“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions…”

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jul 26, 2012
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The four universal healing salves.

In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions.

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul.

Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.

~ The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary


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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


58 Responses to ““In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions…””

  1. Harleigh Quinn says:

    No, they're really not.
    They are temporary distractions, something the ego can latch onto……temporarily.
    The base problem still remains.

    • The ego is a necessary tool, and I don't know why people want to villify it all the time. In my experience, I can attest that all four are indeed salves. Man, I hadn't gone dancing in ages (after my father's death and my divorce), and when I finally went with a few GFs last year, it was like being a kid again. So freeing and fun. I was giddy all night. I go out dancing regularly now. And I love to sing along to my favorite songs. I love writing stories, telling stories, reading stories, and hearing them. Silence, sans internet or TV or iphone, is essential too.

      Maybe you need to go out and have some fun and not think about it so much…

      • elephantjournal says:

        Amen. Those who would suppress or war with ego (all of us, at one time or another) would suppress or war with anything we don't like, including ourselves: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/07/how-buddhi

      • Tainayosoboricua says:

        I like that, like your story. I hope I can get that way, I mean I use to be a fun person telling stupid jokes making people laugh, love dancing all the time and being silly, but where I am now it stops me from everything. I am constantly angry, I can't sleep without thinking bad thoughts or violence in my dreams when I sleep and even awake while watching TV, but really I'm just staring at it because I have so much in my head, going over on why I let my life turn this way when in fact when I was younger I wouldn't have ever done it. I am happy that you got to experience that and please keep on and don't let anyone get you down or put you down. Thanks for sharing.

      • Harleigh Quinn says:

        It's really not.
        It will convince you it is, but unless that tool is scissors or a sledgehammer, it's not necessary. The ego is the divider, what makes us hurt one another due to pride and a false sense of self worth.
        You want to feel like a child again?
        Get rid of the ego. The ego creates constructs of caring what others think of you, of needing more distractions to keep it occupied, of needing more self worth, usually at the cost of those around you.

        War with the ego?

        Look at the state of the world today.

        What do you see?

        Narcissism, an ego disease.

        But, of course, we need the ego.


        With our Jersey shores and my teenage pregnancies, and the bachelor and all these things to make us want to be the person on the screen, to have money to be on top, to want to be anything but what we are.


        I don't really care. I'm tying up loose ends, because it's this constant defense of the problem for our own short sighted enjoyments, not thinking or caring about the repercussions, ignoring how our actions affect others, that has made humanity tiresome.

        The world doesn't need to end.

        We're destroying our selves and defending the gun we are putting to our own heads.


        • Lillie says:

          Without the ego, we have no willpower. We need the ego to SURVIVE. While we are on this physical plane, in a world where you need to be alive to be awakened, the ego is essential.
          when really, that is YOUR ego fearing your own ego!

          On the physical plane, we need the ego- but that is not to say that we need greed or power- we simply need the willpower to survive and thrive. The ego, when accepted, will go away. If you resist the ego and claim it should be destroyed, it will only fight back more.

      • Kristin Quigley says:

        Ego is necessary?

        I say that a tiger has eaten my neighbors. It has dragged off and eaten their children. It must be driven away.

        “But what shall we substitute in its place?” you say.

        A ferocious animal has killed my friends. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast before it destroys you and yours, and you ask me what I am going to put in its place?

        —With both credit, and apologies, to Voltaire.

    • elephantjournal says:

      I agree with this, too. But you seem to be ignoring silence. The Buddha's first teaching agreed with you wholeheartedly—suffering, the root of suffering, the path out of suffering…these are not addressed by singing or dancing (though both can do our troubled souls good). But number four…

    • hazel says:

      You seem to be stating your view as fact rather than an alternative opinion. Do you like to always be right? Does that mean you have a big ego?

    • @gad_E says:

      Agreed…but everyone's base problem is always the same thing: themselves. A problem is only a problem simply because your mind has granted something (or someone) the authority of having enough significant importance to negatively alter your mood.

    • Erin Wilkus says:

      I think that by asking "when" rather than "did you" stop dancing the questions help an individual identify the underlying problems rebind symptomatology. Maybe dancing, singing, storytelling and silence are not sufficient to address our sources of suffering but they are such fundamental modalities for expressing the human spirit that they act as some of the most effective tools for accessing that source of suffering.

      • greateacher says:

        yes, you are right Erin… dance, sing, journal, wonder.. all are vital connections to spirit but may be broken if and when certain stressors coem up in lives- whether illness, tragedy, overdoing it or loss- normal changes which affect people in life which may nudge a tough spiral.

