A dream you dream alone is only a dream.
A dream you dream together is reality.
― John Lennon
I never really expected shamanism to be my path… let alone transform my relationship to life so powerfully.
When I was little people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would say a Broadway singer or a witch.
Turns out shamanism is a little of both!
I’ll get more into that (as well as the many ways shamanism has truly impacted my worldview), but first let me say it has been a windy path getting here…
So many times, just when I thought I had found my place, found my community — where I belonged — the ground beneath me gave out, and I found myself alone.
I had studied music, yoga, herbology, household shamanism, evolutionary spirituality, and still, no home. They each had gifts to offer me, yet something was always missing….
My initial pursuits all told me to just “be love” as the ultimate expression of life, and that had zero meaning for me in the day-to-day practicalities of life.
What does love look like in action anyway? That was one of those questions where I took the advice of the poet, Rilke, to just “live the question” and trust an answer would appear.
Funny things, answers. Sometimes they are subtle, other times obvious — or even demanding.
I have had the great pleasure of working at The Shift Network with many of the world’s most respected spiritual teachers. But after spending nearly a year facilitating virtual programs with Peruvian curandero don Oscar Miro-Quesada, it became very clear to me that I had to cross the country for his 6-day retreat and journey into the shamanic practices with him in person.
I mean irrational-highschool-girl-desperate-Ani-diFranco-style HAD TO.
don Oscar, master teacher of cross-cultural shamanism, was offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to make an evolutionary leap, and I told him he could use me anyway that would be of service to this event.
First, to set the stage after my arrival….
I had the great privilege of helping to create the central altar!
don Oscar, the young-at-heart shaman/surfer in his “traditional” shorts and T-shirt provided a select few of us with basic instructions (including “make it look beautiful”), while preparing to go to his room to “dream into the retreat.”
I did this along with three other women, one of whom was Cindy Miro-Quesada, the athletic, warm-hearted, no-nonsense “hearth-holder” of the Pachakuti Mesa tradition.
I had never felt so trusted in my whole life.
My own aunt wouldn’t let me stay in her house while she was out of town, but here was don Oscar Miro-Quesada — ambassador of the “Great Originating Mystery” — trusting ME and looking at me with more love than I knew was possible outside of ecstatic moments of divine union…
…and we hadn’t even started yet!
It was a great blessing to be able to take a few days and step out of my known world and see what I was made of. The space allowed for all participants to really show up and let the Divine dance through them.
The dream we had been dreaming began to dream us all… and it was like Eden.
I want to share a list with you now (in no particular order) of how my outlook on life has changed, thus changing life itself, since I started my exploration of shamanism with don Oscar.
11 Things I Learned from a Shaman that Changed My Life…
1. What you seek is seeking you.
In Be Here Now by Ram Das, he writes about how you won’t find a Guru if you are seeking one. This became very literal for me. I have sought and learned from many teachers and none of them were long-term. I had given up the search and thought I’d step out on my own a bit, and then BAM! — my teacher. The real deal. I couldn’t have known to ask for the gifts I’ve received. I literally could not have conceived of… wow… words fail me….
Well, let’s just say that my soul was fed at a depth I had forgotten existed. And it feels true to say that what I was seeking must have been seeking me because it was right there when I needed it, and perfectly primed to meet me. Any effort I made to force the “river” just delayed the process. Or perhaps, and more likely, was exactly what needed to take place until I was ready.
2. I understand the relevance and impact of
This was a big one. Sacred geometry has been in my awareness for a long time now, but it remained a beautiful intellectual abstract for me rather than an awakened awareness. Sacred geometry is what we call the fundamental patterns that form all life. These building blocks connect us to our cells and the galaxy and everything in between. When we are in spaces that reflect various shapes, our consciousness responds accordingly.
My state of being, from my body to my mindset, reacts to the space around me. I discovered I feel different in a pyramid than I do in a round room than I do in a square room. Once the world unlocked it’s patterning to me, I had a powerful understanding of who I AM — who we all are, as well as why buildings of power are in particular shapes (like the Pentagon) or are covered in geometry (like the Alhambra). This is an ancient science that we are all slowly remembering.
