Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Craniosacral Therapy: A shamanic practice? - Freya

Craniosacral therapy is a relatively new alternative healing modality that entails working with the cerebrospinal fluid which bathes our brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It is a gentle treatment that involves ‘listening’ to the fluid’s subtle wave-like motions, known as the craniosacral rhythm. Through sensitive, yet specific, hands-on techniques the whole nervous system is affected by balancing and harmonising the craniosacral system (Agustoni 2008, p. 2; Milne 1995 vol 1, pp. 4-6). The main focus of this essay will be to describe my personal experience of a craniosacral healing session. This will include excerpts of an interview conducted with the practitioner, referred to throughout the paper as ‘Blue Wren’. Altered states of consciousness and shamanic principles involved will also be discussed, along with whether craniosacral therapy could be deemed a neoshamanistic practice.

Before beginning the healing, Blue Wren used a sage smudge stick to cleanse the treatment room and myself of negative energy. Having never experienced the ancient art of smudging, I was pleasantly surprised at the feeling of contentment and relaxation it invoked. As the treatment began Blue Wren stood silently away from the treatment table which she explained afterwards as being “a time in which I ground and centre myself. I go into a meditative state, expand my consciousness and open my heart centre.” An open heart centre is vital for craniosacral healing as the heart is considered the centre of perception (Ridley 2006, p. 30). She describes this ASC as one of “higher perception, awareness and intuition during which our heart centres connect.”

Blue Wren explained that “in this state of connectedness, the practitioner is able to ‘see’ what the client needs on all levels”. According to Agustoni (2008, p. 4), craniosacral therapy has the potential to impact on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. Milne (1995 vol 1, p. 80) refers to this mind-body-spirit complex as the “dreambody”. Craniosacral therapists work with the principle that the dreambody is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and maintenance of wellbeing. Trauma, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, is believed to reduce energy flow within the body and diminish the craniosacral rhythm. This may restrict, or even block, the dreambody’s self-healing capabilities which can potentially lead to disharmony and disease if left unresolved (Agustoni 2008, p. 7).

The treatment proceeded with Blue Wren placing her hands gently on different areas of my body. I felt progressively more relaxed; an altered state of consciousness in which I experienced a deepened sense of body awareness while my mind remained relatively alert. With Blue Wren’s hands placed under my pelvis, I had the sensation that my sacrum was twitching and throbbing, then see-sawing and swinging back and forth. She explained afterwards that this is “the body reorganising and releasing any restrictions or blockages”. Similar sensations were also experienced in other regions of my body during the healing. Although these felt as though the tissue and bone itself were making gross physical movements, Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 39) hypothesises that the motility is actually due to fluctuations in the client’s energy field.

During one of the head holds I felt an unusual movement coursing down my spine and then my sacrum seemed to become heavy or ‘full’. This sense of fullness lasted a few minutes before there was another coursing movement along my spine, this time upwards towards my head. When I told Blue Wren of this afterwards, she explained that during this particular hold she ‘listens’ to the craniosacral rhythm then, using her enhanced perception, follows the movement of the spinal fluid down into the sacrum. Here, she “induces a ‘still point’ during which the fluid is potentised by the chi. This is similar to awakening the kundalini energy. Then the craniosacral rhythm resumes and flows more harmoniously”. It was amazing to experience this sensation. Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 39) explains that kundalini is an ancient Hindu term depicting two serpents ascending the spine, intertwined. This represents the dance of the ida (female) energy and pingala (male) energy spiralling around a still point. Analogous to this belief, the ancient Chinese portray this dance as one between the energies of female yin and male yang. Again, this occurs around a still point, embodied as the centre point in the universal yin/yang symbol (Milne 1995 vol 2, p. 39).

Asked of her view on how craniosacral therapy works, Blue Wren described the healing power as a fusion of the universal energy (chi) and our two individual energies. She added that “in this ‘oneness’, universal energy channels through me into you and assists your dreambody in re-establishing harmony and health through inviting stillness”. Ridley (2006, pp. 53-54) describes stillness as a pause in the craniosacral rhythm during which healing occurs. Through the clearing of energy blockages and restrictions, the body’s own healing and regulating capabilities, and thus inner balance, are restored (Agustoni 2008, p. 3). Blue Wren also mentioned that spirit guides of both practitioner and client are present during healings. Both Brennan (1993, p. 54) and Milne (1995 vol 1, pp. 106-108), deem the presence of guides as very important in providing support and guidance during a healing.