    • Dina says:

      If you answer those questions, honestly and repeatedly, you will be confronted by the "base" problem. It's in that confrontation that the truthi is found and the healing begins. Nothing in this article says that we should substitute genuine change with dancing, singin, storytelling and silence. These are the gateways to te pain and ultimate healing. The places where these stopped are also guideposts to when the wounding happened.

    • Di says:

      Salves does not equate “a panacea for all problems” and does not mean death of the ego. They are soothing, healing and life-affirming.

  2. mike says:

    Perhaps you are right on 1 out of 4 (stories), but for the rest…particularly the last, I think you are quite confused.

  3. guest says:

    genuine dancing and singing is very good for the spirit and body. I definitely do agree with this from a lot of things that I've read of various cultures as well as my own personal experiences. Silence is definitely my own personal test and I'm not a big fan of stories but I do like film a lot. I have noticed there are certain days I can't connect with music or feel like dancing at all and other days I just light up and connect with the same piece of music and it's amazing to know how different I can feel on different days with music. I also love the moment when I feel inspired to sing a great song. I can feel it in my heart chakra/chest and leaves me in a great mood.

  4. […] singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves. ~ Gabrielle Roth "In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened… I am inspired by this perspective of healing depression and dispiritedness — such a contrast to […]

  5. Suzqboyle says:

    Singing, dancing and listening to stories won't fix all of your problems..but you will have a renewed spirit with which to deal with your problems.

  6. Colin says:

    Yes they are healing thats for sure and if you don't find them to be so, you ain't singing, dancing and story telling with all your heart!

  7. Lily says:

    What was the recommended treatment/solution?

  8. stormbringer77 says:

    I stopped dancing when I hurt my back. I stopped singing when I heard me doing that(ew!). I can't stop being enchanted by stories. Look at my stack of books,magazines & video games!. And I love the sound of silence (except the one by S. & G.) because then I don't have to hear everybody bitching.

  9. yogasamurai says:

    For someone who might actually be deeply depressed, this strikes me as borderline malpractice. :o) Another random "magical thinking" riff in place of therapeutic healing. We could probably all make our own random list and come up with different elements that suit us:

    Connecting with nature, including animals
    Community engagement
    Intimate conversation over meals with friends
    Taking care of children

    Etc. etc. etc.

    I wonder what the actual source is for this latest bit of EJ "lyrical prose"? When someone makes the "authoritative" statement of the kind the author makes, shouldn't it actually be sourced perhaps?

    • elephantjournal says:

      Buddhism, for one, views depression as a part of the human experience, and workable. Viewing working with human experience through dancing, silence, etc as "borderline malpractice" is borderline uptight. Of course, drugs and therapy, properly assigned and administered, can be vital.

      The source is linked, troll friend.

  10. Taking care of children a healing salve? Eh, I don't think so. Maybe just playing with them. But I agree with you on the other points. 🙂

  11. donald says:

    wow! this seems like a lighthearted metaphorical little ditty to help us remember the joy in life…i'm surprised at the near angst its generating in some of the replies…i'd say – dance, sing and lighten the hell up….jus sayin…

    to the author – thanx for this gentle sunday morning reminder

    • elephantjournal says:

      Harleigh and Yogasamurai, two brave anonymous friends, have been policing the too-magical fields of elephant lately. They bring a great deal of cutting wisdom (I mean that) to bear alone with, sadly, a little anger and righteousness.

      For further reading: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2008/10/cutting-th

      • I have no idea who “yoga samurai” is. We have never met in real life, only here.
        However, I am quite disappointed in elephant journal and it’s ego stroking. Blocking IPs for dissenting opinion voiced respectfully? Stating others are being disrespectful with no evidence of it while revolving to name calling themselves?

        What type if Buddhist teaching in accepted hypocrisy is THIS?

        For shame, EJ, for shame.

  12. Dace says:

    Why did you stop laughing?

  13. Maryanne says:

    This so speaks to spirit, not ego. Thank you.

  14. hazel says:

    Oh I think definitely Dancing with abandon singing at the top of your voice and telling stories to share compassion wisdom and understanding so you feel your not alone, not the only person that's gone through whatever is making you sad and silence ahhh I think they are all good they all sooth the soul.

  15. flibbertigibbet says:

    Buncha fluffy garbage. I gotta be honest…I dance for a living, I sing often cuz Im usually surrounded by music, I cherish the silence at home and I love listening to ppls stories.. yet I am still perpetually depressed and diheartened …what then?

    • livininthemoment says:

      Why not stop dancing for a living and maybe try teaching deaf people to dance? It could provide you with a new, but somewhat connected challenge and a different view on what you may have been taking for granted. I would imagine it could be a challenge to teach dance and music to someone who cannot hear, but it can be done. You'd just have to approach it from a different view….and it just might pull you out of your perpetually depressed and disheartened state of being.
      Just a suggestion. I wish you all the best.

