The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

I am reprinting this from an email I received from Malidoma Some, a west African Shaman whom I’ve had the privilege to meet, drive around Boulder, and work for for two days. Since I am going through what I believe to be a spiritual emergence, I am reading a lot on the topic. I want to continue to educate others. That what we sometimes call depression, bi-polar, psychosis, schizophrenia, might actually be a significant transformation in consciousness and a necessary stage on the path of human development. While this is a long article it’s well worth the read for those interested in the subject. Particularly if you have suffered from a mental illness or treat those with a mental illness. You might also like to read this short post Beyond Medication, Holistic Psychiatry. And, since i get so many private emails about this post, please ask to join our private community on facebook here. Here is the excerpt from Stephanie Marohn‘s book The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia.

The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

by Stephanie Marohn(featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé) (Excerpted from The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia, pages 178-189, or The Natural Medicine Guide to Bi-polar Disorder)  

What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital

In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé.  Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born. What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.”  The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm.  “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé.  These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm. One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness.  When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to “nervous depression,” Dr. Somé went to visit him. “I was so shocked.  That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.”  What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop.  This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation.  As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture.  What a loss!  What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.” Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world.  In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated.  When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening.  The result can be terrifying.  Without the proper context for and assistance in dealing with the breakthrough from another level of reality, for all practical purposes, the person is insane.  Heavy dosing with anti-psychotic drugs compounds the problem and prevents the integration that could lead to soul development and growth in the individual who has received these energies. On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of “beings” hanging around the patients, “entities” that are invisible to most people but that shamans and psychics are able to see.  “They were causing the crisis in these people,” he says.  It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients’ pain in the process.  “The beings were acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of people.  They were really fierce about that.  The people they were doing that to were just screaming and yelling,” he said.  He couldn’t stay in that environment and had to leave. In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile the energies of both worlds–”the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and community.”  That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need.  Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer.  “The other world’s relationship with our world is one of sponsorship,” Dr. Somé explains.  “More often than not, the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other world.” The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world.  The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings’ attempts to merge were thwarted.  The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer. “The Western culture has consistently ignored the birth of the healer,” states Dr. Somé.  “Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention.  They have to try harder.”  The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized.  “The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in,” he notes. Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity.  Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive.  In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé.  The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people. Schizophrenia and Foreign Energy With schizophrenia, there is a special “receptivity to a flow of images and information, which cannot be controlled,” stated Dr. Somé.  “When this kind of rush occurs at a time that is not personally chosen, and particularly when it comes with images that are scary and contradictory, the person goes into a frenzy.” What is required in this situation is first to separate the person’s energy from the extraneous foreign energies, by using shamanic practice (what is known as a “sweep”) to clear the latter out of the individual’s aura.  With the clearing of their energy field, the person no longer picks up a flood of information and so no longer has a reason to be scared and disturbed, explains Dr. Somé. Then it is possible to help the person align with the energy of the spirit being attempting to come through from the other world and give birth to the healer.  The blockage of that emergence is what creates problems.  “The energy of the healer is a high-voltage energy,” he observes.  “When it is blocked, it just burns up the person.  It’s like a short-circuit.  Fuses are blowing.  This is why it can be really scary, and I understand why this culture prefers to confine these people.  Here they are yelling and screaming, and they’re put into a straitjacket.  That’s a sad image.”  Again, the shamanic approach is to work on aligning the energies so there is no blockage, “fuses” aren’t blowing, and the person can become the healer they are meant to be. It needs to be noted at this point, however, that not all of the spirit beings that enter a person’s energetic field are there for the purposes of promoting healing.  There are negative energies as well, which are undesirable presences in the aura.  In those cases, the shamanic approach is to remove them from the aura, rather than work to align the discordant energies. Alex:  Crazy in the USA, Healer in Africa To test his belief that the shamanic view of mental illness holds true in the Western world as well as in indigenous cultures, Dr. Somé took a mental patient back to Africa with him, to his village.  “I was prompted by my own curiosity to find out whether there’s truth in the universality that mental illness could be connected with an alignment with a being from another world,” says Dr. Somé. Alex was an 18-year-old American who had suffered a psychotic break when he was 14.  He had hallucinations, was suicidal, and went through cycles of dangerously severe depression.  He was in a mental hospital and had been given a lot of drugs, but nothing was helping.  “The parents had done everything–unsuccessfully,” says Dr. Somé.  “They didn’t know what else to do.” With their permission, Dr. Somé took their son to Africa.  “After eight months there, Alex had become quite normal, Dr. Somé reports.  He was even able to participate with healers in the business of healing; sitting with them all day long and helping them, assisting them in what they were doing with their clients . . . . He spent about four years in my village.”  Alex stayed by choice, not because he needed more healing.  He felt, “much safer in the village than in America.” To bring his energy and that of the being from the spiritual realm into alignment, Alex went through a shamanic ritual designed for that purpose, although it was slightly different from the one used with the Dagara people.  “He wasn’t born in the village, so something else applied.  But the result was similar, even though the ritual was not literally the same,” explains Dr. Somé.  The fact that aligning the energy worked to heal Alex demonstrated to Dr. Somé that the connection between other beings and mental illness is indeed universal. After the ritual, Alex began to share the messages that the spirit being had for this world.  