TRANCE DANCE and THE FALL OF MANKIND
Within the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition, people often meditate with their eyes open. The idea behind this is that the divide we make between the inner world of Spirit and the outer world of the senses is artificial, it is a duality to be overcome. This world and the otherworld are the same place; it is a distinction we make because we humans get so caught up in material activities - and this is natural if you are a busy adult - that the world of Spirit that drives this dream recedes from awareness. Hence many of our practices and ceremonies: they are there to remind us of our origins in Spirit. An experienced medicine person does not need these ceremonies, for she will feel the presence of Spirit with her all the time. She does not need to journey to a drum, for example, for Spirit with its input is already there.
Trance Dance is a way of journeying that involves the body. What has become the standard method of journeying does not involve the body, and the reason for this is not just its origins in academia via Michael Harner, but goes further back to the Christian split between matter and spirit: the world of matter is the devil's domain. If you exclude the body, then you exclude the most vital connection to Spirit that we can make, and in that way religion can control people.
So I am making a bit of a suggestion here: that in our journeying method that excludes the body, we are unconsciously perpetuating the Biblical Mythology of the Fall, and all the prejudice against the feminine principle that came with it, and to which which our Shamanism is supposed to be a corrective.
Connection to Spirit via the body, suppressed by the church in medieval times, has been returning to our culture via rock and roll, sporting crowds and the American Pentecostal churches. In Shamanism, one method we use is Trance Dance, and this brings us close to eg Mongolian Shamans, who dance. Ongod Orood - embodying the Spirits.
From what I understand, the Mongolians dance with a curtain over their eyes, that breaks up the light. We go one step further, usually, and wear blindfolds. And this is what I want to address, from both the Dzogchen view point of not separating this world and the otherworld, and from the point of view of our historic issues with the body and Spirit.
I have just been on a Trance Dance weekend with Leo Rutherford, and for my last 2 dances I removed my blindfold, and the freedom that gave me to move vigorously and freely around the room considerably deepened my trance. I have been trance dancing for 20 years, and this weekend I had probably my deepest ever embodiment of my animal helper. It was joyful and delicious. When I trance, it is immediate, and my eyes are looking sufficiently within for the visual input not to distract me, and it is how I do healing work. And the trade-off, if one is needed, for the free physical movement is more than worth it. If you watch videos of possession dances - which generally go much deeper than what we do, involving a total surrender of the ego, something most of us would find terrifying - they do not wear blindfolds, they dance freely.
I can see the rationale for blindfolds, but I also find myself thinking of our historic issues with, and downgrading of, the body, our most vital connection to Spirit. And I wonder if blindfolds are not also an unconscious way of keeping it all safe, of not giving the body too much free rein, for where might that lead?
PLANETARY ASCENSION: THE NEW JUDGMENT DAY
In recent years I have been encountering the idea quite regularly that this reality is going to split into two, and take those of a higher vibration off to wherever those with a higher vibration go to, and leave behind the lower vibration and its troubles. It gets called 'Planetary Ascension'. I encounter it amongst Shamanic people - which is why I am commenting - and it is often channelled, which is intended to add veracity to the claim.
I think it needs to be treated as a story, as does just about everything, including science, rather than literal fact. Spirit speaks in stories. I also think that channelled information needs an extra dose of discernment in how we treat it. Yes, it can have a lot of power, and you can feel it when it does, and it needs to be taken seriously when that power is there; but its mouthpiece is a limited human being, and some of the stuff people come out with is just bollocks, and sometimes they are otherwise gifted and experienced people that others look up to coming out with the bollocks. So we need to feel our way into this stuff. As I say, feel the power when it is there, but put big inverted commas around the words, even if the person doing the channelling isn't.
I also think there is an element of groupthink around it. Planetary Ascension gets presented as a fact which one is supposed to be sensitive enough to perceive, and one can feel like a party-pooper for questioning it, not that I usually let that stop me.
And then there is the mythology around it. I cannot see the difference between the idea of Planetary Ascension and Judgment Day, when all the good guys finally go to heaven and the bad guys are cast into hell. Humanity's myths are perennial, they keep returning in new forms - think of Evolution and the medieval Great Chain of Being, one is an inversion of the other. In promoting Planetary Ascension, one is unconsciously revisiting that crude myth of the Last Judgment. I think PA merits some psychological exploration in this sort of way.
PA is a myth that is fired by hubris and escapism, but presenting itself as redemptive. The hubris is that we 'spiritual' people are an elect, a different species to the point that we deserve a whole different world. And it is escapist: the world, as usual, is going through a troubled time, and when those troubles reach what seems to be a crisis, people start coming out with redemptive myths and prophecies. PA is a prophecy, and most prophecies do not come true, if you examine the evidence.
