A Leap of Faith

*This article first appeared in the June 2018 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

Early in my teaching career, I was at a crossroads.  After three years as a public schoolteacher, I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out to be an educator.  I loved the kids and teaching, but it was clear from my run-ins with school administrators and colleagues that I was not on the same wavelength as them.  Even during my practicum work as a university student, I was told by my mentor that she would do everything in her power to make sure I didn’t become a teacher. I was upsetting the applecart with the new education ideas I brought with me into the field. Luckily, my faculty associate at university advocated for me, citing my willingness to take risks and try new things in service of my students as being essential qualities of a good educator. After a year of rough practicum experiences, I graduated with a Bachelor in Education and I was ready to enter the profession as a certified teacher. I looked forward to leaving these challenges behind me.

Years after this event, I was sitting at home one Friday night when I got a call from a teacher whose class I substitute taught in the day before.  I listened for fifteen minutes as she tore a strip off of me. She criticized my teaching methods and attacked my character.  I’d never even met this teacher before. What could have been a really good professional development moment where she got curious about my teaching strategies to learn more, turned nasty. She ended by saying: “They should never have certified you.  You are a horrible excuse for a teacher. I don’t know how you made it through your teaching practicums.” I never got a chance to say a word.

I didn’t know if she was right or not. I was in shock.  When I recovered, I reached out to one of my experienced teacher friends. He was outraged when I told him what happened and urged me to complain to the principal of the school and file a grievance with the union. At this point, I felt so discouraged and tired of swimming upstream in the education system that I quit all three school districts I was working for.  I needed to find clarity. I prayed for help and said to the universe: “If I am meant to be an educator, please send me the job that is right for me.”

At the encouragement of a friend who was a horticulturist with her own landscaping company, I started working full-time as an apprentice gardener.  Gardening and farming were in my ancestry; Portuguese people have a deep reverence for the land and find ways to create gardens wherever they live.  It’s not uncommon for apartment balconies to be filled with pots containing edible plants.  My paternal grandpa was a farmer in Portugal and continued that practice in his East Vancouver lot when he moved to Canada. It felt comforting to be walking in his footsteps.

Each day working with the plants in silence, I began recovering more parts of my soul that had left me bit by bit during my years as a public schoolteacher.  I got really clear in my mind about the reasons I became an educator and began questioning all the negative feedback I’d received from colleagues.  Why were they so threatened by my methods?  Why was it so horrible to include parents in their children’s learning?  Why were my students expected to follow unjust school rules?  Why did students have no say in their education and in helping to develop the school’s ethos?  I simply didn’t understand why we as educators couldn’t team up with children.  Why were we at war with learners and families when we didn’t need to be?

After a year of working with the plants, I developed a plan to open a small school. I started talking to professionals in the community who had already done this.  During my research, I found a school and learning philosophy I really grooved with.  I called the founder to see if he would meet with me and teach me how to begin manifesting my dream. Surprisingly, he said, “We’re already doing what you want to do.  Why don’t you just come work with us?”  That was in 2004 and the rest is history.  During our first meeting, I looked around at my fifty colleagues sitting in a circle discussing pedagogy and I knew I’d found the “staff room” I belonged in.  We were all on the same team and we all had similar values when it came to our work with children. I’d finally come home as an educator.

Most of all, I learned from the plants to accept myself as I was and to trust what I knew deep inside of me: I was a good educator with a passion for advocating for children’s rights to learn in ways that matched their sensibilities.  I found a place deep inside that I anchored into to draw strength.  Though I honour and respect my public school colleagues, I don’t regret my decision to leave and take a path less traveled.  Plants stay rooted while they reach for the sun.  They give life without asking anything of us in return.  They stand in what they know with tremendous trust. They showed me that what I was actually doing as an educator was aligning with life and its natural flow.  It paid off big to stop warring with the truth inside me, even though it flew in the face of conventional “wisdom.”

In the years since, I’ve worked with hundreds of children– many of whom are now adults who are thriving. They know who they are as people and they are aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are. They have learned the skills to excel in their interests with confidence. They are not afraid to follow unconventional paths in life. I am so humbled by the fact that I’ve been able to walk alongside them on their journeys for a short while.

