The Wounded Healer and Shamanic Illness
The neo-shamanic perception that one works through their issues in order to be of service to others I find to be fairly right on, but needing to be expanded upon. However, the focus for the spiritual worker is on the “community” part, while the focus of the neo-shaman tends to be on the “self” part of the equation.
The concept that anyone going through illness, especially chronic, is some sort of calling to be a shaman is a bit misguided, however.
I do find that significant illness can result in spiritual awakening. Being diagnosed with cancer, for example, will take someone away from the mundane troubles of their existence to focus on greater things, and will frequently result in existential crisis as well as questioning of a deep, spiritual level.
Similarly, those with “functional” (not showing up on lab tests, basically), unnamed, or mental-emotional based illnesses who have run through the gamut of doctors and what is culturally considered “right” or “appropriate” without relief will either continue with that wheelhouse… or will start to look for other options for healing, including shamanism.
One of the ways that people awaken is through abrupt catharsis– the sort of breakdown or quick change of life that causes a sort of painful death and rebirth. Being diagnosed with something certainly fits that “disruptive to daily routine” aspect of the equation. In that rebirth, the reorientation to a more spiritual, or expanded, perspective is often a part of the process.
So it is understandable that people come to shamanism for their own healing purposes, and start to awaken to how their experiences in this world– the sort of collection of unprocessed emotions and traumas– have impacted them. Some will also begin to awaken to the fact that ancestral and family patterns, as well as past lives, may have been passed down to them, or have created significant imbalances in their system, partially or fully creating their current illness.
The Wounded Healer
I do think that the neo-shamanic community has much of the wounded healer idea fairly correct. When we directly experience something, we have a knowledge that goes beyond the didactic. We know.
This means that we can serve people on a much deeper level. I was talking about this concept with a few people, and they talk about how cancer researchers and the like (Western medicine, basically) don’t have to experience cancer to be effective researchers or doctors.
My response is that there is a reason why many of the people who research such things do. We are primarily motivated by what has affected us– and that while those researchers may or may not have experienced cancer, the chances of them having a parent, relative, or loved one having it, getting them interested in working with it, is fairly high.
But spiritual work takes depth. It takes knowing. It is not mechanistic. It is an art, and a privilege. I do think that the neo-shamanic community doesn’t give spiritual work the proper respect in this capacity. It is deep, life-altering work when done correctly. It can easily change the course of a client, and significantly change the entire belief system that has created the outer reality of the client, resulting in drastic changes in outer reality/the physical life of the person when done in a skilled manner. Working on a soul level should be treated with the utmost care, grace, and reverence.
The wounded healer concept is fairly simple. The healer passes through their own experiences, and thus is able to know on all levels what that experience is like.
The difference is seemingly that while the neo-shamanic community believes that suffering, or any long-term or chronic illness, embodies this. This certainly in certain regards is true– someone with fibromyalgia will understand what someone else with fibromyalgia is experiencing with more compassion and empathy.
But the wounded healer concept is really about the completion of that process– the seeing the other side of suffering, and so being able to physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually care for others… with a deep knowing as well as a physiological system that spiritually has passed through the process and can now guide others to do the same.
Without seeing the other side of this, or still being wrapped up in a process, it is difficult, if not impossible, to care for others. Certainly your system cannot synchronize and embody what it is like to see the other side of that illness or imbalance to the person that you are working with.
I am not saying here that someone needs to be entirely well to be a healer, or to be a pillar of strength and vital health to be one.
But working with people requires a certain neutrality. It also requires someone to be over enough of their “stuff” to actually have the energy to take care of someone else. I see a lot of people in this field being triggered by their clients, or working through their issues through their clients, or simply being too overwhelmed by their own process to do anything but embody a confused and depleted state to their clients.
Spiritual work requires a certain flow to it. The hollow bone concept here certainly applies. If you are a pipe in which energy flows through during a session (your own, spirit, or spirits flowing through), and your pipe is filled with your own “gunk” (emotions, illness, etc.) there will be not much flow transmitted to the client. If your “pipe” is clear, not only can you focus on the client (and not your own stuff coming up, as the “hollow bone” will cause for your own “gunk” to be dislodged), but you can bring a lot of energy and focus to the session, resulting in better healing.
I guess my point here is that people really look at the “wounded” part of things, but that the path of being the wounded healer is really about moving beyond your own wounds to the extent that you have the clarity, presence, and distance from your own process to be of use to others.
If you are still currently in a state of suffering, it is hard to focus on anyone other than yourself. That is because whatever pain, emotions, or physical experiences are being had are so overwhelming that it is difficult to focus on anyone else– your body, your consciousness, needs every bit of energy to simply make it through the day and to focus on healing.
When we are wounded we need to focus on ourselves, to be a bit selfish and close-minded. When we heal, we can expand and acknowledge others, including those who seek our assistance.
