One of the things that I always tell my students is that even if they truly have experienced the proverbial other, and know for a fact that spirits and the spirit world is real… to only do so 97 percent… leaving 3 percent doubt remaining.
This allows for critical thinking in terms of experiences– it allows for people to discern and really think about their experiences, to take a step back and to separate the creations of the mind and mental story versus spiritual experience, to see how the overlay of mental creation and spirit can intertwine, and to extricate themselves to see with clarity.
That 3 percent allows for a step back, and the employment of logic, pragmatism, and critical thinking.
Part of the reason that people engage with spiritual work is to explore a more mythic reality. The difficulty with this is that it is incredibly easy to go off of the deep end, and the effects of this are widely displayed in many spiritual communities.
It is said that a “shaman” has one foot in this world and one foot in the “other”, and people tend to lose the “one foot in this world” part of the equation.
Without that tether to reality, it is easy to engage with delusion, and to be of no use to yourself or to anyone else… to lose functioning, health, and general enjoyment of the senses: music, dance, nature, pie, good sex, movies, and interactions with friends and loved ones.
Spirit will cause for you to move beyond your boundaries, in both gentle and fierce ways. We have such a vested interest in control, in our own mythic reality, that to interact with the sacred requires recognizing our smallness. It requires humility, patience, and grounding in this world deeply.
I used to be surprised by the fact that most people, even spiritual practitioners, had no belief or interaction with spirit. That they had no faith in spirit, or in the world having magic and spirit in it in ordinary life. Without this belief that the universe is animistic, we are missing the magic in our backyards, and not integrating the spiritual in our daily lives.
In my eyes, the capacity to sense and interact with spirits is one of the core job functions of being a spiritual worker. I believe it was Martin Prechtel that described spiritual work as “spirit lawyering” and that is what much of my job is–working with spirits and beings of all types to negotiate for balance, or healing, or at least a reprieve in symptoms.
The other half of my job is often taking someone through their mental and emotional reactions and experiences so they can integrate the spiritual work done. This is necessary in the modern world because of the general disconnection from the earth and from spirit that many of us experience, and the mental barriers that people have constructed to stop themselves from experiencing the spiritual.
I have been surprised by spirits and beings of all types being interested in interacting with me– not because of some inherent “special” quality on my part– but simply because I am open and willing to recognize their existence, and to do so with curiosity and respect. It is amazing what curiosity, solid boundaries, and a willingness to learn from those different from you can garner in terms of interacting.
We close ourselves down to spirit. We are so wounded and separated that we can no longer recognize the sacred, the immense spirit (and spirits) that surround us. We reach for practices that allow us to remain with the known, to not even understand the hidden vitality and animism of our own backyard or the spirit of our house.
This is a protective mechanism, of course.
If we think about the fact that no matter how sensitive we are, that we can only see and sense a small percentage of what is around us… and that what may be around us may be thousands of years old, immensely wiser than us, large, small, may possibly not like us in their location, or may have trauma themselves, and may do anything from deeply inform our existence to create immense difficulty for us… that is frightening.
There is an element of disbelief that is never discussed– this is often because of an element of opposing reactivity to mainstream spirituality. There is also an aspect of trauma in terms of spiritual experiences that is not discussed.
Much of mainstream spirituality is intended to comfort people, to allow for basic self-help: to feel special, heard, and connected to others with similar interests. For a long time I didn’t understand this (nor appreciate it), but I very much do now. It is not hard to look in they eyes of someone in deep fear over death, or grieving the death of a child, and understand why they may reach out for spiritual teachings (and teachers) that tell them what they need to hear to feel comforted and in control.
This however does mean that many people who are finding the vast unknown, the proverbial other, and engaging with spirit and the spirit realms lack community and often resources to feel heard and seen, however.
Holger Kalweit (who I always suggest as a foray into understanding shamanism) talks about how people in the modern world who have connection to anything other than the materialist universe are seen as insane, and often protect themselves out of fear because they are having experiences and realizations that are not scientific, nor rational, nor materialist.
This creates an immense difficulty for people who are logical, pragmatic, functional, and reasonably mentally healthy who are having spiritual experiences. It causes them to quickly find out that most spiritual communities are not for them, and it creates immense doubt… especially if they are generally healthy and/or well-educated individuals.
Disbelief is a protective mechanism. I read an interesting article the other day about how our brains have a delay to shield us from hallucinogenic experiences (I will attempt to find it and post it on my Facebook page), and I have had many spiritual experiences that have taken me years, if not decades, to move beyond casting them aside, disbelieving them, or thinking myself insane for having experienced them.
Some of them have been traumatizing, and it has taken me time to not only move beyond my own processing, but to be willing to include others in the process (moving beyond fears of what others may think of me for my experiences) to fully heal from them.
Spiritual experiences take longer to integrate. We have to integrate them on many levels to bring them up through and beyond the protective disbelief, the oppositional reactivity (to what is seen in many spiritual circles) and to vitally change who we are as a person in relation to a spiritual experience, especially a significant one.
