In this piece I attend a workshop on Shamanic Extraction Healing and find myself adding a new dimension to my client work.
Californians are used to Wu Wu concepts, but there is a point where even these natives begin to balk at what they are being asked to believe. Extraction Healing is possibly one of those things. I was not particularly interested in this out-there concept myself, but it was a required class for further work on the Shamanic path and it was being offered nearby at a hotel by the airport. Michael Harner, the grand Poobah of Shamanic study, himself, would be there. His book "The Way of the Shaman" was still the basic study guide of Western shamanic practice.
When I arrived, I noted that the hotel was simultaneously hosting a meeting of chiropractors and was amused that this formerly alternative medical practice was, in comparison, ordinary and mainstream. My workshop in Extraction Healing was tucked away on the second floor of the hotel, hopefully far enough away to keep the drumming from disturbing the bone crackers. There were fifty people or so, more than at my previous workshops. And unlike the previous gigs where we were on the floor, we sat in chairs. I chose one in the circle close to the middle of the room. Next to me sat a teacher of young children. She told me that she had recently attended a session with shamans from other countries who were working with an autistic child. It would take several more sessions before they were done. She went on to talk about Temple Grandon, the autistic visionary, and various techniques that could be used effectively on autistic children. My mother had specialized in autistic children in her years as a therapist and I, myself, had lived with an autistic child, so was skeptical. What were these shaman's hoping to accomplish? A complete cure or just better treatment?
I was to meet many other alternative healers and counselors over the weekend so it had a business like feel to it. Michael Harner opened the workshop by explaining, that in healing work, we would be partnering with the spirits and allowing ourselves to be used as a connection for the spirits to enter and effect ordinary reality. We would also merge with the patient in order to better understand the situation. Some indigenous shamans would exchange clothes with the patient to complete this knowing. I've always liked this empathic approach.
Our first exercise would be to ask for power from a spirit entity to enter us and then pass this power onto a partner. For this it was helpful to have a song to call in the spirit so I made one up. Accompanied by the drums, I asked for power from an ancestor in the upper world and, in the rush of energy that entered me as a result of that visualization, I felt that power as the responding spirit entity. We were, then, to touch our partner on the shoulders with that power; they were to describe the sensation they felt at receiving this input.
We all felt something. I did not argue if this something was a result of power entering me from my partner. It did not serve me to be skeptical. I just focused on what physical sensations I was feeling and was able to report movement crisscrossing my body. My partner felt my touch as a cooling sensation. Another partner felt it as a movement of energy going into her appendix. Michael cautioned us to use the power wisely and not keep it on all the time like a flashlight running down the batteries. We were to return it to where we got it from, thank it, honor it and release it. Then Michael retired for the day and his assistant teacher (who was my first teacher at the basic workshop) took over. It had been hard to hear his gravelly voice so I was relieved.
For the healing extraction part of the workshop we learned to scan our partner's body with a hand with the intention of looking for spiritual intrusions that might be causing problems, ill health or discomfort. We were to look for a hotspot or stickiness, a blockage or magnetic pull. The intrusions could be the ghosts of other life forms looking for a host, an unwanted spirit entity. Such intrusions may enter when someone is angry and wishes ill will on another. Their angry invocations called up these spirits that then enter the person cursed. A person who is themselves stuck in anger or grief are also vulnerable to intrusions.
After we had located such a spot (I felt hotspots), we were to look with our "visual sense" and see an image (an imagination) of the intrusion. That was easy. I saw a little snake with needle sharp teeth and in another spot worms eating flesh. The images were meant to repulse us personally; that's how we would know it didn't belong there.
To perform the extraction we called on our helping spirits and with their paws or wings, as the case may be, we picked up the nastiness, stood up and flung the stuff towards the nearest body of water. It was quite a physical act. (I was just glad we didn't have to do it the way Michael described in his book and suck out the mess and "dry vomit" it into a gourd.) It took me three times to clear out what I found in my patient's gut and on his hip. When the extraction was done we passed the healing power of the spirits into a cup of water and asked our patient to drink it with words of instruction about how the water would cleanse them. And finally we were to seal the healing in by shocking them with a splash of water. This got us laughing as the water hit us.