I do find more disparity between the concept of shamanic sickness and the neo-shamanic take-away from it.
The tendency in the neo-shamanic community is to believe that any sickness is a calling towards shamanism, or is “shamanic” in nature.
To be fair, I will say that any significant illness will have spiritual roots– and that any significant imbalance in the system should be looked at physically, emotionally/mentally, energetically and spiritually to effect the greatest healing.
Ancestral healing is great for this, by the way… as is past life healing. That does not mean that those are “cures”, but that healing huge spiritual patterns often has a significant impact.
However, shamanic sickness tends to be a rather specific thing.
Shamanic illness tends to come about for a few reasons. The first is the idea of the “wounded healer”: but in the case of the “called” spiritual worker, the illness will be sudden, often short-lived, and usually fairly strange.
This means near-death experiences, sudden illness that doctors have difficulty experiencing, and spiritual occurrences (for example, dreams and visions) that allow for the experiencer to understand that what they are experiencing is not only sudden, not only strange, but that it is, in fact, spiritual in origin.
It is hard to describe to people who have not experienced this, but the sudden, strange illnesses that come about are a far cry from chronic illness, or illness that may have come about from a variety of environmental, dietary, emotional, physical, mental/emotional, and long-standing spiritual reasoning.
These shamanic illnesses leave often as quickly as they come, but they do often have long-standing impact on the system which will need to be healed on the physical level.
In this scenario, the “wounded healer” will pass through multiple strange illnesses to get them attuned to many different types of clients and experiences. This also has the impact of moving the spiritual worker through fears of death and dying, as well as releases beliefs and personally held emotions.
The second reason why shamanic illness emerges is because of power. I have already referred to the “hollow bone” thought, but if we are basically a pipe in which energy can flow through, in order for us to carry more energy or flow through us, that pipe may need to change.
The shamanic illness is then not only a clearing of past illness or ancestral, past life, communal, societal, or other energies (you can read about these layers that people pass through when awakening in my Spiritual Awakening Guide book), but an opening and a rewiring.
This rewiring allows for the system to take on more power, to access more power, and to interact with (perhaps) a new range of spirits, beings, or energies.
What happens if you are not “wired” to accept larger energies and you interact with one is that it “blows out” the person– meaning basically that their nervous system gets fried and they will be in bed for several days after. While there typically is a momentary rush in dealing with “large” or “powerful” energies that can result in bliss or a certain high that many people are looking for on their spiritual path… the end result is that when the energy leaves, the system crashes.
So the process is essentially initiatory– when you are ready to take on more power, a sickness of some variety will emerge, it will clear, and then there will be a “rewiring” period, allowing the spiritual worker to ultimately interact with energies that once may have blown him or her out.
It is not unusual for spiritual workers to have such spiritual illnesses, of relatively short duration (by that I may mean a few days, or even up to a decade) as a sort of initiation into greater power. By passing through, by surrendering, by healing, the person can release a lot of beliefs and “stuck” stuff, as well as be initiated into working with new spirits (or old spirits but on a new level).
The difficulty, of course, is passing through this period relatively intact, and understanding and taking care of the spiritual aspects of the process… as well as the required emotional and mental aspects of the process. We do formulate the world off of our beliefs, and expansion into greater power will cause for the person to question those beliefs, as well as will attempt to bring up anything that is wounded and in need of healing (basically, what created those beliefs).
We like our world to be a certain way, and many of our beliefs and constricted ideologies are a result of something that we have carried since we were quite young, or even may be societal or ancestral without our consciousness of it. If we are unwilling to release those beliefs, and to realize what within us is wounded with clarity, the process tends to be more difficult.
In modern society it is also hard to reconcile a spiritual illness. We may wish it to be purely physical– as the label and plan involved may result in a sense of closure. Figuring out what a spiritual illness may mean, and what it may take to solve it, is often a less-tread path, and deeply individualistic (meaning no dictionary definitions, even “spiritual” dictionary description of illness, will suffice).
I will say that in meeting a fair number of spiritual workers that they do tend to have health problems. I notice, for example, a high rate of autoimmune disease amongst spiritual workers. My personal conjecture is that highly “in tune” people and especially mediumistic and empathic people tend to interact with a lot of energies that confuse the system.
It is difficult, for example, to have energy running through your system and your body in some way will have confusion over what is “yours”. This is in many ways separate from shamanic illness, and the process of initiation that I described above. If you are struggling and are sensitive in any capacity, I do suggest my book, Managing Psychic Abilities. It is the result of over ten years of study in how to heal and work with my own system, and teaches understandings about what being psychic or sensitive truly means (where you may be on the spectrum), and how to work with your system in order to be a functional (as well as have boundaries, know how to properly cleanse, protect, and open and close your system… as well as other things).