When Shamanism Meets Western Medicine
If you mixed the ivory towers of Western Medicine with the back jungle villages of the native shaman and shook them up with Pop Rocks, you’d wind up with something that starts to resemble the way I work one-on-one with patients.
At least that’s what other people who hear me talk about my work tell me.
My Work is Shamanic? Say What?
For at least a year, people have been telling me that the way I practice medicine is very shamanic. Having never studied anything about shamanism, I’ve been a bit baffled by these comments since what I do when I’m with patients is purely driven by gut instinct.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I might do:
A woman who was abused and neglected throughout her childhood - let’s call her Glory - has grown up feeling unsafe in the world. She has been professionally trained to carry a gun and can knock a dangerous person flat on their back with one twist of an arm in the blink of an eye. As a child, she learned never to turn her back to anyone.
She has multiple mysterious medical problems. A disorder that saps her blood supply and requires “infusions” which I don’t understand as a physician. An inability to get anything inside her vagina. A debilitating combo of obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD.
But she is done. Glory is ready to heal these bad boys. She is committed and will do anything in order to LIVE.
After I did two extended sessions with Glory that included atypical techniques like direct eye gazing, intuitive guidance came to me in the form of an image of this woman cradled in my arms, with her back to my chest - turning her back to me.
So we did it.
Before she came, I blessed the space with sage, lit a candle, asked God and the angels to be with me and to protect the sacred space, and did a clearing meditation to get my own ego out of the way so the Divine could use me as a healing channel.
Then I created the nest by laying a yoga mat on the floor and covering it with soft blankets. Leaning back against a wall, I became the container, and with a pillow on my abdomen, I invited Glory to lean back against my body with her head resting on my chest and her back to my belly.
She raised an eyebrow at me and grudgingly knelt down, hesitating before turning her back to me and assuming the position.
I asked Glory to close her eyes, put a hematite stone shaped like a heart in her hand, and led her in a grounding meditation that tapped her into the core of Mama Earth and invited the earth energy to fill her body and connect with Divine love. I then turned on music, rang chimes, anointed her forehead with an aromatherapy blend I had mixed especially for her, and lay my hands upon her in various locations - her forehead, the tops of her arms, over her heart, moving between locations as the spirit guided me.
As I held her in my arms, I felt her body begin to lightly twitch. The twitching was followed by something that more closely resembled convulsions. I breathed through it, visualizing all the while that her demons were coursing out of her body and down the redwood roots coming from her body down deep into the core of the earth, where they were vaporized.
As her body quivered, I kept my hands on her, feeling an electric charge in them that was almost, but not quite, painful. The whole time, I was sending it energetically back to the earth.
Finally, after quite a while, her body was still. I keep my hands on her, running my fingers through her hair, keeping my hand over her heart in silence.
And then I guided her back into her body, turned the music off, rang chimes, and invited her back into the chair, where we processed together what had just happened. She had seen an image of her abusive mother in front of her, and she felt exhausted, but free.
Glory emailed me a few hours later to say she couldn’t get out of bed. She felt like she’d just been run over by a Mack truck. I told her she had just run an energetic marathon and that her response was to be expected. I encouraged her to sleep, rest, get a massage maybe.
The Next Session
Three days later, we did it again, only this time, her body was still the whole time as I led her in guided imagery to a fully healed version of herself at a point in the near future. She had the chance to see where she lived, meet her future self, ask her fully healed self any questions and receive a gift from her healed self. Then her healed self hopped on a beam of light with her and entered her body in the present moment. I pronounced her whole, healed and perfect just as she is, and then the session was over.
In Glory’s Own Words
The day after her second shamanic session, Glory wrote to me and said:
I have come back with a clarity of exactly what I do and don't want in my life. Like I mean, CLARITY. It’s almost frightening it's so clear. I do feel changed. I do feel free in a way that I never have. And I'm reaching for what I want without being timid.
A week later, she wrote:
I am doing wonderfully - free and light as bird, and I don't at all mind saying so. If I get anymore wide open than I am right now I'll be inside out, and that's just fine too. I spent the day with my friend yesterday and told her everything about the shamanic work and how it took it all away, how the weight of everything I carried is gone and the only person that dwells in me now is me. My mother's threatening and crushing presence is gone. The looming shadows of unknown men are gone. It’s just me! And I love that I have myself back, or possibly even that I have myself for the first time at all, ever. She said the difference since she saw me last was more than remarkable. Life is so good.
Glory is totally blowing me away, not just by the rapidity of her progress, but by her courage. This is intense work, and you have to be committed to going to some dark shadows in order to squeeze through the narrow place into the light. But when you’re working with someone like Glory, it’s remarkably easy, because she’s ready. She’s willing to try anything, go anywhere, do anything, in order to heal.
Glory credits me with the transformation she is undergoing, but I just told her the feeling is mutual. I am learning as much from Glory as she is from me. Because she has been so brave and willing to try anything I feel might help her, she has given me the chance to dive into uncharted territory in my work, so I can expand the definition of what “practicing medicine” means to me. In doing so, I am discovering the infinite capacity of both the human spirit and the human body. I will always be incredibly grateful to Glory for opening my eyes and my heart to the possibility of deeper, more sustainable healing.
In our next session, I am planning some more shamanic work, aimed more at her physical health issues. I won’t tell you what I intend to do because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for Glory, but suffice it to say that she won’t be needing me much longer. Whole healing, the kind I aim to help my patients achieve, can actually be that easy - and that quick. It just doesn’t have to be hard.
And when we combine this kind of healing work with the Western medicine I spent 12 years studying in my medical training and 12 years practicing, magic can truly happen.
Furthering My Training
Soon, I’ll be meeting with a shaman Jon Rasmussen, who I have worked with in the past personally, because I want to learn more about what I’m doing and make sure I’m protecting both my patient and myself during this process. He says it took his teachers 300 years to teach him in 3 years what he will teach me in 3 hours. So stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll be writing about my one-on-one training session with him as well.
I’m really excited about exploring the intersection of Western medicine with practices like these, and I’m blown away by how quickly my patients are getting results, not just from emotional issues but from physical ones. Our bodies are giant balls of energy, swirling around as atoms, and when you work on the energetic level, rather than restricting the healing process to just the physical one, atoms can rearrange overnight. It blows me away, really.
What Do You Think?
What do you think of all this? What does shamanism mean to you? Do you think I’m playing with fire? Does it excite you to think about marrying these kinds of healing modalities? Tell me what you think!
Fascinated by shamanism,
PS. Just so you know how much I protect my patient’s confidentiality, I wrote this with Glory’s blessing. She genuinely hopes her story might help someone who wants to trust the process and allow healing to happen for themselves.
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.
More from health