When I was twenty-four I was diagnosed with a very large brain tumor. It had been misdiagnosed for years and the doctors told me that based upon it’s size and so on it had probably been present since my mid teens. It took nearly three years of visits with doctors, surgeons, and healers before I finally bowed to the necessity of having surgery and was able to find someone who gave me a decent prognosis for getting it out.
The whole thing was fraught with complications. Infections, bacterial meningitis, necrosis, and neurological damage all dogged my recovery. Several times my family sat by my side expecting me to not live through the night. Months in the hospital and multiple surgeries in rapid succession left my body damaged and my mind and spirit wounded. It would shatter the life I knew and be almost four years before true clarity would return to my world. My body has never been the same. As for my mind and spirit, I can’t say that the person who emerged from this ordeal was the same person that began the journey. I have lived the overwhelming majority of my life tied to these events. It’s funny, but my own personal spiritual journey began around the same time that the doctors claimed that the tumor began to grow. When I was fourteen.
It was the same year as my diagnosis that my own healing journey began. I embraced herbalism, energy work, and meditation to cope with the stress my body was now under. It was at this time that I also began to read about and study shamanism, a path that would always seem to rest at the core of my spiritual self. For years my spirituality had been outside the mainstream. I had already spent time with curanderos, practitioners of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine and other healers. I studied Reiki with a local practitioner before most of my friends had even heard of it. I began to see my tumor as an entity. I spoke to it and challenged it’s right to occupy my body. I struggled with a deep depression as my body failed more and more. My entire world fell apart. This was not just a physical illness. This was a spiritual crisis that was cooking me in the fires of transformation. What was happening in my body drove me deep within myself. I did deep spiritual work during those seven years from diagnosis to the true beginning of recovery, and it was the catalyst for all of the work I’ve done since and I’m fifty-four now. My spiritual journey just keeps driving me deeper and deeper.
Ultimately I would transform everything about me.
“Mostly people get the call to be a shaman because they are ‘off with the spirits’ from a young age, and this will often lead to either physical or metal illness in their teenage years – often called ‘shaman sickness.’ They may also have all of these and be hit by lightening as well, or get possessed by spirits and go into involuntary trance.”
Nicholas Breeze Wood Sacred Hoop Magazine
I’ve always identified with the shamanic. Even when I was involved in spiritual traditions like Druidry I was drawn to the more shamanic elements. Growing up, I was a weird kid in every sense of the word. Shy, introverted and a dreamer, my folks often accused me of not being all there. I spent countless hours in the woods or out with the horses and other animals. I saw and spoke with beings others didn’t see and was quickly dismissed as having an out of control imagination. My parents even took me to a psychiatrist in the hopes that they could fix me when I was little. It made for, shall we say, a very complicated childhood. I also learned that there were some things you just didn’t share with people if you didn’t want to get labeled as crazy. And you know what? Throughout my spiritual journey I’ve met others who have suffered and experienced the same or similar things. Spiritually sensitive and misunderstood by those who weren’t.
I grew up seeing everything as alive and possessing a spirit. I talked to the birds, bugs, and trees just like I did everyone else. To me they were “people”. It would be years before I would learn that there was actually a name for how I saw the world: animism. Once I learned that little fact I began to be even more conscious of what I did so naturally, essentially training myself to be more mindful of the consciousness, life and spirit in all things. For me the world is full of living, conscious, beings, both seen and unseen, and there is so much to learn from them all if we will just sit still and listen or alternatively, reach out to them. I seemed to have a natural aptitude for things spiritual and mystical.
Life is messy, and if the world’s shamanic traditions are to be believed then that messiness is a part of the process of spiritual growth for at least some if not all of us. I know in my own life it was in the midst of the messiness and crisis that Spirit/the spirits called me to a life of service. Service even when my own life was full of crisis and madness. Service because of the madness in my life. If its true, according to an ancient Greek proverb, that whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, then I guess that it’s probably also true that out of madness comes life. I understood my life only after being convinced of it’s destruction. And only in the process of healing did I realize who I really was.
Its only been recently that I have accepted that I still have a spiritual calling in this area. I had felt for years that the trials of the past had rendered me unfit to truly serve as a healer in the lives of others. And yet my life throughout the past twenty-six years has been intimately tied to ideas of health, wellness, and spirituality. I spent almost thirteen years teaching classes as a public health educator to make people more aware of how their physical, mental, and spiritual health were all intertwined. I worked with thousands of people suffering and dying from various chronic illnesses like hepatitis, HIV, and diabetes and was blessed with countless opportunities to walk with them and minister healing and compassion during what was for many of them their final journey in this life. I’ve taught yoga and meditation classes to many of those same people as well as men struggling with the after effects of crime and addiction. And I’ve been allowed the opportunity to share my skills and experience with several spiritual communities along the way in various leadership or teaching capacities. I’ll be honest with you, it’s been the consuming passion of my life since my own time of trials. Furthermore, it’s been these opportunities to serve in these capacities that have been instrumental in my own healing journey. It is no stretch for me to say that I believe these folks gave more to me than I did to them. The interconnectiveness of all life has taught me so much along the way.
I’ve learned so much over the years. First and foremost has been the lesson that the person who doesn’t put knowledge to good use is no better than the man who is ignorant. And I’ve learned just how little I really know as well.
But I do know this. I am dedicated to the path of healing and wholeness. It’s been a journey through a lot of different traditions and teachers. But it’s one that chose me more than I chose it.
My thanks to the ancestors and spirits who have guided me along the way.