As daughters and sons of Pachamama, our birthright is a marvel, and it is ours for the claiming. We can live upon planet as radiant wonders of loving beauty and do so in peaceful balance with All Our Relations. Our walk in life can be a dance of magic and mystery. Our cosmic lineage is to be incarnations of animated soul enacting a passionate consecration of breath and body. Our inheritance is a calling to take our place as intrinsically unique miracles within an infinitely diverse and interconnected living reality. We are all these things and more. It is in our nature. Yet, for most of my life, I did not describe myself in these terms. My vision was clouded and my senses were dulled.
For me, the truth lay hidden below the surface, and concealed from view by layers of anxiety and anger. Coming to a place of peace meant coming to terms with my past. It took time, experience, and effort. It also took a willingness to feel pain. This is not something we embrace easily, and it is not something we typically seek. We all experience pain, for sure, but it seems counterintuitive to choose it. Nevertheless, the old adage “no pain, no gain” holds a great deal of truth. At least that’s what I have come to appreciate.
For many years I was locked in a cycle of relentless anxiety that drove anger and relational dis-ease. I worked hard to repress and numb-out to those experiences that bore witness to deep pain, and I forfeited much loving connection to others as a result. It was a lonely and exhausting way to live and it took its toll. However, I now consider these years of rage-fueled desperation an initiation of sorts, a rite of passage. I say this because it resembles the traditional path of shamanic initiation, which often includes isolation, fear and surrender. While there was no literal lightning strike or ceremonial burial, the effects were much the same.
Stalked by anxiety, depression, and anger, I rarely felt free in my youth, or even as a young adult and parent. I likened this ever-present emotional beast to an enormous grizzly bear, ready to strike me down and consume me. There was a constant sense of impending carnage that followed me everywhere. Again, this is a relatively common state of mind for those who know what seems to be inescapable suffering. Regardless, it was and is no way to live. My misery leached into the waters which all those around me, those I loved, drank. I knew that I needed deep healing, and that true wholeness would elude me until something changed within me.
Deep and abiding comfort was rarely found, but what relief I could find most often came through spending time in wild places. When time and opportunity allowed, I found solace in the ancient mountains of North Georgia where, ironically, the bear that stalked me left me in peace as I communed in those places that bears called home. Although isolated from other people by choice, I felt connected, and it was connection that I sought most. Yet the wounds of my childhood trauma, a terrible and life-threatening burn, left me imprisoned behind a fortress of scarred walls and armored identity. Control, or the illusion of control, as well as the repression of empathetic receptivity, were furnaces in which the burning continued, and my isolating rage was wrought. For much of my adult life, this was my existence, being chased down with the sound of massive paws hitting the ground behind me, holding nothing but anger as protection. Then, as grace would have it, when I could run no more, and my defenses threatened to ruin me entirely, the medicine came.
“So, what do you think the bear wants, David?” These were the words asked by a PMT practitioner and guide some fifteen years ago. These were the words that ultimately set me free. With great care and ritual artistry, he then led me on a shamanic journey to the shadow world within, to the ukhupacha. As the slow, pulsing drum strikes deepened my inner gaze and ushered me into an ancient and evocative world, I soon felt that great bear’s presence behind me, so close I could hear it draw breath. Yet, I was strangely not afraid. It was exhaustion that overwhelmed me, not fear. Finding myself drained from a lifetime of being stalked, I simply surrendered to the chase. I stopped, turned and faced the beast, and asked “What do you want with me?” Fully expecting to be ripped to pieces and devoured, I was utterly amazed when the bear answered my plaintive question with kind eyes. He spoke with compassion and said, “I am your protector…I am your power.” In an instant my vista expanded enough to behold my true reality. My anxiety and rage melted. I yielded to the love and allowed him to strip me of the steel-clad aspects of self that no longer served me. My relationship to my past was changed in that moment.
In my preoccupation with a delusional sense of disconnection, I had mistaken protection for threat. What began then was a re-awakening of my awareness and an opening of my senses to the truth that I was a necessary part of the universe; and that this world needed me, and those like me, the wounded ones. It needs us with all our brokenness and pain. Moreover, the world needs us because of our brokenness and pain. The simple truth is that the world needs us doing our work, now more than ever. Our world is hurting. Our world is hurting and we have it within us to bring comfort and healing.
A central tenet of our shared shamanic cosmology is the view that everything is alive. All things are sentient and part of the living fabric of the universe. So, it is from this place of interconnected and interdependent relationship that we are able to feel the pain and sense the urgency of a world crying out. Because “like calls to like” we are able to recognize in others the suffering we ourselves have endured, and in turn become a source of strength. We are needed because we are a part of something alive that has breath, that has soul, and that feels pain. Being an integral part of something bigger than ourselves makes us both a giver and receiver. It is within our power to contribute that for which the world longs: empathy that makes way for loving, compassionate, spiritually attuned connection…with All Our Relations.
About the Author
An awestruck husband to an amazing woman, and grateful father to two phenomenal teenagers, David is a soccer player and coach, wilderness guide, counselor, teacher, and non-profit administrator. He has devoted himself to the walk and talk of living a scared path. He completed the PMT 5-part apprenticeship under the guidance of Cynthia Greer, and more recently completed don Oscar Miro-Quesada’s Magic, Medicine, and Mysticism course. David holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Emory University where he specialized in medieval spirituality, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College. While at Prescott, he developed an original integrative therapeutic model called “Gaian Soul Therapy” that synthesizes ecology, theology, and psychology as a means of healing self, community, and the natural world through right relationship. He is a licensed professional counselor with certifications in clinical supervision and trauma. David works full-time as the director of a community mental health center near Atlanta and part-time as the owner and operator of the newly formed Burning Bear Healing Arts, LLC, offering psychotherapy, supervision, spiritual direction, and shamanic ceremonial healing. He lives and works in Decatur, Georgia, not far from his hometown of Stone Mountain.