Perimenopause: A Spiritual Threshold

“Haida Gwaii Beachcombing” collage by Jennifer Engrácio

The special powers and sensibilities of women (especially menstrual powers) are central to the Wise Woman tradition. Men in the Wise Woman tradition find the wise woman within themselves and become her. In the Wise Woman tradition, we nourish. We do not fix or cure or balance…health/wholeness/holiness comes through nourishment. Healing occurs in the ground of woman power, in the ground of heart-centred compassion…Nourishment encourages expansion and growth. Nourishment includes. Nourishment supports each being as unique, holy, individual. Nourishing our problems encourages love for all parts of ourselves.

 

-Susan S. Weed from “Healing Wise”

 

Recently, I was talking to a friend who is also at the threshold of perimenopause about the changes she is experiencing as a woman at this age. Neither of us have ever been forty-four before, after all! And it turns out that we are feeling similarly at this point in our development even though we lead quite different lives in many ways. Ellen Besso’s article on menopause being a time for women to go inside in order to heal deeper emotional wounds makes sense to me. I feel my psyche is mature enough now to go there–that I can finally parent myself compassionately through the pieces I discover: pretty and ugly. Recently, I’ve been able to unearth the root cause of many issues that plagued me my whole life. And I have faith that my body will continue to heal as that process completes itself with the support of homeopathic medicines, practicing living aloha, and ceremony. I also feel that there is a deeper level of spiritual fulfillment that I am starting to venture into. I don’t know what this is going to look like and I am curious about how all of this is unfolding.

 

When these psychological shifts started happening along with the physiological ones, I didn’t put the two together. I initially thought I was losing my zest for life or that there was something wrong with my dreaming and manifesting skills that I’d always been able to lean on. What I see now is that there is a really profound change happening in all of my energy bodies requiring me to rest and introspect more. Gone are the days of rushing through life to get as many things done as possible. I find myself reflecting on what I’ve accomplished in my life so far. Morbid thoughts come and go: If I died tomorrow, would the legacy I leave behind be enough? Somewhere along the way, part of life has become about achieving things as a way to validate my existence somehow. As if taking up space isn’t alright unless I am contributing in ways that the mainstream culture approves of. These thoughts are fleeting though. These false beliefs are what I am letting go of as they arise in my consciousness. This is the transcendence that is presently taking place.

 

I’ve been going on the long walk to the beach most mornings here on Haida Gwaii in Northwestern Canada. It is late spring and nature is alive and blooming. Most mornings, I walk through the bird sanctuary, the dark and cool rainforest and its ethereal cemetery until I get spat out onto the big open ocean. I breathe in the salty air and thank the Goddess I am here in all this beauty. It is all I can do to keep taking it all in, allowing its magic to fill every cell of my body. This morning, I rode a bike so I could spend more time on the beach looking for agates, shells and beach glass. I haven’t ridden a bike around the ‘hood like that since I was in elementary school; this made my inner kid indescribably happy. I bumped up and down the trails giggling to myself as I went. Ironically, even though I work with children, there are things I forgot about slowing down to kids’ pace–like the details and moments I notice when I am not on a mission to get somewhere. I spend my days wandering and beachcombing for treasures that maybe only I will find beautiful. But then, when I was a kid, I didn’t care if other folks thought these finds had value. I am going back to a time when all there was was me and Spirit. Back then, I was conscious of what was happening in the now and nothing else. I can sense something being rejuvenated inside myself even while I don’t know exactly what it is. And I don’t feel I need to know. I know it’s all as it should be.

 

This is the first time I’ve given myself a “victory vacation” where I am celebrating all of the accomplishments and challenges I’ve transitioned through in my life. And there have been a lot of them! My inner landscape has completely changed. I am in a space where nothing new has emerged to place my focused energy on. I am in the dreaming of creation. Little wisps of inspiration and interest come my way, yet something has yet to really take hold. Strangely, I am not panicking about this like I would have done in my thirties. My ego keeps telling me I should be worried, but I am really not and this is liberating. I feel more present lately–like I did when I was a kid. Susun S. Weed describes this further in her incredible book “Healing Wise”:

 

In the Wise Woman tradition, all health…begins with a return to the void. To…become whole, we turn again around the spiral of our life…The void is woman power: simultaneously dynamic and relaxed; empty yet completely full, satiated yet always consuming; creative, abundant, insatiable, unfillable, unquenchable, wild, having nothing to receive, knowing everything is already present, completely calm. Here in the void lives the Crone.

 

If I had a wish for women my age, it would be to surrender to this process. Fear of the unknown is natural, however, I hope we can remember to celebrate all of the things we’ve accomplished and overcome in our lives and to “nourish” our current challenges. It’s good to acknowledge the enormity of this with all of the responsibilities pulling on women in the world! I recommend that women take time for reflection so they can really be in this new psychological and spiritual landscape they find themselves in as they prepare to enter their crone years. I’ve found solace and insight speaking to fellow sisters who are going through this stage of life and I really encourage you to do the same if you are in the same boat with us! I have a feeling an exciting and edgy new journey is beginning…for all of us if we can find the courage to welcome the elder we are becoming.

