Linda Adler, L.C.S.W.
Linda Adler, L.C.S.W., APRT’s President from October 1997 to April 2000, has studied shamanism for many years and in many cultures. Here she draws on her extensive knowledge to discuss the similarities between PLT and shamanic practices and beliefs.
Shamanism may be the most ancient and widespread mind/body healing method known to man. It spans thousands of years and reaches across continents. Almost none of the ancient cultures left written records, so we can only learn of their practices through those who remain living and are willing to share them with us. Shamans are the spiritual leaders of tribal indigenous people, ordinary people with extraordinary powers. They are the keepers of a phenomenal body of ancient techniques which they use to achieve and maintain well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities.
Shamanism essentially means to honor life ‑ all life. Although their practices are not identical, there are remarkable similarities among the cultures and the intention and integrity of the shamans are aligned. The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus people of Siberia. It refers to those who have achieved mastery with the spirit world and who can bring spirits into themselves or visit them and use their power to help others.
The shaman enters into an altered state ‑ into a state of ecstasy. The dictionary defines this as “a state of overwhelming emotion; rapturous delight; a mystic or prophetic trance.” While in the altered state the shaman experiences “soul flight” or “journeying” ‑ an “out of body” experience. The soul or spirit travels through space and time into other worlds or distant parts of this world.
According to Michael Harner, in “core” shamanism, we live in a three-fold universe. We inhabit the middle world, power animals live in the lower world and master teachers dwell in the upper world. The shaman moves through these worlds for guidance and knowledge, and to obtain power to treat those who have come for healing. The shaman may also travel into nature, shape-shift into trees or plants, visit a volcano or fly to the moon, recognizing the wisdom in all things of the universe.
In the shamanic journey, frequently aided by rhythmic drumming, the shaman travels from “ordinary” reality to “non-ordinary” reality and back to “ordinary” reality (Harner). There is no distinction between real and imagined. The journey is a continuum of experience involving shifts in consciousness, all of which are considered real. It is a multi-sensory experience within a multidimensional universe.
Most of us will agree that, in the healing process, historical truth is not the primary focus. It is the reality of the experience for the individual, whatever it may be, that creates the opportunity for healing. With the blending of shamanic journeying with past-life therapy methods, we add breadth and depth to the experience. We use this remarkable visionary method to explore the ordinarily hidden universe. We not only travel into past lives, but into other dimensions and other realms of consciousness, to access the requested information, opening up the exploration to unlimited possibility.
The following is an example of that blending that I use with clients and workshop participants. It is based on the perspective that each of us is our own “master” teacher and it combines past-life regression and a shamanic journey to meet the participants’ master teachers ‑ themselves. We travel into a past life during which they meet themselves when they were living a lifetime where they were highly self-actualized, using their personal power wisely, and honored for their spiritual wisdom. They journey into the past and, instead of moving into the body, they dialogue with their master teachers (themselves) for guidance, wisdom, knowledge and healing. They are then able to re-identify with, re-own, and integrate these traits. The feedback I have received suggests that this has been the single most powerful process for self-mastery experienced by participants in all of my workshops.
Another adaptation from shamanism is to include rituals and ceremonies based on the way the shamans use them to complete the healing process after a journey. Shamans suck out poisons and toxins from the body, pull out broken hearts, absorb unwanted illnesses into eggs, shake off dark energies with leaves, and retrieve lost and split off parts of the soul. In past-life therapy, clients can, for example, be guided to create rituals during which they leave behind the “hangover” from the past with the body from which it originated. They can design ceremonies to bury, burn, throw off, drown, etc. those behaviors, symptoms, and issues which no longer serve them.
Healing has as much to do with the belief in the process as the work itself. These “imagined” rituals serve to empower the client as a proactive participant in their own healing. They are in keeping with the shamanic perspective that healing requires the “patient” to make an emotional commitment on a deep level of consciousness to work alongside the shaman-healer in their own behalf.
Each of us has a measure of the wisdom of the shaman within us. During the past-life therapy process, when our clients enter an altered state of consciousness, they travel in ways not unlike the shaman, from ordinary reality into non-ordinary reality. As past-life therapists, we are the vehicles through which spirit speaks and assists us in guiding our clients through their journeys of self-discovery.
For the shaman, time and space, multiple dimensions, other realms of consciousness, ordinary and non-ordinary reality are all fertile ground for exploration. Everything in the universe is interconnected, imbued with spirit, and related to everything else. The “medicine person” is only as effective as the spirits working through him/her. Both “patient” and therapist are accessing the wisdom and guidance of the spirits who assist them in retrieving the information requested. Healing occurs with the coming together of all elements available. It is a continuous, harmonious, multi-dimensional experience, with no distinctions and no limitations, intimately connected to spiritual forces that have the power to influence outcomes.
During the eleven years I have been using past-life therapy in my practice, I have seen excellent results. However, I have at times felt limited by the linear aspect of PLT, and the emphasis on the “past,” particularly in light of the fact that many view time as simultaneous and multi-dimensional, not linear. My experience has taught me that the client’s acceptance of the reality of his/her experience, regardless of what it may be: historical truth, myth, metaphor, allegory, collective unconscious, fantasy or some combination of them all (and then some), is where the healing takes place. The Western mind has a difficult time trusting its own experience, especially when there is an expectation that there is a “right way” to do the process.
The study of shamanism has greatly influenced the way I do my work. Wherever the question originates, the answer lies. The shamans teach us the limitlessness of the universe and the way of the shaman is to access information and guidance from all levels of awareness. Even the use of “imagination” can aid in opening up the mind’s barriers to memory when there is an obvious block or resistance during the process. This expansive approach to healing, which includes “soul” travel to the worlds of the spirits, has assisted me in releasing any limitation with regard to where and how the information is found. The more open I become, the more open my clients become and the more likely they are to have a successful healing experience.
References and Recommended Reading
Andrews, Ted. Animal Speak. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1996.
Drury, Nevill. The Elements of Shamanism. UK: Element Books Ltd., 1989.
Eaton, Evelyn. I Send a Voice. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1978.
Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.
Black Elk, Wallade & Lyon. William S. The Sacred Ways of a Lakota. NY: HarperCollins, 1990.
Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. NY: Harper & Row, 1982.
Ingerman, Sandra. Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Lame Deer, John (Fire) & Erdoes. Richard Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Perkins, John. The Stress‑Free Habit. VT: Healing Arts, 1989.
——— Psychonavigation. VT: Destiny Books, 1990.
——— The World is As You Dream It. VT: Destiny Books, 1994.
Villoldo, A. and Krippner, S. Healing States: A Journey into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Dream Change Coalition (Shamanic workshops, expeditions). P.O. Box 31357, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420‑1357 (561)776‑1448
The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, P.O. Box 1939, Mill Valley, CA 94942 (415)380‑8282