“They are never going to want to talk to you,” my friend said to me, heat in their voice.
I felt the sword pierce my heart.
All my insecurities bubbled to the surface, stirred by the words of my friend.
What if they were right?
This is a story of what it takes to stay true to yourself, make mistakes, stumble forward in new territory, learn to be humble, and grow as you go along.
When we really yearn for something there is always vulnerability and insecurity waiting to hijack our dreams.
This is a story of having a vision and the inner obstacles that arise to attempt to steer us back into the familiar.
When we step out of our comfort zone, there is always fear.
This is a story of how to persevere, listen, adjust, and open into even more love.
I share this behind-the-scenes, vulnerable story in hopes of inspiring you to persevere when you want to give up, and to stay true to your heart even when it is hard.
Last year I was invited to co-host the Shift Network’s annual Shamanism Summit by Michael Stone. Michael had hosted the Summit for the past five years and wanted to bring in a co-host and expand the offering for 2020. He had interviewed me twice for previous Shamanism Summit’s and twice for his radio show, and we knew we were deeply aligned in our values and mission. I said yes.
From the beginning I knew I wanted to highlight Indigenous elders and People of Color. Michael and I also wanted to go beyond the label of “shaman” and bring in mystics, elders, earth-based traditions, and beyond. My intent: bring in diverse and indigenous voices to share their message and wisdom.
And for this I had to stretch.
I made my initial list of people I wanted to invite to the Summit, most of whom I did not have contact information for. I did endless google searches. I asked my community for resources. I asked other Summit hosts.
I started out excited, eager, and open. I sent out email after email and didn’t hear back from people. I widened my search and sent more emails. I followed other leads. My friend and powerhouse Sandra Ingerman gave an enthusiastic yes for an interview, as did Mayan elder Flordemayo. But I could feel something was stuck.
So I decided to call a multi-racial friend of mine and ask them for help.
Our conversation went from friendly to antagonistic quickly, and we actually ended up hanging up on each other. They accused me of not really wanting to help but playing the system, of thinking that I was giving Indigenous people a gift when actually they were giving me a gift. They told me no Indigenous person would say yes to my invitation to be part of the Shamanism Summit.
I licked my wounds for a couple of days. I defended myself in my head. I felt misunderstood. But the entire time I also knew my friend was offering me a missing piece, and if I could move through my own insecurity and needing to defend myself that something important was wanting to be birthed.
Part of me wanted to go back to the familiar. Invite my friends who I knew would say yes. Give up on my vision. Stay small. Avoid further conflict. Not take the risk.
Instead I re-dedicated myself. I sent out a third round of emails. I prayed for guidance. And then the shift happened.
One of the Indigenous women I had invited, First Nations elder Kahontakwas Diane Longboat, turned out to be connected with my friend Cathy Mines. I was Googling Diane when I discovered that Cathy was hosting her for online talks each week through her yoga studio.
The day after I decided to persevere and sent up prayers, Cathy messaged me: “Did you do a tobacco offering for Diane? Call me!”
Cathy reminded me that part of connecting with Native elders was honoring them with a tobacco offering. She shared with me how she would do “virtual” offerings. She would create a tobacco offering, take a picture of it, and then email the picture. She walked me through how to craft the words and share a tobacco offering online.
After I talked to Cathy I went into meditation, and then had my aha moment. I had been pushing, expecting, hoping. Even though my heart was in the right place, I was operating from a privileged, expectant place. In that moment I dropped all of my desire, my need, and my yearning. I created an altar and with all my gratitude placed tobacco on one of my favorite heart-shaped raku dishes. I wrote the names of the people I was inviting to be part of the Summit.
I felt my striving Western mind shift into the peace of humility and reverence.
Only then did I send the picture of my altar and tobacco offering to Diane.
She answered me within five minutes that she would love to be part of the Summit.
And from there almost everyone I asked said yes.
It still took a lot of getting quiet to find the right words for each person I asked, persistent follow-up, and holding myself through a few no’s. But I felt different. Softer. Humble. More present with my own vulnerability. I felt deeply tender when asking Native Americans because I knew they were dealing with severe COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities, and later shared the heart-break with Black elders after the last-straw death of George Floyd.
For me, co-hosting the Shamanism Summit was a gift of a life-time. I’m dedicated to continuing to ally and support each person I interviewed and their communities; not as a one-time event, but a lifetime of standing up with and for marginalized peoples. We need their voices, now more than ever.
