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A Comparative Study of Core Energetics and Shamanic Practice
There are many facets to Shamanic Practice. Only aspects which are related to Core Energetics and other Integrative Body-Mind Psychotherapeutic techniques are discussed here.
Throughout the document, the Core Energetics Therapist and Shamanic Practitioner are referred to as ‘therapist’ and ‘practitioner’ respectively. ‘Section 2 Related Aspects’ outlines specific Shamanic Practices which are highly compatible with Core Energetics work. ‘Section 3 Comparisons’ explains similarities and differences between both disciplines.
There is a clear distinction between a Shaman and a Shamanic Practitioner. To train as a shaman can require many years of arduous training and testing under the supervision and apprenticeship of an experienced Traditional Shaman. A Shamanic Practitioner is someone who completes a Diploma of Shamanic Practice which last typically 2 years.
1.2 What is Core Energetics ?
The Core Energetics approach to personal growth was developed by John Pierrakos M.D. in 1971 and is a further refinement of Bioenergetics, which was developed by Alexander Lowen M.D. and John Pierrakos. Lowen and Pierrakos, both psychoanalysts, were clients and then students of Wilhelm Reich M.D. After studying with Reich, they added their own refinements to Reich’s discoveries and principles to produce the systematic therapy that became known as Bioenergetics and was then further developed into Core Energetics.
Core Energetics is a body-mind therapy which addresses how beliefs, feelings and inner life are sustained and reinforced in the body. In childhood, repeated patterns of feelings create specific patterns of muscular tension and weakness in the physical body which relate to trapped emotional memory. These habitual patterns become largely unconscious as we adopt them and then use them later in life to meet our needs.
‘Core’ refers to our inner divine or true authentic self, where the inner impulse and the outer expression of this are the same. Core Energetics enables the transformation of all obstacles blocking contact with one’s own core. Core Energetics sees the shadow as a part of the core of life. The shadow contains primitive, undifferentiated life force, a power which is disowned and needs to be integrated into the personality.
Core Energetics therapy involves the unblocking and releasing of emotion in order to self-heal both physical and mental conditions. This therapy process focuses on unifying and connecting the body, emotions, mind, will/intent, and spiritual self into a unified whole that expresses your complete reality. Combining bodywork, psychotherapy, and the spiritual component can activate a greater consciousness and assists clients in getting through the layers of energy to be able to reconnect with their core and innate capacity to love.
1.3 What is Shamanism ?
Shamanism is the world’s most ancient spiritual and healing practice. Archaeological evidence suggests that shamanism is at least 20,000 years old and is found in 5,000 societies. It is a very practical profession that engages and expresses all the possibilities of human nature. It provides service to others through healing and ritual, and the re-creation of the self and society.
Shamanism involves a technology for changing consciousness to access various resources e.g. wisdom, guidance and intuition. It has proved difficult to define since it is applied to a variety of cultural and social structures. Mircea Eliade is the acknowledged expert in the history of shamanism. In his cross-cultural study of shamanism (1964), he concluded that it is the undertaking of the ‘ecstatic journey’ which marks a shaman. The Greek meaning of the word ‘ecstasy’ is “outside oneself”. ‘Ecstasy’ in shamanic terms, is defined as an altered state of consciousness, which transcends ordinary reality so the shaman reaches a heightened state of awareness, over which he has total control and can enter and leave at will.
The shaman is a visionary practitioner who journeys into other states of consciousness, the worlds of the body, feelings, life energy, soul and spirit. To make this navigation possible, the shaman incorporates the world of myth and in so doing, becomes a living example of how meaning can be found or generated in the midst of despair and separation.
Ken Wilber, the modern day philosopher, regards the shaman as the “first spiritual hero” practicing at the leading edge of human consciousness. The shaman was at the beginning of the evolution of transforming and expanding consciousness. Both the mythology and technology were clearly aimed at utilizing specific gross and subtle states.
Shamans have often been called our first psychotherapists, which is not surprising, considering the many activities encompassed. They work with the restoration of the ‘Journey of the Soul’ believing healing is an ongoing process. The shaman’s path is one of knowledge and wisdom. He is the great specialist in the human soul since he knows its ‘form’ and destiny. The soul is the linchpin of the cosmos for the shaman. It connects the psyche with its own vital roots in the greater source of power.
Elaide claimed that the shaman is the one who experiences the sacred more intensely than the other members of his community. The shaman promotes not only personal growth but environmental awareness and a sense of community and ‘guards’ the soul of the community.
Moving into shamanic experience sometimes involves periods of madness. Crisis frequently precipitates illness, which then leads to visionary experience. In Traditional cultures, medicine men are expected to be and usually are perfectly normal and healthy. The shaman is a sick man who has succeeded in healing himself. He cures himself of his initiatory illness and afterwards can cure others precisely because he experiences it, understand its psychodynamic aspects and integrates them into consciousness.
Michael Winkelman, a shamanic researcher, hypothesizes that the shamanic methods used to alter consciousness, engage the parasympathetic nervous system, by enabling the frontal cortex to be dominated by slow wave patterns originating in the lower centres of the brain. He has also found that various shamanic techniques induce responses which rely upon the hippocampal-septal region of the mind. This is the older part of the brain which includes terminal projections from the somatic and autonomic nervous system.
2 RELATED ASPECTS
The aspects and principles related to Shamanic Practice outlined in this section could be directly applied or adapted to enhance Core Energetics process work.
2.1 Totemic Medicine
An Animal Totem is an important symbol used by a person to get in touch with specific qualities found within an animal which the person needs, connects with, or feels a deep affinity toward and represents his uniqueness as a being. This area of Shamanic Practice is known as Totemic Medicine. The Animal Totem is also commonly referred to as Power Animal, Totem or Medicine.
You enter the world with your own personal totemic medicine to help and guide you. These are lost (disowned) and a vital spiritual connection to the life force is affected. The personality and full potential may not be realised until the attributes of your totemic medicine are identified and owned in your personality. Your sense of self is strengthened by knowing and being your totemic medicine. As that capacity grows and strengthens, so does your ability to journey in other worlds.
