If an illness has a shamanic origin, then whatever else is going on, the roots are always in soul-loss and/or Power-loss.
We have explored soul-loss in one of our previous blogs. Now I want to dive into issues around our relationship with power.
WHAT IS POWER?
By “power”, shamans essentially mean “life-force“. If our life force is weak, then we are prone to disease. Because of this, maintaining healthy power is an essential part of any good shamanic practice.
In shamanism, Power-loss (with a capital “P”) is different from what, in psychotherapy, might be understood as the “loss of personal power”. Let’s look at both, to understand the difference.
LOSS OF PERSONAL POWER
Taking “loss of personal power” first, this occurs when we are (or, allow ourselves to be) dominated by another person or group of people. This includes things like co-dependence, and other unhealthy relationship issues.
While it usually involves relationships with other people, loss of personal power can be an issue with the other-than-human too. We can allow ourselves to be taken over by all sorts of things – career, wealth and social status, ideologies and causes, drugs and other addictions and compulsions, and so on.
Modern-day culture is largely built on a hierarchical relationship with power. Although there are exceptions, dominance (“power-over”) is characteristic of most layers of our society, from school, most work environments, and even our religions. And where there is power-over then, by definition, there is powerlessness too. This is in sharp contrast to what we know of our animist, hunter-gatherer ancestors, who created cultures that were more egalitarian and characterised by what has been called “power-from-within”. This is so much so that people like Richard Lee, Christopher Boehm, and other anthropologists have described these cultures as being “fiercely egalitarian”.
An unhealthy hierarchical relationship with power is not just characteristic of our modern-day human-to-human relationships though. Since the modern era, dominance, and what the writer Derrick Jensen describes as “the myth of human supremacy”, has largely defined our relationship with the other-than-human too. The result is our present-day broken relationship with the natural world.
As with many things, we can learn here from the wisdom and teaching of our indigenous, animist ancestors. For what animism shows is that, for our society to become healthy again, and to heal our relationship with our other-than human kin, we need to move away from power-over / powerlessness dynamics, and towards more egalitarian relationships based on power-from-within.
When people have power-from-within, then they do not unhealthily hand their power over to anyone else. Moreover, when people come from a place of power-from-within, they do not want power over anyone else either (neither over other humans, nor over other-than-humans). Instead, they operate from a place of respectful relationship. In this, learning about healthy power from our animist ancestors can play a key role in helping us heal, not only as individuals, but our human relationships and our relationship with the natural world too.
BOUNDARIES – USING OUR PERSONAL POWER WELL
Loss of personal power is essentially a boundaries issue. Learning how to repair and maintain healthy boundaries, and cultivate healthy personal power and use it well, can be a major aspect of shamanic work.
Part of this involves realising that as adults, except in extreme situations like assault, we mostly create our own boundaries, and we are in charge of them, and we decide how we respond if they are crossed.
Problems arise when we ask for permission for our boundaries to be respected. Where is our power then?! As much as healthy boundaries should be flexible, the zip handle should always be on the inside. That way, we are the ones who decide when we are open, and when it is more appropriate to be closed.
Of course, setting boundaries will inevitably upset some people around us. But as long as we set our boundaries in a way that is ethical and decent, their response is their responsibility, not ours.
PERSONAL POWER AND THE 5 ELEMENTS
Looking at the shamanic teachings known as the “wheel of life” and the 5 elements, shows us that power is closely connected with the Fire element. The fire element in us is our power, the source of our authority and integrity, our ability to hold our healthy boundaries, assert ourselves when needed, and speak the truth as we see it. It is our vitality, energy, motivation, passion, and drive. It sparks our enthusiasm and zest for life, and our desire to seek new things and experiences and challenge ourselves. The fire element also nurtures our courage, confidence, optimism, and happiness.
A weakened life force can be caused by Power-loss with a capital “P”. Power-loss occurs when we cut ourselves off from nature and Mother Earth, disconnecting and unplugging ourselves from the larger energy grid of each other and of the more-than-human.