 

Resources:

Article: The Change: Medical Problem or Spiritual Passage? By Ellen Besso

Book: “Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise” by Susun S. Weed

 

**This article first appeared in the July 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Human BEing or Human DOing?

“Leap of Faith” art by Lucy Campbell

Reminder to everyone that ‘your best’ doesn’t mean pushing yourself to your breaking point. ‘Your best’ means the best you can do while being the best you. Get enough sleep, give yourself breaks, listen to your limits. ‘Your best is better when you’re happy and healthy.”
-author unknown

In the last article for Pagan Pages Magazine, I wrote about the Maya Prophecy of the Fifth World and the new spiritual energy we have been living in since 2012 “where we are being asked to raise our consciousness and step into a new kind of balance with the cosmos and the Earth.” (Engrácio, Pagan Pages, May 2019) Recently, I’ve noticed a fairly radical shift in my own spiritual journey that’s impacting the way I live my life more positively. I’ve been practicing slowing down to turtle pace and using this powerful prehistoric totem to guide me.

In my life, my body has been one of the greatest teachers for how to live in balance. Recently, it has been forcing me to pace myself after a two-year period of autoimmune illness where I really didn’t have extra energy to burn. This meant that I had to become really aware of how much energy I had at any given moment and choose wisely how I spent that energy–if at all. This had its challenges, however, I realized that for the first time in my life, I understood what was driving the autoimmune illnesses in my life. Author Oriah House (Mountain Dreamer) summarizes the belief system that I discovered feeds into autoimmune illness: “I was taught to ‘go at’ things. Studying, working, writing, organizing, yard work, house cleaning, sewing, reading, praying, fasting: You name it, in my childhood anything worth doing was worth doing fast and going at it hard.” In shamanic medicine sickness, illness and disease are present first in the spiritual realm before manifesting in the physical body. So this means that the longer the imbalanced patterns are played out in the physical, more likelihood that the body will begin to show signs of wear and tear until a more serious ailment takes hold. Thankfully, I listened to this last big “knock” and so my body didn’t have to keep screaming at me in order for me to institute changes. The last two years, autoimmune illness gave me a gift of helping me to see everything I was missing by racing through life in order to accomplish goals and make my life count: I was losing quality of life, which cannot be found in pushing quantity.

One of the spirit animals I’ve worked with for about a decade now is a sea turtle. This wise ancient animal made it possible for me to keep up my physical exercise the last two years by shifting me into the element of water. Every time I tried to work out on land, I was exhausted for days and spent hours sleeping to recover my energy. I noticed that this didn’t happen during my early morning swims. In fact, I gained energy and had no body pain after my aquatic sessions. Every morning, I put my fins on and shapeshifted into a dolphin, a whale, or a turtle with a prayer they would show me how to heal my body; this strategy worked. I noticed how effortless, dreamy, fluid, and meditative my workouts became. Most of all, I was further honing the law of putting in minimum effort to gain maximum efficiency; I was learning to conserve energy by just putting the right amount into completing a task. Sometimes this called for creative solutions so I could maintain integrity with what my body was telling me. For example, if someone came into my swimming lane that swam faster than me, I didn’t increase my speed to “keep up,” but rather doubled back so I could keep swimming at my own pace while staying out of the faster swimmers’ way. I imagined the pain, tension, and illness in my body being transmuted by the salt water and asked my spirit guides to cleanse those waters of anything that could harm others.

When I reflected back at how I was in my naturalness in my early childhood, BEing was a state that I was in all the time. I knew this state intimately. In fact, I sought out wholeness by going into nature for extended periods of time: watching ants march back and forth to their nests, timing how long it took a slug to make it from one end of my garden to another, and watching tall cedars sway in the wind for hours. When I entered school, I started to feel like I was losing control of my life and was often scolded for dreaming instead of DOing something productive. I started to conform and forget about that BEing state that got me into so much trouble–even though I knew intuitively how important it was to my feeling of well-being. I became so stressed out that by the time I was in grade four, I started losing my hair and was diagnosed with alopecia (an autoimmune illness). At that young age, I had already developed the pattern of just “going at” things hard until I crashed physically.

As an educator for twenty years, I love the message in the article “Let’s Stop Stealing Time from Our Children” and have found it to be really wise advice that goes a long way towards valuing how children develop and what they need to be healthy: mind, body, heart, and spirit. We don’t have to worry that children won’t learn, we just have to create conditions where they keep learning in healthy ways. Creating emotionally safe, developmentally appropriate environments where children have time to explore their inner worlds in natural spaces is essential if we are going to turn back the tide on this frantic pace of living we’ve created in our society. I’ve watched a worrying trend in education since I began teaching that puts a lot more pressure on young children to perform academically in ways that they simply are not developmentally and neurologically designed to achieve at those ages. For example, neuroscientists know that the human brain is not ready to engage in reading until around the ages of seven to ten years old. And yet, we have been creating curriculum goals forcing teachers to ensure that preschoolers and primary aged children know how to read before they hit this neurological age bracket. Not surprisingly it’s the kindergarten teachers who have pushed back hardest against this policy: “[T]hey were unanimous and unwavering [in advocating for] play time and rest.” I’ve seen more depressed and stressed primary aged children in recent years than I used to see as a beginning teacher and that worries me. As I advocate for the rights of children, I also find myself parenting my own inner child in gentler, kinder and more loving ways.

