This morning we discovered a tree had fallen across the community path, and into our yard. The tree was growing in shallow soil near the base of our hill, and the incessant rain had weakened the earth enough for the tree’s roots to pull free. This afternoon I cut the tree into manageable sections and removed it from the path and our yard. I had every intention of leaving some cornmeal as an offering to the tree’s spirit and did not. The tree, a birch, would soon die even without my removing it’s trunk and branches. I spoke to the tree about my actions, and expressed sincere regret at its fate.
As the afternoon has progressed, I have felt increasingly sad, and I am wondering whether I am feeling some of the tree’s grief. This is one of those times when I am aware I live in two worlds. One world is the Western world of science, a world in which trees are not sentient, and do not grieve or have souls. The other is the world of many Indigenous and shamanic peoples, a world where everything has soul, feels, and acts with intention. It is a world where one may leave an offering of tobacco or corn meal as an acknowledgement of the sentience of the tree.
These divergent worldviews can lead to remarkably different interpretations of the same event. When clients ask for help with “low self-esteem,” the Western worldview looks to aid the client by challenging and correcting “inaccurate perceptions and cognitions”. While perhaps acknowledging the need to change thinking patterns, the shamanic worldview also looks for the presence of attachments (energies or energy beings alien to the individual’s, or family’s, Self) that act with intention to shape the client’s life. While the attached entity, or entities, may be a recent addition, frequently these spirits have negatively influenced the wellbeing of the client’s family for generations.
Attachments often join themselves to humans during moments of intense, painful, emotion. Some very strong attachments take the form of possessions. Recently, Sihanoukville Journal published a piece about one such possession in his extended family. Notice the high level of trauma experienced by the possessed young woman:
Sometime shortly after Sopheak and I moved out of the guest house and into the small house on our property she received a phone call from Phnom Penh. Her cousin Sokha was in trouble. Sokha’s mother and father had both died when she was only four and since then she had been cared for by a succession of relatives. An uncle in Phnom Penh had most recently taken her on but when he remarried his new wife decided there wasn’t room enough in their small home for her any more. One possible “solution” was, if no one wanted her, Sokha, now 15, could be sold to a brothel. What could I say? We took a bus to PP and picked up her and her small bag of belongings and brought her home to live with us.
The piece goes on to discuss her behavior while possessed, and her healing, in some detail, but I will not include that here. I encourage you to read the post in it’s entirety.
I seldom encounter possessions, but I often work with clients who have acquired strong attachments. (Places may also acquire attachments.) Some of these entities are better thought of as Self-parts that were dissociated by individuals or groups under very painful conditions. Others are clearly autonomous entities.
My approach to these entities tends to be “hard” ( I remove the attachments now) when the attachment is recent , and “soft” (I work with them to heal their suffering while freeing people and spaces from their influence) when the attachments are long-standing. This is due, in large part, to the complex relationships that develop over time between people, places, and attachments. It also reflects my training. You might say I consistently act as a “family therapist”, working to heal the entire complex of beings.
It is crucial that any symbiosis involving entities alien’s Self to the client be ended when the client wishes for this to be so. The question is how best to achieve that end. Given that each person, place, and attachment is unique, there is much to be said for taking the time to understand the history, desires, and needs of all the players, and for negotiating solutions that free and heal all.