Today, I know that I wouldn’t have been effective at guiding children if I hadn’t had the courage to take leaps of faith myself. How could I ask children to take risks if I hadn’t practiced that skill? All those early challenges had a purpose: to prepare me to bring forward the educator I really was in my heart. I learned that it is not how other people see you that determines your character or worthiness. We are all worthy. Today, I respect the kind of educator I am even when colleagues do not agree with my methods. Honouring myself­–like I do each of the vastly different children in my care–was the key that was there all along inside of me. I am grateful I found the courage to turn it and walk through the door into my new life.

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Children and the Seven Generations

*This article first appeared in the July 2018 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

Colonial states separate children from parents because they know it works. It destroys and traumatizes for generations. It’s an attack on the future as well as the present.”

-Jesse Wente

In my writing, I make it a point to stay out of commenting on political stances for many reasons. However, when policy starts to cross over into human rights violations that threaten the health of future generations, as a shamanic practitioner, spiritual warrior, and fellow human being, I am compelled to speak. And this article is the result of one of those moments. When the story broke of asylum seekers from Central, North, and South America being separated from their children at the US border, I felt it important to share what I know about child development and early childhood trauma. I also want to add from the beginning that this isn’t a solely American phenomenon but a result of patriarchal beliefs and structures that our world currently operates under. This system is hurting men, women, and children all around the world and it’s time to start questioning its modus operandi.

As an educator, I’ve dedicated my adult life to the thriving of families by supporting children and parents. This looks many different ways that go beyond academics and guiding families in setting up appropriate education models for their children. The truth is, children who are living in poverty and with a substantial amount of trauma are in survival mode: no brain can take in new information when it is in constant fight of flight. Poverty is not a crime nor a result of laziness; it comes out of oppressive policies that benefit the few and marginalize many of the most vulnerable citizens. Parents who struggle financially love their children and most are good parents despite the challenges they face. Poverty is not a reason to separate children from their parents; many social services seek to provide financial aid so parents can raise their children to adulthood. Supporting families means keeping them together, providing resources to help families to thrive, and creating policies that help parents to raise their children without so much stress on the family structure. Currently, we have a worldwide economic system that places undue stress on young families and when family systems start to collapse, parents are often blamed for their “failure.” My job is to advocate for kids and families, look for that support, and put it in place to give families some breathing room while they are doing the most important job on earth: raising healthy, resilient, compassionate, and creative citizens.

Recently, an excellent documentary series came out showing how we humans develop from our earliest years and how vital the first years of life are in creating our self-concepts, attitude toward life, creativity and flexibility of mind. In “The Beginning of Life,” experts in the fields of human developmental stages, pediatric medicine, psychology, and neuroscience come together to paint a new picture for societies that show how important it is to support families and what the effects are to society at large when we don’t provide this support (i.e. increased crime rates, higher health care costs, and higher taxes). One social worker recently told me that it is much less expensive for the government to provide groceries for a family for a few months while they get back on their feet than to pull a child from a home and put them in foster care. If you don’t care for the moral or financial arguments, the science is clear: parents and kids belong together. Many people don’t like the idea of using tax payer dollars to support families, however, when we start to separate families without providing them with the support they need first (i.e. parenting classes, financial aid, job training, good daycare, time for maternal and paternal leaves), the cost to society at large tends to be much greater for all of us. I personally want my tax dollars to be spent on investing in the well-being of future generations instead of on policies that focus on short term financial “gains.”

I made a spiritual vow many years ago to protect children’s rights. My motto is “do no harm.” This seems impossible for us humans and yet I feel that it is a worthy vision to hold in front of me as I do this work. Many people in the world don’t realize that we have a three-decade’s old international document in place that sets out the rights of children via the United Nations called the Convention on the Rights of the Child. icle 3 states the focus of the document: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Most folks would agree that staying with his/her parents is in the best interest of the child unless the child is being neglected or abused, which is not the case here. And even though the children who are separated from their parents are being fed, clothed, and sheltered, we know from longitudinal studies of children who grew up in Romanian orphanages that providing the basic physical needs of life is not enough for children to thrive. For children to be truly healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually), they need to be surrounded by safe and strong attachments to caregivers and community members who love and know them. When a child is taken away from a parent or guardian, this is a significant trauma that cannot be underestimated and often takes a lifelong toll on the child. If readers don’t know about the decades long Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), I highly recommend watching the TED Talk at the foot of this article. Many children and adults in our “corrections” systems have high ACES scores, not surprisingly.