Unfortunately, the people he was talking to didn’t speak English (Dr. Somé was away at that point).  The whole experience led, however, to Alex’s going to college to study psychology.  He returned to the United States after four years because “he discovered that all the things that he needed to do had been done, and he could then move on with his life.” The last that Dr. Somé heard was that Alex was in graduate school in psychology at Harvard.  No one had thought he would ever be able to complete undergraduate studies, much less get an advanced degree. Dr. Somé sums up what Alex’s mental illness was all about:  “He was reaching out.  It was an emergency call.  His job and his purpose was to be a healer.  He said no one was paying attention to that.” After seeing how well the shamanic approach worked for Alex, Dr. Somé concluded that spirit beings are just as much an issue in the West as in his community in Africa.  “Yet the question still remains, the answer to this problem must be found here, instead of having to go all the way overseas to seek the answer.  There has to be a way in which a little bit of attention beyond the pathology of this whole experience leads to the possibility of coming up with the proper ritual to help people. Longing for Spiritual Connection A common thread that Dr. Somé has noticed in “mental” disorders in the West is “a very ancient ancestral energy that has been placed in stasis, that finally is coming out in the person.”  His job then is to trace it back, to go back in time to discover what that spirit is.  In most cases, the spirit is connected to nature, especially with mountains or big rivers, he says. In the case of mountains, as an example to explain the phenomenon, “it’s a spirit of the mountain that is walking side by side with the person and, as a result, creating a time-space distortion that is affecting the person caught in it.”  What is needed is a merger or alignment of the two energies, “so the person and the mountain spirit become one.”  Again, the shaman conducts a specific ritual to bring about this alignment. Dr. Somé believes that he encounters this situation so often in the United States because “most of the fabric of this country is made up of the energy of the machine, and the result of that is the disconnection and the severing of the past.  You can run from the past, but you can’t hide from it.”  The ancestral spirit of the natural world comes visiting.  “It’s not so much what the spirit wants as it is what the person wants,” he says.  “The spirit sees in us a call for something grand, something that will make life meaningful, and so the spirit is responding to that.” That call, which we don’t even know we are making, reflects “a strong longing for a profound connection, a connection that transcends materialism and possession of things and moves into a tangible cosmic dimension.  Most of this longing is unconscious, but for spirits, conscious or unconscious doesn’t make any difference.”  They respond to either. As part of the ritual to merge the mountain and human energy, those who are receiving the “mountain energy” are sent to a mountain area of their choice, where they pick up a stone that calls to them.  They bring that stone back for the rest of the ritual and then keep it as a companion; some even carry it around with them.  “The presence of the stone does a lot in tuning the perceptive ability of the person,” notes Dr. Somé.  “They receive all kinds of information that they can make use of, so it’s like they get some tangible guidance from the other world as to how to live their life.” When it is the “river energy,” those being called go to the river and, after speaking to the river spirit, find a water stone to bring back for the same kind of ritual as with the mountain spirit. “People think something extraordinary must be done in an extraordinary situation like this,” he says.  That’s not usually the case.  Sometimes it is as simple as carrying a stone. A Sacred Ritual Approach to Mental Illness One of the gifts a shaman can bring to the Western world is to help people rediscover ritual, which is so sadly lacking.  “The abandonment of ritual can be devastating.  From the spiritual view, ritual is inevitable and necessary if one is to live,” Dr. Somé writes in Ritual:  Power, Healing, and Community. “To say that ritual is needed in the industrialized world is an understatement.  We have seen in my own people that it is probably impossible to live a sane life without it.” Dr. Somé did not feel that the rituals from his traditional village could simply be transferred to the West, so over his years of shamanic work here, he has designed rituals that meet the very different needs of this culture.  Although the rituals change according to the individual or the group involved, he finds that there is a need for certain rituals in general. One of these involves helping people discover that their distress is coming from the fact that they are “called by beings from the other world to cooperate with them in doing healing work.”  Ritual allows them to move out of the distress and accept that calling. Another ritual need relates to initiation.  In indigenous cultures all over the world, young people are initiated into adulthood when they reach a certain age.  The lack of such initiation in the West is part of the crisis that people are in here, says Dr. Somé.  He urges communities to bring together “the creative juices of people who have had this kind of experience, in an attempt to come up with some kind of an alternative ritual that would at least begin to put a dent in this kind of crisis.” Another ritual that repeatedly speaks to the needs of those coming to him for help entails making a bonfire, and then putting into the bonfire “items that are symbolic of issues carried inside the individuals . . . It might be the issues of anger and frustration against an ancestor who has left a legacy of murder and enslavement or anything, things that the descendant has to live with,” he explains.  “If these are approached as things that are blocking the human imagination, the person’s life purpose, and even the person’s view of life as something that can improve, then it makes sense to begin thinking in terms of how to turn that blockage into a roadway that can lead to something more creative and more fulfilling.” The example of issues with an ancestors touches on rituals designed by Dr. Somé that address a serious dysfunction in Western society and in the process “trigger enlightenment” in participants.  These are ancestral rituals, and the dysfunction they are aimed at is the mass turning-of-the-back on ancestors.  Some of the spirits trying to come through, as described earlier, may be “ancestors who want to merge with a descendant in an attempt to heal what they weren’t able to do while in their physical body.” “Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos ensues,” he says.  “The Dagara believe that, if such an imbalance exists, it is the duty of the living to heal their ancestors.  If these ancestors are not healed, their sick energy will haunt the souls and psyches of those who are responsible for helping them.”  The rituals focus on healing the relationship with our ancestors, both specific issues of an individual ancestor and the larger cultural issues contained in our past.  Dr. Somé has seen extraordinary healing occur at these rituals. Taking a sacred ritual approach to mental illness rather than regarding the person as a pathological case gives the person affected–and indeed the community at large–the opportunity to begin looking at it from that vantage point too, which leads to “a whole plethora of opportunities and ritual initiative that can be very, very beneficial to everyone present,” states. Dr. Somé.   Lastly, since i get so many private emails about this post from people who have a “mental illness” or think they are in a spiritual emergency and want answers, please ask to join our private community on facebook here. It could be a safe place to learn from others… Subscribe to my newsletter and get the free mini-ebook on the big relationship secret.

Comments

comments

50 Comments

  1. I am grateful to see some wisdom of healing from a shamanic tradition. Much of what is shared here resonates with my own life experience and shamanic path.