Your personal totemic medicine is a core tool that helps you to stay centred in your own state of consciousness. It is a form of spiritual grounding which involves the practitioner getting acquainted with and working from his essence and inner power. While working from your totemic medicine, perception is more sensitised and increased. During journeying, there is a sense of moving into worlds which are other ‘being’ states. It helps you remain still and present when struggling with the shadow features of your unconscious or the unconscious of your client.
The beginning of the journey/ritual/session is very important. You begin with your centred self which moves you towards a sense of your own totemic medicine, which you fully embody. The totemic sensation will firstly appear in the body. There are distributed intelligences in the body which can give subtle indications. There may be a sense of warmth or tingling in the skin, spine, or solar plexus. Some cultures say where ever you feel it in the body is where the spirit enters, and can relate directly to the same regional intelligence location in the totemic animal.
The emerging field of ‘Psychological Genomics’ explores how psychotherapy and related cultural processes and rituals can modulate alternative gene expression to facilitate health, rehabilitation and healing. For example, the amount and even type of neurotransmitter enzymes can be thrown out of balance by stress and can presumably be brought back into healthy homeostasis by stress-relieving rituals.
The largest part of Shamanic Practice centres on ritual process. Ritual is seen as ceremony of restoration and renewal which centres on the relationship between myth and story. Myth and ritual represent symbolic playfulness and help to elevate the spirit. With the help of the practice of rituals, shamanism offers a clear and structured path of spiritual development.
Behind every myth, there is a basic truth from the uninitiated sight or understanding. The more of the unconscious and the more of myth we are capable of making conscious, the more of life we integrate. Some myths relate to the quest and transformative processes and have profound symbols and deep archetypal structure.
Ritual experience opens up greater domains for the client. Ritual is an effective way of working indirectly with some people who are mentally unwell. Ritual creates an emotional climate with feelings of caring, hope and optimism for the client, which can summon changes in bodily state and consciousness. The aim of ritual actions is to direct the libido towards the unconscious and compel it to introvert. Ritual actions focus on the background of consciousness as they create a unity with the cosmic life. Grounding the ritual itself is the creative force. Dance, drum, chant, the ritual surroundings and the proper manipulation of archetypal symbols lower the threshold of consciousness and move psychic energies from a personal to a shared, transpersonal place.
There was a profound atmosphere of reverence at the American Indian Navajo ceremonies, which were concerned around the restoration of beauty. They believed this beauty (healing) was the ultimate state of the world, the original state to which we return.
A Life Transitional Ritual involves the practitioner connecting with the client, making an assessment and formulating an idea with the client that opens up a Life Transitional story to encompass three components: Separation, Transition and Return. The ceremony is a story which maps to the events: Before, During, Desired Outcome. The practitioner uses transpersonal techniques and asks open questions to enable the client to elaborate on various aspects of the issue. Negotiation with the client is very important as the story is formulated. The illness is interpreted in terms of the story, which provides a different framework from which to operate whereby aspects such as resources, oppositional qualities and belief systems are explored.
2.3 Medicine Wheel
The Medicine Wheel is a system which illustrates the circular motion of life, the seasons, the forces of nature, and the powerful totems affinities associated with each season. Shamanic Healing is always a ritual process enacted within the confines of the medicine wheel.
The medicine wheel is a device for inducing a shift in state in the practitioner and places him into a familiar orientation. It serves as a container and provides structure for healing based activities. It is found in a large number of cultures, where it is used for: prayer/meditation, ritual, entering appropriate states of consciousness, map of life cycle and map of spiritual virtues.
There are 5 cardinal points which are North, South, East and West and Centre. The cardinal points are assemblages of positive resources. The energy of the direction you stand on can be summoned as a resource.
The conventions of the medicine wheel are reflective of shamanic cultures world-wide. The table below is taken from the Twisted Hair Path, a teaching of the ancient ways of the North American Indian culture. This example is mentioned here, as it parallels significantly with the Reichian character structures.
|Human Aspects||Spiritual||Physical||Mental||Emotional||Sexual &Life Energy|
|Powers||Introspection &Intuition||Trust &Innocence||Logic &Knowledge||Illumination &Enlightenment||Breathing &Life Energy|
Table 1 – Medicine Wheel from the Twisted Hair Path
2.4 Vision Quest
Shamanism is concerned with the willingness to open up to the deeper truth of one self and ones relationship to the universe. A vision quest is used for finding the Path of the Heart and to search for the meaning and purpose of life. The quest itself is usually a journey alone into the wilderness seeking personal growth and spiritual guidance from the spirit. A normal vision quest usually lasts two to four days, by using methods of fasting and sleeplessness, the seeker is forced to look into his soul. It is an individual experience and often subject to the emotional, spiritual, and physical make-up of the person. Though the vision quest is associated with Native Americans traditions, it is practiced all over the world. As an expression of the archetypical ‘Heroic Journey’, the vision quest has been enacted in religious pilgrimages, mythological tales (including the story of the search for the Holy Grail), and our own daily pursuit of truth and purpose.
There is something about being alone in the wilderness that brings us closer and more aware of the elements and our connection to a creational source. We go to seek truths and divine realization, just as many of the ancient prophets did in their time. In its own way, the vision quest is an Initiation where one learns about himself, and the mysteries of the universe are often revealed. It is a time of internal transformation and renewal, where one asks existential questions. The surrounds of nature enable the soul to move into the grid of the collective unconscious.
2.5 Pipe Ceremony
A ceremonial smoking pipe is used by many Native American tribes, where traditionally its main purpose is to establish truth, and not specifically peace as portrayed in Hollywood Westerns. The ceremony is often used for conflict resolution. Many believe that a powerful good for all things can emanate from the respectful and proper use of the pipe, but it must be regarded as a spiritual instrument by the pipe holder, whatever his lineage or colour happens to be. The ceremonial use of the pipe is a simple ritual. The pipe ceremony begins with loading tobacco, a natural substance, into a pipe and then acknowledging the four directions. The smoke from the pipe represents the participant’s visible breath and stands for truth: truthful words, truthful actions, and a truthful spirit. The pipe is an instrument primarily for prayer and secondarily to secure the commitment of parties to speak the truth.