We need to be able to set aside our Western minds to let our own indigenous hearts soak in ancient truths from a variety of traditions.
I am deeply honored to share these voices with you. Each conversation was rich beyond measure. Thank you to Grandmother Flordemayo, Kahontakwas Diane Longboat, Yeye Luisah Teish, Great-grandmother Mary Lyons, Lyla June Johnston, Tanaya Winder, Kahuna Leila Birely, Banafesh Sayyad, don Jose Ruiz, Will Taegel, Sandra Ingerman, Anna Dorian, and Dr. Marie Mbouni.
And so much gratitude to Michael Stone for his invitation and support, and to the incredible mystics and healers he shared in the Summit: Langston Kahn, Thomas Huebl, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Matthew Fox, Alberto Villoldo, Bhola Nath Banstola, Mandaza Kandemwa, Andrew Harvey, Daniel Foor, Fredy Quispe Singona, Michael Meade, Kristopher Hughes, Brooke Medicine Eagle, don Oscar Miro-Quesada, and Terry Morgan.
The Shamanism Summit: Invoking our Elders, Mystics, and Ancient Wisdom Keepers During Challenging Times starts today, so if you are not signed up please do so!
Join a plethora of wise elders and youth sharing their perspectives, prophecies of these times, and insights on how to move forward. All free.
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And an important word from two incredible Native women, Lyla June and Tanaya Winder. The back story: I was first introduced to Lyla last year through my dear friend Emily Grieves. I sat weeping in Emily’s apartment in Mexico as I watched the YouTube video of Lyla singing her song “All Nation’s Rise.” When I was asked to co-host the Summit, Lyla was one of my first choices to ask. It was through research and prayer that I found her cohort/friend/producer Tanaya Winder, and invited them both to join me for a conversation that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.
They asked me to share this important message with you, because during our interview we went so deep into our conversation that I forgot to ask Lyla about this important topic she had wanted to talk about.
Watch the video here:
The word shaman has never sat well with us as Native women. It has deep connotations of money-oriented “spirituality,” reputation-chasing, cultural appropriation and more. The “conscious” community has, as of late, been incredibly unconscious of the harm they perpetuate through mixing money with ceremony (a big no-no in many native communities), commodifying Indigenous culture, lacking true solidarity and perpetuating cycles of colonial entitlement/exploitation of native elders. We’ve been invited to and attended enough “conscious festivals” to learn that it is not generally a safe place for native people for many different reasons.
So when the online “Shamanism Summit” asked to interview Tanaya J. Winder and I, we were of course initially skeptical. We were deeply moved, however, when co-host HeatherAsh Amara offered to donate to our COVID-19 Native Relief Fund whether or not we said yes to the interview. She simply wanted to help. We could tell there was sincerity in her heart and goodwill in her intentions. We told her that the term “shaman” was problematic and without hesitation she suggested that we discuss in a separate interview and publish it on the main website.
Our core interview discusses our experience in the colonial education system and how we came back home to our cultures. We also discussed why we try to choose love even in the face of so much hatred, systemic racism and oppression of our people and why we fight every day. We also discuss how the false hierarchy of “enlightenment era” Euro-centric knowledge over Indigenous knowledge is destroying our planet. It was quite an informative interview that doesn’t cater to the stereotypical conceptions of native people. Maybe people are expecting us to divulge “sacred knowledge” on this platform, but it is not in our culture to do so in these places. Our host sparked a real, raw, honest discussion about being native women at Stanford University and growing up in a confusing world. We are very glad we did it and thank you HeatherAsh for your eagerness and courage to have these conversations! We gotta start somewhere.
We certainly may not agree with everything people say in this summit (haven’t watched the whole thing, so we really don’t know). But we are grateful we could add our two cents and hopefully give people insight into some important topics. We are especially glad to insert a discussion about the term shamanism and why it turns native people off in a place where it is normalized. If you’d like to check it out, it’s free to register. Sending love to everyone! ~ Lyla and Tanaya
Watch Lyla and Tanaya’s heart-filled conversation, poetry, and songs, along with our 28 other wisdom keepers of love.
RSVP here for the Shamanism Summit — at no charge:
My prayer is that you, like me, will come out transformed, humbled, and deeply touched on the other side of this journey. We start today; register between now to access these incredible conversations for free (each one is available for 48 hours only!)
Here’s to opening our hearts to the wisdom of the indigenous ones, elders, shamans, and mystics as we travel through these changing times.