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Inspiration for healing, for life, and for the soul!

By Travis Bodick, Oct 23 2017 04:42PM

“I really want to apprentice – how can I get this started apprenticing with you?”

A stranger asked me this question recently and it really got me thinking. I don’t advertise or offer apprenticeships and when I asked this person what their experience was with the practices I study they said they didn’t have any experience. They also said they didn’t have an income but wanted to sit in ceremonies for free so they could watch and learn how to become a “shaman.” Normally I would always keep ceremonies private for just participants to respect the patients privacy. I had a hard time understanding how this person could want to make such a huge commitment and how they expected to study and learn so much without having anything to contribute…. I got the impression they even thought that since they didn’t have a job currently they could just learn this real quick and suddenly support themselves and pay their bills being a shaman in just a short while. I quickly realized they had no clue what it was like to learn healing, or practice as a healer, but had many ideas in their head that were very far from reality.

I told him if he really wanted to learn he should first start sitting with a couple different healers and different practices to find what he resonates with and should then spend a couple years on his personal healing before committing to apprenticeship. I also told him he should start studying anatomy, disease and pathology, natural medicines, psychology and maybe learn some musical instruments. He would likely need some resources to support himself during that time and to help him afford all that healing work and training so he might even want to start by getting some savings together or a job to support himself while he heals and learns. After a couple years sitting in traditional ceremonies working on himself maybe he would be ready for apprenticeship.

He did not like that answer.

These days shamanism and indigenous style healing is becoming very popular. Many people disconnected from their spirit or from nature or who have illness not understood by western medicine look to older ways of healing and wisdom that they can benefit from. Many people also feel a desire to help others or want to inspire their community and have romanticized ideas about shamans awakening the masses with their magic. Generally the ideas of what goes on behind the scenes in ceremony are more inspired by movies or click-bait social media articles then reality and a lot of people get really confused about what a shamanic practice or lifestyle might look like.

I remember my first Ayahuasca retreat in Peru I spent a lot of the time feeling very sick and weak and having to puke a whole bunch. But I watched the shamans singing their beautiful medicine songs while under the effects of the same medicine I had drunk – they looked strong and functional and were taking care of a group of people who on the same substance could often not even stand on their own! I romantically imagined the shamans must be so powerful and purified they don’t even feel sick and they are just in pure bliss with the medicine the entire time…. Little did I know they are often just as sick as everyone else is, but they have learned how to handle it and work through their discomfort and sickness so that they can serve and help others.

Some of my teachers would share their personal experiences in ceremony with me, and after years of study when I was able to host my own ceremonies I had many experiences most people don’t consider when they think they want to become a shaman. Ever wanted to go deep into a trance where you are attacked by demonic seeming spirits? Well, happens pretty often for many traditionally trained shamans – you want to clear away the dark energies from a patient you better be prepared for those energies to fight back! No one wants to get evicted from their home and that patient of yours is where they live!

Shamanic healing is not all love and light – most shamans work with a lot of dark energies as those are the energies often troubling people and they need to be worked through for those people to heal. It is not uncommon in the traditions I study for a dark spirit to try and steal the shamans medicine from them or to even make them sick or try to choke them! It can be a real battle. Sometimes after doing a deep cleansing for someone if you picked up some of the energy they were releasing you can spend days or even weeks feeling like your digestion is weak and troubled, your immune system can get attacked by the spirits leaving you with a cold or fever, and all of this of course can have a very strong affect on your emotional state. Many practitioners I know are constantly trying to clear all the energies they pick up from clients in ceremony and there can often be this endless process of getting more and more protection as you learn how to offer deeper and deeper work. As your work goes deeper and uncovers more darkness you inevitably need more protection and power to deal with what you are digging up!

