From Activism to Shamanism

From a very young age, I was aware that there are many things wrong in this world, and I wanted to change them. I was politically active by the time I was eighteen. In 1973 I became an environmental activist, before the average person on the street had any idea that there were serious environmental problems. In 1977, I came out as a lesbian, and I was on the front lines of the feminist movement in England for a number of years, involved in a militant campaign to undermine male chauvinism. I was angry.

Now, in my mid fifties, I call myself a marveling mystic. Although I am still a passionate person, I am rarely angry. I don’t turn up for any kind of demonstration that is against anything, because I believe that whatever we resist persists. I am a Minister of Holistic Healing, active in Earth-based spiritual practices that are intended to empower the individual. I teach shamanic self-growth work. My favorite activity, which I find profoundly zen, is kitesurfing.

What happened?

Although I still wanted to change the world, I stopped being politically active in my thirties, mainly because I was working sixteen hours a day running an organic farm, and living in the boonies of northern California. I was still angry. The intensity of my anger forced me to recognize that it was far beyond any justification in the present moment, and I went into therapy. Thanks to some invaluable help from both paid therapists and good friends, I identified some childhood traumas, and moved beyond them. I began to study Earth-based spiritualities. A year-long training in Angeles Arrien’s The Four Fold Way introduced me to shamanic ritual work that helped me to move through my stuff. This work requires a level of honesty and self-reflection that felt very real and valuable to me. Over the next decade, I did a lot of that kind of introspection. I’ve always had a passion for the truth, and I wanted to get to the truth in everything. I wanted to understand what life is about, I wanted to find Truths that are universal.

Although I stopped being so angry, I was still dissatisfied, which often manifested as impatience and irritation. In my forties, my dissatisfaction and my search for Truth encompassed the whole way I was living life, making me question what life is for. This existential introspection went on for years, becoming quite agonizing at times, as I found no one able to give me answers that went anywhere near deep enough for me.

And then, over a period three or four years, I had some very remarkable experiences. Since these were experiential—in other words, they were on a feeling level, and there were no onlookers to identify any kind of happening—they are very hard to describe. The first of them was precipitated by a head injury that occurred when I was alone in the woods. Unable to walk, and too far from anywhere to be heard calling for help, I was astonished to find myself instantaneously transported a mile to the nearest inhabited house, where there was a person to take care of me and get me to hospital. It was a miracle along the lines of a mother who picks up a car when her child is trapped underneath it. Having done that once, surely I could do it again—and I really wanted to find out how, without having to injure myself.

The second, which occurred when I was driving, was an experience of bliss beyond anything that I had ever previously known. Perhaps it was what some religions refer to as enlightenment or satori. I certainly knew, in those moments, that this world is an incredibly beautiful place, filled with love. I knew that all is well. I knew that changing this world is more about who I am, than anything I can do, because no one could come into contact with me in that moment of my-knowing-of-vastness, without being affected. I understood that to be effective, doing must always arise out of being. All this I knew instantaneously, without thought. I saw that knowing, or wisdom, is a sensation, much greater than anything that can be computed by the rational brain. Even though the radiance of the sensation passed after a few hours, it was now with me forever.

The third occurred when I had a mysterious illness which, even back then, I knew to be a shamanic break—that is, an illness that was intended on some subconscious level, because I had become aware of the possibility of living in joy, and I wanted to change. I still wanted to know who I was. Who had moved my body when I lay sick in the woods? Who had put me here on this planet? In the process of recovering from my illness, I was advised to look into my eyes in a mirror, with the intention of seeing who was looking back at me. What I saw was simply my own face, yet it was shocking. I could not deny the presence of an eternal being, powerful beyond my wildest reckoning. I understood the truth of Marianne Williamson’s words, in her book, A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Now that I had met myself, I knew there was no reason to be afraid of anything. I realized that the most useful thing I could do would be to get into alignment with that vast self. Although my rational brain is still prone to fits of anxiety, my belief systems have changed radically. The last few years have been about translating those changes into a different lifestyle, one that is based on joy and trust rather than fear about the future. I sold my house and most of my possessions so that I could be absolutely free. I am choosing to live in joy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t slip into fear. It means that I make sure that I get a daily dose of things that bring me joy, and I don’t allow my fears to motivate me.

Nowadays the doing that arises out of my being is about helping others to access the sensation of inner wisdom. This occurs through my writing and through coaching. The book I am working on now is The Art of Being Human. My existential questioning led me to investigate a number of different spiritual practices: Sufism, Buddhism, Wicca. Since none of them, in themselves, helped me to find answers to my questions, I don’t identify with any of them now. However, shamanic spiritual practices, which are about developing a personal relationship to Nature and learning to work with energy, are right up my alley. I’ve found journeying particularly useful and self-empowering. Journeying is too complicated a concept to explain fully in this article, but the word refers to going to other realms, or planes of existence, to get help and information. Guided visualizations and night-time dreams are about traveling like this. Many people think of it as their imagination. It really doesn’t matter what words you use, it is a way of accessing your own inner truth.

I’m perfectly aware that, on a rational-brain level, none of the above would persuade anyone that I’m talking any sense. This is all simply my experience. I am very sure of myself, yet I cannot communicate my certainty to anyone else, even if they consider themselves seekers, as I did. I certainly haven’t written anything that would change any skeptical minds. That’s not my intention. Life in human form is a personal experience, different for everyone. We all need to be doing whatever we are doing right now, and we are all doing our best. It’s not my job to change anyone else, and I could make myself miserable trying. It’s just my job to be me, as fully and joyfully as I can. My hope is that some people will be moved by my story in a way that will bring more compassion to this glorious world.

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3 Responses to From Activism to Shamanism

  1. dianne coapman says:

    Hi,

    I read your book ‘my wild sweet dance’. I heard of it because irt was in LC and Earth reviewed it. My life has many similar experiences. For example I grew up in an emotionaly abusive environment, I was molested several times, I am a lesbian, and I find shamanic work to be wonderful – very grounding, very warm, very empowering, just right. Thank you for your book. I got the library here in Steamboat Springs Co. to buy it. Now I’m requesting more of your books. Thanks, again.

    Dianne Coapman

  2. C.P.Martin says:

    enjoyed your video and can relate to your script for life
    look forward to one of your seminars—it would be a great experience

  3. D. M. says:

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to find your writing and this blog entry!

    I wandered over here from the lesbian voices site. I am in my late 30s and a bit more the artist and contemplative sort – something has always seemed “off” to me in the local (Bay Area) lesbian community and I found myself preferring my straight (and sometimes gay male) spiritual/meditative/healer and artist friends to any attempt to meet other gay women. I was just not really “vibing” with other gay women, plus the culture seemed very youth oriented or like everyone is in a place (still angry at The Man, still coming to terms with being gay, etc) that I haven’t been in for many years, and I figured that I would just remain alone and enjoy my friends.

    I could never put my finger on what was “off”, just that the community was not an energetic match to me.

    Now I get it – the community here is heavily focused on activism or on alternative culture, and both have an undercurrent of anger. I am very happy to see that there are other lesbians in the world who have a different focus and if there is one lesbian who is more of the creative, healing, and contemplative mindset, there have got to be others!

    Thank you and best of wishes on your journey!

    D

    Thank you for the enlightenment and for restoring my hope!

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