26 December, 2012

LATE POST: How Shamanism aids an Aging Brain

Near the end of November, I went to a conference on Behavioral Health and the Aging Brain. Although it was for my mental health job, I found myself looking at certain aspects of Neuropsychology and Neurobiology within a Shamanic viewpoint.

Many physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers spoke about the need to continually utilize the brain as humans age (especially past ~50 years or so). The field constantly emphasizes the need to learn new skills and hobbies, but this conference spent a large chunk of time focusing on Meditation (as increasing both quality and quantity of life) as treatment/prevention of mental illness and dementia disorders.

(I'm not able to directly link to the academic article used in the lecture, but here is a similar one from the magazine, Psychology Today ).

The academic article recommended a "prescription" of 5 hours per week of Meditation (any kind, as long as time is set aside for this new skill). The lecturer, from one of my favorite psychiatric hospitals (Sheppard Pratt ), stated that this prescription of Meditation, done consistently, can lead to the same sort of Deep-Brain stimulation found in more aggressive treatments of Dementia.

This blew my mind!

The field of Aging Psychology is now essentially postulating that ECTs (electroconvulsive therapies), trans-magnetic & trans-cranial magnetic therapies (TM & TCM), and other forms of Deep Brain Stimulation (read about it here ) can be prevented and/or replaced with a daily Meditation practice!

So, still with me? Now let's think about the deep brain work of Journeying, Vision Quests, Trance states, etc. How does this specific type of "Active Meditation" affect the Aging Brain?

Sadly, no one has done any brain scans of individuals who are actively Journeying (not yet, at least), but there are some small amount of data as to the biological changes of the Shamanic Brain: Biology of Shamanic states. But I like to think that Journey work can effect the same type of mental health and stamina stated above...

Although not everyone is interested or able to become a shamanic healer, I do think that with enough training, many people have the ability to Journey for themselves and communicate with some Spirits. How do you think Shamanism affects an Aging Brain (and we all have aging brains)? How has it affected yours?

LATE POST: Shamanism for Sunday School Kids!

Well, a month and a half certainly flew by! Get ready for numerous updates, cause I'm a bit behind!


About a month ago, I was asked to help a dear friend with her Sunday School children. She was teaching a segment on Earth-based religions, and wanted to introduce the children to Shamanism by using a Guest Lecturer.

I felt very honored that she thought of me, and immediately started thinking of how to entertain a group of highly active, giggling boys for a full hour! I remember how I liked to learn at the age of 9-10; lots of visual aids and little-to-no lecturing. So I decided that I would have plenty of pictures on my powerpoint presentation, as well as tactile items, for the kids to play with.

The week before, I streamlined my powerpoint to include the very bare bones of Shamanism (what is known as Core Shamanism ) and put in lots of beautiful pictures of different cultures, different animals spirits, and different rhythm instruments. I tried using only public domain images from Google, but as Coyotes work best under time crunches, I just made sure that I at least cited everything!

I also packed my "Traveling Shaman" bag with my coyote skin, my rattle, my drum, a flute or two, and lots of stones. In my head, I figured that the kids would touch and play with the materials while we looked at pictures and talked about Spirits...

Of course, it was pure chaos.

The group ended up being about 6-7 young boys, between the ages of 8-12, and all were super-excitable and talked a mile a minute. At first, I was overwhelmed, but then I completely embraced the energy of the morning and split my concentration so I could talk to each of them all at the same time!

As I laid out the tactile materials, I realized my first mistake-- not setting up the computer and powerpoint first. Everyone was so happy to play with the stones, musical instruments, and animal skins, that it was really hard to bring everyone to focus on the pictures or the lesson. Thankfully, there were a few parents helping the boys to focus, but there was a healthy dose of, "What is that?" "A dead animal skin." "Cool!" "Can I have this rock, it speaks to me!" "How do you play this flute?"  "Did you make your rattle?" "Can we sing songs and pretend we are animals?"  "Coyotes are really cantaloupes."

Yep. I was there, and the first boy who loving stroked my fur was in a playful mood. We worked together to tell each and every person who came into the classroom, that My fur wasn't really fur, it was a Cantaloupe. I enjoyed watching him and Monika giggle every single time!
After completely giving up on any sort of lesson plan, we mostly played Q & A, and learned about Power Animals by playing with Totem Animal cards. I was wonderfully surprised as to which Animals the boys pulled, as many parents confirmed the synchronicity of each. For example, one of the most talkative boys pulled the Dog/Hound as his Power Animal, and he was sad at first (he wanted a dragon), but then spoke about all the qualities he shared with his own (real live) dog, and began to smile. Another boy played with the Golden Calcite almost the entire hour, and really felt a strong connection to the stone. The shyest of the bunch played with the flute and the drum, and was able to pull a tune out of the flute! And when he beat the drum into the correct rhythm, I was able to see a shadow around his shoulders just lift away, and he looked much more confident and comfortable the rest of the class.

If we'd had more time, I may have shown them what a Journey looked like, but as with all fun and games, it ended too soon. I was unsure if I had really taught the boys anything, and relied on the feedback of my friend and the parents.

As I was packing up, I very clearly heard Coyote saying, That was wicked fun-- let's play like this more often!  I smiled, and thanked him for his "cantaloupes", and enjoyed a wonderful lunch later that day.