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    • This is taken from a letter to a girl I met on the web who is having a spiritual emergency. It occured to me to share it with you in case youre interested.
      I kept notes during my spiritual emergency. It was definately worthwhile…
      In the onset of my SE, my awareness had opened up to a deeper state than usually known and my attention was hyper alert. My mind seemed to dissolve boundaries and lose the faculty of making discriminations- ie of good and bad. Overall my mental process gained a deeper dimention. Madness, I observed is the confrontation of the mind with something inconceivable. It was a holy madness where I believed that I was that by which I know I am.
      Also at the onset I felt like I was being shown signs and symbols that had meaning- such as mirrors and water. This to me is typical jungian stuff. I felt I had a role in the universe and a mission. This became a big assed burden but whatever it was I believe I fulfilled it a year ago somehow. The whole thing I experienced as real but it sounds very made up!
      A lot of the knowledge I felt that I possessed was that God was real but there was much more that was being presented so rapidly and so plainly that I was surprised I didn’t know it before. This happened for a few weeks. Some of the things I felt that I now understood was that this is all love and it’s all energy. I was in a state of complete openness. I felt raw and naked before the universe.  In this state it was like it says in the bible- and i was in no way religious- that in the light all will be revealed. I literally observed myself reaping the effects of my karma from years before. This happened for a few days continually then I went to hell and after was purified and made as white as snow.I came to know that we are all divine beings and that God is omnipotent. I lived is a state where I was continually being bombarded with new insights and revelations that overwhelmed me. I had no time or energy to integrate them and can’t recall them anymore.  My mind was existing in this new, exposed state and I couldn’t stop or control what was happening to me.
      For some reason it seemed like I could communicate with the world. This still confuses me as I don’t know if that is true or not.
      The experiences developed until I found myself in a timeless unconditioned world.I felt I met God in eternity and like a fundamental note to my experience of being alive. It felt like a priveledge to experience the world in the way and when I noticed it starting to slip away I think I drive myself back into it and ended up on the psyche ward!
      At times I would have no sense of I and existed as cosmic consciousness then I would gain a sense of I but not my former one. I would see that we humans are experiencing a case of mistaken identity- believing ourselves to be small egos when what we are is vast and not very well known. This threatens the ego but after my experiences I am happy to be a limited ego again- too much spiritual adventure for me for one lifetime!
      Nothing in the universe was as it seemed. I guess that has to do with destroying my beliefs though I can’t really remember that part too clearly. There were many sychronicities and I felt I was undergoing a period of rapid personal transformation. I searched for the true nature of reality and I think this is when I found it was all love. Also all One.
      When I wrote about feeling that I was living in what I’d read in Indian scripture, this was a part of it- ‘recognize that the apparent is unreal while the unmanifest is abiding. Through this initiation into truth you will escape falling into unreality again’ hindu Gita 
      I assumed that all of these states and this knowingness would stay but it gradually left. I’ve read that this is common- to go back to an ordinary life after such experiences but I didn’t really believe I would.
      I believed when all was said and done that I was being cared for like nothing in the world mattered more to the universe.
      I kept this all to myself cuz who would believe me. And who would not be threatened by my insistence that the ego is not the true self. People have been living with their egos and ways of understanding things for all their lives and I knew I just couldn’t run around challenging all that!
      To tell you the truth I don’t remember my scary time with God. It was one intense incident or something that happened when I was alone in the basement of our old house. It wasn’t dread or anything I just remember saying like a small child- God, you scared me. One incident in a host of other strong good ones.
      During all this time I couldn’t function very well. I was totally consumed and had no idea what was happening to me or did how long. The crisis lasted about 3 years but the whole thing is still ending 15 years later.
      I feel fine now and call it my favorite mistake. It cost me 15 years of a normal life which in my world means great carreer, kids, husband, house, vacations but how could I compare that with the opportunity to go through something realler than real? It may have been dangerous to my sanity- don’t mess around with reality- its not a plaything- but I will never speak against what happened to me.
      What I’m doing now is finding myself reconnecting with people I went to highschool and university with. I was very much on my own for 15 years and I’ll admit I’m dying to know what everyone has been doing this past 15 years. It’s been a bit painful to reconnect. I tend to breeze Over my past -’…spiritual journey, long time. Ask if you’re interested’ …
      Lastly my beliefs that were destroyed we’re pretty much everything I’d been conditioned to believe or had come up with details. I just remember that it felt like my whole world was overturned and all my believes felt like things other people who didn’t know anything had told me and I’d accepted. Probably true but I noticed after 10 years my believe system seemed to rebuild itself and I’m definately satisfied with it- I worried I’d be continually questioning it.
      That’s all for now
      Blessings,
      Jen
      email me at jetanoir@hotmail.com

      Reply
  2. It's liberating to know that at least one culture in the world doesn't turn away from those in mental crisis. Thank you for sharing this Jayson!

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  3. Jayson,

    I couldn’t agree more; grant you I may be prejudice. Growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia and the resulting ADHD I can appreciate what is to be nuts. 35 years ago I began my quest to heal the incurable. Not only did I heal all the major limitations, I learned how to embody the process of healing. What I didn’t expect was I would learn to facilitate others healings.

    I have many to thank for my healing and learning. An old friend Ron Kurtz was a one of the first. My best friend and mentor, Nelita Anderson was the last in her Hawaiian lineage that possessed the knowledge and skills of a ‘Medical Kahuna’. Thirteen years of friendship and study not only connected me up with Spirit, those years until her death in 1995 taught me the power of ceremonies. Hell, one ceremony on the Big Island cured me of an incurable heart condition which would have certainly shortened my life.

    My personal experiences along with my experiences with my clients and students taught me that to receive these gifts and other potential powers we all possess a part of us need to die. That death is never fun, but with a community who has at least one person who been there it can be easier and quicker.

