A year ago I started using some tried and tested techniques from shamanism (the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind) to support my eldest son through his GSCE exam period (those are general exams for all 16 year olds in the UK). I can’t be the only parent who is actively looking for a spiritual toolkit specific to the challenge of exams. In this article I will share some tried and tested things that work well for our family.
Our society has (largely) replaced religion with science. This means that most people roll out of bed and start their day without prayers, meditation or actively setting their focus and intention for the day.
In shamanism we greet every day as a wonderful gift, not a God-given right. Before we do anything else we power up! By this I mean that we greet our personal allies and helping spirits. We seek alignment with luminous beings more powerful than ourselves . My son knows how to do this for himself (for him this means calling in his power animals: e.g. his Clan of Monkey Spirits!)
(Clan of the Monkey Spirits)
As the exam period arrived, my son asked me to do some spiritual work on his behalf every day. At 8.45 a.m. on school days you will find me standing by my altar: drumming, rattling singing. (Not only for him, also for family members, clients, students and colleagues who have asked for spiritual support). Next I make the procedure a little more specific: e.g. my son had a poetry exam recently, so I call in the full ‘society of dead poets’ in the Other World and ask them to watch over his shoulder and guide his hands. For an exam in mathematics I call in the great mathematicians of all time. For the Newtonian type of physics 16-year olds study in the UK, I call in Isaac Newton. For the Quantum Physics my son is studying this year I do not shy away from calling Niels Bohr, Max Planck and of course and Einstein himself!
And so it goes…. I always get the feeling that these great spirits LOVE being of help. The essence of those great minds lives on outside time (one of shamanism’s great teachings) and you may call on them – in my experience there is always an instant response. – And isn’t that cool, seeing your son walk up the Hill in his school uniform accompanied by Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and a veritable society of long-dead poets? I love the limitless potential of creative shamanism!!
… and that includes Calling In The Ancestors!
On a similar note: make a point of also calling in your child’s compassionate ancestors. We have an Ancestor Gallery in our house (where I have photographs of ancestors up and a special cupboard where I keep family heirlooms). I go there every day to light a candle, place a small vase with flowers from our garden and so forth. I talk to them and tell them what is happening in the family, who needs spiritual support. Then I ask them to watch over all our three children: to please walk with them, keep them safe, help them make good choices and so forth.
In exam periods I especially call on those ancestors who share the same talents and interests as my son. After all those passions were passed down the blood line, they didn’t come out of nowhere! I thank them for watching over him and nudging him in the right direction when it comes to choosing a profession later in life. And I have no doubt that they do this. They are only too happy to be asked!
In our society we have lost the concept of ancestor veneration but in any tribal communities this is seen as essential to the well-being of members of the Tribe and to maintaining the balance between worlds. (Take just one moment to think about how relatively short a human lifespan is: we are ancestors for a much longer period than our own “butterfly lifetime” on Earth!)
“Revision Parties” + extra attention on your son or daughter’s emotional life
For most parents unconditional support is a given at any time in a child’s life. However, as they grow older (taller than us and very independent and opinionated!) there can be a tendency to get busier with our own personal and professional lives and miss those little hints that something isn’t quite right. That lovely boy who used to drop in three times a week – why hasn’t he been here for nearly two months now? Have they fallen out? Has something happen in their friendship group??
Our own son’s first serious girlfriend broke up with him (after 17 months together!) just before their exams started. He was feeling rough and in the end we hosted a Revision Party with unlimited supplies of chocolate and crisps. It was really a getting-over-the-girlfriend party but we couldn’t call it that! A posse of teenagers came around, dressed up in animal costumes (that I keep around the house for workshops), played four-handed piano and actually studied some physics. My son was his normal self after that. Equilibrium had returned, PHEW!
This is obviously a very tricky area: some teens want to talk and others feel the last person they’d ever speak to is the weird creature commonly known as a parent. The trick is to be available but not in their face. They will talk to you when it suits them – not when it suits you!! In our house this means me settling down again for a long midnight conversation when I was just heating a mug of milk and headed for bed at 10.30 pm. Losing sleep (even daily, large amounts of it!) is definitely the lesser evil when compared to losing touch with the emotional life of a teenager…
Spiritual Principles for navigating Teenage Tempests
I have discovered that the general principles of shamanism (and shamanic healing) work perfectly well for the dilemmas that this age group runs into. With my son I make a point of reinforcing the following core principles:
- Fair Energy Exchange – in all of your relationships/friendships observe how energy is flowing. Does it freely flow both ways? Do you support your friend and does he or she support you back? When it becomes one-sided, something tilts out of balance. Perhaps a heaviness or lack of joy sets in. Time to renegotiate?! Example: my son has been going to parties but he is very anti-alcohol at the moment (“I can’t afford to lose brain cells when I want to get into a good university long-term!”) This meant that at parties his friends get drunk and he gets involved in cleaning up vomit and seeing them home safely etc. He does not find this role entirely enjoyable. In the end I have said to him: when a friendship starts to feel like social work you may just want to reflect on the energy balance. He took that on board and made changes in his choices.
