Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Healing and Shamanistic Wisdom: A Brief Encounter

Native American Shamanism has held a great fascination for me so long as I can remember. I have used a couple of shamanistic exercises in modified forms in some of my training programmes. Here is something I just read in Tony Samara’s Shaman’s Wisdom: Reclaim Your Lost Connection with the Universe. The brief passage made me think about the way we habitually react to misfortunes and those who are victims of misfortunes, and I thought of sharing it with the readers of the blog.

Before we go on to the passage, here is something about Tony Samara from his website.

After living for several years in a Zen Buddhist monastery, Tony Samara ventured to the jungles of South America - to the Amazon and to the Andes – where he lived and studied among a community of Shamans.

After many years he was initiated in the sacred healing ways of these ancient peoples, and left South America to teach and share this deep wisdom with the world.

Tony Samara is now visited by people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life, seeking spiritual guidance or simply the experience of being in his presence.

He is a mirror of what is possible, a shining reminder of the endless potential of being human.

The completely natural state of joy and wisdom experienced as the heart opens to life is the remarkable path he expounds. The path that is free for everyone to experience.

Verbal dialogue is not the essence of his teachings, but he explains in a direct and simple way that everyone can understand, how each individual can practically integrate greater acceptance, peace and joy into their daily lives.

Tony teaches with humour, humility and with infinite patience, empowering the individual with courage, trust and inner strength to continue on this journey back into wholeness, a path that leads towards real freedom.

Like many spiritual teachers, Tony Samara is concerned with practical inner work and liberation. He teaches by personal example and instruction, guiding the seeker to realise bliss here and now, through growing spiritual awareness rather than mental effort.

Part of Tony's teachings remind us that food and eating are fundamental to our inner well being, as well as to our physical health. He explains in his many programmes that the body is our temple and that the food we eat helps us to create a strong foundation that allows inner work and transformation to take place. He also explains that food is not just a physical substance which nourishes the body but that it also contains spiritual and emotional energy. Hence the importance of being conscious and taking the time to be present when we are eating and to become more sensitive to what will nourish our body, our temple rather than eat only what we feel like eating.

Tony also encourages a balanced vegetarian diet which includes organic products that are full of life force.

Here is the passage from Tony Samara’s Shaman’s Wisdom:

My first intense experience of the Amazon, in this dimension and in another totally extraordinary dimension of consciousness, took place a few days after my arrival. I was in a canoe, which was going down a river. There were many people staring at me and I had many thoughts going through my head. Time appeared to have come to a standstill. It rained a lot. The sounds of nature were everywhere. I was full of fears and doubts. I thought I was very well prepared for the rainforest. I had spent six months improving my physical fitness at a gymnasium. I had immersed myself in the Spanish language with the help of books and language tapes. I had bought a machete, a hammock and a compass but oh, how the mosquitoes constantly bit me. Our canoe had been a tree a little time before and, in order to avoid sinking, we had to bail out the water continuously. Every time we hit a rock or a log I felt it was going to tip over. I began to wonder if this was the sanest thing to be doing at this time of my early twenties.

My westernized mind was full of fearful thoughts: “What if I have to go to hospital? How would I get there? Why are these people so satisfied with their life? Is this the paradise that I envisioned?” While I was seeking thousands of excuses to leave the Amazon and to return to “civilization,” a man at the front of the canoe pushed a tree branch away and was stung by a swarm of vicious bees. My initial reaction was to think “How lucky that it was not me,” a feeling accompanied with pity and concern for the man who was suffering. The other people on the canoe laughed and behaved in a way that was incomprehensible to me. I was in a culture very different from all that I had known before. I asked my fellow travellers: “Why laugh at suffering?” (If they were not all shamans, they lived in a shamanic culture.) They answered my question with another question: “Can true compassion be understood through feelings of fear, negativity and doubt?” It was explained to me that the energy body of the man mortally stung by the bees was already in fear and pain and that my own fears and doubts brought only more negativity to his energetic body; that true compassion consists in helping the person to free himself from pain.

“By laughing, we helped to pull the fear out from the body of this man who was already in a state of shock and in danger of dying. If all of the passengers in the canoe had reacted as you did, their egocentric thoughts would have fed this negativity and the man would certainly have died,” said one of my companions.

I realized that each one in the canoe except me had been present to the situation from a healing point of view rather than from the ego. Their laughter was an expression of this healing energy. My cultural programming had been different and from that moment, I seriously began to question my beliefs about this culture that the Western world would describe as “primitive.”


As I finished reading the passage, I thought how a group of children would have reacted to the situation. In all probability, they would have laughed out spontaneously. Later their reaction would have been different – they would realize the seriousness of the situation and become serious. But the initial reaction would have been laughter.

Just as they do in the shamanistic culture.

I also wondered how a group of school children of today who have had their lessons in moral science would have reacted. They would have reacted exactly as Tony Samara reacted. They would have suppressed the laughter even if it arose in them because they have been taught it is cruel to laugh at another person’s misfortune. They would have gone and expressed their solemn concern to the stung friend.

I am not saying such behaviour is not appropriate. But there seems to be a different kind of wisdom in the light laughter of the Native Americans.

True, the stung man might even feel hurt by the laughter. But there is a possibility he would have able to handle his pain better when his friends took it so lightly.

Of course, we are talking of light-hearted mirth and not cruel laughter. We are talking of laughing at life’s misfortunes.

And I am sure the man’s Native friends would have been as helpful to him as the modern school children.


A related thought. It is only where there is no love that such spontaneous laughter at a misfortune hurts. A husband or a wife, for instance, can spontaneously laugh at something like this happening to the other, so long as there is love between the two. But when there is no love between the two, the laughter becomes cruel and it hurts like hell.

The Mahabharata tells us that one of the major reasons behind the epic battle was Draupadi’s laughter. While going round the newly constructed magnificent palace of the Pandavas at Indraprastha, Duryodhana sees a door where there is none and bangs his head on it. He mistakes solid ground for water due to the illusions created by Maya, the architect, and mistakes water for solid ground. As he falls into the water taking a step seeing solid ground before him, Draupadi, along with her friends, laughs out spontaneously in mirth. And Duryodhana feels so humiliated he would take his vengeance by humiliating her in the dice hall of Hastinapura later.

Of course there was no love between Draupadi and Duryodhana.

Love gives everything a different hue.

When there is love, you can laugh at the discomfiture of a friend – and he might join in your laughter. I do not think anything could be more healing than that laughter of his.


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