On Wounding And Healing: The Sacred Path Of The Shaman

Someone in my larger spiritual circle who doesn’t really know me well recently judged my “health issues” (aka CANCER) as “illusion”, and the conclusion then drawn was that I am not as spiritual or as enlightened as him. It’s certainly not the first time I have experienced this kind of attack. Basically, if I am truly a spiritual person, or even more precisely, if I am a shaman, I wouldn’t have become ill in the first place.

Many people don’t fundamentally understand shamanic initiation or the purpose of affliction and suffering.

Kathe Kollwitz: Tod and Frau (Death and the Woman)

But, as usual when I am ‘attacked’ I come back to center and introspect to discern what is me and what is not, what is true and what is projection- to find my power once again. This negative interaction made me really think about my walk with the Madre Muerta and where that puts me. The conclusion I came to is that I AM SHAMAN. Even with my process of my dis-ease AND healing I have walked a middle road, an in-between road. This is the hallmark of the shaman: to bridge the worlds, to reconcile the opposites.

Golter Gate at City of Hope Duarte, California

Golter Gate, City of Hope
Duarte, California

This is often a lonely road though because it makes me neither fully in this circle or that one and forever on my own unique path. In the breast cancer community I’ve struggled with the over-materialization of the dis-ease and healing processes. Most women don’t want to accept responsibility for their own dis-ease process, let alone their own healing process. They want to quantify it through the allopathic medical model, which leaves them little control over any of it. In this paradigm healing is elusive and totally dependent on external application of medical treatments, which arbitrarily may or may not work depending on mysterious physiological factors that no one quite understands, including the doctors. If you are treated into remission you’re just one of the ‘lucky ones’, a ‘good responder.’ (Which isn’t a model that ever worked in my case anyway, as I did NOT respond well to treatments, having had a metastatic recurrence after every treatment available through allopathy and at highly aggressive dosages). So this puts the locus of control entirely external and makes helpless victims of any who should be so unfortunate to suffer the dis-ease of cancer. Allopathy remains a very problem-centered approach, offering solutions that are all external and remain largely non-curative.

On the other end of the spectrum is my spiritual community, which at times is equally as blinded by their own rigid adherence to their beliefs. From within this paradigm people are often uncompassionate and unforgiving in their understanding of dis-ease. Many of them hold a notion that we can bypass all this needless suffering and dis-ease by transcending it all, simply choosing to not buy-in to the story we’re telling ourselves. It is we who manifest our own reality, and any dis-ease is wholly determined to be a spiritual malady, a problem with the soul. Some of them pass judgement on those who accept allopathic treatments, praising those who go the entirely ‘alternative’ path. But I’ve seen those ones die too. Death is no respecter of your ideology or your dogma, and sometimes the rigidity of these is what is killing you. Others will maintain that it’s karma- lessons to be learned from egregious mistakes we made in other incarnations. In its’ distorted form this blame-the-victim approach offers little hope for healing and can lead to fatalism- how can one ever escape their ‘karma?’ And still others will insist on a much too simplistic understanding of the psychobiological aspects of dis-ease, parroting things they’ve heard or read elsewhere as if it were proven fact on the same level as research-based evidence (rational materialist allopathy). These people have no direct experience with any of these methods actually curing cancer. It’s likely no one cured their stage IV cancer by eating only organic foods, by meditating, or Reiki treatments as singular methods. And direct experience with healing is always a better basis for evidence than reading about unverified methods and assuming them to be superior just because they’re not allopathic.

At the end all this exposure to the spiritual ideology and the scientific ideology it’s neither and both, and never really either or. But it wasn’t actually cancer that taught me this. Cancer taught me how to take my healing skills and gifts and apply them to myself. I AM a walking miracle. I don’t attribute this to some mysterious ‘luck’ with my body’s response to allopathic treatment. Nor can I say it was entirely all me transcending my dis-ease, just manifesting a new reality. It was actually my perseverance and a really long and hard process of digging deeper and deeper to the roots, and wrestling some pretty big dragons along the way. It was me refusing to deny that I was dying, and embracing the Death Mother completely, which is counter-intuitive to all the things my spiritual community would say I should do. It was a good dose of God’s grace and the bigger plan for my soul incarnation at this time, and the support of the Spirits in pushing me forward. It was my willingness to suffer and endure some very harsh treatments, and fully embracing allopathy and its’ limitations. And of course my tenacity and self-advocacy while facing-off with the medical establishment and insurance industry too. But to bridge the two extremes in these dichotomous circles was a calling that came through my son and his manifestation and healing from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.

