I was climbing through steep mountain terrain in the Himalayas with my teachers, Agnes Whistling Elk, Ruby Plenty Chiefs and Ani, a Nepalese hill woman. Below us, a fast-moving river plunged down a steep gorge.
Suddenly, Ani signaled for us to stop. Coming toward us were three Red Chinese soldiers. I bent over and held my pashamina shawl across my face, trying to look like a boy from the Nar Valley.
The soldiers spoke loudly in Chinese, pointing their rifles at us. Ani spoke to their heavy-set sergeant in Manang and Nepalese; when it was over, we were allowed to proceed. My teachers had successfully smuggled me into Tibet at a time when that was very dangerous! And that was just the beginning of our journey.
We were on our way to a gathering of my teachers, the 44 women of the Sisterhood of the Shields, an ancient society of shaman women from indigenous societies all over the world who have been the guardians of a women’s spirituality for millennia. Shortly after this encounter, as night fell, we reached a place in the trail where two high mountains met and created a narrow passage. Almost immediately, we heard a strange groaning sound and the earth began to tremble.
Ani yelled, "Hug the cliff walls," as huge boulders and shale pounded into a large pile in front of us. I was terrified; I felt totally helpless, and it showed. Ani sat down on a rock, then she turned to me.
"The mountain has given us an avalanche. The spirits of the mountain have presented you with a test."
In response to my protests that the avalanche had nothing to do with me, she said, "Lynn, we are all responsible for our reality and for all the reality that surrounds us. We make our own problems. They don’t happen to us. If you are giving away your power or not, you are still responsible."
I asked how we were going to get past the avalanche, and she answered, "We will do a ceremony."
And when I asked what earthly good a ceremony would do, she told me, "That’s for you to discover, and we will follow. Remember, there are no accidents. There is a reason for the mountain to test you in this way."
As the women laid out the stones and chanted, I picked up a paper from the ground and unfolded it.
"This ceremony is for you, Spirit Woman," it read, "as it is for all women. The soul of the mountain has sent you a gift. The gift lives beneath the avalanche of blockage that prevails within all sentient beings at this time. The mountain has sent you a sign. The trail is impassable, and yet it must be followed. Your life has been thus. To reach the next level you must find the gateway within your own being and the trail will become available to you once again."
Finding balance and harmony
The study of shamanism is not a linear experience, where you attend lectures, read books and answer a series of questions to see if you have learned enough. That is a very mental way of learning, in which you gain power by going up the ladder, where you will find a few people at the top and everybody else at the bottom, struggling to get up the ladder somehow. It is one way to perceive energy, and it seems to be the dominant structure in our society.
The way the Sisterhood of the Shields perceives energy – and today I am honored to be a member of this ancient society of women – is through the sacred circle, where everyone sits equidistant from the center, which is the source of power. Shamanism is very much related to the harmonies of the earth, to finding balance and harmony with all that is around you, regardless of whether you like what is there or not. A shaman knows that all things are alive, that all things have energy, purpose and a far deeper meaning than what we see on the surface. A shaman is one who knows how to choreograph those energies toward a higher purpose in life.
You cannot teach anyone about life, nor can you heal, through endless explanation and lecture. People only truly learn through experience, through exploring what confronts them and finding in that situation their strengths and their own "avalanche of blockage." Once you do that, you can shift the energies within you to a place of harmony and balance. If you want to heal the earth and the world around you, you must first heal yourself, because otherwise you can’t even see the world as it really is.
When I first met my teachers, I was riddled with fear and indecision, confused about who I was, let alone what I wanted to do with my life. I was already a successful business woman, married to an executive at Warner Studios and making films for years. I had been a partner of Buckminster Fuller developing environmental learning toys for children, and I was an art collector and dealer.
I have, also, always sought sacred meaning in my life, and even as a very young child I knew that I had special abilities. I could see lights and colors, energy forms around people. I knew when they were lying. I could see the red in them when they were angry; I could see where they needed to be healed. But I didn’t have a clue what this was all about, and I had no idea how to bridge the gap between the life I was living and my deep thirst for a higher spirituality…until I met Agnes Whistling Elk, Ruby Plenty Chiefs and the remarkable women of the Sisterhood of the Shields.
One with Great Spirit
They showed me that the answers to all of the questions I would ever have in life, the solutions to any problems I would ever face were already within me, in that place of knowing at the center of my existence where I was one with Great Spirit and all that ever had been or would be.
These answers are within all of us; we all have infinite power and wisdom within us; we all have special abilities of our own. What we don’t know, what we have forgotten and must re-discover, is how to access our power, our wisdom and our abilities. My teachers taught me how to do that through experience, by taking me into situations where I was confronted with my deepest fears and stumbling blocks and it was either face and triumph over those blocks, or die, because they were not going to "rescue" me. When I was sitting in front of that pile of rocks in the Himalayas with Ani, Agnes and Ruby, it was either let go of my feelings of helplessness and paralysis in the face of adversity and find a better way, or sit there until my bones grew brittle and crumbled into dust.
Agnes often tells me, "If you want to have power in your life, you must make a place for power to live within you." What I have learned, and what I want to give to others, is the way to do that. You commit yourself to a pathway of enlightenment and healing, then you clear away everything you are carrying that does not serve you and make a place for power, love and spirit to live within you.
The study of shamanism gives you the tools to do this. Shamanism is about becoming grounded and centered, about finding your power from a point of balance – the point of true beginning. There is no other way to power in the world of the shaman, and I have come to believe, really, that there is no other way in life. You cannot will power and spirit into your life; you cannot will negativity to leave. The way to erase it is to go right into the center of your situation and heal it. You learn how to call upon the energies and spirits of the universe that have been with you since before you were born, waiting for you to discover and invite them into your conscious being.
It is very important to have a teacher that has walked the trail before you, because it is so arduous and difficult. It is so difficult for us to see ourselves. I once asked Agnes why these amazing women would even bother with me at all, flawed as I was. Rarely a day of our time together went by that I wasn’t dissolved into tears, terrified that I wasn’t going to survive. I asked Agnes if she was aware of the passage in the Bible that says that some are called, but few are chosen. Agnes told me that we are all called, and we are all chosen, if only we have the courage to step into the unknown.
I believe that this is my purpose in life: to become a bridge between Western consciousness and the sacred and ancient consciousness that also lives on this earth, as it was taught to me by the Sisterhood of the Shields; to help people learn how to step into the unknown, into the magnificent and sacred mystery of life, which is the source of all power.