Shamanism is an ancient belief system, concerned with what goes on beneath the surface of things, peering into the pool of reflection to assess the inner depths of our being – for instance, why certain situations occur in our lives and why we respond the way we do. It addresses the why and how we came to be and offers a path to align oneself with the natural way of the universe so that we can be at peace with all that is.
Shamanism cannot be named or defined in a rigid way because to do so detracts from its essence. It encompasses the long tide and is to do with understanding the nature of all that is, our reality, and our connected place within it. It offers a path to finding our harmonious place within the infinite universe.
We are each, in our own ways, always seeking connection with creation and as Shamanism takes nature as its teacher, it is deeply accessible to us and it is not complicated; many people conduct their life in a shamanistic manner without referring to it in that way. For myself, I repeatedly asked as a child ‘why am I here?’ and have been on a quest to understand my place in the universe for as long as I can remember! Having had a traumatic start to life, it was even more important to me to find sanctuary in the non-human world around me first – in my connection with nature, with the oceans and the wildlife that grace the Blessed Isles that we live upon. From this place of sanctuary, I was then ready for the journey of healing and transformation in trusting the human world.
As one who practices both Shamanism and CST, I find that they complement each other beautifully; there is much commonality and resonance. Both inspire deep listening and connection, presence and stillness – the foundation of all healing work.
In Shamanic terms, we work with the Tree of Life, the Axis Mundi, as the primary gateway between Heaven and Earth and the different dimensions. In craniosacral terms, we work with the midline, the fulcrum of our being-ness, around which everything else orientates. Within both of these systems, the light wheels (chakras) exist as spinning vortexes of energy.
Both systems work with the elements, from which all life is built. From a Shamanic perspective, we would look at how Fire is present in the body – for instance how much creative spark is available, the relationship to sexuality, how anger is held in the body and what the blocks are (for example from past life or present life trauma). In craniosacral terms, this is us perceiving and witnessing the amount of potency in a client.
With regards to Earth - shamanically this could be identifying how present in their Axis Mundi someone is or it could be looking at the client’s relationship to their body, to how well they feel their body and how they treat GrandMother Earth. Whilst craniosacrally, this is about the structure of the body. Both address how at peace someone is in their own skin and will offer openings for something to change.
The body of fluids (water) is very important in craniosacral terms as we all know; in Shamanic terms we would be looking also for the relationship to water and the great river of life. How does the client allow their emotions to flow or do they get stuck? How fearful of change are they? What is the quality of their internal waters – is it stagnant or a deep, fresh well?
The final element of air is one that is key to both traditions: the breath of life. How does it flow through us and connect us to all the worlds around us? With every respiratory breath, we breath in the plant world, the animal world, the unseen worlds around us. William Sutherland, the father of Cranial Osteopathy, stressed that the human system is ordered by a mysterious Presence that he called the Breath of Life. He saw this Breath as a mysterious, larger source beyond the physical body. What a beautiful crossover between Craniosacral and Shamanism!
From the Breath of Life (which can be perceived as the Soul’s breath) we naturally move to the Long Tide, the subtlest manifestation of our life force, expressing our original matrix of health. Accessing a perception of the Long Tide requires a very wide field of perception and a deep stillness.
Shamanism and its offering of connection to all of nature provides a perfect vehicle to access the Long Tide. As Dr James Jealous suggested – it is about letting your awareness breathe right out towards the horizons. For me, I started the shamanic path in 2001 and immediately felt like I’d come home. I could see the connections, feel how I belonged, and see what needed attending to within myself. The craniosacral training came a decade later and added more structure to a world I was already conversant in. Having a name for the place of such an expanded sense of awareness (the Long Tide) helped me to anchor this more in my own life. I had not realised how much my body craved stillness until I added craniosacral to shamanic work….
One of the questions posed to me was how do I work with both my craniosacral and Shamanic hats on? I believe that every practitioner is unique and will bring many tools and experiences to any session with a client. These tools and experiences will of course be present in the field when working in a session as it is not possible (or advisable!) to leave part of yourself outside of the treatment room. However, for me personally, although I will be aware of Shamanic elements in a craniosacral session, I will only offer those insights if a client has specifically requested a shamanic session. I feel that boundaries are important – and will not start offering spirit animals or connections – without the client’s permission. I have such trust in both the craniosacral training and the shamanic training, as separate entities in their own right, that I know the client will benefit no matter which hat I have on. Both craniosacral therapy and shamanic healing touch many levels of our experience yet are firmly grounded in the anatomy of the body.
(as published in The Fulcrum, Issue 78)
It seems to be the latest buzzword: mindfulness. Interestingly for me, this makes me think of a mind full of things, which in fact is polar opposite to what you are trying to achieve. I’m not sure ‘mindfulness’ was necessarily the best choice of words but the intent behind it is definitely sound.
Mindfulness basically means paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, as well as to the world around you. It means being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. I’d rather call it presence. But regardless of what we call it, it is a path to mental harmony and wellbeing.
Let’s face it – it is incredibly easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. There’s chores to do, money to earn, children to raise. The to-do list is never complete. And when there is space, we fill it with Facebook or Instagram or SnapChat or some other meaningless distraction. Do we actually know how we are? How we are feeling?