But it pays well doesn’t it? This is one of the biggest misconceptions I see people have… In most cases practitioners I know have invested years and thousands of dollars into their training or traveling for training. Depending on the type of ceremonies they offer they may also need to invest a lot of money into creating a retreat center or place for ceremony. Their work might also include paying for offerings or medicines and other items used in the ceremony or necessary for staying in right relationship with the spirits. And I know some healers will host huge groups and charge high prices, but in most cases practitioners I know sacrifice high paying jobs to become healers for minimum pay. Some work for free, some for donation, and some charge…. But most of them are not making much money even if they charge. At the same time you will encounter clients who want their healing for free while they throw cash into a night of drinking in the city or enjoying unnecessary luxuries (as if those luxuries are more important then their healing!). For some reason most people assume being a shaman is the quickest get rich scheme around – but I can tell you truthfully most shamans are not even close to being rich and most need multiple sources of income to support their work. I know many healers who are busy with clients all the time and after years of work have still not received enough compensation to pay for everything they invested – not even close.

Working as a health care provider of course comes with it’s own responsibilities. You have family coming to visit? Well you also have a sick client requesting your care at the same time – who do you prioritize? You need some time off to recover or do self-care? But how can you say no to someone who really wants your help and can only schedule ceremony during your time off? What about the clients who lie to you about their health history because they really want to drink your medicine even though they are on contraindicated medications or have a dangerous condition to mix with medicine? What about the client who doesn't tell you they have mental illness that can impact the ceremony? What about clients who release a lot of heavy energies in your house, and now your family might be sensitive to those energies? What about the times when you need the cash someone wants to pay you for ceremony, but you also know they need a break from ceremony and you need to sacrifice your ability to pay your bills to do the right thing for your client? There is a lot to consider here – it is all part of the job description of course, but it can be insightful to understand the sacrifices your healer might make to best serve their community. You really have the safety and health of someones body and spirit in your care – so this is a very large responsibility. If you aren’t willing to make the big sacrifices and hard decisions then you aren’t the right person for the job.

Of course, it isn’t all bad! While this style of healing work can come with it’s fair share of baggage, there is no better feeling then seeing a patient have a breakthrough or feeling the gratitude in your heart that comes from seeing so many people around you have deep and healing experiences with medicine work. For those really called to do this work, it often becomes a work of love and it is a great gift to be able to share such profound work with your community. As you go deeper and deeper into your practice as a healer it keeps giving more and more back to you – and a lot of the trials and difficult times that come with the work can really help you appreciate those blessings even more. You will learn and feel more then you ever knew possible as the medicine and your clients constantly challenge and inspire you.

For those feeling called to learn healing practices my biggest suggestion is take your time. Really focus on your personal healing as that will be your biggest strength and asset later on. Many of the most important lessons come from your self healing, and that is usually where you will develop your strength and empathy. Don’t chase the medicine but let it come to you in it’s own time and really be patient as you develop your gifts. There is no rush to do this work, and the more you do to build a strong foundation the more you and your clients will benefit in the future. Try to stay humble and keep your priorities in order. Don’t depend on this work to pay your bills. Do put the safety and health of your community and of yourself first so that you can stay in integrity with the work. Be willing to make the right sacrifices, but never sacrifice your integrity. When things get hard – pray and let the right way present itself. If you are meant for this work, you will find a way to make it happen.

By Travis Bodick, Aug 20 2017 03:43PM

Someone online recently asked if I had any personal experiences with God, and this is what I wrote in reply:

When I was a young atheist I got sucked into a undertow in the ocean and while drowning I left my body and met God. Not a god, or some anthropomorphized projection.... But I became one with the force that makes up everything in existence. Complete unity with everything, no separation, and deep knowing. Within this oneness I then saw visions of the life I have been experiencing, but I saw that life from the perspective of oneness and no separation.... While I knew the life was something I had been experiencing, I knew that I was more then just that experience of life.... And at the same time I saw that I had to return back into that life and that experience of separateness to finish something.

When I realized I needed to go back I was then suddenly in my body again and a spirit was carrying me to the surface of the ocean. The experience was so intense and frightening to me that I tried to pretend it didnt happen for the next couple months. I kept trying to be an atheist because I didnt want to change my worldview. I tried desperately to hold on to my previous identity....

