After 20 good years as a Jesuit, I came to the conclusion that the skin just did not fit anymore and so, after nine months of pondering so momentous a decision, I stepped out the door into the wide world on June 3, 1988.
I quickly realized that I still felt like a spiritual person on earth to pursue my own spiritual development and to help others with theirs. I no longer had a publicly recognized role however and, when I turned within, the word that kept floating to the surface was "shaman". At the time I associated shamans with tribal practices I had always considered incomprehensible and I did not know how to connect with the shaman idea. As the years passed, there would be occasional occurrences that would remind me of the ghostly shaman on my shoulder such as watching Jack Nicholson in the movie "Wolf" and practically being ejected from my seat by the wolf energy on the screen. I became aware of the Vision Quest that young shamans experience in isolation in a cave but I had no awareness of how to arrange such an experience for myself. And so the years continued to go by. I continued to help souls with their progress by way of the Jesus paradigm and I would struggle to relate to my inner shaman. A year long shaman training course turned up...in a barn in far western Virginia, synchronicities occurred, and I began very slowly in the midst of my daily work to connect the dots. In sum I have come to the conclusion that my life experience has essentially been shamanic, just by other names. The silent retreats that I made in the Jesuits, for example, served as my Vision Quest. And I am gradually realizing that Jesus himself was a shaman, that is, a healing person, rooted in the Light, connected with nature, who sees what is invisible, or, literally, "sees in the dark".
In Mark's gospel, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness where he stays for 40 days. The text says, "He was with the wild beasts" and "the angels looked after him". This was his own Vision Quest in which his consciousness was expanded to embrace the breadth of his own mission on earth.
My own Spirit Guide from what shamans call the Upper World continues to be Jesusbut the revised, expanded version in which I and he are free from institutional constraints so as to be able to be ourselves, i.e., genuinely of the Spirit.
I am reading a very engaging book right now, given to me by a friend, called "Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest" by Adam Elenbaas. He is the adult son of a Methodist minister and he lived in the Minnesota countryside during his formative years. Learning about ultimate truth from both the pulpit and the wilderness, he chose a combination of Jesus- and-the- Wilderness which in turn propelled him to Peru to seek his Vision Quest from an Amazonian shaman. During his first experience he saw Jesus walking towards him on the water and he was at first very frightened. Later he writes, "Maybe that's what the cross was all about? Maybe it had nothing to do with sin. Maybe Jesus wanted to show people not to be afraid of death".
If you have a Stone at your Entrance, may it be rolled away in this season of New Life.
(Bill O'Brien is a spiritual development practitioner. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )