Updated: Feb 7
I find myself in a desert landscape; it’s hot, there’s no life present.
I watch as my client drags an impossibly big rock off of the road and on to a flat in the ground. I tell her there’s another rock that she’s missing, about the size of a radiator. She finds it and drags it—this time, it’s a little easier—bringing it so it’s touching the larger rock. She sits down on the sand and surveys the work before her.
Only an hour earlier, I was immersed in the crystal waters of a bottomless lake, searching for a crevice or a crack that was affecting the lake’s structure. I was working with another client, however this time he knew just what to do and I was simply there to be a witness.
Both of my clients experienced great healing during these sessions. The first acknowledge the size of the pain she held inside her and existed with it. The second finally stepped into his own power and out of his parents hold.
These shifts, obtained through visualisations, are the journey of healing. The work, both psycho-therapeutic and shamanic, centres on the transformation of pain, the retrieval of life force and the empowerment of the individual.
Where Psychotherapy Fails
I find that people like to do the thinking part, some of them actually relish in it. There are so many books and workshops available that self-analysis could be considered a hobby by some. Some people will see a psychotherapist to help them make sense of their findings, but psychotherapy doesn’t heal. Psychotherapy helps you discover what needs healing.
My first client (above) had been to psychotherapy before and felt stuck. “I know I need to forgive,” she said, “but I don’t know how to do that.”
Where Shamanism Triumphs
“Think of a time in the past where you know you forgave someone—what was that like?” I ask.
She puts her hand on her heart and thinks. “There was something there, and then there wasn’t anymore,” she says. “I felt free—lighter somehow.”
Using a version of the “shamanic journey” in our session, we travel together to a safe place in nature to discover how much pain she is holding onto through not forgiving.
We are in a barren land, faced with this rock, this monstrosity which is blocks her path. I am delighted—now, we have something to work with. In the shamanic landscape, my client can speak to the rock, listen to the rock, go traveling with it, to ultimately deconstruct it. Each time she connects with the rock it shrinks and she feels that little bit lighter.
This landscape never fails to amaze me in how it represents what is needed for each individual; also amazing is the speed at which most of my clients embrace working in this way. As practitioner, you must work with no attachment to outcome, no expectations; sometimes to witness, sometimes to guide and sometimes to step in.
We are required to be clear of our own issues and gain experience that teaches us what is appropriate…and when.
Why we need both the mind and the soul work
I disagree when people say that the ego edges God out. We have a physical body and we need our ego to keep us well, safe and protected. Our ego is a fundamental part of being here, on this journey of life; yet it seems to work against us for most of our lives.
Through logic, patience and time, we can make friends with our ego so it works for us, not against us.
I liken the ego to an enthusiastic dog which needs to be trained; a good dog will bring offerings to its master, and sometimes our ego proves its loyalty by bringing us remnants of the worst parts of our lives. Using psychotherapy, we can train our ego to bring us the good stuff instead, and it, like a dog, is usually happy to learn.
The spiritual part of us needs nourishing too, especially when it feels like a dry, barren desert. There’s no point having an intelligent, active, focused mind if deep inside there’s something not quite right.
The Healing Part
In our next session my client says, “I went to work with my rocks when I was at home. They moved, they are on a beach now. The big one looks much smaller and it has things living on it—starfish and barnacles.”
The presence of life, an ocean appearing in this once barren desert, you can see already that healing is taking place, even if you don’t understand exactly what it is. No attachment. No expectations.
“And where is the smaller rock?” I say to her.
“I smashed it, it broke into five pieces, each had a letter appear on them. It was much smaller then. The letters spelled GUILT.”
During our session she dropped one piece into a volcano in Hawaii, buried one in the sand, let a bird fly away with one, threw one into the sea and watched the other one shrink into a small pebble. Her face changed, her eyes were wider, and the sparkle began to come back.
“Do you feel like something you were holding onto has left?” I asked.
“Yes. Definitely yes.”
Still more work to do, there is always more to do.
I love this work.
Editorial note: this article first appeared in The Elephant Journal, 2013