But a couple months later I tried mushrooms for the first time.... And wouldnt you know it - I ended up leaving my body and experiencing oneness and unity with God again. I had never heard of God described as oneness or unity or energy.... I mostly only knew about Abrahamic faiths and Buddhism, and as an atheist had never been much interested in religions or ideas of God.... I had never heard that mushrooms could cause mystical experiences either - I just thought they would be fun. But even though I had never heard of these ideas and I didnt believe in them - I was experiencing them in a way that felt more real then life. More real then anything I had ever experienced before. And so far from anything I would have ever imagined or heard from someone else.... Not an idea from a book or a priest - but just natural experiencing when confronting death and loss of my ego.

Over the next few years I would sometimes experience this oneness of unity when eating mushrooms or sometimes when just praying in nature sober.... Every time I experienced it and came back I would understand myself better. I was seeing the deepest core of who I was - not just in this life, but I was seeing the spark of divinity within myself that is within all people. Eventually I heard this perspective of universal energy being God was sometimes called pantheism, and eventually I discovered I wasnt the only person using psychedelics for mystical experiences. Eventually this led me to shamanism, animism and after healing my own deep depression learning to work as a healer myself.

These days I mostly focus on healing work. But sometimes I get the most excited when someone comes and asks do do ceremony looking for mystical experience. I dont tell them what to expect or push my experiences on them in any way - but the medicine will guide them into mystical union while I hold space for them.... And it always turns out that they experience something similar to what I keep experiencing. And it is always deeply insightful and life changing.

Looking at modern research on psychedelic assisted therapies it also seems that the deepest lasting healings usually involve some type of mystical experience. I think this provides a sense of connection, love and forgiveness. At the same time I think it also offers a unique perspective about your own life that helps people make healthier decisions and helps people let go of some things which might have been holding them back while at the same time embracing new perspectives and ways of living that are more in-tune with what they need in life. Sometimes a change of perspective can change everything.

By Travis Bodick, May 23 2017 04:17PM

Hoop magazine which publishes some of my articles just released a free special addition of their magazine today. The topic of this special edition is "What is Shamanism?" This is a great resource for helping people understand what shamanism is and isn't and I hope many people share it to better educate our community about this topic.

There is a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what shamanism is and I hope this collection of articles can help clear that up for some people:


By Travis Bodick, Feb 22 2017 01:19AM

As a friend scorched holes into my skin with a burning stick I prepared myself to receive the medicine. My friend is a kambo provider, and kambo is a venomous secretion from an Amazonian frog which is traditionally applied directly into the blood stream via open burns in the outer skin. These burns expose your capillaries directly so that the medicine can go straight into the blood – peptides in the venom then carry themselves directly across the blood brain barrier and cause a profound reaction. Sweating, increased heart rate, body heat, intense tingling through the body as well as throbbing in the skull, body aches or pain, cramps, shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, swelling of the hands and face…. Reading the list of common reactions you may wonder why someone would ask another person to apply this venom directly into their bloodstream, or why someone would call it medicine… Isn’t medicine supposed to be some easy pill you take to make you feel all better?

In our culture we have been taught to look for quick fixes. We want things now and we don’t want to work for them or sacrifice to get them. If we are sick we often just want whatever makes us feel better the quickest. But the short cut is not always the best way. Take cold medicines for example – your body is trying to push toxins out through nasal mucous but since you don’t like having a runny nose you take a medication that keeps the mucous and toxins in your body. Or in the case of heartburn and indigestion – your stomach acid is not acidic enough to properly digest food so you take an antacid to stop the burning sensation even though this antacid further basifies your stomach acid and makes your future digestion even worse. These are just two examples of ways we use medicine to run from our problems instead of solve them. We want medicine to be easy and quick, so we sacrifice our future health for momentary comfort in the present.

This can create problems in all areas of our lives, and one of the most noticeable areas this affects us is in our mental health. When difficult emotions arise or we experience traumatic events our culture teaches us to bury these emotions and keep them to ourselves. Put on a happy face and buck up! This type of emotional repression does great harm to us as individuals and communities and the effects of these habits accumulate overtime which leads to the mental health crisis many modernized countries are experiencing these days. It is difficult and scary to face fears and emotions or to talk about them with others and ask for help, so we take the short cut and just ignore our problems… But in the long run this makes everything harder as the problems do not go away when ignored but only fester and accumulate. Eventually people can become overwhelmed and overburdened by stress and worry which can lead to nervous breakdowns, mental illness, and even physical illness as the body does not function optimally when under great stress.

