(warning: some might consider this a rant)
In our tightly scheduled culture, most people are alienated from the natural world. Shamanism is therefore defined by books, that is, readers form relationships to words on paper instead of forming relationship through interactions with nature. What a completely unnatural way to learn about shamanism. In fact, most contemporary people interact with nature in two ways.
First, they complain about it. The weather is too cold, too hot, too wet. There is too much snow, not enough breeze, or too much wind. I catch myself doing that too; my joints hurt during cold spells and headaches forecast certain weather changes. When I notice I am doing that, I remind myself that rain brings the blessing of abundant water and fertile plants, needful food and drink for our region. Some days it is hard to remember the beauty of weather and the cycles of nature when my body feels pain. Still, I miss the days of impromptu walks in the woods, of watching playful raindrops dappling the waters of a lake, of hiking towards clouds rising high above the mountain. Nature is ever bounteous, ever willing to expand life beyond the momentary crisis, and I long for the days when it was easy to join that natural world. But my view is closer to the shaman’s viewpoint.
I am amazed at how many people view nature as strange and frightening. Sirens warn of danger in thunderstorms as well as tornados, and people hide in windowless rooms and slightly damp basements. In fact, a lot of people need those sirens to tell them when a storm is dangerous because they have lost the experience that would offer that knowledge; they can’t look at the sky or watch the animals and birds to predict the storm’s severity. With no personal scale, they depend on newscasts and sirens.
They go outside as little as possible. And that leads to the second way that people interact with nature; most interactions occur during scheduled events that necessitate outdoor participation. However, those events don’t happen in the untamed countryside. Family reunions happen in “nice” parks, those that are tidied through mowing, raking, and meticulous maintenance. For many people, the major time spent outside happens during sporting events. But those locations do not encompass the natural world. They are formed and shaped. In case the game lasts too long into the evening, ball fields sprout enough lights to turn night into daytime. Although fishing is considered relaxing, special gear must be stored in tackle boxes and danger can be kept at bay through proper safety equipment. Hunting has moved out of the realm of necessity and into the domain of sport. Wearing special clothing and carrying high-powered weapons, any human being can walk out to dominate the natural world. Perhaps people watch a parade or attend a “first night” celebration downtown in the nearby city. Even exercise which requires participation are molded into controlled events to eliminate the possibility of nature intruding. For instance, if individuals jog outside, they wear headphones.
Does anyone sit outside to meditate? Spotting birds on a family walk has been replaced by the license plate game in the car. Other than hikers, the majority of people don’t walk any where, let alone through nature. Instead of walking as a means to a destination, walking has become a form of exercise. Who remembers the enjoyable experience of strolling with friends?
I’ve heard the same comment from Freshmen in college and from 35-year-old mothers: “Nature is scary.” Nature has turned into an alien world that must be tamed. Based on that attitude, lawns must be groomed; each weekend someone must carefully mow the yard around that single specimen tree and tear out any unrecognized vegetation. Dominion—be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth—subdue it so you no longer fear it. Use it expecting that there will always be more.
Argue over political sound bites and ignore the reality that they hide. Dominion over the earth has lead to poisoned water, dust storms, dynamited mountaintops, acid rain, and air pollution. We have not tamed the Earth; we have battered it. Perhaps that is why “nature is scary.” Perhaps that fear is the bully’s subconscious reaction to knowing what we have allowed to happen.
Now, when you feel that hole in your soul, that missing connection to Pachamama, you don’t know how to find what you never had. And so, you pick up a book on Shamanism and expect to learn what has been lost in its pages. Yet, that book can only give you a glimpse through the window. Even so, if you pay attention, it can shine a light out into the reality that you have lost.