Delight and Shamanism: Sharing Joy and Healing in the Coronaverse

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Part 1: Delight

I want to write about Delight.

This is your and my birthright. I feel life and spirit coursing through me. So do you. I want to shout from the rooftops -actually with my Tree friend in Prospect Park- “We’re alive, we’re alive, we’re alive! Come dance, come sing! Let’s revel together!”

Delight. Are we even allowed to talk about delight in this moment? We have had 6 months of living in a world defined by a wily virus and economic crisis. We have had nearly 4 months of global uprisings, sparked by George Floyd’s murder by police/white supremacy. We have risen up against anti-black oppression and other pernicious social dysfunctions, and we’ve had police, governmental, and vigilante backlash -including murder- against these uprisings. It is a scary and enraging time to live.

I am giving myself permission to broach the topics of delight and shamanism. They do not live outside of our inequitable social, political, and economic conditions, and they are the good medicine that are helping me get through and stay present and relevant to my family, friends, clients, and social justice movements.

Delight is the alchemical product of experiencing joy, coupled with the self-awareness of that experience. Joy is the experience. Delight is the noticing, naming, and pointing out to others. I learned this from the work of Ross Gay. [1]

Accessing one’s joy requires a certain amount of what is considered by some to be self-centeredness, a quality that some frown upon in the world of social justice and change. Self-centeredness -self care, really- is a way to keep your knife honed for the long run. You are an instrument of change, and your instrument benefits from ongoing tuning and care. Self care includes taking a break from the current realities, recharging, and not centering one’s selfhood, at least for a moment, in the current oppressive social constructs we are all living in and enduring.

I’m not sure delight can be experienced alone. Delight is in the interaction and exchange between your experience of joy and another’s. It’s being seen in a state of joy and seeing joy around you.

In this moment when it is harder to connect with fellow humans, experiencing delight can happen with other beings. During these sheltering-in, physical-distancing weeks, I try to get outside of our human-constructed shelter on a daily basis, and sometimes I dance and sing and vibrate with trees.

How do I channel my delight into something good for the world? By which I really mean something good for humans, as I am both compassionately critical of my human centricity and have chosen to devote my life’s work to supporting our species in working better together.

Accessing delight recharges and informs me in my mission of supporting, aiding, and helping others to access their delight. Experiencing delight unsticks us. We can feel our powers, our wisdoms. We feel them dancing with other folks’ powers and wisdoms. We feel expansive, creative, able to come up with novel solutions to sticky problems.

Part 2: Shaman

Delight is expansive communing. It is direct revelation. Her sister is shamanism.

Understanding and practicing shamanic journeying and healing in the spirit realm helps me in my embodied travels of fostering delight in the world incarnate.

This spring, at the beginning of the global human lockdown era, I began to learn about and practice shamanic journeying and healing. It has aided me in learning anew how to be a human right now.

I have been hesitant until now to learn and write about shamanism because of my concerns of cultural appropriation by white people. I have since learned that shamanic practice is in the cultural DNA of many peoples, including ancestors of white Europeans, and accessing its practices and healing is a universal human birthright.

Until recently, the word “shaman” also felt charged for me, evoking ways of knowing and seeing that were mysterious and mystical, anathema to my upbringing. Yet, I truck in the world of dreams, transformation, story, and performance. I help people and organizations feel and work better together. That’s healing. So perhaps shamanic practice has something to offer my work.

Shamanic practice is a calling I am finally heeding, a question I had coiled deep inside of me that, most of the time, I ignored. This spring I happened upon my friend Helen Klonaris’ offer, an online beginner’s workshop in shamanic practice called We Are All Made of Stars. Helen had been all set to launch a wisdom school in the Bahamas, where she grew up, and then the pandemic interrupted her plans. She courageously pivoted to the world of online offerings, and I felt strongly called to work with her.

Helen’s incredible ability to move beyond the obvious limitations of online technologies to guide us in deep, embodied practice and to connect with one another is worthy of an essay of its own, and in this moment I’ll just say she seriously threw down, holding space, love, compassion, curiosity, and invitation, all with an anti-colonial, anti-racist stance.

The workshop was transformative. I learned that shamanic practice is an ancient technology, born of human ingenuity and spirit that allows all of us to use our wisdom, our imagination, and our collective myths and symbols and stories to directly access healing and insight for personal, ancestral, cultural, and -importantly- social need.

Shamanism is a root set of practices that has since branched out to many differentiated, perhaps at first glance unrelated, practices, the same way we humans and other living primates are descended from a common ancestor. Performance Studies professor and director Richard Schechner writes in his chapter Shamanism in his book Environmental Theater:

It is becoming clearer that in shamanism we may have a proto- performance of immense importance to theater, psychiatry, religion, and medicine. It is no accident that these seemingly different occupations share so much. Apparently the connections are more than structural: There are actual, historical links, and most probably a common source. [2]

So, Shaman of Delight. I am one. Are you, as well?


[1] This transcript from This American Life #692, The Show of Delights, captures beautifully Ross Gay’s understanding of delight:

Gay: What does it do to a person to study delight… to study joy?…. Delight is like the butterflies flying around and landing on the thing that is joy.

Narrator: To Ross, an important part of delight is that it’s an invitation. By loving something we allow other people an opportunity to love it too. Sharing. Tapping someone on the shoulder to say, “Hey, look.”

Gay: …Come gasp with me, come gasp with me.

See also Gay’s The Book of Delights.

[2] Schechner, R. (1973). Environmental Theater, Hawthorn Books, New York, p. 180.

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