At another stage during the healing while Blue Wren was touching my jaw and throat, it was as if the back of my eyelids had turned a brilliant light blue. It was a lovely experience and upon informing Blue Wren she explained that blue corresponds to the throat chakra. Angelo (1994, p. 64) and Brennan (1988, pp. 34, 48) agree that sky blue denotes the throat chakra which deals with true expression of the soul. Also, multiple times throughout the healing I felt as if I was on the verge of sleep when suddenly I would become alert and feel an ‘electric’ tingling sensation in my chest. This would quickly move downwards through my body into my lower legs. Telling Blue Wren of this she explained that all people experience different sensations during a healing. She thinks it most likely that what I felt was “stillness and then release”. This theory is supported by Milne (1995 vol 2, p. 41) who describes that during a still point clients often fall into a deep state of relaxation, close to that of sleep, during which major alterations and adjustments occur within the dreambody.

Looking back, I consider the healing involved elements of shamanism. Many aspects of the healing were ritualistic in nature, such as Blue Wren always using sage smudging to purify the treatment room and client of negative energy before commencing a healing. Likewise, she always uses the same ritual steps while standing back from the client to achieve “stillness and neutrality” within herself and an expansion of consciousness. Achieving this involves “breathing techniques, focus and silent invocations”. As mentioned earlier, it is in this ASC that Blue Wren receives intuitive guidance on what the client needs and how the treatment should proceed. This knowledge is provided by guides which are invited to attend the craniosacral healing and, along with other helping spirits, guide and support the session (Brennan 1993, p. 54; Milne 1995 vol 1, pp 106-108). This may be considered parallel to the shaman’s journey to another realm in which they encounter helping spirits that closely guide their healing work (von Stuckrad 2002).

The aforementioned “centring and grounding” that Blue Wren must achieve before commencing treatment could be regarded as analogous to connecting with Father Sky and Mother Earth referred to in Native American shamanism (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 46). When asked how she became involved in alternative healing therapies Blue Wren explained that during a serious illness a “gifted natural therapist came into my life and healed me”. After this illness, though her interest in alternative therapies was ignited, she returned to her normal way of life. Several years later she was diagnosed with the even more life-threatening disease of cancer. For this also, she sought the treatment of alternative healers and has now been cancer-free for seven years. In this time, she has been studying and practising alternative therapies herself. Universal tales of ‘initiatory sickness’ exist, often involving near-fatal illnesses when the call to become a shaman is ignored (Milne 1995 vol 1, p 46; Jilek 2005). As quoted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead: “You can’t fight becoming a shaman. If you try, the ongons [spirits] will force you anyway (Freemantle & Trungpa 1975).”

Due to the various characteristics mentioned in this essay, I propose craniosacral therapy, as I have experienced it, to be shamanic healing. I also suggest that Blue Wren may be considered a new-age shaman, or ‘neoshaman’. Entering an altered, meditative state of consciousness is vital for perception of the craniosacral rhythm and also in accessing spiritual guidance from the ‘other world’ (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 4 ;von Stuckrad 2002). Both of these occurred in our session along with the use of ritual, guided visualisation, breathing techniques and invocations which are commonly employed by traditional shamans in their healing practices (Milne 1995 vol 1, p. 46). Blue Wren is important in her community in the role of local healer but her role is distinct from that of the traditional shaman. This may be due to a neoshaman’s role often being confined to those within the community who are open to the alternative healing experience. In summation, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of a craniosacral healing session. Afterwards I felt very relaxed and calm with a sense of ‘lightness’. However, it is very difficult to describe in words the sensations I felt and the experience as a whole. A quote by Rollin Becker (1997) says it nicely: “... if I talk about it, that isn’t what it is. How and why it works I don’t know, and if I did know, that wouldn’t be it”.

Reference List

Agustoni, D 2008, Craniosacral Rhythm: A practical guide to a gentle form of bodywork therapy, Elsevier Limited, London.

Angelo, J 1994, Your healing power, Piatkus, London.

Becker, RE 1997, The stillness of life, Rudra Press, Cambridge.

Brennan, BA 1988, Hands of light: A guide to healing through the human energy field, Bantam Books, New York.

