Choosing The Path Least Traveled
Paying all due respect to the world’s shamanic traditions, we shall not refer to them any longer but instead explore our own position in relation to the time and place we live in as modern shamans.
Traditionally, shamanism is not a choice. You don’t choose the shamanic path; the shamanic path chooses you. This is because existential thresholds must be passed. A Dark Night of the Soul (or two, or three, or four…) must be overcome. An initiation from an ego-centric to a soul-centric perspective must be achieved. Besides these grueling steps, much pain must be self-actualized and transformed into healing energy (medicine).
But, there is a way to choose the shamanic path despite oneself: self-inflicted shamanism. I say “despite oneself” because one must either be crazy, masochistic, extremely introverted, or all three, to want to choose such an arduously Promethean undertaking. As Nietzsche infamously stated, “He who delights in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” The self-inflicted shaman goes one step further, responding with this: “Nay. He is both, a beast and a god.”
It is important to understand that shamanism is a sacrifice of independence into the fierce jaws of interdependence. It’s a surrender to the cosmic overwhelm, a giving into solitude and meditation wherein one is annihilated and then put back together again (by Universal Law itself) into a healthy and healing force of nature.
If, as Joe Lewels proposed, “we need shamans, and if society doesn’t provide them, the universe will,” then the self-inflicted shaman takes on both the role of the universe and society, emphatically becoming a force of nature, in order to provide the art of shamanism to an otherwise shamanless world.
As Terence McKenna said:
It is of the first order of importance to remember this, that the shaman is more than merely a sick man, or a madman; he is a sick man who has healed himself, who is cured, and who must shamanize in order to remain cured.
As such, a person inflicting themselves with shamanism does so in order to remain cured. They purposely enter into sacred wounds in order to remain healed. They deliberately seek out insane realms in order to remain sane. They knowingly shamanize in order to self-actualize.
A self-inflicted shaman inflicts shamanism upon himself. He dives into the abyss. He jumps into the fire. His leap of courage tantamount to foolishness. Only in hindsight can he see how there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. If he should survive being annihilated, if he should survive becoming ashes, he will have gained a dangerous prestige, a humor of the most-high, and the famed Philosopher’s Stone, which is a metaphorical artifact of existential alchemy without equal.
A self-inflicted shaman lies prostrate at the feet of the universe, a deep wound, a broken heart, a pulsing vulnerability. She sits at the feet of the cosmos in full disclosure. Everything becomes her teacher. Her secret is in dangerously stretching comfort zones and risking the slings and arrows of vicissitude in order to self-overcome for the benefit of the human tribe.
Self-inflicted shamanism is not for the faint of heart. It’s a complete surrender to universal interconnectedness, where the independent ego becomes an interdependent tool for soul-craft. It’s the absolute willingness to become an instrument of Infinity. It’s the renunciation of innocence and the sacrifice of blissful ignorance to painful knowledge. It’s the utter release of the conditional for the unconditional, of attachment for nonattachment. Black and white blurs into middle gray. The sacred and the profane are smeared out into Rumi’s field, beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing, beyond good and evil.
What remains is a vehicle for transporting transformation, a vessel for the dissemination of mercurial change. The self-inflicted shaman is a dynamism of self-overcoming, overcoming the outdated self in order to discover the updated self, overcoming the ordinary world in order to discover extraordinary worlds. The orthodox is trumped by the unorthodox.
The self-inflicted shaman inflicts herself with astonishment. She is stricken by wonder, afflicted by impermanence, and wracked by the death-rattle of a life well-lived. She is terribly overthrown and deliciously overwhelmed. As Diane Ackerman said, “Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of everything else.”
After the cosmic overwhelm, after the surrender to otherworldliness, after the delivery of transformation, the self-inflicted shaman emerges with a mystery-of-the-most-high, a magic elixir, a mythical experience. And now the single task of shamanism in general, and the raison d’etre of becoming a self-inflicted shaman, is the delivery of this sacred knowledge into the hearts and hearths of the human tribe.
In the end, it is what we do with our powers that makes or breaks our self-inflicted shamanism. Do our powers coincide with the universal order of things? Are they moderate, holistic, and nonviolent? Are they flexible, healthy, and robust? For as Antero Alli surmised, “The real test to our shamanic tendencies is not in our ability to enter into the mythical but in how we return to our humanity and what we do with our powers.”
Author: Gary Z McGee
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
This article (Self-Inflicted Shamanism – Choosing the Path Least Traveled) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary ‘Z’ McGee and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.