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The shaman down the hall

In the spirit of the holiday season, I thought I would describe my experience of going to a shaman the other day. As I was lying there on the ritual rug having a gourd rattle shaken over me, I thought, hey, some people on my LiveJournal friends list may not have been to a shaman. I should describe this.

I used to go to an acupuncturist whose office was in a converted house in Northwest Portland. When my quest for a) enlightenment, b) healing of the Nameless Darkness In My Soul™, and c) relief from this weird and unaccountable swelling of one ankle went beyond what Mr. Needles could do even with The Seven Dragons, acupuncture's nuclear option, he referred me to "the shaman down the hall."

Intrigued--not to mention desperate--I made an appointment. The shaman down the hall, it turns out, was Sandy, a Reedie from the Sixties with a Philadelphia accent, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a specialty in trauma therapy. But he's also a trained shaman.

Shamans journey. They travel to Lower World and Upper World, accompanied by totem birds and animals, demanding a cure for what ails you, sometimes wresting the answers forcefully from whatever's hanging onto them. Then they either remove the problem from your body--extraction--or find and restore missing bits--soul retrieval.

Over the course of three years' work, Sandy encouraged me to learn the shamanic journey myself. I took several courses, and he helped me refine what I'd learned, but journeying wasn't a part of my therapy. We accomplished miracles with slightly more mainstream methods, and concluded our efforts three years ago.

The NDIMS™ made a big comeback recently. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that after three years of living in daylight (standing on my feet, being a girl) I was ready to deal with the next level.

Whatever. I called the shaman down the hall and asked if he could find my soul.

Sandy's office is unchanged: two chairs, a small chest with a lamp on it, a window looking east. But this time there's a large rawhide drum against the wall. A tray filled with votive candles in glass holders of all colors sits on the chest, and in front of this fire are a Zuni stone bear fetish and a little crystal Buddha.

Sandy asks me for permission to journey on my behalf. I give it. I lie on the Navajo-style rug, my head near the window, my feet toward the door, looking up at the candlelight flickering on the ceiling.

He begins with rattling. Noisy, raucous rattling produced by a gravel-filled gourd on a stick.

It clears the room. He shakes the rattle over my body. I close my eyes. It's all a little strange. Uncomfortable. I think I'll just drop into "not really here" mode.

Next he picks up the drum. A steady four beats to the second is prescribed by shamanic tradition pretty much worldwide. Our tribal forebears may not have called it the threshhold between theta and delta brainwave frequencies, but they knew how to induce trance.

After a minute or two of drumming--I'm no longer tracking time here--he makes a modern-day adaptation: he puts on headphones and launches a recording of shamanic drumming. Then he ties a silk scarf over his eyes and lies down beside me on the rug.

I don't know how much time passes in what is, for me, just silence. The last of the daylight fades, the candelight on the ceiling gets brighter, and I'm in and out of a trance state myself.

This is as good a point as any to mention that most traditional shamanism is conducted under the influence of entheogenic substances as well as drumming. I've never tried swinging from the vine myself, but Sandy has. Another of the modern-day adaptations is that he's not using any substances now. There's not even so much as incense in the room.

There's huge pressure in my head and behind my eyes, and I feel what I've always identified as "sadness," though I realize now that it's just general pain from the NDIMS™. Tears spill out the corners of my eyes and down into my hair, and I'm glad Sandy's blindfolded because I've always been ashamed of crying.

The feeling becomes so intense that I'm afraid wracking sobs are going to interrupt the proceedings. Suddenly I find myself face to face with a beautiful pair of intense, dark eyes. It's Krishna, and he wants me to look only into his eyes and ignore everything else, as if to steady and distract me from a painful operation proceeding on my body.

Krishna makes a Drusilla-like gesture, two fingers from his eyes to mine and back again, hypnotic and calming. Then, just like Drusilla, he slashes my throat with his fingernails. The shamanic journey, at least in my experience, sticks its ladle into the soup tureen* of the journeyer's mind, and brings up the strangest combinations of ingredients.