Many who have known me a good while will remember my late night/early morning pleas for prayers as yet another emergency room visit with my son left me exhausted and feeling helpless. We had numerous ICU stints where he was placed in medication-induced coma, intubated with machines breathing for him, and tubes and hoses sustaining his functions. I can’t forget that moment this neurologist stood at the foot of his ICU bed, my son totally snowed-under while I am watching the small but still obvious signs of seizure continuing to occur as the ‘expert’ was informing me that my son’s seizures weren’t “real” and “there is a fundamental difference between seizures that occur in the brain and those that don’t.” It’s all driven by his emotions, he said. I can still feel the anger as I pointed at that man, the end of the line of dozens before him, and told him that he clearly did not know what he was talking about, because if a seizure wasn’t occurring in the brain, where else could it be occurring? And how could he possibly explain how someone in medically-induced coma was having any emotion, much more an emotion strong enough to induce seizure?

It was the second time in a year we had to take my son out of ICU against medical advice because of the total lack of compassion and understanding, and utter mismanagement of his care. This particular time he was in full tardive dyskinesia, his neck cocked sideways and fixed, his tongue protruding in a twisted and rigid manner, his diaphragm involuntarily spasming, leaving him unable to breathe. Yet they still insisted this was all symptoms of his psychological/somatic condition, as they continued to give him the medication that was causing this reaction. To suggest that taking my son out of ICU in this condition, putting him in the car to bring him home so we could nurse him back to wellness was terrifying is understating the complexity of the decision. But we had to do it.

He had test after test and saw doctor after doctor. It was always the same callous response- his condition is psychological- go see a psychiatrist and get into psychotherapy, preferably cognitive behavioral in method. We did all that. We sat in front of the psychiatrist who listened to all my son’s symptoms and complaints. She would shake her head and tell us there was no medicine to treat any of that and all those symptoms are of neurological origin, including the autoscopic hallucinations. “But”, she emphatically stated, “no marijuana.” If I could earn a dollar for every time someone ‘informed’ me over the years, both with my cancer treatment and with my son’s seizures, that cannabis was the cure-all I would have enough money for a really lavish vacation! Apparently cannabis use prior to age 24 can cause schizophrenia. And with a family history of psychosis, she didn’t think the potential for mediating psychogenic seizures was worth the risk of developing psychosis. There’s always someone somewhere with an opinion, and usually that person think’s their opinion is superior to any other.

You really do have to discern between competing ideas, mine what you can from the mountains and sift what you can from the dirt, and forge your own path, without doubt.

But I complied with the allopathic path and fought long and hard, well into the night and often with no sleep, because it’s what my son wanted. He needed to feel that he had no control, that he was somehow the victim of something that was only compounded by the increasing medical trauma he was experiencing. And my son was solidly in adulthood by this point, so as his mother I couldn’t impose anything against his will. Anyone with adult children knows that we have to earn the right to sit at their table of counsel once they become adults. And my son wasn’t at the point that he would accept any of my offers to work on healing with him. The ethics in all healing practices hold that one should not do any kind of work, regardless of the modality (even prayer), if you do not have the permission to do so. So I could not override my son’s will in refusing my advances towards healing, even though as his caregiver I was suffering tremendously as well, exhausted from over a decade of my own incredibly intense healing path with cancer.

So we longsuffered it. Psychiatry pointed us in the direction of neurology, neurology pointed us in the direction of psychiatry, and psychotherapy had no effect in decreasing the seizures. We both felt hopeless. Allopathy not only offered no hope, it was often an abusive, callous, and traumatic experience, especially when the hospitals became involved.

This is an actual excerpt from a report from an emergency room physician, detailing his perception of the conflict I had with him over my son’s care. He kept trying to tell me my son is a drug addict and was feigning seizure to get the drugs. But there’s a lot easier ways to get benzos then falling down a  flight of stairs in seizure, or busting your head and body up, requiring days of recovery for a little bit of benzo sleep ever so often. Besides, my son’s ICU admissions were caused  by paradoxical reactions from the benzos, so they weren’t ever his friends anyway, nor is the hospital a safe place for people with autism.

