JK: We live in a time in which the nature and quality of health care represent major areas of concern within the national and international community. In response, our view of health care is changing, and increasing numbers of spiritual seekers and health-care providers alike are reconsidering the role that the mind — and by association, spirituality — plays in healing. In the process, society at large is becoming increasingly aware of complementary and alter-native medicine, and it's precisely here that the indigenous peoples may have something vital to offer us.
Physical Medicine and Spirit Medicine: Two Halves of a Whole
The traditionals make a clear distinction between physical medicine and spirit medicine, yet they view them as complementary, as two halves of a whole. It's important to make this point because many people today have had negative experiences within the Western medical system, and some dismiss physical medicine with disdain, branding it as dysfunctional or even harmful. Yet if someone were seriously injured in a car accident and bleeding internally, it's quite obvious that this wouldn't be the moment to pick up the rattle and go into trance. This would be the time for that person to find him- or herself in an operating room with a world-class surgeon, anesthesiologist, and medical team.
In the same vein, if a tribal warrior were carried into camp with an arrow sticking out of his body, this would be the moment to get the projectile out of the wound, stem the bleeding, prevent infection, and promote healing. This would be the time for physical medicine; and all shamans, in their capacity as healers, know a great deal about it.
Addressing Illness at All Levels: Physical, Energetic, Spiritual
In considering the relationship between physical medicine and spirit medicine, however, let's take a hypothetical case where an individual discovers that he or she has a life-threatening illness such as cancer.
In the standard Western medical paradigm, that person would be referred to an oncologist who would go to work with everything medically available, from chemotherapy to radiation and possibly surgery. This protocol is much in keeping with our belief that the primary purpose of the practice of medicine is the avoidance of death and the prolongation of life.
Among the indigenous peoples, however, treatment for the cancer might be quite different. Shamans know that everything in existence has a physical aspect, an energetic aspect, and a spiritual aspect. They also understand that illness gains much of its initial power, as well as its meaning, from its spiritual aspect.
Given this perception, the shaman would most likely address the illness at all three levels — physical, energetic, and spiritual. If the illness can be addressed at the spiritual level, its energetic expression will be progressively diminished, shifting the balance within the sufferer's physical body from disorder and disease toward harmony and balance — a shift that may be just the medicine required to allow the body soul, functioning as restorer, to overcome the illness.
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The shaman also knows that when your soul cluster is in good shape, there are no worries. Yet if one or more of your three souls is diminished or damaged, you've got a problem. This reveals why the primary purpose of the practice of spirit medicine is to restore, nurture, and preserve the soul.
While Illness is the Effect, What is the Cause?
As we pass through life on the physical plane, things happen: We contract flus, colds, and bacterial infections, and we sustain physical injuries, like falling off our bikes as children or suffering sports injuries. As adults, we may throw our back out or experience a serious accident — in the process acquiring bruises, cuts, sprains, infections, lacerations, and sometimes broken bones.
Some of us may also deal with serious illnesses of an internal nature like cancer, hepatitis, heart disease, or multiple sclerosis. Eventually we pass through old age, and the death of the physical body. These are the givens — they're all to be expected as part of what it means to be an embodied, living being on Level One. But these are all effects, and what the shaman is primarily interested in is the cause.
In looking through the shamanic healer's eyes, the ultimate causes of virtually all illness are to be found within the imaginal realms of Level Three — in those same regions from which illness derives its initial power to affect us adversely. Because of this, it's not enough to simply suppress the effects of illness with medication on the physical plane and hope for the best. For true healing to occur, the causes of the illness must be addressed.
From the shaman's perspective, there are three classic causes of illness, and interestingly, they're not microbes or bacteria or viruses. Rather, they're negative internal states that appear within us in response to negative or traumatic life experiences. The first among these is disharmony.
Disharmony: Negative Internal State Which Can Cause Illness
DISHARMONY is what we experience when life suddenly loses its meaning or when we've lost an important connection to our lives.
