Several years ago I was introduced to the shamanic journey as a way to access wisdom that is either outside of ourselves or so deep within that we don’t have access to it from our experiences in “ordinary reality”. A shaman I met several years ago impressed me as sane, sober and wise in spite of her descriptions of journeys that seemed preposterous: power animals in a lower world, teachers in an upper world, and a vision of a dimension that surrounds us all the time and that is meant to help, guide and protect us if we only open ourselves to its presence.
Growing up I was obsessed with birds of prey. I spent days watching hawks and reading about falconry. I befriended a man who lived down the street who had falcons and we spent hours discussing the “sport of kings”. He coached me in working with the falcon I had for a year when I was sixteen. Today I see hawks everywhere I go.
One weekend I spent time with this shaman and she told me that my power animal was Hawk. I called my brother the same weekend to discuss these odd shamanic rituals since he also practices the shamanic journey and he told me without my asking that my power animal was Hawk. Sensing I was onto something new and different and possibly mind opening, the next weekend I signed up for a three year course in “Shamanic Studies”.
One of the exercises during this course was the assignment of going to our power animal and asking what advice they had for us. I don’t remember now what advice Hawk had for me (although I have it in my notes). What I do remember is that one of the women in our class came back with a very clear message from her power animal: have more fun.
I remember this because of what happened next. The retreat center, where we met twice a year, happened to be hosting a meeting of shamans from different traditions and countries during the same week we were there. We had little opportunity to interact except over meals – served in a commons. As this woman, who had been advised by her power animal only moments earlier to “have more fun”, stood in line for lunch, a shaman from the other gathering turned to her, without any apparent cue, looked her in the eye and told her she should have more fun.
Given this unlikely “coincidence” I think all of us paid serious attention to the advice and came to believe that it must be a message meant for wider circulation and study. As I have been working on the column for this edition of Health and Healing, I noted a towel my daughter-in-law’s kitchen that says, “live, laugh, love”. As I was waiting for my latte, I overheard a man asking his companion “so what are you doing for fun these days?” My son and grandson are sitting on the floor playing “bad guys”.
I like the advice. I just don’t happen to have it down yet. As Pema Chodron says, we tend to look for happiness in all the wrong places. I don’t want to put myself in the position of judging the quality of other people’s fun but I notice my own tendency of equating fun with escape. I observe in my own life that when I set my aim on having fun, I often come up short. Lately I’ve been pondering this dilemma: fun isn’t necessarily what you get from running away from responsibility, work or routine. As I try to explore the nature of happiness, wellness, joy and amusement I believe I am coming to realize the most likely place to come across it is not on my next vacation. I am thinking it may be more likely to be a constant companion if I can find ways to have fun in the “work” space – or any space. Today I have decided that having fun is more about loosening up and not taking myself quite so seriously, no matter how serious the moment. Sometimes when I allow this to happen, I note that nature of my interactions take on more kindness and generosity. Sometimes I find myself saying things that surprise me. And I wonder what reality they might be coming from!