© Tõnis Valing | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Tõnis Valing | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Hi Mary-

I love your blogs and appreciate that you take the time to do them. I have learned a lot! I do some shamanic work right now, and have for friends and family for a while (those that are actually willing to let me!) but I am curious what it is like to be a shaman as a job.

I know you pull no punches, so thought I would ask what it is like to do this type of work as a profession?

– Shamanista

Hi Shamanista-

This is actually a subject I have wanted to talk about for a while, and a question I get asked in one way or another somewhat frequently, so thank you for bringing it up again. The realities of doing spiritual work full time are not really talked about much, and likely for good reason. Most people prefer the mysticism of being a “shaman” than the every-day reality, and most people explore spiritual work as a sort of feel-good thing that they can do on weekends and in workshops. Basically, for fun, or for self-growth purposes.

As an aside, I do not call myself a Shaman, for some very good reasons I won’t get into again (basically, appropriation of cultures that are not my own… and not wanting to be put into the new-ager core “shaman” group of upper middle class white women who generally wouldn’t know something spiritual if it hit them over the head with an anvil… and the camp of psychologists who have decided that shamanism is basically another psychotherapeutic/mental help method because they are not able to access much in the spiritual realms it seems). I also do not “journey” often as I do not believe that the spiritual is elsewhere, have merged a lot of different interests and understandings into my work, and interact with spirits in a different way than most people do.

But back to the topic at hand…

Being a spiritual worker is hard work. It just is. You get a lot of people coming to you as a sort of last resort, people who have been through therapy and other spiritual workers and all the workshops and books. You get others coming to you who are quite traumatized, and holding space for them while gently helping them to undo the layers and layers of chaos is something of an art form.

A lot of people come to me after being traumatized by other practitioners. They have previously looked for help and not found it, or have found the sort of life coach type or psychologist type “Shaman” who cannot help them beyond mental constructs. These practitioners might have judged them, or told them things like “curses aren’t real”, or “everything is just in your head”, or blamed them for whatever spiritual circumstances they have been in saying if they just thought of white light, or ignored “dark things” or just thought good thoughts that whatever they are dealing with would go away. Which, on the surface, might be true in some ways. But in a lot of other ways, and much more significantly, is not true. And blaming someone never helps anyone.

A lot of spiritual practitioners either do not have the experience or training to properly work with trauma, and so they traumatize people further due to being unable to gauge how much work should be done… or just by their lack of experience do not know how to work with the energetics of trauma properly.  It is my belief that anyone who wants to do any sort of client work (whether that be in retail or “shamanic” work or anything in between) should understand trauma. And understand it so they can recognize it, know what basic physiological trauma responses are, and most of all, not re-traumatize people.

Most people come to me these days after having been to three to five other “shamans” or spiritual workers, and have found that their situation has worsened, or not improved at all, or only has had slight improvements. So not only do I have to clear work (imprints) of other practitioners in a lot of cases who didn’t know what they were doing, but I also have to spend time energetically and verbally making sure that the client feels safe and knows that they can trust me enough to do some work with me.

Also, people have tended to go to friends, family, and online communities for thoughts about their situation and even spiritual work before going to someone who does this full time. What happens is that they get a slew of advice, ideas, and healing work from people who are inexperienced or don’t know what they are doing and likely rarely have any idea of what they are talking about. There is a huge difference between direct experience and intellectualization/philosophy, and most people online, even if they state they are “Shamans” do it on weekends, or at workshops, or have done something once or twice and are now an “expert”. Which basically leads to really horrible advice.

So the realities of being a spiritual worker…

I once had an Acupuncture teacher who was asked what he thought something was that most people graduating Chinese Medical school should know (basically this same question) that they did not realize. His answer? That a lot of this job is customer service.

I find this to be very true. A lot of my job is sifting through a lot of emails. I have talked a bit about this before but I get a lot of emails these days. Most of them will not be clients– they want free advice, healing, mentorship. Or they are interested in being clients, and have a few questions (which I am generally happy to answer). Or they are emails from people in my programs.

For every person who wants to work with me I do a basic divination to see if I can help them. You can read about my ethics here, but at this point in my practice I don’t have any interest in working with people I either cannot help, or do not want my help, are not ready for my type of help, or would be better served by seeing someone in person. So on average I probably spend about 15 hours of my week answering emails (glamorous, I know).