The ritual is taken very seriously by the Native American Indians. It is treated as a sacrament, used in contractual arrangements used for profound trust e.g. marriage. It facilitates very clear communication but also can create conditions for resolving differences. The person holding the pipe remains still in the presence of others and speaks when words form in his heart. The minimum punishment for misuse was banishment and the maximum was death.
Unwavering commitment is demonstrated by the shaman and participants. The ceremony can last hours, with no specific time frame until truth was established. The dispute might not be settled, but instead an agreement for both to go to a sweat lodge, sit opposite each other and wash each other in a respectful way. The intention of this outcome would be that humility would be evoked in both participants.
2.6 Percussion Aids for State Induction
Drumming or musical accompaniment is used to enhance state change and facilitates shamanic states and journeying in several ways. It acts as a concentration device, reminding the practitioner of his purpose and drowns out distracting stimuli and enhances the mind’s receptivity to the archetypal symbol. There are a whole range of audible techniques to enter altered state including rhythmic percussion, striking stones, rattling and drumming. The sound resonates with the body affecting the peripheral and central nervous systems. Roger Walsh (2007) claims that the sensitivity and size of the auditory cortex changes, and the brain devotes more neurons to personally important tones. Generally, the frequency of 7-9Hz activates temporal and priorital lobes of the brain, via electrical activity at the back of the skull, which induces state alteration.
2.7 New Identity Formation
A significant section of Shamanic Practice centres on new identity formation. You can be found and renew your acquaintance with your soul. You can then build an identity, change your embodiment and become the steward of your own soul. In Jungian terms, you get to know the positive and negative aspects of your shadow and know how the shadow serves you. Those things that oppress you can be domesticated and become resources, e.g. dissociation can be used to help you survive and cope with stressful situations. These experiences can give new meaning and create new worlds. Specific techniques to help with identity creation involve Positive Possession (described in Section 3.6.2) and the Life Transition Ritual (described in Section 2.2). Also, each of the 5 cardinal points of the Medicine Wheel has a distinct energy which can be harnessed in a given situation.
2.8 Shaman Archetypes related to Core Energetics
Shamanism is the oldest profession in the world. In traditional societies, the shaman played many roles, acting as lawyer, teacher, director, doctor, psychiatrist, priest, etc. As a practitioner, we are always focussed on the state of the client’s soul. With regards to the Core Energetics therapist, the Psychopomp and Healer are the roles that are mostly employed.
In shamanic terms, the Psychopomp is a ‘soul conductor’ who is concerned with the stewardship of the soul through life and death. Traditionally, he waits with and comforts the soul of a person who is dying and guides them across at the moment of death. A psychopomp also has the ability to search for lost souls, find them and guide them home. He also works with rites of transition for anchoring purposes. In tribal cultures, the shaman traditionally accompanies the soul through the portals into and out of life, i.e. helps at birth to introduce the newborn’s soul to the world and the soul in the crossover to death. Typically the Psychopomp executes various ceremonies related to birth, i.e. ceremony of completion of birth which can be used for Soul Retrieval Rituals. In Jungian psychology, the Psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms. It is symbolically personified in dreams as a wise person. The more contemporary form of Psychopomp is the Counselor or Psychotherapist to assist at times of major life transition.
In the role of Healer, the practitioner guides the journey of the client’s soul through life, with the emphasis on healing rather than curing. The healer is concerned with the optimal path of the heart and may not necessarily be focussed on saving the client from death, but providing him with more possibilities to cause a flow into other aspects of his life. The main objective is to enhance client’s access to resources and help them on the journey.
This section examines the similarities and differences between various theories and techniques used in Core Energetics and Shamanic Practice.
3.1.1 Core Energetics Therapist
The Core Energetics therapist provides a supportive environment in which the client can access deep inner processes, reach catharsis or containment, and release blocked energy in the body. Although aware of the client’s character defenses and destructive life patterns, the therapist focuses on the core of the person: his/her spiritual capacity, ability to love and life task.
The Mask is an important concept. In Core Energetics it is understood that as children, human beings are constantly being taught how to act and behave. This creates repression of one’s true self, and in reaction a mask is created, which the individual uses when faced with people he loves and depends on. This mask conceals both the Higher Self and the Lower Self, two other fundamental concepts in Core Energetics. The Higher Self is the Core, that authentic spiritual reality which is the source of one’s energy and consciousness. In contrast, the Lower Self is an individual’s destructive energy directed at himself and at those who have prevented his true and free expression.
The fundamental aim of any therapy session is making contact. This happens when there is an energy resonance between the therapist and client. You are on the same wavelength and have both moved beyond mask. At the start of the session, the therapist connects with the Higher Self of the client. The aim of the therapist is to penetrate the Mask, through which the Mask is identified and the pain of being false is acknowledged. The second phase is to release the Lower Self, and in this phase the present is connected with the past and the integration of unresolved issues and ‘charge’ held in the Lower Self takes place. In the third phase, to centre in the Higher Self, the individual is encouraged to reach for the creativity and love within themselves through greater connection with the Higher Self. In the fourth phase, to uncover the Life Plan, the individual is taught how to act upon the Core’s impulse so as to actualize his/her life task. The therapist works with the client on all five layers of his humanity i.e. body, emotion, cognition, will and spirit. Closure simply means to find a way to transition the client from the work of the session to whatever he is returning.
Spirituality is the connection between the being and the essential true self: the Core. The therapist believes that the deeper this connection is, the deeper an individual’s contact is with his spirit, others, the world and the Cosmos. Furthermore, spirituality is essential in the self discovery of creativity, joy, love and the greater purpose of life. Counseling with Core Energetics therapy can also address subtle aspects of self that some may call ‘spiritual’, as deeply held beliefs and inner life experience are addressed to enlarge the possibilities in your life. At times it can be helpful to couple psychological insight with spiritual experience when addressing your inner life experience. Core Energetics therapy is an effective means of transpersonal counseling for those who seek such work.
3.1.2 Shamanic Practitioner
Shamanic Healing is always directed at the state of the soul and its relationship to everything else, i.e. your state in the world, your body and your social relations. Shamanic work cultivates the seed to find your true authentic being. This is also true for the information imparted to the client.