Let's take the case of an elderly couple who've been married for a long time, and suddenly one of them dies. They may not have had a perfect relationship, yet there's a deep bond between them because of all they've shared. The survivor may go into crisis upon the loss of his or her mate, and within a short time, he or she may come down with something medically challenging, like cancer. Suddenly, they're gone, too.
Disharmony may also result from the sudden loss of our identity, our sense of "belonging to." Let's take the case of a high-level corporate executive, a woman in her early 50s who's at the top of her field. One day, the management executives in her corporation decide to hire someone right out of business school for a third of her salary, so they terminate her employment sooner than expected. Now what do you think her chances are of getting rehired at the same level in her profession? Remember, she's just been fired.
Six months later, she's still looking for work and is in a deep state of disharmony. Her debts are mounting and she suspects (rightly) that she's lost her livelihood and that she's going to have to start over. One day, she finds a lump in her breast and goes to her doctor, who does a biopsy and gives her the grim diagnosis.
Now, without making any claims, could it be that the cause of her breast cancer is in some way involved with losing her job?
The state of disharmony that we experience in response to such life situations causes a diminishment of our personal power. This can happen in a subtle manner on the one hand, or in a catastrophic, life-shaking way on the other. When we experience disempowerment, or "power loss," it affects our energetic matrix, rendering us vulnerable to illness.
Fear: Chronic Fear is a Classic Cause of Illness
The second classic cause of illness is fear. People who are walking around with a chronic sense of fear gnawing away at them are doubly vulnerable to illness because their anxiety aggressively and progressively diminishes their sense of well-being, and this, in turn, affects their feeling of being safe in the world.
This sense of well-being is the base upon which our personal health system stands. When this foundation is affected negatively, it diminishes the ability of our immune system to function. And when our immune system goes down, we're in trouble.
It's not too difficult to see that there's a feedback mechanism at work here. Fear, and the anxiety it creates, produces disharmony. In the same breath, disharmony generates fear, and if the two of them are working together, it doubly affects the protective mantle of the body's immune system, as well as the energetic matrix. Illness is the inevitable result.
It's no surprise to Western medical practitioners that disharmony and fear can manifest themselves in diseases that are recognizable to science. Almost 500 years ago, the Renaissance physician Paracelsus observed that "the fear of disease is more dangerous than the disease itself."
But suppose an individual with a serious, life-threatening illness lacks fear entirely? Here's a rather thought-provoking example.
In the recent past, medical doctors believed that the mortality rate for AIDS sufferers was 100 percent — that if you contracted the HIV virus, then you would be resigned to a death sentence. It was just a matter of time.
However, an AIDS-related study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has revealed something quite extraordinary. Researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine have reported unambiguous evidence of an infant boy who twice tested positive for the HIV virus, once at 19 days of age and again one month later. But when this child was tested again as a kindergartener at age five, he was HIV negative.
The virus was not lying dormant, awaiting some external cue to become active. It had been eliminated from his body, and the child appeared to have been HIV-free for at least four years.
Could it be that the immune system of this infant, completely ignorant of the fact that he had a terminal illness, remained strong? Could it be that his body soul, lacking the fear and other negative emotions that the awareness of having this "deadly disease" would ordinarily generate in an older individual, simply went to work as it was programmed to do and killed the virus in the first year of his life?
There's also another possibility here, one that regularly escapes the notice of the scientific community. This brings us to consider the third classic cause of illness — the phenomenon known to indigenous healers as soul loss.
Soul Loss: Major Cause of Premature Death and Serious Illness
JK: Among the traditionals, soul loss is regarded as the most serious diagnosis and the major cause of premature death and serious illness, yet curiously, it's not even mentioned in our Western medical textbooks. The closest acknowledged context is that "he/she has lost the will to live."