As an adult seeing these harmful patterns in a different light, I started to apply these turtle lessons in the pool to my land-based life. I scrutinized everything I was putting my energy into and consulted with my High Self in ceremony to see what was essential and what was not. I took action by cutting way back on volunteer projects, disengaging from relational conflicts that could not be resolved at present, and anything that didn’t feed by passions. I started to bring into my world things I enjoyed doing that served no purpose except to bring me pleasure (i.e. knitting, sitting in my garden with a cup of coffee watching the birds, playing ukulele, watching films). I discovered that what Prentis Hemphill says is really true and kind: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Saying no to some things allowed me to say yes to myself and to my health. Although some folks might have been disappointed with some of my decisions to remove my energy from certain situations, the higher perspective I received from Spirit assured me that life will go on with or without my presence and this was a freeing thought. I hope I am becoming a role model by making the shift inside myself that children can see and emulate.

I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but I do know that I can no longer go back to measuring my success by how much I get done or produce. I am feeling so much better today after all the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical healing work I’ve done. And I have to say that I didn’t do this alone; I enrolled the help of friends with a healing background to support me, I hired help to clean my house when I needed that, and I worked with medical professionals who have respect for spiritual practices. I am so grateful for the whole journey and I am looking forward to the adventure my turtle is leading me on step by slow step. If you are feeling burnt out, I encourage you to begin looking inside to see the patterns that need to change in your life. What will you give your energy to? What will you stop giving your energy to? Who can you enroll to support the changes you need to make to come back to a state of internal balance?

 

**This article first appeared in the June 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Living in the Fifth World Prophecy

Art by Kat Kissick

Religion is following the messenger, spirituality is following the message.”
-Priya Velichala

There is no doubt that we are living in extreme times where lack of decorum and openly hateful behaviour are being encouraged by folks in leadership positions. This trend is not exclusive to the United States: It is being experienced in Canada where I live, in the United Kingdom, and around the world. I’ve talked to a lot of people recently who are feeling hopeless, which leads to folks descending into depression, addiction, illness, and disease. We humans seem to be losing our inner equilibrium as wars rage on, injustices go unchecked, white supremacy increases, the world is warming, oceans are rising and natural disasters pop up regularly on the news. On the surface, it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and I hope to present an alternative view to the one mainstream media is feeding us. My intent is to shed some spiritual light on our situation that can help us navigate these trying times with more ease and grace.

In the last one hundred and fifty years or so, we’ve lived through a time of unprecedented change due to scientific findings and technological inventions that altered every aspect of our lives. For example, we went from living relatively close to the Earth and her cycles to not knowing how to grow or hunt our own food, relying instead on grocery stores to provide for us. English chef Jamie Oliver has noted in interviews that many inner-city children in his food education programs don’t even know the names of common vegetables or what they look like in their full plant form. The traditional culinary arts that used to be passed on through generations are being lost due to our busy lifestyles and reliance on fast, processed foods. This disconnection from vital survival knowledge would have been unthinkable about fifty years ago! We have forgotten that we rely on the health of the Earth and her systems for our very survival as a species. What we do to her, we ultimately do to ourselves.

On December 21, 2012 our species crossed a spiritual threshold into the Fifth World as indicated in Maya prophecy. Some folks believed that this date on the Mayan Long Count Calendar meant a literal end to the world, however, I believe this was never intended to be a doomsday message: The Maya meant that we are currently being propelled into a new state of consciousness as a species where the same ol’ same ol’ mentality no longer works. In short, it was the end of what the Maya call the Fourth World, a cycle of five thousand years where we humans got to play out our illusion that we had dominion over nature. We are currently in the beginning of the new cycle the Maya called the Fifth World where we are being asked to raise our consciousness and step into a new kind of balance with the cosmos and the Earth. In studying the Mesoamerican and Hopi prophecies about the transition into the Fifth World, it makes sense to me that we are experiencing tension between humans caught in belief systems contributing to the desecration of our planet and others working to “wake up” our species to the ways of Mother Earth. We simply cannot keep ignoring what we know about how all the systems, sentient and non-sentient beings are related and work together to keep life going on our planet if we expect to survive as a species.

