain come down…a nice reward after a week of appointments and last night’s talk on shamanism at a local studio.

Tonight my wife and I will be catching up with some friends we haven’t seen for many months. And tomorrow afternoon we’re off to lunch with a dear friend who’s visiting from Ireland. She’s an amazing harpist and a powerful healer. We’ve worked together a couple of times, combining the harp and the frame drum; but tomorrow it’s bar food, a couple of pints, and some well-anticipated laughter.

I’ll round out the weekend with a day of teaching for a couple of advanced students on Sunday.

I like this life.

In between the healing and the ceremonial work, there’s time for a home life and all the things that go with it. We’re learning to live on faith these days, and allowing the path to shape us – instead of the other way around. Bits and pieces fall away; opening space for new things.

We head into Autumn not really knowing what it’ll bring. More and more our focus is on the present. It’s been a struggle to get to this place. And while there’s still a good deal of work to be done, it’s also good to take stock of how far we’ve come and to sit with that for a while, breathing it in…breathing it out…simply letting the current carry us forward…

By any other name…

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Shamanism on November 18, 2014 by Standing West

“Are you a shaman, Ben?”

The question came from one of the members of the group who’d gathered at a new studio for a dedication ceremony I’d been asked to officiate. We’d prayed together, smoked together, shared a cup of mead, and offered our thanks and best wishes to our hosts. It was a multi-traditional ceremony which, like so many others I’ve attended, started with a simple idea and wove itself into a tapestry of faith, love, and Spirit.

“I never use that title in reference to myself,” I answered. “Some people in my community have called me that, but I prefer to think of myself as Spirit’s roadie. I show up, put out what I’m asked to, let Spirit do His thing, and then pack up everything and leave when the work is done.”

Perhaps my answer might have seemed a bit flippant. And maybe it might not have sat well with some Elders. At this point I have no way of knowing that. All I know is that I cannot claim title over any of the healing or curing that might take place beneath my hands. I’m  simply a man who does his best to serve as a vessel for Spirit’s love…nothing more and nothing less.

I know that there are many who would look at my initial training in Michael Harner’s Core Shamanic method and classify my work as cultural poaching or “Neoshamanism”.

And this is exactly where the difficulty of a modern healing path presents itself. To truly be a vessel of Spirit, one must walk beyond the opinions of men and embrace completely the will of the Creator. Yet one must also serve one’s fellow man, honor fully the traditions that make this possible, and remember always the Elders who’ve lived and died to keep these traditions alive, and the cultures from which they have sprung.

So how does one honor a form without becoming restricted by it? I’m paraphrasing here a bit, but as a teacher of mine once put it, “What kind of healer would I be if you came up to me one day asking me to pray for your wife because she was sick, and I told you I couldn’t because I didn’t have my drum?”

I’ve tossed this issue back and forth a lot over the last couple of years and with the help of my current teacher, I‘ve come to believe that the answer lies in acknowledgement, permission, and gratitude.

When we are called to serve, we must first acknowledge and accept our responsibility to those who’ve come to us, to the Creator, and to All Our Relations. Then, with full permission of all parties involved, we open ourselves to the Will of the Creator and gratefully allow His healing light to flow through us for the greatest good of all. Whether that healing manifests itself through song, rattle, drum, dance, or smoke is immaterial – the form often changes according to the needs of the patient.

This does not mean that we “do whatever we feel like at the moment.” That is a reckless path that leaves us open to the possibility of some very hard lessons. No. What we must do, however, is place ourselves completely in Spirit’s hands, knowing that once there, “WE” aren’t the ones making the decisions. “WE” are simply the conduit through which Spirit’s will is made manifest.

Our main responsibility lies in recognizing the difference between the two. . .

Not by works…

Posted in Compassion, Healing, Religion, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 15, 2014 by Standing West

(This blog stems from a conversation I’ve had with an Elder on my Facebook page…)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The spirit of these words, given in order that we might learn humility, has been twisted to justify the killing, maiming, and raping of the World and her Peoples since they were codified. Who cares how I treat All My Relations, so long as I have faith?

How quickly we forget  these other words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” …and it is with added shame that we’ve forgotten our neighbors don’t only come in the two-legged variety.  When the central theological dogma of your culture assures your “dominion over” everything, ANY form of nature reverence can be classified as sacrilege.  (Add that to a cultural vision based upon the consumption of resources, and it makes for a VERY dangerous worldview…]

I keep thinking lately of the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit, surprisingly, with some very “pagan” ideals):

“The World is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Written in 1918, it speaks with a voice at once much older, and yet VERY applicable to the condition of world of today…

The Heart of the Matter. . .

Posted in Compassion, Forgiveness, Healing, Shamanism, Soul Retrieval, Spirituality on April 23, 2014 by Standing West

Been doing a lot of forgiving these days. Making friends with some of the pettier bits and pieces of myself. Not condoning their actions, but accepting them with love and compassion born out of the realization that the person that existed at the time of the offense simply didn’t know any better.

