Shamanism, Psychology, and the Vastness of Human Experience

Shamanism and therapy share much in common, even as there are vast differences between them. Both, ideally, focus on creating an everyday life that is rich, filled with intimacy, and deeply embedded in the world. Both also acknowledge that within the vast expanse of possible human experience everything that happens is inherently human.

Cataclysmic events such as going to war, experiencing rape, or surviving natural disaster, occupy some territory beyond the everyday. So do many forms of visionary experience.  Shamans and psychologists know that illness and healing may arise from the individual’s, family’s, or community’s understanding of, and response to, these events. One task for the community and the healer is to hold a vision of the possible human large enough to encompass all human experiences, from the horrific to the transcendent.

Shamanism and psychology, at their best, understand everyday life as the location of the human struggle to be compassionate, creative, and connected. Beyond the everyday, lies a vast expanse of experience encompassing visions, violence, and  a profound sense of connection to All That Is. There is no clear boundary between these realms. Rather, their edges overlap and intermingle. The innocuous morphs into the mystical or the traumatic. The mundane gives way to the numinous.

In the end, memories and experiences of trauma and vision, pain and joy must enter the everyday if there is to be deep healing. We must recognize and accept that the very experiences that set us apart, that others cannot fully know or understand, are experiences that reaffirm our humanity. Wrestling with that paradox is a path to healing.

One thought on “Shamanism, Psychology, and the Vastness of Human Experience

  1. “The innocuous morphs into the mystical or the traumatic. The mundane gives way to the numinous.”

    So very true.

    Ask the Creator a question, and the answer comes in the form of a falling leaf – the lone hoot of an owl. We ourselves are left to understand these signs, and to apply them to our personal myth. . .

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