I have been fortunate enough to meet many spiritual teachers from different traditions. One which had a particularly profound effect on me was a First Nations shaman. Being from the other side of the world I knew nothing about First Nations people other than what I ‘learnt’ through Hollywood… The sanitised, somewhat Disney like Dances with Wolves idealised version of Native Americans. As stupid as it sounds when I first met this Shaman I just saw him as an American tourist wearing fancy jeans and a shirt…. No feathers or long braided hair, Not someone whose every word was pregnant with deeper meaning. He was in Sydney for an Indigenous Christian leaders conference and he asked if he could share my table at a packed lunchtime McDonalds in the city.
He was friendly and he started a conversation by comparing Maccas here in Sydney and in the USA. We started talking and pretty soon started to talk about spiritual things. At the time I was living in an Ashram and deeply involved in exploring Hinduism so I was not very tolerant of Christianity. However, this person told me although he was Christian he still practised traditional culture and was indeed a spiritual leader in his community (I later found out he meant he was a shaman). He invited me to dinner with a bunch of people from the conference so I could reconcile my Christian background with my spiritual practice. I was sceptical but intrigued.
As I expected most of the people at the dinner were ‘bible bashing’ Christians but I got to talk to my new friend even more. I spoke to him about my experiences with nature spirits, and about my experiences in meditation and dreams. He told me that everything was alive, or rather, had a life force and that if you were prepared and open enough you could communicate with other beings. I didn’t understand what he was saying. He explained to me how many traditional spiritual healers from the Americas would ‘meditate’ and enter a dreamlike state where they would communicate with trees, plants, animals and even ancestors. I said it sounded interesting but I still didn’t understand. It was getting late and he was flying back home the day after. He asked if I knew of any untouched bit of nature we could go to the next day because he wanted to show me something.
I arranged to meet him the next morning at circular quay. One of my favourite places where I felt most connected to the earth was a short ferry ride across the harbour. We got off the ferry and waited for it to leave. After a few minutes the tranquillity of the little cove emerged. I think he could sense the ancient power in this little part of the harbour. He told me that when he trains young people from his tribe to be shaman, one of the things they have to do is immerse themselves in the wilderness in isolation and listen to what the Spirit communicates. He said he couldn’t do that for me here as this was not his land, nor does he have the blessing of the local indigenous people or spirits but he could show me a glimpse. He asked me to sit comfortably, close my eyes gently as he sang a song in his language. It was very rhythmical but I had no idea what he was saying. When he finished singing the tranquillity of the little cove seemed to intensify. He softly told me that ….
‘the world is constantly communicating but our ears are too full to hear anything. In this moment empty your ears and listen with your heart. Imagine your ears are connected to your heart and open your mind to communication. Wind rustling leaves is communicating something. Waves lapping against the rocks is communicating something. Its up to you to listen and to interpret. There is no right or wrong answer, there is only an answer for this point in time’
I started to understand what he was talking about but we were interrupted by the ferry returning back to the city. On the ferry we exchanged emails and he said he’d be honoured to guide me through more of his traditional ways if I was interested. I as the one that was honoured. And so began an unusual, thoroughly modern teacher-student relationship for the next year or two.
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