As my blood pours out of my neck, Krishna begins transfusing me with ocean water through connections he affixes to my fingertips.

Sandy moves and begins making strange, ferocious growling noises. My eyes open. He gets up. I don't know what his totem animals are--it is never discussed or disclosed--but they must have big teeth.

He's still blindfolded and headphoned, and he's kneeling next to me, swaying. He reaches toward my sternum and seems to struggle to pull something out of me. He pulls and pulls, breathing heavily and growling. Whatever he's pulling on gets longer. I feel a faint *snap* as it comes out, at arm's length. He flings whatever it is out the window with a sound of disgust.

He removes another inclusion from my chest cavity. Two from behind my ears. One very big something from my stomach. A whole bunch from my pelvis and thighs. Each removal is accompanied by the casting-away gesture, and what sounds like contempt and distaste. At one point, I risk another glance at him, and in the dim light he seems to morph for a second into a former lover. I close my eyes again.

He lies back down. I find myself in Machu Picchu, at the Temple of the Condor, lying on the altar stone.

Someone there--it's no longer Krishna--cuts my throat once more, and my blood flows out and down the stone channels into the earth. This time there's no transfusion. I watch my body die, become a mass of worms, then decompose completely. A huge lotus blossom comes up out of my uterus. It's pink-tinged, fragrant, limned in late-day light. The bud, the flower, and the seed pod are all visible.

Sandy moves again. I sense that a good deal of time has passed. I become restless and ready for the journey to end, but we're not there yet. He makes a tube with his hand and puts it in the middle of my chest, then leans down and blows through the tube with all his strength.

He does the same to the top of my head, then again at my chest. I don't like being touched. We agreed beforehand that the work would involve some physical contact, and I expected it, but it's easier if I just go away again.

So I do. Spiritual guide-figures I've known before stand around the Condor Stone, looking down at what's left of my body. Then they turn and look at me ('cause I'm standing right here).

Sandy slowly sits up and rattles the gourd over my body, then asks me to come back into the room. I open my eyes. He excuses himself to wash his hands, looking a bit spiral-eyed and very tired. I must have risen at that point myself, because I know I ended the session sitting in the chair.

The debriefing is short. Sandy says that rather than a soul retrieval, he did an organ retrieval, something I've never heard of. He was sent in search of my heart. "It was so well-hidden," he says, "that I had to turn myself into a mist to even get into the place where it was."

He explains that he removed inclusions from all over my body, and cut some cords. I don't know precisely what this means. "Some of the inclusions were from sexual situations." I have no desire to ask for more detail.

I pay him, say goodbye, promise to follow up and let him know the outcome of the work. I go down the hall and out of the converted house, probably for the last time. The night is chilly and clear. I walk halfway around the block and back, breathing and coming down to earth enough to get behind the wheel of my car.

Later in the evening I notice that I'm feeling neutral. Not up. Not, thank God, down. And not flatlined. Just...easy. I think I may have felt this way sometime before, but I can't remember when. Memories that always make me angry or tearful--never far to seek--rise up and seem to hit a rubber bumper. Instead of clanging around loudly, shamefully, painfully in the echo-chamber of my body, making me feel that my whole head will explode with tears, they're like voices in a cozy, firelit room, from big armchairs. Maybe with glasses of cognac. Conversational voices. Reminiscences that have lost their sting.

In the two days since, I've continued to be easy in myself. The friendly me, the one with a laugh and a greeting for even strangers in the elevator, seems to have taken up residence again.

Apparently the Nameless Darkness In My Soul™ can be displaced without having to be named. Do I need to know where I hid my heart, or why, or with (from) whom? Or when or under what circumstances? Would a guess be as good as a recovered repressed memory?

I don't know. I don't care. I feel good.

My name is Anne. Out my new office window, I can see a flock of geese heading south. For a moment, they form a perfect "A" against the white sky.

