Shamanism – A Way of Life

Shamanism is a way of life, a way of living in harmony and balance on Mother Earth. The Huichol Indians of Mexico say that it is our responsibility as human beings to be good caretakers of the earth. It is our responsibility to nurture our environment, ourselves and all that lives on the altar of Mother Earth. This is the healing way of Shamanism.

The word “shaman” is thought to be derived from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Anthropologists coined the term and it is now universally used the world over, but each culture or tribe has their own word. In the Huichol language the word for shaman is “mara-akame.” This translates as “Deer Spirit Person”, one who is a messenger of the universe, or messenger of the gods.

Shamanism is an ancient technique of healing and finding a connection to the spiritual world of nature. In the world of shamanism, we say that everything is alive and sacred, such as the plants, trees, stones, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans and springs. Everything is alive with sacred energy, “kupuri” and when we feel connected we are inherently blessed and healing takes place. When we connect with all of life in this way, we help to heal our bodies, hearts and spirits.

Shamanism involves developing love and a special appreciation for the world of nature. Don José Matsuwa, my Huichol grandfather, often said “love the gods with all your heart and you will feel whole and complete, Grandson.” He instructed to do this every day. When we try to find our inherent connection to nature, we feel better, happier.

Another aspect of shamanism is to go to sacred places of power, to go on pilgrimages. A sacred place might be an ocean or a powerful mountain, like Mt. Shasta, the 14,000 ft peak in northern California. The Huichols would call such a place “a dreaming god”. The Indians know Mt. Shasta as “the healing mountain”. The Huichols go on pilgrimages often to pray and ask for special blessings at such places. We can tap into the life force that Mother Earth has to offer and ask for something special for our life. Journey to a “kakuyari” or place of power to find your connection to nature.

Shamanism also involves ceremony and dance. Ceremony and dance are done to honor life, the four seasons, the four directions and all that lives. It honors the special relationships between people, the four-legged ones, the winged-ones, the mountains, and all the nature powers. Thus a human being becomes complete.

In essence, shamanism is a way of life that brings one into balance. In this case, balance is defined by one’s relationship to nature. The more in touch we are with the world around us, the more complete our inner soul becomes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to dedicate my life to this connection, but everybody, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to find this connection everyday of their life. All it takes is the awareness to purposefully dedicate time to creating this bond. This bond is inherent to each one of us and so it is only natural to develop a spiritual connection to the natural world. This is Shamanism.

Fearless in the Face of Fear

Have you ever been afraid? What happens? You hold back, maybe just for a second, or possibly forever. You choke on the words that need to be said and instead spit out something that bars you going down the path that truth would have taken you on. Ever regret it later that you let fear get in the way?

Brant speaks about this normal human emotion in every single workshop of his that I have been to. He also gives tools to rid one’s self of the hold fear can have on us. I used them over and over and over during my racing career because certainly, when faced with exactly 140.6 total miles of racing and an island environment that defines the word “intense”, fear was certain to emerge at some point. But as Brant would also emphasize, we can be fearless in the face of our fears, meaning we can take that first (or sometimes final) step into the unknown even with our fear, and through that empower our lives.

I learned a similar lesson about fear from an unlikely source a number of years ago. It came from a guy named Walter, who is the brother of a dear friend of mine Lisa. Walter is a surfer by passion, and on any given day is as good as the world’s best. We met one November at Lisa’s (and of course, Walter’s) childhood home on the North Shore of Oahu. This is the Mecca of surfing. It’s the Kona of that sport, and a place anyone worth their board shorts has to journey to at least once in their life. I’ve surfed since the mid-70’s, so for me this was a chance to become one of a select few who have paddled into some of the most perfect and powerful waves in the world.

Walter and I were ready. The swell was big even by Hawaiian standards. Then the sentence came. “Whatever you do, don’t hesitate at the top of the wave or your cooked.”

