The Age of Aquarius, better known as the 60’s, brought a vital return to what became known as New Age spirituality, and its subsets in fields like medicine. As a chronic pain patient myself, I learned 28 years ago, when my “pain of undetermined origin” began, that the answers I was looking for were not necessarily going to be found in Western medical techniques and traditions. All of these topics, and others, have become widely important again today, with the advent of a heroin epidemic across America, and a drug culture nearly out of control. New Age techniques, such as therapeutic massage therapy, are now routinely used for relaxation in hospitals in the Northeast, and traditional Chinese medical methods such as acupuncture, maybe said to have entered mainstream medicine and American culture. Of course, the expression “New Age” actually refers to very ancient, or “Old Age” traditions and techniques.
It became more common for non-traditional medical practitioners to call themselves “healers” rather than doctors, as many of them are not licensed medical doctors in the Western sense. As a disclaimer, I need to let our readers know that I am a patient of Kenn Day’s, from whom I seek treatment for chronic physical pain. The more complicated aspects of “healing” move into the metaphysical and/or the spiritual. Bearing in mind that Carl Jung, the great healer of the mind, who broke from Freud over the existence of the spiritual, provides an excellent underpinning for the explorations of those healers who became known as shamans in the last 25 years or so. Both believe in an underlying spiritual crisis plaguing Western culture, which has become so thoroughly materialist that the longing for spiritual comfort and sustenance, different from religion, got swept under the rugs of suburban malls, so that the Shaman began to equate various mental and physical illnesses with spiritual malaise, as did Jung.
The Shaman, in static tribal cultures, was generally either singled out by others as a kind of healer (Jesus is known to have come from an ancient Jewish cult of healers). Sometimes the Shaman was known early on, because of clear psychic abilities, with which some people seem to be born. In other cases, a Shaman emerged because of series of repeated traumas which happened to him or her, which said person transcended, and became a spiritually aware person, whom every tribe needed and valued, and who helped people in their own growth and healing, mainly between set and understood rites of passage, common to every tribal culture, but lost in our materialist one. The Shaman in post-tribal cultures is the subject of Kenn Day’s second, and most impressive, book on this topic, and addresses what those needs are, while explaining to us what the post-tribal shaman actually does. One of the great strengths of the book is Day’s lengthy step by step analysis and description of, if you will, the Shaman within each of us, much like Buddhism proposes that the godhead is within each of us.
The journey towards some sort of spiritual enlightenment generally requires someone like a Rabbi, a Bodihissatva, a Shaman: interestingly, all these words, including the word buddha, actually mean teacher, in the sense of “an enlightened one”. Today’s Shaman is someone that others mutually agree possesses a higher level of spiritual awareness, and perhaps wisdom, than others do. Many, as in the case of Day, began as therapeutic massage therapists, became healers (I go to him for what is called Qiqong, which is Chinese body and energy work, but it would be an easy step from there to some attempt at spiritual engagement, and Day would move from healer to Shaman, as he actually does with every patient of his). Lately, Day has been leading workshops, here and in other cities, about energy healing and the search for spiritual enlightenment. His book explains how he does this, and it is a fascinating guide to what the Shaman does in post-tribal cultures. It is probably more difficult to locate a Shaman now, but people are drawn to people like Day, as they always have been to spiritual advisors and comforters, through the ages. If you follow his instructions on going inwards through basic meditative techniques, he will explain to you how to find, and physically locate, certain spiritual aspects that we all possess. One thus might consider his book to be a Shamanistic how to guide, and its readability is so great that this book could bring glimmers of enlightenment to a very large audience.
An equally important and fascinating part of the book, constituting almost the first half of the entire book, is a description of how a Shaman should and should not work with a “patient”, or seeker. One of the key tenets is the observance of strong boundaries between Shaman and seeker. Because intense amounts of time are spent one-on-one together, an imbalance inevitably occurs as one party opens up, while the other doesn’t: the closest analogy would be to a psychiatric session, between doctor and patient. Day is nearly rigid on maintaining said boundaries, the reader needs to understand the importance of same in what really are therapeutic sessions.
Day is a great believer in the power of one’s ancestors, and strongly believes that each of our ancestors is kind of rooting for us, from their place somewhere beneath the earth, if my understanding is correct. I have some difficulty with this belief, as it comes awfully close to the ancestor worship associated with “primitive” cultures, where ancestors were to be propitiated in ritualistic rites: such practices were based upon fear, and not upon understanding, and since, for example most of us have no knowledge of our ancestors beyond possibly great-grandparents, and since our ancestors represent all sorts of marriages from all sorts of countries, I have a difficult time picturing them as some sort of spiritual cheerleaders wishing us well from beyond, particularly when we might presume that many of them did not like each other. But my arguments with Day’s examples are few and far between, and maybe a function of my own hyper-rationalist approach to American life and culture, and, perhaps, my own spiritually impoverished soul.
I urge people with even a scintilla of interest in these topics to read Kenn Day’s book, as well as its predecessor, A Dance of Stones: A Shamanic Road Trip, in which he travels through parts of Europe with a spiritual doubter who does and doesn’t find some transcendent pieces of herself. The journey, which represents the spiritual journey itself, is a fascinating read, and Day himself is a profoundly brilliant man, with much to offer in areas of empathy and spiritual well-being: remember that the word psyche in Greek means soul.
By: Daniel Brown