Brennan, BA 1993, Light emerging: The journey of personal healing, Bantam Books, New York.

Freemantle, F & Trungpa, C 1975, The Tibetan book of the dead, Shambala, Boston.

Jilek, WG 2005, ‘Transforming the shaman: Changing western views of shamanism and altered states of consciousness’, Articulo de Investigacion, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 8-15.

Milne, H 1995, The heart of listening 1: A visionary approach to craniosacral work, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

Milne, H 1995, The heart of listening 2: A visionary approach to craniosacral work, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

Ridley, C 2006, Stillness: Biodynamic cranial practice and the evolution of consciousness, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley.

von Stuckrad, K 2002, ‘Reenchanting nature: modern western shamanism and nineteenth-century thought’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 771-799.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

John Lockley: Modern Day Shaman

G. A-D.

John Lockley, or Uncingolwednaba, is a Xhosa sangoma, a Southern African Shaman. At his initiation in 2007, he was widely believed to be the first white man in recent history to have been initiated into Xhosa sangoma-hood (other white sangomas do exist but within different tribes). Non-African people are generally widely accepted in sangoma rituals, often participants in rituals are treated the same way African ‘patients’ would be, however it is exceedingly rare to have white Shamans (Binsbergen, 1991, p. 312).

As is traditional for Shamans, Lockley first received his call in a dream, followed by an extended period of serious illness. This process is a largely universal element in the call to shamanism; shamans of China, the Americas, and Korea, for example, all experience the prophetic dream and then physical illness, until they answer the ‘call’ from their ancestors or deities (Lee, 2009, p. 187; Walsh, 1994, p. 9). Sangomas call this process thwasa. As a white Southern African, when Lockley dreamed a sangoma appeared to him and commanded him to find a Xhosa instructor, he was unequipped to follow it. Growing up during apartheid, he was far removed from his ancestral heritage and so was largely unaware of the world of sangomas, his role within it, and how to respond to his “calling dream” (Lockley, You Cannot Choose to be a Sangoma, 2007).

After Lockley’s dream, he woke with welts and boils on his legs, from a tick bite. He went on, over the next seven years, to contract a number of illnesses and diseases, broken bones, and accidents. One could suggest that the ailments he suffered were situational, and coincidental, for example, tick bites are common, as are all of his sufferings; it is simply a matter of concentrated misfortune experienced by one person, but not interference by ancestors. However, Lockley approached a sangoma in the hope of an end to his issues. The sangoma, MaMgwevu, claimed to have received a dream from God about becoming the mentor to a person from a different culture, identified Lockley as this man, and then proceeding to train him in shamanism, overseeing his apprenticeship over ten years (Lockley, You Cannot Choose to be a Sangoma, 2007).

Uncingolwednaba’s specialty area as a sangoma is dance, or xentsa. Dance is an important aspect of shamanism as it provides a channel through which participants can have an active, satisfying engagement with the ritual. This feeling of involvement encourages a more positive outcome for the ritual, especially considering how the majority of illnesses clients bring to shamans are psychosomatic. To feel that one is physically, tangibly taking action to address a problem can often be a cure in itself, much like the placebo effect (O'Connell, 1983, p. 340).

One of the three areas in which Traditional Southern African healers are trained, xentsa is a dance based on the human heart beat, dancing in tune to it is “centring… brings inner peace, reduces anxiety, and brings about a sense of awareness and meaning” (Lockley, Healing Through Dance, 2005). Drumming, another universal trait of the shaman, is also an important element in sangoma ritual as it mimics the heart beat rhythmically (Jilek, 2005, p. 11). For Lockley, it provides an amplifier of sorts so other participants can dance to the same beat he is as he follows his heartbeat. Xentsa is the way sangomas and participants enter a deep meditative trance, allowing them to communicate with their ancestors within a dream, in a realm called ‘the river world’. Participants will receive a message through a vision which is then to be shared and learned from (Farrand, 1982, p. 68).

