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The Difference Between My Psychiatrist and My Shaman

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Medicine healers would be appalled at how we approach mental health in our culture.

Nowhere is the disconnect between science and spirit felt more intimately than in matters of mental health.

We can speak empirically on this by saying things like, “America spends over $113 billion a year on mental health treatment,” or “depression affects over 14.8 million adults,” but, cold data marginalizes actual human experience, so if you’re suffering, this doesn’t really help much.

The statistical view does, however, tell us that mental illness is epidemic in our culture, that an enormous economy has risen around the mainstream medical approaches to treating mental illness, and that this industry does not appear to be effective in reversing the growing epidemic of mental illness.

What is Madness?

The influential book on Western mental health, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, presently lists some 300 mental disorders that a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist can choose from when diagnosing a patient. Given that many of the symptoms of poor mental health are overlapping, like mood swings, depression, and anxiety, psychiatry is a subjective science at best, and the pathological model to matters of the mind and spirit doesn’t always work.

There is, of course, another perspective on mental wellness, one much older than the DSM and the American Psychiatric Association. Many of the world’s indigenous cultures would view our mental disorders not as symptoms of something wrong with a person, but rather as evidence of the arrival of incompatible psychic energies into the person’s life. Energies that must be dispelled or integrated, rather than ignored or subdued.

Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world. In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated. When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening. [Source]

In this context, the role of the shaman as healer is much different than that of a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. The healing task is not to correct or remedy anything, but is instead to facilitate change and integration within the patient. To help the flow of psychic and spiritual energy around and through the patient. Assisting them in aligning their thoughts and behaviors with their life purpose.

The plant medicines Ayahuasca and Iboga are revered as agents of profound healing and personal transformation. We don’t fully understand how or why they work, but they do. Clinical studies are backing up the enormous volume of anecdotal evidence of their power to quickly interrupt depression, anxiety, and addiction, and the shamanic healing experience is now both credible and accessible to Westerners.

The Healing Journey

In darker days I’ve called on Western physicians for support, and since those days I’ve had many opportunities to journey with plant medicine masters. The differences between the two systems and experiences are profound, but both have been integral to me in knowing happiness and peace of mind.

Below are my personal reflections on how the experience of modern mental health care and the experience of ancient indigenous medicines compare. As a disclaimer, this is not to be taken as medical advice, as it is only a collection of personal observations intended as a small contribution to the big conversation about mental health.

The Call 

I was driven to counseling and psychiatry during a time of serious personal crisis, my own dark night of the soul, if you will. By the time I decided to actually seek help I was terribly distraught, panicked even. Friends and family recommended I see a doctor, as did the advertising campaigns on TV, so I worked up the nerve to do so. It was a tough and frightening decision that I’ll never forget.

When shamanism came to me I was, gratefully, in a better frame of mind, but still restless and troubled to a degree. Uneasy and discontent in general. Not happy and unfulfilled. I knew nothing of shamanism or plant medicines until a friend mentioned them in conversation, which instantly awoke within me some latent curiosity that stayed with me. The idea began to call me, it seemed.

The Search for a Healer

To find my psychiatrist I first called my health insurance company, then sifted through advertisements. After narrowing the candidates down to those whom I could afford and those who were conveniently located, I chose a professional doctor covered by my HMO. A rational process, but tedious and embarrassing.

During the year after first hearing about shamanic plant medicines my life seemed to fill itself with a series of fabulous coincidences and synchroncities. I knew something big, something crucial was about to happen to me, but not what. I was being called to discover some important, yet so far uncovered piece of fate. It was a very exciting and very cosmic time, and without wanting it, without asking around or seeking it, I found myself in contact with the shamanic healers who have since had such a positive impact on me. With no effort from me, they appeared exactly when they were supposed to.

The Clinic

The psychiatrist was close to my office, so I didn’t have to take any extra time off work. Parking was easy, the receptionist pleasant, and other anxious patients waited as pharmaceutical sales reps came and went. All very clinical, business-like and professional. White jackets, neck-ties, manila folders, magazines, that sort of thing. I filled out paper work, handing over intimate personal and financial details. The walls of the doctor’s office were covered in plaques, certificates, diplomas, war memorabilia and golfing photos. My co-pay was next to nothing.

