Death Is the Road to Awe – Clint Mansell

A winding road that's leading to an overcast mountaintop.

Shamanic Death and Rebirth

For all of this talk of what I am, and how I got to this moment in time, none has been more surrounded in mystery than my first class with John, in 2006.  There's a lot to be said if I could find the words for it, and there's more to be said when we look at the losses in both John's life, and my own, and how they reflect the intricacies of our relationship, despite both of us being born into different families and at different points in time.  And that's the thing, you know?  It's realizing that we're different people, born at different times, that affect the outcome in different ways, and at the same time, are completely the same.

John, in this reality, is a well-known and well-respected bodywork instructor that specializes in the creation and instruction of Myofascial Release.  Ryan, at the time, was a young business owner that found himself with a bigger opportunity, a reluctant business partner, and the perfect storm of a shamanic death that happened to bridge into the waking reality of this weekend seminar.  I must say, that as we speak of shamanism and the shamanic death, that I don't take these words lightly and that I can't understate the importance of respecting these spiritual forces for what they are capable of.  I think that we, as Westerners, have familiarized ourselves with the topic of shamanism to the point of intellectual suffocation.  By that I mean we find ourselves reading on these topics, and brushing them aside, perhaps based on the purported lack of scientific evidence, without ever having experienced them ourselves.  The psychological impact of shamanic death is beyond words.  The events surrounding my participation in John's class are beyond a rational explanation.  And my lack of discourse with psychological counselors, at the time, is self-evident in protecting myself, and the messages that were received.

In fact, it has been a long time coming in sharing this story with you, as these relationships are still intertwined in legal matters that have extended beyond the normal course of action.


Before we move into a discussion regarding the shamanic techniques that got me there, that moved me into just the right position to publicly martyr myself, it's equally important to weave Zen Buddhism into this conversation.  As some you know, I began my lay practice studies at Zen Mountain Monastery, which's located in Upstate New York, in the spring or summer of 2002 and I consider myself lucky to have connected with John Daido Loori, well before his passing in 2009.  It's equally important to bring the Study of the Self into this conversation regarding shamanic death and how Zen Buddhism addresses a person's ability to transcend the mundane while living their everyday life.  Meditation is at the center of our practice and contrasts sharply with the shamanic journey and its promise of soul-traveling to alternate realities.  Of course, these things are possible, and quite helpful in their own right although when a person transitions from the practice of an astral plane type of projection, into zazen, or quietly sitting with stillness and then returning to their breath, a dramatic turn takes place.

This brings us to an in-depth look at the current generation of American Zen Masters, and you've seen me mention her time and time again, but we'll have to take a look at Roshi Joan Halifax, and her 1979 publication Shamanic Voices, for an even better understanding of the shamanic death and how this process plays out for the initiate.  Upon reading her work I found comfort in finding the bizarre, and oftentimes unexplainable, circumstances surrounding these rites of passage.  I've also found comfort in knowing that initiates from across time and space itself, have found themselves surrendering to the same inexorable call.  You may see this come across in my writing, whereas I easily dismiss the shaman's journey, the work they were called to perform, and how this comes about in their own lives.  You may also see me avoid this in a conversation when I find myself scoffing at the intellectual process regarding spirituality, and one that's often found in contrast to the volume of work that's at your local New Age store.  The New Age serves a purpose, yes, but it seems to be filled with the promise of another person's experience, rather than your own.

I practiced shamanism for years before connecting with John.  I stalked the same dream and danced with the same paw only to find myself walking further down the spiral of life, and into the unknown.  Somewhere along the way, I learned how to dream the future self into being – and here I am.  Walking, waiting, and watching for the Hollywood types to come along.  I don't often share who these people are, because, well, it's a complicated mess that's been made simple.  Hollywood is a complicated mess from the best I can tell and this dialogue also spans multiple lifetimes and helps to explain why some talented people are in the spotlight, while others are not.  There was a time actually, when I thought that I was going to be an actor.  Or a writer.  Or an actor turned writer.  I actually moved out of state once to finish an undergraduate degree, only to remain distracted by the personalities in Columbus, and their interactions online.  It wasn't a safe situation for my family at home, thus I returned to protect my best interests.