As a shaman, Uncingolwednaba also interacts with ancestors through divination, or ‘throwing bones’. It is one of the more common requests of clients, and involves the casting of a handful of objects (not just bones but shell, or various objects with meaning attached for the client like dice or dominoes), onto a mat, and then their configuration is interpreted or “read” by the sangoma. Knowledge of medicinal herbs is also important as sangomas are more often than not village doctors, and so curative brews, or muti, also need to be administered (Thornton, 2009, p. 24). People seek out the services of shamans like Lockley to address a range of physical, environmental and situational issues, from epilepsy, to mental illness, to bad luck; therefore almost anything perceived as negative can drive a person to seek a shaman. Sangoma clients are disproportionately women, senior, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the main precursor to becoming a client is whether or not they have received a disability grant in the past (Nattras, 2005, p. 177).

Trance for Lockley is his conduit to help others through psychic consultation. Once he enters the altered state, he becomes extremely aware of the client’s life; “I can sense people’s obstacles: what’s wrong with them physically, psychologically and spiritually… and if they are or aren’t living according to their destiny (Lockley, You Cannot Choose to be a Sangoma, 2007).” He can also see what people need to do in order to appease their ancestors and live according to their destiny. The physical sensation, for him, is of a wind going through his body, as he is lifted to an ethereal realm where he is communicated with via words, imagery and motif.

Uncingolwednaba lives in Ireland teaching various workshops (as he was directed to do in a dream), but has also taught in greater Europe, the USA, as well as practicing in Xhosa communities. Lockley’s sangoma-hood is seen by some to lose its legitimacy due to his decision to live in Ireland as opposed to living in Xhosa communities of Southern Africa. At the time of writing, not a single black practicing sangoma could be located living outside of Africa. Lockley is also initiated in Zen Buddhism and Yoga, running a yoga centre in Galway. His diverse spirituality appears to be accepted by the Xhosa, however there is not enough empirical research available to discern how respected he is within Xhosa communities or whether he is seen as more of a transient novelty. It is, however, common for sangomas to live in urban areas, which itself is a progression from the traditionally rural communities in which Shamanism was practiced. They still practice and hold the same position in their communities, but their adaptation into the developing areas of their country shows a willingness to embrace the modernisation while integrating their traditional lifestyles successfully (Morgan & Reid, 2010, p. 381).

Lockley also presents a marriage between the traditional and the modern by having a relatively strong online presence. He has a fan generated page on ‘Facebook’, and while at the time of writing it boasts only eight fans, it is still the only page for a Xhosa sangoma (Various, 2011). He also contributes to video sharing site ‘youtube’. There are videos of him being interviewed, performing rituals, such as dancing or throwing the bones, but also of him in casual attire, speaking straight to the camera in a sermon of sorts, on the importance of honouring ancestors (Lockley, John Lockley, Xhosa Sangoma, Speaks About the Importance of Honouring our Ancestors , 2010). While there are also other videos of sangoma ritual (involving sangomas other than Lockley), it is the piece-to-camera videos he posts that are particularly interesting as they reflect his background in Buddhism; it is extremely common for Buddhist spiritualists to post such content, however highly uncommon for sangomas, especially Xhosa sangomas (at the time of writing none could be found).

John Lockley is a significant symbol of the willingness of traditional African spirituality to develop and progress in a rapidly changing world. Aside from the fact that he was even initiated, what Lockley has gone on to achieve in terms of teaching non Africans about shamanism and its universal relevance is to be commended. Traditional healing methods are becoming more and more common in western society, but the realm of alternative therapy is largely dominated by Asian philosophies like Buddhism and Chinese herbalism. Lockley is a major contributor to bringing traditional African healing processes to a global stage as a modern day shaman.

Works Cited

Binsbergen, W. V. (1991). Becoming a Sangoma: Religious Anthropological Field-Work in Francistown, Botswana. Journal of Religion in Africa, 11(4), 309-344.

Farrand, D. M. (1982). Dreams of a Sangoma or Indigenous Healer. Journal of African Studies, 9(2), 68-75.

Jilek, W. G. (2005). Transforming the Shaman: Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness. Articulo de Investigacion, 7(1), 8-15.
Lee, J. (2009). Shamanism and its Emancipatory Power for Korean Women. Affilia, 24(2), 186-198.

Lockley, J. (2005, January 12). Healing Through Dance. (A. King, Interviewer) Galway, Ireland: Galway Independent.

Lockley, J. (2007, March 23). You Cannot Choose to be a Sangoma. (J. Ancer, Interviewer) South Africa: The Star.