In Western society, soul loss is most easily understood as damage to a person's life essence, a phenomenon that usually occurs in response to trauma. When the trauma is severe, this may result in a fragmentation of that person's soul cluster, with the shattered soul parts dissociating, fleeing an intolerable situation. In overwhelming circumstances, these soul parts may not return.
The causes of soul loss can be many and varied. There may be traumatic perinatal issues that occur around children's birth experiences, such as arriving into life only to discover that they're not wanted or that they're the wrong gender — they've come in as a girl when everyone was hoping for a boy. Soul loss can also occur when a child is mercilessly bullied or teased at home or at school, day after day, or when young people are molested by those who are supposed to be caring for them. When someone has been raped or assaulted; has suffered a shocking betrayal, a bitter divorce, a traumatic abortion, a terrible car accident, or even a serious surgery, soul loss is assured.
Many of the young men and women who were sent to war in Iraq, Kuwait, Vietnam, and beyond came home personally damaged because they had suffered terrible soul loss. Our medical specialists labeled their disorders as post-traumatic stress disorder, but they initially had little to offer these "walking wounded" in terms of true healing, and many who survived are still deeply traumatized at the soul level by what happened to them in battle.
Soul loss is easily recognizable if you know what you're looking for. Here is a checklist of some of the classic symptoms:
• Feelings of being fragmented, of not being all here
• Blocked memory—an inability to remember parts of one's life
• Being unable to feel love or receive love from another
• Emotional remoteness
• A sudden onset of apathy or listlessness
• A lack of initiative, enthusiasm, or joy
• A failure to thrive
• An inability to make decisions or discriminate
• Chronic negativity
• Suicidal tendencies
• Melancholy or despair
• Chronic depression
Perhaps the most common symptom of soul loss is depression. According to a 2003 Harvard Medical School Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 13 and 14 million American adults suffer from a major depressive episode in a given year, representing nearly 5 percent of the total population, and sometimes that number jumps in response to a national trauma. On the Friday following 9/11, a television newscast revealed that seven out of ten Americans polled were experiencing significant depression in response to the tragedy, an indicator of soul loss on a national scale.
Although the term soul loss is not familiar to most Westerners, examples of it are expressed daily in our language and descriptions of personal hardships. Media interviews and news reports include individuals' comments such as "I lost a part of myself when that (trauma) happened" and "I have not been the same since." When discussing soul loss with a number of individuals, I found that almost everyone had a sense of having lost a "part" of themselves at some time in life, yet virtually no one had the awareness that the missing part(s) could be recovered.
Illness: Intrusions Entering Our Personal Energetic Field
HW: When we're diminished by disharmony, when our soul cluster has taken a major hit, or when we're in a state of stress, anxiety, or fear, we become vulnerable to intrusions entering our personal energetic field. When the intrusions are strong enough, they may take up residence, distorting the pattern of our matrix and producing the symptoms recognizable as illness.
In spirit medicine, illness is caused by intrusions — by something that comes into us from without. It could be a virus, a bacterium, an arrow, or a negative thought form. However, from the shaman's perspective, the illness intrusion is not the primary issue. The real problem is the diminishment of our personal power or the holes torn in the fabric of our soul that allowed the intrusion to enter in the first place.
Negative thoughts, feelings, and intentions can be directed toward us like spiritual poison darts by those who hold us in disregard — an old lover or spouse who just can't let go, a hostile neighbor who spews forth profanity at us, in-laws who find us unworthy, or a jealous sibling or co-worker who simply despises us. When this is done with outright malice, it forms the modus operandi of negative witchcraft and sorcery. The Yoruba people of West Africa call it juju.
When the negative thought forms become frequent, generated by another's anger toward us, for example, they take on density, continually fueled by the heightened emotions of the sender. Our body soul immediately picks them up. Remember, the body soul is the perceiver of that which can be seen, as well as that which is unseen. It notices everything, even those things that we're not consciously aware of.