* kispexi2 came up with that term.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 23rd, 2006 02:20 am (UTC)
That's wonderful news.

I've never had an experience like the one you describe. Did this play out like a dream for you? Was it strictly visual or did it involve other senses as well?
Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:25 am (UTC)
That's a tricky question to answer. I seem to "see" things in my "mind's eye", but over time I've come to realize that much of what I perceive is actually at the feeling level.

The fragrance of the lotus flower, for instance, wasn't an olfactory hallucination, but more of a felt certainty. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that I felt the lotus flower's beauty and meaning, and sort of assigned "sweet fragrance" to my perception of it.

The trance-state, for me, is distinct from the dream-state in that it's far more precise and available to my conscious mind. In common with dreams, thought, it has a tendency to evaporate very quickly if I don't capture it by writing or speaking about it immediately.

Learning to accept without judgment the images that come up, and follow them where they lead, is the highest hurdle for most of us in this kind of work. It would be easy to dismiss the Drusilla image, for instance, on so many levels--"just" pop culture, just my love of Joss Whedon, purely random, etc. But the question to ask is, of all the images in all the pop culture in all the world, why that one, why now?

So I trust that it all has meaning. And even if it doesn't, it can be incredibly colorful and interesting.
Nov. 23rd, 2006 06:57 am (UTC)
Wow, that sounds amazing. I hope it helps you find some peace.

*hugs* and Happy Thanksgiving!
Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving to you too.

For a while there, I thought I was going to die from the trainwreck in my head. I went to a spiritual teacher back in the early 90s who said that her whole path consisted of asking a single question: "What is the next single thing I need to know or do in order to be in a state of grace?" and then acting on the answer that came.

I clung to that question. Most days it was all I had. The answers that came were nothing like the magic-bullet cure that I desperately wanted. They were stupid little partial, incremental dumb actions and bits of information, many of which I already knew perfectly well and didn't want. Take a walk. Take a bath. Breathe, dammit. Oh, and here's a book on amino acids to fight depression. Watch this movie. (Okay, sometimes the answer was "eat that Haagen Dazs" so it may not be 100% reliable.)

Ideas like going to the shaman down the hall came along in due course. I could not have handled the experience any sooner.

Anyway, I'm getting there. State of grace, baby. First for a second a day, then a minute, and now whole half-hours at a time! And a half-hour of grace is 1800 times better than where I started. Nevah surrendah!
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks! As you know, I've been feeling increasingly well over the past several weeks. This experience has given me a sort of solidity best summed up by the armchair-and-cognac image in my post, and I wouldn't swear that I've ever felt this way before.

So I guess the moral of the story is, if you're missing your heart, do by all means get it back, huh?
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(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Nov. 23rd, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Nov. 23rd, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Nov. 23rd, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 23rd, 2006 09:39 am (UTC)
A beautiful experience, and you express it so well. I was reminded of the art and writing of Leonora Carrington, such as http://www.thecityreview.com/s00latc10.gif
Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:20 pm (UTC)
Fascinating painting! I had never heard of Carrington, and you're right, her images (at cursory examination online) seem to be drawn from just that realm where shamans do their thing. It is a surreal realm, I suppose in a literal sense of the word when you're talking about Upper World. Would that make Lower World hyporeal? ;)

Thank you for the reference. I always like getting to know a new artist.
Nov. 23rd, 2006 11:41 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for writing all this up. I'd always wondered what the experience was like, but have never read a description that was so personal and inclusive.

Whenever I make lists of "what I want to be when I grow up," a shaman is always third or fourth on the list. Maybe I'll actually do it someday. :)
Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
I say go for it!

Tradition says that there's a shamanic calling, the "textbook" version being a life-threatening illness or accident, followed by an awakening into the power. I think in today's terms, that's a serious shock to the mind and body that knocks down some of the filtering functions of the amygdala (or something like that). It's pretty well accepted that psychospiritual trauma can produces great sensitivity, often at the expense of stability.