All work done by the practitioner with the client is performed within the confines of the Medicine Wheel as it provides containment and acts as a temenos (sacred space). A prayer is offered at the beginning and the end.
Shamanic Healing is a ‘being’ state which originates from the practitioner’s stillness in his own totemic medicine. During a healing session, the practitioner goes on a journey with the intention of locating and examining the soul of the client. The landscape has many different forms and can be abstract, symbolic or dreamscape. The journey may explore anatomical space e.g. travelling through blood vessels or organs of the client. As a practitioner, you address spirit as if resides within and focus on making profound contact with the client. Some typical questions to ask during the healing are: “What do I need to know to help this person ? What do I need to do ?”
The practitioner keeps his horizons of awareness open during the healing, and follows body sensations to provide feedback, e.g. touch, vision, smell, taste, and hearing. If there is resistance during the healing, the healer needs to establish if it originates from himself (unconscious defence) or the client. In Sub-Arctic cultures, there is a belief that something demonic will always be encountered.
3.2 Bodywork Techniques
3.2.1 Core Energetics Bodywork
Self-regulation and introspection induced by bodywork can be a very effective way of reaching one’s inner self. The body is our school, our lesson, our shadow, the deep friend of the soul. Our bodies become the springboard into the higher realms and may accompany us in some higher forms into other worlds.
Reich established seven segments of the body where armouring takes place, segmental contractions at right angles to the flow of energy in the body. In contrast to these focal points of the shadow, the seven chakras have for centuries been known as key psychological centres of consciousness.
Resistance in the body and psyche was the key to Reich’s work. Resistance in an energy sense, is hiding, contraction, deflection, pain, or going against the flow. Resistance also relates to consistent repression of memories of early experiences. Core Energetics Bodywork is quite vigorous, depending on the level of body resistance, with specific intention of opening up muscular blocks particularly around the chakra centres.
When including the body in psychotherapy we need to learn how to ‘speak’ with it. This conversation does not use words, instead it uses touching, moving and sensory perception. Reich’s theory was that the body will correct itself. Verbal questioning precedes body work. The therapist then confronts the resistance with deep muscular body therapy.
3.2.2 Shamanic Bodywork
Shamanic Bodywork is a subtle and gentle form of body therapy which involves observing and feeling the aura (human energy field). At times, it includes removing things from the body space. It involves the various forms of bodywork that can release repressed issues, keep energy flowing through the body, and maintain the health and vitality of all physical systems.
In most cases, the client lies on his back on the ground within the confines of the Medicine Wheel. The practitioner needs to stay in his totemic medicine and mostly operate in a passive-receptive state, particularly during the divination. The practitioner uses his hands over the body to find variations in the field, such as spikes, prickles, dips and smooth them out. Sweeping the aura involves moving the hands down over the body to enhance the flow and accelerate healing.
Contamination is any event that traumatises and generally involves having things projected at or into a person, e.g. social interactions and other life experiences due to power, control and humiliation. The cause is not generally dormant lower self energy. Disease, illness and misfortune can be related to energetic intrusions in the body space. Shamanic Bodywork can help with contamination removal which involves releasing soul fragments in the physical body. When soul fragments contain a significant emotional charge, they may resist release without assistance. Shamanic Bodywork can be a highly effective alternative to the soul retrieval or extraction journeys.
In shamanism, thoughts and feelings are believed to have an energy expression. These can sometimes be seen as prickles or spikes emitting from a person’s energy body. By using shamanic extraction techniques, it is possible to remove these thought forms by pulling them out of the client’s energy field and transforming them into some form of healing energy. The client must be willing to release the old thoughts and patterns. Otherwise, they will re-materialise. In some cultures this is not the case as there is not the attachment to the workings of the mind that we have in industrialised societies.
Kirlian photography is the photography of unseen energy fields that emanate from the human body either as the aura or ‘feathers’ of energy that extend from the fingers of activated hands. The ‘feathers’ should all extend the same length and be unbroken around the fingers and palms. Where there are ‘spots’ of energy rather than ‘feathers’, denotes small concentrations of toxins in the hands and therefore reflects the whole body. This is well documented in Barbara Brennan’s book “Hands of Light”, which depicts how the human energy field fluctuates with physical, emotional, and mental activity and states of health.
3.1 Core Energetics Grounding
The definition of ‘Grounding’ in Core Energetics terms involves getting into the present moment and creating a flow of energy in the body. Full Body Grounding can be defined as a combination of spiritual grounding, ego grounding and body grounding. There are various grounding methods, some which are active and passive. Streaming can be defined as when the energy system is moving up and down freely, flowing openly vertically and horizontally, similar to the principle of the Double Helix Spiral.
One active method involves breathing and shaking. The breathing out is done through the mouth to avoid hyperventilation and also keeps the person in his body. There are two types of grounding. Primary grounding consists of 7 stages: Holding, Supporting, Nourishing, Containing, Limiting, Sustaining, Protecting, which map the stages of development of the child. Primary grounding is done mostly with the client on his back, which represents the child energy. The next phase executed is called Secondary grounding, and is done in the vertical standing position, which represents the adult energy. Most of the secondary grounding exercises involve vigorous movement of hands and arms, deep breathing through the nose and mouth, moving the body up and down, breathing in on upward movement, and out on downward movement, while pushing the hands toward the earth. Secondary grounding strongly focuses on the root/base chakra grounding. The chakras in the feet and hands open up strongly. Only when a person is grounded, is he safe enough to enable the heart to open up to healing.
Another aspect of grounding is the principle of charge and discharge. The basis being, when the body is sufficiently charged, the energy breaches the point of containment in a safe way, so flooding is avoided. The energy flows free through the body, such that energy blocks open up and energy leaks are sealed. This leads to greater health in the system and allows the person to be ‘here’. In the discharge energy, the client is receptive and energy will move into armoured areas which opens him to greater self awareness. Some of the deep insights into oneself flow out of discharge. The movement is the charge in grounding, and then the stillness is the discharge.