    Because thousands of my clients would go through their own often milder version, I wrote up a few guides. My posts on Evolutionary Change™ and my posts on healing crisis address many of these phenomena. Evolutionary Change is the five stages of deep change that occurs when a person embarks on a journey to transform themselves. These five stages are in many ways a condensation of Joseph Campbell’s stages of a Hero’s Journey. The posts on healing crisis lay out what occurs when the body and mind are dying and being reborn.

    I wrote about these processes of change because I couldn’t find anything that would address what my clients were going through. It seems to work, I get comments from these clients and from website reader that they address questions they couldn’t find answers to. As your post says, in today’s society we don’t have support for this kind of change.

    As scary as it was at times, I feel it was an honor to have been given the opportunities to receive this depth of change. Not only are you not nuts, you are leading others to heal at this deep level. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Reply
  4. Well done, your article was so well executed.
    It will hopefully open a few more minds out there to take note and start approaching this issue from a different perspective and action new methods, because the ones they have in place now are so totally backward, it really makes you wonder what happens to most of the people out there who have experienced this phenomenon.
    Thank you so much for sharing this enlightening article : )

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  5. Great perspective and you've given me alot of food for thought. More mental health professionals need to consider other traditions views once in awhile.

    I hope others find your site as useful as I have.
    Cheers,
    David
    http://www.allthingsdepression

    Reply
  6. Love the article. It resonates with my own recovery from PTSD and Bi-polar2. My thearpist never thought I had BP2 but said in order to receive treatment I needed a diagnosis from the psychiatrist. I took meds but then refused and allowed the illness to take it's course. Strange dreams, visions, and states of conciousness. I journaled and made art as well as therapy. But the outside world was another story “Just get over it was the constant message.” And anyone who knew of my conditioned labeled me a pariah, so I learned to keep it quiet. My recovery was profound with great insights into myself and others as the gift. I had always known the horror of the mental institutions because my mother was hospitalized at age eleven for schizophrenia. So when I would go to the state hospital to visit walking into that place I heard people screaming in pain all the time, or my mother telling me her experiences. What was even more painful was to have my mother's visions, dreams, and hallucinations dismissed by the doctors and nurses when they revealed so much of what was wrong and out of balance. As Jung would say refering to schizophrenia “a psychic reality is reality.”

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  7. Love the article. It resonates with my own recovery from PTSD and Bi-polar2. My thearpist never thought I had BP2 but said in order to receive treatment I needed a diagnosis from the psychiatrist. I took meds but then refused and allowed the illness to take it's course. Strange dreams, visions, and states of conciousness. I journaled and made art as well as therapy. But the outside world was another story “Just get over it was the constant message.” And anyone who knew of my conditioned labeled me a pariah, so I learned to keep it quiet. My recovery was profound with great insights into myself and others as the gift. I had always known the horror of the mental institutions because my mother was hospitalized at age eleven for schizophrenia. So when I would go to the state hospital to visit walking into that place I heard people screaming in pain all the time, or my mother telling me her experiences. What was even more painful was to have my mother's visions, dreams, and hallucinations dismissed by the doctors and nurses when they revealed so much of what was wrong and out of balance. As Jung would say refering to schizophrenia “a psychic reality is reality.”

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  8. Yes. And the meds create further neg energies to enter. Mental illness is a wrong term. Energetic disease is to sweep and reconnect for mental hygiene. Osteopathic cranial-sacral and rolfing with Shamanism greatly assists to fluidity. Vibrational essences and support systems with good diet, also. Industrial is so off the map of harmony it even energetically makes animals sick. Until energetics is a commonality, we will continue to harm life.

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  9. How doI connect with someone skilled at performeing the rites of alignment discussed in your article?

    Thanks

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  10. Who does one see to clear the aura?

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  11. To Mary:

    You can see a psychic, astrologer, or shaman. You can find one in your local newspaper. This is always be preferential to taking potentially dangerous “medications.”

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  12. Thank you for this. So much of my experience is reflected in this post and in the comments of those it resonated with. There is no need to go into detail. A simple gratitude will suffice.

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  13. This article validates my own beliefs that our “psychotic episodes” are sometimes spiritual awakenings, and that these awakenings can drive us a bit mad. Look at the great prophets. Most of them were considered madmen and outcasts of society.

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  14. In light of the recent massacre of school children in Connecticut, I looked up Malidoma again. Until we care for our sensitive ones in the way of community shamanic healing, I am afraid we will continue to experience this horrific violence in our culture. I wish I had known of Malidoma when my own son was diagnosed at 22 with schizoaffective disorder. I was in a small town in Kentucky, and sought traditional methods of treatment, and for three years we went through institutions, group homes and hell. I moved to another state to try and get better care for him, a more “enlightened” community that I thought would be more accepting, but he was very unhappy and still in a group home because he had stolen things that he truly believed were his. It all changed, though, when my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and began having visions. My loving, trusting, creative and brilliant Mom, asked my son if we would move back to their small town and help care for my Dad. My son jumped at the chance. My beautiful, brilliant, loving Dad had helped to raise my very sensitive son, and he returned, still medicated, to help with my Dad. I started returning too, every month, to help with my family and also wanted to see if this could work. And it happened – helping my Dad helped heal my son. My son is now 28, medication-free for almost two years, his brightness and creativity have returned, he is a runner and a Dad himself and feels deeply that family is everything, as my Dad always said. We were there as my own father passed peacefully. The doctors had wanted to put my Dad in a nursing home, but we wouldn’t have it and kept him at home. Dad chose to go, reading a page from Harry Potter and saying, “turn off the light, I am ready to sleep” and he passed with the lunar eclipse and the transit of Venus in June of this year. We can do this, if we trust.

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    • Wow. this is a powerful share. thank you so much Sara. Others need to read this one. Can I share on FB?