Lockley, J. (2010, August 22). John Lockley, Xhosa Sangoma, Speaks About the Importance of Honouring our Ancestors . Retrieved May 1, 2011, from Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ2tIvO5w5E

Morgan, R., & Reid, G. (2010). 'I've Got Two Men and One Woman': Ancestors, Sexuality and Identity Among Same-Sex Identified Women Traditional Healers in South Africa',. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 5(5), 375-391.

Nattras, N. (2005). Who Consults Sangomas in Khayelitsha? An Exploratory Quantitative Analysis. Social Dynamics, 31(2), 161-182.

O'Connell, S. (1983). The Placebo Effect and Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 20(3), 337-345.

Thornton, R. (2009). The Transmission of Knowledge in South African Traditional Healing. Africa, 79(1), 17-34.

Various. (2011, May 3). John Lockley. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Lockley/160844777271115
Walsh, R. (1994). The Making of a Shaman: Calling, Training, Culmination. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 34(3), 7-30.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pentecostal Shamanism?

This essay will attempt to explore the similarities between Pastor Brian Houston, the head Pastor of Hillsong Church, a Pentecostal mega church, and the theoretical framework of shamans and shamanistic practices. It will attempt to draw a link between Pastor Houston and the role of a modern day shaman and show a direct relationship between the spiritual qualities exhibited by Pastor Houston and those used in describing shaman. It will be shown that through these similarities lies a spiritual link and that Pastor Houston can be considered as a modern day shaman. Although such a proposal may be somewhat contradictory to the Christian perception of shaman and their practices, a definitive link is seen when a neutral perspective is taken. This will illuminate certain facets of Pentecostal services, as performed by Pastor Houston, which coincide with the structure of ritual shamanic practices.
Degrees of altered states of consciousness (ASC), trance and meditative practices are present throughout the religious services conducted by Pastor Houston. Shamans use ASC to enter the spirit realm and draw upon such forces for healing and spiritualistic purposes (Jilek, 2005). Glossolalia and outward displays of prayer can be seen as stages of ASC which become attained during services led by Pastor Houston (SMH). Such degrees of ASC are utilized by the Pastor to become overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is once possessed by the Holy Spirit that Pastor Houston is able to provide healing and spiritual nourishment, which is further propagated outwards towards the congregation (SMH). It will be discussed in detail that ASC elicited by Pentecostal pastors such as Pastor Houston correlate directly with those experienced by Shaman. Pastor Houston was not chosen specifically for this dissection, for these purposes he may be considered the archetypal Pentecostal minister and much of the similarities surrounding Pastor Houston can be used interchangeably with many Pentecostal ministers, also exhibiting shamanic qualities.
Shamans are spiritual and religious leaders who possess the ability to channel spirits by means of ASC induced through enthogenic or ritualistic practices (Modern Day Shamanism). They are channelled for the purpose of spiritual healing, guidance and enlightenment. The shaman is seen as possessing the ability to transcend the living realm, allowing for communication and interaction with supernatural spirits (Peters & Prince-William, 1980). Such communication is granted through trance, meditation, prayer and chanting, vital initiatory components for ASC induction (Jilek, 2005). The role of the shaman has been acknowledged as having a degree of fluidity, in which definitions can encompass particular aspects of religious and spiritual requirement at varying levels of shamanic practices (McCann, 2000). In essence, shamans play important roles as social healers, spiritual leaders, soul guides and teachers. For this essay a modern day shaman is considered to be anyone displaying qualities through their respective ritualistic or religious practices, whereby a similarity is drawn by adapting ancient wisdom to modern applications (King, 2002).