More traditional medicines often looked very different then the quick fixes we have today. If your digestion was poor you wouldn’t take an antacid for quick relief – instead you would change your diet and put some work into your healing or maybe even try fasting to let your body’s digestion recover. If you had a cold you didn’t fight your body’s immune response by taking cold medication but you let it run its course while strengthening your immune system, or maybe took a sauna to help you sweat it out. People were taught to deal with their problems and face them head on rather than fear and repress them – and this created greater long-term health and inner strength.

In many cultures not only do people work through their problems directly, but they may even use ordeals as training to help them be strong and hard working. So we have ordeal medicine as a way of treating illness, and also as a way of training and preventative medicine. In indigenous cultures when young men go on a vision quest they are learning to face their fears as well as the discomforts and challenges of fasting alone in the wilderness. This teaches inner strength and courage which manifests itself in all areas of life and it helps people develop into strong members of society. When you get sick this strength helps you choose the healthiest way to work through your illness, and when confronted with emotional problems or traumatic events it helps you face and work through the discomfort rather than repress it. These habits teach you to strive for what is in your best interest rather than just what sounds easiest in the moment. Doing what is right is not always easy in the moment, but it almost always ends up being easier in the long run because of how many problems it helps you solve (rather than avoiding the issues which just makes problems accumulate over time).

In the case of my experience with kambo I had to confront my fears of physical discomfort. I knew I was about to be burned and that the venom applied to those burns would make me experience extreme discomfort and even pain – but that discomfort only lasted about 30 minutes, and afterwards I felt great. Kambo is known to strengthen the immune system, remove toxins from the body, increase energy, focus and awareness, and even align the spirit in a way where you feel more connected to your personal flow and life. It is hard to describe how beneficial this medicine is, but my experience was well worth the short time of discomfort that led to all these benefits.

In different cultures around the world there exist many different medicines that could be considered ordeal medicines. In some cultures tribal members will fill gloves with bullet ants which have the strongest sting of any ant – they then wear these gloves for an extended time while the ants bite their hands causing them pain so extreme that many people will feint. The people do this to teach themselves to embrace discomfort and be strong – this teaches you then to not avoid hard work, not avoid unpleasant medicines and not avoid unpleasant emotions. It teaches you to be strong and courageous. In other cultures people might practice vision quest or difficult pilgrimages. People may expose themselves to sleep deprivation, fasting or extreme weather conditions to help themselves build strength. Many people use cold water immersion as a way to strengthen the immune system, or try sweat lodges for healing, or eat unpleasant herbs and foods for health reasons. All of these practices involve facing discomfort because you know it is good for you. This is doing what is best for you and others whether or not it is pleasant and it leads to benefits in every aspect of life.

Ordeal medicine is a test of your equanimity. With the kambo there is a natural inclination to resist the discomfort and react to it, but that is not how you actually want to respond. If you try to hold down the nausea or fight through the discomfort or repress it you will get overwhelmed and the experience will be much more difficult. If you instead face the discomfort and embrace it while trying to relax as much as possible you will get the best results – the experience won’t be as painful, you will have a deeper and more effective purge, and you will be more aware of the experience and how it relates to you personally. By embracing discomfort that is good for you your experience changes into one of alignment with your highest good. When you run from discomfort that is really in your best interest you end up fighting yourself and resisting your own benefits and success.

How you show up in ceremony is often how you show up in life. When you show up to ceremony determined and strong it becomes easier to show up to life the same way. Ceremony in many ways is training for life, and in this way life can become one great ceremony. If you practice facing the discomforts of ritual and medicine with equanimity you can teach yourself to act the same way on a day to day basis which will benefit your physical, mental and emotional health. And not only will this help you show up better for yourself – but everyone in your community will benefit as you become more present and powerful in your own life. By healing and empowering ourselves we heal and empower the world together.

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