If our soul cluster is in good shape, these negative intentions may simply bounce off or pass through, allowing us to continue much as before. If our soul cluster is damaged or our power is down, however, the negativity and the anger can be internalized, taking up residence within us as an intrusion and disrupting our sense of well-being. Over time, this may cause an increasing sense of dis-ease, which, in turn, causes a progressive diminishment of our life force.
Individuals may also create their own intrusions through an ongoing preoccupation with the negative. Medical intuitive Caroline Myss describes them as energy circuits held within a person's matrix — knots of coherence that can continually draw from the body's daily supply of power. Often, these energy circuits represent unfinished emotional business that we're carrying around like baggage. As our body soul (subconsciously) or our mental soul (consciously) focuses on these negative thoughts or memories, the flow of energy toward them is increased, and they expand, diminishing us on the energetic level even more.
Such well-established intrusions may accumulate over time, building up a presence within us much like the clutter that grows in our living space year after year, including all the stuff we inherited from our parents that we're not quite ready to let go of yet. It is then that an unexpected trauma may suddenly tip the scale from balance into disharmony, from ease into disease . . . with the inevitable result: illness.
In summary, the energy body is very responsive to thoughts and emotions. Negative memories, reflections, ruminations, sentiments, or feelings that are held for any length of time within the energy body may form intrusions that will distort the pattern of our energetic matrix. Since the structure, as well as the functioning, of the physical body is determined by this energetic pattern, distortions in one will bring about distortions in the other. And once the pattern of the matrix is distorted, the body soul can no longer function effectively as the inner healer.
Remember, the body soul is not creative. It needs that energetic blueprint in order to make repairs.
The kahuna healers of Hawaii paid great attention to learning how to direct their thoughts. They knew that through focused concentration, they could help restore the energy body to an undistorted state, and this, in turn, could facilitate the return of harmony and balance in the physical aspect.
One of the last publicly practicing kahunas, David Kaonohiokala Bray (1889-1968), dispelled the negative thought forms of his clients by first leading them toward increased self-awareness. The source of the thought forms was then sought out, revealing how they functioned as well as why the client would continue to hold on to them.
The goal was to help clients release the negative, allowing them to choose another attitude and a new way for being in the world.
Through dialogue, as well as his own expanded awareness, Daddy Bray, as he was known, analyzed the thought forms of his client, especially those created by distorted emotions and thoughts during chronic mental poisoning. He knew that these negative thought forms could become so dense that they might actually appear as separate beings — as the demons, dark forces, and evil spirits so prevalent in the world's mythologies.
In the same breath, he understood that once these thought forms achieved a certain density, they could act as psychic-energetic "vampires" literally feeding on the client's fears and drawing energy directly from their vitality. It's possible that many of the documented cases of spirit possession and so-called spirit attachments may actually fall into this category.
The kahuna's task is to expose the thought forms for what they really are — unreal demons or phantoms that have no existence in themselves, and which cease to exist once released by the sufferer. If the client continues to feed them, they hang around. But when the sufferer no longer gives them what they want, they're history.
This article was excerpted from:
About the Authors
Anthropologist Hank Wesselman, Ph.D., has worked for more than 30 years investigating the mystery of human origins in East Africa's Great Rift Valley. In the 1970s, while doing fieldwork in southern Ethiopia, he began to have spontaneous visionary experiences strikingly like those of traditional shamans. His experiences are documented in his autobiographical trilogy: Spiritwalker, Medicinemaker, and Visionseeker. He is also the author of The Journey to the Sacred Garden. Website: www.sharedwisdom.com
Jill Kuykendall, RPT (Hank's wife), is a registered physical therapist and transpersonal medical practitioner who has worked in the standard Western medical paradigm for more than 20 years. In addition, she has functioned as co-facilitator for the Mercy Healing Circle, participated in the Mercy Healthcare Healing Environment Task Force as a community member consultant, and has served as a member of the Sutter Healthcare Wellness and Healing Network. She is now in private practice at the Center for Optimum Health in Roseville, California (near Sacramento), specializing in soul-retrieval work.