Several coinciding characteristics can be identified within Pastor Houston and his practices which may be considered of shamanic origin, or having a degree of similarity to shamanic ideologies. Transcendent states of consciousness are exhibited through outward displays of prayer, glossolalia and the laying of hands when overcome by the Holy Spirit. Such a possessive state is considered necessary for promoting spiritual healing within those in which it is required (Wagner). This is a particularly important characteristic seen in both ancient and modern shaman, the ability to bridge the gap between the spiritual and earthly realm and utilising such ability for spiritual and physical healing. The role of the Pastor (Houston) is one of a spiritual healer, teacher and advisor, a community leadership role shared with ancient shaman (King, 2002). Spirit worship is evident through worship of the Holy Spirit and its healing powers, a characteristic somewhat removed from the shamanic framework of multiple spirit worship. Such a progression can be seen as evolutionary shamanistic practice, a divergence from calling upon multiple spirits to a singular entity. Despite this deviation, the shamanic principle of spirit manipulation has been retained. This becomes evident in Pastor Houston through the possession of the Holy Spirit and the wielding of the spiritual powers.
When questioned as to whether or not Pastor Houston possesses shamanic similarities in his religious and spiritual methodology it can be assumed that, due to the Christian viewpoint of shaman and occultist practices, Pastor Houston would refute the suggestion of any possible resemblance. Pentecostal Christians view shamanic and spiritual worship as a sinful act against God (Jilek, 2005). There is little evidence to suggest otherwise that Pastor Houston would draw any comparison between himself and ancient shamanic ritual practices. This becomes interesting when viewed from the perspective of a non-Christian neutral observer. The shamanic belief is one of soulful and spiritual healing through the interaction and channelling of spirits (Modern Day Shamanism). Conversely, the Christian belief views this as a sinful practice. Such an approach appears to be selective. Possessions by the Holy Spirit, such as those experienced by Pastor Houston are deemed acceptable whereas shamanic possessions are considered evil. In light of this it is still argued that the Christian Pentecostal perspective as that upheld by Pastor Houston would be unable to draw reason from such a comparison.

ASC and stages of ASC are of considerable importance in Pastor Houston’s profession, as they are with all Pentecostal ministers. It is critical to note that such episodes of ASC would often not be acknowledged as such in the Christian community. Without religious or spiritual bias ASC episodes such as glossolalia, possessions by the Holy Spirit and the laying of hands are considered to be deliberately induced forms of ASC. An important aspect of eliciting such episodes of ASC in Pastor Houston is the accompaniment of music alongside healing sessions. Repetitive, charismatic, intense music is known to be a necessary driver for inducing an ASC and is a common component of shamanic healing ceremonies (Prattis). Such music is played extensively during religious proceedings held by Pastor Houston and serves to incite a frenzy of ecstasy within the crowd, assisting eliciting an ASC within the speaker (Houston), the crowd and promoting a transcendent state by proxy through the speaker into the crowd (SMH).
Shamanic practitioners have the ability to self-induce an ASC within themselves for healing and spiritual requirements. They may also induce an ASC within clients or devotees through symbols, hypnosis or suggestive methods (Jilek, 2005). This is of significance when considering that Pentecostal congregations such as those led by Pastor Houston experience varying degrees of ASC within themselves as induced through their spiritual leader (Houston). This reinforces the notion in which the shaman (Houston) has an extent of control over the spiritual possession for which it can be propagated outwardly. Further control is seen when slipping between ASC and conscious thought. Shamans are differentiated by their control of degrees of ASC and when they choose to enter and leave such states (Peters & Prince-William, 1980). This idea extends towards selectively changing between glossolalia, blessings from the Holy Spirit and meditative prayer as seen during healing practices exhibited by Pastor Houston.
Servicing the communities spiritual and religious needs, as seen with ancient shamanic healers and practitioners, is an important component of Christian Pastoral care. These practices are important in promoting spiritual healing, fellowship and harmony amongst devotees. Ancient shamans were considered important community and spiritual leaders and this role has been reinforced through many modern day shamans such as Pastor Brian Houston. It was this similarity in community care, coupled with transcendent states of ASC witnessed in Pentecostal services which aided in choosing Pastor Houston for comparative analysis as a modern day shaman. By further examination of many modern day religious and spiritual practices and leaders, more individuals may be re-profiled and deemed to be modern day shaman; and their practices and belief structures showing links to ancient spiritual belief.

Hillsong’s True Believers, Online Newspaper Article, Sydney Morning Herald, Viewed 3 May 2011
Jilek, WG 2005 'Transforming the Shaman: Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness', Artículo de investigación, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 8-15.
King, SK 2002, Modern Shamanism, Website Article, Aloha International, Viewed 2 May 2011
Prattis, I ‘Healing Journeys: Shamanism as Therapy’, available online at: http://www.namastecafe.com/download/healingjourneys.pdf
Peters, LG & Prince-Williams, D 1980 ‘Towards an Experiential Analysis of Shamanism’, American Ethnologist, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 397-418.
McCann, V 2000, Modern Shamanism, Website Article, Spotlight Ministries, Viewed 3 May, 2011
Modern Day Shamanism, Website Article, Modern Day Shamanism, Viewed 3 May, 2011
Wagner, S, The Shamanic Healing, Website Article, Newage Mystic, Viewed 2 May, 2011