You might be wondering why I am so passionate about this as a Canadian citizen with no voting rights in the USA. First, I am a child of immigrants who came to Canada looking for a better life for future generations. My family and I have been able to heal from the intergenerational trauma of growing up in a dictatorial state because of the relative safety and support we’ve experienced in Canada. Second, as a shamanic practitioner, I know that what we do today affects the seven generations ahead and the seven generations behind us. We have the chance to shift what we believe about children and their value in a way that our ancestors perhaps were not able to. Respecting the work of parents and the rights of children to explore their new world in safety is actually good for all of us because those kids will be deciding policy and taking care of us when we are elders. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a traumatized, jaded, and perhaps violent person taking care of me when I am an elder. I want to be surrounded by adults who were nurtured when they were children. These adults are more likely to be compassionate, have a strong sense of human and environmental rights, carry love in their hearts, and be active in their citizenship.

I know from researching that this practice of separating children from parents has been happening in the USA and even in Canada for quite a few years now; this is a non-partisan issue. I am not an American citizen otherwise I would be writing my local political representative. I will nevertheless look for ways to make my voice heard as an international citizen. I hope you will join me as a citizen of the world in making sure we protect the most vulnerable members of our society because the truth is that we are all connected to one another. We are all relations.

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Meal Planning Tips

I originally starting meal planning as part of my food addiction healing process. Learning and implementing new strategies for reducing unnecessary stressors in life is a necessary part of any addict’s healing journey. Stress is a trigger for addicts and although we can’t eliminate all external stressors, we can minimize them. This was tedious and hard at first because there were so many new things to learn.  I had to be patient with myself while I tried new things to see what worked best for me. I consulted people who were good at organization and planning and this article is pretty much the result of everything I learned that works for me (and now my family, as it turns out). I learned that being disciplined with planning led to a lot more freedom and curtailed unconscious eating patterns.

Why meal plan? Believe it or not, taking the time to organize meals for the week ahead can be a huge time and money saver as well as a stress reliever. Families are often looking for pockets of quality time together while also wanting to eat healthy meals. Involving kids in the planning process and inviting them to participate in meal prep to the best of their developmental ability can build in some of that quality time. In my experience, planning ahead leaves more time to spend with family members outside of the kitchen too.

Making it a family experience also takes the pressure off of the one person in the family who usually does this task by themselves in many families. It also helps other family members to see what goes into planning for meals. Kids who participate in meal planning also tend to eat meals their parents prepare because they are involved in the decision-making process. This is a good way to have conversations about what comprises balanced nutrition while also negotiating having meals now and again that might not be as healthy (i.e. pizza nights). You may also want to negotiate agreements around meals.  In some families, each older kid picks a night to plan a meal and cook it (with help if need be) each week.  In our family, we have an agreement that whoever cooks doesn’t do the washing up and kitchen clean up (provided the chef cleans as s/he goes!).

Grocery Delivery Services

Depending on what your budget is like, we recommend considering a grocery delivery service.  Delivery fees (if they have them) are usually minimal. We use Spud.ca because we eat local and organic at our house.  The food is almost always high quality and if something is not up to par, getting a refund on your account is easy. We’ve also sourced out local organic farmers to get our meat and poultry from in bulk, as this is cheaper than buying smaller portions from Spud; they deliver right to our door in the winter and in the summer, we pick up our order at the closest Farmer’s Market. However, if you are not particular about local and organic, Save On Foods has a delivery service too, for example. Perhaps your favourite store does too.

We’ve found that home delivery actually saves us money because we don’t pay for delivery and we don’t have to spend gas money to get to the store. Also, because we meal plan, we know exactly what we have to buy so it saves us money and we eat healthier (no food waste and no impulse shopping in those nutrition-less middle aisles at the grocery store). We only do one Costco run a month to purchase bulk items and things that are cheaper to buy there that we use all of the time (i.e. toilet paper, diced tomatoes, chicken broth).

Tips

*Pick a day to meal plan for the week that is consistent and works for you and your family.  We do this on Sunday and enter our order on Spud on Sunday too.  Then, we don’t have to think about it for the rest of the week. Keep your meal plan up on the fridge for the week so all your family members know what’s on the menu each day.