- Reflection on what we can control and can’t control – Change the things I can and accept the things I cannot change (the Serenity Prayer is very useful here, I will paste the first part below) – My son has a heavy dose of teenage idealism, meaning that he doesn’t always see clearly where we need to draw a line goes between “what we can control”, “what it not worth even trying to control” and “where we can actually make positive changes by shifting our own perception”. Lucky for me he has always been a talkative child. He processes things by talking them through. This means I am on an intensive course in understanding the world of teenagers (because I work in a professional capacity with them as well, meaning I see a wider range of expressions, boys/girls, all ages…)
God/Higher Power grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
- Doing Inner Work with Noticeable Results Outside Us – When we cannot engage with something externally (meaning: in the world around us) we can always work on things internally. We can put focus on things, we can hand issues over to spirit allies for safe keeping or resolving, we can ask our power animals to go talk to the other person’s power animal and ease the way between us and so forth. There are always more options that we commonly realize when we get frustrated. (Teenagers often feel frustrated: they have the bodies of adults but not yet the freedom of choice, lifestyle or financial freedom that adults have).
- You remain responsible for your own choices and actions, no matter what another person does! – My son has been on quite a journey with this one. He is a little hot-tempered and has an over-developed sense of fairness. He gets upset when people break promises or mess around with the feelings of others in any way. On a few occasions I have had to invite him to express his anger (safely, without directing it at anyone) but then think long and hard: what kind of person do I choose to be? Do I choose to meet this person on their level of functioning or do I set my own code of ethics for how I behave and respond? On reflection my son will agree that he needs to actively choose his own actions. Meaning that he is acting, not re-acting to others the whole time.
- When we set strong intentions, energetically speaking we set events in motion. E.g. my son felt he needed to talk to one person in private because she was blanking him in school. I helped him formulate a strong intention for what he actually wanted most of all: to meet up privately, after school, and discuss whatever is going on. My son didn’t believe for one minute that this would produce a result. He said: “OK Mum, we try this and maybe by the end of the school year something will happen” (this was in March). The next day he came home from school and reported that this person had approached him and asked to meet up after school. My son was suddenly very impressed by “the stuff shamanic teacher mum peddles”!
Last but not least:
Teenagers are fully fledged sexual beings…
I could go on and on – but if I do this article turns into a book! However, one final thing I want to say is this: by the time young people are 16 years old, they are fully fledged sexual beings. The statistics tells us that young people are sexually active at an earlier age than we ourselves (perhaps) were. However you privately feel about this, it is a fact of modern life. As regards my own son I recently made some comment that my child-bearing days are in the past and that any babies arriving in our family might just be courtesy of son #1, one day. Oma (Grandma, my own Dutch mother, who happened to be visiting) was aghast and accused me of “promoting teenage pregnancy in my house” – am I mad or what?!
However, my son looked quite pleased to be acknowledged as capable of fathering a child but he said: “Not for years and years Mum! I still remember vividly what it was like when my baby brother (son #3) was born and I want to enjoy my years of freedom before I embark on any of that!” So he and I were in total agreement and he gave me a lovely smile. I knew that we had understood each other. Only grandma (aged 77 1/2) nearly had a heart attack. A different generation and in truth my mother has always been “elderly” in her approach to life. (My brothers says she was middle-aged by her late twenties). I doubt that this is going to change as she sails through her 8th decade on this planet!
If you like the sound of using shamanism in parenting and you want more suggestions or tools, I invite you to check out my book. Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages). It can be ordered from amazon (as well as any quality bookstore).Soon after publication it was listed as “a hot release in shamanism” and it even achieved best-seller status…. As my own son concluded: the stuff I teach must be effective – why else would people show up for my courses or read articles I write?!
I invite you to find me on Facebook and join my Closed Group NATURAL BORN SHAMANS where anyone can ask questions, start discussions or share interesting links and information for parenting and working with children. Welcome!
(Please note: this article was adapted and expanded from a blog by the same title I wrote a year ago).
About the author:
Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in August 2016. She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally. She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in July 2016.