“The ancients knew something, which we seem to have forgotten.” Albert Einstein
Life takes us interesting directions, and mine recently involved consulting a shaman. Do not roll your eyes. I have a scientific education from two universities. I earned a doctorate in psychology and was raised by atheists. I am open-minded, but no pushover.
My parents taught me to cherish music, intellect, and literature, but to scorn religion. My mother found her Lutheran upbringing oppressive. My father, a closeted gay person, could not breathe a word about his sexuality to his working class, devoutly Catholic parents.
When they married, my parents cast off their religious traditions and went full-on hedonist. I do not exaggerate. They placed no limits on themselves in pursuit of bodily pleasures, leaving a wake of booze, drugs, and sexual escapades trailing behind. Their mindset was bacchanalian, their pursuit of pleasure at just about any price. In my father’s case, this mindset ultimately cost him his life.
I struggled to find my way, spiritually. I guess I never fit in with my family because I believe in a whole lot more than… nothing. Life’s pleasures are delicious, but never felt like the reason I was here. The universe is vastly bigger than we can perceive. Magic happens, little miracles which defy rational explanation. This very blog, the fact that you are even reading my words… I am not a trained writer. I have no idea how I wrote such an awesome book. Seriously. Creativity comes through me, it is not of me. Rationality has never felt like the whole story. So, when my dear friend suggested I consult his shaman for guidance, curiosity pulled me in.
I am not going to discuss the whole shaman session, which was deeply personal and, honestly, pretty weird. The general gist involved a few main points: spirits, my life path, and my need for protection.
“There is a spirit around you. She needs forgiveness,” the shaman began.
“Oh. That would be my mother.”
“She has passed?”
“She needs your forgiveness, which is why she is all around. Have you forgiven her?”
“Not exactly. I mean, I understand her. But she did enormous damage to me and my brother, life-threating damage. She never acknowledged her mistakes.”
“Beyond the veil, we are shown our life and our choices. She understands now what she did. She needs your forgiveness to be released from her karma.
“My mother never said she was sorry or sought forgiveness. To some degree, it is her fault that my brother died. It is awfully hard to forgive someone who was never even sorry.”
The shaman’s voice deepened, and he gravely replied, “Well, she’s sorry now.” He paused and took a breath. “If you do not forgive her and release her, she may reincarnate back into your bloodline, perhaps as your grandchild.”
Reincarnate into my blood line? As my grandchild! “OK then, what do I do?”
I was given assignments to establish forgiveness for my mother and my father. I had not thought about my father’s impact on me for a while, beyond missing him. He died 25 years ago, and we were on tender terms at the time. So, it was happen-stance, or not at all happen-stance, when my husband unearthed a dusty box of my dad’s writings from our attic, right after I spoke with the shaman.
My dad wrote these letters to himself over the course of 20 years. They detailed his true thoughts and feelings about my mother, my brother and me, and (mostly) himself. Suffice it to say, all the dark sides of my father re-emerged in stark relief: his rage, his self-focus, his lack of accountability. In his letters, I flipped back and forth from being the best daughter ever to being a “bitch just like her mother”.
My heart broke. As a child, I labored valiantly to be loved, suppressing my fully accurate perceptions about being neglected. I had a choice. I could be cheerful and charming, or I could speak my truth. I could whitewash my parents’ neglect and be cared for, or I could be authentic and be abandoned. It was one or the other.
The second issue, according to the Shaman, was that I need to open up my “heart chakra.” He repeated this several times, and I finally asked, “So I don’t get this part. Why do I need to open up my heart chakra? I am quite a loving person.”
“Yes, but our ancestors want us to love everyone deeply. Everyone.”
“Everyone! That’s a high bar.”
“That is what they want from us.”
As much as I need to expand my heart, the shaman said that I also needed help. He said that I am "walking in the light now,” but that dark forces also surround me. The more one walks in the light, the harder dark forces work to undermine us. So, he said I needed “extra protection.”
My 59-year-old heart beats strong and true, but it has always needed protection, both literally and metaphorically. Because of the extensive burns on my chest, the fat layers and some musculature around my heart were permanently eviscerated. When I place a hand on my chest, there is only burned skin and bony rib cage surrounding my heart. There are no soft layers of insulation. My heart works perilously close to the surface.
Also, I am so open. I say what I feel, and I feel deeply. Many readers of Flashback Girl remark how vulnerable and honest the book is. The book is that way because I am that way. Although I don’t remember, apparently I have always been. I hear from people I knew from elementary school who vividly remember me as being kind, authentic and joyful, well before I had any consciousness of these traits.
There is good and bad in being this open. The good is whatever is accomplished by being true, kind, and real. Truth, kindness, and authenticity heal people.
The bad is that negativity cuts me deep. Because my heart is so open, I feel crushed by unkind words, by criticism and God knows, by cruelty. (The exception being when I work as a psychologist, because then I operate in a whole different professional zone. My professional boundaries are solid, protective, and firm.)
Some people don’t like people who are trying to do good. You know, those dark forces. They are out there.
So, when the shaman suggested that I needed more protection for my heart, I was down with that idea. There were quite a few more rituals for this. I chanted, lit candles, burned sage. I felt a little silly but also curious. I mean, who knows, right? And really, what did I have to lose?
A few days later, I had a conversation in which I felt deeply criticized, the kind of talk that could send me into a funk for days. I started down that rabbit hole, when suddenly I felt an energetic force-field around me. A curtain quickly folded around my heart, protecting me from pain. “Whoosh,” went the curtain, cloaking me with a soft but firm shield, gray but shimmering with silver.
“What was that?” I wondered to myself. Inside I felt peace, an expansive calm, so unlike my usual descent into sad doubt. “What the heck was that?” It felt like my heart finally had protection, not a hard shell of cynicism, but a soft shell of loving care.
There have been other occurrences since consulting the shaman. A monarch butterfly flew right near our window one morning, the first monarch I have seen in our yard possibly …ever. My brother Marc and I loved monarch butterflies when we were small. We read about them; we caught them in butterfly nets and released them back into the sky. Every time I see a monarch butterfly, which isn’t often, I think of Marc.
That butterfly flew right near me for a markedly long time. Or was it a Marcedly long time?
This week, I was almost in a possible plane crash, but I wasn’t.
I just saw two hummingbirds and I never see hummingbirds.
Of course, these experiences could be explained away as coincidence or meaningless phenomenon to which I have erroneously attached sentiment. I was trained as a scientist and raised by skeptics. Sure. I cannot argue with that line of reasoning. There is no proof, and all these “coincidences,” seen through the cold lens of logic sound naive and silly.
But here is what I think. There is a great deal that we cannot possibly know, with our limited human brains and our mere five senses. The world is vast, and we are far more connected than we can perceive. There are wise people who know a lot, and I am inclined to listen respectfully.
As for me, my intent is to travel the path I am meant to travel, doing the work I am meant to do, with a deeply loving but newly protected heart (thank you Shaman!), for as long as possible.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.