Reiki: The Power of Universal Life Energy- Nidean Dickson

Originating from Tibetan Sutras and later resurging in Eastern Oriental traditions, Reiki has become a prominent form of touch healing. This essay aims to outline the components of Reiki and the interconnected relationship between the role of the practitioner and recipient as an essential form of healing and how it has been incorporated in a medical field. The fundamental elements of Reiki are explained as an intrinsic element to the mind and body that is conceptualised by Martha Roger’s theory of Unitary Human Beings that is further validated in modern medicine. Reiki practitioner’s vary from first degree to third degree practitioners and act as a conduit of energy to become a channel for healing through methodical hand placements. The transmission of the recipient’s energy through the practitioner allows the exploration of several states of awareness in correlation with sensory experience that is identified through symbolism and liminality. Evidently, Reiki as a touch healing therapy or practice is an ancient tradition that fundamentally relies on the imperative interconnected relationship between the practitioner and recipient that forms a mediumistic channel of energy transference essential to the healing process.

Reiki utilises universal energy through touch therapy as a way of healing that deviates from dogma and instead is identified as a holistic integrative practice that aligns the body, spirit and mind through energy force. Literally translated as universal life energy that acknowledges the relationship between the mind, soul and energy, Reiki is formed from two separate terms “rei” and “ki” (Wetzel 1989, p. 48). According to Bullock (1997, p. 31) “rei” is defined as a “universal spirit, unlimited [and] the cosmic force of the universe.” Conversely, “ki” is attributed to an energy force that contemporary shaman Alberto Villoldo (cited in Koda 2008) described as the imperative nature and immensity of “ki” in the sphere of life as thinking of “ki” as “rain, or the fluid waters of life.” Thus, the innate characteristics of Reiki highlighted the intrinsic universality and all-encompassing relationship between life, energy and force. Medical practitioner Martha Rogers explains “ki” through the theory of Unitary Human Beings that the “unitary nature of the individual is in the natural interaction with the environment… [and therefore] the unitary human being is an energy field interrelated with the universe” (Chang 2003, p. 104). This is corroborated by Meleis (2007, p. 391) arguing the irreducible nature of the unitary human being and energy force by stating that “human beings and environments do not have energy fields; they are energy fields.” Evidently, Reiki relies on the interconnected and universal relationship between life and energy as a healing modality which is a direct correlate of Eastern philosophy that identifies the significance of universal energy as a way to sustain the physical of which is the human body (Gilbert 2004, p.480). Chang (2003, p.103) highlights the importance of healing by emphasising the role of the integration of body and mind to achieve an optimal healing state. To medical practitioners healing is an intrinsic process to patient care which identifies the significance of Reiki as a motivational and evidential took to “invite nurses to return to the ontological foundation of their practice…that is, person-nature environment” (Vitale 2006, p.192). By incorporating Reiki method into nursing practice several positive effects have been collated through qualitative data such as a higher level of relaxation that enables positive well-being, decrease in anxiety and blood pressure and facilitating an attitude toward an increased quality of life (Potter 2007, p. 239). Thus, the fundamental characteristics of Reiki are vital to healing processes in a spiritual and medical realm that utilises energy transference through touch vibrations produces by a Reiki practitioner.