      • Susana says:

        I'm Deaf. This is a wonderful idea! I wish there was someplace I could go to learn to dance but I'm too embarrassed to try to join a hearing dance class 🙁

  16. chad says:

    Uh, what shamanic societies are we talking about? Are there any of these left? I agree with the fellow above who asked for sources. Shouldn't make sweeping statements without backup.

  17. yoga bear says:

    sometimes I read the articles and I am so full of excitement and interest. There are times (this being one) when I think what a pile of shit! It is when I think that, I realize that I need to be open to all possibilities(thank you, yoga!)

  18. […] And in a stoic background corner of my brain, plays the familiar refrain: Where have all the empaths gone? […]

  19. […] brought the healing power of ecstatic movement back into our collective understanding. She worked tirelessly, through her […]

  20. Anna says:

    Just to be clear, this quote is from Angeles Arrien, social athropologist, from her introduction to Gabrielle Roth's book, Maps to Ecstasy. I often see it attributed to Roth and go a little OCD. Arrien is a captivating author and teacher in her own right. If you like Roth's written work, you may like Arrien's.

    • Harleigh Quinn says:

      "Just to be clear…" ?

      I must ask, are YOU the writer of this article? The "submitter", so to speak?
      If not, then that is a very confrontational way to address this tidbit of information.

      The correct, and non-combative way would be:

      I just wanted to point out…" or "most people don't know…" and then a less abrasive way to provide the information from that point.

      I know, I am usually considered the MOST "abrasive" (I'm really not, but people are "just too thin skinned") however it is obvious I DO know "how" to have an equal debate. 😉

      • Judy says:

        Harleigh, my love, read your post out loud. I, personally, am only hoping to get started with yoga, and am a recent reader, but I do tend to comment excessively. You appear to be bothered by the things you are doing. Is this not a Buddhist insight? You get the most irritated by people who mirror your own faults? How thin skinned is it to find offense in the phrase "just to be clear"? Without hearing Anna's tone of voice, you really can't assume she's being combative. In fact, letting people know they "may" like another writer is actually quite friendly of her. Capitalizing occasional words in the middle of sentences, however, is a way of expressing tone of voice. I supposed you are doing that, though, JUST TO BE CLEAR. I imagine you didn't enjoy that very much, now, did you? I didn't really enjoy typing it, quite frankly. I was thinking about how we re-watched Caddyshack at my house a couple of days ago and we were practicing dancing like the gopher. I was telling my partner he needed more hip action and we were laughing our asses off. He has a job with our local city parks and we were joking that he was like the Bill Murray character, the assistant greenskeeper. Now we have the joke that he'll receive Total Consciousness on his deathbed, "so he has that going for him." Yes, it is bad to be out-of-attunement with the harmony of the Universe. I have been there for years at a time, but it is Ego that struggles and fights. Harmony dances and sings. And then, in silence, remembers the pain of struggle and hopes to help others, commits to help others. That's how I see it. But like I said, I'm a kind of fat, older person who only had one yoga class, so feel free to ignore me! Since this is written 19 weeks ago, I doubt if anyone will ever see it! I'm leaving it here, because it's part of my dance.

  21. Anna says:

    Judy, I thank you for your remarks. You are correct in your assessment of the tone of my comment. Clarification and accuracy, in my world, are not criticism, blame or judgement. Tone is tricky to assess in writing, so I may be wrong in assessing yours as kind, thoughtful and compassionate; though I think not. I enjoyed reading your articulate contribution to this discussion.

  22. Judy says:

    Hi Anna! Well, I try. I can see the point of people who might be struggling with serious depression issues that it is no solution and horribly frustrating for someone to say "put on some music and dance!" But I don't think that's what this piece is about. It's more of a diagnostic tool for when you might need to make changes. And for those who aren't seriously ill, but who just are kind of tired and have the blues, who are dispirited or disheartened by the state of the world, being reminded to refresh ourselves with an appreciation of the wonderful art our fellow humans have left for us, seems like a good deed to me. Yes, there are other things, like nature and laughter and babies. I'm even for watching puppy videos on youtube, or goofy comedies with friends — and maybe everything can be stretched into enchantment (videos) or silence (nature) — whatever awakens one's love of life and gratitude, so that the energy and motivation is there to help others. I would say that someone who feels hostile at this reminder of good things must really be hurting somehow–maybe just from a bad day, maybe because it reminds them of something else they did not settle somewhere else, or maybe they really do need to seek professional help for themselves. It doesn't hurt to just go be assessed and I hope anyone in that situation can find a caring and competent medical professional who they can trust. I did, and am so grateful to her.

