There is a wild that lies within us. It is our most primal selves, our uninhibited, sexual, animalistic selves… the part of us that is dark and free and expansive.
We are not separate from our animal instincts, from nature, from our reptilian brains that act instinctively rather than think. Our inner violence, our taking from others, the parts of ourselves that know the earth vitally and ground deeply within it, our senses and sensate experiences, our emotions… they are all part of the most primal and powerful aspects of ourselves.
The neo-shaman tends to guard against these forces, to battle them, to deem them unacceptable, or tries to force them into “light”.
The spiritual worker knows that these forces are the source of their power. They understand and work with them in themselves and with their clients.
Sex, death, violence, lack of control, anger, fear, a complex universe filled with beings and energies that not only are not flat caricatures, not singularly “compassionate” or “non-compassionate” but that do not view you as the protagonist of the spiritual realms, are all things that the spiritual worker works with every day of their existence.
They are a “spirit-lawyer”– not in command of the forces of the cosmos, but simply an intermediary, negotiating between forces, between the spiritual and physical realms, to bring harmony the best way that they are able to.
Neo-Shamanism and Darkness
The spiritual realms are the proverbial “other”– the darkness and wildness and un-safeness that the neo-shaman so fears- that they have constructed illusion upon illusion and rule upon rule to make themselves feel safe and in control against.
If we create a cage for ourselves based off of our wounds– based off of everything that is unhealed within us, we descend into illusion. We can never really engage with anything authentically. We experience the world through the set of rigid constructs that we have set up, and even if something greater is happening to us, we fail to recognize it.
If we enter into the spiritual realms and are seeking based off of our wounding, we never move away from our pain. Our pain guides us, and creates our world for us. We never step away from the cage that we have constructed and from the thoughts and beliefs that make up our own rigid constructs. We never truly access anything other than the projections of our wounds unless we are willing to move away from our cage– our own understandings of what is “true”, or what we need to be “true” to feel in control.
We can stop ourselves from realizing that the world is filled with beings and energies and that we are simply a part of things. We can stop ourselves from growing– because if we already know everything, we already know how everything works, there is no need to learn anything more. We can stop ourselves from truly experiencing connection to the Earth, to ourselves, and to others based off of our wounds that drive us to feel superior and therefore separate.
We do not realize that when we are constructing rules like “non-judgment” that it really is a form of self-hatred. I say this because such rigid and inhumane (as in, no human could live up to them) constructs mean that the individual who created them cannot even live up to them. The person is never good enough because they do not and cannot live up to their own illusory standards of perfection. Invariably, the person who has created such rules becomes extraordinarily judgmental. The person who believes anger is evil is invariably passive-aggressive.
What we have unhealed within comes out in outer judgment and hatred. Although a totally different realm, we all likely are not shocked when a politician preaching “family values” with an anti-gay agenda is found at the center of a gay tryst.
The person who is deeply afraid of the spiritual realms will create construct after construct assuring themselves that they are safe and under their control. They will section off what is deemed unacceptable, or pretend that they have moved past it. But what we ignore grows, whether we are conscious of it or not… and if we are engaged in spiritual exploration, it is our responsibility to tend to our emotions and our baggage, not to ignore or repress it because it does not meet the qualification of “light”.
This is because not only does what we have unhealed or repressed deeply affect our own lives, but it goes into the collective. Collectively we create the world. It is our responsibility, if we are choosing to be spiritual citizens, to take care of our “stuff” not only for ourselves but for the world as a whole. And that “stuff” doesn’t get taken care of by ignoring it, battling against it, or shoving it aside in favor of other more palatable things.
There is a part of ourselves that is afraid, that seeks comfort and illusion and to be told that everything is going to be safe, that everything will be okay. We feel so out of control in our daily lives that the illusion that we are in control of the cosmos is understandably popular.
Our lives are difficult, and to maintain such illusions is understandable in an organism that is deeply afraid, that feels the need to contain and create such narrow forms of acceptable behavior that it really means that most of the world, most of life, is deemed unacceptable.
It is a form of wounding to refuse to engage with our bodies, with our emotions, with the Earth, and with one another. This can be healed… unless we create a lot of illusions surrounding it. It is much easier to pretend to be an ET than to consider the inner forces and early childhood and in utero and ancestral forces that may not have been fully and vitally engaged or excited about you being born.
It is a form of wounding to not want to be a part of our bodies, and our lives, or to feel any of our emotions. To not feel sexual, free, and wild. These are all things that can be worked with. They can be healed. But few are willing to let go of the illusion of control to do so.
The Spiritual Worker and the Outer Wild
There is a look to someone who has genuinely contacted the spirit realms– a sort of fifty or one hundred-yard stare. Contact with spirit and with spirits changes someone…it causes them to understand and know the deep and wild “other” both within and without.
The spiritual worker, far from the romanticized construct, is someone who knows this wild. Who traverses it. Who knows how to travel safely, respectfully, and thoughtfully… but never for a moment thinks that they are free from danger, despite engaging in even the greatest of protections and safeguards.
This inner wild is matched by an outer wild: these are the forces that make up the great unknown, the monsters and ogres from myth, the abyss, the elemental forces of the universe. Everything that is beyond words, that is “other” lies in this place. The whole spectrum of energies- from dark to light from beautiful to ugly from singular and small to large and powerful.