*Keep your pantry stocked with items you use frequently to minimize trips to the store. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you so you can find things quickly when you are cooking.

*Keep a grocery list on your fridge. When something runs out, write it up and put it through on the next order.

*Keep on the lookout for new recipes so you don’t get bored of what you are eating.  We ask friends for their favourite recipes often on FB, for example. We keep a file on our computer with links to good sites.  We also bought some good and easy recipe books containing foods we like to eat.

*When you plan for meals, make extra so that you can freeze part of it. That way, if you have a busy week, you can pull out a frozen meal before you leave for work in the morning and all you have to do is heat it up for your family at dinner time. We keep healthy frozen pizzas and samosas we buy from our local Halal place on hand too.

*We go out to dinner once a month to try something new foods.  We build this into our budget because it’s inspiring and it is nice to take a break from cooking now and again (even though I personally enjoy cooking).

*Look for meals that “cook themselves” like crockpot meals or ones you prepare and then throw in the oven–especially on days when you know you’re not going to have a lot of time to cook. Set a timer and walk away! In the summer, we barbeque pretty much everything on the grill (i.e. vegetables, corn, fish, meat, potatoes, etc.). We like barbeque because it is often quick, tasty, and healthy.

Some Favourite Recipe Sites

100 Crock Pot Recipes

Oh She Glows: Great Vegan Recipes

 

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Being of the Earth

*This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

Ever since I can remember, I had a connection to the Great Mystery.  I grew up in a Portuguese family. My paternal grandma was a devout Catholic.  She taught me sacred songs in Portuguese and encouraged me to pray to God.  I did this all the time when I was confused, sad, or upset and I always received an intuitive response that helped me get through difficult times in my childhood. Though they were mystified at why I wanted to attend mass with my grandma every Sunday, my parents allowed me to go and practice my spiritual beliefs. Even though I am no longer Catholic today, I have so much gratitude for the way my family validated my spiritual aspect and supported me in growing this in myself.

Considering the fact that I was born in urban East Vancouver, Canada, my family members did a wonderful job of keeping me connected to the land. I spent most of the daylight hours playing outdoors with friends. I come from a lineage of farmers and fishers. Portuguese people of my grandparent’s generation knew how to work with the Earth to grow and gather food and feed their families. My grandpa had a double lot in East Van, which he filled with edible and non-edible plants. Even though it was forbidden by bylaws, he even had livestock.  Every spring and summer, my extended relatives made a trip to Tofino to fish for weeks at a time.  We camped and the kids were responsible for cleaning gutted fish.  At the end of our vacation, the catch was divided equally among all the families that participated.  This gift from the ocean fed our families in the year ahead. Memories of Tofino are still treasured ones for me.

People often ask me how a Catholic Portuguese kid ended up being so steeped in shamanic and indigenous traditions. I am proud of my Portuguese heritage and the foundation my family laid for me.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to indigenous cultures around the world.  I couldn’t really explain this when I was young except to say that it made sense to me that indigenous people revere nature and seek to be in harmony with her. Indeed, some of my most healing moments in childhood happened while exploring the outdoors.  These experiences still guide me on my spiritual path today.

I was born on Musqueam territory.  When I asked one of the elders about my connection to my blood ancestors and also the land on which I was born, he saw no discrepancy between the two. I will never forget what he told me: “Jen, when you were born on this land, my ancestors adopted you as one of their own.  They have been guiding you ever since that day. You responded to their call.”  Every time I drive back into the rainforest from the prairies (where I live today), tears form in my eyes when I feel the energy of the land.  The ancestors always welcome me home. Sharing shamanic knowledge is my way of saying “thank you” and honouring my responsibility to the Earth and the ancestors who love me and are always there for me.