Mainstream spirituality only goes so far in describing interaction with the “other”. There are very good reasons for this– spiritual exploration can be a deeply personal thing, and at a certain point showing an altar, or an object you work with, sharing who you work with, or sharing an experience, would be like excavating the very private aspects of your soul. In shamanic terms, it also means that someone could utilize those spiritual helpers, experiences or objects to gain access to you, which is more a consideration for people who are deeply immersed in practices, or who have gathered power, as the amount of people in modern day that would know how to use those access points in is quite rare.
There is also an inherent difficulty that much of what is represented in spiritual circles, for lack of better description, are people who are at point “A” and “B” on their path. Someone who makes their way to point “C” then will feel alone, and may not recognize that there is the rest of the alphabet, and plenty of people at “G”, some at “Q” and some who have completed the whole alphabet and are starting back at point “A” to learn more through another round of the alphabet.
What once struck me as odd about this is that people at point “C” often do not want to hear about the rest of the alphabet. They do not want to hear from me, for example, that their experiences are something that any spiritual practitioner with experience will hear about weekly, or that they could venture to the rest of the alphabet, if they were ready to.
This is also a protective mechanism– as if we believe that we know everything, we do not need to learn anything new. We do not need to move beyond our own fear or mental barriers. It is also a trauma response, and sometimes past experiences with teachers and communities who could not serve the individual who needed help navigating spiritual realities (instead of self-help) were failed, or simply weren’t helped or heard to the extent that they needed to be.
But mainly it is a protective mechanism because if we truly believe ourselves to be separate, if we truly believe that we are the only person out there who has experienced such things, who has leapt into the wild and wondrous “other”, that that means the person can remain suffering, alone, and not move forward on their path. Not move forward beyond the fear, not move forward beyond disbelief of their experiences to integrate them as a vital aspect of their being.
Unfortunately, this also means not moving forward into seeing the spiritual world(s) as something vital, sustaining, wondrous, and life-affirming. It also means not moving beyond the fear, the trauma from past experiences (from spiritual experiences as well as spiritual communities), and learning how to navigate the spirit realms properly, and with the appropriate tools to protect, clear, and discern.
It means remaining separate, and stopping ourselves from connecting (or realizing the connection) to something that could be the very source that could sustains us.
I do understand this fear. Interfacing with the unknown creates fear. We are inundated with pop culture references to evil spirits and possession and people who played with a Ouija board the wrong way. The polarity of this is the bright white falsehood of believing the self to be immensely powerful to the extent that one can concretely know and control the cosmos.
Many of my students need to move past whatever is creating fear within them to actually interact or connect with anything spiritual. I also have met many people who have immense spiritual talents who are not ready to move beyond their own fear and needs for control in order to interface with spiritual reality with any sort of depth.
This is the real requirement, the real “secret sauce” for interacting with the sacred, for truly interacting with spirits and the spirit world, or for really doing anything of a spiritual nature.
It is respect and openness to understanding that our physical world is only a small portion of our reality, and having the respect, knowledge, tools, awareness, and openness to honor, rather than fear.
Opening beyond the materialist universe, the universe that has been created by and for people with “normal” perceptual capacity, is a lot to ask of people, especially in world that creates the polarity of “seer” as insane and illogical.
Certain people do have this aptitude ingrained, or never lost their child-like capacity to understand that there is more to this world than its physical presence. In teaching I have realized how lucky I have actually been to not need to convince myself that the spirit worlds are “real”, as I have always understood them to be that way.
I have had many experiences that have solidly freaked me out, or have taught me just how “real” things can get, however.
There are experiences that are had on the spiritual path that will immensely destabilize what is known. Some forms of magical ritual will have a focus on specifically bringing a spirit or being into the physical world because it breaks the person of any notions they may have that spirits are not real, for example.
There is trauma that happens with spiritual experiences– the destabilization of what is known, the realization that one does not have as much control as one thought, the direct experience of the vastness and wonder, the excitement of moving to a new terrain, and the scramble of a mind and body trying to fit those experiences into an already established world view and identity.
The healing of trauma, especially with difficult experiences, is important in these cases. It is easier to point to a physical event or experience and equate it with trauma (although we can point to disbelief as a protective mechanism there, as well), but anything that has caused for us to experience overwhelm or a drastic shift in views or relational shift between self and the world, self and the people in the world, or within the self, takes time to integrate.
In some cases it could “freeze” and remain with the person until they are ready to move beyond the disbelief and recognize what an impact the experience they had. I encourage people to consider their experiences at that 97 percent level (as in, do not fully believe spiritual experiences to the point that clarity, discernment, grounding, and just plain logic is lost), to always question things with openness, and to realize that with openness, the world can be more magical, more expansive, than one once thought.
I am no longer taking new clients for spiritual work, but offer a variety of distance courses for individuals ready to learn the skills to properly navigate the spiritual realms, with respect, discernment, and clarity. You can find them here