Thursday, May 01, 2003

Dancing with your demons.

Back during the old-time 70s feminist days, there was a lot being written about women and depression, women and repressed anger (depression being anger turned inward). Lots of us opted to let our anger out – at men, at the “establishment” etc. etc. It didn’t change anything much, and it didn’t help us to understand what we really wanted and how to get it.

Being a poet, I tended to have an outlet for my anger, and I was lucky to cross paths with another poet who also is a therapist who works in a shamanic tradition – which means that he truly understands the power of personal metaphor and myth – of creating art and artifacts that seem to “magically” dissolve the blinders that the rational, literal, logical mind uses to keep out dangerous awarenesses. Being a word-person, I could talk and write reams of reasonably intelligent analyses of what was bothering me, how my past experiences contributed to my current discomfort. I could -- and did -- read all kinds of books that purported to explain the causes of my dysfunctions. But blaming the past and analyzing the present only takes you so far toward ridding yourself of those old paralyzing demons. Knowing that you want to change things about your life and actually making the changes are two very different things.

At first glance, shamanic therapy smacks too much of new age nonsense. For some, like me, who don’t believe in any personal Great Spirit, it might seem too traditionally spiritual. But I approached the whole experience as ritual theater, as symbolic expression, as an end-run around my rational, controlling brain – and, when you come right down to it, as damned good psychology. You don’t have to believe in a god or a soul or an afterlife; you just have to acknowledge that there is some part of your consciousness, your understanding, that keeps eluding you. We dream without control at night and sometimes in our daydreams. Shamanic therapy takes us into our dreamtime, where the complex metaphors and symbols of our conscious lives hide waiting to take forms that hold truths too powerful or painful for our literal minds to willingly embrace.


Over tens of thousands of years, our ancient ancestors all over the world discovered how to maximize human abilities of mind and spirit for healing and problem-solving. The remarkable system of methods they developed is today known as "shamanism," a term that comes from a Siberian tribal word for its practitioners: "shaman" (pronounced SHAH-mahn). Shamans are a type of medicine man or woman especially distinguished by the use of journeys to hidden worlds otherwise mainly known through myth, dream, and near-death experiences.

One of the most enlightening experiences I had was taking a workshop with Eligio Stephen Gallegos, whose book Personal Totem Pole: Animal Imagery the Chakras and Psychotherapy explains the process. And that’s what we did – we went on guided imagery “vision quests” in search of our animal totems – visual metaphors for parts of ourselves that we needed to communicate with better. What my Osprey told me, what my miniature Dragon showed me, made more sense and gave me more sense of direction than hours of talk (or silence) in a traditional therapist’s office. So, when I blog about meeting a Skunk, it’s not just an attempt at cute story telling. There is something stirring in me that I need to pay attention to.

Expressive arts therapy works the same way, helping us to access our right brain smarts – the ones that are NOT linear and literal and rational, the ones that see right through those left-brain blinders.

When I read what webloggers at slumberland. and notsosimple and even rageboy write about their struggles to find a way to live lives that feel satisfying and connected as well as challenging and stimulating, I want to tell them that there are other ways – ways that make the journey of self-discovery [added after the fact for clarification] an even greater [delete 'a real'] adventuresome and creative trip. And you don’t [added after the fact for clarification] even need drugs to do it [added after the fact for clarifiction] the way that shamans use peyote other other psychedelic drugs to expand their consciousnesses so that they could take those enlightening inner journey trips.

But first you have to be willing to let your demons take form and meet you face to face in dreamtime. And, if you give them a chance, they'll even learn to dance with you.


Some other relevant info of interest on the web:

(double posted)

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