      Reply
  15. We are dealing with the tragedy of my nephew’s mental illness now and someone sent me a link to this post on Jayson’s blog. I’ve done lots of ceremony with Sobonfu, some with Malidoma, so I was aware of this alternative perspective. Our challenge is getting this young man to the right healers….We will pray over this and hope for guidance. Thanks for posting the article and info about Stephanie’s book….

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  16. Thank you for sharing this article.

    I work on a Behavioral Health unit. We see a lot of people come in, usually involuntarily, with psychosis, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar, etc. Some are suicidal or homicidal. As are most units, we are understaffed, so we spend most of our time managing the milieu for safety and preventing harmful escalations.

    How can these principles be applied to a Western medical model, particularly when safety is such a tremendous issue? And how can the shamanic tools be applied in a way that doesn’t exacerbate psychosis?

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    • Such a powerful, affirming article! I share the same question as Katherine, however in regards to application. I work for a psych rehab agency and often go to inpatient facilities where chaos is common. I wonder what the process of adopting the shamanic view in our society would look like.

      With that being said I am very much invested in facilitating that process. I am diagnosed Bipolar 1 and have been hospitalized many times for psychotic episodes. I can truly relate to the view that it was and is a spiritual awakening for me. Being open to energies is certainly an understatement when you’re in that space. I am on medication now, which keeps me “controlled” but I have always had an interest in there being a space where people in crisis could go to in order to heal and develop their spiritual energies holistically. I am getting a Masters in counseling now, but would like to pursue a PhD and study this. If anyone has any suggestions on thoughts, I would truly be grateful!

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      • sheshe, thank you for your courage!

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  17. I’ve schizoaffective disorder, which is schizophrenia and bi polar disorder. How much would it cost for Dr. Some to perform a ritual on me?
    I’ve looked up “shamanism” and the “sweep” mentioned in the article but couldn’t find anything online.

    I’ve also tried channelling any entities wishing to “merge” with me but there was no one answering my call which makes me doubt this will work, but if its not too expensive I’d like to give it a shot!

    Reply
    • S, I would go to his website and reach out to him. he does do personal divinations on folks for $250 for 45 min. but i’m sure well worth it. but you’d probably need something much more intensive and longer, like 1 year with his people in west africa. who knows? worth checking it out….

      Reply
  18. Jayson, this is a very interesting article. I am a practicing Roman Catholic and I have had experiences in Zen Buddhism and pagan initiation rituals (Western Plains Indians). What strikes me about your article is that the Roman Catholic Church has many rituals and belief systems about ancestors, but of all existing ritual based religions, which one is under the most attack now? Yes, Catholicism! I acknowledge that much of what we see in Catholic practice is the ‘headiness’ of the Western mind – dualistic, mechanistic thinking – but in the ancient prayer practices, the halos of saints (their auras), the exorcism of evil spirits, the power of the cross, the water and the blood, etc. there is already existing the healing practices in an existing faith.
    The problem? Finding Catholic healers who know how to use the power of the Word.
    I throw this out to you. I’m not dogmatic about these thoughts, but I found your column of great interest.

    Reply
    • Thanks Patrick. helpful to know Catholic folks like you are out there!

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  19. I’m a 25 yr old female. Studying zoology at UW-Madison for about 6 yrs now. The whole time I’ve been here things have been really hard for me, which is why it’s taken me this long. When things got really bad; I realized that I needed to figure out what was going on,about 3 years into my time at school. I found an apartment where I could be alone, read tons of books, researched Shamanism (fell in love with it) all the while taking classes. Things got to be too much and I had a breakdown. I started having weird stuff happening and was freaking out. I ended up dropping out and moving home for a while where I ended up in the hospital for a few days, they diagnosed me Bipolar 1. They put me on medication which I am taking now. Not a large dose, I refused to up the dosage. I’m back at school now trying to finish up my last five credits so that I can graduate with a degree instead of throwing away all that time and money (hopefully the right decision, right?)…..my deal here, that I could really use some advice on is…while all this was happening I had already extensively researched this spiritual emergency topic and shamanism, so that’s what I figured and continue to figure is going on, but I couldn’t handle the things going on in my head anymore while trying to carry on with my classes and my physical reality was slipping into a weird state. So when I went home I started taking the medication to help me along until I finish school and graduated (which will be in a few months). Until then I am still trying to allow things to happen, allot myself time to really dig deep and figure things out. BUT I’ve been worried, and now that I’ve read this article even more so about 2 things…that while I’m “multi-tasking”,finishing school and dealing with this transition are the medications I’m taking to help me through this time hurting me? and secondly,I feel like I’m giving up a part of myself and losing it forever by being stuck in school for another semester focusing my attention on school (I mean it is the right decision to finish with only 5 credits left). It’s painfully disheartening to think about. In other words to go along with what was said above, am I aborting my chance to gain my full potential? This is concerning to the point that I cry about it quite a bit and get discouraged as I’m trying to study for my exams. As a last note, I’ve been trying really hard to integrate and connect the dots between the reality that has seized me and the information I’m learning in class. It’s pretty hard and sometimes I feel all for not.

    Reply
    • did anyone get back to you? do you still need someone to talk to?

      Reply
  20. Hi Jayson can you post his website I tryed to google but couldnt find it. I would like to contact him as soon as possibal for my con.
    Thank you. Anna.

    Reply
  21. A wonderful article and so great to read the responses to this article.
    My spouse is gathering information and interviewing people who have helped
    mental illness with Alternative sources. I will pass this link to him and
    perhaps he will find this as eye opening as i do.

    Reply
  22. Thank you Jason, for this excellent article. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar 1 in 2006, I’ve been more or less med compliant with and a dutiful soldier to the biomedical, Western model. But there has been much suffering. And many unanswered questions that therapists wouldn’t touch as I approached the meaning behind my manic episodes. I knew there was one. They told me it was a straightforward case of brain chemistry. What results is a spiritual nihilism, a regimen of spiritual anorexia. Your article gives me much food for thought, and more to research. I wept as I read it. Thank you.