In fact, I’ve never met an elder in any indigenous tradition around the world who does not understand this interconnectedness. They champion diversity and actively look for ways to bring healing to their communities. Elders know that we are all relations.  In this statement, all sentient beings are included as relations: the plants, the animals, the rocks, the elements, and so on. This can be a hard thing for folks who have not grown up connected to the land to understand.  Most of us see our relations as objects that we are entitled to. We have forgotten our interconnection to these beings and their importance in our ability to survive and thrive here on Earth. I teach and practice shamanism because it reconnects people with this primal knowing.  When we know ourselves, where we came from, and why we are here, we are much less likely to harm ourselves, others, and the Earth.  Author and teacher, Anita Sanchez is of Mexican-American Aztec ancestry.  She answers the question of what it means to be of the Earth eloquently:

“In the beginning, everyone’s ancestors were indigenous…But for many of us who have been separated geographically and/or culturally from our tribe’s original ancestral traditions and instructions, we then don’t regard ourselves as indigenous…A truly indigenous person is one who has intimate connection with Mother Earth and who embraces all human beings in order to get along with them. There is a respect for diversity, which is part of the circle of life…We are all connected. Indigenous peoples listen to not only their minds but most importantly to their hearts, and to what Mother Earth is saying.”

Indigenous cultures all around the world have developed technologies that work to bring us back into balance with nature.  Many of these are ancient and have been passed down through generations.  Through ceremony, rites of passage, medicine wheel teachings, sacred dances, drum journeys, talking sticks, and medicine songs, people are brought back to their original state of wholeness.  Being human is a beautiful and challenging journey.  When we are in right relation to our relatives–human and otherwise–life is not as hard and lonely a journey. I pray that these traditions continue to bring people together–especially in the modern age where there are so many forces trying to divide and separate us.  I am grateful to all the elders around the world who continue to share this wisdom with future generations. Indeed, we are all indigenous to the Earth Mother.

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Shamanism and Mental Health

This article first appeared in Pagan Pages Magazine.

 

“Your mind is potentially the most flexible part of you, much more so than even your body, emotions, or spirit.  The reason is that the primary quality of your mind is your imagination.  Developing your mental self means developing the power to focus your imagination in order to expand your awareness, increase your ability to learn more and faster, appreciate different points of view, notice the reactions of others more quickly so you can adapt to them more effectively, and include more patterns of behavior in your repertoire for coping with the unexpected, to name a few.”

-from: “Huna: Ancient Hawaiian Secrets for Modern Living” by Serge Kahili King

 

Last year, I had a social worker tell me that shamanism is not an accepted form of therapy (certified social workers all have degrees in psychology).  She went on to tell me that unless I’d been diagnosed with depression or addiction by a psychologist, my self-diagnosis was not valid.  She was trying to drive home the point that unless an expert tells you something about yourself, you can’t possibly just know what is up with yourself.  She demanded to know why I didn’t just go see a counselor.  My response was simple: “I did see a counselor and it didn’t work for me so I looked for something that did.”

I know she wasn’t satisfied with my response but I could sense that she was closed-minded about this topic and decided not to delve into this further with her.  I changed the topic.  Recently, I was speaking to another social worker who happened to have indigenous ancestry.  When I told her that I did ceremony and learned shamanic tools to heal myself, she smiled and nodded: “Yes.  It works, doesn’t it?”  The relief I felt was actually stunning to me.  I hadn’t realized until then how much of my life I’d lived in fear of being institutionalized if people found out about my psychic skills and how I use them. After all, talking to dead ancestors and totem animals could be interpreted as psychosis.

The indigenous social worker went on to tell me that she comes across the same ignorance I experienced often in her field where psychologists think that what they learned in their training is the only valid knowledge out there.  She also went on to tell us that this is why the health care system often fails indigenous peoples: because it is culturally insensitive. I had heard this before from a Hawaiian elder who is also a nurse and runs a clinic that blends Western medicine with Traditional Hawaiian medicine on the island of Oahu.  The clinic has been so successful with indigenous Hawaiians because they are offered a choice of blending medicines or just staying with one mode.  Best of all, doctors and traditional healers work in harmony to provide care for their patients.

The truth is, I do perceive elements of reality that most people do not.  This doesn’t make me crazy or ill.  It wasn’t until I started studying shamanism that I met teachers who helped me learn how to use the psychic skills I had without medicating them out of me.  I’d been on anti-depressants in my twenties and they only served to make me feel numb and inhuman.  I am not against using medication and I know that it does help some people. Ultimately, it needs to work for the patient. With shamanic practice, I’ve learned more about who I am, what my skills are, and how to use them to support my own healing and that of others.  Most of all, I’ve learned to embrace these gifts instead of trying to hide them from the world.  This brought a sense of wholeness to my life that was previously missing.