Graszka Paulska

How I helped my son cope with his hopelessness, while hiding my own sense of it which was tied to his emotional immaturity and unwillingness to move into healing, was to prompt him towards empathy. Certain moments of this journey are etched deeply. This one day in particular we were alone in the car together and he was lamenting about his suffering, expressing his suicidal ideation- which is incredibly common with people with Functional Neurological Disorder because of the totally disabling nature of the symptoms and the lack of understanding and treatment within the medical community, as it often does blame the patient for the disorder and offers no effective treatment. This particular day I paused and asked him if he felt his suffering was making him more compassionate towards others who suffer. He agreed that it had. And so I explained that his own suffering was never meant to be in vain, but was a process that was deepening him for some greater work that lies ahead, that he was forging a path as a leader so that he could reach back behind and lead others out of the nightmare of FND or whatever other nightmare they may be suffering in.

But all my ‘pep talks’ still weren’t enough. I didn’t expect them to be. I was just looking for a road in and trying to plug up a leaking boat. The seizures continued.

And I was getting drug down with him. Over and over it was me on the floor with his 200 pound body, trying to keep him safe and his head protected through the violent convulsing. It was me chasing the ambulance at 2am, losing sleep while showing up for chemotherapy the next day. Exhaustion isn’t even the right word  to describe the bone-deep experience of the utter loss of vitality. I literally could feel myself dying. So another moment came that etched itself in memory- the morning after an all-night emergency room visit. Being the only consistently compassionate one in my son’s life, the only advocate and friend he had, I took a giant risk in isolating him further, but in desperate self-preservation I had to. I knew this might push him over the edge to suicide, but I couldn’t see drowning in a sinking ship along with him. This meant accepting his death by suicide if this is how he chose to go. We had already been close enough to that during ICU stays.

Aime Morot
The Good Samaritan

I slammed my hand down on the counter and demanded that this was enough. I am exhausted and I can’t do this anymore. He resisted. He said that he couldn’t help it and now I was becoming like ‘them’, blaming him for something he had no control over. He insisted, as he had done so many times prior to this, that his seizures had a physiological cause that they just couldn’t understand yet. I agreed with him this was likely the case. Of course there is a physiological pathway for the manifestation of his seizures. How could there not be? But, I told him, you’re getting stuck on the cause and the only way forward is the solution. It doesn’t matter the cause really. What matters is how you heal. And you’re not going to begin healing until you take responsibility for it.

Still resisting he told me to just call for an ambulance and let him go to the hospital alone the next time he has a seizure. It had gotten to the point when I didn’t even call for emergency services anymore because it wasn’t doing anything to help and often made things worse. But when he had seizures in public, most certainly if I wasn’t present with him, someone would call for emergency services and I would have no choice but to chase the ambulance. I reminded him of what happens when he’s incapacitated because of a seizure and then the heavy drugs they give him- involuntary catheterization and sometimes even total intubation. The hospital is disappointingly not a safe place for my son- they’ve nearly killed him more than once. Reminding him of that and what happens if I am not present with him to advocate for him jolted him out of the singular sense of self and invited him into my own world, and to recognize some of the sacrifices I was also suffering as his caretaker. It was this moment I saw him straighten his shoulders and his eyes shifted. Something moved, a stumbling block. It wasn’t as if I stumbled upon it myself, not knowing it was even there. It was more that I had been dancing around it, pointing to it, softly trying to warn him it was there. And I had reached a critical point in my own healing journey where this tender approach was no longer working and we were in a real emergency. I had to let go of him completely, accept death as the possible outcome, and shout out loudly to Ganesh to  demand the stumbling block be removed.

It was never that I did not wholly believe there was a legitimate physiological pathway for his seizures. It was never that I thought he had control of them (consciously) or that the seizures were a result of a psychological condition. But when the doctors are all telling you that this is the case, that this is a somatic condition, and there are no appropriate tests or models to demonstrate the pathway for the seizures to occur, and there’s no hope for cure or even effective treatment being offered, you’re really left with no choice but find a way to heal outside of allopathy or sink to the bottom of an unforgiving ocean of despair.