    Reply
    • wow. thank you for your share here.

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  23. Finding connection when you are experiencing life on a different frequency can scare many people including yourself but, to know that there is at least one person in the world or so to say a people’s in a far land that know exactly what’s going on gives me a reason to honor this gift of the so called clinical term mental illness! It is a growing force of the spirit in these lands called the United States many are being confronted with this very fundamental question that has never been really honored since the genocide of the first people’s. What is spirit? When the spirit makes a call to be received why is it met with fear and an endless supply of drugs that big business is so eager to sell. I know in this society’s fabric that when the sacred has been fully dismissed well game over! It is only a matter of time before these gifts stop coming. My heart calls to the ancestors to give all those who are confronted with these energies a inner peace and connection to the great spirit that still resides in the seams of there souls trying to speak and be seen!.

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  24. Thank you for the excellent article. I will turn 50 in October, was diagnosed as “bipolar” in ’89. Since ’77 I have experienced virtually every phenomena listed in Dr. Some’s information, including “accidental” transformation of my inner powers through the use of stones. Native Americans recognized the onset of “mind/emotional illness” in the teen years as signs of spiritual healing abilities, that is, in the role of shaman/medicine man. This information is discussed in some of the excellent works of author Stephen Buehner. As an example, Black Elk entered a state of illness in his journey to becoming a spiritual leader, shaman. Though his state was more coma than “mental illness” as viewed in the west, it occurred to him first in his youth, with resultant enhanced spiritual abilities coming to him after his illness.

    I have experienced inexplicable phenomena on 2 occassions in my life, at 18 and 47, each time occuring at times of great spiritual crisis. Of course, psychiatry and the DSM V are in complete denial of phenomenea beyond the realm of science to explain. Why do the DSM manuals devote chapters to the denial of such phenomena in patients? Clearly such phenomena occurs at a higher level among the sensitive (or “ill” as known in the west). In the last number of years there has been an important, though still weak, inclusion into the DSM: the term “qi gong psychotic disoder” is now listed under section “V” (as in the letter) of the book. Section V pertains to causes of mind/emotional illness which modern psychiatry deems wishy-washy; that is, a person suffers from an illness which is caused by conditions not recognized in the west. The actual description of qi gong psychotic disorder in the DSM roughly states “illness caused due to religious conversion”, such as from Judaism to Catholisism. The true understanding of a qi gong psychotic disorder in Asian medicine is an excessive increase of chi in the mind/body, usually resulting from the improper practice of yoga or qi gong exercises. It is known that focusing too long on the sakral or root chakras can set off a kundalini reaction in the spine, resulting in excessive “chi” energy in the mind/body, a highly disruptive process. Western psychiatry does not really comprehend this reality, even though the classical term now exists in the DSM.

    In time I think the west will accept the eastern and indigenous knowledge of the mind and spirit. What Dr. Some states is absolutely correct throughout the article. Unfortunately, his statements would be viewed as total superstition in western psychiatry. What is needed today in America is an organization of persons diagnosed with such mind illness who have experienced the legitmate types of phenomena listed in Dr. Some’s article. There are organizations such as NAMI, but they are totally ignorant of the spiritual dimension of these actual sensitivies. Such persons in a sense are like athletes – the sensitive needs more rest, quiet than the average population. When pushed too far, like an athlete, they break down. The psychic, intuitive, and spiritual abilities of persons deemed mentally ill are very real and should not be ignored, denied. I have witnessed the denial of my own inexpicable experiences by psychiatry, and it never ceases to amaze me how naive the profession is. Acceptance of any one inexplicable event by modern psychiatry would, of course, mean the complete turnover of its foundations. Freud, as an arm of the scientific revolution, could not accept the possibilty of the “nonrational”. I believe there is a powerful need by those diagnosed with these illnesses to organize in order to share in their inner, intuitive experiences, the empowering aspect of their actual sensitivities.

    Reply
  25. Earlier this year I learned that the crown chakra can play a role in manic-depressive behaivor. When too open the crown chakra lets in excess “heavenly” energy, as it is referred to in Eastern medicine. This heavenly energy, from the sky, overpowers the mind, body, spirit. The crown chakra can be opened during times of great spiritual energy change. An open crown chakra is traditionally connected with spirit influence, that is, spirit energies gain access to the body through a large opening. It can be opened intentionally or by “accident”. Closing it is a possible means of reducing manic-depressive behaviors. The halos on saints, both in the east and west, are said to be the result of opened chakras.
    A key way to control these energies I have found is the practice of qi gong exercises, as taught by a skilled instructor. The energies of manic-depression are highly charged. As taught in qi gong the body is filled with energies emmanating from both the earth, sun, and “heavens”. Once learned, our bodies come to know and recognize these energies as very real, and extremely conducive in controlling the powerful forces in manic-depression. Our bodies channel this energy. For persons with manic-depressive energies it is very important to learn to harness the Yin energies of the earth, which are anchoring, balancing, as well as nourishing. Qi gong places the greatest importance in rooting to the earth, specifically to the earth’s core in meditation, to harness these forces (also practiced in martial arts). Much of the powers of manic-depression, both its positive aspects in creative art and spiritual sensitivity, as well as its destuctive “negative” aspects, can be greatly controlled by the knowledge in qi gong. Once the body learns to cultivate these etheric energies the person finds him/herself tapping into vast reserviors of balancing, healing energies of nature, in trees, rocks, water. I believe that if the schools of Eastern mind-spirit knowledge were completely adopted in the west we could reduce hospitalizations and ER trips by at least half. Of course that would require a total acceptance of “spiritual pheneomena” currently still denied in psychiatry.

    Reply
  26. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing
    this post and the rest of the site is extremely good.