3.3.2 Possible Instance of Shamanic Grounding
In South West Africa, there is a group of bushmen called !Kung (the ! punctuation character represents a click consonant when pronounced). They refer to themselves as “the real people”. Their concept of ‘energy’ is called N/um, a ‘supernatural potency’ that makes healing possible. They have a tradition called a ‘Trance Dance’ which uses the body and movement where they dance and enter trance which enables them to perform healing. The activation of N/um is associated with shamanic powers, including healing, clairvoyance, X-ray vision, prophecy and soul travels. N/um concentrates at the base of the spine and through dance reaches the crown and then heals. The !Kung refer to N/um as a ‘death thing’, so powerful are its effects. Their dance is very athletic, as they dance in a line behind each other with and with a hand on the person’s shoulder in front. This maintains balance and helps against collapsing as N/um rises. The dance can last for many hours, where they move around the fire in a circular fashion. The hard stomping of their feet causes percussion in the body, resulting in shaking going up the body, up the spine and reaching the base of the skull. It raises the kundalini, which is dormant most of the time. The heat of the dance and the fire boils the ‘medicine’ up the spine and out of the hands and head. The healers enter a trance state and can then use the N/um ‘to pull out’ sickness of others. Perhaps the drawn out dance method used the !Kung is a safe gradual way for grounding the healers on all levels. The exhausting movement required by dance can assist in the lowering of the threshold of consciousness and the triggering of those processes, which science has determined can lead to visionary experience. Another example of this type of ‘Trance Dance’ is the Aboriginal Corroboree which is a ceremony where Aborigines interact with the ‘Dreamtime’ through dance, music and costume.
3.4 Divination and Diagnosis
3.4.1 Core Energetics Diagnosis
The word diagnosis comes directly from the Greeks and means “a crisis of God”. It specifically meant a “discrimination, a distinguishing, or a discerning between two possibilities”. Today the meaning has been changed. It relates more to the observation of a client which leads to an understanding of his core issue and choice of appropriate healing techniques.
For the therapist, the purpose of diagnosis is to find where to start the intervention. The diagnosis involves clear identification of aspects of character structure and ego strength, using subjective impression. Both the presenting image and the client’s history are considered. While in the presence of the client, the therapist needs to stay in touch with his feelings and create a ‘holding’ environment. The therapist is there, hearing, seeing, reflecting and receiving the client. The therapist may be intentionally vague, so the client can frame the complete picture by filling in with his own words. The more advanced therapist quickly identifies the issues by recognising symptoms and behaviours. The diagnosis also depends on the interview style: Structured interview vs. Unstructured Interview / Open-ended interview.
The therapist can work on many levels while in the diagnostic phase: Physical Characteristics and Personality Characteristics, Psychological impact, Physical Armouring (character defences), Energy Distribution, Psychodynamics, Psychoanalytical approach which uses cognition and emotion. The diagnosis works on many dimensions: body, energy, psychology, relationships, and soul, where the soul is central to the other four. The body comprises muscular armouring (includes muscle tone, symmetry), shape (includes leaks), texture, colour, warmth, hair, posture, expression, voice, breath, movement, blocks. Defences are generally seen as resistance to life energy flow.
3.4.2 Shamanic Divination
Our ancestor’s extra sensory perception was much more acute than for the majority of people today. Shamans were among our earliest diviners, and their many roles as diagnosticians, counsellors and healers demanded many methods. Helping spirits may be consulted during a journey or less commonly by object divination such as with a randomly selected stone or bone. Other strategies for diagnosis and treatment foreshadow contemporary psychological techniques, and intriguing examples include group confession.
One method of practicing Divination is by cultivating the capability of parallelisms in your consciousness by using ‘Divided Awareness’ or ‘Second Attention Awareness’. This is the ability to cultivate greater sensitivity to the larger field of subtle phenomena that is happening everywhere all the time. Developing Divided Awareness requires focussing on subtle signals for extended periods of time while retaining access to ordinary reality. This can be perfected using the ‘Autogenic Relaxation’ body technique, developed in Germany by psychiatrist J.H. Schulz and his student, Wolfgang Luth. This uses low level hypnosis to induce heaviness in the body and promotes sensitivity of feelings at a body level.
Shamanic Divination involves being able to look beyond what the client presents and plundering the depths of the client’s soul and its state. It involves opening up to other domains beyond everyday reality, where you will find out unconscious material about you and your client. When the state of consciousness changes for the practitioner, there are fine motor movements, e.g. hair standing on the back of neck, luminous dots on visual which are referred to as ‘threshold phenomena’. As you get skilled working in split consciousness, you may discover something about the person’s past (retro-cognition) or future life (precognition). Also Psi capabilities are heightened and the chance of para-psychological experiences is increased.
Clients who have experienced trauma will predictably not have as great an access to their emotional life since portions of their awareness and memory have been dissociated out of conscious awareness. Additionally, they tend not to live in the present moment and have limiting beliefs and over identification with certain feelings. As a psychotherapist, it is very helpful to have developed the sensitivity to be able to pick out the information that is in the interpersonal field but is inaccessible to the client because of prior trauma. As with other shamanic techniques, Divided Awareness takes many years of practice to master and prove reliable.
3.5 Trauma Theory and Soul Loss/Damage
3.5.1 Trauma Theory
Trauma occurs when the individual’s ability to respond to threat is overwhelmed. The activation is held in the body, and not the memory. Trauma locks the attention, subverting the flow or natural energy and consciousness. The amygdala is an almond-sized brain structure, which is linked with a person’s mental and emotional state. Trauma is triggered by the amygdala, which stores memories of fear, terror and rage. Peter Levine is an American psycho-physiological trauma theorist, whose understanding is that trauma is in the nervous system and not in the event. So the rage and terror held in images may not be actual events. In trauma resolution, the physiological activation is foreground and the content of the story is the background.
Developmental trauma is typically formed through repeated social interactions with caregivers. Shock trauma is typically formed through brief intense experiences outside the range of social interactions. Shock trauma and Developmental trauma are always intertwined. Wounds may escalate into developmental traumas, if events in the same time period are consistently too stressful or the child sustains overwhelming direct injury as in physical or sexual abuse, illness or medical trauma etc.
3.5.2 Soul Loss and Damage
Shamanism is embraced in many cultures as the cure for ‘Spirit Illness’. All illnesses have a spiritual explanation. There are many thresholds in Life. These are the times when the primary unconscious can flood and overcome you. You may be living a life that is separate to your soul’s journey and separated from the core of your being. The lost part exists in non-ordinary reality, from which it can be recovered by shamanic means.