DISCONNECTION FROM NATURE IS A MODERN Dis-Ease
Whilst indigenous tribes understood the dangers of Power-loss, they rarely suffered from it, because they lived immersed in nature! Disconnection from nature is a largely modern-day thing. It began with our adoption of what the author Daniel Quinn has described as “totalitarian agriculture”. This began around 11,000 years ago (the “Neolithic revolution”), when we moved from knowing we were part of the land, to instead seeing ourselves as owning the land.
At its heart, totalitarian agriculture says: “We now own this land. We now decide what lives on it and what dies. You goats, you can live on this land, as we now own you and want to use you as we wish. But all you other species who compete with the goats, or who eat them, you now die. Wheat, you can grow on this land, but all you other plants, we will now kill you. For this is our land” (from “The Shamanic Journey”, Francis, 2017, p. 115).
Since then, Power-loss has become endemic to most modern-day, urbanised lifestyles and is, to a degree, something almost every modern human suffers from.
thE SYMPTOMS OF POWER-LOSS
The symptoms of Power-loss are the same as those of soul-loss. To name a few:
- Feeling numb or flat, as if a spark is missing and you are just “going through the motions”.
- Feeling of apathetic and indifferent.
- A sense of being disconnected from life and the things around you, as if you are living in a dream.
- Depression, whether mild or severe.
- Feeling lost, and lacking in purpose and direction.
- Procrastination, and finding it hard to maintain focus or effort.
- Lacking in self-confidence and self-belief.
- Having a strong inner-critic who sabotages you.
- Phobias and anxieties.
- Lost memories (where have the memories gone, and why did they go?).
- Self-medicating to cope with day-to-day life.
- A sense of never having quite recovered from a past event.
- Repeating unhealthy patterns – such as returning to people, situations or behaviours that are not good for you.
- Feeling unable to move on from past issues or events, despite efforts to do so.
- Finding it hard to look to the future with much enthusiasm and optimism.
- Feelings of grief, fear, anger or sadness etc., that you can’t shake off.
Generally, soul-loss is characterised by some (or even all) of the above, plus having a sense that part of you is missing somehow. Whereas Power-loss is characterised by some or all of the above symptoms, plus a disconnection from the natural world.
POWER-LOSS WEAKENS US
Both Power-loss and soul-loss leave holes in us, allowing other things to get into us. In shamanism, these are known as intrusions, and their removal is known as extraction. Some intrusions are simple, like unhelpful thought-forms, introjects (“should”, “must”, “ought to”, etc), and similar (a “kick in the stomach”, “they looked at me with daggers” etc). Other intrusions are more complex and result in possessions – entity intrusions – and removing them is known as de-possession.
Dealing with intrusions and possession is a complex subject, and one we address in our Next Steps II course. For now, let’s look how can we heal Power-loss.
Even if the symptoms are largely the same, because the cause is different, Power-loss cannot be healed by soul retrieval alone. Instead, when there is Power-loss, we need to address its root cause – the disconnection from the other-than-human (and specifically, from our fellow animals, plants, and even the land itself).
Practical ways to heal this disconnect and “rewild our souls” is at the very heart of both shamanism and animism, and include:
- SPENDING TIME IN NATURE
- SHAMANIC EXPLORATIONS OF THE LOWER-WORLD
Connecting back to the real Lower-World, underneath the layers of separation and distortions laid over it by modern ‘civilisation’.
- POWER ANIMAL RETRIEVAL
Bonding with Power Animal (our most important connection to the more-than-human!).
- WORKING WITH A HUMAN LOWER-WORLD GUIDE
Someone who can teach us what it is to be an animist human, living as part of nature, and not separate from it.
- COMMUNICATING WITH NATURE
Just spending time in nature is good for us, but shamanism goes further. Rather than just being in nature, shamans communicate with nature. Indeed, doing that this was (and is) very much one of the roles of the shaman – to connect with nature and be its advocate and voice, and be the intermediary between humans and the rest of nature. Shamanism has practical ways of doing this, ways that work, and in learning shamanism, you can learn to do this too!
IT IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS
Healing Power-loss and loss of personal power is not an event, it’s a process! It’s about how you live your life day in, day in and day out, for the rest of your life!
It is about building relationship with the more-than human and having a respectful relationship with them, and finding your healthy place in the web of life. Shamanism can show you how.