My "patient" at the workshop identified his gut as harboring an angriness that he wanted removed. He lay on the ground on my blanket before me and when I removed the mess I had identified in his gut, I felt angry myself and flung it away hard. This exercise was very different from the journeying I had done in the other workshops, but there was something familiar about it.
After two days of these exercises I kept seeing similarities with my own work with hoarders. I became convinced that hoarders were manifesting their spiritual ailments in the physical stuff they accumulated. As in the shamanic cases, often a trauma, such as grief for a departed loved one, a war or other historical upheaval kicked off the hoarding; sometimes I suspected childhood molestation or other family abuse. The things that hoarders kept appeared to others to be a wrongness that needed to be cleared away. When in a hoarder's house I would find the hotspots of blocked energy— usually a result of some ill placed furniture that was causing a build-up of stuff. I would set about to remove the clutter and rearrange the area to promote flow, then leave instructions on how to maintain the area.
I felt, though, that there must be more I could do. Retrieve their power animal perhaps. For they were missing something; their stories reflected as much. At the Annual Conference on Hoarding and Cluttering, psychologists studying hoarders and searching for effective treatment admitted that they were no closer to finding a cure. Cognitive therapy was slow. Depression and anxiety often accompanied the hoarding. The most effective treatment involved in-home visits to sort through stuff. And grad students were just as effective if not more so than professional therapists because they added a social rather than authoritarian element. No mention made of organizers, because we do not offer our services to such research. Although one therapist did advocate for us in his session because he knew clients were more open to working with the hoarding problem from an organizing perspective than a mental health perspective. No mention is ever made of a spiritual component. Therapists rarely mention the spiritual except as an aberration from their scientific bias. They had noted, for instance, that hoarders often had an animistic perspective.
One of my long term hoarding clients does have an animistic relationship with things. They were familiar friends to her and she didn't like to say goodbye to them. They had meaning and stories. She described to me how she found a blue plastic box in the street that would be perfect for holding cutlery on her kitchen table and there it was laying at her feet. "It was as if God was sending this to me," she told me. I admitted that it was a very nice box, much like one would find at Ikea. But everything that came her way had something to offer. She loved nothing better than to think of something she could do with an empty cardboard box. We had a conversation about a collection of empty tissue boxes that filled a garbage bag. She couldn't remember what she was going to do with them so I smashed them all down and recycled them. The next week she told me she had remembered that she had saved them to organize her cassette tapes. I asked what the cassette tapes had on them. She said everything. She had recorded whatever came into her life, the birds that chirped in her yard, the toilet flushing. It was as if she was looking to her environment for signs from God. Which was, actually, what I was learning to do on the shamanic path. I just didn't have to keep all the communications.
I was so struck by the metaphorical similarities of the psychic extraction healing I had learned in the workshop and the physical extraction of extraneous stuff I did to heal my clients and their homes, that I found myself trying to discover a connection, a possible alternative healing for hoarders. At lunch during the workshop, I had met an allergist who had been trained in a medical model, but soon went in search of alternative methods beginning with hypnosis and muscle testing until she discovered the spirit world and started coming to shamanic workshops. "It just works better if my spirit helpers and their spirit helpers sort it out," she commented.
"Have your spirits call my spirits," I pictured myself saying to a client. I needed more context. I checked out the book the allergist had recommended, "Healing Lost Souls: Releasing Unwanted Energy Spirits From Your Energy Body". I learned about the troublesome spirits of the deceased and how they could attach themselves to humans. All these misplaced and ill begotten spirits needed managing and we had ignored them at our peril. Maybe that's what ailed the modern world. I was not, however, going to perform extraction healing on my existing clients. That was just too out there. I'd have to market to a whole different niche. But I continued to talk to open minded friends about the parallels between shamanic extraction healing and the metaphorical connection I saw with hoarders, if only to find a way to bridge the two in my mind.
"I'm sure you'll figure out a way," said my colleague Susan when she came to dinner. "With all the remote healing that's been proven to work there must be something."
Talk To The Animals
I ran down to the Lower world and showed the rattle to Mongoose. Christine was very fond of birds and the rattle had the head of a bird etched on it. Mongoose looked at the rattle, walked into the middle of a clearing with it and shook it purposefully a few times. Suddenly the forest was filled with birds of all varieties. I understood that each species of bird represented a foreign country and would fly there and tell me what the weather was going to be in that country.