Many therapists have found a resonance between the concept of soul damage/loss and various conditions. Soul Damage occurs through sustained, repeated traumas/stresses that take on many forms, including repeated and sustained humiliation and degradation. Soul Damage causes imbalances in the mind, body and spirit of individual, and is often classed as depression. With depression, the brain chemistry changes, due to loss of separation which causes melancholy.
Intense Soul Damage leads to Soul Loss. During Soul Loss, you are cut off from the ancestors and the Bone Seed. There is an injury to the core, which is the essence of the person’s being. The soul moves on a trajectory towards death and you cease to be a viable member of the community. It can lead to suicide, depression and violent tendencies. It manifests in despair, immunological damage, cancer, and a host of other very serious disorders. It seems to follow the demise of relationship with loved ones, or significant other attachments. It can occur as a result of an accident, or through sexual, physical, emotional abuse. In certain cases, Soul Loss may be associated with sorcery. The trauma may be ‘forgotten’ but stored subconsciously in cellular memory. There can be a sudden onset of apathy and listlessness which can be mistaken for depression. To check for soul loss, the practitioner would analyse dissociative states due to physical, emotional, sexual violence, associated with anorexia, bulimia and obesity.
Extreme soul loss causes fear and anxiety. In the initial moments of terror, when life and death is at stake, part of the essence leaves the body, leaving a vacuum that can allow an unwanted energy to enter. In abusive encounters, the charged energy of the perpetrator spins off and readily enters others creating a psychic bond between them. There is also an incredible pull with trauma victims to re-enact the trauma in some way. A lot of abusers are suffering from soul loss themselves. The vacuum created must be filled e.g. addictions or some believe they will only be made whole if they posses another and hence project the abuse onto another. From a shamanic perspective, rage occurs as a result of disconnection from both one’s true nature and the unifying and healing energies of the universe, as well as taking in another’s rageful energy after soul loss.
Shamanic cultures notice when there has been soul loss and are quick to retrieve the lost soul to ward off other energy from entering the body. The removal of the unwanted energy and restoring the original energy is performed in a Soul Retrieval. There are various soul retrieval processes that can be employed to restore the soul and these are executed by the practitioner acting as a Psychopomp.
The circumstances of our arrival affect the rest of our lives. There may be a primal resistance to birth. Some people don’t arrive completely or at all and feel alienated by the world. It is also affected by the ‘Bone Seed’ you carry it from ancestral line that precedes you. Generally, the practitioner would examine any factors that may have affected the client significantly, from the gestational period to 6 years of age. In Reichian terms, issues created in utero lead to the formation of the Schizoid personality, who experiences periods of estrangement, unreality, grandiosity, an inability to experience intimacy, dissociation, and extreme episodes of suspicion and rage. Psychotherapists such as Stan Grof, who regress the client to a foetal state may get him to reproduce drawings. They report that often the artwork looks very much like shamanistic experiences.
3.6 Voice Dialogue and Possession
3.6.1 Voice Dialogue
Every person has many aspects to his nature which can evoke different identities, depending on the presenting dynamics. Voice Dialogue refers to the technique and theoretical structure created by American psychologists, teachers and authors Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone, which allows one to experience and integrate many facets in the psyche, including the shadow or disowned selves. The technique creates a dialogue with different parts of the personality. This process enables the client to become more conscious of which selves, with their rule systems have been dominant in his life. The enables the client to unhook from those selves and he can begin to explore their opposites to bring his consciousness into balance.
Possession is normally seen in a negative light, conjuring up images of the head spinning antics of Regan, the little girl in the movie “The Exorcist”. Possession is a concept of paranormal, supernatural, psychological and/or superstitious belief in which a metaphysical entity may take control of a human body, resulting in noticeable chnages in health and behaviour. In some cases, the ‘entity’ can be one of a sub-selves or shadow forms, making it similar in theory to Voice Dialogue. In certain cases, possession can be the root cause of Bipolar Depression, Depression, Addiction, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
According to Jung “Insanity is the possession by an unconscious content that as such is not assimilated to conscious”. The dissociation which alienates man from the depths of his psyche is a “loss of soul”, and the influence for the split-off complexes can result in ‘possession’. Jungians talk about being possessed by archetypes, which are unconsciously expressed routinely at different levels of consciousness. These archetypes could very well overlap with the concept of sub-personalities as used in Voice Dialogue.
In Shamanic Practice, Positive Possession is of value and involves intentionally inviting changes. The philosophy is you give up a small part of yourself to obtain the whole. It allows positive adaptation of the self and may allow positive disowned/dormant energies to be owned and engaged. The shamanic strategy is to talk to different personalities and get them to know each other. Unlike Voice Dialogue, the practitioner needs to be careful not to introduce other personalities.
3.6.3 Projection and Introjection
D. W. Winnicot, a noted Object Relations theorist, described the nature of energies which go back and forth between people (1953). What is inside is the part of the self, though not inherently so, and it can be projected. What is outside is not part of the self, but again not inherently so, and it can be introjected. Simply, introjection is the process of taking in key psychic energetic parts of another. This process occurs most frequently in infancy and early childhood. Projection is the placing of unwanted and unintegrated parts of the self onto or into others. In Jungian terms, it is the unintegrated shadow. The aspects of the self that can be introjected or projected are psychic energy, which ultimately is part of the soul. Winnicot’s sentiments agree with a fundamental principle of shamanism: psychic or essence energy cannot be given to the person unless one is willing to receive it nor can it be given away unless one is willing to give it up. Introjection by parents can be viewed as a form of possession. ‘Polarised Introjection’ where the child gets mixed messages from the parents, causes splitting in the personality.
3.7 Group Therapy
3.7.1 Core Energetics Group Process
Group work in Core Energetics has two main levels. One works with and elevates the energy level, while the other increases consciousness. Groups give the opportunity to see how we affect others, to experiment with new behaviour, and to get feedback on our behaviour. One of the great aspects of the group is to normalise our experiences. We find out that others share parts of ourselves that we have feared and felt shamed around. The group at some stage represents the ‘family of origin’ system for each member, which can trigger infantile feelings towards each other and to the leader. The purpose of the leader is to bring each client into awareness by confronting particular behaviours.