At considerable expense and some alarm to my family, I signed up to go deep into the jungle to have ceremony with a group of shamans whom I’d never met. It was costly, inconvenient and irrational, taking me way out of my element, beyond my comfort zone, and deep into nature. The ceremonial lodge was a sacred healing space, and very much felt so. A place where the sounds and smells of fire, incense, flutes, rattles, and nature combine. A purifying, healing, spiritual place to heal.

The Doctor

My psychiatrist lived in a mansion in the best part of town. He drove a Mercedes-Benz, owned vacation homes in the Rockies and Acapulco, plus a private airplane. He was extremely confident and well-respected in the medical community. He made over $450 thousand dollars a year. His type of healing paid well, he had plenty of clients and lots of repeat customers.

The shaman I know are all deceptively strong and powerful people, especially the elders. Their open-air houses have thatched roofs and are built on stilts with wooden plank floors and next to no furnishings, set deep in the jungle aside rivers. Their clothes are simple, worn, and often dirty, but you hardly notice because their smiles are so big and they always seem to be laughing and enjoying life. They know every plant, tree, animal and insect in the rainforest. They are unflinchingly kind, sensitive and humble people who are a joy to be around.

The Treatment

My psychiatrist asked many intimate questions, and the conversations felt forced, rigid, impersonal and mechanical. Like taking care of business. I was diagnosed as having depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, borderline schizophrenia and insomnia. The remedy was antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and other psychotropics, along with weekly appointments with the doctor… all to continue for as many years as needed. This also included the warning that it was extremely dangerous to stop taking these medications.

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Before a night-time medicine ceremony, the day is spent mentally and spiritually preparing. Fasting, meditation, reflection, introspection and concentration. A process of gathering intention and focusing energy. Plant medicine journeys can induce indescribably harrowing and enlightening visions and experiences. The shaman never asks about my troubles, but I sense that he knows of them, perhaps even better than I. He sings instead of speaks and the journey ends in deep in meditation, as powerful and transformative insights appear from some unknown spiritual source. It feels like both a purge and a download. The following day is like a gift, a new beginning, completely renewed in body, mind and spirit.

The Results

I took my doctors recommendations and took the pills, but I quickly realized that the side-effects and the personality changes that the drugs induced in me were not something that I, nor my family, could live with. I dumped them, cancelled all remaining appointments and resolved to heal myself. It was not easy.

My time with sacred medicine always feels like going home to some very special place of physical and spiritual renewal. The visions and experiences from ceremony always prove challenging to integrate into daily life, but the journeys are a continuing source of inspiration to improve myself and enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve come measure the results of this type of healing with a simple metric:am I happy? The answer is yes. Finally.

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Read more articles from Dylan Charles.

Originally featured at Waking Times.

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Ancient History

6 Year Old Finds Fossil In Family Garden That May be 488 Million Years Old

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Children have a natural fascination with rocks, with many of us having spent some days as children standing awe-struck at our museums or science centers looking at dazzling arrays of stones, or learning about the different types that can be found out our local beaches, parks, or hiking trails.

However, none of us managed to make the sort of discovery that one young boy in the U.K. did.

Siddak Singh Jhamat, known as Sid, found a fossil in his garden that dates back millions of years.

Sid found the fossil in his backyard garden in the town of Walsall using a simple fossil-hunting kit he received as a gift, reports the BBC.

His father Vish Singh was then able to identify the fossil as a horn corral that dates back 251 to 488 million years with the help of a Facebook fossil group.

“I was just digging for worms and things like pottery and bricks and I just came across this rock which looked a bit like a horn, and thought it could be a tooth or a claw or a horn, but it was actually a piece of coral which is called horn coral,” Sid explained.

“I was really excited about what it really was.”

His father Vish added:

“We were surprised he found something so odd-shaped in the soil… he found a horn coral, and some smaller pieces next to it, then the next day he went digging again and found a congealed block of sand.

“In that there were loads of little molluscs and sea shells, and something called a crinoid, which is like a tentacle of a squid, so it’s quite a prehistoric thing.”

The father believes that the distinctive markings on the fossil make it a Rugosa coral, meaning it could be up to 488 million years old.

“The period that they existed from was between 500 and 251 million years ago, the Paleozoic Era,” Vish said.

“England at the time was part of Pangea, a landmass of continents. England was all underwater as well… that’s quite significant expanse of time.”