Shamanic training--the little I've had--gives structure and an outlet to that sensitivity.

If you feel called (enough to put it high on a list of things you hope to accomplish!), you're called. Wonderful things are being done with shamanic techniques.
Nov. 23rd, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this intimate experience. Glad to know that you are doing better.
Nov. 23rd, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)
Happy Turkey Day to you and serenityvalley. Life's pretty good, innit?
(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 23rd, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)
You had me worried at the 'exsanguination' cut-tag. I'm glad it was trance blood. The expereince sounds intense. The images you describe (Drusilla-like-Krishna etc) are fascinating.

I hope your heart is ready to beat steadily now that it has been restored to you.
Nov. 24th, 2006 12:25 am (UTC)
Thank you--I'm ready for all parts to be united and doing their jobs!

There are legends of sorcerers and the like putting all their power into a particular body-part, then keeping that body-part hidden somewhere so that the sorcerer can't be killed or his power stolen. As a metaphor for a dissociative disorder, it's pretty good. Not sure what to make of the exsanguination, except a sort of radical dialysis--i.e., purification.

I'm also reminded of the 51st Psalm, in which David says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Sometimes you just have to start afresh.
Nov. 24th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
that is absolutely fascinating and beautiful...your description moved me to tears! ...and i'm at work so i had to work hard on controlling myself.
Nov. 24th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

As you can probably tell from the narrative, I'm very familiar with that whole working hard at self-control feeling!

I'm glad you found value in the journey.
Nov. 26th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
I have things to say, but maybe in an email.

Most importantly, though?

Nov. 26th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
I'd love to hear from you any time. darkemeralds at yahoo dot com
Nov. 27th, 2006 04:31 am (UTC)
Congratulations! That sounds very intense, but useful.
Nov. 27th, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC)
It was both, definitely! A week later and I'm still processing the information from it.
Nov. 28th, 2006 07:38 am (UTC)
Wow! Just wow!

That was one of the most interesting, well-written entries I have read in I don't know how long.

Thank you for sharing all of that. It touched me. And it made me laugh too. I like that. :)

Do you write for a living? You sure could!
Nov. 28th, 2006 08:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks--I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

And if by "writing for a living" you mean memos, reports, emails and policy documents, then: "Why yes, yes I do write for a living!"

Am just finishing up NaNoWriMo this year--not really a novel, more like an expansion of the material in this LJ entry! But it's been therapeutic, and maybe during National Novel Editing Month I'll do something to shape it up!
Nov. 29th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)
I would love to read your entry in the contest. Are they posted publicly somewhere? Please do let me know if and when it is available. :)
Nov. 29th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
Hee! I appreciate your interest. I really, really do! But what I've written is 50,000 words of complete navel-gazing therapy that I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to.


That said, I do think it contains the bare bones of a book, an article series, or maybe a presentation about Law of Attraction specifically for women over 40. I've developed some theories that I think are pretty good about why the Law doesn't play out properly for a lot of women (you notice that the big talkers on the subject are all men), and what we can do about it.

There's a lot of magic here, but right now, it's very well-buried in dreck. Much mucking ahead!
(no subject) - silent_sensei - Nov. 29th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emeraldsedai - Dec. 1st, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 29th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC)
So is that like a no or what? ;p
Nov. 29th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)
*sees icon*


It's more like a "later," but yeah.
(no subject) - silent_sensei - Nov. 29th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 1st, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC)
I will enjoy reading about your work on this. Thank you for sharing it!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 9th, 2007 02:11 am (UTC)
Interesting how the universe operates, isn't it? I was just thinking of you last night, and as I've been rather remiss in reading my friends list in the last month or so, I hoped you were well, and that healing is coming your way in abundance.

So to hear from you today through the "coincidence" of your having missed this the first time around seems quite meaningful to me. I'm glad you found value in my report. I certainly did--this event was an integral part of my healing, which is continuing in leaps and bounds in the best ways imaginable.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )



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