Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday Shamanism

There is a slightly derogatory term - used sometimes to describe hobby artists - by those who take their art more seriously, this term being 'Sunday painter.'
   To me this always conjures up a picture of someone sitting to a kitchen table, painting away for a few hours after the traditional Sunday roast has been consumed and the washing up's been done -
and before a late Sunday afternoon cup of tea and slice of cake in front of the fire, and a settled Sunday evening of television.
   I am sure however that - if I think about it - this is a rather fanciful view, as I suppose I am a 'Sunday painter' myself, only getting my brushes out now and again when time permits - although I don't personally possess a kitchen table on which to practice. Despite the lack of a large body of completed artwork, I would still describe myself as an artist - albeit not one who earns their daily crust from the toil of the paintbrush.

   So, what about the Sunday shaman? Does such a being exist, or is it in fact impossible to be anything else?

   I have a bit of a problem with the workshop scene that has grown up in the West around shamanism (or any other spiritual-ism come to that). My problem is this, people often step out of their lives to attend the workshop, and then step out of the workshop and step back into their lives again - and often never the twain shall meet.
    Now, please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people should not go on workshops. I have done hundreds of them myself over the decades - on medicine wheel, shamanism and Buddhism, and even more, if I add on all the ones I attended on psychotherapy, and I have gained huge amounts of knowledge and practices from them. I have never once gone off to sit at the feet of some ancient shaman in a tar-paper shack in the backwoods of some far away country and apprenticed myself to them, sitting at their feet for months on end, soaking up their wisdom.
   So, if I have attended so many workshops and got so much from them, why on earth would I say I have a problem with them?

   A Sunday painter is a hobby painter rather than a professional one, they don't get up each day and head to their studio to work away on their art, and yet art is generally central to their lives, often their homes are filled with work by other artists and books on art, and their friends are often other 'Sunday painters.' Art is their passion - a major reason for existence.
   Can the same be said for many who step into the plethora of shamanic workshops out there? How is it that it is often so difficult to maintain a shamanic practice in modern society, how do we, as people living in a society filled with 'dead matter thinking' - as one of my medicine teachers aptly put it, maintain our connection to the wider perception we dibble our toes in when we go on workshops - once we have returned home again?

   When I first met medicine wheel teachings, some 25 years ago now, I came back from (yes you've guessed it) the workshop, with my eyes spinning and my head doing cartwheels. Once home I said to my beloved "I think my life has just changed" and I knew deep down inside I had to make it a main thing in my life.
  I've been lucky - shamanism in it's many forms is my day job, although a lot of that day job revolves around the admin of shamanism, such as magazine subscription databases and the packing up of magazines to post out  - and believe me a shamanic database is not any different to a none shamanic one at the end of the day - nor is shamanic post.

   But despite shamanism being my day job - I am not a full time shamanic practitioner - I'm a Sunday shaman. I generally do healing and other shamanic work for people in the evenings and do my own practice then also.
   And that is really the way it has always been; just about all the medicine people and shamans I have worked with spend their days living their lives, doing what they do, often holding down other jobs, or looking after their families - doing the stuff of life. But they also have the medicine, or shamanism, weaving through their lives like a red thread that holds it all together - like a Sunday painter their art is central to their lives.

   I suppose another reason I am distrustful of workshops is that they can foster the appearance that the workshop leader is a shamanic professional. We all, as human beings, have a propensity to put professionals on pedestals, and often defer to them accordingly (or spend our lives trying to knock them off). In so doing, we give up our own power.
   Certainly a professional workshop leader should have good group work and communication skills, so they can lead the people in their circle to the shift in perception needed to take on the shamanic reality they are trying to transmit - but that does not make them a professional shamanic practitioner, it just makes them a professional communicator, like I am often a professional database facilitator.
   I think it is too easy for people attending workshops to feel 'unprofessional' in their shamanic practice, as if they are only visitors to the shamanic world the workshop leader inhabits all the time - and so they often only feel, at best like 'Sunday shamans,' hobby shamanic practitioners - and they step out of this 'professional world' back into the 'normal world' once again at the end of the workshop.
   But in reality, the 'normal world' is where the power is - the professional shaman is an oxymoron, and shamanism belongs on the kitchen table, not in a fancy workshop venue.

   With artists, I guess you could say a professional one is one who earns their daily crust from their art; but beyond the earning, what makes them true artists is the courage they show in following their art where ever it takes them, and the passion they feel for their art as it fills their lives.
   Sunday painters have their own degree of courage and passion - and sometimes their work is mediocre and sometimes it is resplendent - but they do it because they too have their share of courage and passion and follow it to the best of their ability.

   So I encourage us all to be Sunday shamans, and bring the passion we feel for shamanic practice into our lives, and fill our lives with that passion so we eat and drink it. We need to put it on the kitchen table where it belongs, and although we can't all be shamanic Picasso's, if we feed it - it will feed us.



  1. Nothing significant to add other than that I agree and wanting to tell you you're not talking to yourself!

  2. Very, very powerful sharing! I sooo agree!

  3. I do very much agree! I think that when you train in something it affects the way you think and how you interact with the world. I trained as a Scientist and that training has left me with a desire to learn and put the jigsaw of reality together inside my head which makes sense. I question, a lot. I love crafts and have friends who are very creative and arty and I have wondered about their differences - their brains have not been trained in the same way as mine at all and they do not appear to think like me either and even more importantly, I think they see the world incredibly differently. They look out a window and see colour and tone and grayscale and a million other related things where as I see species, ecosystems, forces... I think the same is true of those who take any Shamanism training, on some level it changes the way you look at the world. Our problem is that we don't have a word for those who Shamanise, who try and live more shamanically but who do not wish to claim to be leaders, people of power or some other sort of movers and shakers. We like to label and presently I have no label for my spiritual path, not really... I am not sure that is a bad thing, pigeon holes are confining too. *laugh*