It’s been really neat watching the changes that have occurred along the way; watching these formerly alienated pieces of myself take up residence in the empty spaces created by the flushing away of nearly ossified anger, fear, and shame.

The abandoned children, once confined to shivering on the front porch in the wind are finally being allowed to return home.

This is the true essence of Soul Retrieval. Not the ceremony. Not the journey. Not the rattle, nor the sage, nor the drum. It is  instead the welcoming back of those pieces of us long since taken away, and the promise of recognition upon their return…

For what it’s worth. . .

Posted in Compassion, Healing, Initiation, Shamanism, Spirituality on April 22, 2014 by Standing West

So much anger and hatred these days…Sadly, I, too, have fallen victim to it in the past. Being human, I quite probably will do so again somewhere down the line. But the truth of the matter, whether we’re ready to admit it or not, is that those of us who’ve been called “healers”, even with all of our human frailties intact, MUST strive to provide an example of forgiveness. We must remember that we are the conduits through which all work – positive or negative – becomes manifest. And while it would be very easy to get bogged down in the emotional detritus of the daily news and strike out in blind rage, we must be ready to walk the harder road of compassion…IN ACTION.

A teacher of mine once told me, “Never trust a healer who doesn’t limp.” Healing isn’t about perfection…it’s about progress…slow, incremental transformation. This means bearing compassionate witness to the old crap as it comes to the surface and allowing ourselves…and others…the sacred space in which to work it out.

Lately I’ve seen some very compassionate individuals become so enraged by the mistreatment of others that they, too, have begun to advocate violence. And while I cannot, or would not, offer them the disrespect of speaking for them, I truly know that their anger comes from a place of love, and a deep knowledge that IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS.

While protecting one’s self and loved ones is a necessary thing, it should be glaringly obvious by now that this world cannot be healed at the barrel of a gun. The so-called “War to End All Wars” proved that.

I don’t come here providing any answers. I only know that performing an act of of compassion is like casting a small pebble in hopes of starting an avalanche. Because the results might not be readily observed, this requires a great deal of faith; something which seems to be sorely lacking these days, if one truly accepts the apparent writing on the wall as cannon.

So perhaps the true nature of our mission then is simply this: to keep the guttering flame of faith alive in a time of apparent darkness and chilling wind, to utilize that flame through acts of compassion in a way that provides light and heat to others in the dark places of this world, and, when the time comes, to pass that flame along to those who come after us that they might do the same…

Tales from the Crypt…

Posted in Healing, Initiation, Medicine Wheel, Shamanism, Spirituality on January 14, 2014 by Standing West

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a school of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology. It is also possible to define it as a “spiritual psychology”. The Transpersonal has been defined as “experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos.”(Wikipedia, 2011)  Through this approach, one comes to view one’s healing not only in personal terms, but in terms of how one acts – and reacts – within the entirety of creation in ways ranging from the internal to the mytho-poetic.

In the forward to Alan Bleakley’s  insightful book, Fruits of the Moon Tree: The Medicine Wheel  & Transpersonal Psychology,  Peter Redgrove talks about healing as the process of  “…becoming thin–skinned, like the shamans reported by Eliade, who have scraped and scraped the old skin off with pumice until they obtain visions of immediate truth.  The armor is off, and it is a brave man who dis-arms himself in this world.” (Bleakley, 1984)

I came to these words at a moment of relevance the other morning as I thumbed through the book passing the time before my first appointment with the Elder who facilitates our monthly sacred drumming circle. These circles are a source of wisdom and a wellspring of powerful and often deeply cathartic release.  Although we are taught various techniques and theories associated with the drum, we are mostly encouraged to do our own work, and to provide compassionate witness and support for the other members of the group.

During my individual session with our teacher, he commented on the fact that I build a wall around myself in the presence of the group, and how that wall prevents me from experiencing the type of healing release I’m hovering just at the edge of.  I agreed with him, and committed myself to be more aware of it the next time it occurred. 

As I arrived home after the session, I pulled into the driveway only to find that the wall surrounding the flower bed in front of our house had partially collapsed due to the heavy rains we’d been experiencing.  Obviously, there were larger forces at work.

At our circle the following day, I took notice as my personal walls came up, and made a focused effort to bring them down. As I decided to place myself completely in Spirit’s hands, I was aware of the loving presence of Mother Bear placing her huge paws on my shoulders and drawing me into her warmth.  This has happened several times, and so I knew that something important was about to occur.

As we started to drum, the Elder instructed us to go deeply within, and to free ourselves of those things which no longer served us.  Within minutes, my head tilted back and a series of deep growls arose from inside me.  The growling changed into laughter, then tears, then back into growling. As he reminded us to focus on our breathing, a spell of dry heaves shook my body.  These finally subsided as the drumming died down.  I was altered and tired, but also aware that I’d stumbled across an old wound hidden in the darkness and opened it up to receive the light of healing.

