Ethical Quandaries

It is cold; really cold. The new pattern seems to be we receive our deep cold weather in March, rather than January and February. We could use some snow as the bare ground is subject to thawing which is tough on the garden. We also need more snow to get us through the summer as summers have become quite dry. A storm is forecast to come up the coast in a couple of days and bring some snow. The past two winters these storms have mostly missed us, depositing their moisture on the coast. Southern New England is in year five of  drought and can use the moisture. But then, so can we.

I find myself wondering whether it would be appropriate to ask the storm to come a bit further west than projected, and bring us that much desired snow. I  hesitate for any number of reasons, one being that it strikes me as hubris to imagine I might be able to influence a huge storm. Another is the simple fact I don’t know what is truly needed, and don’t want to get my personal preferences mixed up in something that will impact a broad geographic region.

If we were in desperate drought, I’d probably ask the storm to come closer. I was taught that it’s all about asking rather than demanding; there is no respect in making demands. I’d ask, then I would accept whatever the outcome was, figuring the storm has its own agenda and life and probably a much more finely tuned awareness of the greater need.

This brings me to a conundrum I encounter on a regular basis. The popular view of shamanism is that it is all about ecstasy and mastery over Nature. In the culture at large it has gotten all wrapped up in making money, having power, and creating personal growth. I understand how this came about, but it doesn’t sit well with me. I favor the notion that the task of the shaman is to work with the spirits on behalf of those who ask for aid, and for the good of the greater community. I also appreciate my teachers’ insistence that practicing shamanism is just filling a useful role, like being a plumber. There’s nothing glorious or special about it. In many communities it is simply one style of healing among many, and aspects of shamanic practice may be adopted by many kinds of healers. Many communities in North America don’t identify with shamanism at all.

Anyway, somehow shamanic approaches to being useful to others have gotten embroiled in the Neo-liberal agenda. That is rather odd, given that in much of the Americas at least, shamans and other community focused healers are routinely killed by those who would displace Indigenous people in the name of economic “progress”. (It strikes me as bizarre that governments place monetary value on land and resources but not on the Native  people who live on that land, except to sometimes offer bounties for their deaths.) There are certainly shamanic traditions in which self-aggrandizement is OK, but here in the Americas those practices tend to be seen as dangerous at best and evil at worst.

Being an urban person who works mostly with urban people and has no clearly defined community makes things complicated. My community is far-reaching and highly diverse. Folks tend to find me when they need to and sometimes I can be useful. I have colleagues who mostly share this way of living, far from our ancestral roots. Still, there are always needs that require attention, and complex cultural and ethical concerns which seem larger and more important as I age.


9 thoughts on “Ethical Quandaries

  1. It is interesting to ponder the slide of Christian values toward increasingly materialistic and capitalistic poles and the justification that wealth indicates ‘God’s blessing’. Does it? Or is it our own attachment and rationalization that ties that together?

    1. I often think of Jesus saying that it is very difficult to have wealth and enter the kingdom of heaven. I wonder if our collective hunger for more reflects the distance that has grown between us and heaven. I hope that distance can be closed, and do not know whether we, as a society, can give up enough self importance to go there.

  2. I find it really weird, that Shamans in US have been treated in this way, Michael. Many other places in our world, we see Shamans as people with special knowledge and learn how to respect this. Really sad.

    1. Irene, this is a huge problem in Central and South America. It is NOW much less of an issue here in North America. That said, the personal growth industry has had a different type of adverse impact on the spiritual traditions of Native people here.

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