If fellow humans are struggling to find some perspective on this, I highly recommend watching the National Geographic series “One Strange Rock,” now available on Netflix. Ten astronauts who have spent time in space are featured in this show and speak of what is now called “the overview effect”: After experiencing Earth from space, they came back to our planet forever changed and rocked by a major paradigm shift inside themselves. From space, it is clear to them that Earth is a living being with the ability to heal herself. And that we humans are all earthlings, specially adapted to live on this planet alone. Interestingly, the astronauts don’t come back feeling defeated but rather with a sense of inner peace and awe that is palpable to viewers. They use spiritual language that indicates to me as a shamanic practitioner that they were able to grok in a new way the importance of how everything is connected in the cosmos. And the vastness of all we do not know as humans about the mystery of how it all works.

In light of all this information, what can each of us do to maintain our own inner balance? The simple answer I have is three-fold:

  1. Commit to living your personal inner truth and heal the inner patterns that are not congruent with that through ritual, conversation, contemplative practices, and energy healing. In short, whatever spiritual tools you have need to be dusted off and put to use!
  2. Connect with the Earth regularly. Intuit what she needs to help her heal and offer what you can (i.e. prayers, tobacco, resources, inventions, ocean clean ups, ceremony, etc.).
  3. Align with the Sacred Dream of Life and with Spirit. However you connect with the cosmos and the intelligence of the universe, do it daily. Ask for direction from the “as above” and take action on the messages you receive. Work with your spirit animals and guides in daily meditation and dreams to support you.

As we humans return to a state of inner balance, the outer world will reflect that. As we re-orient ourselves to the natural cycles of life, it will become clear to us how to move forward in a good way.

The light we see in the mirror of the heart of [the Wiccan Wheel of the Year] guides our evolution towards greater consciousness. Collectively, this opens the portal for our human evolution into the human luminous (a.k.a. homo luminous) of Mayan prophecy. As a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis is transformed, showing no trace of its previous caterpillar DNA, we can change human identity by transforming ourselves, one [human] at a time.”

-Susa Silvermarie excerpt from We’Moon 2019: Fanning the Flame

I suppose this is why I practice shamanism. It keeps me on an even keel in the midst of all the chaos. I am glad there are folks out there pushing back against ignorance. All we need to do is what we are being called to in our hearts as individuals. The world desperately needs us to take up space and stand in what we know to be true. Folks will be called to support in loads of different ways as activists, environmental lawyers, farmers, teachers, scientists, and policy-makers–to name a few. Spirit’s called me to help the humans heal; I endeavour to stay in my lane and let others do what they are good at in their “lanes.” This keeps my energy focused and increases my effectiveness. I do that via shamanic tools and practices. I figure that if humans heal, the environment will return to balance too. Shamanism keeps me connected to the earth-based practices of our ancestors, who guide me on my journey. I am not alone. Indeed, none of us are. I don’t know if all of this will be enough to save our species in the end, however, I do know the Earth will heal herself with or without us. And I am committed to my spiritual growth and to supporting others on their spiritual journey while I am here on this beautiful and abundant planet. I’ve chosen to focus on what I can control as an individual because anything else is futile. I leave you with some questions to ponder: How will you take up space in a good way? What strengths do you bring to offer the collective? I send healing heart prayers to each of you and wish you well on your Earth walk.

Recommended Resources:

article: The Prophecy of the Fifth World

article: Dancing Awake the Fifth World: The Fifth World Defined

article: How the End of the Mayan Calendar Predicts a New Healing Myth for the World

**This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Healing Through Sacred Music

Our Lady Sings A Lullaby To The Endangered Species art by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

 

You are the universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while.

-Eckhart Tolle

When I was a kid nature was my friend, my therapist and my inspiration. I looked forward to the summer months when darkness fell later in the day so that I could stay outside as long as possible. One of my favourite places to go when I was troubled was to climb up to the top of the cedar tree in front of my house. After a while of swaying along with the wind at the top in silence, I inevitably felt calmer and would often start hearing music. As a kid, I was always humming or singing–to the extent that my godmother often joked that I sang more than I spoke! I experienced more inner peace when I was singing and during that time, the world made sense to me and was a less scary place. I felt like I was embraced in those moments by a unifying and loving force in the universe. I love this quote from J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” because I sometimes wondered if I was crazy for hearing things other folks didn’t seem to be noticing: “Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

As a kid, I thought I was making up these songs I was humming. It wasn’t until I began my shamanic training in earnest that I started to realize that these songs were not coming from me at all. People ask me where these songs originate from and all I can say with any sort of definitiveness is that they do not come from my own creative “genius.” These songs are in the ether around us: They come from Spirit and they belong to Spirit. They are lent to us for healing purposes. Some of the songs feel like they come from the land and they have the “feel” of the ancestral territory that I find myself on when I hear them. I’ve traveled all over the world and the songs I hear in each of those places tend to be distinct to them. I would love to learn more about the songlines that indigenous Australians follow in their tradition. Perhaps someday, I will receive the honour of this teaching.