“Don’t Hesitate.” Let me translate this for all of you. It means don’t let fear get in the way. What Walter was saying, certainly from experience, is that as you paddle for one of these moving football fields, no two exactly the same, there will come the moment where you have to apply all the force your body can muster to create enough downward pitch in your board to start the drop into this gigantic moving wall of water, and if you hesitate you will get hung up at the very top of the wave, but just for a moment because in the next instant you will become one with the lip of the wave and get pitched into God’s thin air. Enjoy the ride because at some point you will, with the accelerating force of gravity, come in contact with cement-hard water at the bottom of the wave just in time for what will feel like a Mac truck crushing down on top of you, turning your helpless body into a rag doll that will have absolutely no control of your destiny for what will seem like an eternity. Okay, so have fun.

Walter easily slipped into the first elevator drop that came our way. The next one was mine. All those Ironman championships must count for something, right? Only if you don’t hesitate. I was positioned perfectly. The second wave of the set was coming right to me. I turned toward shore and started to paddle. Up I rose, as the first 2/3’s of the monster passed underneath me. The lip was next. I had to get forward speed down the face before the lip pitched. And then…I hesitated.

The world stopped. Walter’s words were like a bomb going off in my head. “Don’t Hesitate.” In my races I never hesitated. Regardless of how impossible something seemed I still went for it. I never, ever gave up for one second. Fear was there, but it was always background noise. But there I was, a legendary moment was unfolding, and I was hesitating. I had good reason to! It was the biggest, fastest moving wall of water I had ever encountered, and Walter was gone. There was no one in the vicinity to help me if I needed it. It was the wave, my fear and me.

If I hesitated a nanosecond longer two things would happen. Either I would miss the wave as it passed underneath me, or I would have my personal Niagara Falls barrel ride, without the barrel.

What do you do when fear strikes? Do you hesitate? Does the energy and possibility of the moment pass you by? Can you become fearless in the face of your fears and drive forward anyway? Do you get pitched into the oblivion of self-doubt wondering if you will ever surface? Or do you just dig with all your might and thrust yourself into life’s moving wall of unpredictable waters?

Brant had said it thousands of times. “Be fearless in the face of your fears.” Simple words from one of the greatest shamans ever speak to the inner part of your soul; the place where all of our spiritual strength comes. The place beyond thought or reason that will find trust even in the toughest moments.

I dug. And dug. And in the next instant I had it! I popped to my feet and dropped into one of creation’s most amazing creatures. For the duration of that ride, and then some, I was charged up with the moment that exists beyond fear, where we deactivate the negative effects of alarm clocks, deadlines and credit card debt and go for something that requires taking that extra stroke, even though it may drop us into oblivion anyway.

Summer: Inner Balance & Harmony

Here we are, in the season of the light. It feels to be racing by at the speed of light and indeed the summer offers bundles of joy and happiness, which help make time fly. Today, I am at the foot of Mt. Shasta, celebrating this summer season in our 28th annual retreat here at this healing place. The light is glistening through the trees, as the wondrous mountain reflects the rays from the sun.

Though we have already passed the midpoint of summer, the days remain long and the dawn’s light is early. This time of light provides each of us with an opportunity to leave behind the darkness, shed negativity and embrace the light and all that is positive. Too often we focus on the negative, allowing the smallest disturbance to continually pester our body and soul. This unconscious physiological cycle can drain our physical bodies. It is imperative that we consciously focus on the light and use it to create beneficial transformation from the inside out. Although this practice is important during any season, the summer presents us with a special chance to use our outer environment to create positive change in the deepest realm of ourselves.

During the seminar, here at Mt. Shasta, I will offer an exercise to each participant, which assists in connecting with the light of the sun and the love of our mother earth to create inner balance and harmony.

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Exercise Explanation: Go outside and find a place to walk on the earth. Walk slowly. With each step try to imagine the energy of the earth (love) flowing up through your body and into your heart.

Next, imagine the light streaming down from the sun and sky. Imagine this light coming down through your head and into your heart. Feel the love and light mixing in your heart and allow yourself to feel a sense of balance between earth and sky. YOU are in the center, connecting the love and light through your conscious awareness of the two.