Last week, I celebrated the launch of my new book about the topic of healing addiction with shamanic medicine (“Dreaming of Cupcakes”).  As I relayed pieces of my healing journey to the audience, I realized how shocked they were at my candor about mental illness and addiction.  They were not used to hearing someone be so forthcoming about these taboo subjects.  And they were certainly not necessarily accustomed to someone sharing about their ability to communicate with the spirit world.  In the end, people asked some great questions and I felt good about leaving them with perhaps a new perspective on mental illness.

After the launch, a mental health nurse who was in the audience came up to me and asked if I would speak to her mental health nursing students at a local university.  Of course, I said yes! Whether this happens or not, I was just so floored about the fact that this would even be on offer and it showed me that something is changing in the universe that is allowing for these conversations to come to the fore today.  Even a decade ago, putting this into the public arena would have been much more challenging.  Most of all, I am hopeful that we can learn how to direct the attention of our minds and put them to the use that Spirit intended for them: to remain open to new ideas. And I truly pray that everyone who is struggling with mental health can find the support they need in a way that doesn’t force them to sacrifice who they are.

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Animal Totems: Masters of Sensitivity

This article originally appeared in “The Empath” magazine.

Animal Totems: Masters of Sensitivity

by Jennifer Engrácio

“The true shaman, the true naturalist, works to reconnect conscious human life with Nature and Spirit through totems and ritual…What we consider imagination is a reality in some form on levels beyond the normal sensory world.”
Ted Andrews from Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small

 

When the editor of The Empath magazine invited me to submit an article to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on Highly Sensitive People (HSP), the first thing I did was journey into the spiritworld to communicate with my totem animals.  It is common in shamanism for spirit animals to come to practitioners during dreams and journeys with information about how to help the person move through challenges without getting stuck for too long; they know the terrain of our psyches and how to mend what needs healing.  Shamanic practitioners often have a special place in the spiritworld they travel to that is protected so they can do their healing work.  As a HSP myself, I have consciously grown my relationship with my spirit animals for years now as a way to help me navigate the world better without losing the sensitivity that I honour in myself.

 

The challenge for HSP is to live in this dense dimensional reality without armouring up and numbing out.  It is not surprising to me that many of the addicts I’ve met are also HSP. I spent most of my life believing that my extreme sensitivity was a curse instead of a blessing.  For many years, I self-medicated with food because I didn’t know how to live with feeling everything so intensely in a balanced way.  The crocodile is my death guide animal. Crocodile came to me in a drum journey long ago to show me how to move through all the small losses, deaths, and changes that we all go through in life as we transition from one phase to another.  I had been depressed for a long time when I first met crocodile and I wasn’t convinced that I could get unstuck.  Crocodile taught me how to make death and transition an ally.

 

The first time I journeyed with crocodile, I knew he was not a warm and caring sort of spirit–he was initially disarming but not without kindness.  This was an animal I could always trust to be ruthless with the truth of a situation in a way that was not cruel but didn’t beat around the bush either.  As I was getting used to swimming around with him in his energy, without warning, he lunged for me and took my heart right out of my chest.  Then, he swam away.  I sat in horror and shock.  I was hurt that he would do that and felt deeply confused.  I immediately went into pity: He didn’t even check to see if I was okay.  He just swam away.

 

After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I saw crocodile emerging from the depths carrying something in his mouth.  I stared in disbelief as he brought me a beautiful new heart.  I could see right away that this heart was stronger and more robust than the last one. When I asked him why he took my old heart, he said simply: “This old heart was filled with emotionality and past trauma.  It couldn’t learn anything new.  Where you are going on your journey, you need a heart that is up to the task of learning new things without losing sensitivity in the situations you will find yourself in.”

 

Then, being the man of few words he is, he placed the new heart in and swam away.  The drum journey was not over and so I sat with this new feeling in my chest for a long while.  A sense of courage came into my being that I’d not known before.  And the a-ha washed over me: My sensitivity is a gift and if a tough animal like the crocodile values it, it must have a purpose that can be equated with innate strength.