3. The soul IS important.
The soul is important. I have always known this to greater and lesser degrees. It’s what makes me feel alive. It’s what makes me feel miserable and what brings me bliss! I mean all-decked-out, listening to your favorite song that you know every word to and still hits you like brand new every time… BLISS!
There are no thoughts in my head when I’m in a soulful place. I say that the soul is important because the mind gets way too much attention in Western culture. My mind is really good at a lot of important things, but there are some parts of living where it just gets in the way. The soul needs to be fed, loved, expressed and honored. My soul is what guides me on that radically long journey from the head to the heart. It’s what let’s the magic flow.
Here’s a little side story of what can only be described as magic: I brought a perfectly clear quartz crystal to the retreat and it was physically transformed, though never touched. At the end of the event, I was packing up my personal altar (mesa), I discovered that it looked like the milky way was flowing through the top of my stone and stardust was falling through. That was NOT there when I started my retreat. They say that when a crystal shows signs of change in a meditative field that it becomes a record-keeper. Feels like a soul compass. Feels important.
4. Materialism is only a problem if it’s viewed as
There’s great pleasure in STUFF. I’ll admit it. I love me some prisms hangin’ on my windows and tiny statues of alligators, meticulously sculpted. I get great joy out of art and candles and material expressions of life. This is not a problem. Many spiritual teachings have a tenet of renunciation and I think it’s stuck around so long for many good reasons, but one is to combat the limited worldview that’s reinforced by material goods. “What you see is what you get.” Materialism values, above all else, what we can see.
My experience under the helm of don Oscar Miro-Quesada was one of thrashing invisible oceans. It was anchored by a universal pattern of connection and an evolution in love, in the material form of a mesa (altar). The material form of the Pachakuti mesa is like a roadmap to a much larger territory. Materialism is only a problem if it’s viewed as an absolute. A stone is just the tip of an iceberg with its consciousness being what’s under the water. If we can incorporate the reality of more influences than just what we can measure or see, we will recognize that what we are doing to our planet, our home and each other is devastating and ultimately to our own ruin.
5. Beauty is medicinal.
Whenever we experience something that’s too big for the moment — be it joy or trauma — we hold the experience in our bodies. For example, when you walk into a dramatic situation, your body responds before your mind or emotions. There are a lot of therapies that address and resolve this (Somato Emotional Release would be worth Googling if you’re interested in the biology of it). They show that the body stores emotions, and when the energy has a chance to move — whether it’s through art, song, dance or bodywork — we feel a sense of completion. It allows the energy to move instead of getting stuck. Sometimes the medicine we need is not chemically-sourced or external. It’s turned on by the factory of connection that burns in your heart when something touches you and you let go.
Studies also show that a greener environment helps heal the mind. If we take that further and consider what beauty (however you define it) really does to us, we find that in its presence, there is direct access to a sense of awe that catapults us beyond ourselves. That’s good medicine.
6. Real community is radically accepting.
Rumi said it best when he said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” That field is where real communities have their homes. Spiritual teacher Tara Brach has popularized the phrase “Radical Acceptance,” and I was so privileged to have a a few days in this retreat where that was my reality. To be in community for six days where I could trust and be trusted set a new bar for how we can all be as people.
It also changed my expectations for what I want around me and how I want to show up for other people. I see that as soon as I don’t accept something, it becomes a residue that builds up between me and an “other.” If I accept it, then I can act on it and keep my heart wide open. It’s hard work, but SO worth it. I have a craving down in my very bones to live my daily life in a community that will love and be loved, and now I know we can make it happen.
7. Love can be destructive.
It was just after the morning session and don Oscar had sent us on break… and, well, I just broke. I personally often have the unbearable need to make very loud sounds, but this was a peak experience. I exploded. The sound was so intense I could hardly hear it all. I was in a torrent of the universe and while ancestors were returning to restore my soul, I was destroyed by the agony of it all. I felt like I was wailing for GENERATIONS of souls.
And when I returned home after this retreat, I felt very estranged from my life. I didn’t recognize my clothes or my voice in songs I had recorded. I had to meet my family again and rebuild relationships from a new place within myself that I now reside.