I don’t know why these songs come to me–perhaps simply because I am listening. However, I do feel that this gift is not exclusive to me. I remember asking an elder I worked with about this and he said that everyone has a personal song and they can go into nature to ask for this song. If this is done with ego, it will backfire so it’s important to have a clear intent around why this personal song is needed (i.e. for healing, to help with a life transition, or to strengthen our sense of self-worth). It is a listening process that might take a lot of attempts to hear so patience and perseverance is required. We cannot demand these things from Spirit; we can only open ourselves up to receive with gratitude and humility. When I sing my personal song, it helps me connect with my Sacred Dream (my spiritual mission and the reason I am here). In the hubbub of life, this is an indispensable tool for me–especially when I need perspective because I’ve forgotten who I am and what I am about in a given situation.

I sang with the Universal Gospel Choir in Vancouver for almost a decade. It is a glorious experience singing in unison with sixty other people, creating a wall of sound that bounces off the walls of the church and into each person in it. We sang sacred music from traditions all around the world. Though I often found myself on stage, I was never singing for entertainment, but to increase my connection to Spirit. It was not uncommon for me to be so moved by the spirit of the song that I would cry or move my way through a piece. The audience members often told me that they came to our concerts for healing and hope. These folks wanted to align with their spiritual aspect through these songs and it worked for them.

What is the process of catching a song? This differs from tradition to tradition around the world. And I qualify what I am about to share by saying that this is my experience, which is not linked to a particular tradition but has been happening spontaneously “through” me since I was young. In Barbara Tedlock’s book “The Woman in the Shaman’s Body,” she makes a distinction between hereditary shamans who would pass on songs from their traditions throughout generations and what she calls “inspirational” shamans:

In the mid-80s hereditary shamans in the Soviet Union were almost wiped out by government persecution (put in gulags or then killed).  An alternative inspirational shamanic path practiced for generations by Turkic and Khakass peoples enabled shamanism to survive. Shamans traveling this path received healing knowledge directly from the spirits of the earth, water and sky.”

Although I don’t call myself a shaman, I do see similarities between what happens to me and what the inspirational shamans of Asia are doing. I don’t always go looking for these songs. They have often come to me in my sleeping dreamtime. This is my favourite way of catching songs from Spirit because I know my ego is not involved in that. I kept a recorder by bed for many years to remember them when I awoke. I would then do ceremony to see what the song was to be used for and how to share it in a good way. So far, I’ve been instructed to share all of these songs so the people could use them for their own healing. I have honoured that. If Spirit ever told me to keep a song to myself, I would respect that too. In fact, I highly recommend learning as much about the history of scared songs and the protocols around their use before singing them or sharing them in any way. I’ve included a link to the Going Shamanic podcast I did on this topic at the foot of this article in case readers want more in depth information on how to take care with and of these songs.

When I travel, the first thing I do when I place my feet on the soil of this new country is to introduce myself to the ancestors of the place and I give gratitude to them for allowing me to be there for a while. One thing I’ve learned is that these songs wouldn’t come through me at all if I didn’t seek to have a relationship with the spirit of each song and with the land they come from. It’s a bit like dating to me where every time I sing a song, I learn a bit more about it as it touches me in a different way at various junctures in my life. These songs open the heart and touch a place inside of us that we don’t always allow ourselves to visit in everyday life. Sacred songs are designed to shine a light on these spaces. When I am feeling “off,” singing while playing my frame drum brings me back to balance quicker than anything else, besides maybe dancing as a close second.

I want to point out here that sacred songs are different than popular songs credited to musicians. These songs are designed for healing and they often have a very specific intent. For example, some sacred songs are sung only during funerals, life transitions, or during full moon ceremonies. It’s good to respect this and to keep the songs as close to their original version as possible to preserve the “medicine” that Spirit sent with them. It’s not for us to understand the ins and outs of this mystery; I love engaging with it. And I hope that we never unpack the secrets of this magical process while we are still in human form. Albert Ayler said that “music is the healing force of the universe.” I am just happy to participate in that creation while I am in human form.

Resources:

Going Shamanic: Medicine Songs with Jennifer Engracio

Universal Gospel Choir

**This article first appeared in the Apr. 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Working with Past Life Memories

Artist Unknown

 

“The white dragon is a pure, unbiased spiritual being, the subconscious part of each of us that subtly demands that we acknowledge and live by adherence to spiritual laws. We may think we have skirted any retribution of the flaunting of such laws, but somewhere along our path we will discover that we can no longer move forward without facing the consequences of past actions or inactions.”

A Guide to the Celtic Dragon Tarot” by D.J. Conway and Lisa Hunt

I remember walking into a convent to begin my religious studies within the Catholic faith when I was twelve years old and feeling like it was all so comfortable and familiar. It was a strange feeling because I’d never been in a convent in this lifetime until that moment. As I walked through, guided by the head nun who was touring me around, I seemed to intuitively know a lot about devotional life practices that I’d never been exposed to. This information I was “picking up” was later confirmed by things the head nun was sharing with me. It wasn’t until I was working as a Pranic Healer in my late twenties that I understood what I experienced at the convent all those years ago: I was in a past life memory. This a-ha moment hit me when I was in a healing session with my teacher, an experienced Pranic Healer, when she described what she was seeing: a nun praying in front of a huge Gothic-style rosette window. I immediately began sobbing. I remembered that life and the solace of living in a consecrated place at a time when women were unsafe in a violent Medieval world. It was and still remains a touchstone life for me when I need to re-live a feeling of inner peace during times of struggle in my present life.