 

Since that initial meeting with crocodile, I’ve learned a lot about accepting reality as it is and using information from my environment in order to figure out how to adapt and thrive.  This can be challenging in a world plagued by war, aggression, and violence of all kinds.  The gift in it for me as an empath is that I’ve learned not to separate myself from the ugliness in the world.  When I separate, I feel myself go out of balance immediately.  If I can stay compassionate and aware during a confrontation with aggression, for example, then I can more easily listen to my inner knowing to see what the next steps are (if any need to be taken at all).  A crocodile doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it doesn’t avoid confrontation either.

 

In a way, reptiles are the ultimate teachers for empaths and others who are extremely sensitive to their environments.  Crocodiles embody the ancient wisdom of needing to be in tune with their surroundings in order to survive without being at the effect of the energy they find themselves in.  Being cold-blooded means that reptiles must continuously monitor their body temperature and when their internal thermometer tells them to make a move into a cooler or warmer setting, the creature follows suit.  This amazing ability to adapt seamlessly is one of the reasons that crocodiles survived the last Ice Age that wiped out so many other species.  Crocodiles don’t stew in their emotions and bemoan the environment around them for changing on them; they simply find what they need to thrive in the new setting.

 

Crocodile also taught me that the key to maintaining sensitivity without armouring is to stay centred.  If we don’t take the external world personally, we can actually perceive reality neutrally like animals do.  This makes a lot of information available to us that comes directly from the Great Mystery of life.  We may not always understand the whole picture, but this guidance from the spiritworld can help us to move through the world and accomplish our life purpose in more easeful ways if we practice neutrality.

 

Neutrality is important because it helps us to be in an energy without judgement of it.  When we go into judgement or reaction, we cease to be in the present moment and we miss important information in our environment.  Paradoxically, being neutral also highlights the bottom lines that are important to each of us.  When we are neutral, we know when to let something go, when to simply observe, and when to act.

 

In shamanism, we practice breathing into our Centre of Gravity (COG) just below our navel in order to tap into that universal wisdom that lives inside of us.  When centred, I feel my energy drop like a clunk.  From that place, I can sense neutrally and know what my next step is without reactivity even though emotions may be present.  Like animals, I can sense the unspoken energy in a space without invading the personal energy space of others.  Far from being a curse, it’s allowed me to sense the boundaries of others in a way that has allowed my relationships to deepen in mutual respect–even in the face of energy I personally find most challenging!  The opportunities for growth in this realm are endless and I know they will go on until I die.

I stress the word practice; unlearning lifelong habits wired into our brains doesn’t happen overnight.  We need to persevere to heal; it takes practicing new skills again and again for new neural connections to form in our brains.  In my book, “Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing,” I describe how I utilized many shamanic tools and technologies to bring myself back into balance.  I practiced these tools (and still do every day) in order to heal the addictive patterns in my life.  It’s not an easy journey, and yet it is so worthwhile.  Shamanism provides us with ancient practices that really work in the modern world when we learn to use them for our own healing.  In the end, I didn’t have to sacrifice my natural sensitivity or gifts to live on Earth.  My prayer is that other HSP learn ways to honour their sensitivity and live their lives to the fullest with great vitality.  Don’t give up; stick with it until you find a path or strategies that work for you.  You’re worth it and your gifts are needed in our evolving world.

 

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Children and Ceremony

As seen in the article in Pagan Pages e-Magazine:

Children and Ceremony

In many cultures in the world, rituals are built into daily life as a continual way of renewing the individual and community spirit: celebrating, giving gratitude, grieving, and letting go of that which no longer serves the health and well-being of the village. Ritual is a kind of glue that helps us to remember who we are and how we are related to everything in the universe–something we humans tend to forget unless we build times to experience this connection consciously into our busy lives.

Each of us authors noticed several years ago that many children we met wanted and needed ritual in their lives. The children were interested in what we were doing as shamanic practitioners and some children started asking us to work with them by creating healing ceremonies either with them or for them. This was particularly true of those brought up in the Western world without ties to ancestral traditions of their particular lineage.

With the growing secularization of society in the 20th Century, mainstream Western culture gained more freedom of spiritual discovery and expression. Unfortunately, some of us also lost our conscious tie with the sacred both inside and outside of us. This has created a generation of kids who seem to feel a bit in limbo; many want ways to walk their spiritual paths and make a difference in the world but do not feel comfortable in either secularization or organized religions. We find that many kids have instinctively discovered a relationship with the cosmos in a consistent way through spending time out in nature.