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This practice can help everyone. I offer it at almost every seminar I teach. My grandfather, Don José Matsuwa, continually reminded me during my apprenticeship to, “always feel at home on the ‘altar‘ of mother earth. The earth is your mother.” Other times he would tell me, “The sun is your father. Learn to speak his language.” The exercise above allows for a simple, yet profound way for each of us to connect with with two of the four elements. Don José also used to tell me, “never be fooled by simplicity.”

Though this exercise, as well as many others that I was taught, may at first appear too simplistic to create any truly tangible change, through diligent practice, comprehensive and extensive transformation can arise.

With this in mind, take the time to to connect with the light of summer. Little by little, this positive change will occur. No one should expect to be in perfect physical shape from a 5-minute jog. Lots of little steps add up to cumulative corporeal health. The soul reflects the body in this way. It takes repetitive “training” to bring about true spiritual change.

Change: Slowly but Surely

As we enter Springtime, dramatic shifts in the earth can help us wake up the dreams that have been percolating in our hearts since winter. It’s a chance to rededicate ourselves to the things that have purpose in our lives and the dreams of change that we are hoping for.

Most of us strive to change patterns that have held up back from feeling good about our efforts and the outcomes. But how does change come about? Do we just say “I will change” and voila we are a different person without the old habits? Rarely. Changing that which does not work for us is usually like dying a small death. Procrastination, impatience, overeating, undersleeping- whatever it is that you want to change and improve for the year ahead usually takes some very conscious effort. I know this personally, and want to share a short story of a small change that I thought would never come about.

I have a shed where I store some of my most valuable and of course oversized items-my sporting gear. I have enough bikes to outfit a team and a quiver of surfboards that will work in every size wave from small to tall. This treasure trove is guarded by a deadbolt that a few months ago had an internal tumbler that got out of place and caused the lock to be impossible to open. I managed to get the deadbolt unlocked one last time and then it was time for CHANGE! Instead of using the same lock that I had for ten years, I now had to use the lock on the doorknob itself.

This seems like a very simple change right? WRONG. Here is how it went. Every single time I went to unlock my shed I put the key into the deadbolt (old pattern that had not begun to change even though I knew I needed to change it). It was not until I tried to turn the lock that I would immediately realize that, woops, I put the key in the frozen deadbolt rather than the doorknob.

Week Two: things got a little better. I still put the key in the old lock but remembered this was not the right place BEFORE I turn it to no avail.

Week Three: I found myself splitting things between actually putting the key in the correct lock first and then, yes, still putting it into the wrong one. Tough to teach old dogs new tricks I suppose.

Week Four: it was about 75/25 with 75 being the percent of times that I got it right. Close but still no cigar.

Week Five: I only saw the key go into the old lock once, even though I will admit I started to reached for it a couple of times before I caught myself.

Week Six: Finally success! No false starts. I got the right lock first time every time.

It’s now a couple of weeks since then and I have on occasion still reached for the wrong lock, but caught myself before the key came in contact with it. So I pose the question to each of you. If a simple thing like using a different lock on the same door was so tough, how will the big and certainly more important patterns ever get changed?

Well, maybe we need to be more aggressive in helping ourselves avoid the old lock (the old patterns). In my case, I could have put a piece of duct tape across the old lock and the old pattern as a stern reminder. “Don’t go there”. How will you place a piece of “duct tape ” across the pattern that you are trying to change this year? If you don’t, what will remind you that you have once again reached for the old lock rather than opening the door to your future with the new one? My lock didn’t turn, so it was a very quick reminder. “You are in the wrong place, buddy.” What will your reminder be that you have once again used the old pattern rather than changed and used a new one? What can you do to stop your old pattern in its tracks every time you do to insert the key in the wrong place?

I needed to get into that shed just about every day, and with the old lock I had no choice but to change the pattern. I couldn’t give up. It took me six weeks, but I finally succeeded. What will force you to keep working on change until it indeed comes about, until you also reach for the right lock to open your shed of good fortune and joy?

We have a new president whose mantra was Change. Our economy needs change, the world needs change. As Brant has told me thousands of times, “Change starts with you.” May the change you want and need come about, and that it is a joyous year filled with lots of good moments and of course, much health and happiness!