In 1980, Harley SwiftDeer Reagan was authorised by the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society to publish ‘Shamanic Wheels and Keys’, thus making the teaching of the shamanic Medicine Wheel, held in secret by Native Americans for millennia, available to a wider world. During the 1980s, Nick Headley, a teacher at The Institute of Psychosynthesis London, and Leo Rutherford, founder of Eagle’s Wing College of Contemporary Shamanism, received a shamanic training from SwiftDeer.
My Foundation Year of Psychosynthesis psychotherapy training included a six day introduction to the shamanic Medicine Wheel, led by Nick Headley. I qualified as a psychotherapist in 1998. My continued interest in shamanism culminated in a practitioner training with Eagle’s Wing, under Leo Rutherford, where I qualified in 2014.
I am now faced with a dilemma. Should I keep my work as a Psychosynthesis Psychotherapist separate from my work as a Shamanic Practitioner, or should I seek to combine the two? The resolution of this dilemma, and its relevance to today’s world, is the subject of this article. A description of the content of the ensuing book is outside the scope of the present article, and is provided in a separate paper and is available on the Karnac website.
Psychosynthesis is a mainstream psychology concerned with the impact of past experiences upon the present. At the same time, Psychosynthesis is a psychospiritual psychology, concerned with the future, what may be emerging in a person’s life, its purpose, meaning and values. As I come to realise: a psychospiritual psychology which looks at the future as well as the past has a close affinity with shamanic practice, both being committed to the Care of Soul, the healing of Soul, and the expansion of Soul.
This realisation seems to be pointing me towards bringing together psychotherapy and shamanism. However, I can't get away with throwing around ‘Soul’ without placing it on solid ground within mainstream psychology, lest I face a justifiable charge of supernatural belief. The definition of ‘Soul’ in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary is ‘The principle of life ..; animate existence’. I extend this to form my own simple, rational definition of ‘Soul’, ‘The principle of life, being alive, and our experience of being alive’. In the light of this definition, the expressions Care of Soul, healing of Soul, and expansion Soul – of a person’s experience of being alive – make sense in a psychotherapeutic, psychospiritual context.
I am now hooked, facing an extensive research project, which I formulate as: to determine how to bring the wisdom of the ancient healing practice of shamanism together with the insights of contemporary psychology to provide an integrated approach to the treatment of developmental trauma. The research comprises two distinct shamanic threads: Shamanic Psychology, as expressed in the many aspects of the Medicine Wheel, the wheel of wholeness and energy for life, an ancient system of understanding the human condition that is highly pertinent in today’s world; the Shamanic Journey, a form of conscious dreaming, to the beat of a medicine drum, focusing on gaining insight into some personal concern that the person making the journey has.
To provide focus to my research project, I decide to write a book. I read up on key aspects of contemporary psychological thinking – infant and adult attachment patterns, developmental trauma, the survival personality, imagination and dreams, the inner child, the spiritual dimension in psychotherapy – and relate these subjects to the teachings of Shamanic Psychology and the practice of the Shamanic Journey. Finally, I bring everything together by formulating a detailed, practical, and psychospiritual approach to the integration of psychotherapeutic thought and practice with an understanding of shamanic teaching and practice that is congruent with today’s world. I call the book ‘Soulfulness’, because I view psychotherapy as being fundamentally about a person gradually expanding their experience of being alive in today’s world.
Finally, I need to put my research into action, over a period of time: I have been introducing Medicine Wheel teachings into my Psychosynthesis psychotherapy practice; I have been teaching my psychotherapy clients how to make shamanic journeys and to benefit from them; the full realisation of the marriage of shamanic and contemporary psychology and practice, as I have formulated it, is work in progress. In line with these developments: I have renamed my Psychosynthesis psychotherapy practice ‘Psychotherapy for Soul’; I have created a new Psychosynthesis psychotherapy website, soulfulness.co.uk.
The culmination of my research project is a contract with Karnac for the publication of the Soulfulness book. As a highly respected, academic publisher of psychological works, Karnac is the ideal publisher for a book which needs to establish solid ground for the inclusion of something so apparently way out as shamanism into the mainstream of psychotherapeutic endeavour.
Whilst the psychotherapy aspect of Soulfulness is the main theme of the book, there is a further theme that is worthy of mention, and which to my mind fits Assagioli’s commitment to the widest possible application of Psychosynthesis. Soulfulness can be part of a spiritual practice, enhancing our experience of living and enabling us to live more abundant and fulfilled lives. The Medicine Wheel, in its many aspects, provides boundless scope as a subject of focused reflection and meditation. Also, once familiar with shamanic journeying, a person can journey at home to explore day-to-day issues of concern. As a simple, personal example, whenever I feel blocked in my writing work, a shamanic journey into my current subject matter helps me to unravel and understand what it is that I am seeking to express.
David England is an author, psychotherapist, counsellor, and shamanic guide.