It is easy for the mainstream media to marginalise ancient teachings and characterise shamanism as being a fringe and obscure curiosity, dangerous even, one that only has relevance historically or within some indigenous cultures of today. This ignores all the timeless teachings of the shaman and their way of life.
For me, shamanism can be viewed as having three key essences which I will explore over my next few newsletters. For today I want to focus on perhaps the most topical of the three, our relationship to the land.
There is little doubt that humanity is currently a major threat to its own existence, but we need to put this in context; it is a relatively new issue. We have been on this planet for roughly 200,000 years and in all but the last 200 or so we have played a positive role. It is only through industrialisation of our farming processes and excessive ‘land grabs’ back from nature that we have moved out of balance.
In other words, for 99.9% of our existence, we have been beneficial to our planet. It is time to return to this relationship, where we still interact with our environment but in a way that supports it rather than depletes it. It is time to step in, not step out; but do so underpinned by the gentle principles of our ancient ancestors – of resilience through biodiversity and sustainability.
In 1966 Robert Paine introduced the concept of ‘keystone species’. Like the centre stone in an arch that stops the rest of the stones toppling down, a keystone species is crucial to the balance of the land and environment around it. Beavers, wolves, elephants, otters, are all examples of animals that can affect and even transform their environment through creating minor disturbances that allow other species to thrive.
We humans are also a keystone species. We have historically wandered over great distances, digging for tubers, hunting game and foraging for fruits. As we did so, we created tiny disturbances in the soil into which plant seeds would fall, while also leaving a trail of dung behind us full of seeds from the fruits we had consumed. When we cleared woodland glades for farming, we created opportunities for wild plants to establish, nourishing all the insects and animals that could feed off them.
These ways of living built up diversity in the ecosystems around us.
This is all understood by the shaman and indigenous peoples. This is called living in ‘ayni’, in right relationship, where giving and receiving flow together in a balanced state of existence, where people leave a small but positive footprint upon the land.
As part of their gratitude and respect, shaman may also leave offerings on the land. When I travelled to Peru a few years ago it was sad to see that this custom had suffered from Western influence. The shaman with us said that their people had become so used to sharing with the land that they had not adjusted to modern industrial processes, including plastics. They had assumed that they could leave a wrapped item on the land and it would decompose like organic matter. They, too, will need to adapt if they are to maintain their balance with the natural world while embracing Western influences.
So, how does this sit with you? Do you share, plant and nourish? If you have a garden, do you disturb areas of soil to create fresh opportunities for diversity and new seeds to arrive? Do you have a windowsill where you could leave food for the birds and insects, or a nearby common area where you can cast some wild flower seeds? If you can afford it, do you support organic farms that grow their crops with sustainability and diversity in mind?
For me, we honour this way of living partly through our actions but also through our way of being, the grace with which we partake in life. If we eat slowly and consciously, feeling heart based gratitude for the food that blesses our plate, if we sit in nature with awestruck wonder at its beauty, then we are likely to be in ayni, in balance.
Our consciousness combined with our actions evidence our drive to live in harmony, respect and reciprocity with nature. They create a strength of intention and momentum that will demand change from the bigger institutions and governments.
Whatever their response, this is a matter for us, the people, to solve. Yes, we must voice our concerns to our national leaders, but more importantly, we must take direct action through how we shop, eat, and relate to the land around us. We are now witnessing globally the power of individuals uniting behind shared goals. Let us be part of that irresistible force of positive change.