I currently limit my practice to seeing ten clients a week (and this number is highly variable, depending on writing, personal energy level, and so forth). So you are thinking that this is ten hours of work, correct? I ask each client to send me an optional email about what is going on with them, but in general before each appointment I spend between fifteen minutes to an hour (depending on the client and what is going on with them) doing a distance check-in (basically seeing what is energetically/spiritually going on with them because I am not a fan of surprises). In some cases, I will do some preliminary work ahead of time. After each appointment, I often email clients “homework” and I will close out the energies of the appointment (which takes about five minutes for each person) as well as do another distance “check-in” if I am concerned about anything, or want to check my work. So in total this is probably 15-25 hours of my week, depending on the clients.

I am also a writer (obviously) so I write blogs, post things to my Facebook page, and write books as well as content for students in my courses. This is about 15-25 hours of my week, depending on general motivation, as well as the factors above (if I get a lot of emails = less writing, for example).

So we are up to around forty-five to sixty hours a week, already. 

This does not include reading (non-fiction; stuff that will possibly help me in my work, basically), interviews (which I do a few of a month for my book(s)), and meditating (which I need to do to work with as much energy as I do). This also does not include my own spiritual work, which can go from anywhere from zero (yeah, it happens) to twenty hours a week.

And a bit about the energetics/nature of this job…

Being a spiritual worker will test you– physically, mentally, and emotionally– as well as spiritually. Constant spiritual initiations, some more physical, others more mental and emotional, come with the job. Clients test you– they are coming to you chaotic, exhausted, traumatized– and many will try to put you into a role to recreate traumas they have experienced in the past. Others will expect you to solve their lifetime of issues in one or two appointments. Some will ignore everything you say and come back a month later with the same issues, or will put aside all of the life-affirming, important realizations from the call or interaction to focus on the one piece of information or idea from the call that they can hang on to that causes them to recreate their own patterns of self-sabotage and chaos.

When you are a spiritual worker, some work is more difficult than others. Some weeks I have been wiped out after one appointment, needing a day or two to recover, and other days I can work with five people in a row and be totally fine the next day. It is the nature of the job, the nature of truly interacting with the spiritual realms, and the nature of working with clients– some of whom have incredibly complex spiritual situations going on. 

But before this sounds like a list of complaints, 99 percent of the time I truly love my job. I work from home, talk to people from all over the world, and help people who likely have been searching for assistance for a long time.

I love the weirdness of what I hear about, the fact that people feel comfortable with me enough to help them recover from the worst types of sexual abuse or the strangest beings they have encountered. I love the fact that each client I work with is in some small or large way ready to move forward with their lives and their healing path.

I love how clients and students help me to discover new things about myself, and that each session allows for energy to flow through me. Over time, that energy has changed me and my life in innumerable ways. I love that I am pushed, that I have people and clients who test me– I always know when I have something to resolve when I emotionally react to an email or client (luckily this doesn’t happen much anymore, but it is always a wonderful teacher).

I love that I do deep, effective work. Work in a way that few do. I love that I have found a way to merge everything I have learned into spiritual work. I love that I work with people and through them, and not for them. I love that I teach people how to have their own inner resources so they don’t have to continually be in that role of seeker, and can trust their own intuition and path. I love that I do this full time, and this means that I have had a huge range of direct experiences that help me to help others in a profound way. I love that on this path I can continually open, continually learn. Most of all, I love that most of the time it doesn’t feel like a “job” and that my life just flows. I realize that it is rare in this world for people to be happy with their path, happy with their careers, and to know what they are intended to do in this world, and I am eternally grateful that I am.

On a more practical note, this work will not make you rich. Those who do get rich on this path are those who do not see clients (or do for huge fees and rarely see clients), and often have merged their work with whatever the newest new-age book scene is. But it is continually interesting, continually healing (for you and those you work with), and will continually allow for you to open beyond what you thought to be true about your Self, your path, and the spiritual realms.

If you would like to submit a question for my spiritual advice column, you can contact me here. Please note, I do not answer all questions, and am not an allopathic physician (meaning go to your doctor if you are concerned about something, and take my opinions/thoughts with the proverbial grain of salt).