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As above so below, within as without, except for with other people. I've worked with others as a modern shaman since 2000, and the hardest facet of that role to impart is creating balanced relationship with All Things--especially each other--and live it in our "I" culture. It's easy to feel interrelated in trance, to idealize it in solitude, but to reach beyond the isolation of how capitalistic culture has created us and fosters us poses significant challenges. We end up living the collective experience alone. In this blog I explore new approaches to being an introverted, suburban American animist in an individualist culture, and living that connection out loud.

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Totemism is as Animist Does

Loblolly by the-specious@flickrI'm always reminding clients and students to use their totems, not just visit them in trance and arrange them just-so on altars. I don't know if it's a Western habit or a general human one, but it seems a constant reminder is needed that we have resources, we have help. Isn't that the crux of animism? We're not alone. We don't have to do everything alone.
 
One of the key components of shamanism that makes it viable is the engaging of totems in holding space, not just acknowledging them every now and then, but actually allowing them to help us create, hold, and be the space. Any time, any place.
 
Case in point: After a long hiatus from working out due to chronic health conditions, I've recently begun running again. It's been a long time since I've run, actually. Over the last two years I've done all sorts of other workouts sporadically, though managing acute asthma took a toll on sticking with consistent activity. In that timeframe my body has been telling me to run, and I've avoided doing so, partly out of sheer fatigue, but also out of fear, trepidation that I'd trigger the awful episodes I've worked so hard to control.
 
Last week I threw caution to the wind and decided it was time, not just to engage in duration exercise, but to do what my body has been telling me it wants to do: run. I've started with short duration and gone a little longer each day, climate-controlled, nice and tidy. The other day it was cool outside, so I ran outdoors. Once I got past the initial aches and moans of an asphalt half mile, I found my rhythm, then minor annoyances abated. However, other chatter began. My lungs began to burn and that familiar choking sensation crept through my airways, wrapped my throat, and I began coughing. I started stressing.
 
I slowed my pace but stayed moving, soothing the worried voice in my head. As I did, I noticed birds singing, a soft breeze blowing in the treetops, dogs barking, rasping cicada tymbals. I smelled pine, freshly mown grass.  Surrounded by Nature, I decided to take my own medicine. I realized my inherent soul connection to the elements around me, and thanked them for supporting me on my run. I invited them to tell me what they need from me, and was told to engage them again, and again. I really felt like I wasn't running through the elements, but with them, actively.
 
These weren't new spirit visitors or Nature friends. I've worked with many of them before in fleeting engagements. I honor them each time I create sacred space in my home because they are the Nature Spirits of my land, its Elders. However, bringing them into my daily routine was a vastly more validating experience, interactive not just in my senses, but my cells.
 
And yes, my breathing eased. I finished the run with no problem.
 
No, they weren't my personal totems. I don't have likenesses of loblollies or cicadas on my altar. The thing is, they don't have to be. Even in off-the-hook shamanist and totemist circles, there still pervades the idea that we're locked into certain totems, forever and always, that we can't just honor drive-by connections, or ones that suit specific circumstances. Such limitation is what inhibits deep animistic connections. It's just too easy to move through the space around us and not notice all the support that's there. Yet it's equally easy to pause for a second and consider the spiritual surroundings, the waiting support.
 
I say it over and over, but the hardest part of mindfulness and forging an authentic spiritual path is to remember to pause.  When we remember the pause, we recall to choose how we move forward.

SoulIntentArts.com

I haven't run outdoors since, but I will. I have, however, driven through my neighborhood every day, seeing it, hearing it, experiencing it with different appreciation, a fuller sense of being.
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Kelley is an author and modern shaman in North Carolina. She writes about the challenges of being a neoshaman and renegade Druid, as well as those of transforming spiritual emergency into a meaningful soul path (while still managing to show up for work every day and put food on the table). She shares The Weekly Rune at soulintentarts.com, and created the Tribe of the Modern Mystic to support and mentor spiritual emergence in community. Find more information about Soul Intent Arts at http:/www.soulintentarts.com , and her publications at http://www.kelleyharrell.com .

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