My journey to becoming a shaman began as a desire to renounce all things earthly—or, at least, all things earthly that weren’t working the way I wanted.
It began the very first night of 200-hour yoga teacher training—a time when life was challenging, and the only respite to be found was my yoga mat. Beneath the gaze of life-sized statues of Shiva and Krishna, I listened with closed eyes as our teachers guided us through a process to meet our practice companion for the training, our sadhana (discipline in pursuit of a goal) partner.
As I opened my eyes, my gaze locked with a metaphor—a vision-glimpse that at the time I did not fully understand. I saw beyond the faces of my classmates, and instead, I saw the earth. I recognized that I had been using my yoga practice to escape from the world, my world, as I was holding it.
Of course I gained precious gifts through using my asana (yoga pose) practice to flee the drama of my life. Yoga blessed me with complete access to a deep inner sanctum. Yoga helped to establish and cultivate stillness and strength in my being. It filled me with a peace that eased the pain life kept serving up, in small and large portions.
On that initial night of yoga teacher training, life shifted. I opened my eyes to discover that my sadhana partner was the earth herself, the humanity I had been desperately running from.
In that instant, I was being offered the choice to no longer struggle against gravity in my longing to touch the divine.
I recently took part in a Vedic fire ceremony without my usual companions of rattle and drum. Instead I sat in a circle with masters of a sister tradition, Tantra yoga, as offerings of grain and ghee were placed into a fire as familiar to me as it was foreign.
As I sat by the fire, I remembered where that choice had taken me. Pulled forward by the draw of the earth-vision, I was initiated into the medicine practices and wisdom teachings of the Laika fire shamans who once inhabited the Peruvian Andes.
Flames crackled and danced again, bringing me back to present time, sacred time. Svaha…so be it…Svaha…so be it…chanted over and over with greater vigor as the remaining offerings were fed to the flames. Yogi and shaman were now dancing together. I could see them.
There was the shaman calling the four winds, the four directions of earthly perspective that mapped our relationship to the great fire in the sky. The shaman called on the expansion of the rising sun, the sustaining force of the midday sun, the contraction of the setting sun and the seeming absence of light in the void of night to effect healing for individuals and communities.
I saw the shaman’s summoning of the four winds as the practice of pranayama (breathing exercise) on a grand and global scale. I saw in the fire the aspects of god known to the yogi: creator, sustainer and destroyer. All of these faces dancing up from the dark, receptive, carved out hollow of the earth that held them. I felt as if I had slipped into that hollow: a crack between the worlds where form turned to formlessness, linear time to the timeless.
I realized that my epic journey to gain knowledge had finally led me home.
Home was the belly of the mother that held the fire. Home was where I greeted my own flaws, disappointments, and resentments with genuine gratitude and loving kindness. With my knowledge of the four winds of the breath and of the four corners of the earth, I had used the compass of my inner world to discover compassion for my own humanity.
The final svaha dispersed into silence. I heard a baby cry in the distance, and a world of traffic and movement whir beyond the confines of an ordinary fenced backyard. Agni, the Sanskrit word for fire, danced into ayni, the Q’echua (the indigenous language of the Andes) word for “right relationship”. So close were these two paths that each language could barely hide the distinctions. So close were these paths within me, I could no longer hide from their joining.
I knew I would see these two paths together in every fire thereafter. They would be found in the fires that would burn in ceremonies and on the shores of the Ganges at gatherings like the Kumbha Mela, where sadhus, sages and pilgrims gather every 12 years for inner healing and lasting world change. They would be seen dancing in the fires shamans circled with rattles and drums. They would be in the sacred fires that burned in ordinary backyards. All of these fires would join to awaken a new earth, a new mankind, living in the fullest expression of limitlessness. Svaha meets Agni. Full surrender…where it is not only seen, but experienced. This is the consciousness where heaven and earth dwell together.
This is the fire where the divine and the human, the yogi and the shaman dance.
Svaha, so be it.
Patricia J. Heavren is principal of The Wisdomkeeper Connection, LLC in Woodbridge, CT. She is a master shamanic energy medicine practitioner, wisdom-based life coach, business consultant and senior teaching faculty with the international Four Winds Society’s Light Body School. She works with clients worldwide from her office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Editor: Lara Chassin