Reciprocity and the Spirits

A chilly, dark day; a bit ‘o snow tonight and heavy rain tomorrow.

This morning, after breakfast with friends, we went for a walk on a local bike trail from which a side trail winds down to the bay. The trail journeys through woods, largely parallel to the water, then heads north into the town’s business center. On the trail it is very hard, this time of year, to imagine that so much urban activity lies so close.

I’ve been thinking about expectations and entitlement. A while back someone asked for some shamanic aid so I looked into the situation and reported back what I had seen. From my point of view, the news was pretty good, but from the petitioner’s perspective it was not.  I understood the petitioner’s desire for a simple fix for a long standing issue, even though there was no shortcut to revolve the problem. The ancestors had expressed needs and concerns which had to be addressed if anything was to change.

When I am asked to help I try to find the most direct means for addressing the problem. Sometimes, however, there simply isn’t a easy fix. Often, the person asking for aid has to take on a significant task, especially when the problem at hand is multi-generational. “I” (of course it is hardly just me working for a healing) can often remove roadblocks and offer advice, but the Ancestors and spirits frequently have expectations of the person making the request for aid. I explain this as best I can and each person gets to choose whether to follow my suggestions or not.

The thing is, while those requests from the spirits offer the person the possibility of developing a profound relationship with the Ancestors and spirits, they may seem onerous to the person requesting aid. I know that side of things well.

On a societal level we live in a culture that largely ignores those who dreamed us into being, as well as the spirits of the landscape. We forget that those who ignore the spirit world end up enacting the relational hunger of the spirits, and “eating” each other. Perhaps this is why we are in the midst of devouring the Earth, our very home, and innumerable people and other living beings who live with us!

Often my task is to elucidate the path to healing as best as I understand it, and to be engaged in a process of complex reciprocity on behalf of the person or being requesting aid. In that process there are no free lunches, there is only reciprocity. Having done this for many decades I’ve come to believe there shouldn’t be any free lunches, for we grow only when we recognize the necessity of relationship and exchange. Only by setting aide our privilege, and accepting our responsibility to care for and honor others can we hope to stop our collective rush into the abyss.

12 thoughts on “Reciprocity and the Spirits

    • Andy,
      This is a huge topic with different cultures and traditions using different approaches. A good academic text is An Introduction to Shamanism. A more popular book is Chosen by the Spirits. There are just so many ways of doing similar work! I am thinking about writing more about this.

  1. Very interesting way of working to help others, Michael.
    As I often view life, when any soul ask for advice, I see that they struggle to view much longer than to their own nose tip. To ask them to see us as all one seems to be much to much to ask for. I do understand their struggle about same sometimes, as many different ways of living, as different cultures, also have an influence. But no way is more right than the other, so long time as we have the good for all in mind.
    After thinking a lot about this topic, I do also see, that people who don’t believe in anything, tend to me more energy vampires and able to suck much energy out of all of their surroundings. I don’t mean, it is necessary to be religious, but a belief in life does help us in many ways.

  2. I had an interesting response to your post today. Your last line resonated with me in a very profound way, and got me thinking about why the rest of your words didn’t, even though I know that everything you wrote leading up to that last line was building its foundation. I found your discussion of the helping role as a Shaman very interesting but I am interested from an intellectual position, not feeling my soul resonate with what I was reading. I have no doubt that you are very knowledgeable about what you speak of. I just don’t have much understanding filed away in my brain or soul from which to draw upon to follow your discussion. I think that is why I believe your last sentence is the most important of the post. In order for me to read your post with interest, I had to set aside my white, Anglo-American privilege (and perspective that isn’t any more worthy or valid than any other built on faith) in order to honor you and your work by listening and working to understand with whatever threads of human connection we share – and here my soul tells me we share many connecting threads. It is a privilege to honor you in this way, my friend.

    • Shamanism is indeed a huge departure from our Western cultural norms, although most likely it has not always been so. Somewhere along the line ancestors and spirits became ghosts and terrible things. Yet how often people experience beloved ancestors, and others, to be with them. When we are in Asia, we easily join with others who are “worshiping” ancestors, although a better translation would be “honoring” and/or “soliciting”. In many Indigenous traditions there is an experience of those who have gone into spirit interacting with those of us still here.(One of my teachers practiced a form of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism that brought me experiences I have tried for twenty years to get my head around, and who showed me there are times when negotiating with spirits is a rational solution.) The differences between cultures become stark when a minister or priest tries to exorcise an entity and it refuses to budge. Often, what it needs is for someone to hear its complaints and/or provide some solution to the problem as it sees it. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that ultimately what matters is honoring and acting from that place, which you already know.

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