At varying degrees, Reiki practitioners act as a conduit for the transmission of energy through a series of hand placements that allow healing to occur that can be mutually beneficial for both the practitioner and the recipient. There are three varying degrees of the level of Reiki practitioner that consecutively increase in responsibility and depth. According to Wardell (2008, p. 440) the first degree healer “becomes sensitised to imbalances of energy, and in the second the Reiki energy is accentuated for faster and deeper results… and at the third or Master level a commitment is made to Reiki as life’s work.” Reiki practitioners do not initiate or direct the healing but rather act as a medium for energy flow that is produced from the placement of hands over the head, torso and lower body to impose on the primordial consciousness that highlights the differing aspect of Reiki in comparison to other bioenergetic modes of healing (Horrigan & Miles 2003, 76). Practitioner Pamela Miles (cited in Horrigan & Miles 2003, p. 76) identifies the effect of Reiki treatment on the practitioner by stating “when I place my hands on someone it’s like feeling an orchestra in my palms- I feel many different volts and qualities of vibrations, and it keeps changing.” Through the ability to attune vibrations the Reiki practitioner is able to identify the intrinsic components of the healing that is classified on a mental, emotional, spiritual and physical level which in turn fulfils the philosophy of Reiki as a holistic “system of subtle vibrational healing” (Horrigan & Miles 2003, p. 76). Therefore, it is imperative for the practitioner to embody sincerity and experience to be an effective conduit of energy flow as “touch acts just as a stone thrown into a lake” (Chang 2003, p. 107). Effectively, the practitioner is essential to how the recipient is affected by the Reiki healing based on the practitioner’s spirituality and ability to be inwardly attuned to be a conduit for energy (La Torne 2005, p. 184). Conversely, the recipient also plays a vital role in the transference of energy and ability to enable healing as the practitioner and recipient act as complementary characters in Reiki.

In receiving a Reiki healing, a patient will endure several different phases prior and during the healing that explores several states of awareness and experiences that are assimilated with intention to direct the energy force imperative to optimise healing. Initially, it is vital that prior to Reiki the recipient recognises the necessity for the healing which is “based on the premise that thought follows energy and energy follows intent” (Bullock 1997, p.31). Intention in the pre-therapeutic phase acts as a precursor to the direction and ability of energy to flow during the treatment. Often during Reiki a patient experiences a change in the state of awareness that can be associated with a liminal state which has been identified as “optimal states for healing” (McClenton 2005, p. 328). Originally van Gennep (cited in Perez 1986, p. xiii) described liminality as “a phase, a fleeting, ephemeral moment destined for supersession.” Turner (cited in Perez 1986, p. xiii) elaborates on van Gennep’s explanation of liminality by transforming it into a spatial view that goes beyond the concept of a threshold towards “a place of habitation.” Effectively Turner (1969, p. 95) classifies the ambiguity of liminality as “the entities [that] are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial.By applying the concept of liminality to the altered state of awareness associated with a Reiki healing there is a significant effect on the orientation in time, place and self that explicitly reflects the affects of altering between two altered states of consciousness or a “threshold”. Reiki recipients often reported the experience of time either accelerating or decelerating with either no knowledge or hyper awareness of the natural surroundings that contributed to the ambiguity of self perception (Engebretson & Wardell 2002, p.51.) In addition to perceptive alterations, sensory experiences are also strongly prevalent during Reiki. Several participants have reported “numbness, involuntary muscle twitching, and feelings of heat, which are clustered into sensations in temperature, sound … and discordant touch” (Engebretson & Wardell 2002, p. 51). Subjectively, during my Reiki healing with a level two practitioner, my visual and aural sensory awareness heightened and I felt a strong sense of relaxation that enabled an unexpected emotional response. Evidently, a heightened state of awareness and sensory experiences affect the cognition of the recipient as feelings of relaxation and calmness that leads to emotional transformations of clarification or detachment that would otherwise not be achieved in the ordinary waking state (Engebretson & Wardell 2002, p.52). Thus, through the ability to affect the spiritual, emotional and physical states of the participant, Reiki can be seen as a prominent and successful form of healing that embraces the interconnected relationship energy transference produces between body, spirit and mind.

As a result, the universal life energy force as an essential element of Reiki is vital to the process of healing. By reverting back to a holistic practice, Reiki identifies the intrinsic nature between life and the environment as a direct impact of a universal energy. The characteristics fundamental to the development of this energy defined by the unitary human being significantly contributes to the appeal and effectiveness of Reiki in medical practices, particularly nursing, as a way to attain optimal healing. Optimal healing is achieved through the use of vibrations through hand placements to formulate energy that are attuned by varying degrees of Reiki practitioners who act as a conduit for energy transference. However, the transference of energy is co-dependent on the role of the recipient in providing intention and acceptance for the healing. This intention then allows the energy to alter states of awareness, cognition and sensory experiences to contribute to healing process of the affected areas of the participant to highlight relationship between energy, the mind and the body. Evidently, as a universal life energy force Reiki highlights the imperative relationship between the practitioner and recipient to capture the essence of healing as an intrinsic element that is derived from the interconnectedness between body, mind and spirit.

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