Irvin Yalom (1970) says when the group matures and becomes cohesive there is an increase in morale, mutual trust, and revealing of thoughts and feelings. He outlines the main tasks of the therapy group are: self-disclosure, honesty about feelings, non-defensiveness, interest in and acceptance of others, support of the group and personal improvement.
3.7.2 Shamanic Group Process
Shamanic group work is ritualistic mainly. Many elements of group therapy are evident in cultures which use shamanism. The group as a whole collaborates on a project of common concern. The shaman confronts the members’ shortcomings, and this leads to confession and catharsis. The sharing of secrets creates a sense of trust and group cohesion. The resulting sense of relief and closeness can be healing for all concerned. The procedure is therapeutic for individuals and socially cohesive for the tribe. The Eskimo shaman does not give information, but instead prompts the group to divulge information on wrongdoings and secrets.
In Maya Deren’s book “Divine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti (1952)” she traces her travels to Haiti to pursue her interest in voodoo. She describes group process therapy where the tribe dance and go frenetic. The male shaman is called ‘Hungan’ and the female is called ‘Mambo’, meaning ‘Chief of Spirits’. The shaman invokes the Gods which ‘mount’ the dancers like a rider mounts a horse. The spirit enters the shaman’s head and he acquires divine knowledge. The shaman confronts certain people and exposes their problems, which can be very stressful for the congregation.
4 LINKS TO OTHER TRADITIONS AND PARADIGMS
This section correlates Shamanic Practice with other therapeutic practices and concepts.
4.1 Jungian Psychology and Transpersonal Counseling
Shamanism is one of mankind’s oldest and most misunderstood psychotherapeutic and religious systems. Equally misunderstood, Jungian psychology is one of humanity’s most successful modern attempts to probe the depths of the soul. Jung’s preoccupation was the deep delving into the client’s unconscious, where he unearthed a uniformity and universality of images and symbols.
Like Jung, the shaman is the master of using primitive images to penetrate into the blocked areas of our own psyche. And like Jung, here he finds what Albert Schwietzer termed “the doctor within”. He unleashes innate structures of psychodynamic transformation which both revitalise health and illuminate the larger mind. He integrates the conscious mind with the unconscious. In Jung’s terms, the shaman seems to have a direct link with the unconscious.
According to Jung, there are two layers of the unconscious, a personal layer and impersonal or transpersonal level, which he termed the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious contains such things as lost memories, painful ideas which have been repressed. He found in his analysis that the clients specifically equated the world of the ancestors with the collective unconscious. Jung felt that within the parasympathetic nervous system of the body one steps into the deeper collective unconscious, where perhaps psyche and matter share each other’s nature.
Myths are psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul. Robert Ryan (2002) defines them as “symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche”. Archetypes are patterns of instinctual behaviour. Jung believed the unconscious can only be reached by images or archetypal symbols. The unconscious is innately driven to express the inner man. The inner images are the true directors of the outer world. Jung found that the recovery of the psychic health in his client was often accompanied by the unfolding of images from the inner world.
Psyche and body make up a pair of opposites one has to reconcile with, in order to achieve balance. The symbolic and energetic processes are profoundly related. We experience the psyche in its outpouring of images, and the body we experience though the flow and interruption of energy. Images are to the psyche what energy is to the body, they form a functional identity. Character analysis investigates the myth or cluster of images underlying the armoured body process. Images bind and release energy.
Jung recognized the libido, to be the ancient daemon Eros in its mythic form. It was best envisioned according to him as an expression of psychic energy continuous with the cosmos, thus connecting man with his source and beyond. Sexuality and spirituality are powerfully interwoven and the spiritual is not divorced from the body
When psychic energy regresses, going even beyond the period of early infancy, and breaks into the legacy of ancestral life, then mythological and archetypal images are awakened. As libido regresses and turns inwards during illness, symbols emerge from the unconscious. Regression is a powerful event as it contains both the illness and the potential cure. Libido needs to flow backwards, passing through the phase of parent/child relationships in order to reach deeper wellsprings of psychic energy. Rather than working directly on the body, Jung chose to work with the symbols, knowing that they had materiality of their own, and profoundly shifted the energy in the body. Within the human body resides the entire range of symbols from the most primitive to the most differentiated.
Jung believed that your most ancient human task is to recover everything that makes you whole, discover the shadow and find your soul. The body problem is the ally and the ally is the shadow, the inner demon. The quest is to find the ally’s secret and find the key to existence before you are driven to madness or illness.
The term ‘Transpersonal’ was chosen to reflect the central importance of experiences in which the sense of self or identity extends beyond (trans) the personality or personal to encompass wider aspects of community, culture and even cosmos. Such experiences have been highly valued across cultures and centuries. The Transpersonal approach to human psychology is greatly influenced by ancient indigenous healing paradigms, such as shamanism. Dimensions are unlocked using transpersonal healing techniques such as shamanic rituals, ceremonies, healings, symbols and myth.
Transpersonal Therapy involves calling forward archetypes and also the programming of new images, to replace undesired negative images that we promote unconsciously.
Transpersonal Therapy completes the picture of the human psyche, as being not only an exploration of the Mind/Brain connection, with all its resultant thought and behaviour patterns, but also incorporates the Mind/Body/Soul (Heart) Connection. The core concepts in transpersonal practice map directly with the modern day philosopher Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant model. Wilber postulates four quadrants or dimensions of human consciousness, which have to be included in an integral view:
the subjective (mind), the objective (brain/body), the intersubjective (culture), the interobjective (society). This moves an individual toward the following evolutionary sequential flow: SPIRIT -> SOUL -> MIND -> BODY -> SOCIETY
Transpersonal work provides people in crises with an alternative to symptom suppression. Using the Transpersonal aspect, the practitioner enables the client to reveal the true self, explore the world of fantasy, experience beyond the ego boundary and out-of-body experiences beyond time and space. The transpersonal is particularly useful when dealing with trauma where the client creates other realities and dissociates. It helps him to creatively adapt to his crisis, using the experience to grow and truly heal.