    Reply
  27. Why aren’t the shamans being called upon to cure appendicitis or kidney failure or Parkinson’s? Because allopathic medicine is based on science–where we experiment and test–rather than on faith, where we do not.

    My bipolar disorder got better after I took the right drug.

    See Andrew Solomon’s book The Noonday Demon for a description of the shamanic “cure” for mental illness. It does not work.

    Reply
    • you are simply talking about your own direct experience. for others, it does provide another path of healing and helpful resources

      Reply
  28. I am in need a person who is experienced in helping with people who have caught the eye for evil. I had taken mushrooms and until that day I see evil in this world. Why do we laugh? I see it closely. I have lost the light in my chakra (s). Doctors call it paranoid schizophrenia. I was always a sensitive person around others, though very rough with myself and with close friends. I respect everyone. I am easily afraid. 20 years old. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hey Anthony,

      did you check out some of the comments or the links? One is for fb.
      Sounds like you’re on a path that resonates with you. Keep on with the search, you are finding what you seek. Love you brother.

      Reply
    • Anthony, There is a book by John Livingston called the “Adversaries Walk Among Us”. I do not know if the author is still working with people in this realm as he suffered an adverse health event last year. You can type in his name and find his book and links. Good luck. Kathleen

      Reply
  29. Thank you and thank Spirit for opening this article for me, I have been on “The Hero’s Journey” for a long time and it is good to see others awakening to theirs. In working with my patients the first thing I do is strip them of their labels, I then have them rewrite the passage. In doing so it empowers them to set a new foundation, create a new belief system and edit the story of their lives. In the west we are way to dependent on gross misrepresentation and the false belief that one description fits all. I’m not sure where I am going in this life but I do know that it’s always easiest when I am doing service for myself and others.
    Cheers,
    J.Lightfoot

    Reply
  30. This article is great.. I posted a great comment… but because you do not have your math question BEFORE the post button it was deleted… If people are not scrolled down and miss the math you eliminate them with a snide comment??? that’s mature…

    Reply
  31. Very interesting article for me. I am a very sensitive person. I have called myself the canary in our world. I have written about process that turned out to be Quaker process in helping communities be with one another when a person isn’t acting in “good faith”. I have been trained in both traditional medicine and very many alternative traditions. Finally realized in this last year (my 60th) that I am not “wrong” I am just different. When I was young they didn’t have the dx of ADD. I was just considered hyperactive and a difficult student. I couldn’t spell. I had a hard time staying present (probably had some PTSD). I took myself to see a therapist from age 32 -58 when the therapist I had been seeing on and off for the last 15 years finally said “Kathleen you have many tools besides me-use them”. That was a little over a year ago and she was right. Now know that I am gifted in a way that many are not. Still feel at odds with the world though I know how to survive and even thrive in a world that sees over sensitive people as to emotional. I do have a practice that includes shamanism and meet with a group at least monthly who help to “normalize” my sensitivities. If any one would like to contact a Shaman teacher and healer here is her web page: Adventures in Shamanism.

    Reply
  32. Well this is very interesting to me. For some reason the question of how shamans view mental illness has been very much on my mind lately. I don’t even know where the question came from. And here is the wonderfully written informative article that just sprang into my view. Thank you for this. I would like to look deeper into this.

    Reply
  33. Hi Jayson,

    Thank you for writing this article. I am writing a memoir on my long road to realizing my truth as a healer, both in order to heal myself and to spread light and healing in whatever way I am called to. I am still writing it, you can find it at untiliriseagain.com I also have a few websites for my healing work with people and animals. healingisheaven.com and animalsareheaven.com :) All the best to you, much gratitude for this article, I may use a quote or two from in in my book or on my book blog if you don’t mind? (I will notate/link to yours if I do!).
    Blessings,

    Nicki

    Reply
  34. Thank you for this article. It really resonated with me. My question is, now with this knowledge where do I go for help and healing? It is getting too much to bear with or without medications and I’m in crisis, searching for a solution. Thank you, anyone who has any suggestions

    Reply
  35. Hi Carissa. I would like to help you but I don’t really know what you are experiencing. However I can give you some basic advice which certainly helped me when I faced both manic and depressive episodes. The first thing is you need support from people who will not judge you and who you feel comfortable relating to. I found a support group which was very valuable. I couldn’t talk to a lot of my friends. You get this sense that everyone thinks you are just crazy in the end. But support groups are great because no one thinks this way about you. The second thing you need to do is reduce stress as much as possible from your life. This is sooo important. To reduce stress you must produce endorphins. Look all this up. Relaxation breathing is very important. When we are stressed we shallow breathe (are you familiar with the flight or fight response?) You need to abdominal breathe to increase oxygen uptake which leads to more oxygen to the cells and the brain. Really important. The third thing is you need to let go of all negative thinking/thoughts. You may have heard of ‘letting go of fear.’ I really believe fear is like a bad energy that gets trapped in our bodies’ energy fields and stops us experiencing our own light in its true form. Fear distorts our perception of love. Remember only LOVE is real. FEAR is merely the absence of love. To use metaphor fear is like a dark cloud that shuts out the bright sun. So we don’t feel it’s warmth. Instead we feel sad or worse, depressed. You can learn to let go of negative thoughts. You need cognitive behaviour therapy. You can learn to block thoughts or simply acknowledge them but then let them go. As you let go of negative thoughts you make way for positive thoughts. Look up mindfulness if you are not familiar with this. And my final advice is, if you are manic you may need grounding. I believe when we are manic we are flooded with too much external energy (as opposed to internal energy). We can be overwhelmed. I had some pranic healing to help this. But I also believe our ego boundaries dissolve when we are manic, and we are flooded with higher consciousness. I think this higher consciousness just kind of floods in and then floods out again, in the process overwhelms us, confuses us, turns us a bit crazy, and then our brains need to process the new information thru analysing, evaluating and finally mapping new neural pathways. I have had 2 episodes and I think they just have to run their course. I have heard of comments that medication halts the process. I haven’t found this. I don’t see how a chemical could do this. But this is just my experience. I take Lithium and I do believe it has helped to ground some of this energy. At first my dose was too high and I put on weight and I was quite flat, but now my dose seems just right. I feel back to my normal self. I probably will come off it eventually but I am still cautious. I was pretty out there. And I am responsible for 3 young children. So I hope some of this helps. If you never return to this blog site maybe someone else will read this. Thanks for creating the blog Jayson. I wish I knew about blogs like this one when I went thru my 2 episodes. Good luck Carissa. You are not alone. And you are certainly NOT crazy. You are evolving that’s all. And you do get thru the pain and confusion. It just takes time:)