This outer wild cannot be contained by human-created rules. It is vast and expansive and thrilling and dangerous. It is unsafe, and as humans we love safety. We love control. We love to feel superior and better than, as the realization on some level that in our not so distant collective past we needed to be superior and better simply to survive, lurks on some unconscious level.
It is expansive to the extent that we could never know the totality of it, nor are we intended to. It lacks description, and is populated by energies both ordinary and strange, both as ancient as time and as newly constructed as a thought you just had.
If we are not aware of the primal parts of ourselves and their motivations, we will walk around constantly living out our need to prove ourselves worthy and special. We will constantly look for ways to make ourselves seem superior in order to put ourselves above others. While this comes from a long-past survival instinct, it is a part of our primal wounding, and can be healed.
Instead of being led by our inner truth, or inner spirit, or on a quest for outer truth or freedom, the engagement with this primal need closes us off, disconnects us from one another and from nature (we cannot truly feel love and compassion if we are engaged in competition and need to feel superior to others) and can cause for us to become angry, suspicious, and quite simply, unpleasant.
One of the realities you come across when you actually meet spiritual workers is that many are not beyond this. That spiritual workers are simply human, and have human foibles. Unlike many humans, they may have access to power, and that may mean that their wounds in this department are heightened– they may go into feuds, steal power, attack, or otherwise engage in not the nicest of ways.
One of the other things that you realize when truly engaged in the spiritual realms is that there is always someone more powerful, more trained, more skilled, more knowledgeable (add adjective here) than you. This knowledge allows you to traverse the spiritual realms with respect, and let go of the arrogance and narcissism telling you that the cosmos will not only obey your command, but that it is centered around you.
Power magnifies our wounds, and this is why many people with power and even great knowledge, wisdom, or spiritual attainment, can meet with bad ends (or unethical ends). Power continually tests the individual, and with greater power comes greater tests… and some fail the initiation, or utilize power to live through their unhealed wounds rather than engage in greater healing or consciousness.
What a Spiritual Worker Does
Far removed from the neo-shamanic earth mother nurturing sort of teacher, spiritual workers, and specifically spiritual teachers, are not there to hold your hand and tell you that things are going to be okay. They are not there to assuage fears, to comfort you, or to tell you that your version of the “truth” is okay.
Instead they force you to look at your own patterns, your own demons, and to confront the beliefs and illusions that you hold (and need) to be true. It is their work to look at your core wounds, what really is holding you back and causing you to fear and to resist.
They often are no b.s. types who are quite blunt and honest in their dealings. This can be difficult to traverse for the spiritual worker, as balancing compassion with honesty, and realizing that most people operate under so many illusions that if you were to present them the true reality of what is going on, cannot be taken in by the person. They will react, and it is understandable that they will react. Their ego, their needs for safety, will project all of their unhealed “stuff” onto the spiritual worker, or onto the next target they can… because it is too painful to have too many illusions stripped at once. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the job, and personally I have learned to keep my mouth shut when someone says something to me that is illusory in many cases, at least until the need for the belief diminishes.
The spiritual worker is often a trickster– they look at things sideways and upside-down. They provoke, prod, and laugh at the deep ironies that people often present. Unlike the romantic version of the spiritual worker, they can range from jerks to enlightened, from introvert to extrovert, from quite ordinary (you might not know them seated at a bar) to the sort of mystical presence one might wish for.
Many spiritual workers have a dry sense of humor, many verging on “dark”, because they come across so much spiritual “stuff” that much of it is no longer a big deal, or anything to cause commotion over… and the universe does tend to be fairly funny when you take a step back or two. This is somewhat not unlike firefighters, nurses, and policemen, who have similar senses of humor I find.
One of the ironies that I find is that people who are spiritual workers tend to get kicked out of neo-shamanic communities. They think differently and tend to want to poke ideas and concepts with a sharp stick in order to see what is underneath.
Most of the successful, reputable spiritual workers that I know work with “both hands”. This means that they grow their light and work with their dark. These are not separate things, really… but as we grow our power more of our “underbelly”, or our darkness, arises to be taken care of, to be healed.
We can always consciously make a choice to engage with it, to heal it. To treat every aspect of ourselves (yes, including the violent, atavistic and primal aspects of self) with compassion. We can be compassionate to the parts of ourselves that want to destroy ourselves, the parts of ourselves that are beastly, the parts of ourselves that only wish to eat cake and watch American Ninja Warrior instead of reading something to enhance our minds.
We are so cruel to ourselves and castigate, terrorize, or create constructs that tell ourselves that so much of us is “bad”. By making our darkness conscious, by realizing that we can move beyond our imposed safety nets and emotional projections, we can start to free ourselves… as well as engage more thoughtfully with the spiritual realms. Our inner compassion will match our outer compassion, and when we allow ourselves expansiveness, we can truly feel the wild within, as well as explore it in the spiritual realms.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual worker, teacher, and author of several books that are aimed at helping people navigate their inner wildness and spiritual awakening. You can find out more about this topic in her book, The Spiritual Awakening Guide, and a pragmatic approach to healing the relationship with inner darkness in her book, The Body Deva: Working with the Spiritual Consciousness of the Body.