People ask me all the time how I can “believe” in past lives. And my response is: I don’t believe anything until I’ve experienced it. I’ve had enough of these moments where my psyche breaks through to show me that time is not linear and that my consciousness can roam freely through time that I now simply know these things to be true. Although we can’t go back and change the past or necessarily interfere with the outcome of the future, we can travel backwards or even forwards in time to shift our perceptions and how they are negatively impacting our lives today. In the same way, we can use our lifetimes of power, beauty and shining to help us recall our energy back to us when we discover have given our power away in this lifetime–something we all do now and again. If we don’t like the “us” we are becoming when we journey into the future, we can also take steps in the present to alter our course. We’ve all had light and dark lifetimes that we are living the consequences of until we bring our past actions into consciousness to transform them. In other words, unless we are an enlightened being who has already figured out how to live a life of absolute balance (i.e. like the Buddha, Kwan Yin, Jesus, or Muhammad) we all have to work with past karma until we come to a place where we are living in dharma.*

Dharma is really about making a conscious choice to step away from the effects of the past karma incurred in relationships. It’s about awakening to our part in keeping alive the pains of the past and taking an active role in cutting away from these karmic attachments that keep us wrapped up in playing out past pain tapes in cycles. This is an area where shamanic medicine really shines because it is we who keep these very real energetic cords active and it’s only we as individuals who have the power to break them and say, “No more.”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing” by Jennifer Engracio

The folks in our lives today are not there by accident: often times, we are attracted to the souls of people we’ve traveled with in other lifetimes. Many times, there is unfinished business from past lifetimes that is asking to be resolved. You know those people you love but have tumultuous relationships with? That’s an indicator of karma. In fact, the parent-child relationship is a classic example of a contract that is made between the souls of parents and children before the child is born so that karma can be healed and the spirits involved have an opportunity to move forward in light. Early on in my shamanic studies, I went on a drum journey to understand why my soul wanted to be born to my parents and what I had to learn from growing up in my extended family. When folks feel ready inside themselves to face this information, I recommend finding a shamanic practitioner who is skilled in leading this type of journey. It can be especially helpful to folks who feel like they are the black sheep of the family or to anyone struggling with why they were born into a family that struggles with mental health, violence, or addiction issues, for example. And there are ways to cut the harmful karmic ties while keeping those of light that run between us and all those we love. I’ve found that keeping the karmic ties cut and choosing life-giving relational patterns is the key to developing healthy relationships and boundaries with the people in our lives.

The way I live my life and the choices I make really do impact the generations ahead of me and behind me. Seeing how all the generations worked together to make sure we all survived was really good for my heart.

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within” by Ann Dickie, Jennifer Engracio and Katherine Inksetter

When I do this work, I am continuously reminded that we humans are all connected and that we will keep meeting up together throughout time to create mirrors of reflection for one another until we’ve all healed our past and become enlightened beings. We have the power to break lineage patterns that have plagued our blood families by doing this past life and karmic work. All it takes is one person in a family to commit to doing this work to create a healthy, new energetic path that future members of the lineage have the possibility to follow if they choose. Those who know about healing work in any tradition are in a good position to surrender to this journey. Though it’s not for the faint of heart, it is a worthwhile venture that will build the character traits of courage, faith, and compassion.

There is a gospel song that states: “None of us are free. One of us in chains. None of us are free.” I always loved singing that song. It makes clear what the boddhisatvas of the Buddhist tradition know: that until all of us have evolved, we will continue to experience suffering. We are all part of the same energetic soup. We are all one–inextricably linked throughout time. Indeed, we are all relations.

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing” by Jennifer Engracio

*To learn more about the spiritual concepts of karma and dharma, I encourage you to study the Buddhist teachings they originate from.

**This article first appeared in the Mar. 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Spirits on Individual Journeys

“Ancestor Spirits” by Willow Arlenea

Indigenous people don’t learn by looking outside themselves; instead, they learn how to remember the knowledge they already possess.”

Malidoma Somé (Dagara elder and shaman)

I’ve been practicing and studying earth-based spiritual systems since 2000. In the process of trying to heal from deep depression and addiction, I’ve worked with many different teachers from many of the world’s traditions. In my darkest moments, I needed older, wiser, and mostly healed guides who could help me learn to listen to my inner wise one (A.K.A. Dreamer, High Self). When I was struggling the most on my life journey, I leaned heavily on their knowledge to get through those times and I am so grateful to this day for each and every one of them. Their ability to be patient, resourceful, and benevolent is the reason I am still here, healthy and free.