And most importantly, our purpose here is to be part of humanity and its tribulations, to be deeply engaged with whatever it is that is happening. Because whatever is happening is also part of who we are, and we need to sense the mysterious workings of Spirit within that too. And that engagement may not be obvious, we may be a hermit who prays, but are nonetheless engaged for that, maybe even more so. We are one people, we are not composed of the damned and the elect. The whole point of Shamanism as a corrective to institutional Christianity is that sacredness exists everywhere, rather than in some higher dimension to which the privileged few have access.
I like to try to be nuanced and to see both sides of a matter. But when it comes to Planetary Ascension, I find it hard to do so. It is a bad story in so many ways, it is a denial of so much of what Shamanism is about. In my opinion. And I've done my best to be polite about it 🤣
THE MATTER OF ENGLAND
The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish value and love their peoples and culture. The English do not. We turn the other way and look embarrassed if the subject comes up. Or we make an acid comment about 'little Englanders'.
This is not healthy. It is corrosive. A Shaman loves and values her people and culture, and this connection gives power to her work. This is a given, it should not need even saying.
I do not want to hear any comments under this post that justifies this attitude. Even by saying there is no such thing as English, that is just the same thing. We are the people who live here, now. Of course the English have their faults, just like any other nation. (And I suspect part of our problem is the hangover from Empire: some of us feel guilty for having had it, others feel humiliated for no longer having it, and maybe some of us feel both!) But that is not the point. There is so much to celebrate, not just in our history, but now: we are, for example, the most multi-cultural nation in Europe. We have achieved that since WWII. I love that about us, the tolerance and broadmindedness and love for all peoples that it implies.
Shamans are healers and elders, and we help heal not just individuals but the whole tribe. The people are feeling badly about themselves, and it has become a bad habit that eats into our psychological health. We have a job to do here, a stance to take, and because our loyalty is primarily to Spirit rather than to the values of society, we do not mind what people think about us, we are bigger than that.
ON NOT DEFERRING TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
Our Shamanism will never come into its own while we continue to give our power away to indigenous peoples. We need to stand tall. We have the goods just as much as they do. And I don't just mean in potential. I mean in actuality. If you've been around a while, and you've been on that journey of transformation that may well have dismembered you, but which in any case has had the end result that you listen more deeply to that Spirit that is both within you and beyond you, then you are really doing it, you have the goods. And of course it is ongoing, and of course your mess and shadow stuff will always be there, and on a bad day we identify with all that stuff instead of that power within us.
But that power you have is no different to that which a traditional medicine person or healer would have. IT IS JUST AS STRONG. Stand tall and claim it! DO NOT SHIFT INTO DEFERENCE MODE AS SOON AS AN INDIGENOUS PERSON WALKS INTO THE ROOM, which is what I see happening all the time, and it is collective, it is the groupmind also at work, so that other people will think you are being disrespectful if you don't do this.
And don't listen to people who tell you that the healings that traditional people do are much more powerful than what we do. It is more disempowering nonsense. Sure, we can be superficial in our approach sometimes, and sure we can learn from the collective prayer and ceremony that can be involved in traditional healings: but there is nothing stopping us also doing that. And yes we have some people who are good healers who you wouldn't want to trust as far as you could throw them, but you find that in the indigenous world too. They are just as mixed as we are, and always have been.
Of course, like me you might still be a bit of a baby, and maybe none of us will be full-blown elders till we are in our 80s or 90s, which is a traditional attitude. And we do not have the ceremonies and stories and some of the subtle understandings of spirit that come with being part of a tradition. But we have Spirit, and we will learn all we need just by staying with Spirit. And maybe we will find that we are not around indigenous teachers, and we may feel that as a lack, but I think that can be an important lesson from Spirit to claim what is within us and not feel it as a lack. If an indigenous teacher turns up, trust that, but stay critical. And if one doesn't turn up, trust that too. (More generally, trust the things that aren't happening in your life as much as the things that are!)
We need to free ourselves from the collective guilt we have in relation to indigenous people, for that is also disempowering. It is important to remember that we are not personally responsible for what has happened, and we may need to free ourselves from those ancestral ties, just as indigenous people sometimes need to, for they can get caught in victim mode. We are collectively a strange combination of hubris and guilt and over-deference. It is a collective current that we are plugged into: on a material level, we push indigenous people aside, we treat them with contempt; and then almost by way of compensation, we put them on a spiritual pedestal. And that compensation has something real in it, in that they, to some extent, still have everything we have lost in our 'conquest' of the earth.