Indeed, ritual seems to come naturally to many children already. For example, when a pet dies, kids intuitively give them a burial and a formal farewell. Grandmother Ann (our co-author) wrote a little about her experience of doing ceremony with children in 2011:

I was fortunate, several years ago, to work with a group of children whose parents were also studying shamanism.  These children and I played games, did ceremonies and had discussions about their joys, fears, hopes and dreams.  We talked about how the ceremonies related to their lives in all aspects: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and life force energy.  We discussed the natural world and our connections to the Earth.  Doing ceremony together, I got to know the children’s needs and the gifts they brought to life.  For a parent, grandparent or other caregiver this sharing can bring increased joy and deepen your connection and love for the child.  That is a wonderful gift.”

The following is an excerpt from the book “The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within:”

A few years ago, one of our teachers shared her dream of creating a book of ceremonies for children.  She and our other teacher were working on their own book of ceremonies for adults at the time.  A few of us expressed passion for this project.  Each of us (Ann, Jen and Kat) have a deep devotion to children; serving them is part of our pathway in life.  Ann is a grandmother with five children of her own and two grandchildren.  Katherine (Kat) is a published children’s author and an aunt to two little girls.  Jennifer (Jen) is a BC-certified teacher and an aunt to a boy and a girl.  We share a love of children and passion for their welfare and empowerment.  Each of us has done so much healing through ceremonies.  We know how powerful they are.  Our dream for this book is that children everywhere will experience the magic of self-discovery as they do these ceremonies. 

Shamanism is a term to describe a general practice of using the wisdom of the natural world and the earth’s energies to heal oneself and add beauty to one’s life. Shamanism includes many spiritual practices and does not have one doctrine of belief to follow.  

The ceremonies we have created are earth-based and draw upon the wisdom in nature (and in each of you as parts of nature) in order to bring healing into your lives.  With the natural world as a point of connection, we hope that children (and parents) of all faiths, beliefs and cultures find these ceremonies accessible and healing.  Children who live in urban areas can connect with nature around and within their human-made environments.  Most kids will have access to trees, even if they are small ones that line the concrete streets.  Most kids will find insects, birds and other animals in their cities to observe and connect with.  All of us have access to the sun, the wind, the water and the earth…

Ceremonies can teach us how to use magical tools (altars, medicine wheels, wands) to call something we want or need into our lives, for protection, for working with life’s challenges and for calling forth our gifts, so that we can live the best life we can while we are here on Earth.  Ceremonies can help change our inner worlds so that our lives work better and we are happier people.  I don’t know about you, but in my life, it can be so hard to hear my own voice among people telling me what I should do, what I should think and how I should act.  So many “shoulds” can drive a person crazy!  As Grandmother Ann states, spending time doing ceremony can help people to hear their own voice so that they can follow their own inner wise magician in their lives: 

Why do I do ceremony?  By doing ceremonies, I clear away all of the monkey noise in my head so I can discover my gifts to the world.  I discover magical mysterious me.  I hear the magician that is my higher self, who knows what I need to do and how to do it.  When I do ceremonies, I hear the song of the Universe and its vibrations so that I can vibrate in time with the Universe’s rhythms.  Ceremony sets me free to be me.”

This book is an invitation to ceremony for adults and kids. It can be used in a random and intuitive way. We invite each child and adult’s inner child to listen to the ceremonial descriptions and choose ones that feel/sound interesting. It is okay for parents to make suggestions, as long as they are not attached to the outcome.  It is important that the child participate willingly.  Each one of us has our own path to walk in life and making self-governed choices is a vital part of that journey.  We have included age groups that each ceremony is best suited for.  However, this is only a guideline.  Kids who are outside the age range are welcome to do any ceremony that calls to them. 

It is important to note that this is not a book “for” kids as much as a guide that will allow adults to connect with their playful, lighthearted selves while they participate in the ceremonies with their children. It is not intended to be a book where kids are left on their own to do these ceremonies…

Each one of you has special gifts you brought to the world when you were born that you carry around inside.  Our deepest wish as the authors of this book is that doing these ceremonies supports each one of you to shine more of your inner light into the world.  Discover your mysterious magical self!   What magic will you bring to the planet?

Jennifer Engrácio

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