Although my spiritual teachers varied in the knowledge they shared with me and their methods, they’ve all been consistent in insisting on one principle: the real guide on any individual’s journey is their Dreamer. Whenever I had questions that needed answering, they always pointed me to my inner wisdom first. Sometimes, they would add to my original statement with information from their own lived experiences. However, more often, they would simply say: “See: You know already so go and do what your Dreamer told you to do.” It wasn’t unusual for them to send me out on ceremony to find the answers I was looking for when my inner guidance wasn’t feeling so clear.

One of my first tasks when I started studying shamanism was to identify the sound of my Dreamer’s voice. This may sound like a simple task to some readers, and perhaps it is for some people. I had so many different and competing voices in my head that this seemed to be an insurmountable mission. When I sat in silence, I heard voices of teachers, family members, mentors, friends and others throughout my life who thought they knew better than I did what I needed. By the time I was in my twenties, I had convinced myself that they were right. So much so, in fact, that I was lost; my inner compass felt broken. The most vicious voice was that of my own ego. In Gregg Henriques’ article “The Elements of Ego Functioning,” he describes the ego in this way:

Freud conceived of the ego as the psychological apparatus that regulated sexual and aggressive impulses and navigated the tension between those impulses and the demands and values of society. A more modern conception that is certainly related to Freud’s is to consider the ego as the self-consciousness system. The self-consciousness system is the narrating portion of human consciousness that reflects on one’s thoughts, feelings and actions and inhibits or legitimizes them to one’s self and to others. In this sense, ego is very similar to what is meant by the term identity, and ego functioning refers to the components of the self-consciousness system that relate directly to mental health.”

I realized that my ego had succeeded in convincing me that any decision I made that went against the confines of the identity it had created for me was a threat to my very life. On my blog, I wrote an entry entitled “Going Mental” in 2012. It describes the practice I began of having conversations with my ego like I would with one of my younger students to discover what it needed and how I can make it feel safe while still doing the bidding of my Dreamer. I saw that my ego was just trying to survive and keep “us” alive and this helped me to find compassion for it.

On the other hand, my Dreamer’s voice is always calm, benevolent, wise and sometimes firm but never cruel. She talks to me the way a loving parent would talk to a child. When I am making choices that are causing me to stray from my Sacred Dream (my life’s purpose), she gently pokes me. If I am not listening because I am preoccupied with mundane life tasks or if I heard her but choose to ignore her counsel, the messages come in a more insistent and often chaotic way until I correct my course. Thankfully, I usually don’t have to wait until my health declines, my relationships descend into a three-ring circus or I am in financial distress to learn these lessons any more. My daily spiritual practices keep me tuned in to my Dreamer’s voice so I can make mostly wise choices day by day.

I often remind worried parents about this fact in my work with families: They are not in control of their children’s journeys. This is tricky because parents are also responsible for the health and well-being of their children until they are eighteen in our society. As parents and guardians, it is easy to think we know better. And I often note that despite having parents who do lots right, some children still go down unfathomable paths.  I have seen this a lot in my twenty-year career as a teacher. What I have faith in is that our souls* are ancient and wise; many of us have lived many lifetimes and Great Spirit is patient in letting us come back again and again to this Earth plane to refine our characters. I don’t know if this resonates for you but this feels true to me: Elders have told me that ultimately on a spiritual level, each of us has a life purpose that only our Dreamers know.

When we validate a child’s interests, wonderings, and learning inclinations, we are following the direction of their Dreamer. I think one place where a lot of us adults get stuck is when we expect that children will have the same inclinations that we do or we rescue them from making mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Our Dreamers are also leading us in very unique ways according to our own life purposes, which may be really different than those of our children. Our children might need to make certain mistakes in order to learn what they came here to learn in this lifetime. While it’s hard to watch people we love make choices that cause suffering for them, it can also be a powerful life lesson in learning how to honour another’s path while staying firmly on our own as individuals. If we keep leaning into our healing in every lifetime, eventually we might not even need to reincarnate. Until then, I am glad my Dreamer is with me every step of the way.

*Please note that when I speak of the “soul” here, I mean the original essence of who we are that is made of light and can never be harmed. This aspect of us is always with Spirit, even as we reincarnate. Our Dreamers represent the essence of our soul; they travel the spirit world and guide us in our incarnations. I like to think of my soul as being the part of me that stays anchored to the Divine always.

Work Cited:

Engracio, Jennifer. “Going Mental” December 2012

Henriques, Gregg. “The Elements of Ego Functioning.” Psychology Today. June 2013.

 

*This article first appeared in the Feb. 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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Individuals Within the Unified Matrix of Life

Art by Katherine Bell McClure

I’ve been considering the phrase ‘all my relations’ for some time now. It’s hugely important. It’s our saving grace in the end. It points to the truth that we are all related, that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. The most important word is ‘all.’ Not just those who look like me, sing like me, dance like me, speak like me, pray like me or behave like me. ALL my relations. That means every person, just as it means every rock, mineral, blade of grass, and creature. We live because everything else does. If we were to choose collectively to live that teaching, the energy of our change of consciousness would heal each of us–and heal the planet.”