Our fast paced technological lives make it easy for us to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads'. We become more caught up with thoughts as opposed to emotions and behaviour.
The most important aspect of mindfulness/presence is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. Human minds are easily distracted, habitually examining past events and trying to anticipate the future – so the more we can bring our minds to the tactile body sensations of the here and now, the more presence we can attain.
Why does this impact on wellbeing? The more aware of the present moment we are, the more we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted. In fact research has shown that mindfulness lights up parts of our brains that aren’t normally activated when we’re mindlessly running on autopilot.
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness. We often fail to notice the good things about our lives, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us, or poison ourselves with toxic self-criticism.
Mindfulness/presence encourages you to observe your emotions, to hang out with them, to never avoid them or suppress them or run from them. It makes self-destructive behaviour eminently avoidable. It helps us recognise and step away from habitual, often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events.
There are many good resources on the net to help you to achieve mindfulness/presence. I like things to be very simple so here’s my ABC:
A is for Awareness and Attention (how am I feeling right now?)
B is for Body, Breath and Being (how well am I listening to my depth right now?)
C is for Conscious Choice (acting from presence and truth)
Mindfulness/presence is not about having the last App, or adding extra stuff to the already full to-do list. It’s a way of being. Of living. A choice, not a chore. I invite you to try it if you haven't already.
Boundaries are part of self care. They are healthy, normal and necessary. [Doreen Virtue]
We've all experienced having someone crash our personal space. Our response depends on both our personal history and on the nature of the crashing in. We may feel anything from slightly disgruntled all the way through to traumatised and abused.
Someone who has been loved and nurtured throughout their childhood will know in the cells of their body what is right and what is wrong. They will have a strong container and boundaries will come naturally to them. They will be confident with their personal space, will feel that they have a right to it and will have a history of it being respected.
So if you unconsciously crash their space, you will get a gentle swat to back off as if you've been an annoying fly. It is not necessarily a big deal - your timing may just be off.
However, for someone who has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused as a child, the picture is very, very different. Their natural boundaries were violated and they do not know what a safe container feels like. They are apologetic about their personal space and feel inadequate, incomplete, unworthy, tainted. Most importantly they often feel selfish if they try and set boundaries - maybe through some deep seated belief that they are bad and must be available for all and sundry to take advantage of - to make up for the fact that they are alive.
Defining boundaries is not selfish in any way, shape or form. It is a basic human need and part of your health and well-being.
My sense is the shame of early violation makes it very, very difficult to claim your power, to claim your personal space, and take authority about what you will and will not accept as part of your life's experiences. Defining boundaries is not simple. It doesn't work if you just state them. You have to own them in the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual realms: only then will others necessarily get the message.
A good way to start is to take a blank piece of paper. Draw a stick person to represent you and draw a big bubble around you. Within the bubble, name and write down all the things/experiences you welcome in your life. In a different colour pen (a colour that does not resonate with you), name and write down all the things/experiences you do not welcome at all in your life. Pin this somewhere you can see daily - especially in areas where interactions with others happen (maybe near the front door or near the landline if you still use one).
So now you're on your way to owning your boundaries from a mental place - what about from a physical place? Here's a really good exercise to try with a close friend or partner (someone you feel safe with). Stand either in the middle of a room or in the garden and ask your helper to stand opposite you - with approximately 12 feet between you. Bring your awareness into your body as much as you are able and ask your helper to slowly walk towards you. Notice when your body reacts to their presence - is it far away or close? Where do you start to feel impinged upon? Then get your helper to walk clockwise around you - again starting about 12 feet away. Which direction makes the hairs on the back of your neck go up? When they are on your right hand side or your left? When they are behind you? Play around and notice what you notice. This is great training on physical boundaries. Then swap over - and as you move towards your helper, notice when you feel their boundaries are uncomfortable or being encroached. See if it matches with their sense. Dialogue. See what you learn about each other's space.
So what about emotional boundaries? A key thing here it to learn how to be clear about the difference between your emotions and the emotions of others around you. We can be emotional sponges - and not know where we end and someone else begins. We can be emotionally drained after spending time with some people. We can suppress emotions we feel are 'bad' and only allow out the ones we label as 'good'. True emotion is energy in motion - e-motion. Allowing yourself to feel the wide range of emotions, without filtering or judging yourself is a great first step. It's helpful to identify them and learn to express them: own them (I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel disappointed). And when you feel overwhelmed by emotions, yours or others, find the movement to move them through - go striding through the forest, dance, shake, run, jog, go to the gym. Don't let them get stuck. And if you don't know where you end and another person begins - go and spend some time alone. Find you edges again, your own centre of equilibrium. Trees are great companions for this.
And finally, a few things about spiritual boundaries. These are your core values and what make up your central belief system. You may be in a beginning place with this or as an adept - however, I'd always recommend coming back to check what they are, whether they've changed, what holds you together and makes you tick. The clearer you are in this area, the more obvious it will be when an external event/person/decision is in line with your spiritual boundaries or not.
If we don't set boundaries, we can feel used and mistreated. Resentment grows. Passive aggressiveness seeps out. We repeat the cycles we ourselves were violated by. Boundaries are about respect: respect of self, respect of others, respect of life itself.