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Ancient History

Researchers Find 50,000-Year-Old Frozen Body of Extinct Woolly Rhino in Siberia

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Researchers in Siberia have stumbled upon the 50,000 year-old remains of a rare woolly rhinoceros that was trapped in permafrost.

The remains of the woolly rhino were excavated from the Abyisky district of the Sakha Republic. The rhino was first discovered by a local in Siberia named Alexei Savin, Business Insider reported.

Savvin stumbled upon the remarkable find walking near the Tirekhtyakh River in Yakutia, Siberia last August.

It’s worth noting that this woolly rhino was found close to the site where a previous baby woolly rhino named Sasha was discovered back in the year 2014. Woolly Rhinos were once believed to have been prevalent in Europe, Russia and northern Asia thousands upon thousands of years ago until they ended up extinct.

Paleontologist Albert Protopopov of the Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic unveiled that the baby woolly rhino would have been approximately three to four years old when it died presumably from drowning.

The only other woolly rhino thus far that has been discovered in these regions — Sasha — was dated to be from around 34,000 years ago. However, Protopopov suggests that the newly discovered body could be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 years old.

However, despite the body being there for so long according to Protopopov “among other things, part of the internal organs are preserved, which in the future will make it possible to study in more detail how the species ate and lived.”

Protopopov further added, “Earlier, not even the bone remains of individuals of this age were found, not to mention the preserved carcasses of animals. As a rule, these were either cubs or adults.”

A fellow paleontologist Valery Plotnikov from the Academy of Sciences further adds, “We have learned that woolly rhinoceroses were covered in very thick hair. Previously, we could judge this only from rock paintings discovered in France. Now, judging by the thick coat with the undercoat, we can conclude that the rhinoceroses were fully adapted to the cold climate very much from a young age.”

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Ancient History

Isaac Newton’s Secret “Burnt” Notes Included Theory That Great Pyramids Predicted Apocalypse

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Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most famous scientists of recorded history, left behind a large body of work that is still vital in our understanding of the world today. However, as with many public intellectuals, he also had plenty of work that was never shared with the public, even after his death.

Now, for the first time ever, some of these unpublished notes are being auctioned off, and these notes contain some of his most wild theories, and includes his thoughts on the occult, alchemy, and biblical apocalypse theory. Newton was known to dabble in the more esoteric realms of study, but very little written evidence remains about his specific thoughts on mystical topics.

Some of the remaining manuscript notes are currently being auctioned by Sotheby’s. The notes have been through a lot, and are obviously burned. The auctioneers claim that the notes were damaged in a fire that is believed to have been started by a candle that was accidentally toppled by Newton’s dog, Diamond.

According to the auction listing, “These notes are part of Newton’s astonishingly complex web of interlinking studies – natural philosophy, alchemy, theology – only parts of which he ever believed were appropriate for publication. It is not surprising that he did not publish on alchemy, since secrecy was a widely-held tenet of alchemical research, and Newton’s theological beliefs, if made public, would have cost him (at least) his career.”

The notes currently have a leading bid of £280,000, the equivalent of about $375,000.

In the notes, Newton speaks on some far-out topics that would surprise modern thinkers. For example, Newton’s notes include a theory that ancient Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza predicted the apocalypse. While it is unclear what logic he used to get to his conclusion, the theory began with his study of how the pyramids were designed according to an ancient Egyptian unit of measurement called the royal cubit.

While studying the pyramids and the cubit, Newton believed he developed an insight into sacred geometry, which somehow aligned with the apocalypse predictions in the bible.

“He was trying to find proof for his theory of gravitation, but in addition the ancient Egyptians were thought to have held the secrets of alchemy that have since been lost. Today, these seem disparate areas of study – but they didn’t seem that way to Newton in the 17th century,” Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s manuscript specialist, told The Guardian.

“It’s a wonderful confluence of bringing together Newton and these great objects from classical antiquity which have fascinated people for thousands of years. The papers take you remarkably quickly straight to the heart of a number of the deepest questions Newton was investigating,” Heaton added.

Interest in alchemy and mysticism was not unusual for serious scholars at the time, in fact, it was recognized as a legitimate field of scientific study.

“The idea of science being an alternative to religion is a modern set of thoughts. Newton would not have believed that his scientific work could undermine religious belief. He was not trying to disprove Christianity – this is a man who spent a long time trying to establish the likely time period for the biblical apocalypse. That’s why he was so interested in the pyramids,” Heaton said.

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