Our perennial quest as humans is to become deeply rooted and deeply balanced in ourselves. And it is also perennially true that most humans are not strongly driven in this way. That is why you probably find yourself to be the odd one out amongst many of the people you know, and not able to talk freely about what is important to you. And it is why Lewis Mehl-Madrona, who is part Native American, says that most people in a tribal situation have a fairly simple set of beliefs about how the world is, and that it is the medicine person who has the more subtle view of the world, that does not have these simple certainties. It is the same thing: most indigenous people will not have the same level of drive as you to become a whole and balanced human being. This does not mean you cannot learn from their tradition, but if they got to know you, it is you they would be looking to for wisdom, not the other way round.
The people who are keen to tell you what Shamanism is and is not are usually part of this problem. They think hierarchically, so that they have traditional elders somewhere up there on a pedestal, and by association they have themselves somewhere up there too, and certainly above you. This is just religion, and it is perennial, and it is often the majority way, because it is simple and gives a kind of certainty and security.
This is not the real path, and you will find this dichotomy between mainstream religiosity and the minority with their own direct connection in all traditions - and the minority are often the 'heretics'. So it is disrespectful and even outrageous, from a certain point of view, for me to say don't treat indigenous people as though they know more than you, do not defer to them, you know as much as they do. But from a real point of view, from the point of view of our direct connection to Spirit, it is absolutely true. Assuming you have what it takes to live from that level of uncertainty and self-reliance, which is where the real power lies.
REFLECTIONS ON THE SACRED
Like most things, it has at least 2 sides to it, though overall they're probably right to stop people climbing Uluru. Cultural appropriation is just one side of a complex issue. Some indigenous people want to share their traditions with us uprooted secular moderns, others say that is selling out and disrepecting the traditions. I'm more in sympathy with the former, but both have a point. I think we are one world, one earth now. We have our local allegiances perhaps, but we also belong to the whole earth. I am a strong believer in letting yourself be claimed by some piece or pieces of land where you live - and it is that way round, you do not do the claiming. But you can also be claimed by a place far from home. The whole earth is our home.
Uluru climbing ban: Tourists scale sacred rock for final time
And Uluru occupies an important place in our modern, perhaps 'new age', mythology, even though we may never have been there. And let us not do down the New Age too readily. Yes it can be silly, yes it can be in denial of the shadow. But it fundamentally involves a quest for meaning that is heartfelt in our muggled world. Always look to the good in what people are trying to do, it is easy to make fun and sneer.
Like in the film Dreamkeeper (recommended) where the youthful Indians encounter a young white man who deperately wants an Indian name, and they make fun of him as a 'wannabe' Indian, and the Indian elder steps in and says yes, he wants to be connected. Brilliant.
So Uluru - Ayers rock - is in our own way the sacred. The sacred is something we feel that connects us to what we feel to be most important in life, that which gives value to life. And in our utilitarian, scientific age, the sacred is easily made fun of. And those of us who seek it don't always know what we are doing, but we are having a go. And for some climbing Uluru, it is just a rock, and maybe this news item is a reminder that it is not just a rock. But for others, it is maybe their way of experiencing the sacred and they have had it taken away from them. Even though the Aboriginal traditon is not to actually climb it. As I said, I think there are at least 2 sides to this. And indigenous people can understandably want to protect their traditions from the grasping white woman (and man - let's be gender neutral :) ) But are they also being selfish, some of them? If some white people have a genuine experience of the sacred through climbing the rock, is that something to be denied to them?
The point about Shamanism is that Sacredness is everywhere. The point about religion is that it removes sacredness to certain places and beings and makes them special, and certain people end up controlling access to those special beings and places. It is more complex than that, however. All traditions have holy people. Black Elk was a holy man. And it is right that there are such people, and it is right that there are holy places (holy=whole, that which makes us whole) such as Uluru. And it is right that we treat them as holy.
But really, they are a reminder. BLACK ELK WAS NO MORE HOLY THAN YOU OR I, the difference is that he was more awake to the sacredness of everything than you or I. That is the difference. And people or objects acquire the power to remind us of the sacred because they have been treated as such for generations. This power of the collective to imbue itself is objective, it is not just a fantasy. And it is the same with my medicine objects: it is right that I treat them in a special way, because they remind me of the sacred, they have that power within them. But their deeper message, like the message of holy people and places like Uluru, is to remind us that the sacred is everywhere, equally, if our hearts are awake to it.
What is this life if the sacred is not at the core of it? It is eviscerated, it is unthinkable from the point of view of probably every human who lived until a few thousand years ago. And yet for us it has become the norm. And there has always been that human tendency, particularly for adults who may be consumed by practical demands. And that is why there are ceremonies such as sweatlodges: to melt us out of the everyday and into our metaphysical foundation. Yes, our foundation is metaphysical or we are not properly human.
And Uluru is there also to remind us of that foundation, which is something felt, not thought. It is sacred for all of us. Whether we should be able to climb it or not - I think that is ultimately a political question. But remember that the sacred is to be found everywhere.