If they honestly believe that the human brain is powerful enough to manifest violent, whole-body, consciousness altering, convulsive, clonic tonic type seizures because of a psychological condition of the mind, then surely we are powerful enough to cause any dis-ease or dis-order in the body, and are equally as powerful to cure ourselves of anything. So all I did was demand my son take his power back and do something with it. And likewise, it wasn’t that I only looked at the seizures through lenses of science. It was my son’s seizures that profoundly solidified my feet on a shamanic path. I identified early on that the seizures were actually what I would call ‘shaman seizures.’ I knew he needed a mentor, someone to help him shamanize and do it safely. But I was unable to find anyone willing to help, and so it was as if this was yet another firming of the calling. Shamanizing myself was really the only way to actually help my son.

Immediately after that moment of shift he set up a crystal grid specifically for his seizures. That was totally his thing, as I don’t work in that way. He also began to allow me to do shamanic work with him, and some surprising and powerful Spirit allies showed up for him. Their presence and healing left undeniable evidence in the material world and my son’s seizures began to decrease from 3-4 a month to one every 3-4 months. He decided to titrate off all his psychotropic medications, which weren’t working anyway and which were becoming toxic to his liver. Years later and he has maintained himself on no medication and has decreased his seizures to less than once a year. We both agree that he is done with the seizures and that he has essentially healed that aspect of his experience.

Statistical Outcomes For All Metastatic Breast Cancer

So he and I both are walking miracles. Having had a metastatic recurrence of my cancer after highly aggressive and multi-modal treatments, I literally had a death-sentence by statistical standards. I am in a less than 1% survival category. My son curbing his seizures while on no psychotropic medications, getting no cognitive behavioral therapy, especially given the severity of his seizures, is testament to true healing. I kind of think we’d expect our shamans to be walking a path of miracles. God wouldn’t need to part the Red Sea if the Israelites hadn’t been enslaved in Egypt, and Jesus wouldn’t have needed to turn the water into wine if the wine hadn’t run out in the first place. We don’t look at Jesus’ first public miracle and say He’s a fraud because if He was the real deal the wine would have never run out to begin with, and Lazurus would have never died if Jesus was truly a healer. Never mind that He raised Lazurus from the dead.

Marija Gauci The Wounded Healer

My point in offering a window into our journey, mutually and individually, is to first of all suggest that I know a thing or two about healing- we’re living proof of it! But it’s also to suggest that the shamanic path has never been about transcending anything, but transmuting it. Initiation serves a necessary and valuable purpose, and the only way out of it is through it. The Wounded Healer, which is a fundamental archetype of the shamanic presence, cannot be the healer without the wounding. So to suggest that someone in the midst of the initiatory process is less spiritual or that the non-manifestation of dis-ease is evidence of a whole spirituality is bad soul science. It’s antithetical to the shamanic path, and seeks to make the sacred profane. And likewise, underestimating the power of Spirit, of the human capacity to self-heal, of the mind and it’s dominion over all dis-ease is to totally ignore the single-most profound stumbling block of allopathic medicine: the Placebo Effect.

Healing is not the same thing as ‘cure’, and it’s not a destination. It’s a path. And healing is never about this method or that. It’s not about what you consume or don’t. And yet, paradoxically it’s about all of that. It’s about the intersection between the horizontal axis of healing modalities in the material realm, and the vertical axis of drawing in Source, Soul, and Spirit. It’s at this intersection between the axes the shaman stands and must bridge the two, intercessing for the healing of the one in need and asking. The prescription for each is as unique as the individual, and it requires a deep listening to the afflicted person, and a deep listening to Spirit equally. Bridging these two axes, a highly specific medicine emerges. While it is true that we each possess the medicine inside to heal ourselves, it is the unique role of the shaman to uncover, distill, and then administer the medicine back in integrity and with intention.

The Divine Challenger
Soul Collage® Card by Aimee K. Shaw

While I’ve done significant writing over at 3three3.org and have my Soul Whisperer channel on YouTube, I’m starting a new channel dedicated just to my experiences with cancer and treatment.