Feeding Your Daemons (Part III) – with Art to the Heart of Contemporary Shaman

I was introduced to some elements of shamanic approach and heart practice through Tao Shiatsu. This was some 15 years ago by Alex Pereklita who went on to become a prominent figure in Canada’s Tao Shiatsu community. Tao Shiatsu, developed by Master Ryokyu Endo, a Buddhist priest and pioneering Shiatsu practitioner, revolutionized classical approach to body’s meridian system by integrating expansive “Ki body” radiating from the physical body.  Ki body-meridian system includes not only Meridians but also our spiritual heart. Undiluted, pure, hands-on touch that connects minds and hearts of both vehicles (therapist and the client) will create healing through unification of two forces. In spite of esoteric explanation of how this supposed to work the reality is that to achieve the unification level is extremely difficult. During the training and in the therapy session we were thoroughly tested at every point pressure applied (also called tsubo).  In other words, whenever pressure was applied we had to ask receiver – have I give you 100%? And most of the time the answer was no. When eventually higher instances of connection happened and both therapist and the client felt satisfied with exchange it was often frightening to realize that we cannot full our or each other hearts although we can certainly full our minds.

My interest in shamanism and direct approach to energies arose in my early teens when I was first exposed to Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964) that introduced basic concepts of “initiatory sickness”, shamanic initiation and the symbolism of the drum and costumes. The most daring concept for me was, undoubtedly, an ability of shaman to reach inside sub-consciousness and resurrect and revive themes and images hidden from the plain sight. I knew then as I know now that was not only the mind of the shaman that reached inside but the power of steady and uncorrupted heart that gave a power to heal and transform.

While searching for Chöd images just a few months ago I came across Caroline Kroll’s incredibly beautiful blog and art website. Caroline is, in her own words: “Eagle Clan Wolf House, Tsimshian and Nisga’a, weaver, painter, carver and writer” who explores and revives traditional art forms by fearlessly exploring and reviving her mind and heart. Her comparative analysis of Tsimshian Shamanism and Mahamudra Chöd is an exceptional piece of well written, well-thought and well-lived-through overview. Chödmas (practitioners) do not recognize gender biases and many Chödmas are indeed women.  These shamanic practices, as almost all, speak in”spirit language” that uses implements or mediators – instruments, dance and chanting – to communicate enlightenment and healing.  Encouraged by lineage that introduced her to this tradition and her bold personal experimentation Caroline’s insight exploded in beautiful visual statements that are reflective of her internal bliss of her heart-mind and her external environment she currently inhabits (small remote cabin somewhere in Alaska).

Four years after breaking with Freud while going through a period of great personal uncertainty and crisis 41 years old Carl Gustav Jung published a paper called “The Transcendent Function” (1916,  2nd edition 1957) attempting to apply precise analysis to his personal struggle only to find that he will be not able to: “Thereupon I said to myself, since I know nothing at all, I shall simply do whatever occurs to me… Thus I consciously submitted myself to the impulses of the unconscious.” (p. 173). He realized, however, that the power behind his quest is great and fundamental to our well-being so to understand its way of functioning will become his life work : “Constructive treatment of the unconscious, that is, the question of meaning and purpose paves the way for the patient’s insight into that process which I call the transcendent function “ (p.75). Initially, the types of relationships in sub-consciousness Jung defined as opposites he called compensatory and complementary that will eventually transform into Anima and Animus. He also introduced the idea about “active imagination” based on the psyche’s cognitive capacity to create images that can be intensified, moved closer to the upper levels and serve as an active catalyst for change.  All these concepts were developed at the time when Jung lived in seclusion working with active imagination keeping a diary that was posthumously published as “Red Book”.  The Berlin School of experimental psychology (Gestaltism) will later develop dialogues with non-integrated images of selves, yet the idea Jung allowed to emerge it was essentially to legitimize a shamanic jump into unknown by working directly with forces at hand. In 1958 Jung revised his essay giving this transcendent function permanent role as a “living phenomenon, a way of life … a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation.” (1957, p.23 & 90).

The question here is, how do we – the rest of us without an opportunity or willingness to sink deep below the surface of the world– can still reach into our sub-consciousness and access our mind-hearts? Is there a pathway to direct experience? What tools do we have available for our contemporary shamanic work?

Mircea Eliade was lover of arts and believed that art gives that freedom: “The contemplation of works of art liberates the powers of the imagination which lie in each of us, chained and oppressed. The same thing happens with certain “discoveries” – more precisely, revelations – in music, poetry, or visiting for the first time certain “natural monuments.” (as quoted in M.L.Rickett, Mircea Eliade’s Love of Art, p.69)

Throughout  his work (Memories, Dream, Reflections,1961) Jung advocated for the use of visualization, clay work, dialogue, movement painting, dancing – whichever will facilitate evocation because intellectual and aesthetic/creative forces tend to work together: “One tendency seems to be the regulating principle of the other: both are bound together in a compensatory relationship.” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition, 1975, p.85)

In 1980’s one of the forces burgeoning  art therapy in the West, Shaun McNiff, theoretically conceptualized art therapist as a shaman existing outside of the medical system due to broader cross-cultural and anthropological perspectives: “The ancient predecessor of the expressive art therapist can be found in every region of the world in the person anthropologists call the shaman… Shamanism is characterized by a belief in the power of human being to participate in direct and personal relationship with the supernatural dynamic of life.” (The Arts and Psychotherapy, 1981, p.3). McNiff will continue his work with publishing a large number of books about creative expression and integration of the art with mental health and research.

Yet, here is perhaps where the very danger of the American psychological approach lies – the eternal diversification, labelling and methods that focus on external authority and imbalances versus internal authority and health. Half a century earlier, Jung noted that the Western psychology is effective with illnesses but ineffective with well-being.  Aura Glasser, a dharma teacher, clinical psychologist and author of Call to Compassion: Bringing Buddhist Practice of the Heart into the Soul of Psychology elaborates this further:”Jung also noted the unfortunate absence of such methodology in the field of depth psychology and called for his colleagues to find a bridge to self development… In Tibetan Buddhism this conflict between inner and outer science does not exist… Moreover the same term chitta is used for both mind and heart.” (2005, p.15)  Freedom and empowerment arising from the nature of our pure and compassionate heart we already have are at our reach yet our daily struggle to tame dualism remains a formidable task, one that obscure clarity of the heart.

From my perspective and my practice maybe this is precisely the gap where art oriented Feeding your Daemons (FYD) practice would fit the best.  In essence, all that we need is a safe place to perform (no censorship, moderate guidance), somebody to hold Metta (benevolence) initially while we learn how to cultivate and hold our own, and courage to endure and  eliminate the doubt. In the processes art will serve as a bridge in between two worlds of seen and unseen, benevolently disrupting fixed patterns of our minds.

Certainly, we might not be able to immediately discover the pure bliss (Samadhi) or to give perfect 100% in all of our efforts. Yet, as we continue to dialogue from our open hearts the existing sets of automated actions will be inevitably replaced with more authentic actions arising from our own true nature. And this realization plus another – that in fact we cannot full our hearts, and that we never could – might become just a bit less frightening.