    Reply
  36. I went thru what the doctor wrote about. It happened in the Fall of 2012. From 2001 to 2012, I was treated with therapy and prescription drugs for mental illness and physical pain. In the Fall of 2010, I accepted and learned I had an addictive personality and with doctor supervision, cleaned myself off all drugs including alcohol and became totally abstinent, except for one psyche med, Cymbalta, which I stopped using in September 2012. I basically went from up to 20 prescribed medications down to 1, and then I stopped that.

    In October I started having a profound awakening of my sensation and perceptions. I thought this was curious given I was off all drugs. I also started having a lot of spiritual thoughts about spiritual beings and philosophy. I have had these thoughts before. I have studied religion and make art. But this time, I really felt something not of this world was trying to communicate something to me. And it was becoming more insistent. At first I took it as the spirit in nature. I live in the mountains of Vermont

    Reply
  37. with many local streams and rivers. I felt there was these presences just outside our reality, another realm, trying to communicate to me or have me do something, I just did not know what. Some reminded me of Eastern deities like Shiva or Native American spirits, but others I did not recognize. Then things became more intense and began to interfere with my daily activities. For example, when I was driving, these images in my head, and the intensity of my perception of the visual world would become so overwhelming that I had to pull over and I could not drive. I had to close my eyes and wait until they settled. But they didn’t settle. And after a few daystThings started happening to me physically. It felt like I was surrounded by an extra heavy gravity field and it was hard for me to move. My body would feel like I was wearing a heavy lead suit. Then my body started doing involuntary movements, but not spastic ones, but dance movements, like Hindu hand gestures, or Buddhist mudras like in statues. I am not a dancer or a practioner. It was like I was a puppet. One night I was outside talking to these spirits asking what they wanted of me and I was thrown to the ground by some force. Finally one day this situation was taking it’s toll and I was having trouble seeing like I felt I was going blind. A friend took me to the hospital. As we made it to the entrance an external force kept throwing me to the ground into a bowing posture on my knees.

    Given my past mental health issues, I was put in a psyche ward after a medical examination in the emergency room. I had not taken any drugs and was cleared of that. I told them I was clean off drugs and did not want to be put on psyche meds but I was experiencing these overwhelming sensations that were interfering in my daily life. I did not go into my experiences of spiritual beings or physical experiences.

    In the hospital I experienced what the doctor talked about spiritual beings and human beings interacting and trying to align. It was like the psyche ward was like this terminal between two realms. I felt at times I was even gateway and different spirits were coming into me. I could see and sense spirits or the ancients in other patients, but I also witnessed patients who were just suffering from going crazy at the spirits and yelling at them to leave them alone. Some patients were completely unaware of this spiritual realm. I found myself experiencing the spirits in my physical form. I would wake up in bizarre yoga like positions I did not know. I was still having the hand movements. One doctor would come to me at night if this happened in my sleep and he would do exercises and move my limbs around so I would not cramp up.

    I did not judge what was happening to me nor was I in fear. I worried a little what type of forces these were and was it important for me to resist or not resist. I did not resist. I did not see things in dualities of good or bad, positive or negative spirits. I accepted it was all part of a divine realm I did not know of and had a higher purpose. When I got tired, I ate well and I rested and I meditated. I have very little formal meditation training but I know the basics to calm myself. I spent a lot of time in the art room. I collected rocks outside on our supervised time out and brought them inside design art and ground me. I encouraged others to try art as an outlet. They also had some alternative group sessions like meditation with Tibetan singing bowls and also a drumming session.

    So I thought the psyche ward was like a terminal for aligning spirits with people. One thing I wondered was whether the treaters, the people who ran the hospital, knew about this spiritual element in the hospital and accepted it as something to work with or even try to take advantage of. My understanding is spirits come to a person, though. A person cannot just take a spirit.

    Anyway I totally believe what the doctor wrote about because I experienced it myself. I wish I knew about shamanism more because maybe I could of put my experience to better use. Before I was discharged, I was given an EEG. They determined I had temporal lobe epilepsy for absence seizures and that I should be put on a medication for that. In non-western medical fields, some people call these seizures auras. Others relate it to the kundalini chakra. I accept that if I cannnot function in my daily life I can take a medication, but I do not want to shut off my spiritual experience. I seek balance.

    I am an educated person with 2 graduate degrees and have taught at the graduate level. I have studied religion and philosophy amongst others things. I try to contribute to a better world n my work and life and be compassionate to others. I have travelled quite a it including to Sri Lanka where there is a mosaic of culture and religion and spiritual practice. I have also been up the Lofa river in Liberia in West Africa when I wqas young and one on the first white children to visit that area ever. I now wonder if some spirits hitched a ride by my side on any of these journeys. I would like to learn more bout shaman techniques or even meet this doctor. I strongly believe that there are times when our world and the spirit world have less rigid boundaries and the crossovers or gateways are more wide open, or if that means that a person’s ability to channel the spirits is great at times in a person’s life, it is like every ten years for me when it is overwhelmingly upon me. I would like to be prepared for that in the future to make a benefit for myself and others.

    Reply

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