Shamans of the 21st Century

by Simon Goland, April 17, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about the new healers, of many kinds, in our 21st century.

A lone traveler is crossing the desert. He has been traveling for many days, and both he and his camel are tired. Exhausted really. Almost completely out of food and water. The sun is hot, the wind is blowing hard, and the sand is endless.

Suddenly, in the distance, he notices something. A spot of green. As he rides closer, he sees an oasis, and a village built around it. He approaches the very first house, on the outskirts of the village, gets off his camel, and knocks on the door. A young man opens, and welcomes the weary traveler inside.

He brings some water to wash the face and hands, then water to drink, and then food. After our traveler has eaten, drank, and rested, he thanks his host.

“Blessings on you, young man, for helping a lone traveler and stranger on his arduous journey,” he says. “I really don’t have many possessions with me, yet would love to repay you in some way.”

“You are most kind,” replies the young man. “I really don’t need anything. The only problem in my life is something nobody was able to help me with.”

He proceeds telling the traveler of the dilemma in his life, which has been a source of bitter dispute between his two older brothers and himself. Their father died over a month ago and left them 17 camels as inheritance. His instructions to divide the camels were such that the oldest brother gets 1/2 of the camels, the middle brother 1/3, and he, the youngest, 1/9 of the camels. The brothers talked to the elders, and other wise people of the village, and had endless arguments among themselves, yet were not able to divide the camels according to their father’s will. Peace has left them, bitterness and resentment have settled in their hearts, and the situation was getting worse among them.

“Hmm… This is a tough problem indeed,” said the traveler. “I really don’t have much with me, and so don’t know how I can help you. The only real possession I could offer is my camel. Then, you and your brothers will have 18 camels.” He proceeded to talk.

Your oldest brother should get 1/2 of the camels, which is 9.

Your middle brother is supposed to get 1/3 of the camels, which is 6.

And you, my new friend, should get 1/9 of the camels, which is 2.

“But, hold on,” says the young man. “There is one camel left.”

“True, my friend,” replies the traveler. “Perhaps, then, you would not mind if I will take him and continue on my journey. After all, this camel is my only possession.”

“Measure your greatness by the length of your reach, but also by the gentleness of your touch. For now, the world needs hands that love, not hands that conquer. Let your hands be among them.” – Kent Nerburn

I came across the following piece, written by Martha Beck, titled “World-Healers” and it got me thinking about the theme of this Reflection.

All traditional cultures recognize certain people as natural-born mystical healers (shamans, medicine men, pick your label). Modern Western culture has no category for such people. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. Right now, everywhere, ordinary people born to the archetype of the shaman are feeling compelled to begin finding one another and fulfilling their inborn purpose.

The great challenge of the 21st century is to wage peace on a globe full of humans while repairing the unintended damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves, other beings, and the earth. We need modern shamans to channel ancient “technologies of magic” like empathy, creativity, art, and spiritual interconnection, through “magical technologies” like medicine, computers, and satellites. That marriage of ancient and cutting-edge genius can heal hearts, minds, beasts, plants, ecosystems — almost anything.

If you feel something stirring in your heart at the thought that you may be shaman-born, pay attention. This is not an accident. Some as-yet unexplained force is calling you to join in a healing of unprecedented scope. And though that healing will, of course, follow the laws of science, doing it will feel like pure magic.

“Let what we love be what we do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi

Who are these healers and shamans of today? A girl who gives a dollar to a homeless person on the street? A corporate executive who quits his job and starts a non-profit? A marketing manager who leaves her company and becomes a yoga teacher? A bus driver who recites poems and other inspirational quotes all day to his passengers, at every bus stop? An MBA graduate who says no to a big and fancy corporate job, despite the huge student loan that needs to be repaid, and instead goes to work for a small travel agency that designs customized eco-tours to small groups of people?

They come in many forms, shapes, cultures, traditions, areas of passion, and the scale of their impact. No matter. They are all around us, doing their work, sharing their magic and gifts, day after day. Perhaps you too are one of them. Or can be…

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.