    Also, there was a really nice article elsewhere on there today, about desire — it really did a good job addressing some of the issues raised (weeks ago!) by others here. I don't know if they will see this, but just in case.

  23. peacedeer says:

    This isn't a treatment recommendation but a diagnostic tool. Look back to when you stopped dancing to see where you experienced soul loss in your life. Singing and dancing may be part of the healing but not all of it. This gives you a way to look back at what caused you to become disconnected from joy. I love Angeles Arrien's work, and this quote is from her book, The Four Fold Way. It is a good basic look at indigenous wisdom and your own life.

  24. Iris says:

    i think we need to remember that originally dancing singing and being in silence, were in themselves ritualistic. no you're not gonna feel better about yourself in the long run if you're dancing drunk in the street, next day not remembering what happened. but if you dance or sing from your soul and call upon the Universe and your helpers, then and only then are you merely not singinf or dancing but flowing together with the power and peace that permeates everything around you, including you. so INTENTION counts.

  25. Joe Sparks says:

    Theoretically, It is impossible to be discouraged about something that has not happened. All of these feelings are about what happened when we were young. To sing, to dance, to tell stories, to speak are contradictions to the past hurts. Everything is a decision. You can decide to be happy.

  26. Diana says:

    This is a lovely metaphorical piece that expresses the simple ways of being connected to all that is, no need to over think it.
    Dance= move with the source
    Sing=resonate with the sound of the source
    Enchanted by stories=feel the universal oneness of all experiences as your own
    Silence=surrender to the deepest place within and without, as the same.

  27. DeltaBrain says:

    I think often the depressed person is the first to ask these questions. My guess is if the shaman is any good then there must be some follow-up questions. It's like asking a deaf person when they stopped hearing – they may remember & long to hear again but that alone doesn't bring back the sound of your voice.

  28. aussieJules says:

    A lot of peopleare dispirited because they arr living a script that is notthem. Maybe they are scientistsbecause they were Good ay math. Orthey earn big money and work long hours because that's what everyone. Seems to define as winning. Basically we are alienated from ourselves. Comfort and money and shopping soothes the pain but does not remove it.

    A more spiritual outlook, saying F### you to other peoples expectations or guilt trips, realising that most in the modern world are basically insane. And going ones own way, following ones own star be it being a wandering shaman or a billionaire, is the only remedy.

  29. ginger says:

    Instead of pondering, conduct a study…try all four, then take note of how you feel. Discover how easily and naturally you become full of energy, enthusiasm, confidence, inspired ideasand how. Go dancing whether it’s aerobic dancing at the gymn, or dancing with friends at a club…just do it! Feel the music, let yourself go, work up a sweat. Sing…sing loud…sing like no one can hear you, breathe deeply and let your rejoicing voice flow through your body out from deep within your heart. Practice silence…away from electronics…away from social activities where you have to be “present”. Go out in the world and become an observer. Ride a bike and feel the sun on your face and the breeze through your hair, lay on a beach or a poolside deck, or in grass in a field or local park, or your own backyard looking up at the clouds. Listen to the sounds of waves and feel the sand between your toes, appreciate the majesty of nature, breathe in fresh air, float in water, go for a walk downtown and windowshop, cheerfully greeting strangers, go for a hike on a trail in the woods and take a camera or a journal to write in, plant a garden, play a musical instrument, paddle a canoe…let your senses explore and your spirit be free and then tell the stories…hear others tell their stories…tell of your discoveries, your adventures, your interests…tell stories of love. Now, after you’ve experimented with each, how do you feel?, what are your thoughts about? Do you still sense ego?, or do you find the voices of judgment have ceased? Enjoy your journey.

  30. Tiger says:

    Unclutter your own mind of negatives lead a simplest life possible leave your impression foot prints

  31. art says:

    What so-called "shamanic societies" are we talking about here? I hear the lighten up dance, sing, & laugh riff but really this is the problem with so many "New-Age" prescriptions to life's difficulties. There is a complete lack of cultural context ie. actual practices and their use by traditional shamans which will likely be misappropriated & assimilated into some subcultural milieu as a "universal truth" by someone in an authoritative way. This can actually be very misleading and cause more confusion in peoples lives.

  32. Amy says:

    Good Lord people, lighten up!

  33. Matthew says:

    I am very talented in visual art, and have been very abused. Upon going to college to study art I abandoned it for vocal training, singing, acting, dance classes. I was not good at it at all but the abuse killed my soul, I needed it. Eventually I became a good singer, a greater actor, a competent dancer, and could enjoy silence. Now I am returning to visual art. But I need to heal before I could pursue where I am really gifted.

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