4.2 Multi-Dimensional Reality
For the past three centuries, we have defined our experience in terms of three-dimensional space and linear time. Newtonian thinking has dominated scientific and popular thinking. In the twentieth century, Einstein’s theory of relativity began to counter Newtonian materialism. According to the theory of relativity, space is multi-dimensional and time is not linear. Space and time are intimately connected forming a fourth-dimension continuum ‘space-time’, which is analogous to non-ordinary reality.
Cultures unaffected by Newtonian thinking, such as Native American and Australian Aborigine, have two kinds of time, the ‘now’ and the ‘other time’ which is also referred to as the ‘great time’ or ‘dream time’. When one is in the other time, there are non-local effects and one is experiencing non-ordinary reality and is in the fourth dimension which Einstein theorized.
In the human body, there are seven major chakras, 40 secondary ones, and according to traditional writings, 88,000 in all which leaves scarcely a point on the body that is not open for the reception, transformation or transferral of energy. Another important aspect of relativity theory is that energy and matter and interchangeable. Matter is simply slowed down energy. Our bodies are energy and so are our thoughts. Part of the energy can leave the physical body behind and exist in other places and forms. It can travel in our dreams and take shamanic journeys.
5.1 Comparison of Psychotherapy and Shamanism
There have been notable misunderstandings which have distorted our view of shamanism for decades. One source of the misunderstandings was Freudian psychoanalysis. Long the dominant school of Western psychiatry, it fostered a distinctly negative view of shamanism. Transcendent experiences were regarded as psychotic-type regressions. Mastering both shamanism and psychotherapy provides the opportunity of integrating a diverse source of wisdom to more effectively heal and serve. In more recent times, shamanism has re-inspired psychotherapy, medicine and science.
Psychotherapy is a planned, emotionally charged, confiding interaction between a therapist and a client. During this interaction the therapist seeks to relieve the sufferer’s distress and disability through symbolic communications, primarily words but also sometimes bodily activities. Psychotherapy also often includes helping the client to accept and ensure suffering as an inevitable aspect of life that can be used as an opportunity for personal growth. All psychotherapeutic methods are elaborations and variations of age-old procedures of psychological healing.
Psychotherapists use a wide range of imagery techniques such as active imagination, visualisation, guided imagery, guided meditation or waking dreams. Such experiences have much in common with shamanic journeys but also differ in several ways. Unlike guided imagery, journeys occur in significantly altered states of consciousness, often involve travel to other realms, and are viewed as real rather than imaginary by the shaman.
There are key elements in shamanism within each of the main theoretical traditions of psychotherapy. The art of healing the psyche is largely a magical and mysterious process. Each of us is an essence of soul that carries an awareness of our higher purpose or place in the universe. The soul is comprised of emotional, mental, energy and physical bodies.
Combining psychotherapy with shamanic work can deepen and speed the healing process. The Shamanic Practitioner, like the therapist provides a language by which the inexpressible can find expression and further the healing process. In psychotherapy, healing mostly takes place in a cathartic movement when the client both understands the issues and feels an emotional, energetic release. With Shamanic Practice, the energetic release happens quickly with some shamanic techniques. However, if the client does not understand the issues fully, old beliefs and thought forms can pull back the energy resulting in only temporary relief.
The world of shamanism is madness and magic. While madness is the shadow problem of therapists who fear insanity, the warrior shaman nourishes the uncanny. He re-envisions madness as a gift to be developed to allow an emergence of the spirit. The life of the person is the implicit goal of therapy. Death, the mystery of darkness and community renewal are the realm of the shaman.
The future shaman frequently experiences a deep psychological crisis early on which sometimes leads to complete disintegration of the personality and to madness. Some people have are initiatory experience which should not be shut down with medication or mechanical ways. The Vision Quest can sometimes trigger this disintegration. The Core Energetics model involves breaking through the mask to lower self material, re-integrating those shadow aspects into the personality and energy system, so that the client lives his life more from his higher self.
While at worst therapy seeks to tame your demons or at least to explain them so that you will be able to fit in with others. The shaman’s world has few boundaries and no opposites. He does not ‘integrate’ parts of the unconscious to study himself, instead he follows the body. While the therapist may attempt to heal the problem, the shaman looks for virtual realities, the world in which symptoms live or survive. For the therapist, rationalism is supposed to win over shamanism. Jon Conger says “To come into wholeness, one faces hell”. John Pierrakos said that if all your defences were stripped away all at once, you would possibly die. The pursuit of either path requires a lot of courage and patience.
Western psychologically oriented teachers say that you need a strong ego to make important decisions about your life. The focus in process work and shamanism is not upon developing the ego further but rather upon developing awareness of change. The shamans say that you need a disciplined life to determine whether a path is right or not. Indigenous systems stress worshipping nature and finding a path with heart.
The main purpose of psychotherapy is to heal the personality so that one’s true essence can emerge. One of the main purposes of shamanism is to facilitate identity change. Both systems concur around the wound becoming your gift as you change your relationship to it.
Both systems have developed nonverbal ways of working with the psyche that evoke the deepest expression of self. While both work with the body and the unconscious, there is a stronger emphasis in Shamanic Practice on the images and symbols of the psyche.
The archaic and primitive man from 20,000 years ago in each of us has been lost through developing civilisation. The primitive man was vital, unintellectual, directly and emotionally involved, not distinguishing inner from outer phenomena, and lived in the magical and mysterious world of nature. He was connected to the earth, and the core of his being, so he was in touch with his spontaneity, feelings, intuition and inner guidance.
Shamanism is a technology of transcendence, which involves an expanded view of awareness. Core Energetics as a body-oriented therapy enables primitive bodily expression, so that we can connect with raw, unconscious impulses to unblock and release emotion in order to self-heal. Both disciplines have many similarities and the marriage of both equips one with many compatible ways of reaching one’s core or true essence. The blend of both supports one on the Path of the Heart, enabling healing and wisdom to be fully embodied as one is provided with the discipline and guidance of a spiritual path. From both traditions comes a profound understanding of energy and consciousness.
When we live from our authentic self, we can begin to transform and live our true potential in life. As Wounded Healers, we may become catalysts for change, respect, and integrity in our community.
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