Originally published in Indie Shaman, Issue 21, 2014.
In the west, feeling called to an alternative spiritual path is challenging at any age, under any circumstance. However, while realizing a connection to shamanism as a young adult can be exhilarating, it can also be stressful.
One of the key challenges of teen years and young adulthood is finding community. Though some young people are fortunate enough to have loved ones who support, if not foster, their shamanic needs, teens crave peers with interests in common. The ability to connect with others their age who can support individual expression and freedom, while being self-confident and compassionate enough to challenge each other to grow is a rare combination. Combine that drive with the fact that it’s also difficult to connect with those committed specifically to a shamanic path, and it can feel quite lonely.
When I work with clients who don’t have peers with whom they can share animistic and shamanistic experiences, I tell them to start outdoors. Nature is the first community, by virtue of the fact that we are all inherently, biologically, connected to it, and we all have some means of access to it in our daily lives. Young people, as it were, have even more than adults. Playing outdoors as children expands to interest in sports, science, animals (plants and minerals for some), green and sustainable living, and the sheer enjoyment of not being indoors. Even amidst the deluge of digital society and computer games, young people still tend to spend a great deal of time outside.
The most simple way to find community in nature is to practice bringing shamanic awareness into outdoor activities. When I say ‘practice’ I don’t mean repeat an act until it’s perfected. In this use, it means to instill regular discipline to accomplish a specific task, ritual without which we feel incomplete, or that our experience of each day is less. The simplest way to practice spiritual ritual isn’t to add a new technique or discipline. Rather, it’s to bring a greater awareness to outdoor activities we’re already doing.
Whether it’s playing soccer, distance running, reading in the park, or working in the garden, bringing a deeper spiritual awareness to everyday outdoor acts can go a long way in expanding our sense of community. Recall that everything is alive–the soccer ball, the grass beneath us, the bench we sit upon, the birds singing around us, the grit that collects under our fingernails. Becoming aware of that fact brings us into unity with the spiritual manifestation of those beings.
Take time to sit with regular nature outings as friends. Before playing sports, beginning a hike, or other undertaking, spend a few minutes breathing in the space, feeling what beings inhabit it. Use all senses to acclimate to what makes the precise space, the exact moment unique. How does it sound? What aromas are present? Observe how the space feels, what thoughts and memories stir. Imagine the expansion of self out the soles of the feet and into the earth below, from the top of the head and into the sky above. Go forward in the outing with that heightened sense of space and self. Hold it as much as possible, and return to it at every distraction. Within that sustained union dialogue may transpire. New totems may be gained. Meaningful insight about self and the cosmos may awaken.
However we choose to bring ourselves into greater relationship with nature, we bless ourselves, Nature, and All Things. In those intimate experiences, barriers dividing humans from nature fall away. We become one. The ability to experience nature so personally fosters accessible support wherever we go. It instills greater accountability as custodians of nature, and affirms the reciprocity of that relationship.
Connecting spiritually with nature isn’t a substitute for creating community with peers. It doesn’t distract teens and young adults from interpersonal needs, or the very real circumstances of their lives. It does, however, offer a perpetual tribe of support, which better prepares them to deal with the realities of their lives and path.
Kelley is an author and modern shaman in North Carolina. Learn more about her writing and work at soulintentarts.com.