I knew that traditional Shamans would journey into the future on behalf of a traveler and find out how their trip would go so I summoned the bird representing England. A large white bird with a lumpy head of yellow feathers flew out. We flew together into the night across the oceans. It was daytime when we arrived and I watched as he settled on a white building. It was possibly the pub I had been e-mailing in Bath to book the rooms over their restaurant for our trip in July. I noted that the weather was slightly cloudy then sunny, followed by a light rain that soon stopped. I directed the bird to fly to Stonehenge and off we went. In contrast the weather there looked quite threatening as if it would soon rain, but it held back. I made a note to remember to verify this on the trip then we returned to the forest clearing. The white bird departed and I summoned the bird for Thailand. A crow came forward and told me it was warm as usual in Bangkok. When I called for California I got a blue jay. My stomach rumbled contently, but the blue jay didn't tell me anything about the future except that it would be well digested. I could see that these weather forecasting birds would certainly come in handy, but I didn't want to test it too hard just yet. I just enjoyed the journey.
I was getting to know the ropes. To keep my spirit helpers happy, it was best to dance them before journeying, at least the animals. This was a relationship of give and take. If I allowed my power animals to express themselves using my body, then they were much more animated about helping me answer my questions. I was, however, still stumped about the extraction healing. I decided to move on to the nature spirits workshop; it sounded more fun. As I was researching the workshop venue, I came across an article by a Michael Harner student who was a counselor working with clients. She, too, thought her clients might be suffering from spirit intrusions, but her situation didn't lend itself to shamanic work, either, so she just asked her spirit helpers to remove any intrusions found in her clients. Her clients felt better after seeing her and the staff joked about depossession. I decided to try it using the same words of request.
I journeyed to the Upper World and found my Ancestor Spirit in her garden, her long silver hair hanging wildly. I had met her before at the dream workshop. She greeted me affectionally as a daughter and I returned the greeting. Then I asked her what I could do or say to help my client to clear any unwanted spirits or entities that had attached themselves to her. Ancestor Spirit said nothing about clearing out spiritual intrusions and I felt no energy around a response to that request. I was glad for that later because it didn't seem right to enter a client's psychic "home" and touch their stuff without asking for permission. (Ethical considerations are covered in this succinct paper on the topic by one of my teachers which I later thought to reread.)
Ancestor Spirit told me to listen for the client to say the word "mother" then look at her and Ancestor Spirit herself, would help the client by sorting things out for us. That shouldn't be hard, I thought, since I was planning on working with my client in the room where most of her long deceased mother's paperwork had ended up.
But we didn't end up working in that room. We spent most of the session in the garage and I was prepared to give up on the spirit work, but I kept my ears open for the word "mother". As I set about flattening empty boxes I came to a large box at the bottom of the pile full of old clothes from the 80s plus two plastic tubs of men's clothes probably from an ex-husband.
"Do you ever go to the Goodwill?" I asked my client.
"No I don't like the Goodwill," she said.
When I asked her why, she told me that her step-mother had put a box of things on the sidewalk for the Goodwill and next to it, her aquarium. I was pleased by the word "step mother". It was close enough. I looked at her and had my usual flash of insight into what was left of the story.
"Ah, I see," I said, "she threw something of yours away without asking your permission."
"Yes," said the client appreciating my summation. "Maybe that's why I'm a hoarder," she added in a moment of rare insight and humor.
"Could be," I agreed non-committedly, smiling to myself. "Maybe I should give you this box of clothes to sort after I'm gone as homework," I said. I never gave this client homework.
"No I'll never do it," she lamented, "when you're not here my mind can't focus at all. It's better if you go through it with me." So we sorted through the three boxes of clothes and all she wanted to keep was one polo shirt that looked like it would fit.
I would never know if any spirit help had been with me. Maybe, as Kung Fu Panda discovered in the movie of the same name, there was no Secret Sauce. But then again the work I did with my spirit helpers added a lot to my end by giving me an added sense of having help from a source of all knowing wisdom. This had been one of my better sessions with this client. And I could still do my part in the extraction of unneeded possessions. I loaded the big box of clothes into my car and set off for the Goodwill.