8. Love will put you back together.
While in that whirlwind of experience, I was surrounded by a few soul relatives that held me and made space for me and christened me with aromatic waters and played music for me that provided a container for the current that had seized me. I felt so safe, so loved — and that let me carry this current through.
I have not been the same since that moment. I have been more whole, more myself. I am ever humbled by the many faces of love because I know that the same force that brings me to my knees is the same one that gives me wings. My family has been so supportive of my journey and my “growing a soul.” There is a glue in love that makes life work and I am grateful for its adhesions in mine.
9. Music can contain any and everything you need.
Beyond any expectation of performance, I was asked to sing several times during the retreat. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite writers, has this to say about music: “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life, I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” I have survived being a sensitive and emotional person because of music. It is my cradle, my longing, my hatred, my hope, my anger, my praise, my joy and my truth.
When I say music can contain any and everything you need, I’m not only saying that it expresses a full range of emotional and philosophical needs, I’m also saying that it creates a safe and reliable container into which you can pour your reality. To be given this invitation and permission in such a sacred space, fulfilled a dream in me I thought had lost it’s chance. It wasn’t Broadway, but what better stage to be on than one where the whole universe was listening?
10. We are here to heal our planet collectively.
What shifted for me during my studies with this group, or Allyu (pronounced eye-you), was the awareness of how we impact each other planet-wide. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that the next Buddha will be a Sangha, or spiritual community. I understand why! There is a sorely missing cohesion between people, and between people and the natural world today. What if our beloved planet was included as a member of that Sangha? When she is, we bring in all her relatives as well and it is the most natural thing in the world to take care of her and her family.
The responsibility is all of ours. The world is too big and has too much love for just one person to be responsible. The shamanic path, whichever one you may be on, is first and foremost about relationship. Relationship to nature, culture and self. This awakening is what compels me to share my story with you — even if you have only one glimmer of recognition in what you’ve read, I know there’s a quickening in the part of you that is not separate from me.
11. I’m never alone.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” I will be a perpetual student of this truth, presented mirthfully by the Beatles, for a long time to come. I was a student of it long before the universe unlocked so much of her beauty in me, and I know how far I have to go before it’s my default outlook on life. To know that I am never alone lets me hold any experience I’m having as one that the whole of creation is having. I know that when I breathe deeply into a hurt or don’t resist a laugh, that I am making in-roads for everyone else so that it’s easier for them next time. And the same is true for you. Every time you make a higher choice about how you want to respond or how you want to love, you help me. So thank you.
Walking the shamanic path is ever more inclusive. One of my other teachers (Jeff Carreira) once said, “The only problem with reality is that we don’t include enough of it,” and I find that to be a reliable statement. Weaving relationships with the elements or animal totems or plant allies is an ongoing process because everything is evolving, not just me. I feel grateful to have my very own roadmap to the cosmos and a way to share it with others who feel a similar longing for connection and a pattern to the chaos that is life.
For me, that is LOVE IN ACTION. It can take the form of gratitude, curiosity, beauty making, or doing a favor for a friend before they ask. In fact, I’m sure it takes more forms that I have dared to imagine yet, and I can’t wait to see them all.
The final thing I’d like to add is that if you’ve made it to the end of this article, you probably already have had a shamanic awakening or walk a shamanic path — whether you know it or not.
Thank you for being on this journey with me and may my words be of service to all my relations, for seven generations.
Amy Mermaid Isakov is a Pachakuti Mesa Carrier as taught by don Oscar Miro-Quesada and is passionate about spirituality, music, art, and how the Divine can manifest in all its forms. Having left the traditional education path, she has studied in-depth with shamans, bodyworkers, thought-leaders, and green builders. She finds herself blessed and grateful to be of service at The Shift Network as a course manager and to the greater Shift in our Collective Consciousness. When not on the computer, she takes her shoes off and lets the Earth sing her songs.
11 Things I Learned from a Shaman that Changed My Life November 16, 2015
Simple Ritual: Align Yourself to the Rythyms of Nature October 22, 2015