4 June 2017
8 min read

Why so much fuss? – it’s just a book after all … Yes, indeed it is, just a story. Here’s another one: When I was in the Amazon four years ago alongside Susannah and our colleague from the Pachamama Alliance, David Tucker, we visited the elder shaman Don Rafael Taisch. He lives in a village deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon called Wayusentsa. He is an extraordinary man. A jaguar shaman.

When we first met him, I had been dreaming about him for three weeks but before I could say anything to him, he told me directly that we had met in dreams, that he knew Susannah and myself as shamans from the north, and that he had been waiting for me so I could help him heal his grand-daughter! That night, in ceremony, his 9-year old grand-daughter came to the ceremony, along with more than 20 members of her family! Her mother and father, her brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles and of course, Don Rafael, were all there to watch the gringo shaman do his work.

As I was doing the healing work, which as any of you know who have ever watched (or heard) me doing a shamanic healing, can be a rather noisy business, the kids in the party were really struggling not to laugh at the antics of this strange, bald European waving his feathers and blowing smoke with whooshes and ‘ha’s!’ disturbing the peace of the forest. Eventually, they couldn’t control themselves any longer and one of them burst into laughter. It was so funny that we all lost our seriousness in a second and joined the laughter. It broke the ice and in the joy and recognition of a this common humanity, I did my work.

A week or so later, we were back with Don Rafael but, this time without a group of travellers with us. We were here to do our own work. Don Rafael asked us all to speak our intentions for the work as we sat in his beautiful forest home. He has had a strong life and in the oval-shaped hut, two of his children, who sadly died young, are buried, right there in the middle of his living space. In the Amazon, life and death are guests at the same table.

I told Don Rafael that I was there to ask for the strength of his medicine so that I could be stronger in my capacity to stand alongside him and his people in their fight to protect the forest. He asked me why and I told him that for me, the magnificent homelands of the Achuar people, one of the most bio-diverse regions left on earth, represents that which is just as creation created it, unbroken and whole. I told him that my people need that medicine in order to stop destroying the rest of the unbroken places on earth. I knew he had understood as his dark jaguar eyes looked into mine.

During the ceremony that night, I had the experience of becoming the jaguar. It’s hard to describe but that wild and graceful spirit just walked right in and took over my perception to the point where I felt myself running free and strong through the paths of the forest that I knew so well. I ended up resting in my favourite tree, listening to the song of the Amazonian night. When I returned to my normal perception and sense of self, I knew that something inside me had been mended. I understood power and the force of the forest in an entirely new way and I understood that the place inside me that remains unbroken had been immeasurably strengthened.

At dawn, Susannah and I walked barefoot down to the river to wash. The village, naturally, is situated right next to the river and there is a beautiful place to wash on the bank. I was standing there in my swimming shorts, shaving, when four or five bright orange butterflies came from nowhere and started to circle around me. I went very still as they all landed on and around my heart to the front and the back of my body. I was enraptured as I felt their wings and delicate feet touching me at way deeper than skin level. I shivered. Susannah stood perfectly still and witnessed all of this. They stayed for some minutes during which time I experienced a simple yet profound transmission from the ancestors of the forest. I was stunned into a deeper silence than I had ever experienced.

Later that morning, as we shared our stories from our ceremonial adventures, Don Rafael sat with a smile on his face. He was satisfied with his night’s work and I told him then and there that I would carry this medicine with me back to my people. I understood on a new level, how important it is that there remain unbroken places on this earth that hold that medicine for us all. In all the healings I have done since then, I have carried with me and shared that essence of wholeness that is so strengthening for the wholeness, the unbroken inside us all. I told Don Rafael that I would give my full power and commitment to reminding people of this internal refuge where the soul is still strong and waits to be given permission to spread its wings in our lives. He spoke quietly about the jaguar and the butterfly and we all felt blessed as we left his village later that morning by canoe.

This essence of that which remains unbroken and undefeated by life’s trials and challenges is what sits at the very heart of both my book and the Movement Medicine mesa, the energetic template that is Movement Medicine. They hold the wild beauty of the forest. They hold the pure force of nature in their sweetness and ferocity. And they are both an essential form of engaged, embodied shamanism that is medicine for our times.

They are not the watered down, entertainment only version that fills us with glamorous ideas about ourselves in which everyone is a shaman. The point of shamanism is not to become a shaman. It is to become yourself with the help of the tools. Bikko Mahte Penta, a great guide for me over my life whose story I share in my book, told me that shamans are born shamans. Just as teachers are born teachers, musicians are musicians, artists are artists, scientists are scientists and gardeners are gardeners. Our problem is that we tend to glamorise some roles above others. And there is this idea that everything is equal and that therefore anyone can be anything. It’s true that I can learn to play the guitar, but I will never be Estas Tonne (if you don’t know his music, look him up). It is true that I can learn many things but there is only one thing that I can truly become. Again, it is myself.

As Oscar Wilde so brilliantly put it: ‘Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken!’

The funny thing, everyone already is themselves, However, getting to really know ourselves and make the offering to life of giving ourselves fully back to life in full gratitude for the life we are given, is a journey of decades; a magnificent journey full of made-to-measure experiences called the challenges that make up the creative project that is life on earth.

The book I have written, which has been a seven-year project, candidly describes my own journey towards accepting who and what I am. It is a clarion call for us all to do the same. And, as our dear friend Eva Chapman put it, it takes the sham out of shamanism. And because I believe that engaged shamanism is one of the medicines that can help our species to become a more benign presence on this earth, I want to get to get that message out there as far and wide as possible. That was my promise to Don Rafael. And that was my promise to the wild and unbroken temple of the Amazon. And that is my promise to the wild and unbroken places inside myself and inside us all. So here I am again, making my offer of a free online course on the Shaman’s Drum and asking you to join me in spreading this medicine far and wide.

And if you want a visceral and direct experience of what all this might mean for you, please take this as my personal invitation to join us for this year’s Summer Long Dance; the ceremony is as close as we’ve got so far to a contemporary, essential expression of engaged embodied shamanism in the modern world. This ceremony is one of the many expressions of the rising phoenix that is the returning popularity of shamanism. But please let’s not glamorise it or reduce it down to a glib and acceptable version of itself and make it into one more thing to voraciously consume. Shamanism moves at the pace of nature, just like your body does. Each season and each weather and each strand on this truly mind-blowing web of life has its place. And that includes you. Do you hear the call? See you there. Or maybe we’ll meet through the pages of my book, the spirit of which has its own destiny and it’s about to be set free and fly on the wings of the white eagle who did so much to bring it into being.

Ya’Acov Darling Khan. June 2017

Ya’Acov DK

Ya’Acov Darling Khan, is the author of ‘Jaguar in the Body, Butterfly in the Heart...