-Richard Wagamese

I am first generation Canadian. My parents were both born and raised in Portugal. Along with my extended family on both sides, they came to Canada to escape the Revolution and mandatory military conscription (for men at the time). Over the years, my parents have shared with me how hard it was to arrive in a new country as young adults with little English and a very different worldview, in some ways, than that of the mainstream Canadian culture of the time. My parents learned English, joined the workforce, and adopted some mainstream Canadian ways that were meaningful to them. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the things about Portuguese culture that they valued and held tight to: the language, the spiritual and cultural traditions, the importance of family and community living.

Even though I was born in Canada, Portuguese is my first language. I became more fluent in English when I went to public school in kindergarten. However, I attended Portuguese school on Saturdays to learn to read and write. I was aware from a very young age that I had to learn how to walk between two very different worlds: the very individualistic values of the mainstream Canadian society and the community values of my heritage. This was–and still is, to an extent–a delicate dance for me because I hold values in both camps: I value my individual expression and free will, while also seeing the importance of seeing myself as part of a complex matrix of life. I don’t see these two orientations towards living as dichotomies any longer. I actually see them feeding into one another quite naturally when we don’t put them on a polarized scale where one is more important than the other. As always, nature provides us with good illustrations of how these two co-exist.

Animals are who they are: a tiger does not pretend to be a horse, for instance. Animals live from their true nature, the essence of who they are. They also know the importance of cooperation. Ecosystems are a great example of this. The Canada geese in our neighbourhood have a choice of many ponds to feed at and raise their young. This year, I noticed that they moved their feeding spot despite the fact that there was still a good food supply for them. It turns out that the geese are great conservationists; they left their territory to allow it to recover from their years of use. An elder also recently reminded me that geese take turns being the leader when they are flying so the birds who fly behind have an easier time traveling. Similarly, we know that when predators are reintroduced into environments from which they’ve been absent, they restore balance to the ecosystems. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, the ungulate population decreased, therefore allowing the plants and trees to flourish again. Not only do animal species know how to conserve, but different animals provide the checks and balances needed for most species to flourish. Thankfully, life is tenacious!

We are individuals with our own life paths but we are living in a relational field of energy where what we do, say, and think impacts everything else in connection with us and vice versa. We are individuals within the unified matrix of life. The question is not: Do we choose our individualistic notions above those of community? Westerners often cling to individualistic doctrine out of fear of losing their “rights.” And although we must be vigilant not to give over our rights as sovereign beings, we simply couldn’t survive alone; we depend on communities of all kinds to thrive. We see the environmental, social, human, and psychological destruction that happens when people live only from their individual needs, wants, and desires– when they forget that they are not alone in the universe. The important question in my mind is: How do we use our Spirit-given gifts to add to the collective energy of the communities we travel within (including the ecosystems we live in)? Being committed to community living is like a marriage where there will be rough patches but what is important is that we continue to face towards each other to find ways that everyone’s needs are met to some extent most of the time.

Sometimes this means that we must put aside some of our desires so someone else in need can receive more support. One community I am a part of operates in a consensus model. Coming to a general agreement that works for folks is harder the bigger the group gets, though not impossible. Similar to the geese, everyone leads at different times in this group and everyone’s voice has the possibility of being heard. I am more successful in my intimate relationships today in my forties because of my participation with this community model. I’ve learned to see where there is need in my community and give up some of my “wants” so that others might receive benefit. For example, folks have different personal financial budgets and while we have an agreement to meet each year for professional growth, we’ve had to be mindful that we don’t meet in a location each year that causes financial strife for our members. With some creative thinking and adjustment to the community agreements regarding attendance, we’ve come up with a solution that everyone can live with. Is it ideal in that everyone gets everything they want or need all the time? No. However, it does minimize the negative impact the previous system was having on the lives and well-being of some of our members.

This is what the phrase “all my relations” means to me. It entails that we think about ourselves not as contained individual planets floating around aimlessly in a lonely solar system, rather that we are in a continuous, collective dance with the other sentient beings in the universe. Though we stand in our own circles, we have a responsibility to life and to doing the least amount of harm possible. This is challenging as human beings because we all do harm to some extent in order to survive: we hunt, we forage, we take down trees to build homes, we use natural resources to fuel our cars and heat our homes. It comes down to basic Systems Theory: When one part of the system (including families and communities) changes, the whole system has to change by default. Ironically, the stronger we stand in our own inner medicine wheels as individuals, the better advocates we become for issues that imperil the health and well-being of our communities. When we know who we are and what we value, we are more likely to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. This is what creates true change in the world. I dedicate this article to all my relations. May we continue to evolve in co-creation with Spirit.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

*This article first appeared in the Jan. 2019 edition of Pagan Pages Magazine.

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