Aside from my emotional personal work with Elk, I’ve been exploring new territory with Brown Bear. As I’ve been returning to the more ritualized portion of my shamanic practice, Bear has been right there with me, telling me what s/he needs of me and how to do it. Part of this, of course, is for hir benefit; however, it’s also been great training for putting together the more formalized ritual practices I’ve been developing piecemeal for a while now. Much of this is stuff that I’m simply not able to talk about just yet–not out of any sense of “Woooo, I have mysteries that you can’t comprehend!”, but in the sense that it’s not yet ready for me to share, and the spirits would be unhappy if I brought it out prematurely.
Thinking back, I’ve realized that Bear has been the first one to step forward when I’ve wanted to try something new along (neo)shamanic lines. When I first started exploring totemism beyond Wolf, Bear guided me through some of my first rituals. And now s/he’s here again as my practice begins to branch out past my own personal needs, and I prepare to start shamanizing for others.
I was talking to Bear during a journey last week, and I told hir of my concerns as to whether I was “doing enough”. I talked about a friend of mine who is a much more experienced practitioner who’s been doing some serious work as of late. I look at what I do, and I feel like I’m such a novice. Even though I’ve been a pagan and magical practitioner since the mid-1990s, with shamanism I feel as though I’m just beginning to reach a new depth of experience that I really haven’t gone through before. This path has challenged me more than any other, though I think it took me until two years ago to really be ready for it. (Wow, has it been two years already?)
Bear told me that I’m giving myself more expectations and therefore more pressure than I need to. Even within a specific community, different shamans not only have different strengths and specialties, but also different commitment levels. If I end up not being as intense a practitioner on some levels as some other shamans in this culture, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not trying hard enough. There’s a tendency toward competition and one-upsmanship in American culture, and in many magical traditions it manifests as “Who can be the most non-fluffy?” Shamans may compare tough journeys and sacrifices as though the more you suffer, the better you do objectively speaking.
Yet Bear simply told me that we’ll see what I’m realistically capable of. I can’t just drop everything else in my life to try to eke out a living hanging up a shaman shingle. Granted, grad school and my future profession are linked to the shamanism, but I also have a life outside of that–significant others, friends and family, video games, Western martial arts, etc. Shamanism proper may never be an all-consuming things, and my “official” profession as a therapist may always eclipse the ritual work to some extent. But then again, it may not. Bear has a very wait-and-see attitude, and the long view of the fact that I’m only thirty, ideally I have a few more decades to live, and plenty can happen in that time.
So once again I’m grateful to Brown Bear for hir perspective and reminding me that this isn’t a competition; there are enough people (and other beings) in need that I don’t need to prove I’m more 1337 than the next shaman to be able to help.