Turning again to Bleakley: “The unacknowledged and unknown is the dark part of us, our other self (wyrd) or shadow, the part that we are to become or individuate to.  The wyrd is then our destiny, which is open to choice.  Because it is unacknowledged or remains unconscious, the shadow naturally distorts and disables, and then carries ‘negative’ content…To raise this to the light, or to descend with illumination and enlightenment to our ‘other’ part, our depths, is a task for which we have many guidelines from older psychologies such as mythology, fairy tale, legend, and alchemy…” (Bleakley, 1984)

While this was by no means a resolution to years of psychic damage brought on by living in an impoverished household with an emotionally abusive and binge alcoholic father, it was undoubtedly an important step in the Wounded Healer’s Journey.

When I returned to the book a couple days later, I came across the following: “In the first chapter we argue that the shadow, as vulnerability or wound is also opportunity in disguise, a gift.  And that the receiving of a wound by the male hero in myth, usually a goring by a boar in the left ‘thigh’ is parallel to the ‘given’ but ‘hidden’ menstrual wisdom of women.  If the wound is left as openness in character, a place where feeling and value ‘speak’ directly, rather than closed over prematurely, then we may engage with the shadow through this wound, and in this, energy is released for creative application.”  (Bleakley, 1984)

As I type these words, I’m reminded of the oval shaped birthmark on my own left thigh.  I see the healing that has already taken place, and recognize that a good deal of work still lies ahead of me.  I find strength in this, and I know that facing whatever I need to will only further prepare me to serve as a vessel and compassionate witness for the healing of All My Relations. . .


Bleakley, A. (1984). Fruits of the Moon Tree: The Medicine Wheel & Transpersonal Psychology. London: Gateway Books.

Wikipedia. (2011, April). Transpersonal Psychology. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

“Yo, how much?”

Posted in Healing, Shamanism, Spirituality on December 17, 2013 by Standing West

Things have been a little busy around the campfire these last few weeks, what with the holidays and all; and I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I’ve also made up my mind not to write something until I can’t NOT write it.

I had a gig a while back with a poetry group and for the first couple of years, the words came fast and easy.  Of course, they were mostly crap…or, not so much crap as the scum you have to scrape off to get to the good stuff underneath.

I had a lot of help from a lot of friends, and even recorded a poetry cd with some buddies of mine back in Scranton.  I was reading out quite a bit back then, and managed to headline a couple of times thanks to a very accommodating friend in Boston, where I met up with the president of a small record label.  It was a lot of fun, and I was very blessed by the experience. 

Eventually, though, the words  ran dry (it was therapy anyway, so I more than got my money’s worth out of the 5 or 6 years that it lasted).  Towards the end, my writing got forced and stilted.  I caught myself sitting down and writing just to write, and when I took a good look at the drek I was churning out, I chucked all my written work (kept the cd’s though; I still have almost a thousand of them in the crawlspace), and made up my mind I would never write another word again unless I couldn’t keep myself from doing so.  Consequently, my postings here are sometimes a bit erratic.

At any rate, I’ve been plowing through a lot of alternative press, conspiracy websites, and spiritual boards of late, and I started thinking about my recent experiences with my teacher and another group of students I’m working with.  The concurrent student/teacher perspective on my part’s kind of interesting; infuriating sometimes, enlightening at others, but a definite blessing every step of the way.  Not that we’re not always in that position every minute of our lives…I guess it’s just never been so formalized before.  It’s kicking my ass one half of the time and patching it up the other.

So what struck me most about these boards is how easily certain bits of in-depth information get thrown around, and how quick some people are to diagnose based on a couple of sentences without so much as even a consultation. And while I won’t speak ill of another practitioner, it concerns me sometimes owing to the mercurial nature of the average chat board. Personal experience has taught me that one can never completely anticipate the motives of the person on the other end of the wire. 

I also see a lot of questions about what people are charging for their services.  I used to participate in these discussions, but lately something’s dawned on me.  There are only two reasons someone would have for asking a question like this: 1) The person doesn’t trust in their own ability to ask the Creator (or their Guides) for an answer.  Or 2) They have it in their mind to “undercut” you.  Often they’ll swear that it’s only because they don’t want to charge too much – and they may really believe that’s the reason; but the unrealized or unspoken truth of the matter in this particular case is that it’s really number 1.

I’m not taking a stance on payment here.  I agree we all need to eat and fill the gas tank more than occasionally, and for some of us the work is all there is.

I guess I just feel that the matter – and manner – of compensation is between the Creator, the practitioner, and the patient; like anything else we do when we’re called to serve.  Seems to me if we can trust the Creator enough to glue a person’s psyche back together after a seriously traumatic event, we can probably also trust Him/Her/It enough to tell us how He/She/It will provide for us in the form of compensation. . .



%d bloggers like this: