I had intended to track the shift I knew I was on the edge of, here on the blog. I had shown the beginning of the shift, I knew I was moving through it, and I had wanted to share my process with you. I had wanted to take you inside my process to show you how shamanism midwives change.
It ended up happening largely in silence.
Oh, well. Next time I move through something, maybe I’ll be able to track it publicly. And I’ll still be able to share parts of this one.
For now, though, here is one thing I want to say about shamanism and personal-life-growth-change-healing-whatever.
Qualitative change is completely possible.
In fact, I think that’s the only way it ever happens.
The legions of people (and I have entirely been one of them) seeking that personal-life-growth-healing-thing, tend to think that we need to work at things gradually, quantitatively. That we have to try to change old habits gradually. That discontinuous qualitative change is not possible, or at a minimum it’s rare and cannot be depended on. Certainly it can’t be deliberately and successfully cultivated, I think most would people say.
I think that when we try to do it continuously, gradually, quantitatively, we end up holding on to the old thing as tightly, or even more tightly, as we are trying to let go of it. We struggle endlessly, we feel like we’re making progress and then fall back into old habits, we chip away at things for an eternity, but still are fundamentally in the same place.
Change has to follow a different course than that, I think, if it’s gonna stick. It has to be a discontinuous, qualitative transformation, not a slow incremental thing.
If it’s going to be change at all.
I’m sure lots of people will say that slow gradual change is entirely viable. That’s not what I found for myself. For me, when I have tried to work gradually, nothing really changed.
Hwever, at other times, especially after I began explicitly working in what I’ll awkwardly call a shamanic modality, change has happened transformationally. Discontinuously. And successfully.
Things were completely different. With no struggle to maintain the new reality.
In any transformative process, which healing is a prime example of, there’s a period of time when we’re identifying with the pre-transformational reality. The “I” that exists before the shift feels the struggle. Feels the pain. Feels the hopelessness. Often that self cannot imagine in the slightest, what things will be like on the other side.
Of course that self can’t imagine it. Yet. If we could imagine it, we could be there.
What the pre-change self knows is frustration, unhappiness, impatience. But those emotions are not just about the life-pain we’re seeking to heal. They’re constitutive of that very self.
The inability to see beyond that life-pain is constitutive of that self, too.
So we try incremental methods. We try to shift things consciously, gradually. We work at it. We anticipate the relief we’ll feel, when the shift finally comes. The anticipated relief is almost like an addictive cycle. It keeps us going on that helpless incremental road.
But it’s not going to happen that way. Not really.
Because the conscious self hoping for relief cannot imagine past its own death.
And it is terribly terribly frightened, with very good reason, at the prospect of its own death.
Because for a change to truly take root, something will have to die, and something else will be reborn.
And that ain’t something that’s gonna happen incrementally.
It’s like consciously trying to tip over the edge of consciousness, into sleep.
No wonder why we’re afraid to go to sleep. Why we’re afraid of the dark. Why we want another story, a glass of water, someone to sit with us.
Sheer blind terror.
Towards death. Towards dissolution.
Fully knowing that at some point…
the world will end.
…but of course
a new world will be born.
As I started with shamanic healing, one of the first things I found fascinatingly delightfully mysterious about shamanic healing, is this:
When the change comes, when we are now identifying with the post-transformational “I”, there can sometimes be a matter-of-fact forgetting of what the very problem was. You go on with things, and a few days go by, a week. Eventually you might notice, “huh, that aching ancient life-pain? I’m not feeling it anymore!”
It can be so matter-of-fact, that it’s easy to say nothing happened. Or that the change was caused by something else, something random. Certainly the shamanic healer you just worked with can seem entirely besides the point.
Or, what I have found is even more common, is that the change is actually completely dismissed and forgotten. The old pain that had so crippled us, just somehow falls out of notice. Our attention just gets captured by the next anguish. I think a great deal of change happens like this, changes that happen spontaneously as well as those nurtured by shamanic healing.
What’s particularly important to note, though, is that we also don’t feel the aching relief that we anticipated for so long.
Because that anticipated relief is itself a constitutive part of the pre-transformational self.
The anticipated relief that was a lifeline, to the pre-transformational self.
Because the post-transformational self doesn’t feel the relief.
We never feel the relief.
The reason why it’s important to understand that process is this.
We have all gone through transformational change. Over and over again, throughout our lives. Starting perhaps as early as infancy, when the disconsolate infant learns that Mom doesn’t actually disappear from existence when she’s out of sight. Learning to walk. Learning to read. Falling in love. Falling out of love.
Many qualitaitve changes.
Some part of us has been keeping track. Waiting for relief.
And we’ve never felt it. Because the whole world changes, instead.
But the part of us that’s been holding out for relief says “shit, I’m not walking forward towards change!! Are you kidding?! I’ve been watching this process for years! I know!”
“I’m never gonna feel better!!” it wails.
And we believe it.
Sad, isn’t it?
That eternally-pre-change self, heartbroken,
left behind, abandoned by the process of change itsellf,
over and over and over again.
Never living into the newness, the promise of better.
Because in a way, it’s true. For that pre-change part of ourselves.
But in a larger way, for the entirety of what we are, it’s not true.
We will feel better. We do.
But in order to do this,
to change and develop and become who we are…
the pre-change self,
that sad, terrified, abandoned, heartbroken self
has to walk forward
Into its own death.
It’s real hard to imagine that beforehand.
So yes, change is really really hard.
But qualitative transformative change is completely possible.