(art by Lucia Heffernan)
“Everyone has the perfect gift to give the world and if each of us is freed up to give our unique gift, the world will be in total harmony.”
Someone asked me a question the other day. She wanted to know how I deal with loss of faith (something she’d been struggling with for a while). The Oxford Dictionary of English describes faith as a “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” I’ve been a proud idealist most of my life. And I’ve believed strongly that there is always a solution to every problem. One, incidentally, that would magically align with my view of the world and how it “should” work.
Most of my adult life, I’ve worked with folks within family systems to support healing, education, and personal growth. Overall, I really enjoy working with people and I have a lot of compassion for the human condition. Life sends us into rough seas at times and all we can do is strap our surfboards onto our ankles and ride the waves as much as possible. When we inevitably fall off, our task is to get back on the board and try again. Toddlers and babies are amazing at this; they may get frustrated but they rarely give up entirely! I’ve seen folks do inspiring lineage healing work. I’ve seen children who were crippled by social anxiety, depression, learning challenges, and low self-esteem blossom in confidence to live as the whole beings they are. Up until recently I believed in humanity’s collective ability to rise above challenges based on the incredible results I was experiencing in my practice. Life is more complex than that, though.
Recently, I’ve found myself feeling disillusioned. At first, this was seriously disarming; I was questioning everything I thought I knew about how the world works, noting that I really don’t know anything for sure. As new information comes forward, it’s my job as an educator and citizen to change my mind and revise my beliefs and actions accordingly. My idealist has now transformed into a realist and I’ve begun taking a sobering look at my sacred cows. According to Dictionary.com, a sacred cow is a noun describing “an individual, organization, institution, [belief], etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.” In this process, I realized that I can no longer put my faith in humans. Though I had a vague feeling that I was meant to be distressed by this (based on mainstream storylines and values), I felt a really odd calm coming over me. In a flash, I was put into contact with something I sense in my gut about human nature: it is unpredictable and therefore unreliable.
I work with folks who have experienced some substantial trauma. Though all behaviour makes sense on some level, we can’t predict what humans are going to do with accuracy. I’ve seen people I know and love well do things I never thought they were capable of doing. They are not bad people, just human is all. Though trauma informed practices are starting to come more into the mainstream, knowledge of trauma and how it effects humans is not widely understood by most laypeople. The truth is that trauma is endemic among humans because of the tremendous history of violence that’s been perpetuated through generations. The thought crossed my mind that placing so much faith in humans might actually be a burden on an already overwhelmed species. Traumatized folks are mostly just struggling each day to survive without a ton of societal supports in place. If there’s anything the 2020 pandemic has shown us so far, it’s that we are not in control as humans. Although we have the capacity to grow our resilience, many of us are not living in the conditions that would help us learn these skills.
Earlier this year, I was standing at the K?lauea volcano crater in Hawai’i doing ceremony with the volcano goddess, Pele, when I received a surprising response to a question I posed that broke a few of my sacred cows. She said, “Don’t put your faith in humans. Put your faith in the Earth and her ancient wisdom.” After watching a particularly disturbing documentary about the state of the planet that left me feeling hopeless, I decided to go out and have a conversation with the Earth herself about this. I asked her if she was trying to eradicate humans from the planet. Did she regret her creation? She answered simply: “I am bound to the natural and physical laws of the universe just like humans. Unlike humans, everything I create is in response to those laws to ensure balance in alignment with life.” This reminded me of the 20 Count teachings in Hyemeyohsts Storm’s book “Lightningbolt.” In this system, the number eight stands for the physical and natural laws of the universe. It is also where our inner circle (or medicine wheel) sits as humans, constantly in a state of flux and attempting to rebalance us in all directions: body, heart, mind, and spirit. There are natural consequences that none of us can escape when we fall out of alignment with this eight energy.
Life isn’t fair by human standards but it is wise in a mysterious way that I can’t pretend to understand while I am in human form. It can be a rough teacher in my experience. And when challenges happen it doesn’t mean we are doing something “wrong” per se. In my own life, I remember agonizing over whether or not Spirit was punishing me for something when I lost three of my babies in utero. With every pregnancy, I read more and implemented healthier regimens. Nothing worked and in my extreme grief one day, I heard an inner voice say: “Jen, there is no one ‘up there’ deciding whether you are naughty or nice ready to dole out catastrophic life events if you don’t follow random ideas about how the world works.” That sacred cow went out the window right then. I let go of the Catholic version of the punitive God that I grew up with and embraced what I knew in my heart was true: I did nothing wrong. And I had to accept the fact that I might never know the spiritual reason why I was unable to have a baby.
Working intimately with Pele for a decade has taught me that destruction is sometimes necessary for true potential to arise. We don’t control life. Not every conflict can be remedied by conversation. Not everyone is willing to go for a win-win. And yet, life has to find a way to rebalance itself continuously. The Earth has done this beautifully by creating a virus that stopped the world so she could heal herself. She also gave us a tremendous opportunity to look inside to see what was broken and no longer working well. She gave us a chance to shift directions and to align with her once again. I pray every day for folks who have been hard hit by the pandemic in various ways. The only thing I have faith in is myself and Spirit. And the only thing I can control at all is my response to the situations life sends my way. Alana Fairchild speaks to this brilliantly in “Earth Warriors Oracle”:
Hope is a quality of the soul. It allows us to bear the uncertainty when, according to a greater wisdom, there is something that we cannot know the answer to, at least for now. Hope gives us patience so that we can learn how to feel our soul connection more deeply, and grow into the wisdom of the answers we need. We stop fumbling about in the library of the intellect and, instead, seek out the answer from the source that can provide it, which is the illumined temple of our own soul.
In the shamanic teachings I’ve received, we learned that every ceremony or teaching should ultimately leave people better off. We can take people into their shadow selves and into the darker recesses of their psyches to bring the unconscious to the surface for healing, but we must leave them in the light. Like the Leonard Cohen song says…“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I’ve come to see that we humans need hope in order to continue moving forward in a good way in our lives. Nothing in nature (besides humans) simply gives up on life and living before its time. We humans can re-wild ourselves as part of nature. While we are here for our short stint on the planet, I think it’s worth asking ourselves some questions as individuals: How can I become more aligned with the spirit of life and the Earth? How can I use my talents to contribute positively to my little corner of the world? Perhaps this time of sheltering at home has given some of us pause to think of these questions more often. May the spirit of Awen (inspiration) be with you. May you come up with new creative ideas to move forward with. May you grow your faith in yourself and your abilities. May you and yours be well.
Book: “Lightningbolt” by Hyemeyohsts Storm
Video: Caroline Myss–What is it in you that needs transformation?
Podcast: CBC Tapestry: Life Advice from Rabbi Harold Kushner
*NB: As a shamanic practitioner, I don’t concur with the rabbi’s assertion that nature is “immoral,” however, I did find nuggets of wisdom in this podcast.
The Garden of Flowing in Perpetual Happiness–Coming Home to Ourselves
A Spiritual Retreat at Home – a free programme of weekly meditations, poetry and sharings. A regular time and place to work with the tools and insights of the world’s spiritual traditions and modern psychological research – to help find rest, healing, inspiration, hope and insight, even in difficult times.
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
“Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing”