“You know there’s no cure for that,” a therapist once told me in discussing my PTSD diagnosis. Yeah, thanks for that, Helpy Helperton. “Oh, but you can learn to manage your symptoms better.” Thanks.
Labels can be insidious like that. They can feel like reality. They can come from authority. There’s a sense of finality about them. You’ve got this thing we’ve studied, and we know you’ve got it forever, and ever, amen.
So, I’m the kind of guy who believes in attacking a problem from all directions with overwhelming firepower. I see nothing wrong with mounting a flamethrower to a robot to clear snow out of my driveway in winter.
If I were a machine, my efforts to shore up my mental health would have looked like a nutty professor pulling every lever and pushing every button just to see what happened. I went through therapists, sometimes more often than I showered. I tried all kinds of modalities. Took supplements, literally hung upside down.
Being a nerd, I even built an online form to capture data about my mood, put it into a spreadsheet and do statistical analysis. I was my own lab.
One of the things I came to early on, that I have stuck with is the practice of shamanism. I have continually trained in and practiced the spiritual techniques common to shamanic cultures for some years now. I can say that I have been nearly 100% symptom-free for a long time now – but let’s not call that a cure, because the science cops will come out and arrest me.
Shamanism can be a little challenging to describe, but I’ll take a description from Institute for Nondual Shamanism:
Shamanism is an exploration of the many ways humanity has developed to work with reality and the many realms and inner world beings that support creativity, human evolution and all of life.
I credit shamanism with helping me get my emotional crap together in 3 main ways, though there are countless others.
- First, shamanism has given me an experiential understanding of the nature of reality. This, in itself, can lead to self-healing.
- Second, the circles of people I’ve learned with have been amazingly loving and supportive. Positive social contact heals.
- Finally, the practice itself yanks up the crap we drag behind us in an invisible bag and helps transform it.
Form and Formlessness
“Thought creates our world, and then says, ‘I didn’t do it.'” David Bohm
What the famous physicist is talking about here is the constructed nature of reality. It doesn’t seem like it, but 100% of our experience of reality is happening inside our consciousness. This isn’t saying that there is no reality of we make it all up, it’s just that the only way we have any experience of “out there is in there.”
If I hold up a lemon in front of you and ask you to look at it, you have the experience of looking at a lemon. But really there are waves of energy striking your retinas, and your brain is assembling that into the subjective experience of a lemon. Maybe a memory of drinking lemonade with a friend emerges, and you have a feeling about that. Thus, our entire experience of reality is generated.
Row, row, row your boat – life is but a dream.
And yes, we are fully involved in this illusion. It feels genuine and objective. Even though we experience the subjective nature of reality every moment of every day.
There is data coming into our senses, and our excellent faculty of imagination constructs a 3D sensory, and emotional experiences like no video game designer or filmmaker have ever dreamed of being able to create.
The thought of it puts me in awe. I can’t even grasp the how amazing our field of consciousness must be or what its capabilities are.
Mystics from all different traditions, from Christianity to Sufism, to Buddhism share this view. Here’s a passage from Buddhism’s Heart Sutra.
Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.
The same is true for Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness.
My practice of shamanism and study of Buddhism and the three principles of Sydney Banks have allowed me to have an experience of this formlessness beyond just intellectual knowledge. This alone has been healing in ways I can’t really describe.
If we can say that the primary practice of Buddhism is meditation, and the central method of Christianity is prayer, the fundamental practice of shamanism is journeying.
Across cultures, when shamans journey, they use the technology of trance to access other experiences of reality. This trance is usually driven by rhythmic sounds like drumming or droning instruments. The experience is like entering a dream consciously where one interacts with helping spirits.
In journey, reality is very plastic. Animals can and will speak to you. You might be able to fly. As my teacher is fond of reminding us, “there are no rules.”
So, what’s going on? When I journey, am I just making all of it up? Well, in a way. Just like in ordinary reality, I am experiencing a formless reality. My experience of that reality is generated in my consciousness my thought. My beautiful imagination is at work.
Here’s the thing: Muggles might argue that anything that exists in your imagination isn’t real. But as discussed, everything you experience is through the faculty of your consciousness. That experience is subjective.
This is not to say that merely imagining a stove isn’t hot will allow you to place your hand upon it without repercussions. Changing reality at that level of consciousness is tough. Again, I am not saying there is no reality; merely that our experience of it is wholly subjective.
Through journeying, shamans can access what we call the void. The field of formlessness behind everything. It’s an experience of total comfort, safety, and rest. There’s nothing but pure consciousness.
Everything is One
Underneath it all, that void, that pure consciousness is what we might label spirit. To the eyes of a shamanic practitioner, everything is a spirit.
If you’d like to traverse the pure materialist – let’s go with the Big Bang theory for a moment. Everything in the Universe, including all the particles that make up you and I, were a tiny single thing. That thing exploded and created time and space and everything. OK, this is simplistic – I’m not a physicist, but you get the drift. So literally absolutely everything came from a single source.
From a spiritual perspective, the idea that everything is one thing might be called nonduality. Another description from the Institute for Nondual Shamanism:
Nonduality is an ongoing exploration into our true nature as pure unconditioned awareness, the one seamless reality.
Pure Unconditioned Awareness
In Douglas Harding’s book, Head off Stress, he describes stress as coming from pressure from either outside or inside. Think of a tire. It is flat when empty because of the weight of the atmosphere and gravity pressing upon it. When you fill it with air, you apply stress from the inside to push the walls of the tire against the ground and the atmosphere to fill it up.
Hardin’s prescription for stress is to do exercises which allow one to experience resting as both nothing and everything simultaneously. No inside and no outside means no stress.
It’s my experience that regular access to that nondual state leads to the mental and physical healing. The way I choose to access it is through shamanic practice. But I know there are many paths up that mountain.
I think that profound insight into the nature of reality can just come to us without practice. Merely being exposed to the working principles of reality can provide insight.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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