Shamanic traditions, although often trivialized, offer time-proven approaches to meet the challenges of living by opening bodies, minds, (hearts), and spirits to the transmission of life force energy.  In the West we have forgotten this connection, says Keeney, yet this energy is a healing reservoir that can be activated by such methods as dancing, singing, touching, shaking and praying.  These are the tools and the healing way of the shaman.

1.  Shaking with the Spirits

At the core of shamanistic healing practice is movement and arousal-not relaxation, tranquility or talking through problems.  "In the West we are too stationary," says Keeney.  "We need warming up, not crossing our legs and standing still.  We must get up and move.  We must dance and go past dancing to vibrating and shaking."  The paradox, adds Keeney, is that "when we still the body, the mind gets busy.  But in Africa when the body gets very busy [as in the ecstatic dance of the Bushmen], the mind gets still.  It's shake and bake...It's opening to the universal life force."

The best way to get more healing life force energy, Keeney suggests, is to move more: to rock, dance, walk, swim our arms, tap our feet, bob our heads--all in a non-choreographed, free-flowing way.

2.  Improvisation and Play

It's been Keeney's observation that people in trouble take themselves too seriously.  That's why he believes that any healing interventions should take place on the level of play, always interjecting some element of surprise through sound, sight, touch or movement.

According to Keeney, improvisation is a way to cut loose, a kind of crazy wisdom we can apply to our lives.  The art of improvisation uses whatever is at hand.  For example. to break out of the habit of overeating, we can do absurd things with food, such as singing to the chocolate or dancing with the pasta.  To cope with an illness, we can personify it in sculpture.

A shaman is constantly improvising, says Keeney, and in improvisation there is no wrong note:  "Hitting a clunker note is simply a surprise that must be creatively woven into the ongoing flow of sounds," he says.  In the same way an unexpected mistake can reveal hidden talents and desires.  "Authentic shamanism is always a voyage into the unknown where no one, no even the designated shaman, will know what he or she will experience."

3.  Circle of Love

"The shaman's starting point is a burning sun of passionate connection with all of life, the original source of love, taken to its purest and most intense form," says Keeney.  "Spirit touches and moves our lives through the mystery of love and relationship."  

"Here on Turtle Island we thirst for spirit.  We think we can get that by finding the right ceremony, the right mantra, the right teacher.  We are 'line people' cut off from the circle of life.  We miss what is most essential-that everything is connected.  We must become circle people."

Shamans demonstrate how we can become less linear.  They know that they are no different from the beings around them.  They understand that they have as much madness, neurosis, and sickness as anyone they would attempt to heal, and they submit themselves to the same healing process "so they can touch one another and be touched by the Big God."  Shamans accept the polarities of life with equanimity, and each one has gone through a birth and death experience.

4.  Blowing the Heart Wide Open

To become whole, we must be broken, the shamans say.  We have to move beyond our arrogance, dropping to our knees and come to know love as the ultimate healer.  "Our hearts must be broken so that we can find heart-and become fully heart," says Keeney.  "To be available to big mystery and big love; you have to have your heart blown (and we thought we had to have our minds blown)."  Keeney laughs.  "How you love the other is the making of who you are."

an interview with Bradford Keeney
by Sylvia Somerville

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